Rusty Divine

Live, Love, Learn, Teach

Some times we’ve failed with Agile

Tomorrow there’s a lunch gathering for our local Agile community and the topic is failure led by Keil Wilson, an agile project manager who works with me at NDOR.

At this Luncheon, we'll focus on the value of failing fast and forward.  Bring a simple--or the most heinous--failure you've encountered in your Agile Transformation.  We'll then focus on how it was discovered and the good that came out of it.  We'll also rely on the collective wisdom of our Community to offer other suggestions.

We often talk about failure being an option on our software development team. For example, we did not burn down last iteration when two of our user stories didn’t get completed in time. At our retrospective we brought this up to talk about it. One of our customers was there and she didn’t care that we didn’t burn down, in fact, just the opposite – she thought we were too focused on it when it wasn’t a problem. We talked about value and commitment but in the end agreed that if we fail to burn down occasionally it is actually a sign that we are pushing ourselves appropriately. If we always burned down it would seem a little suspicious that maybe we were slacking off some, and if we never burned down it would be a loss-of-trust issue where the expectation would begin to be set that the burn down is irrelevant. In our case, we burn down 80% of the time or more I’d estimate, and our team is comfortable with that amount of failure.

For the luncheon tomorrow though I’ve thought of a few examples of when I’ve been part of  projects and teams that have failed with Agile in the past:

  1. One customer brought us a requirements document they had created and put out to bid. We won that project and actually did a great job delivering on the project using Agile to guide us. The failures we had were poor definitions of conditions of acceptance from that document they wrote, missing assumptions and constraints, and a fixed budget that didn’t allow room for pivoting when they needed to left the customer with a solution they weren’t satisfied with in the end. Later, they paid another company to rewrite it, and that company is still working on it today, but at least they are charging time & materials.
  2. Another customer was a startup and we pre-billed them each month with a definition of what we were going to complete that month – we worried their funds might dry up. We were able to get done what they needed, but in the later stages of the project their project sponsor (the money-person) realized how much the project had cost, and their product owner (his brother) got convenient amnesia and pushed the blame on us. Our failure there was not making sure the product sponsor was involved more in the project as it was being completed and it ruined a relationship with that customer that could have been prevented with better project management.
  3. Some of my early experiences with Scrum and Agile took a light-approach. I now realize we could have done much better by occasionally reflecting on how we could be doing better instead of making the same mistakes over and over.
  4. On the project I currently work we still have some things we could be doing better. For instance, our customer does not get very involved with prioritizing the backlog, and when they do it seems like they aren’t thinking as strategically as would be good for the project in the long run. The result is we end up focusing on enhancements to existing features – moving fields around, swapping columns, changing shading, etc. – instead of taking on the new initiatives that need to be completed during this phase of the project. The silver lining is that our project manager specifically set a budget in this phase’s project charter for enhancements, and as of this iteration they only have a few points left to spend before they need to make an official request for more. Even though we put this safeguard in place, it didn’t prevent them from spending their entire enhancement budget first, including reversing some of the work they asked for, before working on anything new.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s meeting to see what the rest of the group has to say about their experiences. One things for sure, the restaurant we are meeting at has never failed to sever up some great burgers!

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