The inaugural meeting of the Ways and Means committee convened at ThoughtWorks Werkstatt Berlin on the 31st of March. This first event of the committed brought together tech industry people from all over Europe. Hosted and conceived by Dmytri Kleiner and Dino Frese from ThoughtWorks, the Ways and Means committee is a group that aims to help tech leaders share experiences, discuss problems and cultivate a network of a trusted peers with which to seek advise.

This meeting asked the question “Why do sprints fail and what can we do about it?”. We were not looking to solve the industrys problems in a single session, but really, to see what kind of things that, as tech leaders, are within our power to influence.

After an introduction presentation from Dennis Traub from ThoughtWorks and a conversation starter from Mike Pearce from MOO.com, the session broke into groups to brainstorm just why sprints do fail. The teams jotted down ideas on post-it notes with no filtering, trying to capture the behaviours or conditions required for sprints to fail. Once that was done, we grouped similar post-its toeether and identified the following themes as being categorical causes of failing sprints:

  • Stakeholder expectation management
    • Some examples of these kind of issues were stakeholder patience, predictability issues, lack of transparency, bad requirements and stakeholder mandated solutions
  • Team Culture
    • Picking the “easy” bits of “agile”. The inspect and adapt loo is missing. People are “convinved” to commit to too much work.
  • Bugs and Fires
    • Business as usual will always be a fact of life, how do we deal with these kind of things without losing momentum on what really counts.
  • Process as ritual
    • When you decide what to do, you decide how you’re going to do it. But many become slaves to what is laid down as process – unquestioningly following it without really understanding why. The backlog becomes a theological debate, velocity is the only truth of progress etc.
  • Purpose/vision/Focus
    • Why do we do what we do? What is driving is to build these particular feature? Lack of understanding around what the purpose

Given we had three teams and limited time, we dot-voted on which were the themes that we’d most like to discuss further. These were “Stakeholder expecatation and management”, “Team Culture” and “Process as Ritual”. We agreed that our goal, like the original Agile Manifesto, was to come up with a set of principles that could guide a team when coming up against any of the above problems. As we weren’t able to solve for every issue that we had recorded (and frankly, wouldn’t be able to) principles were a better way of providing broad guidance for a multitude of sins without being too perscriptive.

So, after some lengthy debate, these were the principles that we created.

  • Stakeholder expectation management
    • Values and Metrics: Meet a business value over showing productivity.
    • Transparency and Dependencies: Transparency over commitment
    • Milestones and continuity: Goals over features
    • Goals and business value over showing productivity and finishing features.
  • Process as ritual
    • Question the process
    • Don’t be a backlog pack-rat (don’t keep every story for the sake of theology)
  • Team culture
    • Agile has to be cultural (not from a scrum manual)
    • Culture starts small. Build organically, infect and contage.
    • Hire to cultural fit
    • Teams should look at their own balance of culture, but needs to work bottom-up-top-down.

We closed the session with a mini-retrospective on how we should continue with the Ways and Means committee, the general consensus was that it should be a little longer, less warmup and more discussion and that we should communicate by way of a mailing list.

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One thought on “Ways and Means committee

  1. Mike, thank you very much for the write up and for facilitating a part of the event. It was great to have you there. We are just now planning the next get together and are looking forward to having you there 😉

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