Saturday, September 14, 2013

Inspect and Adapt: Simply a Great ‘Agile’ Deal?

Agile teams practice team retrospectives at the end of iterations. Retrospective is a practice prescribed by Scrum – one of the popular agile methods.  Similar practices exist in other agile and iterative methods too.  Retrospective is a team-personal iteration-end activity. It happens in a meeting room or a venue where all team members meet and spend quality time in reflecting on what went well and what did not go well. Everyone in the team gets to talk and express their take.  This is for the project team only - there is no middle or senior managers who are from either a PMO organization or other external entities.  In other words, retrospectives are not attended by someone external to the team and up in the hierarchy. The only exclusion is an agile coach who helps the team on need basis.  When team members reflect they get to inspect and adapt. This results in continuous improvement because of collective decision making at a team level.

There are two questions.  First, ‘Why do agile teams need to know how to inspect and adapt?’ The answer is simple but profound. I am sure you clicked that link and read the article. Understanding the significance of ‘inspect and adapt’ and doing retrospectives right puts agile teams in to virtuous cycle.

Can you guess the second question?  I said that Waterfall teams introspect only at the end of the SDLC.  You may disagree and say, “Learning, inspecting and adapting are equally important to all project teams irrespective of traditional or evolutionary methodologies.   Learning is a lifelong process.”  And ask, “Is ‘Inspect and Adapt’ simply a great 'Agile' deal?”   That is the second question!

The answer is ‘Yes’.   This is because long ago when we followed traditional methods, there were no retrospectives or similar team-personal practices to enable the team members inspect and adapt.  Even if we were aware of the underlying concept of retrospectives, we did not practice it systematically.  In most cases, an intention to ‘Inspect and Adapt’ was triggered in PMO meetings or other similar events. We got instructions or directions from those who were up in the hierarchy about how to adapt or what else to do to make things better. Sometimes those instructions were not right because they were not plugged into day-to-day happenings in the project.  Otherwise, we the team members did not nurture those instructions as those instructions where not our babies!  There was no collective decision meeting.  All team members were not involved!  To sum it all, we did not spend those dedicated 60 minutes.

Let me extend my answer from a short ‘Yes’.  Here it goes.  Big deal!  This is common sense. Any team - not just software project teams and teams following any methodology – not just agile methods can inspect and adapt.  That makes lot of sense! Isn’t it?  Having said that let me emphasize one thing.   We need to articulate this practice, nurture it and enable teams understand and reap the benefits. Else, it will remain a good thought. The reason is obvious.  Practicing ‘Inspect and Adapt’ is indeed a big deal!

What do you think? Let us discuss.

Last year I wrote 'The Power of Inquiry: Coaching Tips for You!'.  Powerful questions help in coaching as well as team learning. This will lead to effective retrospectives and enable your team inspect and adapt.

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