Getting into the agile mindset

Posted on July 31st, 2007 in Agile, Catalyst, Tool by siddharta || No Comment

I’ve said before that more than practices or techniques, agile is often about a mindset. It is about understanding the values and principles behind the practices that really enable you to be ‘agile’.

I often discuss Silver Catalyst with managers who are interested in an agile tool, and often there are some feature requests. Some feature requests are holes in the functionality of the tool and these are carefully noted down and scheduled for a future release. Some features, however, stem from bringing in a traditional mindset to an agile project.

The agile mindset

For example, in Silver Catalyst, any team member who is a part of a project can edit a task. I’m often asked why Silver Catalyst does not have a fine grained authorisation system when each individual can only edit their own tasks.

This kind of thinking is common among traditional managers who have moved into agile. In their old process, it would be the responsibility of the project manager to create, schedule and estimate tasks, and the team members would do their work and update their tasks. So this is the model that they are used to.

In an agile process, it is the team members themselves who take responsibility for the tasks. They create and schedule and estimate the tasks. As they perform work, the team as a unit updates the tasks. The team works together. Agile processes change the individual-centric view, replacing it with a team-centric view. The team is a single unit.

Let us say someone is ill and takes a day off. In an agile team, someone else might well step in and complete the task. In such a scenario, it makes sense for the other team member to edit the task that was assigned to the original team member. But you can’t do that if you have a system where team members can only edit their own tasks. The team as a unit is a powerful concept, and a core concept of agile.

Talking through the tool

Another feature request that is often asked is for what I call “talking through the tool.” For example asking team members to enter a reason when a task estimate is changed so that the project manager can view it later.

Agile processes encourage communication between all the team members and stakeholders. A scrum project provides two avenues for such interaction — the daily standup meeting and the iteration retrospective. Most agile projects have equivalents. If something unexpected happens, a team member can bring it up at these points. So agile processes already have techniques in place where problems can be brought up and discussed.

Therefore adding such a feature to a tool encourages teams to “communicate through the tool” rather than communicating directly, which in turn reduces the quality of communication.

Tracking and controlling

I’ve said it before — an agile tool is a communication tool, not a tracking and controlling tool. This is critical. What Silver Catalyst aims to do is to improve visibility and communication among distributed teams and stakeholders. Managers sometimes ask me about features through which they can control the team — the individual history of a particular team member for example. It is really important for the success of an agile project that the team be allowed to self organise. Micro-tracking of the project by the project manager can often be counter productive.

Silver Catalyst

As far as Silver Catalyst is concerned, I am pretty clear that the tool is there to support the team and process. Unlike traditional processes where the tool is front and center and in many ways the enforcer of the process, in agile processes the team is the core, supported by the process and the tool. Thats the role that Silver Catalyst is designed to fill.

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