Danger of Agile Dogma

When ideas become dogma:

In Agile, the developers have to sit at the end of the row along the open hallway when everyone’s collocated. The business analysts have to be in the middle because they have to communicate with everyone.

In other words there’s a seating chart for an Agile team area. Or,

Sprints are always 30 days. It doesn’t matter if the product owner and the Scrum Master and half the team isn’t available, you can’t add a day to the project. That isn’t Agile.

And I thought the principal was responding a change over following a plan.

Bring the Cookies

It’s almost always good to bring food to a meeting, particularly a longer planning type meeting, and I suck at it. The last time I brought food was to a TDD seminar I ran and I managed to bring peanut M&Ms and two people in the training session were allergic to peanuts.

I used to be better about this when I worked in consulting shops. Consulting shops never had issues with providing food and expensing it, especially for client meetings. Working inside a traditional company we have zero expenses for this and even the minor project celebration budget we used to have got slashed a while back in some silly budget cutting measure.

Not much of an excuse though, bagels or small candies are pretty cheap for the overall effect.

Understanding Sunk Costs

James Robertson had quote on how often huge failed projects continue under their own momentum:

“A week after the primary election was plagued by human error and technical glitches, Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) called yesterday for the state to scrap its $106 million electronic voting apparatus and revert to a paper ballot system for the November election. “When in doubt, go paper, go low-tech,” he said.”

On the other hand, the legislature is in the classic IT management “We spent all this money!” mode:

“We paid millions. These are state-of-the-art machines,” said Miller, who called Ehrlich’s announcement a political ploy to energize his Republican supporters.”

Sigh. Politics, IT – there’s very little difference. After enough money gets spent, no one is willing to admit just how bad things are. Better to just go along, and pretend it’s all fine.

No one likes to admit they made a mistake, especially a multi-million dollar mistake. Thus we have instances like this.

The crucial mistake is not understanding sunk costs. Once you’ve spent the money it’s just gone. If the project you’re running produces no software or badly broken software then yes you’ve wasted the money. The brave thing to do is admit things have gone badly wrong and start over. Far too often we just soldier on wasting millions more until finally someone points out that the emperor has no clothes and cuts off the funding. It’s how we get so many classic death march projects.

And on a related point I worked on an electronic voting project for a county government about 9 years ago. There were some minor bumps when they were first rolled out, but we always had a paper receipt. I’m still shocked that they started producing machines that didn’t have some sort of hard copy. And before that we had classic punch card voting. Hanging chad was a well known occurrence because there were always a few mainframe developers who were paid overtime to sort through the rejected punch cards.

Office to Team Room Complete

I realized today my former office has officially become a team room. One of my employees came by to talk and I had to guide us to another meeting room because an ad-hoc meeting had started after one team’s daily meeting. Feels like a lot better use of the space.

Agile Lite to Agile

Today our Agile Lite project was officially voted in as an Agile project. Proof that persistence pays off after about 6 months. The project has always been a Scrum project minus colocation, and we were always forced to pretend it wasn’t an ‘official’ Agile project. In this case official refers to getting the blessing from the PMO.

Semantics aside I think we’re getting closer in our organization to assuming Agile/Scrum as the default methodology unless there’s some overriding reason to do things differently. That’s some progress.