What is this Agile anyway?

These days in office, people all talk in hi-fi terms only – Agile, Scrum, Sprint, User Stories, Stand-Up, Sync-Up, Burn down chart, Kanban board etc. etc. long list. They seem so super excited that agile is so awesome, without agile we would have struggled like anything. I feel like blasting them, ‘there has been so many invention which did not follow agile like nuclear bomb creation, we were successful in making it, dropping it and killing millions of innocent people, so agile no big deal’. Very frankly speaking ok, I really don’t know definition and complete meaning of any of these hi-fi terms, so most of the time when these people talk to me, hundreds of other things will be in my mind like finishing work, going home early, paying bills etc. So thinking to increase my knowledge level enough to appreciate what others are talking about, I spend a week on google search and then Boss I dropped learning further, I went totally crazy. You know why, I couldn’t grasp anything, it was so confusing, I think my brain got fried up or something, God only knows whether it became chicken fry or mutton fry.

So I didn’t gain any new knowledge doesn’t mean I am going to disappoint anyone, I will relate personal experience. These days, personal experience means a lot more than just google searched ditto copy, isn’t it? Ok ok, am again beating around the bush, such hot topic means you should check temperature of bush first otherwise its dangerous, you might get burnt. So where do I start. Hmmmn, I will start from where I think it starts according to me, and I tell you in advance please do not use this post as reference material and all, later don’t come to me and tell you said so and so and you did so and so.

There is one shepherd in every team a.k.a ‘scrum master’. One fine morning, he will call all his goats a.k.a ‘team members’ into one dark room. He is specially trained guy by the management to do this rearing business i.e. to show green pastures and how much you should clear in next 2 weeks. Multi responsibility guy this shepherd, sometimes he seems like big guy – facilitator other time coach, yet some other time he seems like small guy – book keeper or librarian, I still don’t know he is big or small guy.  Anyway I am just another goat, like any other goat so I don’t really know what more the shepherd does other than tend his goats and it seems like not my headache to poke into such matters.

So once we are all flocked together, the shepherd will open up a picture a.k.a ‘burn down chart’ and show us how much grass we have already burned down, where we have reached till now, where we should be after two weeks a.k.a ‘sprint’. It’s such a tight schedule that seeing it only you will start getting butterflies in your stomach, ‘this much to do in this sprint’. Last sprint also we all did lot of burning, next sprint also we have to burn, burn more and more, keep on burning week after week, Boss, I really need some breathing time, don’t you think. Then the shepherd will present to you the all the grasslands to be burned for the next 2 weeks a.k.a ‘User stories’. You have talent, how else could you break or simplify everything into User-Stories for two-week sprint, did you also plan for designing, Architecture, fixing reboot issues…? And then the shepherd tells in the most pleasing way possible, ‘so and so will take this much ‘User Stories’, the other will take this much, I think you have more than enough time’ and then one question, ‘it can be completed right?’ That moment Boss, I feel like putting fire to the burn down chart itself, let it burn completely all at once, why doing this week after week. Boss, I haven’t seen this so called grassland which you just talked about, what if there might be some challenges on the way, what if some bugs creep out of nowhere, what if I fall sick, what if?…Instead of taking up engineering, I should have taken up astrology, atleast I could have predicted the future in advance, ‘Vatsa, in the next 2 weeks, Jupiter seems to be in your Mars, and this may or may not interfere with your sprint…’ Again the shepherd looks sharply; I have to give an answer which should be yes. I look around at other goats; all of them have nodded their heads already, I also do ‘mundi hilana’ like Shahrukh Khan in Chennai Express. Who wants to be pictured as talentless, that too in the beginning of a sprint, if others can do, even I can do. I have also come after completing my engineering bros.

After this meeting is dispersed, everyone runs to their seats to start their burning. No left side look, no right side look, burn, burn and burn. We goats miss the big picture in this super simplification, we won’t know what others are actually doing. Is this knowing only your ‘user stories’ part of the system really good for you and your career? If I get some doubt and approach any other goat, they will give me that look, burning look not to disturb or am troubling them, interfering with their burning. No blaming here, I also don’t feel like helping anyone, it is additional pain and trouble. So even if I see someone is doing something wrong, I will have to think twice. Helping another person to burn his tasks won’t reflect in my burning or no one is going to notice it and even the goat who got helped will also not tell it out loud. As a result of this kind of attitude, you are avoiding sharing of knowledge and in turn loosing chance to learn. Only if people are willing to help one another, only then will innovation or creativity come up. But will it work if disciplined project execution is the only thing in mind?

