Category Archives: Agile Management

Scrum Product Owner Training: Reflecting on Agile in Community Settings

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rachelheadshotThe Certified Product Owner training I attended recently has me reflecting on when I first heard about Agile.

My introduction was in 2012 on one of those really cold, dark wintery nights in the now-famous Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Garry Bertieg had invited me to consult about a challenge we were facing in a community development initiative. I remember it being so cold and dark I didn’t want to leave the house. But I was curious about what innovative team-building technique he wanted to share so I went to check it out.

We weren’t dealing with a business issue. And it wasn’t tech-related. But it was complex and it dealt with many groups, many individuals, and many Institutions. He felt Agile methods could help.

He presented some basic concepts from OpenAgile. He had a large poster board, sticky-notes and Kanban-style columns showing how items can move across the board while in progress on the way to        “done”.Learning Circle - cropped He also presented the Learning Circle Model. I just made so much sense to me instantly. He remarked that he was surprised to see me so receptive to the material so quickly. It just made so much sense. This Learning Circle has formed the foundation of how I work ever since.

It was as though it combined the best of everything I had experienced in teacher’s college, in community development and in serving in community-level leadership roles for a decade.

I started applying what I learned from that 3-hour session immediately and I saw the results instantly.

 

At the time, I was operating independently, so I didn’t have a manager to run anything through, and I was running a neighbourhood children’s class, responsible for supporting more than a dozen volunteers, teachers, and other coordinators. The OpenAgile model was a perfect fit and I attribute a lot of the success of that neighbourhood class to the framework within OpenAgile.

At the time, I knew nothing of Scrum, Kanban or even the way Agile first evolved from IT software development. I didn’t know any of that. But I started working with Agile methods then and continued until now.

Certified Product Owner Training Took My Understanding To a New Level

Last week I had another agile-style life-changing experience in the Certified Scrum Product Owner training lead by Mishkin Berteig & Jerry Doucett.

I entered the class with an open mind, willing to learn, and eager to apply the learning in whatever ways are applicable in my current circumstances.

At a very foundational level I gained a new understanding and appreciation for the role of the Product Owner in creating the product backlog. I understand that is key.

I also enjoyed the simulation exercise of creating a product. The team I worked with at the table was excellent and worked so well together. At one point, we made this Product Box which demonstrated our vision for our product.Product Owner Simulation - Product Box Example

It was extremely valuable to also understand the way the Product Owner collaborates with  the Scrum Master for the best possible results.

Since I am not currently working with a Scrum team, there are some parts of this learning which are not immediately applicable.

However, the training was exceptional and I came away with a much more thorough understanding of the Product Owner’s role as a whole.

It was a phenomenal experience with an excellent facilitator team.

I’m enjoying the opportunity to learn more and more about positive ways organizations are changing every day, both inside and outside of corporate environments.

 

 

 


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Link: The Mythical Product Owner

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“When product managers weren’t looking, developers went agile.”

This quote from Barbara Nelson gave me a chuckle. I found it when reading The Mythical Product Owner, by Andre Kaminsky and discovered that this article gives excellent insight into the role of the product owner.

Andre speaks to the change happening in an organization when they adopt agile and breaks it down into bite-sized bits which really helps conceptualize the shifting happening across the industry.

He describes two key levels of change, mainly that:

Change must happen on two levels across the organization:

  • Technical – Roles and responsibilities must be understood, accepted, and adopted.
  • Cultural – Attitudes, expectations, political ambitions, and how we collaborate must change.

He writes that agile should not come in with a “big bang” approach but by introducing it in a gradual manner, allowing confidence and capacity to build, then the results can be more profound and long-lasting.

 


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Announcement: Scrum Alliance newsletter lists Mishkin’s article

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In a recent newsletter from the Scrum Alliance, Mishkin’s article about enterprise leadership is listed as a resource.

