Forward-looking Reviews: Feedback loops essential for Agile success

To keep pace with cloud innovations, my team at Dell drives aggressively forward.  Agile is essential to our success because it provides critical organization, control and feedback for our projects.  One repeating challenge I’ve had with the Agile decorations (aka meetings) is confusion between the name of the meeting and the process objectives.

The Agile process is very simple:  get feedback -> decide -> act -> repeat

People miss the intent of our process because of their predisposition about what’s supposed to happen in a meeting based on it’s name. 

Some examples of names I avoid:

  • Demo – implies a one-way communication instead of a feedback loop
  • Post-mortem – implies it’s too late to fix problems
  • Retrospective – implies we are talking about the past instead of looking forward
  • Schedule – assumes that we can make promises about the future (not bad, but limits flexibility)
  • Person-Weeks – focuses on time frame, not on the use cases we want to accomplish

Names that work well with Agile

  • Planning – we’re working together to figure out what we’re going to do.
  • Review – talking over work that’s been done with input expected.
  • Roadmap – implies a journey in which we have to achieve certain landmarks before we reach our destination.
  • Story Points – avoids time references in favor of relative weights and something that can be traded.
  • Velocity – conveys working quickly and making progress.  Works well with roadmaps.

We have recognize the powerful influence of semantics for people participating in any process.   If people arrive with the wrong mindset, we face significant danger (IMHO, soul numbing meetings are murder) from completely missing critical opportunities to get feedback and drive decisions.  Since We rarely review WHY we are meeting, so it’s easy to have people not engage or make poor assumptions based on nothing more than our word choice.

The most powerful mitigation to semantic confusion is to constantly seek feedback.  Ask for feedback specifically.  Ask for feedback using the work feedback.

Does this make sense?  I’d like your feedback.

4 thoughts on “Forward-looking Reviews: Feedback loops essential for Agile success

  1. I like that you’ve dropped some of the Scrum specific names that tend ot lead to assumed purposes. I also agree that working around assumed purposes sometimes devalues a meeting. Making it much less useful to the team as a whole.

    However, whatever the purpose of a meeting; planning, review, roadmap, story points, velocity, or whatever there are things that do need to be focused on. As long as communication stays clear, precision is good, and the overall communication is frequent all should be good.

    As is spoken regularly, “Communicate often”.

    As for “Agile” or “agile” the case really is what increases, and probably more important, what maintains velocity and keeps turnover and frustration to a minimum.

    Like

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