After another hour and several thousand additional queries about our arrival status, I decided to change things up. When my son asked, "Are we there yet?", I cheerfully responded, "Yes!" He answered, "No we're not!", to which I not-so-patiently responded, "THEN DON'T ASK AGAIN!!!". He had nothing to come back with, and I basked in my victory for at least a few minutes.
There are a number of points that can be taken from this story.
First is the need for releases that are as short as possible. When you work away for months at a time and can't see the goal towards which you're working, your motivation can erode somewhat. Imagine climbing a hill shrouded in fog - you just keep climbing and have no idea when you're going to reach the top. You may eventually become bored with the climb and start back down, when in fact you were only a few metres from the top that you couldn't see! Release cycles of 24, 18, 12 and even 8 months can have this effect, whereas cycles of 1 day out to 6 months are within "sight" of a team, allowing them to focus better.
Second, there are situations and or products that do require longer cycles (at least initially). Visual management can help communicate your current and projected locations reasonably well. For example,
I now like to use our GPS for any long trips even when the route is well-known and we don't really need a map. Our GPS also shows Distance Remaining, Distance to Next Waypoint and ETA/Arrival Time. Everyone in the vehicle can see this information and as a result the question in the title of this post is now rarely, if ever, asked. What information could you display for your project or product that could achieve this?
Third, teams that have been using an Agile process for a good length of time can find themselves in a rut or becoming caught in the daily and iteration-length 'grind' of the process. On several occasions I've heard team members and even entire teams speak of working away from Iteration Planning, through the iteration, performing a demo, holding a retrospective and then get right back into the next Iteration Planning. The common theme has been, "We don't have time to catch our breath!" This can be a symptom of a few issues:
- No slack built into the iteration to allow for unexpected work or work that was larger than expected
- No slack built into the iteration to allow team members to 'sharpen their saw' or to spend a small amount of time refreshing their minds
- This may sound silly, but the use of the term "Sprint" for Iteration - the words we use can and do affect they way we perceive the world. If a team is constantly "sprinting", they can have the feeling that they're out of breath at a certain point
Slack is the lubricant required to effect change, it is the degree of freedom that enables reinvention and true effectiveness.In other words, by giving teams some time where they aren't working on their regular work, they will be more effective and efficient. They may also come up with new ideas and even products! Regardless, look for ways to allow team members to recharge. Ask the team for ideas, or suggest some team-building activities or even just some 'free' time off, i.e. not charged to their vacation.
Finally, you need to consider what questions are really being asked. When my kids were asking, "Are we there yet?", the real question is, "When are we going to get there?" I solved that problem somewhat by using the GPS which displays that information, although when the kids were younger the concept of 3 hours was as abstract as 3 days or 3 months!
While you can simply answer, "No" to the question, "Are we there yet?", that rarely appeases the person or people who ask it whether they're 3, 33 or 63. Ask yourself what you can do or suggest to either find the real question, make the information required visible or even change the circumstances such that the question never needs to be asked in the first place!