Use Agile sprints to get out of the forest

A sprint is a perfect name – it is simple, self-evident and the route is clear.

Well written software is intuitive and doesn’t require manuals and long training courses – no one has been trained to use Facebook or a Playstation. Likewise, good software engineering methodologies are easily explained, quickly understood and avoid jargon and acronyms. Talking about an Agile sprint with non-technical people is easy and they quickly understand what you want to do. [1st of 5 paragraphs]

In athletics the definition of a sprint is to “run at full speed over a short distance,” and everyone has watched the 100m Olympics so the concept is clear. It is therefore self-evident when used in the context of IT projects. No methodology textbook is required to understand that the team will work at high speed for a short period with the intention of getting from point A to point B. [2/5]

In a 100m no matter where you are you can see the start and the end point… at the same time. Business stakeholders get frustrated with IT projects because they often feel like they are watching a three legged cross country race in a dense forest. They have a map (gantt chart) but don’t know where they are on it so they have no idea how to measure progress and often end up believing that’s exactly what the IT people actually want. [3/5]

In an Agile sprint you don’t need a map, or a compass – the team is at point A, will run to point B and everyone can see exactly how to get there! As you are sprinting there is a direct relationship between the work you do and the progress you are seen to make so this positive feedback loop works in everyone’s favour. As with software development, it’s easier to keep up a sustained effort for a 2 week sprint than a 6 month “phase.” [4/5]

Of course sometimes the sprint doesn’t go well, you need to change something or redo part of it. You haven’t lost a great deal because you didn’t attempt too much, but what you learned from trying is valuable for the next time. Agile is brutally transparent and a sprint gets you onto the race track where everyone can see what you are trying to accomplish. If your business stakeholders say they can’t see the wood from the trees – chances are your project is still in the forest. [5/5]

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