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3 risks with Agile decision making

3 risks with Agile decision making

Agile teams are generally cohesive and are empowered and expected to make day-to-day decisions. A large part of empowerment in Agile methods is that the team makes the decisions, not the project manager. However, there are some risks involved with this type of decision making. In this article I describe some possible risks.

Group think

The first risk in decision making is group think.

Group think has the following symptoms:

  • Little or no consideration of alternate plans
  • Risk is not assessed
  • No review is taken of rejected plans
  • Advice from outsiders is not sought
  • Facts that support the plan are acknowledged, facts that do not support the plan are ignored
  • Contingency plans are not created

Surprisingly, synergy and loyalty to each other and to the team leader are a team’s greatest qualities, however, they are the same factors that lead to group think.

Abilene Paradox symptom

The second risk in decision making is the Abilene Paradox symptom.

The Abilene Paradox symptom has the following symptoms:

  • Members, as individuals, privately agree on the correct decision to make. This is not shared with the group.
  • Members, as individuals, privately agree on how the problem or situation being addressed can be resolved. This is not shared with the group.
  • Instead of communicating their views, members keep their views and reservations to themselves, agreeing with views they are opposed to. As the individuals have not presented their views and reservations, a collective decision is made that is actually contrary to the views of all members.
  • Members feel frustration, even anger, at this and find someone, or some people, to blame.

The Abilene Paradox is real. How often have you agreed to a suboptimal solution? What if every other team member felt the same way about this solution?

Decision hijacking

The third risk in decision making is decision hijacking. This happens when for example a developer implements features that are not needed right now. The developer hijacks the decision to implement these features.

Example during daily stand-up:
Developer: The customer databases will be used by several applications, so I have implemented support for dealing with various technologies, including Oracle. It took a lot of time. Scrum master: Did we not agree on postponing this? Developer: We need this later and now it is done.”

Decision hijacking is a big problem because the decision making itself is removed from the team as a whole. This behavior has a big impact on trust within the team.

Solutions

Conflict in Agile software development projects can be beneficial to both process and product.

The literature proposes some solutions to the problems with decision making described above. These solutions are based on the existence or stimulation of intra-group conflict:

  • Separate groups should be formed, under different leaders, to propose solutions to the same problem (groupthink)
  • A devil’s advocate should be appointed (groupthink, Abilene paradox)

For the decision hijacking risk, make sure that developers are on the same page. Working together as a team means taking decisions together.

Sources:

  1. McAvoy, John, en Tom Butler. “The role of project management in ineffective decision making within Agile software development projects.” European Journal of Information Systems 18.4 (2009): 372-383. Web.
  2. Moe, Nils Brede, Torgeir Dingsøyr, en Tore Dybå. “A teamwork model for understanding an agile team: A case study of a Scrum project.” Information and Software Technology 52.5 (2010): 480-491. Web.
June 22, 2010 Comments are Disabled Read More
It’s not about the features!

It’s not about the features!

I believe that any software developing company that wants to have a competitive advantage needs to stop focusing on just building features, but instead focus on the users.

Many companies seem to focus on the checklist of features that are dreamed up by marketing. Most of these checklists result from doing ‘competitive analysis’, just look at what the competitors, and do that too. Development teams have to copy all the software features of the competition, just to keep up. That is mediocrity at its best.

Developing software is not a unique trait. It’s not that hard as it used to be, the lab coats are long since gone. Coding can be outsourced to China or India at a fraction of the cost, as can many other aspects of software development.

Shipping a huge amount of features became relatively cheap. The time of industrialization has come for software development. Lines of code are becoming cheaper every minute. A lot of open source software (‘free software’) now has the same (or more) features as commercial available software.

So, it is not about building a huge amount of features.

It is about building clever software that works really well, in its context. Companies have to build revolutionary, groundbreaking, surprisingly good software to be noticed and successful. It has to be different and fresh, revolutionary perhaps.

How do you do that? Invest in interaction design. Do research to find out who your users really are. Talk to them. The real users.

Learn about them. Find out what they need. Find out what they like, what they don’t like.
Learn where your software becomes part of their lives.

Learn how to improve. Improve your software, and learn more. Make your users happy. Never lose them out of sight.

June 1, 2010 5 comments Read More