Have You Checked in Yet?

Have You Checked in Yet?

Many teams acknowledge that it is best practice to “check in” code to a shared code repository, and developers may check in multiple times when delivering a single user story. Knowledge of whether a developer has checked in or not is, in itself, not very useful to us, so as Scrum Masters or agile project managers, what are we really asking?

We are, of course, asking for a progress update and in most cases simply asking: “Have you finished the story or task you have been working on?”

In this post, I would like to look at a couple of common scenarios where asking this type of question regularly can have a negative impact on team morale and lead to a reduction in quality, and then suggest what we may do to avoid asking too often.

Scenario 1: We Don’t Know

It may be that the communication within the team is not as effective as it could be, so we are not getting the information that we need. In agile, we can use daily stand-up meetings and team boards to communicate progress.

If this communication is not giving us what we need, it may be tempting to hover round the team asking for updates, but it is probably better to spend time coaching and reinforcing good agile practices that will benefit the team now and in the future.

At the daily stand-up meeting, each team member should aim to give a clear update on the status of their tasks and if they are impeded in any way. While it is important not to see the meeting as merely a status update, it is reasonable to talk about expected progress. Coach the team to give clear and useful information.

Another way to communicate progress is with a task board and burndown. Personally, I prefer to capacity plan in sprint planning meetings so that we can break stories into tasks and estimate in hours.

We can ask the team to update the hours remaining on a particular task each day. If we see that a task has 12 hours left against it at the start of a day, it is usually quite pointless asking if it will be finished by the end of the day.

Consider capacity planning and burndown hours instead of story points during sprints so that we can easily see how much effort is remaining on a particular task. Again, we can coach the team to keep the board up to date with accurate information and look at it when we are checking progress.

A danger here is that our team is doing these things well but we are not, which means we are regularly asking questions that they have already given the answers to. This can lead to people becoming disillusioned with the process and a reduction in team moral.

Communication is two way, and we need to listen properly at the stand-up meeting and take time to understand what the board is telling us. It can be frustrating for someone to be asked if they will be finished today just one hour after they stated that they won’t be, or if they have clearly marked on the board that there was 14 hours remaining on the story.

In both scenarios, the person being asked the question will probably be thinking that we don’t listen to them, we don’t pay attention to the team board or that we would quite like them to work 14 hours today.

Scenario 2: We Do Know but the Team is not Going Fast Enough

In this scenario, we have the information we need to know when a task is likely to be finished, but we would like it to finish before then. We tend to ask this question more when our team is not progressing as fast as we would like, which is contrary to the agile principles of self-organising teams: working at a sustainable pace and delivering quality.  

We need to be careful here, as we are behaving more like traditional project managers and portraying ourselves as the “boss.” If we know that the team has 14 hours remaining on a story and we ask them if they will finish today, we are implying that we will be disappointed if the answer is no.

This can lead to people cutting corners and working unsustainable hours in order to try and keep us happy, both of which will reduce the quality of the work being delivered.

In Summary

I’m not suggesting that it is the end of the world to ever ask for a status update, but would caution asking too regularly. The best agile teams are self-organising, empowered and work at a sustainable pace.

As good Scrum Masters or agile project managers, we should take time to reflect on whether our own behaviours help our teams be the best they can be.


David Cassidy is an Agile Coach with over 20 years’ experience in the software industry.

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