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REAL AGILITY – SELF-ORGANIZING TEAM CREATION EVENT FOR LARGE-SCALE AGILE ENTERPRISES

Posted By Meghan Robinson, Tuesday, August 16, 2016

 AUTHOR: MISHKIN BERTEIG

In 2005 I had the privilege to participate in the first occurrence of this fantastic technique for organizing large numbers of people into Agile teams.  It happened at Capital One in Richmond Virginia and my colleague of the time, Kara Silva, led this successful experiment.  The problem was that the “teams” that management had set up didn’t make much sense from an Agile perspective.  They were functional teams (e.g. a team of testers).  But to do Agile well, they needed cross-functional, multi-skilled teams that could work well together to deliver great results each iteration.  So Kara and a few other senior people got together all the staff in the department into a big room with a big whiteboard and facilitated a 3 hour meeting to sort out who would be on which team.  Everyone was involved – all the people who would be on the teams were in the room.  Those teams stayed together with the same membership long after that meeting.

The rest of the article can be read here.


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Quotable Quote: The Right Attitude

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Jerry Doucett 201601 white background - head - 275 square Mutual respect and caring are the cornerstone to the team’s success and it needs to be integral to their culture and beliefs.  Not just saying but living the belief there are no heroes or scapegoats.  Everyone, including the business, executives, team members and leadership must collaborate and share in celebrating the successes as well as accepting responsibility for setbacks and failures.

Everyone must have the right attitude and commit to not only DOING as needed by attending the ceremonies or following the process and practices but truly wanting to BE part of the solution by willingly changing the way they think, work and collaborate. (Senior Agile Coach Jerry Doucett)


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Quotable Quote: Whole teams should receive common education experience

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Jerry Doucett 201601 white background - head - 275 squareTo ensure consistency and a shared understanding, whole teams (including the business, IT, and their leadership of executives and managers) should receive a common skills development and education experience in proper Agile Thinking, the Scrum Framework, aligned practices and mindset training.  Coaching should then reinforce this new knowledge and encourage appropriate behaviours to turn these new practices into habits.  Indeed, learning should be a continuous cycle and endless journey towards excellence, and Scrum leverages this through frequent retrospection and continuous improvement.


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Agile Advice: Start Executing With Little Planning

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Agile Planning

“Start executing and worry less about planning.” QA Consultant

This statement appeared on a recent feedback form after a BERTEIG learning event. It summarized a Quality Assurance Consultant’s learning from the CSM training they attended.

This statement so accurately summarizes one of the key principles of agile methodology which is to do minimal planning and review often. It doesn’t mean “No Planning” it just means different kinds of planning and the willingness to jump quickly into action.

Mishkin published an article on this topic in 2015  and it is re-posted here now because it is still so relevant today.

 

Agile Planning in a Nutshell

Mishkin Berteig 201504 white background - 640w

 

 

 

By Mishkin Berteig

Agile methods such as Scrum, Kanban and OpenAgile do not require long-term up-front plans.  However, many teams desire a long-term plan.  This can be thought of as a roadmap or schedule or a release plan.  Agile planning helps us build and maintain long-term plans.

Agile Planning Process

The steps to do this are actually very simple:

  1. Write down all the work to be done.  In Scrum these are called “Product Backlog Items”, in Kanban “Tasks” and in OpenAgile “Value Drivers”.
  2. Do some estimation of the work items.  Many Agile estimation techniques exist including Planning PokerThe Bucket SystemDot VotingT-Shirt Sizes.  These tools can be applied to many types of estimation.  There are three kinds of estimation that are important for Agile Planning:
    1. Estimating relative business value.  Usually done with the business people including customers and users.
    2. Estimating relative effort.  Usually done by the Agile team that will deliver the work.
    3. Estimating team capacity.  Also done by the Agile team (this is sometimes called “velocity”).
  3. Create the long-term plan.  Use the team capacity estimate and the sum of all the effort estimates to come up with an estimate of the overall time required to do the work.  (In Kanban, which doesn’t have an iterative approach, this is a bit more complicated.)  Use the business value and effort estimates to determine relative return on investment as a way to put work items in a logical sequence.

Agile planning allows a team to update estimates at any time.  Therefore, the techniques used above should not be thought of as a strict sequence.  Instead, as the team and the business people learn, the estimates and long-term plan can be easily updated.  Scrum refers to this ongoing process at “Product Backlog Refinement”.

