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Watch the Dog

1 July 2015

Susanne Albinger
Objectbay Software & Consulting GmbH

Scrum is all about visibility. For example, take the Scrum board. It usually occupies a wall in the team room, and everybody knows at a glance what tasks are done, which are in progress, or which are left to do.

There are electronic versions for tracking the work, which come in handy when team members are not co-located. But still, I prefer the real thing where everybody gathers before a wall filled with colorful Post-its and can move them around. It helps keep discussions going, because nobody is staring at a computer screen, busy with something else.

Another example is the burn-down chart. It helps track the progress of work. The chart immediately points out when something is going wrong, such as new tasks suddenly appearing or the line just not dropping.

We had our Scrum board and burn-down chart, which made the work visible to everyone on the team. And in order to ensure the quality of our potentially shippable software product at the end of each sprint, we also had a decent package of unit and functional tests that were run after each nightly build. And with each newly implemented feature, these tests were extended. All was just as it is supposed to be [grin].

But tests tends to break, and somebody has to address the problem. Our TeamCity server sent emails to each team member in case one or more tests failed. So everything was fine, right? So we thought. But things are not as easy as that. Either no one or all team members felt responsible for fixing the tests. This sometimes resulted in broken tests that nobody cared about for days.

The solution was the introduction of a watchdog. Each week, a team member was assigned as the owner of all builds and tests. This person ensured that broken tests or builds were fixed. As it turned out, the concept was good, but the execution didn't go so well. Why not?

It was not clear to everyone whose turn it was to be the watchdog. Somebody had to come up with a schedule to identify who was next. As a result, we started a list on our SharePoint server, which contained a name for each week. Still, people tended to forget about their tasks or simply not check the list. We needed something else, something that couldn't be missed and was a permanent reminder of the task.

Why not use a dog? Not a real one, of course, but a fluffy little fellow who would sit patiently on your desk to remind you of your duty. I had my doubts: Would men accept a toy as a working tool? We asked the team what they thought about the idea. Nobody seemed to have any objections, so we put the notion in practice.

As simple as the idea was, it worked. Everybody on the team now knows who the watchdog is -- they can see the dog sitting on his or her desk. At the end of a week, the current watchdog physically passes the dog to the next person, along with the current status of the tests. This means that the next watchdog is up to date and prepared to start his or her task in the upcoming week.

The Watchdog

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

Article Rating

Current rating: 4.3 (3 ratings)


Gilberto Urueta Sanroman, CSP,CSM,CSPO, 8/7/2015 6:05:34 AM
Your solution is really simple but great!, thanks for sharing!

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