People Over Process: Behind Agile’s Core Principles

People Over Process: Behind Agile’s Core Principles

In “People Over Process,” Michael K Levine explains how the focus on “Individuals and Interactions” over “Processes and Tools” is key to Agile. That’s why it was the first value listed in the Manifesto for Agile Software Development.  20 years on, we can see why and how this core value influences everything Agile accomplishes when adopted by businesses – and why  industry giants are making the switch. 

What it means to place processes over individuals

How does a workplace maintain or grow its output? Some employers develop techniques after months or years of troubleshooting and then rigidly stick to their formula, swapping out employees as necessary to ensure their workforce adheres to these principles

Conceptually, it makes sense. Processes are developed because businesses seek to minimize losses and risks while maximizing profits. Entrepreneurs often reduce methods to 0s and 1s, optimizing operations according to the most efficient method at the time.

While some employers are more comfortable with this degree of control, it comes with a price — placing the team members’ needs lower on the priority list and stifling creativity and flexibility.

It’s also a stark contrast to how Agile is meant to operate. 

The Agile difference – an individual-first approach

Agile organizations are built on adaptability requiring cooperation from your team in the pursuit of a common goal, maintaining communication with consumers to create products they’ll want to purchase, and the ability to produce the goods at an efficient rate. 

These three components working in tandem don’t just inspire flexibility; they require it. What if a global event (like a pandemic) causes the needs and desires of the market to change? Likewise, what if a shift in how your workplace operates fundamentally changes the processes you’ve been employing up to that moment? It could be as simple as changing healthcare protocols, or as dire as wages no longer being sufficient to provide a livelihood for your employees.

For some businesses, this would mean stubbornly sticking to the way things have always been done and trying to force the market and team members to go along with it. However, Agile companies aren’t just willing to adapt – they’re ready to adapt. 

There are considerable benefits to this flexibility, besides the ability to keep releasing products without disrupting your supply line. Your employees will appreciate their needs being accommodated, resulting in a greater affinity for you as their employer and the company as a whole, boosting their productivity and the quality of goods they’re creating. 

This, in turn, reaches your consumers, increasing their affinity for your company as a provider of high quality goods, turning them into loyal customers and making them more likely to spread the word to their peers, who also begin to look to you as a reliable supplier.

Placing “people over process” has a domino effect. By placing individuals before processes or tools; by treating your workers not just as subordinates, but as partners in the creation of high quality goods or services, you improve your business’s ability to deliver for employees and customers alike. That’s what sets Agile organizations apart from the rest.

How to use Scrum Burndown Charts to Measure Performance

 Is Your Team on Target? How to use Scrum Burndown Charts to Measure Performance

Scrum Burndown Charts are designed to provide your team with feedback on how you’re performing, so you can make informed decisions as you move forward.  There are different levels of burndowns including project, release, and sprint burndowns, but they all have the same purpose — to give your team feedback against your target plan. 

All burndown charts have the same basic structure: measuring time (X axis) versus planned work remaining (Y axis). We’re going to look at four different ways of measuring a sprint burndown at the Product Backlog Item (PBI) level.

Burn down the number of incomplete PBIs on the sprint

The challenge with burning down the number of incomplete PBIs is that sometimes items vary dramatically in size. If some items can be implemented in 3 days while other items may take 7 or 8 days, this may not give you enough precision in terms of how you’re doing against the plan. 

Burn down the estimate of incomplete PBIs

The drawback with burning down the estimate of incomplete PBIs is that some items can only be completed in half a sprint. Your chart will accurately show a horizontal line until day 6, but it’s not very informative in terms of showing whether you’re on target or not. You won’t know until day 6 or day 7 if you’re behind, and at that point, you won’t have a lot of options.

Burn down at the sprint task level

If you’ve identified 100 tasks that you must execute during the sprint, you can burn down the number of incomplete tasks. But take note: your plan isn’t fixed. If on day one, you had 100 tasks and on day two you had 95 tasks, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve completed five. You could have completed 10 and identified 5 new tasks.

This chart shows you the number remaining which includes both those to be completed, those removed, and those that you added.  However, if some of the tasks vary dramatically in size (from an hour or two to a couple of days), then burning down the number of tasks may not give you a great enough level of precision.

