Tag Archives: Improvement

Lessons from a Scrum Webinar with Paul Goddard

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“Improv-ing Your Scrum Team” was the title of the webinar given by Paul Goddard, a CST and Coach from the UK with a background in improvisational theatre. He has written and coached extensively on the use of improvisation to help Scrum teams develop. Because of my own experience in teaching and creating theatre, I was eager to see how Mr. Goddard used improv to improve Scrum teams.

For clarity’s sake, we can describe improvisation, in theatrical milieus, as the act of making things up as you go along. Improvisers are normally people who know their discipline very well, and are able to allow their creativity to take them into new places, new expressions, in their art.

Themes

The improv themes Goddard covered that can be used with Scrum teams were: creating safety, being spontaneous, telling stories, changing status and increasing sensitivity.

He likened these themes to the Agile Manifesto which proclaims: “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools,” and “Responding to change over following a plan.” He also related improv to Agile principles of “welcoming change,” “face to face is the best way to convey information,” and “the best designs emerge from self-organizing teams.”

Myths

In an interesting aside, he also compared myths of Agile to myths about Improv, for example, that Agile is only about creating software, and Improv is only about comedy. Another myth is that Agile and Improv are about unstructured chaos, whereas both prescribe being disciplined within a framework. Goddard described the Scrum framework as “a lightweight structure that uses constraints to unlock creativity;” improv also provides such a structure.

Creating Safety

Improv starts with “creating safety.” Since it is impossible to improvise alone, we must learn to trust others. This involves a team behaving as a family who rescue each other if necessary. There are no mistakes in improv; team members work for each other. When we try too hard in improv to get it right, it becomes a struggle to feel safe. Ultimately, we should be able to feel safe whether we win or lose, and definitely we feel safe when we PLAY.

Being Spontaneous

The second theme is “being spontaneous.” Spontaneity is the ability to act on impulse as soon as an idea occurs. This is the bread and butter of creativity. We are less spontaneous when we filter or edit our ideas before trying them out. We usually do this filtering because we fear our ideas being deemed crazy, or obscene, or unoriginal. Good improvisers increase their spontaneity by giving and receiving offers from team members. Offers are the currency of improv: you go with an idea, build on it, and keep a scene going. Bad improvisers put up blocks, that is, they reject ideas, and a scene goes nowhere.

Telling stories

Goddard tells us that the power of storytelling lies in the fact that many parts of the brain get activated: empathy is increased, oxytocin hormone and cortisol is released when we feel empathy for a character, and so on. Conversely, the brain switches off ideas or stories that are cliches – things we’ve heard too many times before and are inured to. The beauty about stories is that they make dry data more human and therefore interesting.

Changing status

Status always exists, especially in business environments. Some jobs or roles imply having a higher status, i.e. Scrum Master. If physical power poses adjust the hormones in our bodies, as Goddard claims, then the opposite is also true. In improv, playing high or low status and then changing it becomes a dynamic and creative game. It assists in collaboration. Low status players in improv tend to accept offers from their fellows; high status tend to refuse offers, unless they can control them. Scrum teams can learn to play with status to collaborate more effectively.

Increased sensitivity

Great improvisers develop certain qualities: selflessness (they want to make others look good), listening, observation, recollection/ memory, and emotional awareness (ability to pick up on cues). They are able to be “fully in the moment.” Goddard describes this as “thinking inside the box,” i.e. with safety established, the ideas are already there.

Back to Scrum

Just as in an improv team, a Scrum team’s firmest foundation is trust. How can one introduce improv and its beneficial themes to a Scrum team? Start with the idea of a game. It’s not about performing. It’s simply about having fun together, getting to know each other, learning common values, shaking off the dust of work-related responsibilities and allowing time for play. If you’re working with introverted types, allow that person to opt out. Make sure no one is judged. It’s important to be able to joke and feel like a family. Even a non co-located team can play word games over the telephone.

I look forward to trying out some improv with my own team, and, hopefully, in the future with others.

For a more in-depth understanding of the use of improv see Paul Goddard’s book “IMPROV-ING AGILE TEAMS” available at www.amazon.ca.


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Kanban in One Minute – Visualize the Workflow

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Great new video about Kanban by Michael Badali.  This is the third video in a regular series:

https://youtu.be/lhRMal5zu00


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Leveraging the Team for Good PDPs (if you need them)

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I am currently working with a relatively new Scrum team (5 Sprints/weeks young) that needs to rewrite their Personal Development Plans (PDPs) in order to better support Scrum and the team.  PDPs are still the deliverables of individuals required by the organization and likely will be for some time.  The organization is still in the early days of Agile adoption (pilots) and they are large.  So, instead of giving them a sermon on why metrics for managed individuals are bad, I am going to help them take the step towards Agility that they are ready to take.

The Plan:

  • Facilitate a team workshop to create an initial Skills Matrix;
  • work as a team to develop a PDP for each individual team member that directly supports the team’s high-performance Goal (already established)—
    • in other words, when considering an appropriate PDP per individual, the team will start with the team’s performance Goal and build the individual PDP from there;
  • develop a plan as a team for how the team will support each team member to fulfill his/her individual PDP—
    • in other words, all individual PDPs will be part of the team’s plan for team improvement;
  • Internally publish the plan (share with management).

I’ll follow up with another post to let everyone know how it goes.


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The Rules of Scrum: Your Product Owner uses the Sprint Review to help the team continuously improve the product

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The Sprint Review is a key meeting for the team to improve the product. There are three main purposes of the Sprint Review: inspect how the last Sprint went with regards to the product; identify the items that are complete and order any potential changes; and, integrate those changes into the Product Backlog. This meeting aids the team in inspecting and adapting the entire product increment and how the team is progressing towards any deadlines. The Sprint Review is a check point that helps the Scrum Team to know the product’s current state, compare to its desired state, identify gaps, and take the needed steps to improve. This meeting is also where the Product Owner challenges the Scrum Team to look at the product clearly (it’s not just for the stakeholders!). When a Scrum Team refrains from having and participating in this essential meeting, the is team is likely to become a Scrum Team in name only without any of the far reaching benefits that many other Scrum Teams have experienced. A demonstration of the Product Backlog Items completed in the Sprint is often a part of this meeting.

What is the main purpose of the Sprint Review? Bottom line: to get feedback on how well the work the team is doing will satisfy business needs.  If the team isn’t getting that feedback in a practical concrete form, then the Sprint Review needs to be improved.


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