Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Communication Cadence - The Heartbeat of Scaled Agile

In my life as a business sponsor of software development programs I spent innumerable hours in program meetings - project status meetings, RAID meetings, Steering Committees, Governance meetings, “Come to Jesus meetings”, you name it. When I was appointed to my first role on the delivery side of the fence, I thought running these meetings was essential. After all every IT General Manager I had ever worked with followed this practice.

Everybody hated these meetings, particularly the three hour Monday morning Program Review. 25 people and a 100 page status report made for a long start to the week. The morning’s discussion would revolve around the true status of the Watermelon Projects (green on the outside and red on the inside) and the lack of action taken from one week to the next on the seemingly endless list of actions. From the day I inherited this meeting, coach +Mark Richards was on at me about getting rid of it.


Lean enthusiast +Wayne Palmer was quick to suggest I could forgo these meetings in favour of daily stand ups.  My first response was to tell him he was an idiot (not for the first time I may add!), but I went on to say that I was open to the concept.  He would just need to prove it before I discontinued the weekly program meeting. Ever the avid reader +Wayne had come across +Henrik Kniberg's Lean From the Trenches and was inspired by the concept of the “Daily Cocktail Party”. +Henrik’s model has three tiers:
  1. The Feature Team Daily Stand-up
  2. Sync Meetings per Specialty
  3. Project Sync Meeting
Our first attempt at “Cocktail Hour” was very closely modelled on +Henrik’s approach. Over time it has morphed in various ways until we landed on the model we use today, which has been consistent for some time now.

9 :15am Feature team Stand Ups
All six feature teams hold their daily stand up. Facilitated by the ScrumMasters these sessions generally follow the traditional scrum format.

Feature Team Stand Ups

9:15am Leadership Team Stand Up
This is attended by me and my direct reports, the managers of Pipeline Services, Development Services and Deployment Services. This is a fairly informal operationally focused session, used to help us understand each others priorities for the day ahead.

9:30am   Feature Wall Stand Up
Some days it feels like every man and his dog comes to this standup. It is attended by all the ScrumMasters, all the technical leads, all the Project Portfolio Mangers, our deployment manager, a system team representative, my leadership team, myself and any other interested party.

Feature Wall Stand Up

9:45am Pipeline Services Stand Up
Taking inputs from the Feature Wall the Project Portfolio Managers meet at the Program Kanban wall and determine their priorities for the day.

9:45 Deployment Services Stand Up
Similar to the Pipeline Services stand up, the Deployment Services hold their stand up factoring in takeaways from the Feature Wall.

This ritual runs every day except Unity Day.  For me the Feature Wall stand up is the heartbeat of the EDW Agile Release Train. Every morning the who’s who of the train share their progress and challenges with their peers. Visitors are always quick to comment on both how transparent everyone is and the energy of the team. The stand up is always peppered with lots of good humoured jibes and comedic antics designed to start the day with a laugh. Of course the real magic is the speed of the information flow. Within the first hour of the day, all the blockers across all the teams have been surfaced and the remedial actions have commenced.

Feature Wall Antics

I may well have thought +Wayne was losing the plot when he cooked up Cocktail Hour, but he was right. The difference in latency and action orientation when compared to the weekly program meeting soon resulted in the program meeting ceasing to exist. In fact I cannot remember the last time I hosted or attended such a meeting. For those wondering how this fits with our use of the Scaled Agile Framework, I see our communication cadence as the embodiment of Reinertsen's principles of cadence and synchronisation.  Or, more simplistically, “Scrum of Scrums on Steroids”.

For a more in-depth explanation of the Feature Wall Stand Up go to my post on Scrum of Scrums with Feature Flow.