April 2, 2013
Living an Agile Life
First, let me introduce myself. I’m the web developer for ArcherPoint. However, many moons before joining the ArcherPoint team, I was a developer and a project manager. My experience was based in good old-fashioned waterfall techniques…and dang it, they worked. They worked well. And I was comfortable with them. Yeah. Okay… there was that time when we were 6 weeks into the project before we realized our team was using a separate interface definition than the other group. It took us a week to fix that problem, but we just took it out of Testing’s schedule, so no harm was done. Oh, and there was that other time when we were a month away from delivering a prototype when we were told that we were expected to deliver a hardened system ready for sale (although that’s not what was stated at the beginning of the nine month development cycle). But aside from a few minor incidents like those, waterfall techniques worked quite well, thank you very much. When I was told we would use agile project management to develop the website here at ArcherPoint (the company uses agile for all projects), I was, how should I say, "concerned". The thought of three-week “sprints” rather than three month development cycles did not sit well with me. First of all, I do not sprint. I amble. I mosey. I am deliberate. Also, it placed too many milestones on my Gantt charts. And it flew in the face of what I was accustomed to doing: going into a cave for 3 months and emerging with the finished product, all nice and shiny. Then there was the idea of daily standups. Why would a person who has made it a point of avoiding meetings whenever possible voluntarily embrace a process that includes MORE meetings instead of fewer? Granted, each standup was only about fifteen minutes long, which was far better than the two-hour marathon meetings I was used to having every week, but that didn’t make it a better project management technique…or did it? It was during the redesign and development of the website that I began to become a fan of agile. For starters, impediments are identified within 24 hours—not a week or more down the road. Moreover, change requests—the bane of any project timeline—are actually much easier to assimilate into the project schedule, since the sprints allow for the project team to accommodate changes immediately, making the team…well…more agile. Turns out, daily meetings could actually be productive. I was stunned. Agile worked so well with the website development project that, long after its completion, I still have daily standups every morning with my manager on all marketing initiatives. There are only two of us, but we run in different directions all day and work with outside providers, so this routine allows us to get centered and stay on target as a department. We plan the week on Monday, discuss the previous day’s accomplishments, the coming day’s tasks, and impediments to our projects. Not only does this give definition to our workday, but it gives us a regimen for completing daily tasks along with the flexibility to include last minute and urgent requests that inevitably come our way. It also, quite frankly, gives us a feeling of accomplishment. You know how it is…you get to the end of a busy day, look around you and think, what did I do all day? Agile reminds us that yes, we did make progress. It also helps us keep stakeholders abreast of our progress and involve them if initiatives need to be adjusted. We are much more proactive in our reactions…if that makes sense. But agile’s influence on my life didn’t stop there. In my personal life, I began using agile to organize and structure my activities. Even my wife, who is one of those “creative” types, embraced the agile methodology (although I have reason to believe she is more interested in it because of her propensity toward OCD rather than an appreciation of the finer points of project management best practices). We both work from home, so we started having our own morning stand ups –including not only our work-related activities, but the personal activities that invariably come up and throw you off schedule. We are able to accommodate last minute changes and handle impediments as they come in, giving us structure that keeps us on track with work while helping us keep a balance between work and personal life…something we all struggle with. All in all, it has worked very well. There’s only one problem I see with bringing agile into my home. Recently, my wife suggested putting my “honey-do” list into Rally so we could more closely track my velocity. Now that’s just going too far. And I’m going to tell her that at our next standup.
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