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Slowing Down to Speed Up – a guest post by Paul Goddard


I met Paul at Agile 2012, and have kept in contact. Occasionally we chat to him about his training and share ideas. As an independent coach and trainer, Paul has aided several other companies on their agile journeys in a variety of industries ranging from small independent holiday travel companies through to multi-national technology and consultancy providers. We are looking forward to meeting up with Paul at the Scrum Gathering in South Africa in October.

Twitter: @paulkgoddard

Lots of teams I work with get very hung up on “velocity”, and sometimes “misuse” it rather than use it effectively. Management love velocity. It’s mathematical, measureable, and can be used as a planning tool for stable agile teams. Great.
But some teams simply play the velocity game just to keep the boss happy. And the more this happens the less useful the metric becomes. Different teams start to play velocity wars, estimates then increase to show velocity gains, and so on.
In truth, velocity is a very one-dimensional view of a team’s agility.

It’s defined in physics terms as: the speed of something in a given direction

And if we are only measuring our achievements on “speed”, and then incentivising teams to get faster, we are overlooking a number of other benefits that an agile development team provides, which hopefully means a more profitable, thriving organisation.

Agility is about changing direction effortlessly. What use is speed, if it can’t be maintained for prolonged periods, and can’t be pointed in different directions? I spend a lot of my time encouraging teams to slow down before they can speed up again, and take a closer look at how they are approaching their work. I see teams which purely focused on velocity tend to spend less time thinking about the various ways to solve the problem they have been given. When time is limited (and it usually is in most projects) we are pressured into finding the quickest and most logical way to solve the problem with the minimum amount of fuss. Then make sure they implement that as fast as they can, perfectly, first time.

Re-work and re-thinking is frowned upon and must be avoided at all costs. But this won’t deliver the best solutions, and encourages short-cuts. Teams need time, space and an environment to encourage creative thinking. Technology changes too fast to be assume that there will only be one way to solve the problem. We have many options, and sometimes we may have to try several ideas before we decide which direction to go in.

Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up
– Pablo Picasso

In a technological-driven world where the quest for a single answer continues to overrule any attempt to discover a multitude of options, are we limiting both ourselves and the innovative capacities of our teams and organisations?