ArrhythmiaWe have recently suffered from Arrhythmia. Irregularity of a normal pace. A disruption. Nothing to worry about, really, just a passing phase. This blog will soon return to its normal cadence. It is, however, a great opportunity to discuss the phenomenon I nicknamed Agile Arrhythmia.


As background reference I looked it up in Wikipedia. Here are some interesting quotes:

“[Cardiac] arrhythmia , also known as [cardiac] dysrhythmia or irregular heartbeat, is a group of conditions in which the heartbeat is irregular, too fast, or too slow.”

“Most arrhythmias can be effectively treated. Treatments may include medications, medical procedures such as a pacemaker, and surgery. ”

“Arrhythmias affect millions of people.”

“The term [cardiac] arrhythmia covers a very large number of very different conditions.
The most common symptom of arrhythmia is an abnormal awareness of heartbeat, called palpitations. These may be infrequent, frequent, or continuous. Some of these arrhythmias are harmless (though distracting for patients) but many of them predispose to adverse outcomes.”

Thank you for the important info, but what has this got to do with a blog on Agility?!

Aside from the sound advice to have periodic checkups, nothing much really, or at least not the ones related to cardiac medical conditions.
It does have a great deal to do with cadence and with Scrum and with Kanban, and even with continuous integration.
Let’s begin with…

What does Agile Arrhythmia may look like?

Aka symptoms. Here are a few signs of Agile Arrhythmia:

  • There is nothing to show at the Sprint Review
  • The cycle-time of most or all items exceeds the Kanban cadence length
  • There is nothing to update during the daily standup
  • The CI is red for a long period of time. More than half-a-day may be long for some teams, and 5 minutes may be long for others
  • The pairing driver and navigator in pair-programming are not changing roles for more than 30 minutes

What can we do with Agile Arrhythmia?

Aka treatment. Here are a few useful tips for overcoming a disruption to a regular pace.

But first, a disclaimer: there is no silver bullet and no single treatment to anything. Take this list as options, ones which you may choose from, or seek others, or make your own. As there are side effects to every treatment, use it with care and awareness.
If this advice works for you – do share!
If it doesn’t work for you – do share too!
And if you have alternatives you’ve tried and tested (it doesn’t have to be clinically proven, luckily) – do share as well!

Get Touchy-Feely

If you are using a physical board, during the daily-standup, if few or no-one has any updates, ask everyone to go to the board, and touch the note they are working on. If there is no not to touch, not a problem (yet), please write one now.
If the note is in the wrong place, column, not a problem (yet), just move it now.
At the end of the standup, ask everyone to be prepared for the next day. You may ask “if we are all ready before the meeting, how long do you think it would last?” More likely than not, most people will say that it would be shorter.

Declare Use-By-Date

When placing notes on your Kanban or Scrum-board, assign a due-date to relevant notes. Some electronic tools have that option, including a notification email before the expiration date.
It is a good idea to have a swimlane on your Kanban for data-driven items.
Then, during the daily standup, ask: “How likely are we to complete our date-driven items, on a scale of 1-10?”
Such a question can increase the energy following the daily standup, having more focus on the items to finish.

Is it dead? Worse, Jim. It’s build is broken!

What’s worse than a red CI? A red CI that no one is attending to.
If this happens, ask the team: “If we were brain/heart/pick-your-favorite surgeons, and the CI was our patient’s heart monitor, would we also be ignoring it?”
Operation-Room metaphors are usually powerful because we expect a hospital team to exercise a high level of standards.
When you experience an Agile Arrhythmia, medical metaphors can come useful to get the team to act on it.

OK, let’s review this nothingness, shall we?

At some point this might happen, and for a whole load of reasons. You will have nothing to present at the iteration review. Heck, it just happened to us! We have been publishing blog-posts regularly for a long while now, and, oops! Agile Arrhythmia hit us in the face!
There is probably no good reason to have a review meeting with nothing to show, so might as well just call it off. Say sorry, but no point wasting people’s time, is there?
Use the extra time for some extra retrospection opportunity.
In our case it was dead simple – we ran out of blog post items in our Kanban to notify us. Time to come up with a tweak to improve the blogpost scheduling system we devised.
In your case it may be a million other reasons.

Well doctor, are we going to live?

Of course, you are. Millions of people are happily living with cardiac arrhythmia. There is no reason why Agile teams won’t easily survive Agile Arrhythmia. The fact that you missed a beat means nothing but to grab the opportunity to learn something about how to become better in what you do.

In fact, you can have your own Arrhythmia corner, where you stick on stickies with things you’ve missed, and discuss them in your retrospective.

Image source: Wikipedia.

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