Do You Demo? Do you act on the feedback? No? Then you ain’t agile

I am convinced that there are few practices in Agile (aka SCRUM to most people) that can’t be revised, bent, paused or outright abandoned – in the pursuit of a healthy, adaptive and productive engineering squad.

However, the end-of-iteration demo is one I am vehement about.  If you aren’t doing demos well, it’s my believe that you shouldn’t be calling yourself agile (let alone Agile(tm)).

Aside: AgilePDX is a local meetup community of people zealous about improving our employers’ ability to deliver better product – faster, more transparently and most importantly, with more value to our customers.

Our last pub lunch roundtable discussion was “The End of Agile?”, and Billy McGee posed a great question that still rings in my head:

Which of the rituals/rules/ceremonies can we abandon and still call ourselves Agile?

My initial (silent) response to this was “almost all of them”.

As I actually contributed to the discussion, I still claim that one of The Most Important ceremonies to stick with is the end-of-iteration DEMO. Get your feedback early and often (if more frequently than end-of-iteration, even better), and for dogs’ sake get at least *one* person to say something who’s from *outside* the team.  Then take an action on that feedback.

code demo

Until you get outside-the-team inspection, you can’t hope to truly adapt to the trouble you’ve just gotten into by being away from outsiders for that long.  Groupthink, too-close-to-the-problem, love for the solution you derived – it all clouds the objective reality that you’ve almost certainly done it wrong.

If you do this one thing [demo/feedback/react] consistently/more-than-haphazardly, and *act* on the feedback (discuss, change a story, throw away code, replan your roadmap), you will have done more to imbue confidence in your team from the rest of the organization, and they’ll give you a lot more room to be experimental and not “plan-to-perfection” drowned.

The most frustrating thing for management/leadership that aren’t there every day is feeling like we have no CONTROL over getting the right things delivered more effectively.  Not seeing the work that goes into delivering the product, the engineering process becomes just a black box – even for those who’ve been in the trenches, distance + time just leads the mind to question.

When things feel out of control, leaders use what few tools they have to do what they can to keep things steered correctly – demand reports and metrics to give them *something* to wrap hands around, start dictating process to get more ‘structure’ around this messy process, and asking for more detailed plans.

These are all proxies for “how can I help make sure we’re doing the right things?”  And like they say, a picture’s worth a thousand words.  Heck, a customer’s reaction is worth at least that much too.

I’ve seen myself react *far* better to the growing uncertainties when I get to see what’s been delivered so far – live UI, screenshots, even a tour of the source code.  Takes away so much anxiety just to *see* something is there, let alone whether it truly meets my personal objectives.  Give me something – anything – to comment on, and the fact that I engage in comments on the thing means (a) I’m asking for help to buy in, (b) I’m getting committed to the thing in front of me and (c) you’re getting early clues what I’ll want to see before the last responsible moment.

Even this is better than no feedback, no matter how painful it might be:

code quality

Coda: one of my colleagues asked me, “So, abandon retrospectives?”  It’s a good question.  They’re one of the few rituals that’s meant to help the team evolve to better performance and outcomes.  And here’s where I’m going to take a radical/lazy/wait-and-see position:

Personally, I’m inclined to skip (the process part of) the retro until and unless the team gets behind the “inspect and adapt” angle on the product in response to what happens during demo. My experience, engineers are more likely to start in that habit if it’s focused on their code, and if they’re not even willing to engage for the technology, I’m less inclined to skate uphill on the process side of things – as a PO/PM participant/observer, I’ve seen retro degrade quite often into a “here’s what happened”, “good/bad/ugly” historical review, and lose sight of the “what would you like to try changing next time?”

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