Do Agile Teams ‘Storm’ In Different Ways?

Team Discussion

Agile transformation coaches promise their clients the positive outcome of “high-performance teams.”

According to the well-cited Psychologist B.W Tuchman, teams go through four stages on their way to high-performance. The end result seems to be a self-organizing team which effectively delivers to clients or customers with increasing satisfaction and continuous development and growth.

However, agile teams are different than regular teams. Aren’t they?

What I mean is, right from the outset individuals in an agile culture expect to confront change with positive stride. They are expected to be able to adapt to quickly even in uncertain environments. Therefore, their experience of team development is different, right from the outset.

Consider what Debbie Madden has to say in her article The Increasing Fluidity of Agile Practices Across Teams. She writes that, “most companies either claim they are Agile, are trying to become Agile, or have tried Agile. In truth, what I see today is a lot of customized Agile. In fact, the term “Traditional Agile” has come to mean the pure, original implementation of Agile. And, most companies are not following “Traditional Agile”. Instead, teams are customizing Agile to fit their needs, making the fluidity of Agile more prominent now than ever before.”

What this says to me is that since “Traditional Agile” has been around long enough now, teams have internalized the principles and values enough to understand change is to be expected and they have strategies in place to adapt well.

It says to me that teams are now taking Agile to a whole new level. They are making it their own. Adapting. Shaping. Moulding. Sculpting. The fluid nature of Agile gives teams permission to do this.

If we take Tuchman’s four-stage model and insert some agile thinking what we might come out with is an awareness that agile teams do what Debbie said they do. They make things up as they go along and they get the job done.

In this way, what might have been called “storming” by the old standards and definitions of team development can really also be called “high-performance” when the team is agile.

Perhaps some agile teams can create their own team development model and one of the stages is “high-performing storming” and maybe that is not even the final outcome but maybe it is the starting point on Day One!

Wouldn’t that be something?


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Face-to-Face Value

Linkedin has introduced a new app called Linkedin Lookup, advertised as “the fastest way to find and learn about your coworkers.”

If you don’t know who your co-workers are then your Enterprise has big problems, and a LinkedIn app won’t solve them. But Agile can…

The first Value in the Agile Manifesto reads: “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.”

What does that mean? For some understanding, you might read this excerpt from: Applying Agile Management Value 1: (Agile Project Management For Dummies)

The first core value of the Agile Manifesto is to value individuals and interactions over processes and tools. When you allow each person to contribute unique value to your software development project, the result can be powerful.

… This emphasis on individuals and teams puts the focus on people and their energy, innovation, and ability to solve problems. You use processes and tools in agile project management, but they’re intentionally streamlined and directly support product creation. The more robust a process or tool, the more you spend on its care and feeding and the more you defer to it. With people front and center, however, the result is a leap in productivity. An agile environment is human-centric and participatory and can be readily adapted to new ideas and innovations.
If you do not know who your employees or co-workers are, if you are never with them when they are engaging in their work to note their individual styles and capacities, then you are part of the old corporate way of conducting business, and will not be able to succeed given the current needs that demand a more humanistic approach to problem-solving and increased production – in other words, needs that demand agility.

What does it take to introduce yourself to a co-worker on another floor? What does it take to encourage an individual or team struggling with a creative problem? What does it take to tell someone, face-to-face, their work is well done?

These small interactions can have a great effect on any individual. She/he will feel valued, needed, noticed, regarded, and will likely want to learn and work even harder to increase his/her potential.

In Forbes magazine, January 2015, Steve Denning wrote an interesting article that speaks to the value of “individuals and interactions over processes and tools. His piece is called ”Why do Managers Hate Agile?”

http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2015/01/26/why-do-managers-hate-agile/
In it, he compares the vertical mindset and approach of corporations, which served them well one hundred and fifty years ago, to the horizontal approach that Agile offered in the late part of the 20th century as a response to changing needs in the world.

Denning writes:

Agile, Scrum and Lean arose as a deliberate response to the problems of hierarchical bureaucracy that is still pervasive in organizations today: falling rates of return on assets and on invested capital, a dispirited workforce and widespread disruption of existing business models.

