On a daily basis, agile teams should be answering three basic questions: (1) What did you work on yesterday? (2) What are you working on today? and (3) Do you have any impediments to accomplishing your tasks? That third one is a key question, and one that is answered differently depending on the maturity of your team. What is an impediment anyway? It can be a multitude of things, from organizational issues to technical resources, from physical impediments to technical ones. But how good is your team at identifying impediments and voicing them? I think that depends on the maturity of the team. There are always the easy impediments that are surfaced when you first start doing agile. It’s the subtle impediments that are tougher to identify.
I heard something recently from one of our agile teams when I listened in on a few of their daily stand-up meetings. For three meetings in a row, the same developer reported that he worked the same task all three days and was planning on working on it again. One of the other developers picked up on this and said, “You only estimated 6 hours for that thing. Are you having trouble with it? Is there something we can do to help you out?” There are two things I really liked about this comment. First it showed concern about the estimate, but there was no blame attached. It wasn’t “Hey, you said it was going to take 6 hours and now you’re 3 days in. Are you really working or are you playing around?” It expressed real concern. And secondly, it asked the right question: “Are you having a problem with accomplishing your task?”. Even though the first developer wasn’t reporting an impediment, the second was making sure than there wasn’t an impediment. This led to a discussion between the developers about why this task was taking so long. It turned out that the first developer was waiting on live data (not staged) from one of our clients and couldn’t make much progress without the live data. I was really glad to hear this conversation take place between the developers. It clearly illustrated the maturity of the team members to work collaboratively to identify impediments to reaching their iteration goal.
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