I’m a Detroit guy and I like cars, especially fast cars, and nowadays they have computer chips you can install that makes your car go faster. Imagine that — just plug in a chip and press on the accelerator and vroooom!
I’m also an agile coach and I see patterns. With most every agile transformation, I see a pattern when we start to talk about velocity and sustainable pace. Some folks really zero in on just the velocity part. They feel like they have just found a new chip for their car and with the visions of caffeine-infused programmers, they are thinking about hammering their right foot on the accelerator.
Going fast can be a beautiful thing. With these new action cams, we can watch an Indy Car Champion take a car through its paces and it’s like art in motion. It is also a beautiful thing when an agile team starts getting great gains in velocity. There is art to that as well, and the teams that are achieving great gains in velocity travelled a long hard road to get there.
Teams that are test driving and producing both Clean and SOLID code from the outset as well as having fully automated test suites are rare. These teams have well-groomed backlogs and they manage their commitments to the organization based on both previous velocity and sustainable pace. They are craftsmanship-focused and continuously improve both their practices and their craft. But it doesn’t happen overnight and it certainly isn’t as easy as installing “An Agile Chip."
Teams need an opportunity to build up their skills and get a stable velocity before they start looking at going faster. And they need help too. They need well-groomed backlogs, dependency free Epics, a clear understanding of what “done” is, and a clear roadmap for where they are going. All three of these — backlogs, working tested software, and the strong teams that produce them — take time to develop.
The backlog is like the roadmap for the journey, and all of the epics and stories are like gas in the tank. Working tested software is very much like the car we are driving, and the team is the driver. Yes, the team is the driver and the team presses the accelerator.
Changing Roles for Managers of Agile Teams
So where does that leave a manager? Especially a hands-on manager who is used to driving the team or committing to a specific velocity?
The team still needs that manager to be vested and committed to their success, but the role changes from being hands-on, in the car, to more of an owner in the pits. Teams need a manager to clear the way for them to go fast. They need a manager to help alleviate organizational impediments that can slow them down. They need the commitment but to a new cause.
Race tracks are designed for speed. There are very few rules around how you drive — you just need to concentrate on going fast. The roadway is clear of impediments and it’s kept clear. Pit crews help, spotters, telemetry, everything around the team basically, the whole environment, is set up to go fast.
A lot of organizations are set up like a busy City Street. There may be some architecture that can be simplified or modularized. Process overhead can often be streamlined if not eliminated. Build and Release Management may be ripe for automation. Testing automation can be another opportunity, and the list goes on.
A vested owner, helping clear the way for the team, can produce incredible opportunity for the team to go faster because, otherwise, the roadways are basically full of impediments and organizational stop lights that slow everything to a crawl. If the environment is not set up for speed, you can have the fastest of Indy Race Cars and it’s not going to get anywhere. The team is just going to sit there revving its engine and wasting energy.
Today’s agile teams are brimming with brilliant knowledge workers who don’t need traditional management. They have pride in what they do and they love seeing what they create getting used out there in the world. They care about their customers, their teams and their craft, and they can be trusted with the race car. Give them the keys, clear the roadway ahead and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at where they take you.