How Adoption of Agile Culture & Practices could help your Business
I recently overheard a conversation between a developer and a scrum master which was music to my ears. Earlier that morning the developer had joined the scrum team. The two were standing at a whiteboard, markers in hand ready to start sketching the project / application. The developer stopped the discussion to ask a question: “Why are we doing this?”.
Why ‘So That’ should never become ‘So What’, and the power of ‘Why?’
So simple, and yet so profound. The answer to this question creates the context for all aspects of delivery from that point on. It’s both the project focal and reference point. The more frequently we ask the question, the more we tune into the value which is being delivered.
At a macro, project level, everyone involved in a project should have an unambiguous understanding of why we’re doing what we’re doing. From this a shared sense of objective and responsibility is borne. The challenge comes in ensuring the focus on the ‘why?’ remains constant. The most obvious mechanism? The User Story.
A User Story is a description of a feature, from the perspective of the person whose use it is intended for. Written in natural style, it is the starting point for a conversation. Easy in principle to write. Equally easy to not utilise to their potential.
We’ve all see them (some of us might even be guilty of having written them). User stories along of the lines of…
As A… User
I Want... To do ‘something’
What’s missing here is the ‘Why?’. The power in truly considering the ‘So That’ element comes in focusing the team, not just the product owner / story author, on why a story delivers value. Does the ‘why?’ stand up to constructive scrutiny? Is it the right thing for the customer? Is it right that this story is delivered now, or are there other stories which deliver value of higher priority, earlier.
Successful digital strategies
Successful digital strategies are fulfilled where organisational strategy is aligned with a customer need. Simply put, an organisation aspiring to grow revenue through digital products and services will only do so where those digital products and services most effectively serve the needs of their intended customer. As the customers recognise value in the digital capability, the level with which they engage will increase and by proxy, the organisation is more likely to achieve their goal.
In order for that to occur, everyone involved in delivering digital projects is responsible for constantly challenging the ‘why’, regardless of whether at a macro / project level, or at a micro / user story level. This does however have it’s challenges. None more so than delivery processes and culture.
Scrum can at times instil short term thinking. The team shares a commitment to short term incremental delivery. Quite rightly, the team applies an immediacy to their focus. Once stories are into the development cycle, the focus becomes less about ‘why?’ and more about ‘how? And ‘what?’. What that does drive is an increase in the importance of preparatory processes prior to user stories being selected for development. Asking ‘why?’ sets the context for all subsequent conversations. Indeed it sets the context for decision making, at all levels - requirements definition, technical and UX/CX designs, coding, testing and release.
Prior to being accepted into a sprint, this comes in the form of story time and sprint planning sessions. In development sprinting, lightweight ‘3 Amigo sessions’ (or ‘4 Amigo’ if you have UX capability in your teams) help to revisit the concept of ‘Why?’, qualifying the intent for the story, in line with discussions of acceptance criteria.
Post sprint the question of ‘Why?’ is again revisited. In sprint review the product owner represents the customer (better still, the customer is in the room!). The review validates that the stories have delivered their intended value, and informs subsequent prioritisation discussions.
A culture of constructive challenge
Describing these approaches is easy. Implementing them is more difficult. To keep revisiting the ‘Why?’ is to engender a culture of constructive challenge. Supportive and inclusive, but constructively challenging nevertheless. People need to feel comfortable in both asking, and being asked ‘Why?’. Equally the team needs the autonomy to be able to make changes, or even pause, where the answers to ‘Why?’ are starting to become ambiguous.
To ask ‘Why?’ isn’t an illustration of obstruction. It’s an illustration of intent to always put the customer needs at the heart of delivery.
All of which serves to explain why hearing the developer ask his Scrum Master such a simple yet profound question, was music to my ears.