Why you should kill all your agile ceremonies!

Welcome dear reader. You have arrived at a blog post with a controversial title and clearly there is a reason for you being tempted by that. It might be one of these reasons:

  1. You are fed up with how software is being built in your organisation and are exploring new ways of working.
  2. You really don't like various rituals you are forced to go through and are hoping there is a better way.
  3. You like articles with controversial titles and were intrigued.

Either way, you might find this post interesting because we actually did kill all the agile ceremonies to see what would happen!

Self realisation

I am going to share an experiment we ran in our team. A dev team at MYOB with a combined agile experience of let’s say about 30 years? With a continuous improvement mindset the team had developed many processes over time around how we collaborate. To name a few a typical story lifecycle included 3 amigos > kickoff > pre-walkthrough > walkthrough. To add to this, we had the template agile ceremonies such as standups, retros, regular planning sessions. It got to the point where it felt like we were talking more and doing less. At that point the team got together and looked at each ceremony and asked ourselves what outcomes were being targeted by each ceremony (both from team’s perspective and stakeholder perspective). It was evident that there was a lot of overlap of the outcomes that we were trying to get out of these ceremonies.

The Experiment

Someone wise once said “If you want things to change you have to change the way you do things”. Well our approach was a bit radical. The decision was to kill everything for 2 weeks, including the favorites – standups and retros. (Self-reflection time: If you disagree with this step, please don’t waste your time reading this article). The goal of such approach was for the team to feel the pain/gaps/need for certain outcomes that dropped off before any ceremony was introduced again.

During the Experiment..

It would be an understatement if I was to say that it was a rocky ride to start with. Whilst there was a sense of "what do we do now?", team was also enjoying some more time for doing things. I would also be misrepresenting if I didn't acknowledge that some things did suffer a bit as an example - lack of conversations leading to less effectiveness in proactively baking quality in.

Outcome

Finally the team got together after two weeks and discussed the experiment. The main focus was to ensure we were clear on outcomes we wanted from our ceremonies and then discussed how to achieve those. Standups became only thrice a week ceremony. Retro came back in as a popular choice. Some story related ceremonies got merged.

Learnings

  • Don’t focus on practices as prescribed by different (agile) methodologies. Focus on identifying problems/challenges/constraints in your system and then solve those.

  • Every team is different, it’s a group of humans and not instructions driven microprocessors. Some teams consist of natural collaborators so you don’t_need_to enforce processes.

  • Challenge yourself for the “Why” of everything. Ask what’s the outcome that is being aimed for.

  • Sometimes the only way you will get to know the real problem is by uncovering it from the layers of practices trying to fix them.

Credits: The credit for this experiment and successful outcomes goes to the team members and stakeholders for the open mindset.

Cover photo by Pascal under the Creative Commons license