Last week, I attended AWS re:Invent 2019; overall it was a great conference and I’m glad I was able to go. Of course, the goal is to be able to take something away from the conference—something technical, or an idea, or maybe a new product to try. In this case, the one thing I keep thinking about is a phrase I heard uttered by one of the session presenters, while I was waiting in line for one of the workshops.

A bit of background first. Workshops at re:Invent are generally set up such that participants use their own laptops, and log into either a pre-baked dev environment, or via participants’ own AWS Developer Console. In either case, each participant gets a little card with a code that either grants access to the dev environment, or gives AWS credits so that there’s no actual cost to the participant to do the workshop. These cards are generally either at the seats, or are handed out by the workshop presenters.

For the workshop in question, it was the presenter handing out the cards, right after the attendees had their badges scanned in. The session had more than 100 attendees, perhaps closer to 200, but only one person doing the scanning. That, of course, meant that it was a bit of a slow go to get into the room.

It was at this point when I heard the presenter say, as he was handing out cards and looking at the line: “At least we’re not the bottleneck!”

(He was, of course, referring to the couple of people handing out AWS credits.)

Of course, he was right: His group was doing its job very efficiently, and had no backup whatsoever. Of course, how could they? The line was barely moving past the poor badge-scanner, and it took perhaps four or five seconds for each scan. Now, realistically, there wasn’t much the presenter could do. He couldn’t just grab another scanner (they were special phones of some sort) and help bring people in.

But his statement got me thinking about how, in Agile, we have a tendency to see ourselves in the same way as that presenter. “I’m doing my job; I’m being efficient; I’m not the bottleneck!” But that very statement implies that there is a bottleneck in the process. You might not be it, but just because you aren’t the cause, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do something about it.

My team’s scrummaster talks often about “swarming” on a story: the idea that a given story, if it sits around too long in one column, ought to get attention from a bunch of folks to get it across the finish line. Really, all this means is that all of the stories in a given sprint belong to the entire team, and not just the individual who implements a given card, or who tests it, or who wrote it in the first place.

Don’t be content to just not be the bottleneck. Look for ways to actually remove the bottleneck, and better yet, prevent that bottleneck from happening again in the future.