Fresh Perspective as a Service

A few weeks back we had an internal lightning talk, at STX Next, from a product owner and scrum master of one our teams. The talk was about their experience over the past year joining an existing team that, until then, had functioned without these roles. While the talk focused a lot on the value of adding “Agile people” to teams, for me it connected the dots on an important thing we don’t do enough:

Question all the things.

Here are the “facts of the world” in the specific project these guys joined a year ago:

  • Automated regression testing is impossible to implement in this project
  • We cannot talk to the end user, there’s always a party in between
  • Every item on the backlog is top priority
  • We have to deliver everything on time

Here are the “facts of the world” today:

  • Automated regression tests are being implemented
  • End-users are now involved in demos and sprint reviews
  • Every item on the backlog is prioritized, and much of it has been discarded since
  • We released was released on time, with a vastly reduced scope, and everything was just fine

Everything you knew to be true, turns out to be false.

Question all the things.

Is this specific to “agile”? Based on my own experience, I don’t think so. I’ve seen too many cases where facts weren’t facts at all, and it’s tempting to draw the conclusion that almost everything can be influenced and changed.

Facts often aren’t facts at all.

At a process level, at a business level, but also at a technical level. “DevOps has already checked that, all NFS mounts are online — that’s not the problem.” Yeah… they didn’t check it properly, and it turns out it was the problem. “We cannot use technology X, it won’t handle all the traffic we’ll get.” Yeah… turns out there wasn’t going to be that much traffic to begin with. “We tried Selenium tests, and it was a disaster.” Yeah… turns out it’s saving hundreds of hours of monotonic testing time when done well.

Question all the things.

At the beginning of this year I posted something on our internal G+:

After the 5 Whys, I introduce the 5 Reallys — ask ‘Really?’ until the person realizes he or she is wrong (average 5x).

I was was only half kidding. I don’t remember what triggered this post at the time, but I’m sure it was because once again I found out that presented facts weren’t really facts at all.

Question all the things.

But, who should question everything? In the mentioned talk, it was a product owner and scrum master who asked the questions. Is this an “Agile person” job? Should we all do it? Can we all do this?

What’s really needed is a fresh perspective. Somebody who isn’t buried so deep in the situation’s reality, he or she doesn’t see things for what they are anymore.

Do we need a Fresh Perspective as a Service?

I’m reading a book that claims this is management task: regularly review everything you’re doing in your organization (company, team, family) and reconsider it: does it still make sense to do this? If we wouldn’t be doing this already, would we decide to get into it now? And if not, what do we do about it?

But, can we reprogram ourselves to do this?

In our daily lives and work we often lose perspective. We suffer from Stockholm syndrome, we are set in our ways. We accept the “reality” we live in as “just the way things are.”

So, here is what I think we should do: invite an outsider to our group from time to time. Somebody who isn’t connected to your work day-to-day, and let this person ask questions. Lots and lots of questions. Question all the things.