Why Rituals Are Important for Agile Teams

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A ritual—something that is part of all cultures—can foster community in a team and reduce the time and energy we spend making decisions on how we work. The challenge is to keep the rituals that are still useful, not fall into habit, and balance the value of rituals with agile values, like continuous improvement.

On agile teams some rituals, such as well-planned meetings and retrospectives, reenforce trust. Others, like the daily stand-up meeting, streamline meetings and decision making. Technical practices like running an automated build before committing changes and coding using test-driven development keep progress moving forward.

Rituals help a team work efficiently and can be a way to change culture and habits and help you establish a framework for being productive. Context changes over time so it’s important to periodically revisit our rituals; be aware when a ritual is not working.

Automation is related to rituals. Some routine tasks, like a daily build process, can be done by hand but are so routine you can automate them, thus eliminating the overhead of remembering to do the task and decreasing the chance for error.

Automation can be both powerful and problematic. However, by being mindful of the reasons for—and the effects of—the automated practices, you can greatly benefit.

Too often teams resist automating too early, giving more weight to potential problems. Some of the reasons people defer automation is because it takes work. But as an article in Fast Company points out, having systems in place allows you to go faster and more consistently. Given the right mindset, automating engineering tasks early can save time down the road.

By being mindful of the need to change and revisit practices, you can gain the benefits of ritual and automation early in a project without trapping yourself and your team into bad patterns.

How do rituals help your team be more effective? And how do you ensure that rituals that were once useful don’t just become bad habits?

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Steve Berczuk

Steve Berczuk is a Principal Engineer and ScrumMaster at Fitbit in Boston, MA. He is the author of Software Configuration Management Patterns: Effective Teamwork, Practical Integration, and has an M.S. in operations research from Stanford University and an S.B. in Electrical Engineering from MIT.