June 18th, 2014
Visibility is key to motivation and momentum
One of the most under-rated elements of Scrum, and other agile approaches, is the sprint burndown chart. It is so under-rated that it is often derided and there has been so much stick for this artefact over recent years that it is no longer a formal part of the Scrum guide. Almost every course that I run there is a conversation about how the team doesn't like it, doesn't use it or can't be convinced to keep this up to date. I'm not going to re-hash my views on these points, not least of which as I dedicated a whole chapter of my book to this point.
I do want to bring some attention to the good old burndown chart as the principle behind it has become evident in another aspect of my life recently. I wish I had a burndown chart for my current physic regime. For the last couple of years I have suffered with a bad back, aggravated greatly by standing at the front of a training room or travelling for long periods - both of which I tend to have to do a lot of in my job.
I have tried all sorts of therapy to ease the pain and identify the underlying cause, none of which have ultimately been successful so far but the one common theme from all the people who I have seen about this problem have all recommended that I build up the muscles in my core. My wife is keen on this - the only six-pack she's ever seen me with in our near-20 years together has been of the beer variety! I've never been keen on exercise, let alone muscle development but the prospect of reducing the pain is incentive enough for me to give it a go.
I am heartened by the fact that I have recently lost about 35 pounds in weight in roughly a nine month period - this proves to me that I can be disciplined and can be healthy. While I didn't have a burndown chart per se I did have confidence that by sticking to a mathematically calculated target (2,300 calories a day) I would lose weight and I also had the visibility of my progress by weighing myself on a daily basis. This regular encouragement gave me the motivation to keep going over a prolonged period of time.
I don't have the same resources in my current challenge and it is affecting me. I have no confidence that, for example, if I do 50 sit-ups every day then I will achieve my goal. Nor do I have the ability to see my progress on a daily basis. Thus, one month in to my challenge I don't know if I am close to my goal or if my efforts so far have been totally in vain. I have to keep going purely on faith that, if I keep going, it will ultimately be OK.
For an agile team, the burndown chart should be part mathematical calculation (if we do x amount of hours' work every day then we will achieve our goal for the sprint), part motivational (on day 6 we are on track), and part managerial (we may do less than planned work one day but we can catch up the next day). Many teams drop the burndown chart or lose faith in this artefact which is a shame because of the power that it can have. Like I say, I go into in the reasons why in much more detail in my book and I would heartily encourage anyone who knows a team that is reluctant to use a burndown chart to explore these reasons because they are really missing a trick.
For me, though, I wish I had something I could use to keep my plan on track and my motivation going.
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