Lui Bolin is a Chinese artist who body paints himself and perfectly blends into his surrounding.  Here is Lui in a theatre in Italy (click on the picture to see a larger size):

Typically, it takes him and his team hours of painstaking work.  Here he camouflaging himself into a supermarket shelf:

Lui also “hides” in famous public places.  Here he is in Temple of Heaven in Forbidden City:

And here is at canals in Venice, Italy:

And on Wallstreet in New York City:

I was reminded of Lui Bolin during a recent conversation I had with a ScrumMaster.  For Lui Bolin, hiding in plain sight is art.  But, agile teams can’t afford to blend in.  Agile team should thrive on providing transparency within the team and to all stakeholders.

This particular ScrumMaster and his team were hesitant in tracking their work in an agile management software.  And he was conflating the use of agile management software with other time tracking systems as duplication of work.  In essence, he was missing the point of why it is important for his team and the stakeholder in generating the type of information that can help them acheive higher producitivity.

I probed further and our conversation went something along this lines:

“Where do you keep track of your release and sprint backlogs? ” I asked.

“The team uses a spreadsheet to document the stories,” he said.

“Ah, so you already doing some type of tracking, maybe not in agile management software, but in spreadsheets. Nothing wrong with that. What about tasks, do you track those in the worksheet as well? “

“Well, ” he replied, “the team never breaks down the stories into tasks during sprint planning.”

“Okay, so how is your team keeping track of work during the sprint, how are they communicating their work?”

He replied, “we are small team, so we use daily scrums and frequent communication to keep up with our progress.”

“So what about sprint burndown charts, ” I asked, “how do you as the ScrumMaster take temperature of your team during the sprint?  How do you help them, if they are in a bind?  Does your team always complete all the committed stories, every sprint?”

“No, generally, not,” came the sheepish reply.

I asked him further, “so, how does your team learn what it’s doing right and what’s it doing wrong? How does it get better on their agile estimation, for example? Does your team follow Story Done criteria? “

“We don’t have explicit story done criteria,” came the reply.

“So without done criteria and no written tasks for stories, how does your team consistently keep sight of what is important.  Like, say are they conducting code reviews, are they refactoring code, are they building and executing a good test plan, are they automating their tests?”

“Well, we are quite busy completing our stories, and the team just doesn’t feel like it is good use of their time doing task tracking,” the ScrumMaster offered the reason.

At this point, we had to move away from this particular conversation to other matters.  But, this ScrumMaster was clearly passing up an opportunity to help his team get better and more productive.  If they tracked their tasks at story level, whether it is in excel, or on sticky notes, or on agile tracking software, they will generate useful information.  The type information that can show them that they are over commiting, or that they can prevent defects (code reviews) or that they might be taking on technical debt (refactoring code).

Evidently, this particular team and the ScrumMaster were following some of the scrum rituals, but they aren’t using the methodology to get better.  Under the guise of avoiding extra work (tracking tasks at story level), they were just winging it.

It seemed the team lacked courage to be honest to themselves and in providing complete transparency everyone.  They were trying to hide in plain sight – much like Liu Bolin.  It works for Liu Bolin’s fantastic art photographs, but it doesn’t work for an agile team.

Credit: The photographs of Lui Bolin are from Eli Klein Gallery’s website.