The Agile Rhythm: How to Find Yours & Why

Remember ‘song time’ in Kindergarten, when your friends would all join together in a sing-along? My favorite was, “Old MacDonald,” because the simple melody and repetition could convince even the shyest person to sing.

Old MacDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-OH
And on that farm there were some ducks, E-I-E-I-OH

The song repeated with cows mooing and whatever other barnyard animal we’d shout out. The repetition encouraged everyone to join in and you didn’t have to be a good singer because the group carried the song.

Agile development projects are similar. The repetitive core of an Agile development methodology provides structure and keeps the project moving forward, even when problems pop up.

So what does that have to do with Agile rhythm?

Agile methodologies are based on iterative sprints that include repetitive events called rituals. In successful projects, rituals are scheduled on the same day of the week for every sprint. After a few sprints, everyone on the team knows what to do and when to do it—and a rhythm is established.

Of course, that doesn’t mean unexpected issues won’t arise. On the contrary, they often do. But like the group of children that carries singers in a Kindergarten class who maybe forget the words or miss a song note, finding and maintaining an Agile rhythm provides a structure within which the team can pull solutions together.

Here are 4 essential tips you can use to establish rhythm in projects with Agile basics:

1. Minor details matter most.

Attention to detail, especially minor details, will help establish rhythm. Get your rituals on the calendar well ahead of time, booking the same weekday, time, and meeting room when possible.

BONUS TIP: People are now familiar with the benefits of an Agile team room and daily standups, but you may find you need a bigger room for demos. Reserve a larger space for these and put the meeting on people’s calendars several months in advance.

2. Commit to a schedule.

Get inspired by the last bullet and schedule grooming meetings, retrospectives, and planning meetings with time to spare. These aspects of Agile project each have a distinct purpose and will be more efficient if they remain separate meetings. You’ll also experience better rhythm by creating a schedule early on and sticking to it.

BONUS TIP: Inflexibility isn’t Agile, so check in with your team as needed. One purpose of a retrospective is to evaluate whether or not the rhythm is working. If the answer is, “No,” then adjust course to better serve the project.

3. Stick to shorter sprints.

Short sprints are better than long sprints. They tighten up the Agile rhythm (everyone stays busy) and issues get resolved faster. Most importantly, rough spots in the team’s adaptation of Agile will surface more quickly and, likewise, can be addressed at a faster pace.

4. Establish an Agile mindset.

A rhythm establishes a strong Agile mindset—it’s one of overcoming obstacles and moving projects forward. Let’s look at an example: When a Product Owner and Business Analyst are stuck on an issue affecting a user story that needs to get into the next sprint, they know that the issue must be addressed before the next planning meeting.

This is nothing unusual; it could happen in every sprint. But the repetitive nature of Agile establishes a mindset that encourages those professionals to want to move forward. In one scenario, they could defer the story to a later sprint. Alternatively, they could split the story and address the troublesome detail later.

The discipline to handle this issue and a myriad of other details, while still maintaining productivity, is wholly established by the Agile rhythm.

So now that you know how my team gets into an Agile rhythm, how will you make sure your team keeps a steady beat?