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  • Writer's pictureJulie A. Foster

Tollgates and Agile

Should scrum teams participate in tollgates?

The infamous tollgate meeting. The meeting where we give our project's status, answer questions and wait for the project's decision of moving forward. Often when I begin the implementation of an Agile Transformation, the project managers start asking about tollgates. The surprised looks I receive when saying that we don't have tollgates in Agile are almost comical. What? They exclaim, no tollgates? How do you know if you should continue with the project? What are your controls and checkpoints?

Tollgate reviews mean well, but I have found it's so easy to bury the truth. Not so long ago, I was brought into a technology department to help spin up some new scrum teams. Just two weeks into the position, I discovered something was very wrong. I uncovered a money-draining project that could destroy an entire corporation. A project that was meant to be 2 years and 12 million dollars turned out to be 20-30 million dollars with 5+ years of work to do for completion!

Why wasn't this discovered during a tollgate review? Why wasn't the true cost and length of work disclosed to the person who initially approved this? Because it was easy to hide. This organization lacked transparency and accountability. Project managers could falsify templates and tell the tollgate members that everything is great and that was enough for approval.

My data analysis is what uncovered this disastrous project. This project was not allowed to adopt scrum, and so it continued with a lone project manager at the helm with no transparency.

Agile builds accountability and transparency into the process by bringing in the business area (customer) and working side by side with them. Teams meet regularly to have conversations about progress and are encouraged to hold each other accountable. The work is visual for everyone to see. Nothing is hidden.

Teams that use Scrum have time-boxed sprints of 1-4 weeks. At the end of the sprint, the team gets feedback from the business area. This review of what has been built and the progress made is where it is decided if the team continues.

I think there is a need for checkpoints and safeguards. I also think we need to do them in a way that brings value and lends itself to transparency and accountability. Are we delivering business value? Who determines that? A tollgate member our data and our customer?

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