Thursday, October 4, 2012

Death by Oversight: How much overhead is too much for an agile project?

I had a great discussion with one of my coworkers today.  He felt that we were adding a lot of noise to our current project due to the number of "fluff" people on our project.  In his opinion, anyone who wasn't spending most of their time on a keyboard (software developer, analysts creating stories, QA) is overhead.

Such people (which list includes me, BTW) have the following negative effects:

  • Communication overhead / Noise - people doing the actual work are often asked by multiple people how something works or why a particular choice was made.
  • Meetings - we can be a source of meetings and other discussions apart from the "noise" above, if only to justify our time on the project.
  • Duplication of effort - this has definitely happened to us.  More than one person steps up to get something done (analysis of a problem, breaking down & estimating a set of stories, etc.) and because we're not all communicating face-to-face, they don't work together on it.
  • Climate of fear - feeling that you have to please a lot of people with different agendas can create a climate of fear, even if most or all of the people involved have good motives.
It was a compelling case, and I don't have any easy answers.  Some worth considering:
  • Make sure all of the "fluff" people are aware of the problems above!  Stating the problem clearly is the most important step in solving it.
  • Reduce the fluff by having some people step out of the project, or by changing their role to something other than a decision-maker.  (For instance, my role could be developer + management bitch for buying hardware & approving access to resources, and I can step out of most of the planning & oversight work.  Hmm... that actually sounds like a lot more fun than what I've been doing.)