Thursday, December 19, 2013

Asking the Wrong Questions

Bridging two worlds is not easy. See if you can spot the non-agile assumptions in all of these questions:

  1. You find one team is only meeting schedules and pleasing customers because they have been padding schedules and cutting scope. How can you get them to plan and execute more aggressively? 
  2. One of your teams is hogging some of the QA resources full-time, and have been since the start of the project. How do you ensure you'll have a full complement of testers for your other team's testing phase? 
  3. One of your teams has stopped turning in estimates and long-range plans. They seem to be producing well enough, but how do you reign in their manager without hurting productivity? 
  4. Of your two teams, one group works overtime and weekends but the other refuses to stay late even during mid-week days. You have many projects in the pipeline. How do motivate those clock-watchers? 
  5. Your team has severe technical problems, but instead of keeping their nose to the grindstone, they have begun taking walks, working two-to-a-terminal, and going home by 6 in the evening. How can you give them a stronger sense of crisis? 
  6. Your new manager wants to accelerate delivery on all products. Of you teams, one of them has not taken advantage of the open headcount reqs. Why do they refuse to ramp up their productivity? 
  7. One of your subordinate managers has not submitted the name of a team member for recognition. You take rewards and morale very seriously, so how can you get the manager to step up? 
  8. One of your teams has only started a few project tasks, not even one task per team member. You see the team members sitting and talking and drawing pictures instead of typing. How do you get their backsides in gear? 
  9. You've noticed that almost half the team members on one team are seldom in their own cubes. How can you give them focus? 
  10. You've seated people in "pods" or "work spaces" as required by your agile coach. One team seems to have a lot of conversations and meetings, and it is disturbing people working in neighboring pods who are trying to get their own work done. How do you get the team to quiet down and write code? 
  11. Much of your "agile" team's project work is not even estimated. How do you know when they'll have their product completed? 
  12. It old days, if you said "we need X" the team would stay nights and weekends to make it happen. Now they seem to be working 40 or 50 hours a week and never jump to meet your needs anymore. How can you restore the relationship you had with them before? 
  13. Even when the team was "busy," you could always get work done by taking it to Mike or Tracy. However, now the manager of that team insists that all work assignment goes through her. This often puts your work lower on the priority chain. How can you go around the manager without getting Tracy or Mike in trouble?
  14. While the team is making their dates and have a surprisingly low defect density, you've recently found out that they're producing an average of 25 lines of code per developer per week (and sometimes negative) while other teams have 100s of lines of code per week. How can you get this team to ratchet up their output to standard levels? 
  15. You're told that all the teams need start doing "agile." However, your chosen consultants seem reluctant to take on a standard contract with you. They say that they would rather contract in some kind of pay-as-you-go plan with reassessment points at ridiculously frequent intervals. How can you get them to understand the realities of your budgeting process? 

We "old hands" at agile methods see this list of questions as obvious examples of wrong thinking about modern software process. 

We can forget that shift from the old mindset to a modern agile mindset is quite a difficult change. 

Most of us who are over 30 and in the Agile camps have done exactly that. As an official greybeard I remember the "bad old days" quite well, and as a consultant I see that we have not escaped the reach of the mainstream control-driven processes of the 80s and 90s yet.

We forget that others still work in a different world. They're successful survivors and many of them are still climbing a corporate ladder that hasn't become agile in any appreciable way.

We have to beware of telling them things that they can't hear; things that don't fit into the worldview they currently own; a world view which has been validated on a daily basis for a few decades.

Managers are being asked to deprecate the very model under which they have become successful. 
Remember these are some of the smartest people around. They think for a living. Don't even pretend they're not savvy and smart and ambitious and competent. Some of the most brilliant people I know are managers who have earned their place in their organization.

But these questions are "the wrong questions."

If they sound like reasonable questions to you, why not drop me a line? I would love a conversation with you.