The company I work for is big on Corporate Social Responsibility, so over two days last week everyone at Landmark Information Group had the opportunity to do a day’s work for a charity to improve two playgrounds in Bristol. In order to make sure we could still have a business operating over the course of the build we were divided into four groups i.e. one group for each site for each day, where is group consisted of roughly 75 people, and each site had eight different activities. Our organisers engaged a company called Splash Projects who specialise in running team building events and the design for the parks had been done with a great deal of input from the children who use them.
Ok, so what does this have to do with Agile? Well, like many things in life, it’s there if you look for it.
Team sizes ranged from four to thirteen people from Landmark, so not always the optimum Scrum team size, and one member of the Splash team with a member of staff from the charity on-hand all day too, so in agile terms we ended up with pretty good representations of Scrum in most teams. Landmark employees became the Development Team, as we were responsible for the creation of the product; the Splash guys billed themselves as Project Managers and they certainly do have those skills, however looking at how they worked with us then it is clear to me that they were the teams’ Scrum Masters. The staff members from the charity were our Product Owners and the children who has designed the new play park and who turned up after school to check on our progress and help clear up, were our stakeholders.
The “Scrum Masters” had the plans (i.e. the Sprint Goal), which they shared with us, and explained the priorities attached to the various tasks to ensure that the job would be completed on time, with the most important work being done first. The Sprint Goal was to complete the slide section which meant completing the bridge which connected a raised platform to the main walkway, finishing the platform and attaching the slide. In addition to these high level goals we had to ensure that we implemented specific business rules too, for example when adding railings to the platform we had to ensure they were between 25-89mm apart with a gap at the bottom of 25mm. I was in two minds whether this role was Scrum Master or Product Owner and I finally decided that the guys from Splash were fulfilling the Scrum Master role for two reasons. Firstly, they were ensuring that we followed the process, which in this case was the plan for the slide and to ensure that we met an acceptable definition of Done, but secondly, and crucially, they told us what we needed to do but did not tell us how we should do it. Although advice was given when requested.
Our Development Team were made of women and men from different offices so although we knew each other, few of us had worked closely together but good collaboration and communication would play a key part in the success of the project. Plenty of the team had experience of these kind of DIY projects and these multi-skilled developers were able to turn their hands to a wide variety of tasks. Those with slightly more limited skills were able to contribute by picking up new skills and ensuring that the batteries for the drills were kept charged up or bringing the building materials to the build site thereby ensuring the site was kept tidy and that a smooth flow of work could be maintained. As a team we collaborated very effectively to ensure we met our goal but we also had to collaborate with other teams on the site as some of the tools had to be shared across teams and success was judged on the overall site not on any one project.
For me, the most rewarding aspect of the day was that we were allowed to own the problem we were tackling. We had plenty of guidance and coaching from our “Scrum Master” in terms of ensuring we met of Definition of Done, and fulfilled all the necessary requirements. We were told that the old slide needed to be demolished to make space, and we that needed to keep the metal sheet to re-use on the new one BUT our self-organising team had to work out how to reinstall the slide against the new platform which had a different height and orientation to the old one. On several occasions we had to adapt the plan in the light of the real world situation such as digging a hole to ensure the large slide still fitted. Even when digging the hole we initially expected earth and stones but immediately hit some previously forgotten rubber matting placed years before and long since overgrown so we had to work out the most efficient way of removing it – it turns out that shovels won’t work but secateurs do a great job!
So we had a Goal and a Backlog of requirements, a Development Team, a Scrum Master and Product Owner and a whole load of eager stakeholders and two days to do something genuinely worthwhile. While I can’t say this is the perfect metaphor for Agile we had all the elements for a successful collaboration to deliver a meaningful project and above all the team took the opportunity to own the build and adapt the plan to the conditions on the ground in a truly agile fashion. All in all it was a great day!