Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Agile Sprint Sanctity Valued at Over $13M?!?

During STPCon last week (which, BTW, was fabulous, but more on that in another post, 'cause I've got to get this off my chest) I was a panelist for The Hard Stuff: Questions About Agile. During the course of the discussion, someone asked a question that I heard as the following:
"... but what should I do about our sprints getting messed up when [executive] comes in and tells us to stop what we're doing and add [feature X] before the end of the following week so s/he can finalize the $13 Million deal with [new client Y, but only if the feature X is implemented by then]..."
Now, before I go any further, there are some things I want to make perfectly clear:
  • The panel *was* recorded... dunno when/if it will be made public, but if you *really* care about accuracy vs. the point I'm about to make, email me and I'll put you in touch with the guy who did the recording.
  • I have *not* seen (or asked to see) the recording. 
  • I admit to the possibility of not fully understanding the question and/or the context of the situation
  • I also admit that as soon as I heard "$13 Million" my "bozo bit got flipped" (as James Bach would say)
  • I yet further admit that within maybe 3 words of "$13 Million" I cut the person with the question off and had a bit of an um (ahem) "passionate Scott Barber monologue" as many of you are familiar with, some of you appreciate and cause others of you to prefer to interact with me digitally over f2f.
  • The point that follows is not an exact representation of what I said & that isn't important. What matters is the fact that even if I *completely* misinterpreted this particular question, the *reason* it flipped my bozo-bit is because I've been listening to functionally equivalent complaints about "the business" or "the executives" messing up the [insert thing person manages here] to make a sale since I got into the software business over a dozen years ago.
So, yeah, I kinda lost it.  My response was something along the lines of:
"Are you kidding?!? What do you mean what should you do?!? You should say '$13M? Great work, sir! We'll get right on that!' and then run, don't walk, back to the team and get to work! I dunno, maybe that's just pocket change to you, but that sounds to me like your entire team can earn their loaded salary for a whole year in the next 2 weeks... and you're whining about your *process* being messed up?!? Have you *read* the Agile Manifesto?!? Seriously?!? Get the $, kick off a new sprint after that -- I mean, that is what [executive] pays you for, right? To earn your keep by enabling revenue generation in excess of your cost and contributing to his/her, probably excessive, annual bonus. So help me understand... What's the problem here???"
I could get all long winded and explain all the ways in which this makes no sense to me, isn't Agile, is counter to Business Value, lowers our credibility, etc. etc. etc., but I won't. I'll simply leave you with this...

If you really believe that not taking a 2-week pause in your process will generate more than $13 Million for the company, go find another executive... or an investor... and have them make a greater than $13 Million counter-offer to that executive who is about to close the deal for him/her *not* to pause your process for 2 weeks. If that sounds stupid, or you try it and it doesn't work out in your favor, consider the possibility that maybe, just maybe, the valuation of your process is a little, (ahem... there it goes again) inflated.
As a completely irrelevant, but "proud Dad" sidebar, my 9 y/o son Taylor was with me for the conference & was sitting in the back for this session. When he heard me get... (ahem... must have something in my throat) animated, he got out of his chair, moved to the center isle where he had a clear view of me, sat Indian-style on the floor (in his extremely fashionable suit & tie), watched intently, smiled hugely, and tried *so* hard not to giggle -- which (probably unfortunately) made me happy & caused me to (ahem -- maybe I'm coming down with something) talk longer than I otherwise would have.

As soon as I was quiet, it looked like Taylor whispered something to Ben Yaroch, then sneaked out the back... only to re-appear next to me a minute or two later, handing me a soda with what I can only describe as a "knowing look".

Though he can't quite articulate it yet, I think in those moments he *really* internalized and came to appreciate the difference between "Daddy sounds mad" and "Daddy is kinda funny when he gets all excited".

More about the conference and Taylor's experiences in a later post... for now I'll close with...

There ain't nothin' better than being a Dad!
Scott Barber
Chief Technologist, PerfTestPlus, Inc.
Director, Computer Measurement Group

Co-Author, Performance Testing Guidance for Web Applications
Author, Web Load Testing for Dummies
Contributing Author, Beautiful Testing, and How To Reduce the Cost of Testing

"If you can see it in your mind...
     you will find it in your life."


Mark Levison said...

Scott - I've never had of $13 million thrown at me. I have had a lot of numbers: "Change everything we can make a million dollars". Before anything changes I insist that the Salesperson/VP of Sales/CEO/... sit down with the Product Owner and explain what's really going on.

To often these guarantees of $$$$ are very hard to backup with real information. If they prove real great cancel the sprint and start planning a new one, but before going down that path make sure that the value is real and its worth throwing away the current work.

Mark Levison
Agile Pain Relief Consulting

Unknown said...

A couple thoughts:

It's really not the number that matters all that much, it's the point that the entire purpose for building product software in the first place is to sell it, so complaining about building a product that someone wants to pay a lot of $ for seems kinda... well... wrong.

Even if the point was that this happens all the time & the deals never come through (which it may have been... as I say, I didn't let the guy finish & it's was a panel anyway, not a whole session), this guy wasn't the product owner. This was a conference for TESTERS. So maybe there *is* a problem in his org where the product owner is a push-over and not managing the sales team, but what's a tester, or test lead, doing asking a bunch of test-centric consultants for help with this? My answer to any tester (or developer, for that matter) would be the same... "Not your problem. Do your job or get a new job."

Not sure I understand "throwing away the current work". Why not spend an hour or two to finish your train of thought, comment your stuff and check it in? Sure, that's less efficient than continuing, but it's a pause, not a "throw away", yeah? Maybe you can explain the piece I'm not getting here.