Agile is about adapting to change. Change is a reality, we can’t avoid it. How we react to change is what will make or break our product development efforts.
For us to be Agile and adaptable, however, we must be able to change direction quickly. Adjust the deliverables after we collect market/customer feedback. Many teams I’ve worked with were doing exactly the opposite!
Teams often get stuck in the “this story can’t be broken down any further” anti-pattern. They push themselves to deliver enormous User Stories, and therefore end up having to do a lot of upfront planning and estimation (both are needed when the work items are very large).
If teams were able to slice work down to very small increments – say, one day or less – then they would not need to spend so much time planning and estimating. They might even be able to adapt during a Sprint, instead of waiting for the end of the Sprint.
I have worked at many organizations that were trying to adopt Agile using a framework as the starting point. SAFe, LeSS, or even Scrum were the frameworks of choice.
Scrum, for example, is a very simple framework. It stands to reason that it would be easy to adopt and therefore benefit from the value that Agile brings. Or is it?
If we look deeper, Scrum is a collection of patterns or thinking tools. The daily meeting pattern, the time box pattern, the single owner of the requirements pattern, etc. There are many patterns that were considered when creating Scrum, and together they form what we know as the Scrum framework.
As the Agile community, the problem we face is that Scrum (and other frameworks) did not make Agile adoption easy. The Scrum Theatre many teams play attests to that fact. Using a framework is a problematic approach for Agile adoption because it assumes a prescriptive solution would help us tackle agile adoption. However, Agile adoption is a problem that requires constant evolution and changes.
As the Agile community, the problem we face is that Scrum (and other frameworks) did not make Agile adoption easy.
We need a different approach. One that builds on what we’ve learned from others (books, podcasts, conferences), but also that adapts to our context and the specific reality we live in.
The patterns we’ve seen working before, fail later on
When we work with different teams, we start to get a “feel” for what works, and what doesn’t. We try to apply the same ideas to another team, and then start to understand what consultants mean when they say “it depends…”
When we work with different teams, we start to get a “feel” for what works, and what doesn’t.
For example, the star-fish retrospective may work great for one team, but it just bombs when we use it with another team. That’s ok. Nothing works all of the time. The good thing though, is that there’s always something that works, we just need to know what it is.
The solution is not a process or a framework, it’s a toolbox!
Having worked with many teams, I’ve come to value a few tools that I try to use often. Some retrospective formats are one example of that. But not every retrospective format will work, so I’ve collected over time a large set of “thinking tools” or retrospective formats that I use depending on the context.
As a Product Owner, I’ve successfully used Backlogs. But in some teams Backlogs get abused and create the “slave to the backlog” anti-pattern. With those teams, I’ve been using Impact Mapping and Story Mapping instead. Different situations require different tools. The challenge is collecting a good and large enough toolbox, and the stories to go with it.
Stories, when attached to a tool, help us define where the tool will work, and when it might not. Stories are our “labels” for tools.
Collect tools, not frameworks
No doubt you will be part of teams using different frameworks: Kanban, Scrum, Extreme Programming or Scaled Agile (SAFe), Large Scale Scrum (LeSS), etc.
Don’t fight the framework! Instead, use concrete tools that help you progress and achieve your goals.
As Agile Coaches, Scrum Masters, Product Owners and Team Members, we should be collecting tools, not frameworks. Our goal is to deliver something valuable to our customers/users, not be good at SAFe, Scrum or some other framework.
How we collect tools
We collect tools and stories by sharing our experiences, and listening to those that have solved the problems we are facing now.
For a while I’ve been collecting challenges and tools that product developers use to solve their most important challenges. I’ve collected those in the form of workshops that tackle specific types of problems.
In the Agile Strategy workshop (still in alpha, contact me to know more), we tackle the biggest challenges that companies have faced aligning the teams, and focusing larger number of teams on concrete value for the customers and the organisation. The Agile Strategy workshop collects tools related to funding of work, strategy definition, product strategy, strategy deployment, and progress follow-up at the organizational level. Email me to know more about the Agile Strategy Workshop.
Join the conversation
Have an opinion on the use of Tools vs. Frameworks? Join the conversation on Twitter/LinkedIn with the hashtag #ToolsOverFrameworks
After running a survey of product developers, I collected the following 3 top challenges that product developers face in their work.
Unclear specifications with missing information like acceptance criteria, and that require large amounts of rework after we start developing a particular functionality
Finding out critical use cases too late (via bugs, real-user feedback, etc), which leads to long delays in the project.
We don’t have a clear and measurable definition of value, therefore it is always a fight of opinions where the HIPPO (highest paid person’s opinion) prevails most of the times – even when it goes against survey results.
A toolbox to solve these problems
Given these 3 main findings, it is easy to understand why delivering on time is hard for many teams. No matter how much goes into planning and estimating, when the agreement on value is missing, and the specifications of what to do are too fuzzy, we will inevitably find big gaps that lead to massive scope creep and delays.
But it does not need to be like these. There are simple tools I collected in my product developer’s toolbox (#PDevTOOLBOX) that can help alleviate or remove these problems. Based on your input through the #PDevTOOLBOX survey, I’ve created a booklet (15 min read) you can download and read while on the run in your mobile phone or tablet.