Information, Interaction, and Scrum

A Scrum team that has dependencies on another group often struggles with how to integrate the other group’s deliverables into their sprints. Since the other group hasn’t signed up for the sprint commitment, and also has commitments to other teams, the Scrum team has the problem of how to commit to a delivery when they depend on someone outside of the team.

One way to manage dependencies is to list them as roadblocks. However, while that’s a good start, it’s not the whole answer. A few years ago I was working in the IT department of a large (not-a-software) company. My team was building a tool to archive a class of instant messages. We used Scrum, and consistently followed “the three questions” : what I did yesterday, what I plan to do today, roadblocks. A couple of items relating to the operations group were on the roadblock board for quite a while. While we had a designated contact in that group, he had many other commitments, and our requirements kept getting bumped.

After a while I asked the project manager if we could have our operations contact come to our daily Scrum. We promised that it would only be 15 minutes, and that this would be the only time that we asked him about the issues. After attending Scrum reluctantly for a few days, our ops contact started to be more enthusiastic, and our dependencies got done quickly, and the project moved smoothly from then on.

While I don’t really know what our operations contact was thinking, it seemed to me that his presence in the Scrum helped him to understand how important his contribution to the project was. We were people he was working for, not just another issue in his work queue. Perhaps being in the Scrum helped him see himself as part of the team; people can commit to a team more readily than to a random issue.

Sometimes people suggest that, in the interest of efficiency, the best way to interact with external organizations is to generate a list of detailed requirements. The challenge with this approach is that by delivering a list of things you need rather than having a conversation of problems that you want to solve, you many end up with the wrong answer. This, combined with the teamwork aspects of having someone in the Scrum, lead me to believe that having someone join the Scrum as soon as roadblock items pile up is something to try sooner than later.

Agile works well because it focuses on individuals and interactions as a path to finding the information you need. While you need to be mindful of having too many people in every Scrum, if you find yourself wanting to pass a spec around rather than inviting someone you need to a Scrum, remember that sometimes interaction is more valuable than information.