…the world changed and the marketplace became turbulent. There were a number of factors: globalization, deregulation, and new technology, particularly the Internet. Power in the marketplace shifted from seller to buyer; average performance wasn’t good enough. Continuous innovation became a requirement; in a world that required continuous innovation, a dispirited workforce was a serious productivity problem. As the market shifted in ways that were difficult to predict, static plans became liabilities; the inability to adapt led to “big bang disruption.” In this turbulent context, the strengths of hierarchical bureaucracy evaporated. In this context, businesses and institutions requires continuous innovation.”

Social media apps can be fun and helpful, but they cannot replace human face-to-face interaction. Think about Agile’s first value as a place to begin.

 

 

 

 

 


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10 Statements You’ll Hear In a Maturing Agile Team

players-playing

A maturing agile team functions quite differently than any other team environment. Here are 10 examples of statements you’ll hear in a developing agile team.

 

  1. “Change is to be expected. Change is welcomed and embraced.”
  2. “Your work is already fantastic but the team is growing. How can we support you in developing the skills to adapt to our advancing team?”
  3. “You need to change. So do we all. What can we put in place as an organization to support this advancement?”
  4. “Let’s do an experiment. It might be right or it might be wrong but we won’t know until we try, learn, reflect.”
  5. “No one is to blame.”
  6. “Sure. We have all made mistakes but pointing them out gets us nowhere. We can say instead, ‘I am learning how to do… ‘such and such’ in a more effective way,’ and move forward confidently.”
  7. “Let’s talk about this with the whole team.”
  8. “Let’s take a vote.”
  9. “Let’s keep doing our work as we sort this out. Maturing teams mature when individuals keep doing their positive work.”
  10. “You have a choice about what work you do, when and how.”

Scott Ambler writes more on Agile teams in his article Roles on Agile Teams: From Small to Large Teams and elaborates on how “generalizing specialists” are the key to successful cross-functional teams. He writes, ” Generalizing specialists are the sweet spot between the two extremes of specialists, people who know a lot about a narrow domain, and generalists who know a little about a wide range of topics.”


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Link: Self-Driving Cars and Code Test Coverage

Mike Caspar has another thought provoking article, this one about self-driving cars and code test coverage.

Personally, I don’t want to let a vehicle drive me where the developers have been pressured (or the developers have decided on their own) to write code without tests…. I am just thinking about my future and I don’t want this topic to come up when it’s far too late for myself, family or friends.

Dear reader: if you have anyone connected to the auto industry and self-driving vehicles, please share Mike’s blog post!


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The New Scrum Guide: The 5 Scrum Values

Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland have just announced the new version of the Scrum Guide!  The only change is the addition of two paragraphs about the five Scrum values:

When the values of commitment, courage, focus, openness and respect are embodied and lived by the Scrum Team, the Scrum pillars of transparency, inspection, and adaptation come to life and builds trust for everyone. The Scrum Team members learn and explore those values as they work with the Scrum events, roles and artifacts.

Successful use of Scrum depends on people becoming more proficient in living these five values. People personally commit to achieving the goals of the Scrum Team. The Scrum Team members have courage to do the right thing and work on tough problems. Everyone focuses on the work of the Sprint and the goals of the Scrum Team. The Scrum Team and its stakeholders agree to be open about all the work and the challenges with performing the work. Scrum Team members respect each other to be capable, independent people.

The Scrum Guide is the sole and official definition of Scrum.


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Article Review: Agile Teams Bend But They Don’t Break

In an out-dated model of work environments, there are clear “rights” and clear “wrongs.” Usually, the management or leadership determines this and they call it “Policies and Procedures” or “Mandates” or simple “Rules.” There are usually severe consequences for not following these, intentionally or accidentally.

In the new and emerging agile model, where team members focus their attention on taking action with little planning, reflecting, learning and planning frequently work environments are very different.

Instead of looking for people to blame when challenges emerge, an agile team looks for ways to learn and develop. The team can collectively embrace new ways to adapt to change together.

This is one of the things I am learning about in high-functioning agile teams.

I like the way Brian Milner addresses this in his article “6 Ways to Bring  Humility to your Agile Leadership Style.”


