CHOW #226 – Visual Cues for being Agile

Let me share one of my experiences with a Financial Organization that I was coaching last year. I was scheduled to meet one of the visiting leaders from US, Alan. He managed one of the key Business Units in the company and was known as one of the forward-looking leaders. He and his team took pride in being ahead of the curve in technology adoption compared to the others. It was only for 30 minutes and hence we got to the topic pretty fast. He asked me as an Agile Coach, what were my observations about the Business Unit. The first point I told him was that a lot of people including the local leadership believe that they are “already Agile” and they are now working on DevOps and Scaled Agile. And I said, I believe they are very far from it. When I made that statement, I saw Alan’s face and he seemed a bit disturbed. He was used to people telling him what he wants to listen. But, this was different. In a mildly challenging tone, he asked me “Now tell me, what are your indicators for a “good” Agile team? I don’t want you to tell me do some assessment, questionnaire and surveys. I and my team are already very busy with the deliveries and we can’t do that now”. I acknowledged Alan and turned towards the whiteboard.

Now the challenge, without getting deeper into interviews or long observation phase, what are some of the “visual cues” that tells you that the teams have been using Agile well and for their benefit? What are the points that you would write on the board for Alan to suggest some of the visual cues? These are the cues that you can have even during these days of virtual office hours. Because you get to attend lot of meetings and also get exposed to the visual and collaboration systems that the teams use.

Suggested Solution:

Here is what I wrote on the board and explained Alan.

General Observations:

  1. Problems/Impediments are talked about openly.
  2. Meetings are run in the conversation-mode. Most of these are tightly facilitated and aligned to the purpose.
  3. There is less of bottom-up reporting and status update meetings. There is more of Leaders and Managers being part of the meetings like doing Gemba Walks (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Management_by_wandering_around). More like virtual Gemba now.
  4. # of metrics that are monitored are few. Most of these are followed as trends and monitored over a period of time. The management do not judge only based on these metrics but use these for conversations.
  5. Teams are not divided by functions (QA, Prod. Support, Architecture). They are divided more in terms of features or some MVPs.

Specific to Team Agile Practices:

  1. There is a regular and frequent delivery to the production.
  2. The Release days are like any other days. Family/Personal time is not sacrificed for the Releases. And people do not proudly claim the number of hours they put in for the releases.
  3. Work-flow is visible. There is some way of indicating constraints, dependencies.
  4. There is a distinguished facilitator in the team who holds them together, encourages them to talk about problems and brings out the best from them
  5. They talk to the Customers or their representatives directly and on a frequent basis without anybody in the middle.

After suggesting the above points, Alan seemed more convinced of my observations. He started understanding the true essence of Agility, which does not merely go by labels and tools that are used. An important point to note though is that these visual cues are mostly the hypothesis. This is not a replacement for any assessment tool or the actual interviews that you do with the teams to understand their time to market, throughput or quality of the software.

What do you think?

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