Burn down the estimated task hours remaining

You may decide to estimate the 100 tasks by the number of  hours it should take to complete them. If the total estimated hours are 500, you’d expect to have no hours remaining at the end of the sprint. There’s a trajectory you’re supposed to take – a flight path your team’s work must take to finish this planned amount of work in this amount of time. This becomes the target.

Why plotting your progress helps you make informed decisions 

By plotting your team’s progress on a daily basis, you can clearly see the trend of when you’re going to complete this planned work. If you’re looking at a burndown with the red line as opposed to the burndown with the blue line, it should lead you to make very different decisions.

burndown chart

The blue line tells you that you’re ahead of plan and there’s very little risk of not finishing everything you planned. But the red line tells a very different story, because based on your current rate of progress, you’re not going to finish everything you planned. This means you need to be very careful about what you choose to work on, since only the completed tasks become part of the increment.

Take note: the estimated hours remaining is not equal to the original estimate minus time spent – it’s a re-estimation of the time remaining now you’ve started working on it.

The Bottom Line

Burndown charts are a useful way of tracking progress and helping your team make informed decisions. But a word of caution: burndown charts are only useful if they are placed where everyone can see it and your team looks at it and uses it every day.

Is Agile Right for Your Business?

Is Agile Right for Your Business?

When it comes to business, “one size fits all” solutions simply don’t work — especially when income is on the line and businesses can reach a make-or-break point within days. Whether you’re a small business or an enterprise, it’s vital to constantly optimize operations, reduce job costs and wasted time, and keep up with your competitors’ successes or failures. 

All this, and you still have to take product creation and your audience’s response into consideration. That’s why businesses turn to varying operational methods in an effort to handle these variables. 

Agile can prove to be a powerful framework for businesses. Initially developed for software companies looking to speed up their delivery of high-quality applications, Agile’s core principles  continue to attract business owners from various niches. With its people-focused approach and flexibility, it’s arming companies with the tools they need to succeed even during incredibly volatile times such as COVID-19.

Making the switch to Agile is an often beneficial process, but it’s also a complex one. Before you commit to making the change, consider this:

What are the current bottlenecks in your process?

Agile was built to compete with the rapidly evolving world of technology, where updates to new tech can be made obsolete by the time they make it to market. Developers have shifted their focus to pushing out products more quickly, while getting fast feedback to enable them to swiftly start work on new iterations.

If speed and customer feedback are vital to your business, Agile may be the answer.

How important is team member freedom?

It may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s not that clear cut. Theoretically, you may want team members to have all the freedom they need, but not all businesses thrive when team members have room to experiment. 

Sometimes, it takes a firm hand and a singular vision to guide a team to the most effective solutions. If that’s the case for your company, Agile might not be what you’re looking for. Agile places a large amount of value on cultivating team members when it comes to creativity and initiative, and advises managers to grant team members the ability to sink or swim. In some scenarios, “sink” would spell disaster for an entire company, not just a project or product.

Are you flexible?

Flexibility isn’t just a core concept of Agile, it’s a prerequisite. The methodology itself changes over time (just as businesses evolve over time). There are more than one type of Agile to choose from, including Kanban, Scrum, Crystal, and more. By the time you read this post, new types could be available or the current flavor of the month could have lost popularity. If this annoys you or makes you anxious, Agile might not be for you.

Can your business afford the change?

Can your business afford the time and money it’ll cost to train your team on Agile principles? Take a look at Scaled Agile’s Implementation Roadmap which describes how involved it can be to implement Agile, including teaching, training, creating groups, and scaling implementation as your organization (depending on the size) slowly shifts various assets over to the Agile way of working.  

Can your business afford to spend hours on training? What if you implemented it one piece at a time? How much leeway do you have? What will happen if you have team members who are slow or resistant to making the switch to Agile?

These are critical questions. Make sure you have the answers before you make the switch.

The bottom line

The Agile Methodology is powerful, but it’s not a framework that every single business can, or should, adopt. Doing your research and weighing the potential impacts and benefits can help you decide if moving to Agile is right for you.


Kanban vs Scrum: What’s Better for Your Project?

