Monday, October 27, 2014

Exercises in Agile Discipline

In my previous post I wrote about how one of the primary things lacking in teams floundering with their attempts at Agility is a lack of discipline. I also linked to articles on two particular disciplines: Timeboxing and Feedback loops.

In reality, every process part of Agile Delivery can be thought of as applying a timebox, setting up and using feedback loops, or a combination of both. The timebox and the feedback loops are the mechanics by which we traverse problem domains in an Agile manner. Problem domains can be delivery of a product (software or other), organizational transformation, team or self improvement, holding a party, or any other problem complex enough to be broken into steps, but also vague enough that the understanding of the constraints around successfully solving it will change over time until the time of the completion of the solution.

Every timebox should be defined as the shortest amount of time in which to produce a meaningful result. By meaningful result we want to focus on:

  1. Delivering requested value,
  2. Coming to a better understanding of what value to deliver next,
  3. Coming to a better understanding of what value remains to be delivered, or
  4. Coming to an understanding on how to better do the first three.
Feedback loops are essentially a series of timeboxes in which one of points 1-3, as well as some information about point 4 is gleaned from each timebox and fed into the next in the series.

In another prior post I compared using these disciplines to the use of footwork in a martial art. In the fencing salle, footwork is so important, so foundational, that we have had new students spend at least a month doing nothing but footwork before they were even allowed to touch a weapon.

If timeboxing and feedback loops are such foundational disciplines in Agility, we should all be rigorously exercising in using them. To that end, I propose the following challenge exercises. These are simply suggestions of where to apply the disciplines, not a complete exercise regimen. You can choose to do one, some or all of them and in whatever order you deem appropriate. Better yet, come up with your own regimen from these or other exercises and post it here for others to try!

  • Pick some chore or home project you are having difficulty finishing and set aside a timeboxed amount to work on it each day for a week (notice, the week is itself a timebox). Assess your progress after each session and at the end of the week.
  • Pick some chore or project your kids are having trouble finishing. Have them determine the timebox for each incremental progress. You facilitate the assessment at the end of each increment and the end of the week.
  • Try using the pomodoro technique at work or at home.
  • Take one of your agile ceremonies or meetings on your team and try to make it more effective using timeboxing.
  • Apply timeboxing to breaking down large stories.
  • (This can be done individually or even better, as a team exercise) Make a list of all the time-boxes your team is employing - whether consciously or not. Now, from this list, make a list of all the time-boxes where feedback could be collected but is not. Pick the most impactful missing feedback timebox. Start tracking the feedback from this timebox and discussing it before the next subsequent, related timebox. See if performance improves from loop to loop over time.