Much of the work to coordinate and synchronize goals happens during planning. As Mike Cohn described with the metaphor of the Agile planning onion, Agile planning is not a one-time event nor are planning activities confined to the beginning of an increment or a sprint. However, delivering work using Agile is not just a big ball of planning. Goal coordination and synchronization activities need to happen outside of planning activities. Several non-planning Agile techniques are useful for ensuring coordination. The degree of usefulness is a function of size, complexity and the Agile maturity of those involved. The techniques include:
Test First Development (TFD) in all of its forms (including Test Driven Development, Behavior Driven Development, and Acceptance Test Driven Development) begins by establishing how the developers will prove the work they are planning to deliver. Expressing how the solution will be proved before writing the first line of code anchors the functionality being delivered to the effort’s goals. All of the test first development techniques can be applied to any size project; however, these techniques require teams that have access to the correct tools and have at least a moderate Agile maturity.
Definition of Done provides a team or teams with a set of criteria that they can use to plan and bound their work based on an overarching definition of done. A definition of done that includes integration activities or a check against the increment’s goal is an effective means of keeping goals synchronized. The definition of done is applicable to all efforts regardless of size, albeit as complexity increases this technique becomes even more powerful.
Continuous Builds is a process in which every time code is checked back into the code repository the application or product is built (or compiled). The build is immediately followed by some form of testing to make sure the “build” still works. Continuously building the software ensures that any one team or developer does not go too far off track because the code and testing act as an arbiter that the product works. This technique is applicable to all efforts (Agile or not, big or small); however, I have noticed that the use of continuous builds requires some experience and maturity with Agile.
Scrum of Scrums (SOS) is a mechanism that brings all of the Scrum Masters involved in an effort together to coordinate a group of teams so that they act as a team of teams. The SOS provides a platform for coordinating and synchronizing goals by ensuring teams are aware of what other teams are doing and whether they have had to make adjustments to the goals. An SOS is useful for coordinating efforts of all size; however, as efforts scale past two or three teams other coordination techniques are needed in addition to the SOS.
Demonstrations, also known as demos, are Agile’s mechanism to share what the team has been accomplished. Scaled Agile efforts often have demos at the team level at the end of every sprint, an integrated demo (all teams) and then a larger demo before a release. Demonstrations provide the ultimate proof of what has been built allowing stakeholders to determine whether the effort’s goals have been met. Demos are useful for every Agile effort. Larger efforts will do demos both at the team level and then as a consolidated demo for the overall product.
Dynamic Testing (execution of the code), by definition, generates results that are compared against some expected result (even exploratory testing). Those expected results represent an instantiation of the goals and objectives of the overall effort. Testing, while important, without the structure of test-first development is a very weak tool for coordinating and synchronizing goals. Do not use this technique alone regardless of the size of the effort.
Techniques for synchronizing special types of goals and objectives such as process improvement or technical goals are:
Retrospectives are a platform for teams and teams of teams to examine their performance and to make changes to improve their delivery of value. When an effort or organization has productivity, quality, and/or efficiency goals, retrospectives (using techniques such as the 6 Thinking Hats) are highly effective. The retrospective provides a platform to share the objectives and then to synchronize on the steps needed to meet those goals and objectives.
Common Architectures and Standards are typically an instantiation of the technical goals and objectives of the organization. Efforts of all size can use a set of standards or a published architecture to effectively coordinate activity. Examples of using an emergent architecture to provide guidance can be seen in the SAFe concept of the architectural runway. The runway is “built” just ahead of the need of the teams generating the functionality that will leverage that architecture.
The effectively coordinating and synchronizing goals is a requirement for any effort, if the effort is going to deliver value efficiently. Agile efforts often use many of these techniques in combination. Each technique interlocks and overlaps with other techniques so that an environment is created that supports team’s ability to self-organize and self-manage. The number techniques and how strenuously they need to be pursued is a function of how many teams are involved, Agile maturity and complexity. Conceptually an effort with two collocated teams and simple business problem to solve will need less goal coordination than an effort with many teams that are spread across the globe. The one absolute when it comes to goals and teams is coordination is always required.