Taking Agile to the Next Level: Managing the Unmanageable

by Peter Doyle, on October 22, 2019

Taking Agile to the Next Level

In my previous post, What Does it Mean to Become Agile?, I discussed how to get started implementing the Agile Framework. In this post, we will focus on identifying and meeting the challenges you face when ramping up a project in an Agile fashion.

Very often you will be taking over an existing project, possibly disorganized and off-track.  Deliverables are not being met. Work items are being carried over from sprint to sprint. Team members have competing priorities from other assigned work.

Time Is Not Always on Your Side (But It Should Be)

To have a successful sprint, the (work) effort associated with the sprint backlog (be it story points or estimated hours) needs to track closely to the available hours for the team members. As a first step, solicit from your team members the hours they think they can dedicate to the project work.  Have them estimate (in hours preferably) the amount of time for each of their assigned work items in the sprint backlog. (This assumes that the product owner has set a priority on the items.) Also be sure to have them track the time spent on each work item as they proceed through the sprint, so you can measure progress through a burndown chart.  The burndown chart will, over the course of your sprint, reveal whether your sprint backlog is too excessive or deficient.

Stand Up and Deliver

Another piece integral to getting things back on track is the proper use of a regular stand-up, or status check-in meeting.  Agile best practices timebox (allocate) the stand-up to 15 minutes daily. Your team’s cadence and sprint backlog may not lend itself to that frequency, so you may need to adjust.  Whatever tracking application you’re using (we use Jira), you’ll need to make sure that your work items are updated, that time for each item is tracked, and that work items are making progress.  If there are blockers, these need to be identified and targeted for resolution. (More on that later.) One way you’ll know that you’re making progress is if the sprint backlog items are getting completed within your sprint’s cadence, and the burndown chart will provide evidence of that.  Over time your team should get better at tightening its sprint and achieving a good velocity, a measure of your team’s ability to complete more work within the same amount of time within your team’s pre-determined sprint iteration.

Block and Tackle

Removing blockers is typically the biggest challenge any scrum team faces.  The key here is to identify the source of the blocking issue. In some cases it may be as simple as gaining system access by obtaining credentials with the necessary permissions.  In others it may be an overnight job that’s been failing regularly but no one’s aware of it. And, of course, there are all the challenges associated with complex code for which it’s difficult to get the bugs resolved.  Much of the time, you’ll find that through the process of elimination you can narrow down the possible universe of the sources of the error. Sometimes it’s worthwhile to track these issues with an individual work item or ticket until you get a clear resolution.

Some Final Thoughts

The work of regrouping and getting things back on track involves first and foremost properly organizing the team and figuring out where you’re going wrong. Taking those initial steps will begin the process of making your team more productive, and eventually the metrics and reporting should reflect your team’s success as you move through the next phase of your Agile journey. Remember that all of this integrates nicely with continuous process improvement, an Agile fundamental.


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