October 8, 2017

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

  —Working agreements improve outcomes.

Recently, I've had the opportunity to reflect on the value of individuals and interactions over processes and tools, part of the Agile Manifesto.

The team has created a working agreement for design reviews. This agreement requires the involvement of two people and the designer. The rationale for this approach is that it promotes better design and knowledge sharing amongst team members. Interactions are critical to good design because different perspectives can identify opportunities and alternative approaches.

The team struggled with design reviews. To their credit, we are almost at the point where design review is a regular practice. Unfortunately, a few developers have challenges adhering to the working agreement because they feel that it's an impediment for some activities.

In one example, a developer gave a student a design to implement and then went on vacation. Unfortunately, the implementation failed code review. When questions arose about the implementation the student was unable to explain the design rationale. In another example, a developer took liberties in an implementation that broke a best practice.

In the first case, the team was able to improve the resulting design significantly over what the original developer created. In the second case, the best practice got discussed and differences in approach got worked out.

In each example, the developers who avoided the working agreement introduced other challenges that they didn't anticipate. The redesign and implementation in the first example cost an additional week and introduced a delay equal to the vacation time. The second example created a knowledge void.

The rationale given by each developer that motivated these examples was that they knew what they were doing. In my opinion, they failed to recognized the benefit introduced through the intent of the working agreement: ensure the appropriate interactions occurred.

When the first example went through the sprint retrospective, we ended up with a simple result: require the interaction, use the stand up to create awareness of the design intent and invite participation.
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