we cannot see a way to complete all the features you want in the time frame you desire."
"No, adding another person to the team at this time will slow us down."
Let me tell you a story to illustrate what I mean.
I visited a company that was concerned about how their teams we doing after they'd adopted agile methods.
The teams estimated their work in story points, and posted charts showing how many points they completed in each iteration. After working in two-week time boxes for several months, it was pretty clear the team was able to complete between 10-15 points each iteration.
Their manager identified 600 points worth of features for a twelve week release.
The manager could see the teams' charts just as well as the developers could I bet he could do arithmetic, too. But when the team said, "No, we cannot complete 600 points worth of features in six iterations," their manager fell deaf. "But you have to try!" the manger exhorted the team.
The team was trying. This manager's response didn't motivate the team to try harder. They knew that the manager wish for 600 points in 12 weeks was just that-a wish and a hope, not a realistic goal. Teams will try to reach an ambitious goal when they believe there is a chance of success. It was clear to the team that, in this case, there was no chance. The manager's response made him look like a fool.
You don't want to appear foolish, so when the team and the data say "no," take management action. Have the difficult conversations and make the difficult choices to reduce scope or extend the date.
If you can do these three things--say "no," address systemic management issues, and hear "no"--your organization stands a good chance of succeeding with agile methods. Without all three your organization may experience limited success; but you will not achieve the results you hoped for.
About the Author
Esther Derby works on the individual, team, and organizational level to help companies improve their ability to deliver software. She's recognized as one of the leaders in the human-side of software development, including management, organizational change, collaboration, building teams, and retrospectives. Esther has been a programmer, systems manager, project manager, and internal consultant. She currently runs her own consulting firm, Esther Derby Associates, Inc. Esther is co-author of Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management and Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great, as well as over 100 articles. Esther has an MA in Organizational Leadership, and is a founder of the AYE Conference and a board member of the Agile Alliance. www.estherderby.com