The other day, I had a meeting with three customers. I was helping them with designing their product, and, by that, we started talking about their logo. It turned out that the logo wasn’t exactly the way they wanted it – despite several workshops, talks, brainstorms etc. When I suggested yet another round of discussions about the logo, they answered “But we already did that?! What use would it be to do it again?”.
The reason I use this example, is that the three customers work daily with Scrum and iterations. Yet they were frustrated about the prospect of having to work with the logo again. The feeling of hopelessness in not reaching the goal with the logo was clear. Why would they arrive at a solution by doing what they had already done once before? Why would they get a different result this time?
Repeating gets you no where
On one hand, I understood their frustration and hopelessness. When you’ve been through one workshop, brainstorm, coffee chat, after another, and still haven’t arrived at a satisfactory result- it’s easy to give up. The courage and strength to do another round is eaten up and replaced by a feeling of standing still and discouragement; “We will never reach our goal!”.
On the other hand, I really did not understand. Next time they worked on the logo it would be from a different starting point than the first time. Since the first time they had workshops and brainstorms they have talked about the products, their website, had pictures taken and much more. So, they were a completely different place now, than before.
However, when you are in the middle of everything it’s hard to see that the starting point has changed fundamentally. If you can’t see that, you won’t be able to see that the result will be different. That’s why you need someone to point out what is clear for everyone outside the process: A lot has happened and this time the result will be different. Even though the process is the same, the starting point has changed so the result will be different.
The same water won’t run through the river twice
Iterative means “repetition” – but it doesn’t mean that you won’t move on from where you are. You might compare iterative movement and walking up stairs. You don’t move ahead even though you move. That is one of the mayor challenges of iterative movement: Lacking the feeling of progress.
Lacking progress doesn’t mean you don’t get closer to the goal. We are often so focused on moving on that we don’t see that progress isn’t always the fastest or best way forward. Sometimes the fastest and best way is when you see a new way.
The new, and better, way is not clear at the foot of the stairs. It appears when you get far enough up. Sometimes it only takes a little and other times you have to go far. And that is why iterative development feels so slow and backbreaking: You never know how far up the stairs you have to go before you see the new way.
How to avoid the feeling of walking in circles
There are three simple things you can do, to make the walk up the stairs less backbreaking and unmanageable. They are as follows:
- Take short reports
Always take reports of your meetings. Especially the small informal meetings over a cup of coffee where you make a quick decision. Reports are wonderful at showing how far you’ve made it. They show everything you’ve been through! It has to be a short report – no long novels. A picture of the board you wrote on, or the paper you drew and put notes on. A short email with the five decisions you reached. In conclusion: Keep short reports making you able to remember what you decided.
- Celebrate every iteration
Every time you’ve been through an iteration, you should take what you’ve achieved and put it into the spotlight. Have a small party and celebrate that you are now further. You might not have done what you thought you would. Maybe you might even have made anything. Maybe you did something completely different than you though you would. Anyway you did something and you should keep a hold on that! The result of an iteration is the grounding from which the next will start and the best way to start is to be sure where you are.
- Stop and look back
When you are on the job and one iteration replaces the other, you easily forget how far you’ve actually come. That’s why once in a while you should stop to think and look back: Where did you come from? How far have you come? Where were you going and are you still going there?
Remember that even though it might look like you’ve walked in circles every time, you make your way round the circle it will change because the starting point has changed. Sometimes you might need to walk a few times around the same circle to arrive at what you want to.
Do you follow these three steps? It’s my experience that iterative processes will give you a feeling of moving forward – even if you are in fact moving upwards.