I spent this week at Agile 2009 in Chicago. On the third night, after dinner with friends, I wandered over to the Music stage. There was a fellow playing one of the community guitars. I picked up another and we tried a little jam. Two other people came by. One picked up another guitar (Michael Bolton). The other grabbed the bongos. We tried out a couple of songs, adding vocals. They were just songs we knew in common or were simple enough that the others could follow along. Another fellow showed up with his own guitar (Paul Roub). Another fellow (George Platts?) conjured up a one-string washtub base from somewhere . Not kidding.

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We tried a few songs. We found a decent groove. We played until the house curfew shut us down. As we walked away, the first fellow said “Hey, we were actually making some nice harmonies there.” I smiled. It was true. 6 people came together spontaneously, brought what they had to bring to the group and after about 4 songs we were actually making decent music. We were, for the most part, mutual strangers.

For you Agilists out there, does this sound familiar?

I made a long trip this summer, halfway around the globe, to help a team “in trouble”. It was a high visibility project, the first with a profile that the company hopes to capitalize on – offshore outsourced Agile. Being a first, the project was monitored closely using traditional metrics. It was declared to be in “red status” in Iteration 2.

I failed to convince my colleagues that this was not a crisis. It was perfectly predictable. In fact, the whole team had only been assembled at the start of Iteration 2. But nothing had been produced yet. Isn’t Agile supposed to have results right away?

I made the trip for the challenge of both nurturing this team to a harmonious state and to develop an official understanding in the organization that IT TAKES TIME for a self-organizing team to find their groove. How long? About 4 iterations in my experience. I heard this validated at Agile2009 in a workshop (David Hussman quoting Ward Cunningham). Expect that it will take 4 iterations for the team to get traction.

How long are the iterations? It doesn’t really matter. Just 4 cycles of start, do, review, reflect. Four cycles of action and feedback. Four chances to find out who does what well and how to make it all mesh. Like our little jam – four songs to find harmony. No matter how talented the people are, if they have not worked together before, it takes that long to settle in. Factor it in to your planning to avoid unecessary panic.

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Harmony by Song 4

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