I was observing a Scrum daily stand-up for a new team the other day - here is one observation I had. At the end of the stand-up the Scrum Master asked the team who was going to update the burndown chart today. One team member stepped forward and started adding up task estimates (in his head) and then drew the bar on the chart (paper on the wall) representing the daily estimated work remaining on this sprint. We talked briefly about the shape of the graph (classic downhill ski jump shape) and last sprints graph (similar shape) and what that implied. There was no big discussion about if the data was truly represented in the information - because they all understood the derivation of the chart information, they had created the information (the chart).
This is a great break through for this team - because of the status quo in the organization. It is not until you know 'The rest of the story' that the new behaviors become so awesome in my view.
... the rest of the story
The organization is heavily reliant on using a big name tool for tracking the agile teams and creating charts. Yes, this well known tool is on many list of agile tool sets (another list of agile tools). Yet, it is not well liked by the people. There are questions as to weather it is just plan wrong in the information it is creating (burndown charts). Or if the tool is being used inappropriately (problem exist between keyboard and chair - PEBKAC). These charts are not trusted by the teams and thought leaders at the organization. The agile coaches have even created an excel spreadsheet and manually extract data from the agile management tool to plug into the spreadsheet thereby creating better charts and graphs.
"The Sprint Burndown Chart is a valuable tool for team self-management. Excessive management attention to team self-management artifacts will lead to finger-pointing and “looking good for the boss,” impeding the candid interaction among team members necessary for hyper-productivity."
-- Michael James, An Agile Approach to Measurements
Since the teams and leaders do not trust the tool, and have created another layer of tool abstraction, the teams do not really feel responsible for the information being presented. It is just some numbers (a lot of numbers) in a spreadsheet that someone created, that is telling us something, but what do we do about it? "I don't know what to do, I'm sure they will tell us."
In my opinion, the problem's root cause is that the team has been dis-empowered by removing them from the responsibility of managing them selves. It is their responsibility to decide if they are going to get to Done on the sprint. It is not the responsibility of some tool to report to someone else this information. And then result in that someone else directing the team in how to correct the inadequate burndown rate.
This team has accepted their responsibility. They own the task of tracking. They have modified the tracking tool they are using to give them better information (note graph paper above, and plan paper last sprint) over time (inspect & adapt - learning). Now that they have a deep understanding of the information, they may be able to draw conclusions that lead to changes in behaviors that improve the shape of their graphs, and allow them to project if the sprint will get to done early and with confidence.
If there is no confidence in the information - wouldn't that mean the use of the tool to produce the information is WASTE. Oh - that Lean thinking will get me in so much trouble - or - perhaps the status quo will change.
A Burndown chart that radiates progress
Why Paper is the Real Killer App - BBC