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6 March 2012

Case Study: Improve efficiency through a focus on feedback

Sydney George Street Looking South

Angela joined a team as a PM where one of the first comments I received from a developer was “The way we work around here is code any old thing and then let the testers tell us how to improve it.” (Little did she know he was a closet TDD advocate!) Quality was notoriously low. The track record for IT projects at this project was so abysmal some executives had wondered aloud whether they should even be doing any, and whether the IT development function should be outsourced entirely.

On a two year software adventure Angela and her team adopted XP coding practices within a scrum framework. It took 6 months from inception to the first roll-out and several moderate bugs were found, and only a handful of bugs of real significance. They were resolved within a week. From that week on the team were able to successfully roll out 36 more releases with only an occasional major defect making it beyond a sprint review. The handful of defects that did emerge were found in UAT within a few hours of exploratory testing.

Angela’s role in this great quality outcome was in enabling the team to pursue the quality standards they wanted to work with and nudging them onward to ever higher standards every now and again. She did this by making the team accountable for their decisions and for the work output and making sure that the many feedback loops built into XP and scrum were effective.

Leaders emerged from within the team that championed quality. They build test suites and brought in automated UI testing tools. Everyone on the team tested rigorously and everyone took ownership of the product and accountability for what they delivered to clients. Angela assisted by coaching the customer on acceptance standards, and ensuring the team got sufficient feedback when a feature was not sufficiently done.

Over time Angela spent less and less time working with the team and more time coaching and mentoring the enterprise clients to the project. While not formally adopting a method like scrum the user community also adopted the principles of short feedback cycles and increased focus to get things done within their operations space. Everyone experienced improved efficiency as a result of a focus on quality via feedback loops. The efficiency win in this case was in the reduced amount of rework, and increased alignment on mutual goals.