Next day morning itself, we start with stand-ups. Till yesterday afternoon, we were in that planning meeting, what do you think I did after that, feel like telling ‘nothing much to tell’ but then others start speaking out, ‘I downloaded a document, I searched this point in that document, I couldn’t find it there, today I am planning to search in one another document’, don’t you think this is too much. Should I give account of my each and every move, isn’t it enough that I show the ground after its finally burned. Is this much micromanagement really required? Already my mom is telling, ‘Beta, eat food properly’, it is true, I am dying of fear and anxiety, ‘Amma, food is getting stuck in throat’, night I am doing google search to frame tough sentences to catch up with what others are saying about their updates, I don’t want to be looked at by others as talent-less.

In school we used to have black board no, where teacher used to write using coloured chalks and students used to watch, but here it is white board a.k.a ‘kanban board’. This board is also made colourful, not with chalk but with 3M’s POST-IT sticky notes. Whatever user stories was assigned to each team members will be written next to his/her name on this board on individual sticky note, this is the start point of the race. Now the race begins – ready, steady, go – the first person to move every tasks against their name to the finish point is the winner of this race. Here the goats move notes on board, the shepherd watches. If you don’t move some note somewhere forward on a daily basis, you will be looked down by others as an incapable person. No one cares about whose task is more complex, whether it will take more time or not, whether there will be any blocks on the way, nothing, its like comparing ant and elephant, utmost stupidity. All what is cared for is ‘did you reach the finish point in time?’ It’s like Lord Krishna had known agile was coming when he said, ‘The goal is more important than the path.’

You might now ask what’s problem in completing tasks in time, that’s anyway your work, why am I complaining, good question Boss, very good. First thing, I don’t like this daily surveillance, what you don’t trust me, my capability, Boss, you hired me knowing am good and capable to do this work, suddenly you lost trust in me or what, better do one thing, fit one camera on me, so you can know 24*7 what I am doing, how I am spending time. Is this people-productivity management tool to find the under performers on the spot and expel them then and there? Then I have one point, if this sprint I performed extremely well, will you increase my salary also on the spot, that would be motivating if you say, ‘Today you did work very well, take 1 lakh extra!’ No right, only at year end you will give any appraisal, and by then everyone would have forgotten all your over performances, only under performances will be highlighted. Suppose you do meet all deadlines in time by struggling very hard, but for some reason you miss one deadline, you know what happens. It will be the only thing in discussion during appraisal time, ‘you are one who gave estimate, and you couldn’t meet it’. It’s not that I wanted to give wrong estimate, I am telling you again, I am no astrologer, if you are one, you only assign the deadline, don’t ask me to estimate, I am human I might make mistakes.

As if the daily stand-ups wasn’t good enough, we will have more endless stand-Up, Internal team Sync-Up, Cross-functional team Sync-Up and other -Up meetings spending 5-10 hours per week and after all these Up meetings, where is the time to work anyway, should I stretch more or should I multi-task? All these meeting are compulsory, its like working under a dictator rule. If I skip any of these meetings, it will be a big hungama, I am not serious it seems. Boss, since I am serious in my work and since I feel like these meetings are pointless, so only I skip them, why else would I skip simply sitting staring at projected views. Suppose you sit at any of these meeting means you will be expected to talk non stop about what all you did, the same thing only we talked in morning stand up, you should have recorded it and kept. The lesser you talk the less work your doing this is the conclusion that is arrived at. 

At the end of the sprint comes the feedback session. First the burn down chart updated with current sprint details will be projected. Then looking at this chart in dismay, one big discussion will start pointed at the engineers and engineers alone. Why burning did not happen as expected, why task not completed on time? Why only the poor engineers are punished? Shouldn’t everyone be accountable – planning, required resource and logistics, understanding of the complexity involved in the task etc.? Is there no project failures with Agile or what? I feel under agile, technical challenges are overshadowed and piled up since this is not seen by people who decide what needs to be done, until it’s too late. There is no mention of the quality of work anywhere, only completion on time is discussed. Then all of us have to start relating what all problems were faced and these all these will be heard, recorded, filed, stamped and never solved. Even in next sprint also, the same problems will be present and it will also be recorded, stamped to be never solved. I ask, then why is this feedback taken anyway? We could have used this time for something else. So is agile a boon or a bane? 

I know this is a pretty long post but let me know what you think about this post and do share in your thoughts too by commenting below.

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3 thoughts on “What is this Agile anyway?

  1. Nice write Up…. While about to start reading this post i felt like ‘ god should i read this much big post, let’s skip some lines 😉😉’ , Believe me without skipping a single line i read complete post. “Awesome Narration..” Well said about AGILE in simple terms.

    Liked by 1 person

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