Kanban vs Scrum: What’s Better for Your Project?

Deciding between Kanban vs Scrum can be a tough nut to crack, especially since these terms are often mistaken for one another and go hand-in-hand. However, there are some key factors that set them apart. 

What is Scrum all about?

Scrum is a framework that builds upon the Agile project management method. It’s a widely used methodology for handling projects, and keeping up rapid action, advancement, testing, and delivery of products.

Typically, projects are divided into two-week or one-month cycles called ‘sprints’. It’s the Scrum Team’s responsibility to keep the execution of pre-set tasks within the given interval, so the next Sprint may set off uninterrupted. Daily retrospective meetings are indispensable elements of a successful iteration. 

Related: Agile QuickTip: Kick off your Team with a Retrospective

What is the essence of Kanban?

Kanban is a frequently utilized agile methodology, characteristized by ‘visualization’. By contrast to Scrum, Kanban focuses less on deadlines and puts more emphasis on work in progress (WIP). Assignments and processes are added to a Kanban board, where team members can easily visualize them. It aims to identify and get past difficulties, enhance productivity and output, and make the pace of workflow consistent.

Since both approaches are iterative in nature, split projects into smaller pieces, and prioritize early product delivery throughout steady process improvement, there’s confusion over which approach is best suited to a given project — especially since a study shows  the two methods can successfully coexist in projects. 

Kanban vs Scrum: Differences in cadence

As mentioned, Scrum progresses quickly to meet each Sprint’s deadlines. Due to relatively short iterations, complicated assignments are broken down into more manageable pieces which facilitates team adaptation and learning. Sprints are handled via planning, review, and Scrum meetings on a daily basis.

Kanban’s primary goal is to keep the workflow running and alert the team about altering priorities. A Kanban board perfectly serves this purpose, as it lets the team keep track of tasks that can be uniquely categorized. Often used labels include “To do”, “Working on it”, and “Stuck”.

Individual delivery methods in Kanban vs Scrum

In Scrum, the final product delivery happens ideally at the end of each Sprint. During the Sprint review meeting, the team decides whether the Sprint Goal (the team’s predetermined objective) may be released or not.

Kanban doesn’t operate on fixed deadlines. Therefore, updates are delivered as soon as they are finished, irrespective of whether they were ready earlier or later than expected.

Important metrics used in Kanban vs Scrum

Undoubtedly, speed is Scrum’s most significant metric, providing a great reference point for how heavy workloads can be in future iterations.

Kanban relies heavily on cycle time, which indicates how long it takes for an assignment to reach the finish line. Boosting this metric is crucial for the efficiency of Kanban teams.

Different accountabilities in Kanban vs Scrum

Scrum accountabilities are built on three specific pillars: the Product Owner, the Scrum Master, and the Developers. The first advocates for the customer, promotes developer task-prioritization, and handles the product backlog. The second guides the team to achieve optimal results. Lastly, the third delivers increments and requested business values.

Would You Like To Improve Your Skills As A Scrum Master Or Product Owner? Check Out Our Available Online Classes!

In Kanban, there’s one collective team working on the board. Sometimes a coach is appointed for better coordination, but these teams usually operate based on mutual responsibility.

Which framework fits your project best?

There’s no clear answer to this question. It’s all project, team and goal-dependent. We’ve identified key considerations to help you decide what will work better for your project:

  • Customer-centric approach:
    Scrum is your go-to method. Feedback is the backbone of any Scrum Team, helping them learn what’s best for customers, and refocus priorities accordingly
  • Framework with milestones and boundaries:
    Choose Scrum, since its limited flexibility may foster better productivity, efficiency and output
  • 10+ people in your team:
    Consider Kanban. Scrum is suitable for smaller groups because of daily meetings and fixed deadlines; Kanban is ideal for bigger teams that mostly work on a collective board.
  • Changing project goals or priorities:
    Pick Kanban. While Scrum operations are more prone to stoppage due to delays, Kanban processes usually don’t build upon one another. It all comes down to continuous update release. When there are several different requests in varying size and priority and one process runs up against obstacles, the others will keep going.

Still not sure? Talk to one of our experts about whether the Scrum methodology is a good fit for your organization.