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I've been working at my current job for around 18 months and the business have had its share of ups and downs. My job is team lead of a small team, which includes software development and also conversations with the software team, team mates, management, etc. The conversations are increased further because we are also running in an agile setting.

Since the last week, myself and a few of my fellow employees were approached by one of the management staff and asked to reduce the time we spend on conversations. We have explained the reasons for the conversations in a calm fashion, pointing out that those conversations need to be hand as we are currently going through software solution acceptance (component by component) with the hardware team. This seemed to have landed on deaf ears as this situation was repeated today, with the manager putting a timer in front of us with the running time, to keep track of the time we spent talking.

Now I would see this as a problem if we've spent hours discussion pointless things or having non-work related conversations, but these are discussions that need to be had. We are also not spending hours a day on these conversations - they occur when they need to (every 2-3 days on average) and can take anywhere between 10 and 30 minutes. We are sometimes having a few of those back to back or very close to each other due to availability issues of certain team members.

Moreover - both myself and the mentioned team members are hard working guys who are always putting an extra bit of effort, time, etc to get the job done, so this feels very unfair and unpleasant. I am honestly quite upset and angry at this behaviour, which I think is highly unprofessional.

How should I approach this? Any tips/recommendations? Am I correct in feeling the way I do?

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    Who, particularly, in the management staff is doing this? Is this person formally designated as a product owner? – John Feltz Dec 14 '16 at 3:02
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    I suspect that the manager has just excitedly read some book about agile and has concluded that your conversations are exceeding some predefined number, and is trying to make you all conform to his belief as to what agile is meant to be. – Peter M Dec 14 '16 at 3:07
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    Polish up your CV. – A E Dec 14 '16 at 3:30
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    Do you know what the manager plans to do with the data collected? – Masked Man Dec 14 '16 at 3:32
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    Point your manager to the Agile Manifesto (agilemanifesto.org) and show what has high value: interactions and collaboration. – mcknz Dec 14 '16 at 3:41
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How should I approach this?

In an agile setting, you put this on the table in your next retrospective meeting. Decide how you feel about it as a team and talk to the member of the management staff.

You may need help with your agile setting. The fact that a member of the management staff has not a designated agile role interacting with your team in that way and the fact that you did not know how to approach a problem like this makes me think you are not quite there yet.

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    Thanks for the suggestions! Problem with this place is that they say that they are agile, but do not hold retrospectives, do not use sprints and don't really do anything else agile-ish except frequent context switching and a lack of planning. The most agile part of this company is myself and my small team, who have daily standups, do hold retrospectives and do run things in sprints. – Ross Dec 19 '16 at 1:21
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    Frequent context switching and lack of planning are no agile values, to the contrary, focus and a filled backlog in Scrum or clear approach how tasks arrive in kanban are core agile values. It seems your company does agile in name only. You will need to ask said manager if he actually wants agile. Because if he doesn't, they should stop calling it agile and you may want to reconsider working in a shop that was advertised as agile but isn't. – nvoigt Dec 19 '16 at 7:01
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Divert with basic time management

At the start of the meetings just outline a brief agenda and how long the meeting will take. This should negate entirely the need for a timer and you just carry on as normal.

If the timer is placed on the table during ad-hoc meetings, then this could result in a small pause, a pointed look, and you carry on as normal.

Ten to thirty minute meetings should not be any cause for concern at all from management. If anything, they add to productivity because everyone gets a bit clearer on where the project is and their place within the timeline.

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    Agreed with everything you said! After I brought this up with management, they somewhat agreed that it was disrespectful but also pushed the point stating that we need to become more efficient in the way we run meetings due to tight deadlines. It was defined that anything other than a 10 minute chat should be booked as a meeting, which should be time boxed at the end of which we should have an outcome or seek assistance from the management. Mixed result I would say and while I am all for efficiency, I do not think that this is the direct route there or the best way to try and approach it – Ross Dec 19 '16 at 1:24
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    @Ross - Sounds to me as though the projects are being underestimated to start with, and meeting/admin time needs to be built into project plans as an additional item (i.e. plan for about 90 mins of meeting/admin time per week or whatever time you're taking for meetings per week). – Snow Dec 19 '16 at 7:25
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There's a few things that make me thing your manager doesn't really know how to utilise agile properly. The idea is that in sprint planning the topics are discussed and the workload for the sprint is set. This is the time where the discussions you are having should happen (although I clearly get that these discussions are sometimes needed outside of designated meetings).

nvoigt nails it and says in the next retrospective (if you have them), this needs bringing up as a matter of importance. If not, speak to your colleagues and suggest a meeting with your manager to discuss it.

I personally find it ridiculous on your manager's part that he is wasting his time timing your conversations. Agile development is meant to increase collaboration, so by trying to reduce these collaborations, it is defeating the purpose of the methodology. It sounds like your manager hasn't done his job effectively and has told his powers that be an unreasonable deadline and this is passing down to the developers.

  • If that is the case, then he has told his superiors an unreasonable deadline, but hasn't even told the developers about it. Well, that's truly effective. – gnasher729 Dec 14 '16 at 9:23
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    If a manager is timing conversations, he isn't an effective manager. I can't see why else he would feel the need to time these interactions, that's all? It seems such an odd thing to do in any development environment, let alone an "agile" one. – Andrew Berry Dec 14 '16 at 9:29
  • Agreed! I actually find a lot of the stuff that the management do and not do pretty ridiculous in the company. They would often not want to discuss valid project timeline concerns - often trying to divert the question. Would sometimes remind staff that their door is always open, but then treat the said staff with certain lack of respect. Would frequently stress their lack of understanding of project progress, to then not show up at the status meetings. Basic things like NYE shutdown would not event be sent out until a few days in advance. I often see themselves having prolonged conversations – Ross Dec 19 '16 at 1:30
  • ..but when staff have important work related conversations themselves, it becomes a problem. I am tempted to say that the management is not quite the best it could be here, supported by the fact that a lot of people talk about leaving due to being disgruntled with the way the company is run. – Ross Dec 19 '16 at 1:33
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If a manager is timing work-related conversations, I'd say "we will be having this conversation until we've resolved the issue. We're trying to get work done here." It sounds to me like despite hearing the conversation he's trying to paint you as goofing off.

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