Principles of Agile Planning

In order to use Agile planning effectively, people must be aware of and support the principles of Agile planning:

  1. Speed over accuracy.  We don’t want to waste time on planning!  Planning in and of itself does not deliver value.  Instead, get planning done fast and use the actual delivery of your Agile team to adjust plans as you go.
  2. Collaborative techniques.  We don’t want to be able to blame individuals if something goes wrong.  Instead, we create safe estimation and planning techniques.  Inevitably, when an estimate turns out to be wrong, it is impossible to blame a single individual for a “mistake”.
  3. Relative units.  We don’t try to estimate and plan based on “real” units such as dollars or hours.  Instead, we use ordering, relative estimation and other relative techniques to compare between options.  Humans are bad at estimating in absolute units.  We are much better at relative estimation and planning.


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Quotable Quote: Consistent Commitment is Key To Team Success

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Jerry Doucett 201601 white background - head - 275 square

There must be a consistent commitment and engagement from all parties in the organization towards adopting the Scrum framework, Agile methods, and thinking.  The initiative must be an open, collaborative experience and there must be complete understanding  and alignment by all parties in assuming the risks and rewards as well as sharing in the effort.  This includes not only business partners and their IT counterparts, but their leadership as well as all of the people and teams supporting an Agile initiative. (Senior Agile Coach Jerry Doucett)


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Announcement: BERTEIG is launching the first course of its kind in Canada!

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The Certified Agile Leadership training is a new course. At the Orlando Scrum gathering the program was announced and shortly after, CSTs and CECs with strong leadership coaching background and formal education in this field were invited to apply to teach the class.
Michael Sahota - Profile Picture (2016)
Michael Sahota was one of these selected coaches.
The course is an acknowledgement that Agile transformation can only go so far if it is driven from the grassroots level, or without the full support of the leadership.
As a leader, they are driving a culture change in the organisation to get better results. This goes far beyond corporate mantras and motivational speeches. Participants can expext to learn the intracacies required of a leader to bring about lasting change.
The target audience is C-level executives, VPs and Senior Directors with decision making capability. The training is also for Change Agents who are catalysts in an organisation, who have the drive and willingness to make a difference.
Michael is known by the Scrum Alliance and since he has had taken formal non-Agile related Leadership training, his application was accepted making him the second global trainer to be approved after Pete Behrens (who is part of the creation committee of CAL) and another chap.
BERTEIG is honoured to be a part of this global launch of a brand new training and we look forward to the positive feedback from many more participants!
CAL1

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LINK: What is an Agile Manager?

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This article, posted on Oikosofy’s blog, gives a pretty good introduction into the way things were in manufacturing and the way things are now. In “Agile-Manager — What is an Agile Manager?” he goes back to the time of FORD to explain how things have progressed.

It shows that not only have agile methods changed the way things are made, but they have also changed the corporate environment which houses the teams who make the products.

He also address how so many businesses now offer services and how that effects development.

I found this article insightful and worth a read.


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Four Awesome Agile Links

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Agile_Axioms

What is agile exactly? How do we practice it? What does it look like to be an agile product owner? What is an agile team?

One of the qualities I’ve come to admire the most about agile teams and agile ambassadors is this continuous state of learning which everyone agrees to be in.

It seems as though “being agile” gives us permission to sometimes know an answer and sometimes not to. It gives us permission to sometimes understand a situation and have a solution and sometimes not to. Agile methods have a built-in “Reality Check” which is so refreshing.

By openly communicating often in retrospectives and by making work and backlog visible the process is taken out of the abstract and into the concrete. Agile seems to put everyone on the same page ~ even if people are coming at agile from very different angles.

Recently I posted a question to the 2500+ members of the Facebook Scrum group, asking for good recommendations for meaningful resources.

Here are the TOP Four Responses:

  1. The Stacey Matrix

2. 9 Things Every Product Manager Should Know

3. How Agile Are You?

4. Think Purpose

I’m interested to read your comments about any of these four articles or sites. What do you agree with? What do you disagree with?

What has been your biggest challenge and greatest success with implementing agile methods in your work environment?


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Link: How Will a Product Vision Help You Succeed?

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Dozens of individuals receive training to become Certified Scrum Product Owners at our public learning events in Toronto, Ontario.

What is a Product Owner? And how do they create a product vision in alignment with the team they work with? Xi Zeng, over at 3 Agile Guys blog, has some ideas worth sharing.

