Agile focus on flexibility and the ability to change directions during the project, but it is not the same as working unplanned and rushing to do anything that comes up. For some people new to agile methodologies, this might be a bit of a surprise.
An experienced project manager, that at the time was new to agile processes once said to me:
I thought scrum was supposed to be agile, but the fixed sprints makes it a loss less flexible than what I’m used to. When something new, urgent comes up, I can no longer go ask someone on the team to fix it.
At the time, I was mostly upset with the comment, but with some spacetime distance to the project I can now look back and learn something from it.
The first thing that was obvious was that the project manager was not at all as used to plans and following plans as he thought. Of course there had been project plans before, but only on a high level. There had not been the detailed plans that are prepared in a scrum sprint planning meeting, where the team and the product owner negotiates a deal on what to commit to for the next sprint.
The second conclusion is that the project manager was not used to self organizing teams, that do their own planning. In an agile project, the role of the project manager and product owner is to give the team a clear goal and then let the team work in the best way they see fit to reach that goal. To do that, plans are indeed required, but that’s a different kind of plans than the normal project plan.
Yesterday I got hold of a deck of cards, specially made for playing planning poker at sprint planning. I’ve been through many sprint plans before but never actually played planning poker with cards. I’m stunned by the difference it made.
Without the cards, I’ve always been careful that everyone settles their own opinion first, before anyone else tells what they think. I thought that was enough to get the same results as when using actual cards. I was wrong. I was completely wrong. I spoiled an opportunity to build the team spirit, the feeling of doing this together, the collective ownership of the estimates. The most important thing I missed was the possibility to get rid of the feeling of criticism when having a different opinion. The criticism that nags on the team spirit can be replaced with a good collective laugh, empowering the team spirit instead.