Mark Boulton wrote a really helpful blog post earlier this year, ‘How we work’, detailing the design process at Mark Boulton Design (now part of Monotype), capturing not just what they do but also what they don’t. It chimed, as so often a really good blog post does, with a hard-to-express dissatisfaction I was feeling yet couldn’t quite put my finger on. It’s a frustration with how I often see Agile practiced.
It comes down to this: your Agile process should be designed around the skills and needs of the team and the product, not the process.
Tractor factory production up, comrades
You’d think with the mantra of self-organising teams this would be to state the most obvious thing in the world, but it isn’t. I’ve worked in teams fighting against a constraining models of overly-prescriptive user story writing, an over-focus on the value of estimation, and slavish adherence to ceremonies that did little for team process or effectiveness, but looked good on a burn down chart or a team back-slapping themselves for upping their velocity over a sprint cycle.
What does that even mean.
As little process as possible
I don’t have much truck with the concept of soi-dissant ‘agile coaches’, but if they are there to do one thing, it should be this: to look around the team they have, the skills and experiences that those people bring to that team and then determine how much process they need to help them do the job. For example,
- how much experience do designers have working in an Agile context?
- has this team worked together before?
- how much trust is there between team members?
- are they co-located or not?
- how good or bad have past experiences been?
- how long has this team been working together on this product?
- what do we need to do to best tackle the design and development challenges in front of us right now?
If your answer is a ‘well, this is how we did it on my last project’ or your process isn’t evolving over the duration of a project, then it suggests to me you aren’t thinking hard enough about it.
I’m inclined to agree with my friend Matthew Solle that Agile is, as much as anything, ‘a frame of mind’. I could not go back to the old ways of workings, but I’m not inured to the deficiencies of Agile either. Like democracy, it’s the worst form of governance except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time (with apologies to W Churchill). But I’d love to see it used with far more empathy towards the people it’s there to support.
‘Being nimble means evolving your process so it can change as needed’ — Jason Santa Maria