The Simple, Rapid Test That Every Agile Team Should be Doing
A couple of weeks ago, I shared some thoughts around the concept of leading a team of agile craftsmen and how all of us were practitioners in a living lab. Agile product development, by definition, requires that we fail fast, learn from our mistakes and develop processes that maximize efficiency. Agile values also require that we put the emphasis on people ahead of the process.
That sounds incongruous. How do you do both in parallel? It seems like it would be impossible to put people first yet adhere to the rigor required by following a process. However, there is a way. It’s called the Agile Litmus Test. Although there is no standardized template for it, the basic concept is that each team member thinks about why s/he/they is doing what they’re doing towards the goal of assessing whether or not the individual, team or corporate effort meets the values and principles as defined by the Agile Manifesto.
Many of you may recall the litmus test from your chemistry classes. The Litmus Test is a simple, low-tech, low-cost way of determining the pH (acidity) of a given solution. It’s been around for centuries and it’s still in use today both as a physical test as well as a metaphor for describing a quick method for testing out a concept. The fact that it’s been around so long illustrates how effective it is which, in turn, underscores the value of the Agile Litmus Test. One thing that surprised me is how search results returned for this test seem to drop off after 2015 – have agile developers lost sight of its importance?
Within the context of agile product development, the Agile Litmus Test is a rapid means of straddling the duality of putting people ahead of the process (Agile Value #1) yet still adhering to it. There are several versions of what it should be, but there are only a few basic rules regarding the application of the Agile Litmus Test. In short, keep asking yourself if you’re doing the right thing. Given that we’re all agile craftsmen, we should be encouraged to use a little latitude to make the “rules” work for each of us given our own scenarios. At InRhythm, we apply it to meet our needs.
Quite simply, the Agile Litmus Test is the act of asking practical, meaningful questions to assess our priorities. Which questions you ask and which order you ask them in are not critical. What is critical is that you ask some flavor of these questions regarding everything that you do. It’s less about the rigor of the questions asked and more about accepting the personal responsibility of asking them. Whatever you’re doing, which includes posting on social media, writing content, coding, documenting, how you conduct yourself at a meeting and what you say there, etc. should all be subjected to the Agile Litmus Test.
Consider questions along the following lines:
- Why am I doing X this way?
- How is doing X going to help me meet my goal(s)?
- Should I be doing X right now?
- Is there something else that I should be doing instead of X?
- How will my team or project be impacted if I do X?
The idea is to self-assign a mental speedbump, not a big hurdle. You want that little bump to be big enough to get noticed but small enough to accelerate through. Take the time to pause and think about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Each of our actions as agile software engineers who are part of high velocity teams has consequences for us as individuals, as a team, as a client and as a vendor. We need to consider the bigger picture for all that we do and not gloss over our own accountability for using our time in a way that advances our personal and professional goals.
In my years of experience onsite at clients and working with 10x teams, I’ve seen people get caught up in their own agendas. Somehow, they lose track of the bigger picture or their leaders have not communicated it effectively to them. Regardless of how or why it happened, they are not invested in how their efforts tie into the collective efforts of the project. So, you’re thinking, well, if one individual has lost sight of the vision and the shared end-goal, that’s probably not going to have an effect on the overall outcome. Or, if you’re that individual, you may be thinking the same thing.
Not so, because there is rarely just one individual on an agile project that loses sight of the priorities. Typically, it’s more than one which can have dire consequences on hitting the milestones and timeline that only some people are tracking to. If you were to apply the Agile Litmus Test right now, what is the question that you ask yourself?
Thanks and Keep Growing,
What We’re Reading Around the Web
16 Quick Poll – a Litmus Test for Agile Product Development
“I want a litmus test, i.e. a short list of questions for challenging developers and their managers on their engineering practices.”
How to Test for Agility with the Agile Litmus Test
“To be agile, you need to be able to ask, ‘Is this agile?’”
Taking the Agile Litmus Test
“When you understand these values and principles, you’ll be able to ask, “Is this agile?” and be confident in your answer.”
The Principles of Agile Manifesto
“Collectively, these principles are used to like a litmus test to identify if a project is being run on agile or not.”