Solving Agile questions with an overflowing bathtub

Imagine you’re standing in your bathroom, and suddenly, you notice water spilling over the edge of the bathtub. Instinctively, you might think about cleaning up the mess with a mop. However, the logical first step is to turn off the tap to stop more water from overflowing. This simple yet profound analogy holds significant wisdom for managing IT projects, especially within Agile methodologies.

Identifying the Root Cause

In IT projects, challenges and problems often arise unexpectedly. These can range from scope creep, resource shortages, and technical glitches, to shifting requirements. When faced with these issues, many teams might rush to fix the immediate symptoms—akin to reaching for the mop. However, this approach can be counterproductive if the underlying cause isn’t addressed.

Turning Off the Tap: The first step in addressing issues in IT projects should be identifying the root cause. This involves asking critical questions:

  • Why did this problem occur?
  • What process or decision led to this issue?
  • How can we prevent it from happening again?

By thoroughly understanding the problem’s origin, teams can develop more effective and lasting solutions.

Agile Methodologies: Embracing Continuous Improvement

Agile methodologies, such as Scrum and Kanban, are designed to handle uncertainties and adapt to changes swiftly. These methodologies inherently support the concept of “turning off the tap” before addressing the symptoms.

Sprint Retrospectives: In Scrum, sprint retrospectives provide a structured opportunity for the team to reflect on what went well and what didn’t during the sprint. This reflection helps identify root causes of any issues faced and plan actionable steps to prevent recurrence. Instead of merely patching up problems, teams focus on continuous improvement and process optimization.

Kanban’s Continuous Flow: Kanban emphasizes visualizing work, limiting work in progress, and managing flow. When a bottleneck or problem arises, teams are encouraged to investigate and address the root cause to improve the overall flow of work. This approach ensures that problems are not just temporarily fixed but are systematically eliminated.

Applying the Wisdom: Practical Steps

  1. Root Cause Analysis: Regularly conduct root cause analysis sessions for any significant issues encountered during the project. Tools like the 5 Whys or Fishbone Diagrams can be very effective.
  2. Feedback Loops: Establish continuous feedback loops with stakeholders, team members, and end-users to quickly identify and understand problems. Agile methodologies naturally incorporate these feedback loops through ceremonies like daily stand-ups, sprint reviews, and retrospectives.
  3. Preventive Measures: Once the root cause is identified, implement preventive measures. This could include process changes, additional training, or new tools and technologies that help mitigate the risk of similar issues arising in the future.
  4. Documentation and Knowledge Sharing: Document the findings from root cause analyses and share the knowledge across the team and organization. This collective learning helps prevent similar issues in other projects and promotes a culture of continuous improvement.
  5. Adaptability: Foster a mindset of adaptability within the team. Agile methodologies are built on the principle of responding to change over following a fixed plan. Encourage the team to be flexible and adjust processes as needed based on the lessons learned from past experiences.


The analogy of turning off the tap before mopping up the mess serves as a powerful reminder for managing IT projects and applying Agile methodologies. By focusing on identifying and addressing the root cause of problems, teams can create more robust and resilient processes, leading to better project outcomes. Agile frameworks inherently support this approach through their emphasis on continuous improvement, feedback loops, and adaptability. Embracing these principles ensures that teams are not just firefighting but are proactively creating an environment where issues are less likely to arise in the first place.

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