This post is from the Collabnet VersionOne blog and has not been updated since the original publish date.
Consistency is the Key When Scaling Agile
Wake up, get dressed, go to work, go to lunch, go home, etc., etc., etc. Each of these decisions is made over and over again in what might be called a routine. As part of this sequence, work is done whether simple or complex and the outcome is typically valuable. What happens when this “routine” is changed for some un/anticipated reason causing a detour? Was there a problem or not? Was the end result less value created? Festinger coined the term “Cognitive dissonance to describe inconsistencies in our understanding which can cause stress”. If this identified inconsistency can cause anxiety leading to failure, could it be that consistency will have the opposite effect and lead to success? According to VersionOne's 10th annual State of Agile Report, 43% of the respondents rated consistency the most important success factor when scaling agile, followed by implementation of a common tool across teams (40%), and agile consultants or trainers (40%) were cited as the top three tips for successfully scaling agile. What is it? Consistency Defined / agreement or harmony of parts or features to one another or a whole. We know there are many parts to our lives, some of which are complicated and others can be classified as simple. An executive in a company might have as part of their daily routine dropping their kids at school and then spending the rest of the day re/structuring companies in which they serve. This combination of decisions can get convoluted quickly if there is not a certain “agreement or harmony” of the parts that make up the day. In this small case, a traffic problem can cause the corporate world to be delayed in a strategic decision. These are the decisions that need more time, research, and analysis as seen through a bigger lens. Consistency in the simple decisions allow for more time to be spent on the complex ideas and solutions. Agile software development values keeping things as simple as possible. One of the Agile Manifesto’s principles is “Simplicity//the art of maximizing the amount of work not done//is essential”. Things like people, process, terminology, events, and locations can all contribute to a complex work environment. As more decision points are added to any project, complexity increases. Scaling agile contributes directly into this increasing cognitive map and can lead to a less harmonic result. Why is it important? When people are added to teams, there is a need for existing members to take time out of the regular schedule for assimilation into the workflow. This typically involves sharing of information, team culture, and idiosyncrasies associated with this group seen or unseen. The routine is changed. With scaling, teams are being added to teams creating many more points of reference, collaboration, and potential confusion. Consistency is important because confusion creeps in which produces change and can lead to chaos. The chaos factor will hold back teams from delivering on a regular basis. Robinson and Rose stated, “Often, in the tension of a chaotic stage, team members simply start doing things to burn off the emotional energy. The difficulty with this is that the activity is often not well/thought/out and can actually have nothing to do with the actions that they need to take to be successful.” Similarly, changes in process, can have the same effect. Like a detour on the way to the office, a small change can signal a disruption in success. Following well/known and mature processes can facilitate the ability to keep moving forward. A common cadence will help settle the dust of simple questions like when and where, so the complex issues are allocated more time and effort. Bell and Raiffa posited, “Many of the central issues of our time are questions of how we use limited information and limited computational capacity to deal with enormous problems whose shape we barely grasp.” With this limitation already acknowledged, how can we increase consistency? How do we do it? Brief analysis of the ceremonies a group does can shed light into what is “consistent” and what might need to change. Start with the people because this affects everything else. I know of one company that has set a Service Level Agreement (SLA) on contracted teams to support consistency so their Bounce Rate stays small. People naturally form routines and look for simple answers. Self/organization can help to surface inconsistencies and supports faster acceptance of change. Also, look at the process, culture, terminology, and location as indicators for or against consistency. Getting to agreement or harmony can take agile teams some time; however evidence shows that consistency will enhance success. Find out more by downloading the 10th annual State of Agile Report and reviewing archives of past reports. Sources: Decision Making: Its Logic and Practice By Byron M. Roth, John D. Mullen Teams for a New Generation: A Facilitator's Field Guide By Greg Robinson, Mark Rose Decision Making: Descriptive, Normative, and Prescriptive Interactions By David E. Bell, Howard Raiffa State of Agile is a trademark of VersionOne Inc.