Finding the Steady State

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and the quality of the execution will decrease as a result of it. In sports, that is similar to interval training which is exhaustive and for many athletes a drill. Interesting in the terms of the analogy to agile, these drills are often planned and executed under the supervision of coaches. Only a few extremely disciplined athletes are self-managed and motivated enough to perform interval training on their own without external facilitation. That is not in-line with our idea of self-managed teams.

In the same way an athlete would become sloppier in the execution of the sprint over time, an agile team would introduce defects and workarounds to keep the pace as high as possible. Eventually the execution will be so limited, that the team won't be able to sustain the pace either. At that point, the team is burned-out, the technical debt high and the team morale low. Even though the team had an amazing start, it fell behind only after a few iterations. Although we hope our agile team is self-managed and will push-back and manage the expectations, an agile coach could shield and protect a project team new to agile development against outside intrusion and interest.

So, even if we decide to sprint the first few iterations, the team eventually reaches a level of fatigue. Over time, executives may notice that agile development does not work, because they compare the pictures before with the situation after the adoption of agile development. They notice a lower morale which may impact the pace of delivery. As a result, the teams try to keep up with the pace, which requires adjusting the quality parameters, but that will negatively impact the morale again. A vicious circle has been created, which will bring the team closer to hitting the wall.

In reality the problem lies in the over-emphasis of sprinting instead of continuous "incrementing". Runner's actually have aterm for this, called the "steady state" in which a runner feels to be in agood rhythm which could be carried over a long period of time.

 

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Steady state: a level of metabolism, usually during exercise when the oxygen consumption satisfies the energy expenditure and the individual is performing in an aerobic state.

Finding and increasing the steady state, which requires training and experience, will result in little to no interruption between the iterations. That will turn into faster and consistent project delivery. Therefore, it is much more important to incorporate the increments from previous iterations into the overall project strategy. We cannot ignore what happened during the previous iteration, it is part of the history of the project. Therefore an agile project is a series of increments rather than simply time-boxes, but the times-boxes are needed to monitor the progress, quality and morale.

So when we look at organizational agility, we need to measure not only the velocity of the team in early iterations, but also the subsequent iterations making sure we burn-down instead of burning out. To recognize that a team did not find its steady state yet, executives need to visit more metrics than simply velocity. Quality and morale are as important as speed. Quality could be as simple as tracking the open defects, and the morale could be collected as an average vote of the team collected during the retrospective. Especially longer projects will benefit from a moderate but consistent pace in early iterations. Although, "sprinting" may sound like a great motivational pun, it will only carry us for a short period of time. We may hit the wall at the half-way point, as many marathon runners do.

 

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