So many trees but where is the wood?

So many trees but where is the wood?

It is far too easy for developers and other technical resources to get caught up in the technical solution and processes at the expense of the objective they set out to achieve. People lose track of the value that was envisioned by the business. They can become blinkered and inward focused.

Lets look at this in terms of Thirst Quenchers Inc. The UK’s premier supplier of assorted beverages to the school fete market. Thirst Quenchers Inc had a mission statement to serve customers their drink of choice and make a stack of cash while doing so. This is how they define their value and the objective of their activities.

The directors at TQ Inc are a forward thinking lot so they ask the delivery team to be self organising. They will therefore get the most out of the people on the ground at the fete. They do, however give them the costs that things need to sell at in order to cover costs. These are:

  • Tea – 50p / cup
  • Beer – £5 / pint
  • Wine – £10 / half bottle

 

Spring fete season starts and it’s unfortunately for fete goers it’s a cold spring this year. Luckily for TQ Inc they have a range of rather good tea which will warm even the chilliest spring day. The delivery team leader decides that the self organising needs a little assistance and splits the team into project tea and project cold drinks. 3 members of the team go onto project tea, the remaining two go onto project cold drinks. The tea sells like hot cakes, or rather hot tea. The cold drinks are slow but steady. All is good with the world, tea had the greatest business value due to the weather conditions. TQ Inc serves customers their drink of choice and makes a stack of cash.

Summer comes around and it’s a scorcher. The team setup at the fetes and queues quickly form at the beer stall and at the wine stall. At this point cries for assistance can be heard from the 2 team members who are battling to service the public cold drinks. Having split themselves one on beer and one on wine they are hugely overwhelmed by demand. It’s clear that the value of tea has fallen to zero and beer and wine have rocketed. However the project tea team know that once you start working on a project you damn well carry on working on that project until it’s bitter end (that bit with the tea leaves in it). Plus they’ve got into the zone, they’ve got flow. They can serve the best brewed cup of tea in the northern hemisphere. They’ve become so zen at tea that some of them even believe that they do not work as deliverers of fine beverages anymore, instead they are solely employed to serve tea. So with this in mind the only response they give is:

“Sorry all, we’re on ‘project tea’!”
“We’re only hired to work on tea, couldn’t possibly pour out a half bottle of wine.”
“What would happen if we had a sudden tea rush? We’d be out of practice and no longer in the zone.”
“Swapping task from tea to beer would be inefficient. I’ve got to walk all the way over to the beer stall and get my beer head on.”
“If you take me off project tea I’ll quit, as tea is now my life!”
“Can’t the cold drinks guys just work harder?”

TQ Inc does not serve customers their beverage of choice, they don’t make a stack of cash. In fact they have to make reductions in costs and decide to halve the delivery team. Now they have the trouble of deciding if they should sack the people that can make the best tea in the northern hemisphere and made a load of money in spring or the cold drinks team who failed to service enough customers and ostracized their customer base by forcing them to stand in queues for hours. All down to a shortsighted viewpoint and a loss of focus on the actual value for the business. The self organising team ignored the organising part and just ended up being selfish.

So focus on business value, never lose sight of why we’re doing the things we’re doing. I can guarantee you that we’re not developing software solutions for the art of it. There is business value buried down there somewhere. Write up the value of the things you are doing and understand how they help the company. Constantly verify if the value of projects have changed and shuffle resource accordingly.

Do not confuse the Scrum process with a reason not to follow agile principles. That’s tail wagging the dog, Scrum is design to assist in meeting the agile principles.

Most of all remember there is no tea in team. Well apart from the first three letters.

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