Sh*t ‘Agilists’ say

Posted: September 5, 2012 in Agile, Humour
Tags: , , ,

As an Agile coach I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the best minds in the IT industry over the years. Unfortunately most of these individuals remain unsung heroes throughout their careers. But fame or recognition isn’t what drives these individuals, instead, it is the satisfaction of producing unique solutions to complex business problems day after day that keeps them motivated.

Being human beings however, even the best of us get frustrated, angry, agitated at times. In fact in all of my 8+ year career, I have never seen a team be able to avoid the storming phase from the  ‘Form-Strom-Norm-Perform’ cycle. Some have bridged the chasm quicker than others but all teams that I’ve worked with have had to go through this cycle.

My job as coach is to be there for my teammates through their team building journey; help them re-configure their mindset, encourage debate, encourage criticism while keeping emotions and ego out of conversations, enable them to evolve from antagonists to protagonists.

This of course is not easy, but I love my job nonetheless. Why? because while people are riding this emotional and ideological roller coaster, sometimes they say really interesting, funny (at times bizarre) things about Agile and all things related.

Here’s a preview of things I’ve heard, experienced and observed first hand:

“It’s done-done, but it’s not done-done-done”

One of the teams I joined as an iteration manager had this to say when I asked them if I could see a showcase of a particular feature. Apparently done-done was just another way of saying ‘incomplete’. I wonder what ‘done’ would’ve looked like :S Like they say, things can get real crazy real fast if the ‘definition of done’ is absent or misunderstood by the team.

“We’re using a hybrid of Agile and Waterfall”

This is one of the most common phrases I hear when I join teams that are already “doing Agile”. While there may be such a thing as a Waterfall/Agile hybrid (perhaps in the form of exercising principles of Agile within your container of influence while the rest of the organization is still averse to the agile mindset), this phrase in all the instances I’ve heard it, translated to this definition of hybrid –> “Agile”: ‘we don’t document anything and avoid upfront design and/or planning’ + “Waterfall”: ‘we only test, integrate and deliver set of features in a linear sequential manner’. If you ask me that’s like adopting the worst of both worlds.

“Repeat after me: We are not behind”

This is what my team and I were told to say (to ourselves) by a high-ranking manager at a big corp when the team told him we were behind schedule and that there were serious concerns to be dealt with in order to increase productivity and mitigate looming risks. His thinking was, if we repeated the sentence “We’re not behind” enough times, we’ll stop panicking and realize we were only crying wolf (and then a bunch of unicorns and elves would come to the team’s rescue and help them get back on schedule). 

This approach may work in a rehab perhaps but in the agile world the reason we iterate is to fail early and often so as to correct ourselves early and often, improving our chances of ultimate success. Sadly you do come across managers who have little or no faith in the teams’ intuition and facts in hand. Needless to say, the project was later rescued by pouring bucket loads of money and throwing more ‘bodies’ on the project… something that could have been averted easily. I call this “The Ostrich Syndrome” 🙂

“Who’s our project manager?”

This was a question asked at a retrospective by a team member just 2 iterations before Go-Live. I found it hilarious because somehow the team had managed to deliver key features for 8 iterations straight, not only highlight potential risks but mitigate them, communicate with the customer, negotiate scope, all without ever realizing the project had a dedicated Project Manager! Kudos to the team of course for being so unbelievably self-organizing but this episode highlighted a key fact, that after 30+ years in the software industry of doing things in a certain way (right or wrong), Agile is indeed a huge shift in mindset for upper management and they prefer to have certain redundant rules and roles in place as a security blanket for them. I guess familiarity can easily be mistaken for a sense of security just as change is easily mistaken for risk.

Limited? What do you mean limited budget?”

I would love to work in U.A.E again someday. The concept of limited or finite financial reserves was a concept unheard of for this one government organization I was coaching. Till the very end of the workshop I was conducting, I couldn’t explain to this one gentleman how he could have financial constraints and still deliver business value through principles of Agile. Finance apparently is not a constraint for some organizations there. I hope you’ve stopped wondering why Abu Dhabi had to spend 10 billion USD to bail Dubai out in 2010 😉

“I know we’re doing a good job, we don’t need a new punk telling us we’re doing a good job”

I learnt it the hard way but I did learn an important lesson, know your audience! That’s right, there are certain things you can’t read out of a book but can only learn through experience. I once shared a few words of encouragement with this new team I had joined as Iteration Manager. The team’s morale was already very depleted and of all the options unavailable to the team, failing was at the top of that list! So I thought a few “great job guys!” or “we’re all in it together” would instill a sense of motivation and a safety net for failure within the team but it had , to my surprise, a completely opposite effect. The team of developers whose average age was around 55 did not like the fact that a “kid” of 27 was A) made their manager and B) had the nerve to commend seniors for a job well done. Only once they realized I was only a manager of methodology and not people and that I was there to serve them not command them, their attitudes gradually changed. I learnt a key lesson that day; “respect” is a relative term. One must first walk a mile in the other person’s shoes before commending or criticising someone.

