Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Doctor, doctor, I keep seeing into the future. When did this first happen? Next Tuesday! - Futurespectives

After sitting waiting in the airport for my London to Atlanta flight we finally landed at 0705 this morning after another 9 hour flight from the US.  

It wasn't a good flight, it wasn't a bad flight - but it was a wonderful flight.  You see it was my last flight from the US for the foreseeable future and that can't be a bad thing.  It's not that I don't like Georgia, Americans or McDonalds.  It's just that I really wanted to come home to the UK for a while.

I'm now supporting a new client in Leeds.  Actually they're not a new client but a very old one who've hit new problems in the way they run projects. I've always admired the company.  It's incredibly successful with growth of over 25% year on year for the last four years.  Their success started around the last time I left them but I'm sure that's just a coincidence!  However, now this very success has become a clear and present danger to their future viability and they're panicking.

The problem is that they can't keep up with the pace of their own growth.  Their development & delivery process simply can't give them what they need to sustain growth quickly enough.  Some major projects were seriously behind schedule and the gap between delivery and future growth was widening month by month.

They'd decided to 'go down the Agile route' because they've read that it was quicker, more cost effective and overall much better than other ways of running projects.  Of course, Agile didn't solve their problems - in fact everything got even worse than it had before.  

It wasn't that they didn't understand the process, or had got the training or even that they couldn't adopt the mindset needed.  What ever the problem was it was more fundamental than that.  So in a chance meeting their CEO asked me what they were doing wrong and I gave him an honest answer (unique for consultants I think) - I don't know but I bet your team does.

I suggested a technique that's become quite popular in Agile and that's the concept of the Futurespective.  It's a powerful technique that takes the concepts of the Retrospective to mold the future.  The idea is simple. Think of your new project and mentally take the team to the final deadline.  Assume the project has been a miserable failure - not too difficult with my current company as they've had recent experience. Brainstorm about what happened on the project to make it fail thinking of People, Organization, Systems, Processes, Facilities and Logistics and put all ideas up on a flip chart.

Now look at all of the things that have been written down as a team.  Ask them to dot vote to determine which of these are starting to happen (e.g. poor communications with Product Owner) in the current project.  At the end of the session you'll have a list of priority actions that you should take now to resolve the problems that haven't happened yet.

We did this exercise taking a mythical Sprint Plan and the team then enjoyed thinking of ways to make it fail.  Of course they drew on their own experience and clearly themes began to emerge.  We identified five critical things we could do straight away to improve Agile implementations and created action plans, as part of the product backlog, to forge success from our future failure.  The benefits were immediate and the rate of Agile projects has significantly improved.

So successful was the one day session that I've been asked to support the team deliver their next bunch of projects and accelerate the adoption of Agile across their Europe offices as well.  Even more interesting is that the Futurespective has now become a part of the early sprint planning meetings across other projects.  They decided to hold a Futurespective before each Sprint. 

The team ask themselves two questions:

  • Assume this Sprint is a complete failure, and based on what we've committed to deliver, what are we going to do on this Sprint to make that happen? 
  • What actions can we take now to stop that happening and make our Sprint successful?

The difference between this and a Retrospective is that it's more postive and we're able to take
into account what we've committed to do in the current Sprint and adjust the way we work together in advance to avoid problems.  That's means we're looking forward not backwards. As a result the team feels more in control and is far more likely to put ideas into actions.

I can't accept the credit for coming up with the idea but I'm more than happy to accept the assignment and the fees of course.  It's got me back into the UK, back into Yorkshire and back to proper weather (it's raining cats and dogs outside as I write so I'm feeling much better).

Let me know if you've tried the Futurespective yet or if you're going to.


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