Joshua Jack serves as Director, National Agile Practice at MATRIX. He is a Certified Scrum Master and Certified Scrum Professional.
Agile Dad: The Reminder of Continual Feedback
I have an 11-year-old daughter, my youngest, my princess in every fathomable way. About a month ago, I was approached by said 11-year-old – let’s call her “L” for now – about a necessary infrastructure project which would require my notable carpentry skills. L has been going through some growing up lately, and recently had the doll house, numerous play things, and a large cornucopia of stuffed animals removed from her now barren room. Over the next week, there were plans for new rugs, new bedding, an installation of upgraded lighting, and my biggest project, a built-in desk.
Defining the Requirements
For those of you who haven’t read anything from me to date, I just do not coach organizations in agility or coach coaches, I also live agility at home. For several years, I facilitated camouflaged scrum events, walked a number of iterations of kanban boards, and even coordinated prioritization and estimation sessions with the family. So when I was approached about the desk, I was ready to once more impress my children with my Agile prowess. I asked L, “so what are you looking for exactly?” (thinking I was going to get clean, easy user stories). I was instead given the parameters – “purple,” and “big enough to fit my laptop.” After unsuccessfully attempting to inquire about seating position, what view she would like, and how she would like for this to be built into the space, I had what I thought was a “standard dev team” idea of the end product and was off to the wood shop.
After a trip to the local big box hardware store to pick up “all the materials I would need,” I went to town building the corner unit which would be the location of L’s next several years of study. Like a good product designer, I drew out the desk surface the best I could at scale to give her an “idea” of what it would look like. With an expression I should have recollected seeing a number of client faces, L nodded and went back to playing on her iDevice. I dutifully measured and cut and assembled the first of a couple pieces of the desk. I painted it fully, gave it two good top coats of acrylic. As L watched intently, I took the first piece up to her room and installed the corner, floating desk into her room. Happy with what I did, I turned to get final sign-off of the MVP.
All of a sudden, L was no longer my princess, but rather every.single.client.ever that I have helped coach teams along with. In an attempt to be nice, acknowledging my immense effort over the past day, she said, “I like it, but.” Even now writing this I had to pause to process the line said to me. As I asked her, “what do you mean, ‘but’?", she stated that she was hoping it was larger, that it would have been better if there was lighting, etc. All of these items completely doable, but not elicited early at all. All of this was identified as needed after my daughter saw what she didn’t want.
The first thing that I was reminded of is teams do not live in a feedback environment early. They believe feedback comes at the time delivery of the MVP or at best in pieces once product construction starts. Feedback has to not only start early, it has to be a way of working. Having teams that coordinate early and often throughout even initial story writing is key! My first mistake was that the questions I was asking were all technical in nature rather than trying to get feedback and give feedback on the design.
My second problem was that my MVP was wrong. Now, for the mature Agile team, this might seem obvious, but this part of the overall project was just a small part. Instead of looking to the MVP as being a learning and feedback step, I was thinking of it as a completion step – and I should know better! I could have built in a mechanism to allow for the temporary adjustment of height (which would have been “throw away code”), but not finished the paint and it would have been much more helpful than the number of holes I need to patch in the wall now. I tried to get everything done before showing the client helpful progress.
My third issue was that I didn’t include L in the process of development. This was my biggest failure – that I didn’t allow the transformation of interaction. I had an opportunity to include L in all aspects of the build, get consistent feedback, and teach her how I think, technically, at the same time as understanding and learning how she, as a customer, thinks. Agile doesn’t just change the basic interaction of our teams, it fundamentally changes the way we approach teams, people, and relationships.
Well, What Happened?
If you are wondering how the desk turned out, don’t fret. Along with some good requests, there were some architectural constraints (moving the window to make the desk larger!) that couldn’t not be considered. As that Saturday wound down, I was reacquainted with foundational principles of feedback and my daughter, L, was given a functional desk that should be a great place to study for the foreseeable future.