Your role as an amigo

If you work in an agile team, you may have been involved in three amigos discussions, also known more dryly as story kick-offs.

The basic idea of three amigos discussions is to bring business, development and testing perspectives to the table when deciding when a product feature or story is ‘done’, and how you will know when it gets there.

Crucially, these discussions work best when they are held just in time - right before work starts on a card, so that you focus only on work needed to get to ‘done’.

You’re probably familiar with what can happen if you don’t have these kinds of discussion up front.

A business representative may write very prescriptive acceptance criteria that pigeonholes the technical solution.

A developer might pick up a card and get started without consulting either the business representative or a tester. The work drags on because it’s not clear what the scope of the work really is.

A tester might start testing when development work is ‘complete’ and finds they can’t test what they need to, requiring them to get help from the developer, who then discovers that they need to change their implementation to make it more testable.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Unfortunately, many teams experience these problems and just keep plugging away.

One of my secret weapons as a lead developer has been to make sure that three amigos discussions happen for every single bit of work, up front. It’s easy to do, because the impact on quality of output and team happiness is immediate.

As a lead front-end developer, three amigos chats are a great opportunity to have a big impact and influence.

You must facilitate collaboration between business, UX, design and system concerns. You must help translate user stories to creative technical solutions using your understanding of the web. You need to balance delivery of a user story with testability, usability, maintainability, performance and all the other non-functional criteria.

Even if you aren’t doing the work directly yourself, you can help shape the overall direction of the product in increments. Other developers need and seek out technical leadership, and three amigos discussions provide a great place to provide it without micromanaging or being overly prescriptive.

Most importantly, remember the amigos part. These discussions are meant to be carried out as equal partners, with some natural, healthy tension between different perspectives.

Do you already have something like a three amigos kick-off chat for all the work you do? What benefits or downsides have you come across?

– Jim

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