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Review: Switching to the Agile Mindset

Recently, I discovered a well-written article on Scrum Alliance posted from a member entitled “Switching to the Agile Mindset.” In this article, the author lists six key components of the transformation individuals and teams go through as they adapt more agile mindsets and approaches to their work. I found this article ideal for new coaches and also useful for people on the team who may feel challenged by the switch.

The part which stands out for me the most is the phrase, “Change acceptance develops agility in a team.”

This concept is enshrined in the Agile Manifesto itself. Being able to adapt well to change is the cornerstone of the new mindset and a high-functioning agile team.


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Making Unconscious Habits in Culture Conscious in Agile Teams

In the past, in our North American culture, power and authority in an organization was held by those who earned the most money, had the titles to go along with their authority, and they had the right to make decisions about where they went, when they went places and who they associated with. They also had the power and authority to decide what others did and didn’t do in their work environment. That was in the past.
 
Where we are headed in a more unified and equal culture, based on principles of collaboration and understanding is that power is now more equally distributed. Those who didn’t have access to education now do. Those who were previously barred from environments of wealth and prosperity are now welcomed in. Corporate cultures, and organizational models across the board are changing and it’s good for everyone.
 
The biggest challenge in any change arises when someone’s fear of being excluded is realized. The issue is no longer about money or time or integrity. The issue is that as work environments change, old (mostly unconscious) patterns of exclusion are changing too. It means janitors associating with doctors and delivery teams eating lunch with those in leadership (imagine that!). When an organization is going through a transformation, when they notice behaviours which were limiting and exclusive and change them, they are actively contributing to an ever-advancing civilization. They are creating a new and inclusive culture.
 
At times, mistakes will be made. Old ways will sneak their way back in and one or more team member may get snubbed or excluded for one reason or another. This happens. It’s normal and is part of the learning process.
 
But in time, the aim for any agile team is to continually make these old exclusive unconscious habits conscious so that work environments can continue to embrace a greater diversity of people, not just of cultural backgrounds but from different social and economic backgrounds, too.
 
The difference in life experience from someone who has lived in poverty to someone who has lived in wealth is as if they grew up in different worlds, even though we inhabit the same earth. Everything is different. Language. Behaviours. Hopes and Dreams. Everything is different on any level.
 
However, just as different races are now joining together in work and in marriage more often, so are people from different socio-economic backgrounds coming together too, in work, in community building, in families.
 
The pain of the growth is a worthwhile investment into a brighter and more unified future not just for us but for the generation to follow us.

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Article Review: Thinking About the Agile Manifesto

Often times, as I’ve been researching about agile methods and how to apply these to create real and sustainable change in an organization, I come across reference to the Agile Manifesto. I list it here today for those who are new to the field or who are getting back to the roots after trying a few things with different-than-expected results. It is an instrumental document. The values and principles listed here truly do shape the way agilists think and operate and to some degree or another the results appear to be better than before this founding document was introduced. So here is my “hats off” to this remarkable item which plays a pivotal role in cultural transformation.

The four key values are:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

Personally, I find the first one the most meaningful of all. When we value individuals and interactions over process and tools we are truly improving in leaps and bounds in creating collaborative environments which are continuously improving.


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Article Review: Beyond the agility: Lean

BERTEIG’s expert in Kanban, Travis Birch, introduced me to Kanban through this link. It may be one of the most reputable sources for Lean/Kanban content online. One article I find particularly appealing is Beyond the agility: Lean. I’ll admit that one of the reasons I became hooked is because the phrase “Anybody who thinks we can overcome an emotional resistance with logic was probably never married. We can only overcome emotion with a stronger emotion.” Having been married, this peaked my interest. The rest of the article goes on to give a fantastic introduction into the agility, Lean, Kanban relationship and it served to deepen my understanding of all three. Great read!

 


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Video Review: Rethinking Education, David Sabine

BERTEIG’s David Sabine presented “Rethinking Education” at the first ever TedX talk in Fort McMurray, Alberta in 2012!

“Rethinking Education” has received nearly 3000 views and offers an insightful perspective into the way youth are streamlined into either vocational or educational career paths, and the funding which supports curriculum development. He even addresses important issues such as gender bias. I like how David sees Agile Transformation as having a positive influence on change in our current educational model and how he invites a radical approach to a new way to think about education.

