Maintaining momentum in agile practices during uncertain times

We created this guide because macro events fundamentally impact people’s lives. The impact of current events is felt most acutely in Ukraine and will inevitably have a knock-on effect on teams we rely on to build the digital products and services that we all consume every day.

Wherever your team is located, a few best practices will assist in maintaining velocity and program momentum when resources and utilisation levels vary with little or no warning.

Altamira implements these techniques to help us avoid significant velocity change in our agile programme’s backlog burndown, and we gauge and manage continued momentum towards our customer’s goals.

Shadowing & understudies/pair programming

Part of the key to any agile squad is the concept of a ‘rainbow’ team where, while there are specialisations, the team is by its nature multi-functional. Each team member can multi-task and support others’ specialisation in extenuating circumstances, wherever possible. Larger squads always have a multiplicity of technical skills/specialisations, but smaller squads require a more focused continuity strategy when there are likely to be resource utilisation risks.

The concept of shadows or understudies is from the Theatre world. Every team member has their shadow. They regularly update as they progress/complete tasks and show and tell’ those results, including bringing their shadow into Teams/Slack channels and customer discussions.

We might use pair programming for complex activities to exchange the keyboard as code is mutually developed, using shared screens and shared control on Altamira’s collaboration environment.

Document and check-in as you go, plus record everything

Another critical aspect is ensuring that complete and incomplete tasks and activities are lodged and documented. We require regular checking in of work to ensure that if there does need to be a “relay race”, the coding baton can be easily picked up where it is left.

A good practice is to ensure that when the working day ends, developers add comments and notes on the next intended steps at the end of the code.

Cloud storage is very inexpensive, so recording collaborative meetings is straightforward and should be utilised. Recording team meetings, code reviews, and customer interactions will be key to walking through the programme’s status. The use of Slack/Teams channels to record interactions and queries will be important.

Flexible resourcing by default

In times of emergency, local recruitment and sourcing channels may be compromised or delayed, which necessitates an omnichannel approach, for example:

  • Dynamic Change Partners are signed up to bilateral agreements where the inability to fulfil is passed to the partner (bi-directionally) as business and customer deployments grow/change. This includes both vertical (i.e., specialised skills in technology or domain solutions) and horizontally (i.e., larger, and smaller organisations are used to deliver to customers on an ‘ideal/capable work package’ basis).
  • Global Sourcing – virtual working is a default now, not an exception in the new post-pandemic world. Arrangements should already be in place for the ’employ from anywhere, work anywhere’ model, enabling access to a global workforce and global commercial flexibility. However, this must be underpinned by a global culture, collaboration platform, and work methods.

Resumes and skills & competencies captured and maintained

The key to a flexible workforce that can ‘veer and haul’ to life’s changing priorities and unexpected change is to understand what you have in your workforce and where the gaps are versus your customers’ expectations and technical/process requirements.

The key to having all your employees’ resumes updated regularly, ideally matching this to a skills and competencies structure. This enables you to develop a strategic workforce plan, which:

  • Identifies key skills and current people within the business
  • Identifies future growth and technology change, aligned to customer roadmaps, and opportunities in your pipeline
  • Defines and measure career progression and homegrown (from apprentice/graduate to senior) and lateral hire options and needs
  • Identifies career pathway change, where analysts can become developers, developers become architects, developers become scrum masters etc, etc
  • Breaks any ‘glass ceilings’ with skills allowances, market testing, and open career progression

With your known and motivated workforce, this will enable you to plan from where you are and modify when dynamic change occurs.

Project and Release Flows

Another key aspect when dealing with unexpected change is the release cycle that is promised to our customers. They cannot shift their business priorities at short notice (typically). This is not a ‘throw resources at it’ answer either, as the old prioritisation challenge goes, 24 elephants cannot produce an elephant calf in one month.

Key is to establish a process that can ‘wrap and release’ minimal viable product at short notice, focusing on automation, testing, and stubbing incomplete functionality, to enable releases to be deployed in short order. Each Epic, Release Train or Sprint should always have the Must/Should/Cloud/Won’t prioritisation and a ‘what would we stub out/de-prioritise if we had to release today’ list. We are effectively planning as if every day is a ‘Close and Release’ day. Whilst this may not be feasible, it will at least introduce a culture of being ready for the unexpected priority and timeline shift.

Stay Safe, Stay Well and Most of All, Be Prepared!

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