This post was written by David Smith, an agile coach at OVO
A couple of weeks ago my dad was visiting us and as a proud grandparent, he was keen to go and see his grandson play tag rugby. The Sunday morning in question happened to coincide with a rugby ‘festival’.
In case you were wondering, we don’t call them ‘tournaments’ any more as that encourages a competitive attitude that is contrary to the spirit of participation and inclusion that the RFU is keen promote and which I wholeheartedly support. That said I still find myself among that group of parents that occasionally sidles up to the official scorer on the touch line and whispers, “I know it is not important, but what is the score?”
Back to the story; we made our way to the festival in unseasonably warm and sunny weather which we enjoyed whilst all the matches played. During the festival itself my son’s team outdid themselves; drawing 1 and winning the remaining 4 of their 5 matches (not that it is important, I know). My son played well, showing good team spirit, securing a number of tags and scoring a sliding (“did you see me Dad?!?”) try. After such a successful morning we were all in high spirits on the way home.
It proved to be quite the showcase event for my dad and reminded me of some ‘Showcase’ events or Sprint Reviews I see in my work. These rather artificial events present an exclusively positive view of the product to senior stakeholders.
Tell the Whole Story
Of course, there are times when the good work the development team has done should be the cause of celebration, however it is important that the showcase remains an opportunity for open and honest dialogue between the team and the senior stakeholders who attend.
To go back to the rugby analogy my dad could be forgiven for believing that U8s rugby is an exclusively positive experience which has provided my son and I with an uninterrupted string of successes.
What my dad didn’t see were the personal trials my son endures when he does not play well. Sometimes his team does not always enjoy the rich vein of form they hit when my father was there and I have seen many dropped or misdirected passes, tags missed and team formations not working.
I haven’t even mentioned yet that there are the elements outside the control of the team such as the wind and the rain which make catching a ball with cold, wet hands extremely difficult. Boggy pitches cause the children to slip and fall under the pressure of oncoming defenders.
None of these obstacles were seen in the ‘showcase’ festival my father attended.
Make the Work Transparent
‘Showcase’ events where this favourable view of the work of a development team is presented to senior stakeholders miss a key opportunity for the team to communicate with their stakeholders and is contrary to one of the pillars of Scrum; ‘Transparency’.
Firstly, I know it has been said before, but it bears repeating; the purpose of the Showcase should not be simply to demonstrate the software. In fact referencing the Scrum Guide again, this is only 1 of 8 items to cover.
By all means demonstrate the software as it is and record the feedback that this generates and add it to the product backlog. The showcase should cover more than this, and we certainly should not seek to create the impression amongst senior stakeholders that we are progressing on target and without obstruction unless this is genuinely the case. That is the equivalent of using software to produce the much derided, weekly PowerPoint deck for senior management. You know, the one that shows the project RAG status as ‘Green’ regardless of the truth.
Highlight the Challenges
As well as demonstrating the software the team should present the work they have done in the sprint, the problems they faced and the measures they took to overcome them. Not including this belittles the effort and dedication that the team have shown in getting the product increment ready.
There may be challenges the team still face that they were unable to overcome (inadequate hardware, training requirements in the team to name a couple) and senior stakeholder support may help to resolve these. The stakeholders are going to be unable to provide this support if they are not aware the problem exists which is why this transparency is so important.
Follow the Principles as well as the Practices
You may be thinking that this all sounds well and good, but it is not easy to be so transparent when you are not used to it and I know that is true. The important point to note is that this is one of the key things that distinguishes organisations that follow agile practices from those that embrace agile principles. The value of the showcase only comes with this transparency.
The first time you display this transparency it may feel unusual, even uncomfortable, but that does not mean you should not do it. (I never promised this was going to be easy.) The discomfort should pay dividends when you start to enjoy the benefit of the additional support from your leadership. You may even be pleasantly surprised by how enthusiastic your stakeholders are to have really tangible ways to help your team succeed.
In our case our rugby showcase continued over a roast Sunday lunch as my son talked about how it is not always easy and the difficulties presented by cold, wet weather and how this affects ball handling. As a result my dad offered to buy Christmas presents of a warm hat and rugby gloves.
So next time you are preparing your showcase, think about making it an open and honest event that gives a real world view of the state of your product and the work of the team. This will allow your leadership to engage with your teams and support them in achieving their goals.