Avoid Agile Fatigue

This month’s Agile Yorkshire meeting had a talk by Nick McKenna, the CEO of McKenna Consultants, on an unusual topic: There Is No Agile (text of the talk from his blog). A well spoken and engaging speaker, Nick kept it engrossing all the way. In brief, he argued that there is no such thing as an Agile way/process of doing things. Every team must reach their own ‘Agile way’ by trial and error – discard/change the practices that are not working or make sense so as to get the best value.

Some of the points he mentioned rung a bell for me. For example – why should there be an estimation of task in hours after the story has been estimated in points or why there should be just one review/demo/delivery per sprint? Something else that stood out for me was the spotlight on the role of testers and Project Managers – roles rather undervalued in the by-the-book Agile process but which can be invaluable to a project – as I’m sure most of us have experienced from time to time.

A big takeaway for me was the declining velocity that can result from “a sense of fatigue on the team from the relentless cadence of Agile delivery” or, to coin a term – Agile Fatigue. The suggested way to counter it was to give a break once in a while since knowledge workers need diversion for rejuvenation. This could be celebratory lunches, activities linked to sports etc or days out/off the normal place of work. The traditional Waterfall way of working provided downtime between projects when people could focus on personal development, relaxation and learning new technologies.

To me the motivation in day to day work is linked intrinsically to the Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose troika Nick mentions in his blog, which I happened to talked about in Agile Yorkshire a sometime ago. Learning new technologies can be something done regularly to provide the break/diversion from the day to day work. This can act as a booster for the normal day to day work. Which is why I am grateful to Neil McLaughlin  for introducing me to Code & Coffee, something I regret not joining previously. The exceptional people I’ve met, the coding I do there & for there and the standard of conversations we’ve had have made up for a lot of dull/tiring day to day work. I’ll go so far as to say that all of us should attend such gatherings, or start them if none exists near you.

On the other side, a company can provide time for personal development/learning every week – something I know at least one company does – extremely useful for the teams too in these days of rapid change of technology.

Besides this, the following should be helpful to any team member to keep motivated.

  1. Take action: A team lunch every now and then can be initiated by anyone, even if it’s just a meal together out of the office and not something organised & paid for by the company. Just having some conversations outside the work environment can be helpful to break the monotony of a standard week.
  2. Enliven the normal day: In our team, we’ve initiated the use of a ball/something to be passed by every speaker in the daily stand up after finishing. The next person has to start from the last letter of the previous  speaker, as was covered in a previous Agile Yorkshire meeting, and can give a ‘fun’ start to the day. Such activities can be an antidote to the usual humdrum.
  3. Have personal goals in the sprint: Nothing peaks interest more than a personal stake. Using a technology for the first time would be a good example. The goals I achieved recently include porting a project from MVC2 to MVC4 while replacing the DI layer all on my own and introduction of design patterns & advanced features of AutoMapper to our project. Other members of my team have achieved similar results including one who’s taken on the task of refactoring a 10,000+ LOC class, as and when tasks permit.
  4. Get involved in community: There are a lot of groups that expose you to new ideas/tactics/technologies or things never hear of – something that can be invaluable in a host of different situations. You meet someone with similar ideas, discuss something of mutual interest – just this can lead to a host of opportunities to learn/grow. These sort of activities are likely to keep you motivated and hopefully, happier.

The above is more developer focused but can be extended to other fields. I appreciate these activities demand time, some of it before/after the working day, but these can provide an ennui-busting sense of accomplishment/fulfillment/happiness that’s difficult to get from watching TV or surfing the net. The sense of Autonomy, Mastery & Purpose that can be generated and achieved by implementing these has to be felt to be appreciated.

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