For several years now the SCRUM “method” replete with Scrum Masters and Sprints has dominated the agile development world. When you read the literature or attend reputable training, it is very clear that a great deal of attention is paid to applying the principles of the agile manifesto.
Unfortunately, real life gets messy, especially when we have to work with colleagues who are less savvy than us about the disciplines of agile. Here at the messy frontier of change, where we are introducing the brave new world of agile into organizations that previously have been about as agile as an asthmatic ant (carrying some very heavy shopping), we have to be a lot more careful.
We have to be very careful how we frame the ideas and principles of how to be agile. This even extends to the words we use.
So let’s just think about the word sprint.
A sprint race is one where you expend the maximum possible energy in the shortest possible amount of time so that you cover the ground faster than anyone else in the race.
The point is it’s all over incredibly quickly, then there’s a long rest before the next race. As experienced agile people we all know that that’s exactly what Scrum talks about too. It emphasizes the importance of the break represented by the retrospective and planning sessions to allow the team to recover its stamina before the next sprint starts. Unfortunately those less knowledgeable than ourselves don’t worry about the principles, they just focus on the word (it’s called marketing).
In too many novice organizations the focus in Agile is on the aspect of speed rather than of sustainability – speed at all costs. And there lies the rub. “Why do you need this retrospective, it’s just wasting time?” “Let’s make sprints longer so that we do fewer of these retrospectives”. “Let’s not have a retrospective every sprint”. You’ve all heard it.
Sprinting (as a concept) is also about competition, not collaboration – running faster than your competitors. Of course, the principle is about enabling teams to deliver as quickly as possible rather than about competition. But here comes our manager again – “so how many story points did you deliver last sprint?”
No one expects the Spanish Inquisition, right?
An idea that I often talk about with newcomers to agile is that an agile project is more like a surf session.
The team spots the wave and paddle towards it. Then we turn and start paddling like mad to get the speed up ready to ride the wave. Now the team rides the wave, getting out of each other’s way, helping each other to get a clear ride, supporting each other when need be. Then the wave loses momentum and we are back in quieter waters. We can look at how the ride went and get ready for the next wave.
For me the real strength of the analogy is that it has a completely natural heart beat – waves arrive, give us a ride then die away. In contrast, real sprinting has no heartbeat – it is a single, competitive event. Sounds like a waterfall project to me.
Now, how about that 6 month sprint?