Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools. Yes, really.
The Manifesto for Agile Software Development is four fantastically brief points:
- Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools.
- Working Software over Comprehensive Documentation.
- Customer Collaboration over Contract Negotiations.
- Responding to Change over Following a Plan.
People still don’t understand or embrace it though. More than the others, misunderstanding of the first point really stings like salt in a wound when people don’t seem to understand what it means or the importance of it. For instance, I saw an advertisement for a tool on Twitter yesterday evening stating that
”For best agile practices, you need the best tools”
I regularly have people excitedly tell me about new tools that they have come across, usually offering some excellent collaboration features with some lovely HTML 5 interfaces. My first response is usually along the lines of yeah, it looks great, but what problem is it actually solving and is that something that can be better addressed by improved face to face interactions?
Tools can be brilliant, and some definitely can help some teams to perform better, but the majority won’t be on any benefit to the majority of teams.
When a tool solves a problem there may well be a very strong business case for the team to use it, but what are the side effects? Does it inadvertently stop teams from communicating?
A lot of teams like to use electronic boards to visualise their user stories. A lot of these tools allow development team members to define the tasks that are required to complete a story, and people are able to assign themselves to the tasks that they are going to complete. In an ideal world, that’s probably fine, however the side effect that I have observed in a number of teams is that it reduces the collaboration between team members – people no longer have to talk about what they are working on or what they are going to pick up next, or even how well a story is progressing because they can get all of that information from the board.
When teams start to reduce their levels of communication (interactions), quite often their levels of collaboration start to suffer quite significantly as well, and it can go as far as to act as a barrier between teams becoming self-organising because in effect the board is organising things for them. That’s not to say electronic boards are bad, but do they really offer anything over a plain whiteboard and some post-it notes? If your team isn’t co-located then they probably do, but otherwise I’d suggest that you think twice before moving away from the simplest solution.
Less is so often more, and my own preference when I do have to use electronic boards is to stick to something simple such as Trello, rather than going for the more complex and theoretically more powerful Jira.
Tools should assist teams, and when they are complicated they are simply a burden. It seems to me that because most tools are designed for the most typical Agile teams, they are designed for teams who aren’t terribly performant and generally don’t do what they should, so they require capacity to store thousands of defects. They don’t work well together, so they want a way of communicating via a board rather than face to face.