Here is an excerpt from his article on product vision.

How can a product vision help you?

A project always has a predefined scope and goals, therefore defining a vision for a project is in most of the cases not really necessary. A product has usually a much bigger scope and a longer life cycle, so it’s important to create a product vision in advance in order to:

  • help the business define requirements
  • be able to evaluate the value of the project
  • simplify the communication among the organisation (or with clients)
  • act as project’s compass
  • support the prioritization and decision-making in projects

The vision should consider the long term life cycle of the product and should not be easily reachable. Define even a vision that is almost impossible to reach. All short term goals should be clear defined and measurable, e.g. what is the next step in the project, next valuable goal, how to prioritize work items in backlog, etc. But the vision represents the long term future, it should stay ambitious. Just like when you’re hiking on the mountains, you can see the rocks under your feet, you know their size and form, you can touch them and even pick them up. But you can only see roughly where is the top of the mountain. While hiking, reaching the top of the mountain is our vision.

I think there is a lot of value in what Xi writes and it is worth exploring in greater depth.


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Link: The Human Side of Agile

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Scrum of Scrum photo

On the blog “Fragile” the author writes about the human side of Agile.  The author, who does not name themself anywhere on the blog, criticizes the agile movement for not giving more time to the issue around management.

Here are some of the key arguments:

  • not enough care is taken over the distinction between project and line management
  • almost all agile implementation failures could be traced back to management’s reluctance or failure to engage
  • practical guidance is needed for an agile team leader to describe how they might incorporate these ideas into their role.

The author also notes that an anecdote they wrote was included in a recent book. It basically describes a way to make the most of an environment even if management is not providing funding or space to support agile implementation.

Here is the antidote:

It may not always be possible to create the perfect working environment, however it is important to make the most of what is available. My team were looking to map their work flow using a white board and sticky notes. Unfortunately we were situated in the middle of an open plan office without access to walls, nor did we have the necessary space for a for a free standing white board. In the end we bought a roll of white board sheeting and applied it to a nearby structural pillar. Work items flowed from top to bottom and space was tight, but it served our purpose and is still in use years later.


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“Teams” Larger Than Eleven Are Not Scrum Teams

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Mobbing Team

Scrum suggests the size of the Development Team (the Scrum Team members who perform the work of the Sprint Backlog) be between three (3) and nine (9) people. (The Scrum Master and Product Owner are not included in that count unless they are also executing the work of the Sprint Backlog.) To maximize cohesion and minimize complexity, it is important larger groups be split into smaller units or downsized.

Considerations for re-organizing into multiple Scrum Teams:

  • People executing the work may be best suited to decide optimal team size and composition. Adjustments to team composition will be most effective if the team members are trusted (and supported) to re-organize around their own work.
  • Groups larger than eleven people often naturally subdivide into smaller, cross-functional sub-groups; therefore it may be possible to carefully observe which team members interact regularly while getting work done and simply acknowledge those informal arrangements.
  • In order to minimize dependencies between teams, Scrum Teams whose mandates are to own discreet Products or systems are preferable to groups whose mandates are to support “components” of larger systems.
  • Organizations which currently employ Project Management methods ought to consider changing budgeting & staffing practices to align around Product delivery rather than Project Management. Doing so will make value streams transparent and bring clarity to Product-centric team mandates.

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Announcement: New Upgrades to The Scrum Team Assessment!

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MeetScrum

For those who are not familiar, The Scrum Team Assessment is your virtual Scrum coach!  Using this simple assessment, you can find out how your team is doing and ways to improve.

Recently, new upgrades have been added to the Scrum Team Assessment and it is available for use free of charge for a limited time.

