Tag Archives: high-performance

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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Pitfall of Scrum: Assigning Tasks

Even though the concept of self-organizing teams has been around for a long time, still some people think that a project manager or team lead should be assigning tasks to team members. Don’t do this!!!  It is better to wait for someone to step up than to “take over” and start assigning tasks.

Assigning tasks can be overt or subtle.  Therefore, avoid even suggestions that could be taken as assigning tasks. For example, no one should ever tell a Scrum Team member “hey! You’re not doing any work – go take a task!” (overt) or “This task really needs to get done – why don’t you do it?” (semi-overt) or “Would you consider working on this with me?” (subtle). Instead, any reference to tasks should be to the team at large. For example it would be okay for a team member to say “I’m working on this and I would like some help – would anyone help me?”

In the Scrum Guide, a partial definition of self-organizing is given:

Scrum Teams are self-organizing….. Self-organizing teams choose how best to accomplish their work, rather than being directed by others outside the team.

A more formal definition of the concept of “self-organizing” can be found here:

Self-organisation is a process where some form of global order or coordination arises out of the local interactions between the components of an initially disordered system. This process is spontaneous: it is not directed or controlled by any agent or subsystem inside or outside of the system; however, the laws followed by the process and its initial conditions may have been chosen or caused by an agent.

The key here is that there is no single point of authority, even temporarily, in a self-organizing team. Every individual member of the team volunteers for tasks within the framework of “the laws followed by the process” – namely Scrum. Scrum does define some constraints on individual behaviour, particularly for the Product Owner and the ScrumMaster. People in those two roles have specific duties which usually prevent them from being able to volunteer for any task. But all the other team members (the Development Team) have complete freedom to individually and collectively figure out how they will do the work at hand.

What If One Person Isn’t Working?

People who are managers are often worried about this.  What if there is one person on the team who just doesn’t seem to be doing any work? Isn’t assigning tasks to this person a good thing?  Scrum will usually make this bad behaviour really obvious. Let’s say that Alice hasn’t completed any tasks in the last four days (but she does have a task that she volunteered for at the start of the Sprint). Raj notices that Alice hasn’t finished that initial task. An acceptable solution to this problem is for Raj to volunteer to help Alice. Alice can’t refuse the help since Raj is self-organizing too. They might sit together to work on it.

Of course, that might not solve the problem. So another technique to use that respects self-organization is to bring it up in the Sprint Retrospective. The ScrumMaster of the team, Sylvie, chooses a retrospective technique that is designed to help the team address the problem. In a retrospective, it is perfectly acceptable for people on the team to be direct with each other. Retrospectives need to be safe so that this kind of discussion doesn’t lead to animosity between team members.

Remember: everyone goes through ups and downs in productivity. Sometimes a person is overwhelmed by other aspects of life. Sometimes a person is de-motivated temporarily. On the other hand, sometimes people become extremely engaged and deliver exceptional results. Make sure that in your team, you give people a little bit of space for these ups and downs.  Assigning tasks doesn’t make a person more productive.

What If There is One Task No One Wants to Do?

Dig deep and find out why no one wants to do it. This problem is usually because the task itself is worthless, frustrating, repetitive, or imposed from outside without a clear reason. If no one wants to do a task, the first question should always be: what happens if it doesn’t get done? And if the answer is “nothing bad”… then don’t do it!!!

There are, unfortunately, tasks that are important that still are not exciting or pleasant to do. In this situation, it is perfectly acceptable to ask the team “how can we solve this problem creatively?” Often these kinds of tasks can be addressed in new ways that make them more interesting. Maybe your team can automate something. Maybe a team member can learn new skills to address the task. Maybe there is a way to do the task so it never has to be done again. A self-organizing Scrum Team can use innovation, problem-solving and creativity skills to try to over come this type of problem.

And, of course, there’s always the Sprint Retrospective!

Why Self-Organize – Why Is Assigning Tasks Bad?

Autonomy is one of the greatest motivators there is for people doing creative and problem-solving types of work. The ability to choose your own direction instead of being treated like a mushy, weak, unreliable robot. Motivation, in turn, is one of the keys to creating a high-performance state in individuals and teams. The greatest outcome of good self-organization is a high-performance team that delivers great work results and where everyone loves the work environment.

Assigning tasks to people is an implicit claim that you (the assigner) know better than them (the assignees).  Even if this is true, it is still easy for a person to take offence.  However, most of the time it is not true.  People know themselves best.  People are best at assigning tasks to themselves.  And therefore, having one person assigning tasks to other people almost always leads to sub-optimal work distribution among the members of a team.

