January 4, 2020

Mythical Man-Month (Lessons for Agile Teams)

  —Yet another look at the Mythical Man-Month.

I’ve discussed this essay in a couple of places:

  • The Mythical Man-Month (Worth Reading Again) renegotiate your schedule, not your deliverable. An optimal schedule uses as many people as there are independent subtasks (and no more).
  • Hatching a Catastrophe discusses how a lack of hustle leads to a lack of urgency around small schedule slippages. The challenge is to create a sense of hustle and urgency in a team when these occur.
  • The Mythical Man-Month (Revisited): discusses how people use this essay to deflect from good work breakdowns. The challenge then is to educate people on the need for deeper analysis.

My reading of these essays is that they provide useful and valuable insights even for an Agile team. And yet, the team and I are challenged by these things.

A team member is interested in discussing these essays. Bravo, I say! I’m hopeful this person will provide insight that the team embraces.

An ideal outcome for a discussion on these essays should include:

  • Recognition that the question of whether you can add more people to a task is reasonable until such time you’ve identified all the substasks. Shutting down discussion on this question prematurely is one way to misuse these essays.
  • Recognition that a slip of a day is a signal and not something to be afraid of. Delivery oscillates–sometimes you pull ahead of the projection; sometimes you lag.

An Agile team should be comfortable using swarming to address the issue of optimal subtasks. A Scrum team is ideally 4-7 people. This number of people doesn’t introduce a communication barrier, since you are all in stand up and it completes in 15 minutes.

An Agile team should be willing to help each other so that day-by-day adjustments can be made to adjust for progress changes. The stand up is an ideal place to discuss whether you are able to help or need help on a task.

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