The features of the Scrum Team Assessment include:

  1. Scrum Scoring – How well your team is using Scrum;
    This includes measurement of the general process, the Product Backlog, the teamwork, and effectiveness of the ScrumMaster and Product Owner.
  2. Quick Wins – High impact ways to improve right now;
    The parts of Scrum you aren’t doing well that if you improve will give you the best return on your effort investment.  Specific, practical, applicable to your team right now!
  3. Long Term Recommendations – Sustaining high-performance;
    This is the harder stuff that involves the team’s environment, culture and processes and which can make a huge difference in the long term… but requires some up-front effort.  Practical suggestions to explore the creation of a high-performance Scrum team.
  4. Financial Benefits – The bottom line for the team;
    How much money is your organization wasting on poor performance, and how much can be saved by following the recommendations in the report.  Eye-opening, and the perfect motivation for management support of improvements.
  5. Industry Comparison – How your team is doing compares to others;
    Compare your team to other teams that have participated in the Scrum Team Assessment.  This comparison gets better and better as more teams use the Scrum Team Assessment.
  6. Recommended Resources – Tailored to your team.
    Books, articles, products, training and other services that will help your team rapidly improve.

Read more about the Scrum Team Assessment and try it for your team!


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Formula for Building a Successful Scrum Experience

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Under the right conditions Scrum can be a tremendous success story, but it often requires hard work to get there.  For new Scrum teams it means learning to fundamentally work very differently than they are used to, such as relying on a lot more collaboration, making and delivering on shared commitments and building a high degree of trust.  For existing Scrum teams it means constantly renewing the team commitment to each other, the cause, and to the Scrum framework.  This includes the rather painful practice of revisiting the fundamentals and ensuring any deviations from accepted processes or practices were for the right reasons and had the right results.

To have a chance at achieving high performance a new-to-Scrum team will not only need to just change their processes, but fundamentally change the culture and behaviour of the team and all of the supporting roles (that includes their leadership).  Meanwhile, a mature or well-established team should never assume they are high performance; they should always be checking (and rechecking) that they are still living the Agile values.

Needless to say this can become an extremely complex challenge!  To be absolutely clear, I’m not proposing there is a single formula or recipe that works, but I do believe certain criteria can dramatically improve your Scrum team’s chances of success.  To that end here are 10 tips (plus a bonus) that may help you focus your efforts towards building a successful Scrum team and experience.

 

1. Right Number of Team Members

Currently the Scrum Guide recommends that Scrum teams will work best with three to nine people (not including the Scrum Master and Product Owner).  Too few people on the team and you risk not having enough technical expertise and coverage of critical skills.  Too many people on the team and you may become challenged to truly collaborate effectively.  Remember, this is just a guideline and you may be successful with different numbers, you just need to be aware of the impacts and make sure the gaps are covered.

2. Appropriate Balance of Skills

Scrum teams really should be balanced and cross-functional.  Having all of the necessary skills on the team for delivering a complete solution (not roles, but skills) will encourage and support end-to-end thinking all the way from design to implementation.  This approach will result in a better solution and a superior customer experience, but it relies on whole team collaboration.  Note this does not mean individual team members need to be fully cross-functional, but what is important is that all the critical skills are represented on the team and each team member contributes their domain expertise towards the collective strength.

3. Propensity for Engineering Technical Ability

For increased chances of success, a Scrum team should leverage technology and engineering practices whenever possible.  Techniques, skills and tools that facilitate Agile approaches such as Continuous Integration, Automated Testing and Test Driven Development all make technical excellence, continuous improvement and truly being “Done” every Sprint a possible reality for a Scrum team.

4. High Team Member Allocation

Scrum team members should be allocated to as few different initiatives as realistically possible.  The more projects you are allocated to, the more task switching you may have to perform, the longer it will take to complete any one item, the thinner you will be spread and the less effective you will be.  In other words, people (and teams) should limit their work in progress as much as possible and focus on completing those things that truly matter most.  This is true for any framework, but it is particularly emphasized with Agile ones.  Note there is a slight but fundamental difference between being allocated to a team and being dedicated to a team – that is a topic for a future article.

5. Empowered and Knowledgeable Product Owner

Your Product Owner needs to be informed, available, business-savvy, knowledgeable, collaborative, and empowered to make decisions about what to build and what order to do it in.  They also need to be a strong negotiator and very capable at conducting business driven trade-offs.  In the end, a Product Owner needs to effectively communicate, convey and deliver on a clear vision to the Team and Stakeholders to ensure a useful solution is created.  Without empowerment, knowledge, and vision in a Product Owner the team will struggle.

