Waterfalling your Iterations: Not the way to handle re-work

Ah, good old re-work.  The thorn in the side of Scrum teams, the impossible mountain to climb for development teams.  Re-work is un-avoidable.  When people see working software, they get new ideas and might want some changes.   Here are some thoughts for handling re-work based on a few scenarios that popped up at work this week.

If We Knew Earlier, We Coulda Did Something About it

Situation: During our iteration demos the team I’m working with found that they had improvements and suggestions now that they could ‘step back’ and see their work.  Other folks who we invite to the demo would have some small ideas or our Product Owner would have some suggestions that were nit-picky, but nonetheless would be better for the user.

Problem: Waiting too long to get feedback.

Solution: I’m happy the team came to this conclusion themselves in the retrospective.  One of the team members posed the question that why don’t we show our product owner immediately when we complete the story and not wait for the demo?  Side note: I’ve mentioned this to them a few times, but it was great to see them take a problem and apply the learnings on their own.

Splitting the Iteration into Work and Re-work Phases

Scenario: There is too much re-work at the end of the iteration so we are going to take our 1 week iterations and shorten them to 3 days so we have 2 days to do re-work.

Problem: too much WIP and lack of communication between team and product owner. (In this scenario the product owner isn’t available full-time to the team and the proxy he assigned can’t always make a decision). There are a few other things happening here as well.  The work this team does is non-software and they rely frequently on interacting with people in other departments.  They’ll start something, get blocked and move on to something else therefore creating a great deal of waste.

Solution: The team has been struggling with this for a few iterations, I’m not working with them but did have a chat with their Scrum Master since he felt it was a failure on his part.  Not so at all.   I told him maybe trying to hammer Scrum into their work-style wasn’t the best thing to do.  Perhaps a Kanban system would be more effective for them.   We talked about what that meant and they’re not ready for that so instead they’ll try communicating with the product owner more often and help the PO understand he needs to be available for the team to fulfill their commitments.

Agile/Waterfall Hybrids is What we Did!

This one came up in a training session I was doing.  One of the attendees said mixing waterfall and Agile can work because in his experience there was no way to handle re-work in Agile.  The solution to this is similar to the first scenario I discussed at the start of this post.

The root of this problem is not getting feedback early enough or the lack of daily communication between the Product Owner and the Team that is required when using an Agile process.  A deeper problem was the apparent separation between programmers and testers on the team he was talking about.  I wasn’t able to deep-dive into the scenario since it was in the middle of class but I offered some suggestions about why it might be happening.

All of these examples, in my opinion, are some of the main reasons why companies fail with Agile.  They interpret “Agile” to mean flexible and let’s just change the rules to make it work for us.  While Scrum is a simple, adaptable framework, the fundamentals shouldn’t be changed to accommodate a broken process.   This type of dysfunction can lead to mis-trust between the Team and the business and also cause a rift between programmers and testers as they will start to ‘fall back’ into a waterfall mentality.

It’s important that the Scrum Master or Coach help the teams struggling with this to understand what the real underlying issue is and to work through it.