Are Agile tools your GPS?

Phone GPS in car

Agile tools that help you with visualising your work, with capturing your users’ needs and with your retrospective are great. Just not an excuse to not have to think anymore.

You might remember this strange story from 2009. A car was found stranded in the middle of the Californian desert. Lying in the shade of it a nearly dead woman was found. She and her son had been stuck there for days, exposed to the scorching heat and without food or water. What were they doing there? Turns out she had been blindly following her GPS and it lead her into a closed-off road leading nowhere.

Clearly she put too much faith in the correctness of the GPS. And it’s not all that uncommon. GPS’s are great tools and I use my navigation app almost every day. They allow us to spend less time thinking about your route and following it, this leaving us mental energy to listen to a great podcast for instance. A lot of tools we use help us in this way. By outsourcing your thinking to a tool you get to spend more of it on more important matters. Without the help of our (digital) tools we would be very inefficient and very tired of thinking up new solutions.

Don’t blindly follow your agile tools guidance

As with the woman that stranded in the desert, we can not always trust our tools blindly. Even thought the tool might be right you still need to process the information and take your own conclusions.

Trello is a great product, but don't let it control you
Great products, but don’t let them control you

Take for instance Atlassian Jira, which I think is a great product overall. What I don’t like though is Jira signalling that it is now time for your retrospective and provides you with a simple format for it. I have seen teams at the end of their sprint updating their Jira board and closing their sprint, at their desks behind their laptops, and then immediately move on to their retrospective. In the same space, still behind their laptops. I am not surprised these aren’t the most effective, creative and fun retrospectives.

While most of the times it is not a life or death situation, blindly following your Agile tools’ guidance contains a big risk. One of the biggest anti-patterns of Agile teams is the mechanical application of Scrum. Teams go through the motions of Scrum without thinking about the goals they try to achieve. Sometimes called Zombie-Scrum, this leads to mediocre results and demotivation. Blindly following the process captured in your tools can lead to that.

Individual and interactions

Let me pull up the Agile Manifesto once again: individuals & interactions over processes & tools. Processes and tools should be in service of individuals and their interactions. This means that interacting with each other and the environment to come up with great solutions is the main thing. Just like to woman forgetting to look outside and interacting with her environment, we shouldn’t forget to interact and stop and think about what we are trying to achieve.

Again, don’t get me wrong. Tools are great – and here’s my list of recommended tools – to help you interact and organise efficiently. Just think once in a while before following their guidance.


 

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