6. Equitable Scrum Master

Having a good process is only part of the equation.  A good Scrum Master will champion and enforce that process, protect the team, encourage collaboration, highlight (escalate when necessary) and encourage the removal of obstacles, facilitate discussions, provide fair and constructive feedback, cultivate a culture of continuous improvement and learning, and work to help the team live the Agile values.

Remember that the Scrum Master has authority over the process but not over the team.  As the process champion the Scrum Master may sometimes even find themselves in a conflict between maintaining the Scrum rules and guiding the team as they discover the need to adapt practices to better align with their own needs and ways of working.  In that regard a Scrum Master should understand and embrace the servant leader role.  In the end, a Scrum Master needs to be the person that helps the team make decisions, but not the person that makes decisions for them.

7. Strong Executive Support

Leadership is the key to driving change and progress.  Executives and managers of Scrum teams need to nurture the environment, let go of the “how”, allow the team to learn from mistakes, and encourage and coach the growth of the collective team knowledge and overall experience.

Understanding the dramatic impact leadership has on a transitioning team is also very critical, as a single word or direction from the executive level can single-handedly affect (either positively or negatively) the team’s future behaviours and resulting successes or failures.  And without a true environment of trust built by the leadership, team members will often shy away from taking a risk to try something new or unknown.

8. Solid Partnership Commitment

There must be a consistent commitment and engagement from all parties in the organization towards adopting the Scrum framework, Agile methods, and thinking.  The initiative must be an open, collaborative experience and there must be complete understanding  and alignment by all parties in assuming the risks and rewards as well as sharing in the effort.  This includes not only business partners and their IT counterparts, but their leadership as well as all of the people and teams supporting an Agile initiative.

9. Reduced Team Dispersion

Co-located teams are more effective communicators and can sometimes experience increased productivity by up to 60% if situated together in the same room.  More simply stated, the greater the dispersion factor, the greater the challenge of collaboration.  Note that time zones are often considered the largest dispersion factor and can have a greater impact than geography.

Although it is strongly recommended that teams be co-located, it is not mandatory to success.  In fact, certain Agile practices have factors, tools and techniques inherent to them to help bridge some of the shortcomings of increased dispersion, such as a higher reliance on frequent collaboration and communication.  But to be clear, they do not replace the value of face-to-face conversation, they are merely a crutch to not having it.

10. Consistent Education and Coaching

To ensure consistency and a shared understanding, whole teams (including the business, IT, and their leadership of executives and managers) should receive a common skills development and education experience in proper Agile Thinking, the Scrum Framework, aligned practices and mindset training.  Coaching should then reinforce this new knowledge and encourage appropriate behaviours to turn these new practices into habits.  Indeed, learning should be a continuous cycle and endless journey towards excellence, and Scrum leverages this through frequent retrospection and continuous improvement.

11. The Right Attitude!

Mutual respect and caring are the cornerstone to the team’s success and it needs to be integral to their culture and beliefs.  Not just saying but living the belief there are no heroes or scapegoats.  Everyone, including the business, executives, team members and leadership must collaborate and share in celebrating the successes as well as accepting responsibility for setbacks and failures.

Everyone must have the right attitude and commit to not only DOING as needed by attending the ceremonies or following the process and practices but truly wanting to BE part of the solution by willingly changing the way they think, work and collaborate.

 

At the end of the day your goal should not be to become Agile or Scrum savvy.  Instead your real goals and outcomes should align with achieving the key benefits of Agility, and with what Scrum offers.  These should include (but are not limited to) increased customer satisfaction, faster delivery of value, improved feedback loops, adopting a continuous improvement mindset, improved employee morale and increased employee retention.  Scrum is just one of the many tools or approaches you may choose to get there, but it is certainly an important one to consider if these outcomes align with your goals.

For Scrum to be truly successful at your organization, you must dramatically transform your very culture and business approach.  To be clear, this is not easy to do but the rewards are well worth the effort.  By embracing such a transformation, the adopted change in behaviour, beliefs and practices should result in a more successful Scrum experience and a higher degree of satisfaction for both your customers and employees.

Can you think of other success factors that might help your Scrum team succeed?  There are lots, so feel free to reach out and share them below.

 

Thanks to Photographer: Chris Potter for this awesome photo.

Sourced from stockmonkeys.com | Flickr Portfolio


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