“I’m not going to be in, so let’s cancel the stand-up”

This was a line from an email to the team by an “iteration manager” 🙂 This of course is by far the most bizarre instruction I’ve heard an IM give to the team and hence is my favourite one the list 😀 It is unfortunate but true that there are a lot of “iteration managers”, “Scrum Masters” and “Agile coaches” in the industry who have attended a 2 day CSM training and have been tasked to assist development teams. The result? An iteration manager instructing the team not to inspect and adapt in his absence is one such dangerous outcome.

“We’ll assign story points once the architect has estimated the length of the project”

This statement was heard at another big organization I worked as iteration manager/coach for. The solution architect of this company was tasked to look at high level features and come up with an estimate of effort in “man-days” for the entire project. My team and I were then supposed to use those estimates and come up with story points that somehow mapped onto the “man-days” estimated by the architect… *head spinning* :S Like I said before… I love my job 🙂

“This isn’t democracy, consider it as a benign dictatorship”

Second favourite statement in the list!! 😀 My team’s productivity was taking a serious hit because of extra-project distractions such as favours being asked by managers from other project teams etc.  The project manager of my team sent out an email to all other managers saying all requests from anyone in the organization thereon should be channeled through the iteration manager (yours truly) so as to filter out what’s important and what’s not. I ‘replied all’ with a “My vote is ‘for’ the suggestion”, acknowledging distractions as a genuine issue and supporting the proposed idea. I received a one line reply: “This isn’t democracy, consider it as a benign dictatorship” 🙂 Even in organizations supposedly agile-friendly, “Control” is still a management skill. Lest we forget! 

“Agile is useless. You can’t even deliver the feature I asked for”

The cutest argument ever! A retired army-officer-turned-project-manager in Abu Dhabi was furious when he tried using his finger to press a button on his prehistoric CRT monitor and it didn’t work. When told he should invest in a touch screen his response was “Agile is useless if it cannot even deliver me such a simple feature”. After which I had only 2 suggestions to offer him, try waterfall… or a brain transplant. To this day I don’t know which option he went for.

You really can’t make this stuff up 😀

“So what? I once did 80 hours in a week… so suck it up”

The owner of a company had this to say to me when I told him his employees were clocking 75 hours (it’s not a typo) every week! If only agile had clarified what pace was considered sustainable 😦

The purpose of this blog post is not to whinge (a term I learnt in Oz :D) but to share the lighter side of Agile transformation and team building with you.

Like they say “Agile without discipline is fragile!”.

  1. erma says:

    I can add another one to this list (and probablly more, but one will do). One java developer used to tell us every morning that his work “is almost almost done”. And he was right, every time I tested it, it was not working.

  2. Ashley K says:

    Brilliant. I have seen so many teams misuse the term hybrid to cover up crappiness.

  3. Dallas says:

    Believe it or not I’ve heard Done-Done-Done-Done as well. Great list btw hehe

  4. Asad Rasheed says:

    There are another type of people, like whenever you ask them how about the problem in hand and they give you a simple reply how about this new problem I have, trying to solve this simple problem. And after four to five times the simple problem becomes a messy problem. Need your opinion to handle such persons.:)

    • Nadir Khan says:

      Hi Asad,

      I know it doesn’t help when a discussion on a particular problem is hijacked by a new / different issue but at the same time it is also good if team mates are raising new issues and calling them out sooner rather than later. It shows you have a safe-to-fail culture in place and people don’t mind escalating/sharing problems troubling them.

      If a team mate raises a new but different issue (to what you wanted to discuss) you can always park it momentarily before finishing your initial discussion on the real/immediate issue. But it’s usually not this black and white, some problems are inter-related and there are ways you can prioritize them. Just a few examples off the top of my head are; Fish-bone analysis, Forced metaphors, Pareto charts (80/20 rule) etc.

      I’ll do another post on ‘problem solving’, probably this week. hopefully that will help.

  5. Well – youve got to laugh…otherwise you’d cry! It is funny though and thank you for collating these – it’s a bit scary how many of them I have heard too!

  6. […] track down a decent consultant to help out there too. Some little things to watch/listen for: Written by Jamie Posted in Testing, Uncategorized Tagged with Agile, Automation, […]

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