As part of the Agile methodology, in addition to the regular reviews of the work product, there are retrospective meetings to inspect and adapt the work process. Our retrospective discussions with Baby-Friendly, USA, Executive Director Trish MacEnroe and Russo Project Management CEO Mary Alice Russo yielded insights that apply not only to the Baby-Friendly, USA, project, but to other Agile engagements as well.
A New Approach to Software Development
Trish and Mary Alice were not familiar with the Agile process when the project began. Both, however, were veterans of traditional software development efforts and knew from experience that detailed upfront planning does not always forestall misunderstanding and disappointment. All the same, they were skeptical about Agile: without clearly defined requirements, how could a coherent system be developed? Wouldn’t daily meetings be tedious and time-wasting? How would the busy executive director find enough time to give the necessary feedback? Despite these misgivings, Trish and Mary Alice were willing to try the new approach because they had faith in the integrity of Greane Tree Technology staff.
The Value of Agile
Trish and Mary Alice soon saw the value of the Agile methodology. The daily stand up meetings (usually conducted by skype) turned out to be a quick and efficient way to share information and coordinate effort. Frequent contact also helped team members become familiar with each other, making it easier to communicate comfortably and align expectations. Watching the system grow according to her priorities convinced Trish that participation in the development process was worth her time. During the Sprint planning meetings, Trish learned that the development team would really direct their efforts to building the features that she decided were most important, even if they were features that she had not initially anticipated. But the development team also made it clear that new features necessitated trade-offs: Trish would either have to give up some originally imagined features or she would have to find funding for the extra work. Because she could see the system evolving in the weekly Sprint review meetings, Trish could make informed choices about when to trim features and when to expand the budget.
Transparency and Teamwork
Trish said she would not have been comfortable embarking on the Agile process if she had not felt confident that Greane Tree Technology would deal with issues frankly and give honest answers even when they were difficult. Trish may not have known that transparency and candor are fundamentals of the Agile methodology, but she intuitively recognized that Greane Tree Technology had the integrity to live by those principles.
Mary Alice said that organizing the work into short iterative Sprints allowed the team to be dynamic, and, in working together on an evolving system, to “uncover gems” that might have been discovered too late or not at all in a traditional process. Together, the team found opportunities and solutions that they couldn’t have anticipated during upfront requirements analysis. The Agile methodology turned out to be flexible but disciplined, with defined practices and principles to keep the process grounded, efficient, and effective.
Trish and Mary Alice have found that the Agile methodology can be applied outside of software development. Trish has adopted the practice of daily standup meetings with her staff. Mary Alice finds that user stories are excellent tools for organizing training objectives for people who may have trouble articulating their needs. Both of them have seen how Greane Tree Technology relies on and reinforces transparency and teamwork to build high quality software tailored to its customers’ needs.
The project was funded by a generous grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.