Monday, December 29, 2014

The Virtues of Agile: Focus

Focus Matters
This is the last of our series of articles about the virtues of Agile.  This week we cover the topic of focus.

Countless leadership books and seminars have said that focus is one of the most important skills a person or group can have if they want to succeed.  My favorite book on the subject incorporates science fiction into this scholarship.  For a software developer, focus is the key component to getting work done because it requires a tremendous amount of concentration to create software.  So of all the agile virtues, why have I saved focus for last?

This is because I strongly believe that focus comes about when the other four agile virtues are practiced.  I feel that it is not possible to have focus unless your teams have courage to get the job done, they respect each other and outsiders, are open to new ideas and challenges, and have commitment to get the job done.  The other four virtues act as lenses which generate the focus necessary to achieve goals.

I also feel this is easier said than done.  Today a person faces more distractions and obstacles to focus than any other period in contemporary business.  E-mail, instant messages, social media, and endless meetings seem to tug and pull at us like evil seagulls looking for a snack.  Add to the mix the office politics which accompanies an organization and you have a toxic stew of distractions.

This is why I like the scrum process so much.  A developer or scrum master can concentrate on a fixed goal for a fixed period.  It is easy to tell someone asking for additional features to say, “…that is a great idea we will put it into the backlog and then we can discuss it during sprint planning.”  Requests for favors go away because developers who work for me just direct those requests to the business owner and scrum master to prioritize.  This cuts down on “me to!” development which doesn’t add value but adds complexity to the project.

I am also discovering that focus needs to be reinforced on the team.  A scrum master should always say what the overall goal of the project is and how meeting sprint goals is just another land mark along the way.  A scrum master also should keep meetings to a minimum so that people who work under him or her can concentrate on what it takes to get the job done.  Finally, as a leader, the scrum master should pick a few attainable goals and stick with them.  This should create focus for the rest of the team.  If this strategy is good enough for the Secretary of the Navy then it is good enough for me.

It is easy to write about scrum.  It is much harder to actually do it in the real world.  I hope that this series has given you a chance to reflect on the agile virtues and how to use them in the real world. I look forward to sharing more of my acquired wisdom in the New Year.

Have a safe and sane New Year.