blog

An assortment of thoughts.  Mostly tech related.

Agile and the challenges that come with being a good employer

Technology is constantly improving and more and more work is classified as knowledge-work. Set these changes against the backdrop of the high cost of commercial real estate and organisations are readily changing the way they ‘house’ their employees and how (and from where) they let their employees work.

At the same time, as good employers, many private and public sector organisations are generously offering employees the opportunity to develop a better work/life balance and offer flexible working to all, enabling staff to work from a desk, or a bean bag in the office, to the coffee shop or the employee’s home office.

In the offices, staff are encouraged to float around with their laptops 'Google-style', setting up wherever they choose on a given day and to do the work they need to get done however and wherever they see fit.  Encouraged to move around and work where they please, which it must be agreed can help in breaking down organisational silos and improving communications on one level, but at the same time, it’s decimating the way teams work together.  Whatever happened to Team Spaces??

Is this Agile?

Many consider this approach to be an Agile way of working.  And I guess it is…depending on how you define “agile”.  Flexible it certainly is, but supportive of “Agile Manifesto” - flavoured "Agile"? Well, I'm a lot less sure of that.

Teams should be self-organising, and that obviously should involve organisations giving the teams the scope to choose how they want to work together, including what their work environment looks like and where they work from, and how.  Flexible working might work for the team, but they need to have a choice about that, too.

These are big obstacles

Organisations almost need to look at having a “Super Scrum Master” for the whole organisation - someone who looks at the way the whole organisation is working, understand the common impediments and obstacles across Agile teams and petition the organisation to make accommodations for a truly Agile working environment that enables self-organising teams to work as they wish.

What does the Agile Manifesto say again??

Organisations should remember the first of the four Agile Values:

People and Interactions over Processes and Tools.  People. And. Interactions.

…and too quickly we have forgotten the 6th principle of the Agile Manifesto too:

“The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.”

…and the 5th:

"Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the **environment** and support they need and trust them to get the job done."

...or even the 12th:

“At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behaviour accordingly.”

But we've got tools...

Skype, Google Hangouts, Screen Sharing, Slack, HipChat, videoconferencing and telephones et al are all great communications tools, and they certainly enable communication in teams, but they're no substitute for face-to-face communications and there's more friction involved in any tool, than being adjacent to your team - in the flesh.

TFS, JIRA, AgileCraft, Rally etc are all really great tools for managing stories, flows of work, tasks etc, but none are a substitute for a physical board that can be reconfigured in seconds.

There's a cost to this

Organisations must accept the impact these kinds of 'good employer' decisions around working practices have on a project team’s ability to become a high-performing team and accept that without significant changes to those system conditions, a ‘well-performing’ team might be the best they can get.

Distributed teams have a really high cost to them.  That cost needs to be factored in to planning, team moral, and budgets should be boosted to enable teams to gather for critical all-of-team meetings, and for regular get-togethers to ensure forming, norming and storming have the greatest chance of success.

Back to the Manifesto...

Sadly, it seems some of the values and principles have been too quickly overlooked and forgotten.

If you’re new to Agile, these principles are covered in the first couple of hours of ANY Agile training course, book or presentation, but maybe we learn too much and miss out on the important messages the Manifesto contains.

Going back to basics, and having a fresh look at the Manifesto in the context of a modern workplace might be a journey worth taking.