To really understand something, we need to read beyond the surface, beyond the rituals and understand the underlying motivations. The Agile Manifesto for developing software isn’t prescriptive about methodologies. The manifesto only has four points:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
There are many methodologies that teams can adapt to develop software in an Agile manner, Scrum, XP and Lean are amongst some of the more popular methods. Often teams adopt practices they like with varying degrees of success.
Software development is often over-complicated. The goal of creating software is to build something that people want. To determine what people want, we need to get customer feedback. Time spent creating things that the customer doesn’t value
The whole point of Agile is to release software more frequently because the more frequent software is released the sooner we can get customer feedback.
The objective of Agile is to optimize for customer feedback.
Without loss of generality, Scrum is really a compressed waterfall, one compressed into a 1 to 2-week “sprint”. When time is compressed, it puts constraints on a team, this is by design. By constraining the amount of time allotted to sprint planning, the team is forced to find other ways of describing and estimating work. They no longer have time to collect detailed requirements, write comprehensive design docs, or come up with detailed work plans and effort-estimates. The team is forced to optimize for what is deemed high-value for the customer. At the end of the sprint, the team gets feedback from the customer. At worse, they will have worked on something for 2-weeks that the customer doesn’t want, they can then pivot the very next sprint. This is pretty good, it’s unequivocally better than working on something for months or years only have the customer reject it.
If you try to optimize for customer feedback, you’ll notice that there’s still a potential 2-weeks worth of wasted time. The thing that gates customer feedback is a team’s frequency of releasing software. By releasing even more frequently, the team can get feedback even sooner. The feedback enables customer collaboration, a key value of Agile.
Lean can push this to the extreme. Assume developers are expected to deploy to production what they started on that morning. Now instead of releasing only at the end of a sprint, they release changes every day so that customer feedback can be solicited even sooner. This constraint means the changes deployed to production need to be small, small changes also limit deployment risk. Instead of a worst-case scenario of wasting 2-weeks, the worst case only a wasted day.
Doing stand-ups, sprint planning, kanban, kaizens, demos, velocity tracking, retrospectives, are just rituals, they don’t necessarily make your team Agile. I find many of these so-called Agile rituals downright wasteful. Understand the rationale behind the rituals and what to optimize for and it will lead to appreciation and enlightenment.