Agile: Is it possible to have too much collaboration?

Posted: May 5, 2010 in Agile, Testing
Tags: ,

Reading many books that cover off the Agile World; such as Mike Cohn (Succeeding with Agile) and Lisa Crispin/Janet Gregory (Agile Testing); the message that comes through loud and clear is for collaboration. Teams that traditionally work independently, throwing work items over the fence; are now asked to work together, to achieve a shared goal.

Having recently joined a consultancy, as the testing practice head; breaking down the walls has been a difficult ask at first; but now the benefits seem to be surfacing. Gojko Adzic’s book ‘Bridging the communication gap’ has been a useful tool on this quest for the ‘one team’ mentality.

Which brings me to the topic of this blog post, taking all these points on board; streamlining process and refining through retrospectives leads to the question “Can you ever have too much collaboration?”

I see there being a couple of areas where problems could occur:

1. Inviting Scrum Masters to pre-planning, game planning, visual reviews etc. Can have an adverse affect on the team; as you could have the situation where the team see the Scrum Master in meeting after meeting; and the potential is there to look to the Scrum Master for advice and guidance; rather than the self-organizing approach that many love about Agile.

2. Collaboration, collaboration and more collaboration leads to a loss of view point, a loss of analysis and in turn a reduction in quality of the end product.

Both 1 and 2 have validity; but like any methodology, principle or approach; left unattended there is a danger that the objective gets lost in the trees. So what can be done to avoid such situations?

What we have started doing on a recent client engagement is to rotate team members in and out of the role of Scrum Master. We have found that it keeps the inner geek of our developers strong as sprint by sprint they will either be delivery points to achieve story completeness or they will be helping the team by agreeing scope and feasibility during design reviews and pre-game planning.

With regard point 2, it is a difficult one, and I don’t have the answers, all I can say is that if you find yourself in this position; you can think yourself lucky; utopia has been reached! Let’s face it, with the pace that projects and the markets move; the reality is that if you have a number of sprints that run smoothly with ‘perfect’ collaboration; then run with it as there is always likely to be a curve ball around the corner; especially near a production release. The message is that it will be easier to tweak an approach to ensure the team stays on track than to break down walls to get all team members to buy in to Agile delivery.

Not sure we’ll ever reach Utopia (which is probably a good thing for the teams sanity!!!), but promoting collaboration is a path I will certainly be treading for a while to come yet.

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