Saturday, December 11, 2021

Transforming Agile Ceremonies

Time and time again, I join teams with the usual agile ceremonies and can barely hold myself together. The daily meetings make me cringe. The retrospectives are post-its but conversations are prioritized for majority meaning my things never get talked about. The planning for next increment feels like a forced routine, and what fits in 2 weeks is on center of the stage. The long term planning, refinement, is half-hearted since there is already heads full with what is going on. And the demos, they are either non-existent or the best bit of the whole set. 

In a greater picture, "agile" as the ceremonies and discussions on what is the correct way of doing things is something I would prefer to step away from. But I do care about how I feel, and how my colleagues feel, and I care about the results we are able to provide. 

What I would like us to do is to take the ceremonies and turn them to their better versions.

Daily should not be about each individual explaining what they did. It should be about each individual synchronizing and pulling work to advance the highest priority items the team co-owns. A good daily creates a shared understanding and we make decisions on the next day more than explain that we continue on the plan. We should already know what goes on, after all we are collaborating through chats and calls on the themes throughout the working day. Or at least we should be. 

A better daily centers around the "epics" or "stories" we are delivering - value to the customer. We optimize all our work so that we don't progress everything at once but the topmost item the most and fastest with whatever limits we currently have on our abilities. 

Retrospectives should not be about minimizing our difficult conversations to post-its that don't get discussed. It should be a space in which we come together to hear what others have in mind, and sometimes turn that into actions right away. With one of our teams, we had a homework questionnaire for the retro, showing that the team was heavily divided in the opinions. This was never visible in the shared session where loud majority creates an appearance of the truth. We did not agree on actions to fix it, but the mere understanding changed things within just one month - each individual chose their own ways of showing up better for for that particular theme. 

A better retrospective is versatile continuous improvement conversation. Sometimes we collect views. Sometimes we agree on solutions. Sometimes we follow one structure and other times another. Everyone's voices should be heard. Minority voices should be amplified. We build the working environment for us all. 

Planning should not be about effort estimates and fitting a sprint, but agreeing on the next smallest possible scope of delivering something of value. Estimating should be replaced with not estimating, and the task split should be replaced with trusting people that the value card is enough, and when it isn't enough, the team can use tools to make notes that support them. The cards are best written as part of work intake, a person taking work is describing work they take on, and the person prioritizing can review and collaborate. 

A better planning enables us to start together, and make sense of the threads we have ongoing - releases, epics/stories, capability improvements and support us in getting stuff done, even stuff we did not agree for as long as it makes sense. And we know if it makes sense when we understand how the changes fit our overarching vision of what good would look like. 

Refinement should not be about co-existing in a meeting room when someone reads us the new things they are hoping we would work on next. It should be about checking changes in understanding of what work we need to discover in ways that requires calendar time, and moving all of us in the team to a common understanding where we can work further from. 

A better refinement discusses customer problems and our ideas of how we could prepare for solving them. 

None of these require an agenda to be great. We can use the first 5 minutes on discovering the agenda together, and prioritizing it to fit into the timebox. They are just reminders on conversations we usually want to have on different cadences. 

For testing, when stories are actually stories instead of tasks we call stories, there is a lovely structure to work from. But not having that structure isn't stopping us from always working on the different timeframes: start early on things that require time (refinement); think about what we're doing and how that fits a bigger picture; follow the changes over the plans and learn continuously.