Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Working Agreements for Agile Teams (Part 5)

In Working Agreements for Agile Teams (Part 4), I discuss one side-effect of using working agreements as principles and individual decision making. I view those examples as growing pains--an adjustment that people make when the nature of team engagement changes.  Those discussions are healthy for a team because they re-enforce a new way of working together.

A recent example of learning to work together arose during a discussion on the interaction required by our working agreement on design reviews. This agreement focuses on a successful outcome--when the design is complete we are well positioned to complete the review.  It requires the involvement of a designer and two design reviewers:
We agree to document our design and review the design with at least two people prior to implementation.
This agreement positions the team to avoid situations where only one person understands the design.  It's simplistic. If you dwell on it you may conclude it's heavy handed. Taken literally, this working agreement requires every design review to involve three people.

My notion of design includes adding a method to a class. It also acknowledges this design might warrant a single line of text in a comment for the method. It's natural to ask why anyone would want this overhead for simple cases.

One team member made an argument against this approach:
  • The working agreement promoted inefficiency because it required too many people to engage.
  • The working agreement permitted passive engagement--they asked someone to be a reviewer and that person indicted interest but did not actively engage.
  • We need time to learn (or prototype) so their is something of substance to review.
  • A difference of opinion on when to start applying the working agreement.
My counter arguments were:
  • I am happy if the conversation on how to approach the design occurs and all three people actively engage in the decision.
  • Passivity is a form of passive aggressiveness that I won't tolerate--engage or choose not to engage but make a decision.
  • Absolutely, take the time to learn but ensure that the interaction of all three people acknowledges and understands the objective and intended outcome of this learning.
  • Start the interaction at the same time we start working on the story.

Ironically, we disagreed only on the starting point and the passivity. Everything else this team member said made sense to me.

So the working agreement failed to help us understand the importance of the interaction required to make the design review a success. It failed to balance the need for the author to learn and for the reviewers to understand. And it failed to address the notion that too much investment up front might commit us to a poor course of action. Or did it?

Clearly, the working agreement addresses none of the above explicitly. Clearly different perspectives resulted in different approaches. Importantly, these culminated in a very important and profound outcome for the team.

I encourage the team member to raise the differences of opinions in our Lean Coffee. They did and they and I discussed the issues with the team.

To the team's credit, they took both perspectives in stride and we agreed to enhance our understanding of the working agreement. We also agreed not to modify the working agreement to include this understanding.

Interactions over process triumphs again! Furthermore the team adopted several Agile principles in doing so. We all won.