Thursday, February 02, 2012

Strong Management in Agile Development Deflect and Prevent Distractions

I remember in High School listening to Bill Cosby when he did the bit on parenting.  How he compared parenting to being a hockey goalie, I think.  The parent needed to deflect one tantrum after another or something like that.  It has been a long time since I listened to a Bill Cosby tape.  That was funny stuff back in the 70’s and 80’s.

Little did I know then that what Cosby described would be applicable to leading and managing teams. A good leader can be like a hockey goalie with his team as the net and all the distractions as the puck. He does his best to prevent the distractions from causing in-efficiencies on his team.

What do I mean when I say distractions? This can be a very broad range of items but in the software development world it can generally include things like unnecessary meetings, office politics, feature and scope creep, pet projects that aren’t a priority to the business.  There are many more but these are a few I have observed over the last few years.

In an agile development shop teams are supposed to be communicating and interacting directly with each other and with stakeholders on a daily basis. This means someone from the business needs to actively participate in the process of developing the software and have the authority to make decisions regarding that software. In some instances the stakeholders are represented by a single person. This person should have the authority to make decisions and communicate with the team when ever they feel the need. It is management’s responsibility to give this person the tools and resources to be as efficient as possible in this communication.

Some may think this contradicts the deflection theory because “why on earth would a business person talk directly to a developer?” (Yeah – I heard that), but I disagree. The key to deflection is the unnecessary bit:  things that are not required to move the project forward.  In my view this communication is required. Not only is it not a distraction but it is, if done right, one of the single most important aspects of software development.

This is where management plays a key role in the agile world. Sure the teams should be self-directing and be made up of all that are required to push the product to the customer. But management is important here because they hold the bigger picture in hand. A good manager will work with the development team and the stakeholders to be sure there is proper direction and focus. He will prevent any distractions that may result in loss of velocity. He will give guidance when there is a conflict in the priority of stories. He will prevent the office politics from interfering with the movement of the team.  He does all these things so the team doesn’t have to; so the team can do what it does best: produce software that meets the customers prioritized requirements.

Thanks to Bill Cosby I enjoyed some summer nights with friends around the tape deck in my youth. I didn’t know, at the time, that my career would have some basis in his comedy.

Till next time…

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