Sep 8, 2009

Agile - step 1

In the past, I had some small management experiences, though at the time I thought they were significant. Sure it was easy, I only had to manage autonomous people (See previous post about Planing & Foresight for my definition of autonomous). So as a manager, my real challenge began when I was faced with a team largely composed of young graduates. Some of them were dependent some were autonomous.
In the months before the project started, I prepared myself for this leadership position by reading a lot about the subject. I was convinced to try Agile, or more precisely Scrum. Why? Because one of my previous colleagues was using it for years and swore by it. He gave me some key words like 'Scrum' and 'Ken Schwaber' and I was off, learning about Agile planning, development & management.

We started small with agile. I told my guys we would have a scrum meeting every morning and that we would do 4-week sprints. We set our goals for the first sprint and that was it, our first agile iteration was started. We only did two sprints with a duration of 4-weeks. It was a good length at the beginning because we had to set a lot of basic code and procedures. Later they would be 2-weeks sprints. Also, at that time, we did not have many requirements from our owner.

Owner?

The fact was we didn't have an official owner because we were the only ones using agile and nobody else wanted to participate. So I created a virtual owner in my head. His requirements were derived from the needs of the people I identified as The-people-who-should-be-the-owner and I created my own backlog using Jira. We had no way to calculate our velocity but I documented the results of all the sprints on a wiki page that was shared with the team.

I also had two computer screens setup in plain view on which I had a hand-made manually-updated Excel spreadsheet displaying our sprint burn-down and the status of each task. Yes manually-updated, now is that commitment or what? After some time my people started meeting spontaneously in front of the screens to discuss current problems.

When thas project started people were not accustomed to self-organized team work. But I remember the first day I saw 3 people standing up at a workstation, talking lively and pointing at the computer screen. They were discussing possible ways of solving a problem and planning their work. That was a good sign!