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Becoming More Transparent Helps to Manage Work

The Agile Testing Day Netherlands 2015 conference which is held today in Utrecht devotes a full day track to talented Dutch agile youngsters to share their experiences. In this track Tamara de Paus talked about how to organize your work and be more transparent.

InfoQ did an interview with de Paus about the changes that were done by the team to manage work and create transparency, what worked and what didn’t, and the things they learned along the way.

InfoQ: What made you decide to start changing the way that the team managed their work? Was there a problem?

de Paus: When I started working at Sound of Data, they just had implemented Scrum. Part of Scrum is having retrospectives, in which is discussed what went well, what we could improve and what the impediments were. In those retrospective the team members indicated that they weren’t completely happy with the process. As a Scrum Master - one of the roles I had at that time - it was my task to help and support the team members to remove impediments, increase efficiency and improve happiness. So as a team effort we decided to experiment with the backlog process.

InfoQ: Initially the team didn’t have a physical board. Which kinds of challenges did that pose?

de Paus: For the daily stand-up we gathered somewhere in the room, without any view of the board. The team members had to tell everything from memory, and often forgot to mention things or forgot to update their tasks, so the overview was not clear. With a physical board we removed those issues.

InfoQ: You mentioned having a weekly status report. What is the purpose of this, and how is it used to manage work?

de Paus: A weekly status report is an email which gives all stakeholders an overview of the progress and consists of two sections. In the first section an overview is given of which tasks have been planned in the last week, and what the current status is. Did we complete them? And if not, what was the reason, and when will it be replanned? The second section describes what we plan to do in the upcoming sprint.

To assemble such a report, the whole team has to be involved. Talking about the contents opens a nice discussion of what has to be done - and how - and whether you can be of any help to finish the task. So before we start the new week, everyone is aligned, and that helps you managing your own work.

InfoQ: How do the stakeholders use the weekly status report? Which benefits does it give them?

de Paus: The weekly status report is used in a different way by each internal stakeholder. As mentioned, the team uses the moment of creating the report as input for discussion about what has to be done. In my role as Project Manager I use the report as input for the backlog and also for informing the customers what new functionality they can expect. Marketing uses it as input for newsletters and other marketing documentation. Our business analyst uses the information to adjust her reports with new data, and the commercial team uses it to tell prospects and customers what is currently being worked on. So, again communication is the keyword. When all the stakeholders are informed well, they can adapt the information in their role.

InfoQ: How did you find out what worked - and what didn’t work - for the team in managing their backlog?

de Paus: Talk. Communication is such a powerful way of getting things done. Unfortunately communication is often underestimated. And even when it's not, it’s incredibly hard to communicate in a constructive way. You not only have to listen to what people say, but also what they are trying to say. Even now we are aware of it, we still struggle to do well. In my talk at the Agile Testing Day Netherlands 2015 in Utrecht I gave an example of how we tried to listen and act on what’s said, and how the team got so fed up with procedures that they refused to follow any procedures at all anymore. Luckily, we were able to change that back to a workable situation.

InfoQ: What did the team do when they got into a situation where multiple changes were needed in the way of working? How did you decide what to do first?

de Paus: It depended on what the needed changes were. Often we were able to adapt all changes at once. Sometimes we got multiple suggestions on how to improve the current situation. We talked about the advantages and disadvantages of each given suggestion and then voted to decide which idea we wanted to try. When it didn’t work, we either tried another idea or changed something else. Again, communication is a keyword!

InfoQ: Can you share some of the things that you learned in this journey of finding better ways to manage your work?

de Paus: At conferences and in books you see a lot of success stories about Agile processes, but often these stories didn’t happen overnight. Actually, for a lot of companies it’s a struggle to find the best processes for their own team. A success story from another company might not work for your team, or may need a while to be accepted or adapted in the correct way.

Try out new ideas and keep searching for better ones. Never assume that you’re done. A changing situation can cause your glory to transform into a battle. Be critical, and keep asking yourself and your team whether you are happy with the current way of working. Be open with it, and don’t feel attacked if your way of working doesn’t seem to be appropriate. Keep iterating so that everybody remains happy enough to be productive and efficient!

InfoQ is cover the agile testing day Netherlands with news, Q&As and articles. Earlier InfoQ published artistic parallels between making music and agile testing, what we have learned in testing and new developments in agile testing and creativity and testing: do they go together?

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