How to Prepare for Sprints and Other Agile Techniques: An Interview with André Dhondt

[interview]
Summary:

André Dhondt is an agile coach for Rally Software and has more than a decade's worth of experience working with teams and organizations. In this interview, André discusses how to be prepared for sprints, the idea of speed grooming, and how agile has impacted the role of the tester.

André Dhondt is an agile coach for Rally Software and has more than a decade's worth of experience working with teams and organizations. In this interview, André discusses how to be prepared for sprints, the idea of speed grooming, and how agile has impacted the role of the tester.

Jonathan Vanian: Thank you very much, Andre, for taking the time out of your day to chat with us. Let’s start off by having you tell us a little about yourself. What do you do and how long have you been doing what it is you do?

André Dhondt: I'm an agile coach. I work for Rally Software. I've been an agile coach for maybe six or seven years. I was independent for a while and I joined Rally just for the adventure of working with more clients and bigger clients. I have been a programmer for multiple decades, if I'm allowed to say.

JV: You're allowed.

AD: If we count waking up Saturday morning, instead of watching cartoons I would crawl out and write an Atari logo or something like that, then I'm definitely getting multiple decades of programming experience. I don't program every day anymore, but I was programming today. I mostly interact with teams and help them work together either at a program level or even down to the individual team level.

JV: What got you interested in moving away from programming to more of the team-building activities?

AD: I read Tracy Kidder’s The Soul of the New Machine. I got really excited about building something that was bigger than what could fit in my own head. I was like, “That would be a really cool challenge.” I wanted to get experience working with bigger teams. I wanted to manage on my own and I tried and it didn't work out quite the way I'd imagined. I found out that my developers I was managing weren't building exactly what I would have built.

They weren't doing it the way that I would've. Sometimes it was better, sometimes it was worse. It was really frustrating. Sometimes it would work well with what the rest of the team was doing, sometimes it didn't. I was like, “Why is this so frustrating? What's going on?” It was a huge challenge for me and I realized that it's not command and control that works with humans. It's a much more subtle leadership strategy. That became a whole new obsession for me” How do I become a good leader? How do I become a good coach?

JV: Is this where you got interested in agile?

AD: I was doing agile before that. I started in agile in 1999 and I guess around 2002 is when I started managing a team. It was a small team. Four or five dubs.

JV: Why don't we talk a little bit about sprints and iterations and some of the stumbling blocks that can occur. What are some reasons sprint and iteration planning sessions can take longer than the fifteen minutes that people sort of expect?

AD: I think most of the time people show up at sprints and iteration planning unprepared. They haven't had the right discussions with the business or they haven't had a chance to look at the source code to remember how things work.

JV: Why is that? Why is it that people usually come unprepared?

AD: They're in the middle of a sprint. They're sprinting. They don't have a reminder to look ahead, to pay attention to this. To pay attention to what's on the next iteration. Or they maybe don't know. Or product ownership hasn't even decided.

JV: What are some ways that people can remedy the situation—this unpreparedness?

AD: What I've seen in the field is that people do these things that are called pre-backlog grooming sessions. They're calling it pre-sprint planning. There are all kinds of names. I felt like I needed to give it some kind of name and I called it speed grooming. Speed grooming basically makes it so when you get to read through the real backlog grooming or the real iteration planning, it's speedy.

JV: Why don't you describe a little bit about how you came up with the term?

AD: I guess that term evolved over time trying different words with clients. Sometimes I just tried to call it pre-planning or sprint pre-planning, just like everybody else was, and it wasn't clear to people that it was something different. I decided we needed a new name and speed grooming was catchy enough. People were interested, like, who wants slow grooming? Everybody wants speed grooming.

About the author

Jonathan Vanian's picture Jonathan Vanian

Jonathan Vanian is an online editor who edits, writes, interviews, and helps turn the many cranks at StickyMinds, TechWell, AgileConnection, and CMCrossroads. He has worked for newspapers, websites, and a magazine, and is not as scared of the demise of the written word as others may appear to be. Software and high technology never cease to amaze him.

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