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Lightbulb Moments – Failing Fast

There are times in our lives when things suddenly click and the figurative lightbulb turns on. I have had several of these moments in my Agile career but today’s story is one of my earliest.

Many years ago, I was a member of a Scrum team, primarily serving as a tester. Most of our team members were newer to Agile but had been working as a Scrum team for about 18 months. We were given a large story that took the full effort of several team members for about 90% of the sprint. The story dealt with various roles and limiting access to certain accounts based on the roles. A business analyst on the team spent several days in a prior sprint, working out all the details with the customer. The BA created a flow chart1 and I created a matrix showing the various scenarios (acceptance tests). The customer was involved in that process and was helping in fine-tuning and clarifying and her request.

It wasn’t an easy job but the team finished with about a day to spare. We were excited to show the changes to the customer during the Sprint Review. I ran the demo, which took about 30 minutes to run through the various scenarios. The customer was fairly silent and when we were done, she said five simple words. “That’s not what I want.”

Every member of the team was either stunned, disappointed, sad, or angry. Some team members had a combination of one or more of these emotions. How did we just spend two weeks on a job and get this wrong? I spent the next 15 minutes showing the flowchart and acceptance test with the customer, where we determined that:

  1. The customer was not replaced with an alien.
  2. The customer was not suffering from a mental illness.
  3. The flowchart and acceptance tests were accurate.
  4.  The end result was not what the customer wanted.

At this time someone spoke up and asked an important question. It’s probably one of the best questions ever asked in my Agile career.2

“But isn’t this what Agile is all about?”

It took a few minutes for those words to sink in but after we thought about it, the lightbulb went off, and we saw the light. Even to this day, I still think about that moment and the lessons that I learned…

  1. The customer often knows what they want, but won’t know for sure until they see the end result completed and in action.
  2. There is no substitute for feedback.
  3. The sprint review is invaluable.  In our old thinking, we would have put these changes into the next release and caused a great deal of stress and chaos for all involved either trying to fix or revert the changes.
  4. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer and to creating value for the business.
  5. We need to get over ourselves and not become obsessed with failure, especially if those failures get us closer to the desired result.
  6. Failing is cheaper, hurts less, and is easier to recover from if it is done quickly.

1 This particular BA always did a great job making flow charts and pretty pictures. Words weren’t always his strong suit, but his pictures were amazing.

2 To be honest and transparent, I did not ask the question.

Published inLightbulb Moments

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