Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Using Agile to Adapt to Changing Goals: an #STPCon Live Blog Entry

Using Agile to Adapt to Changing Goals

There's an old joke that goes around that says, basically, "If you don't like the way things are today, come back tomorrow". Meaning the only true constant is change and change happens a lot. We all have choices to be a driver of change or to have change be driven onto us. To this idea, any goals that your team has made are just as likely to change.

Sue Jagodzinski described her own situation of change within her company and the chaos that resulted from it. Part of her story described the challenges of managing two teams that were focused on different things. Both teams needed to use and support the adoption of a test automation tool and to be able to enhance and support that tool. One team focused on build, test, and automation. The other team focused on training, support, and documentation. While the tool they were working on was the same, they had very different missions and purposes and that would show up in the backlogs they built up and the priorities they placed on their respective backlogs.

Here's a bit of nerdy for you. The training and support team decided to call themselves Team1. In retaliation, the other team called themselves Team0 because they understood how arrays were indexed (and yes, this was a real dynamic between these teams. I thought she was kidding, she assured me she was not.

To this end, Sue determined that there were some key danger signs happening here. By segregating responsibility between two teams, there was an unhealthy competition that developed. trust issues developed along the way. when there issues there was plenty of finger pointing to go along with it. Most visibly was the fact that there were conflicts where teams would determine what to work on was guided by whatever the other team was not working on.

By moving to a shared backlog, the teams came into immediate conflict and had to negotiate how to change that dynamic. Some of the areas that Sue addressed was:

- how can we determine the skills that were needed on each team, and institute necessary moves if needed?
- determine the soft skill levels of the team members, who were the leaders? Who could become a new leader if needed?
- who would be best served to go elsewhere?
- how could we restructure the teams to be less contentious?

The last one was easy-ish to solve by changing names. the two teams for purposes of this presentation were "Awesomation" and "Thorium". Both teams agreed to go to a single backlog. Teams were set up so that both teams had technical expertise in the test framework. More to the point, an emphasis was made to reward and encourage those that would share their knowledge and skill sets. By doing this Sue was able to get close to equalizing the team. By sharing a backlog, the grooming sessions were done together, with their expected challenges. Sue took over as the product owner and she had to learn what that entailed. She described the process as being "harder than many people might realize" in addition to getting a better knowledge of the product.

The net results of this process, though not easy, were that they had the ability to learn how to do any task on either of the teams. In other words, two teams with Generalizing Specialists (service mark Alan Page ;) ). In the process, each of the team members engagement increased, different perspectives were heard, learning and reflection were done in the retrospectives, and the teams learned to progress together. Perhaps the most valuable skill they both discovered they could do was to adapt to priorities and be able to pivot and change if/when necessary.