Running like clockwork allows improvement

Last week I was speaking to someone who asked what I considered the most important aspects of agile that I would seek in a team. One of the items on my list was ensuring the process ran like clockwork.

From experience, this helps wider involvement from people outside the delivery team: senior product people and sales people are more likely to drop into a stand-up if it’s at a fixed time and place; product owners can organise their timetables better—and arrange consultations more easily with their wider stakeholders—if they know refinement is always going to take place at a particular time on a particular day. I remember one team that was surprised to find the Chief Financial Officer one day appearing at their regular stand-up. He knew the time of the meeting and wanted to check on the health of activity; when someone commented on some aspect of delivery he chipped in with a piece of information that made a small positive difference to the team’s approach. That in turn built a stronger relationship.

But although that wider involvement is a good reason for running events and other processes like clockwork, it’s not a specifically “agile” reason. It’s helpful to any project, regardless of how it’s run.

However, one agile principle it does support is that of continuous improvement. This emphasis of continuous change in the light of reflection is one thing that marks out agile from most of its predecessors. However, once we make a change we need to reflect on the impact it had, and that means the change has to be built on some solid basis—a rigorous process. If our process was haphazard the efficacy (or not) of our change would not be obvious. We want to be able to say, “This month we’ve doing everything just as before, except for this one difference. And we can see our performance this month was different from the previous month in the following ways…”. We can better attribute that difference in performance to the change we made, and that helps us decide whether to keep or discard the change.

It’s not science, but it’s closer than if we didn’t have a rigorous approach. Our clockwork process is similar to the scientific concept of a control group. It allows us to change with confidence.

Photo by Alexander Kelly