One guy, responsible in some way for seven teams all needing to be 95% billable within an organisation with 3 month completely fixed releases. Does it sound like hell to you? It really does to me and it is a reality for a host of engineers. The organisation is “Agile” and certainly has some of the forms that we might recognise, on the surface, by their names, but something is missing in the implementation.
There are many things wrong with the picture. Certainly safety and hygiene have gone out the window with such a push for billing and such fixed and non-negotiable time frames. The description given to me was the culture was rife with Cover Your Ass (CYA) behaviour and that no one could ultimately change anything. Retros happen, but without some fundamental change burnout or absenteeism is not likely going to be uncommon.
Moreover that when everything is booked so fully, that anything resembling an emergency just pushes out everything else that is seemingly equally critical. The teams don’t seem to have a hope.
I asked, “if you have to bill so much time how do you improve?” The answer was simple, “We can’t.”
Time is a resource and it is precious, but I feel more so are the people that need to spend that time wisely. When one is always at 100% capacity something breaks down. It isn’t always about the thing that doesn’t get communicated, it might be the level of illness or the presenteeism or even just the SEP syndrome (Somebody else’s problem).
Part of this whole agile thing is the ability to be adaptive to change. Unfortunately when there is no slack and space for change, you may as well be on train tracks for all the ability you have to turn. We reflect and introspect to do things better, but when space is at such a premium the retrospection disappears and we lose something.
Safety is more that just not firing someone for making a mistake, it is about providing opportunities for growth in an environment of reciprocity. “The company looks after me, so that I can do my best work.” Building in a little slack lets us engage in experiments that provide rapid feedback without fear of everything burning to the ground.
An example of this is in flight for me, I need to try out an idea around selection issues and syntax highlighting. The day will take half a day to a day to trial, a couple for someone to use it live and we will have some very valuable information. I still have tight time-frames, but the amount of time I’m spending may fix a long-running issue for the team. I have been allowed to schedule in some “slack” to explore and it will make a huge difference. Even if I am wrong, we have saved lots of lost time in the future by not wasting time solely about talking about the idea. The slack is valuable.
By building in a little slack, I allow for things to go wrong with stories (they always do), emergencies to happen (not so often thankfully) and not having to worry about team members being present, but unable to be accounted for. Yes, I can link the research, but this is now pretty well documented.
I want to see my team do amazing things, and the only way they grow is if there is space there for them to grow into and time for them to do it. It is really against my nature to slow things down, I tend to push everything I do. I have people around me who are equally as passionate and do the same. It isn’t always healthy.
My challenge is to create space for the team and slow down (just a little) so we can get out of the feature factory and into the business of providing real value. Thankfully we have the support of the head of development and we are actively working towards it. We have deliberately pulled in less items to ensure we are able to deliver on commitments and allow time for experimentation. We are making space for the awesome to happen.
I’m curious. How do you create space for your teams to grow? How do you create slack?