I absolutely love how he combines his background in music composition with his professional training as an Agile Coach at a time when his personal life was changing with the upcoming birth of his daughter. He says “What we need is a common understanding, for a collective effort, for a collective benefit. That is how collaboration will manifest in our social system.”

What an encouraging and inspiring presentation! Please watch the video and share your thoughts on how you would like to see our social education model change now for the future.


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The Retro Game

The Hunt for Better Retrospectives

The rumours had started to spread, retrospectives at our organization were flat, stale and stuck in a rut. The prevailing thought was that this was stalling the pace of continuous improvement across our teams. In truth, I wasn’t sure if this was at all true, it’s a complex problem that has many possible contributing factors. Here are just some possible alternative or co-contributing causes: how the teams are organized, the level of safety, mechanisms to deal with impediments across the organization, cultural issues, levels of autonomy and engagement, competence & ability and so on…

Despite this, it didn’t hurt to have a look for some inspiration on good retrospectives. I really liked Gitte Klitgaard’s talk called Retrospectives are Boring and Useless – Or are They? In particular the parts around preparing and establishing safety.

On the theme of safety, I thought we could try to go as far as having fun; we’d already had lots of success with the getKanban game (oh Carlos you devil!). Where it all tied together for me, was being inspired by the great question-based approach from cultureqs.com that I’d had a chance to preview at Spark.

If I could create a game with the right prepared questions, we could establish safety, the right dialogue and maybe even have some fun.

The Retro Game

This is a question-based game that I created that you could use to conduct your next retro for teams of up to 10 people. The rules of the game are fairly simple and you could play through a round or two in about 1 to 2 hours depending on team size and sprint duration. Prep time for the facilitator is about 2-4 hours.

theretrogame

Prepping to play the game

You, as facilitator, will need to prepare for 3 types of questions that are thought of ahead of time and printed (or written) on the back of card-stock paper cards.

One question per card. Each question type has its unique colour card. About 8 questions per category is more than enough to play this game.

The 3 types of questions are:

In the Moment – These are questions that are currently on the mind of the team. These could be generated by simply connecting with each team member ahead of time and asking, “if you could only talk about one or two things this retro, what would it be?” If for example they responded “I want to talk about keeping our momentum”, you could create a question like “what would it take to keep our momentum going?”

Pulse Check – These are questions that are focused on people and engagement. Sometimes you would see similar questions on employee satisfaction surveys. An example question in this category could be “What tools and resources do we need to continue to be successful?”

Dreams and Worries – This is a longer-term view of the goals of the team. If the team has had any type of Lift Off or chartering exercise in the past, these would be questions connected to any goals and potential risks that have been previously identified. For example if one of a team’s goal is to ship product updates every 2 weeks, a question could be “What should we do next to get closer to shipping every 2 weeks?”

On the face-up side of the card it should indicate the question type as well as have room to write down any insights and actions.

You will also need:

  • To print out the game board
  • To print out the rule card
  • Bring a 6-sided dice

Playing the Game

Players sit on the floor or at a table around the game board. The cards are in 3 piles, grouped by type, with the questions face down.

therules

  • The person with the furthest birthday goes first.
  • It is their turn and they get to roll the dice.
  • They then choose a card from the pile based on the dice roll. A roll of 1 through 3 is an “In the Moment” card, 4 is a “Pulse Check” and 5 to 6 “Dreams & Worries”
  • They then read the card question on the card out loud and then pass the card to the person on the right.
    • The person on your right is the scribe, they will capture notes in the Insight and Actions boxes of the card for this round.
  • Once they have read the question, they have a chance to think and then answer the question out loud to the group. Nobody else gets to talk.
  • Once they’ve answered the question, others can provide their thoughts on the subject.
  • After 3 minutes, you may wish to move on to the next round.
  • At the end of each round the person whose turn it was chooses the person who listened and contributed to the discussion best. That person is given the card to keep.
  • The person to the left is given the dice and goes next.

Winning the Game

  • The game ends at 10 minutes prior to the end of the meeting.
  • At the end of the game, the person with the most cards wins!
  • The winner gets the bragging rights (and certificate) indicating they are the retrospective champion!
  • You should spend the last 10 minutes reflecting on the experience and organizing on the action items identified.