The ScrumMaster and Assigning Tasks

The ScrumMaster plays an important role in Scrum.  Part of this role is to encourage self-organization on a team.  The ScrumMaster should never be assigning tasks to team members under any circumstances.  And, the ScrumMaster should be protecting the team from anyone else who is assigning tasks.  If someone within the team is assigning tasks to another team member, the ScrumMaster should be intervening.  The ScrumMaster needs to be constantly aware of the activity on his or her team.

I have added a video to YouTube that you might consider sharing with ScrumMasters you know about this topic:

This article is a follow-up article to the 24 Common Scrum Pitfalls written back in 2011.


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The Rules of Scrum: I attend every Sprint Retrospective Meeting in-person

The Sprint Retrospective meeting supports the Scrum value of Openness and the principle of inspect and adapt.  This rule of Scrum also aligns with the Agile Manifesto principles “at regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.”  In-person attendance of all Scrum Team members allows for the fullest level of openness among Team Members which in turn is necessary to use the Retrospective to find improvements in how the team functions.  If even one team member attempts to attend this meeting by any other means, either by phone or even video conferencing, efficiency and effectiveness of the openness and inspect and adapt becomes compromised. Compromise on these principles yields compromised collective ownership of improvement efforts. Lack of in-person participation increases the likelihood that the team will fail to implement improvements because the openness and inspect and adapt will lack effectiveness.  This, in turn, hinders the team from reaching a high-performance state.


Affiliated Promotions:

Try our automated online Scrum coach: Scrum Insight - free scores and basic advice, upgrade to get in-depth insight for your team. It takes between 8 and 11 minutes for each team member to fill in the survey, and your results are available immediately. Try it in your next retrospective.

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The Rules of Scrum: I attend every daily Scrum Meeting in-person

The Daily Scrum meeting supports the Scrum value of Openness and the principle of self-organizing teams.  This rule of Scrum also aligns with the Agile Manifesto principle “The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.”  In-person attendance of all Scrum Team members allows for the fullest level of openness among Team Members.  If even one team member attempts to attend this meeting by any other means, either by phone or even video conferencing, efficiency and effectiveness of the openness and self-organization becomes compromised. Compromised self-organization yields compromised collective ownership. The successful delivery of the Sprint Goal requires full commitment on the part of the whole team. Lack of in-person participation increases the likelihood that the team will fail to deliver on its Goal because the openness and self-organization will lack effectiveness.


Affiliated Promotions:

Try our automated online Scrum coach: Scrum Insight - free scores and basic advice, upgrade to get in-depth insight for your team. It takes between 8 and 11 minutes for each team member to fill in the survey, and your results are available immediately. Try it in your next retrospective.

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The Rules of Scrum: I commit myself to doing whatever it takes to reach each and every Sprint goal

A Team Member is defined by their commitment to the goal(s) of the Scrum Team.  If a person is not personally committed, they are not part of the team.  Commitment cannot be imposed.  A person’s manager can’t force them to be part of the Scrum Team by telling them to be committed.  If all the members of the team are committed to the Sprint goal, then they will all work in whatever way is necessary to accomplish that goal.  This commitment willingness to do what it takes is a key factor in creating a high-performance team.  If any individual is not committed to the Sprint goal, they aren’t really part of the Scrum Team.  Having someone how is not committed but is constantly interacting with Scrum Team members, who is doing work that is properly owned by the team, and who participates in team meetings as if they were a member of the team is incredibly disruptive.  This “false” participation can cause morale problems if not eventually fixed either by the person becoming committed or by the person leaving the team.  Having people who are on the team in name only will prevent a team from reaching a high-performance state.


Affiliated Promotions:

Try our automated online Scrum coach: Scrum Insight - free scores and basic advice, upgrade to get in-depth insight for your team. It takes between 8 and 11 minutes for each team member to fill in the survey, and your results are available immediately. Try it in your next retrospective.

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The Rules of Scrum: I know my product well and can quickly describe its high-level purpose

All Scrum Team Members, including the ScrumMaster and Product Owner, should understand the high-level business aspects of the product that is being built.  As well, that understanding should be solid enough, that it can be communicated to other people.  This understanding helps the team members in many situations dealing with each other and with stakeholders.  Understanding the purpose of the system is an aspect of both Focus and Transparency.  This is essential for maintaining overall quality of the product. Development should always be done in a way that moves the system towards fulfillment of its intended purpose.  If team members do not know their product in this way, it can cause significant problems in communication and in how Product Backlog Items are implemented.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, understanding the overall purpose of work is critical for a team to become a high-performance team.  Without knowledge of this purpose, a high-performance team is impossible.


Affiliated Promotions:

Try our automated online Scrum coach: Scrum Insight - free scores and basic advice, upgrade to get in-depth insight for your team. It takes between 8 and 11 minutes for each team member to fill in the survey, and your results are available immediately. Try it in your next retrospective.

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