Agile Leaders Interviews: Ben Lyon of Agile Avengers
What have been the most unexpected changes you've encountered in your software development process and/or team post-COVID?
What's interesting is that our process hasn't really changed at all since COVID. We had spent years learning and implementing Agile methods in our teams, including using digital tools to track projects and collaborate, so when we were all forced to work remotely there was no major change to the process.
What have you learned from a full year of all (or mostly) remote development?
People and interactions matter so much more than we care to admit. Talking over the desk, seeing each other face to face, grabbing lunch together, brainstorming around a whiteboard together - these all contribute to strong relationships which enables great collaboration. Yes, we've been able to carry on 'business as usual' but I believe it's our creative process that is now suffering due to the effects of prolonged remote working. More generally, team mood hits an all-time low when local lockdown restrictions tighten and then rises again when we're able to interact more with friends and family. People and interactions really matter.
What's one lesson that you want to apply (or thing that you want to do differently) in the coming year?
Make more time in the day for personal development and exercise. Now that we're working from home most of the time, we're moving a lot less and there's less compartmentalization between work and play. It means we need to define those boundaries for ourselves and not feel guilty about stepping away from the laptop to do some yoga or read a book.
Any other lessons you must also apply?
A more practical one, but I think we could cut down on the number of digital platforms we use. I've always got 5-15 different apps open and context switching is absolutely killer.
There's a lot of talk about creating a blameless engineering culture. Do you agree with this as a goal? How is this currently supported in your organization?
I've not personally heard this term, but whenever there are silos or lack of relationship then blame usually creeps in. I think it's super important we bring teams together and foster relationships - that way it's very hard to throw blame around on people who you know are really on the same team.
Retrospectives tend to be fairly qualitative. Would quantitative data contribute to sprint retros? If so, what would you want access to – and how could it assist?
We use a great web app called TeamMood - it gathers individual team mood scores and verbatim on a daily basis which you can then review together as part of a retrospective if you wish. The tricky part is that team mood can be heavily impacted by things out of the control of the team (think lockdown restrictions, personal circumstances, or even the weather) so it's important you use the short-term data as a talking point rather than a measure of success. However, over the long term, you'd be looking for team mood to gradually trend up as the team continually improve their ways of working.