The Agile Meatgrinder

June 17, 2010

Have you ever looked at a really high functioning team and asked yourself, “Hmmm…I wonder what they would look like if they were sausage?”

Yeah, me too.

So, since all of us capital ‘A’ Agile types are really just wannabe chefs (and interior decorators) I would like to offer up a recipe for making a complete hash out of an agile team. I prefer a three stage approach that almost always works:

1) A pinch of Multi-tasking
2) A dash of Failing to address impediments
3) And a hefty helping of Increasing pressure on delivery

These three strategies are the secret ingredients to transforming a normally healthy team into a big steaming pile of chorizo. So let’s get started!

First things first: Multi-tasking (tenderize)

Multi-tasking has been much maligned as a hindrance to a well functioning team. The beautiful thing about multi-tasking is that the damage you do to the team is mostly invisible. When a team is multi-tasking, there are no idle hands. Everyone is working away like mad. How can that be anything but good? Nothing is quite as satisfying as the loud “Crunch!” a team makes when it hits the productivity wall head first.

Impediments not addressed/resolved (stew)

Even with multi tasking, I’ve noticed that teams can keep a fairly high morale (at least until the “crunch” hits). Especially tough teams need to be softened up a bit – the best strategy to wear them down is to fail to resolve impediments. Keep track of Impediments. Make them visible to the team – you want to remind them every day that the things that are holding them up are not being addressed. At all. There’s nothing like making it clear to a team that you, and the rest of your organization, really can’t help them in any meaningful way to achieve their objectives. If you listen very closely you can actually hear a team start to fry. I smell bacon!

Increasing Pressure on Delivery (bake at 425)

Now, in my experience, all the really great recipes for disaster call for the use of a pressure cooker. Here is where we really stir things up and heap on the pressure. There are 3 key strategies that I use to turn a team that is spinning like a top into the ultra high speed centrifuge from hell:

1) More metrics – on agile teams we like to call this “transparency!”
2) Focus on “productivity” over removing identified obstacles (see Impediments not addressed above)
3) More status reporting – even more “transparency!”

Agile teams are total suckers for this “transparency” thing. You simply crank up the metrics that the team is required to report, increase the frequency that the team has to report status, and then tell them they aren’t productive enough. And you do it all in the name of “transparency”. Be sure to remind them of that from time to time. Agile teams fall for this ruse like cattle in a meat packing plant.

Feeds 7 plus or minus 2.