Some have raised the question:
Is the Essence Kernel (http://queue.acm.org/detail.cfm?id=2389616 ) just the essentials for all software endeavors?
At a recent Essence user guide meeting this subject was discussed when Barry Myburgh raised the issue that some of the alpha state checklists might never be achieved by some teams.
He gave an example of a team with about ten developers he had been working with that never committed to when they would get the work done. They had goals, but the team members had no idea if their goals were achievable. He said they were incentivized to achieve the goals so as the deadline drew near the team worked hard, often late into the night, to get the job done. When I listened to Barry describe his experience it resonated with my own experiences with many of my clients.
Examples of alpha state checklists teams might never achieve include:
Work Alpha, Under Control state:
- Tasks are consistently completed on time and within estimates
- Estimates are revised to reflect the team’s performance
Team Alpha, Performing state:
- The team consistently meets its commitments
- Wasted work, and the potential for wasted work are continuously eliminated
Some teams may never get to certain states such as Work Under Control because they don’t revise their estimates to reflect team performance. Rather they keep striving for goals that may be beyond their reach. Ian Spence pointed out in our user guide meeting that some alpha state checklists are aspirational and are getting more at the health of an endeavor. But when some people hear aspirational it can raise concerns.
Winifred Menezes, another Essence volunteer, pointed out one concern by asking—
What if a team is discussing their health and status and realize that they haven’t met a checklist item, wouldn’t there be a temptation to say, ”Oh, that item is only aspirational so we’re good and on track.”
Winifred raises a good point. By calling some of the checklists aspirational are we making it easy for teams to decide these checklists are not essential and therefore require little attention? Will this in fact dilute the value of the Essence framework as a guide to what is essential on all software endeavors? Will it cause organizations that are considering the adoption of Essence to lose confidence in Essence as an aid to help them find their right level of governance?
Toward the end of our user guide meeting Barry Myburgh after listening to the discussion said he had previously thought that on every software endeavor you needed to get through all of the alpha states because they were all essential to all software endeavors, but he now realized that was not the case. Barry went on to draw an analogy. He said when you use Essence it is like putting your team on a fitness program. When a team uses Essence it brings an awareness of areas where they may have gotten out of shape, and can help motivate their team to improve in the future.
I personally like this analogy. It reminds me of one of my Scrum clients who recently used a similar analogy by saying their team had gotten out of shape and they needed to go back to the gym. They were doing this by giving the team some remedial training in best Scrum practices, and some additional coaching. We heard a similar message from Cecile Peraire, another Essence volunteer, and a professor at Carnegie Mellon West where they have been conducting field studies using Essence with students. In one of those studies a student indicated that using Essence Reflection Meetings reminded the team to think about points that otherwise would have been missed (http://works.bepress.com/cecile_peraire/31/). Similarly, when I was writing my latest book (http://amzn.com/099045083X) I thought what I was describing were fundamentals that most teams followed, but then I realized what I was actually describing was what it means to develop a high performance capability.
The concern that some teams may dismiss checklists that are viewed as aspirational is a valid one. A simple way to answer this concern is to point out that we all need coaches at times to help remind us of our responsibilities—and to remind us when it’s time to head back to gym– if we want to stay fit. But this simple answer may sound too glib to some, and this reaction is understandable.
At a deeper level this subject is dealing with the more fundamental issues related to trust in a team to self-manage itself versus the need for organizational governance to ensure required practices are adhered to. Part of what the SEMAT initiative is trying to address through the Essence framework relates to helping organizations find the right balance between these two critical needs, while also helping teams stay focused on the real goal.
I would like to hear your thoughts on this subject.