Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Agile, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and Fire Control

"Perhaps they are singing songs to you, and I just think they're asking me questions" explains the Ruler of the Universe when talking to his cat.

I've been reading the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy - Resturant at the End of the Universe for the nth time this week.  I've always loved Douglas Adam's sense of humour and there is a particular section that really sums up the problems I've had this week with a new "Agile Team" that have asked me to coach them and help them understand why people aren't accepting their new approach.

In one part of the story Zaphod, Trillian and Zarniwoop visit the man who runs the Universe. He clearly isn't what they expect and he tends to avoid answering a question directly.  It's worth a read and you can find the book online here.

Apart from being an amusing distraction I think it highlights some of the problems that Agile Projects have to deal with all of the time.  This week in my new team we've discussed our Agile approach, the impacts it has on our customers & our teams and what we should do to improve things.

Without exception it's been one excuse after another.  Sitting in the meeting room (just like the Ruler of the Universe's shack in the middle of nowwhere) you'd think the the rest of the organisation doesn't exist once the meeting room door is closed.  The team deny that they simply aren't delivering what's needed.  They can't remember the questions that were raised at the last retrospective and anyway they are in denial that their unstructured approach is leading to all sorts of problems and issues.

Douglas Adams writes "How can I tell, that the past isn't a fiction designed to account for the discrepancy between my immediate physical sensations and my state of mind?"

The equvalent I heard in this group today was "I think that customers have decided they don't like the Agile approach so they're making up issues just to get us to go back to the old ways of working"

The lack of ability for an Agile team to accept personal accountability & responsibility for delivery is a hangover from the Waterfall Approach.  It can be argued, and indeed I have many times, that the PRINCE2 methodology provides the Project Organisation with lots of hiding places.  In the news today you will have read about the £469m Project Failure of the FiRe Control Programme (BBC article).  What wasn't recorded was how all of this money was wasted.  £40-50m on "Management Fees", £20m on "Consultancy" fees.  The actual buildings only cost £36m (nine buildings at around £4m each) or £14m less than the Project Management fees!

Funnily enough though there's no one to blame.  No one is accountable and everyone did a good job apart from the fact that nothing actually got delivered and none of the project objectives were met at all.

That's how this team and the project have felt this week.  Close the door and hide from the real world.  Nothing's our fault, we've nothing to learn so I think that I've nothing I can teach them either.

Pity - because they're a great bunch of people and I hate to admit failure.

Tomorrow's another day - and at least we haven't wasted £469m!



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