Concepts at Play

players-playing

Context & Reflection – Preparation is key, particularly for the “In the Moment” section. The topics will be relevant and connect with what the team wants to talk about. Also when presented in the form of a question they will likely trigger reflection for all those present.

Sharing the Voice – Everyone gets a chance to speak and be heard without interruptions. The game element also incentivises quality participation.

Coverage of topic areas – The 3 question categories spread the coverage across multiple areas, not just the items in the moment. The probabilities are not however equal, for example there is a 50% chance of “In the Moment” being chosen in each turn.

Fun & Safety – The game element encourages play and friendlier exchanges. You are likely to have dialogue over debate.

Want to play the game?

I’d love to hear how this game worked out for you. I’ve included everything you need here to setup your own game. Let me know how it went and how it could be improved!

Resources:
Retro Game – Game Board
Retro Game – Rules
Retro Game – Card Template
Retro Game – Champion Certificate

Martin aziz

Martin Aziz
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@martinaziz
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Article Review: Sometimes Waterfall is Needed to Become Agile, Scott Granieri

I like reading success stories. In fact, I wish there were more of them in the agile literature because a success story is “evidence” of doing something that works and it is not just an abstract idea or concept with potential. That’s one of the reasons I like Scott Granieri’s article featured on scrumalliance.org entitled, “Sometimes it just may take a waterfall to go agile.” In this article, Granieri describes a situation occurring at a corporate level to create software for a federal customer. He presents the background, the problem, the solution, the results and the lessons learned. I find this article to be well-written, thorough and engaging.

Here is an excerpt from his conclusion:

“The solution for creating a successful environment for Agile adoption lies within one of the principal tenets of the methodology itself: Inspect and adapt.” He also quotes Ken Schwaber, co-founder of Scrum, who Mishkin Berteig trained with more than a decade ago. But that can be something for you to discover when you read the article.

 


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Article Review: Craig Larman – Less Agile or LeSS Agile?

Certified Less Practitioner Badge

Craig Larman, co-creator of LeSS, recently wrote a riveting article about agility now featured on Scrum Alliance Spotlight. The article, entitled “Less Agile or LeSS Agile?” reminds readers of the beginning moments of agile and how this word was selected because it fundamentally described a condition of being able to adapt quickly to change.

About that founding meeting, he quotes Martin Fowler as saying, “We considered a bunch of names, and agreed eventually on “agile” as we felt that captured the adaptiveness and response to change which we felt was so important to our approach.” Larman continues to elaborate on how this agility is not meant to be a practice solely for the purpose of “creating more efficient teams who deliver high-quality faster,” although of course this is a natural outcome when teams are agile.

But he takes the concept to a deeper level. He writes, “I like to say that the goal of agile approaches, including Scrum, is to discover successful solutions by being able to … turn on a dime for a dime.”

Therein lies the beauty of being agile. When we are discovering successful solutions and implementing them quickly, even with very little planning, then we are embracing the fundamental essence of agility.


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Breaks Between Sprints Indicate a Problem

This post is a follow-up to an earlier article: There Are No Breaks Between Sprints.

Breaks between Sprints indicate a problem. Usually such breaks are filled with planning activities including research, requirements gathering, design & preparation, negotiations & approvals and the problem is threefold:

  1. Such plans are based on conjecture (risky and not compatible with Scrum) rather than empiricism (less risky and compatible with Scrum). Those activities are most beneficial when diligently performed by skilled inspectors at the point of the work. The four formal events within each Sprint provide the team and stakeholders adequate opportunity for inspection and ensure that decisions are being made in light of the up-to-date product increment and with respect to current user needs and market conditions.
  2. Breaks between Sprints often include activities which do not add value to the product or are entirely unrelated.
  3. Breaks between Sprints defer the delivery of value because the work performed does not result in potentially-releasable increment of “Done” product.

To correct this problem it is important to identify whether any of the effort spent between Sprints is adding value to the product — that is, which activities effect the form, fit, or function of the actual product. If determined to not be value adding, stop the activity entirely — it is waste. If determined to be value adding then the work ought to be part of their Sprints and the Scrum Team may decide that either the activity should be represented and ordered in the Product Backlog, or should be represented in the team’s Definition of Done.


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