On January 20, John Garison shared tips on making the agile methodology work for you.
John, a 15-year veteran of agile projects, led an energetic discussion and offered his experience. Agile, developed to address the weaknesses of traditional “waterfall” software development, has a kind of formal informality. There is no set methodology, so no two agile implementations are the same, even within the same company, and John warned the audience to be flexible. Effort estimates are made not in person-hours but in deliberately vague terms such as “small, medium, and large,” with each team deciding on its own how to size the terms. Tools such as Jira and Confluence now help manage the workflow. A best practice is to insist on detailed user story descriptions (which correspond to specifications) to guide development and documentation.
Agile gives technical communicators more equality. You can take the valuable role of user advocate and help drive design decisions. Unlike waterfall methodology, where developers have their own concerns, in agile you are a member of the team; in the chicken-and-pig analogy, you’re fully committed to the project—a pig. If your work is blocked, the team is blocked.
It’s common for a writer in an agile company to belong to more teams, and have more daily meetings, than can be covered. John advised picking and choosing. For those meetings you do decide to attend, such as backlog grooming and reveals (sprint demos), John’s advice is: “Attend the meeting. If not invited, attend anyway. And listen!” If you’re overbooked, set the expectation that documents won’t be done at the end of every sprint, but that final documentation is a completion criterion (required to be “done done”).
Finally, while John is an enthusiastic advocate of agile, he cautioned that not every agile implementation is successful. Agile requires support from the top of the organization to the bottom, and from the sides (peer organizations) as well.
Before the program, Chapter President Nancy Allison brought Cindy Cookson, who is retiring as the Chapter’s bookkeeper, in from her post at the registration table to thank her for her 15 years of service.