Tag Archives: Teams

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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Face-to-Face Value

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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?”

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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Link: It’s Time to Kill Performance Reviews

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For many years, folks in the Agile community have been recommending that performance reviews be eliminated from the corporate world.  In 2005 while coaching at Capital One, I remember many discussions on the awfulness of performance reviews.  This was really my first understanding of the depth of culture change required to be Agile.

Now, this concept of eliminating performance reviews is gaining traction outside the Agile environment.  Here is a great LinkedIn Pulse post by Liz Ryan in which she explains in depth about killing performance reviews.

From her article:

A little voice in the back of my brain nagged at me: “Despite your efforts to make them more compassionate and less uncomfortable for everyone, performance reviews are stupid from the get-go, Liz!

“How does one human being get to evaluate another one, when their personalities and perspectives may be radically different?

Consider using other techniques to help with improvement efforts among your staff.  Lean has Kaizen.  Agile has Retrospectives.

Real Agility means that learning is inherent in the culture of an organization.  Performance reviews establish extrinsic motivators for learning… and all the research points to the idea that learning is much more powerful when it is intrinsically motivated.

Consider some other tools that might help your team to work more effectively, while maintaining intrinsic motivation:

Finally, consider that, at least in Scrum, the concept of a self-organizing, self-managing team makes it very difficult to do performance reviews.  It is hard to apportion “blame” or “praise” to individuals.  Each team member is dynamically deciding what to do based on the needs of the team, their own skills, and their interest.  Team members are often collaborating to solve problems and get work done.  Traditional roles with complex RACI definitions are melted away.  Performance reviews are very difficult under these circumstances.

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Teams and their proximity to the final user

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A great, simple post from Mike Bowler…

Time: Teams that are writing code today that will be used by their customers tomorrow are very focused on what the customers actually need. Teams that are writing code today that won’t be seen by a customer for six months are less engaged.


Mike Caspar
Passionate About Agile

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An Evolution of the Scrum of Scrums

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This is the story of how the Scrum of Scrums has evolved for a large program I’m helping out with at one of our clients.

Scrum of Scrum photo Continue reading An Evolution of the Scrum of Scrums

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Communication at XKCD

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The comic strip at XKCD today is brilliant.  It takes a bit of effort to follow it, but the punchline is brilliant.  Communication is tough.  How does this apply to agile teams?  You be the judge! (PS.  XKCD is a great comic for geeks, but sometimes nsfw.)

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ScrumMaster + OpenAgile + Kanban training in Waterloo November 9-11,2011

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We have an upcoming three-day agile training seminar in Waterloo on November 9-11, 2011.

In this unique seminar, we will be offering a practical view of three important Agile methods: OpenAgile – used for general agile project management and agile teamwork including projects and organizations doing any kind of work. Scrum – used for software new product development and IT project management. Kanban – used for teams doing operational work.

This seminar contributes towards three certification programs: the Scrum Alliance’s Certified ScrumMaster program, the OpenAgile Team Member level and the IPMA/PMAC Agile Project Management certification.

For more information and http://www.berteigconsulting.com/UpcomingAgileScrumOpenAgileSeminars register: http://www.berteigconsulting.com/UpcomingAgileScrumOpenAgileSeminars

Proudly delivered by Berteig Consulting, a Canadian organization since 2004.

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What is Scrum good for?

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I have worked with a lot of people, teams and organizations over the last 8 years helping them to adopt Scrum and I have seen some interesting patterns about where Scrum works well and where it doesn’t work so well. I wanted to share my observations to see if they correlate with what other people are experiencing.

So first off, I want to describe what I mean by Scrum working well:

  1. Teams using Scrum are obviously high-performance teams whose business results are at least 4x that of normal teams.
  2. The organization in which Scrum is being used experiences a change in culture to become more team oriented, more value oriented, and more customer oriented.

So now I can describe where I have observed Scrum to work really well:

  1. When an organization (or team) is in deep trouble and willing to admit it adopting Scrum seems to be a catalyst for creating a new culture, process and team environment where getting out of trouble is possible. This is Scrum for Crisis. The “willing to admit it” part is extremely important as I have worked with two organizations where the “deep trouble” part was obvious to me as an external person, but in both cases management and staff did not seem willing to admit the depth of their crisis and in both cases Scrum failed to act as a catalyst to get them out of trouble. In this use of Scrum, sometimes resolving the crisis then leads back to complacency and Scrum fades away.
  2. Small growing organizations that have no existing formal processes for development can use Scrum as an effective way to maintain their high-performance without getting burdened in bureaucracy. In this case, it is important to note that they are _already_ in a high performance state and their struggle is to maintain that while at the same time growing. I’ve worked with quite a number of small organizations where all they need is the CSM (plus maybe one or two days of coaching) to adopt and maintain Scrum. I have also worked with small organizations that were _not_ already high performance and Scrum has not typically worked to bump them up to a high-performance state.
  3. Pure new product development where a single strong Product Owner can be identified who has the authority to make product decisions independently of anyone else (including product budget decisions). By “pure new product development” I mean that neither the individual team members nor the team as a whole have any responsibilities outside of the product work – there is no “fractional allocation” or “resource levelling” across projects or products. The strong Product Owner is critical to success with Scrum and must understand the principles of Scrum as well as the mechanics of being a Product Owner.

I have also seen Scrum be inappropriate and not lead to the results I mentioned above:

  1. Management teams. It seems like Scrum could or should work for management teams, but it appears that managers have too much of the following problems to be able to use Scrum:
    – operational responsibilities (non-creative, non-problem-solving work)
    – urgent, legitimate interruptions (e.g. an escalated customer issue)
    – real commitments to events or projects that are calendar based (e.g. a management off-site)
    – ego: they don’t want to follow an apparently rigid process or they are always happy to make exceptions for themselves
    Again, one might imagine that Scrum _should_ work to help resolve these issues, but unfortunately I have never seen it able to do so in this context.
  2. Small teams/projects. Scrum is too heavy for teams less than 5 people or for projects shorter than 2 months in total duration. Those numbers aren’t meant to be hard and fast, but when I’ve seen small teams/projects attempt to do Scrum they _always_ end up breaking lots of the rules partly because they can and partly because they must. That said, some folks have created “Personal Scrum” and other variants. I’m not sure if we as the Scrum Alliance officially recognize/endorse those variants.
  3. Purely operational work. There just isn’t enough creativity/problem-solving to make the Sprint an appropriate process element, nor the Product Backlog an appropriate organizing mechanism. I have seen some operational environments get some benefit from doing regular retrospectives, but just doing retrospectives is not Scrum in my book. My experience with Kanban is still a little limited, but it seems to be an appropriate approach for these environments.
  4. Organizations where there is very little need to change. I’ve spent some time working with big profitable banks to adopt agile and without exception, they just can’t wrap their minds around the need for Scrum… because they are already so successful as a business. The general attitude is that Scrum is popular therefore we will call what we are doing “Scrum”, but it really isn’t. It’s Scrummerfall and Scrum-Butt wrapped up in the terminology of Scrum. They will adopt some Agile practices and get very modest benefits. I have seen minor improvements in team morale and minor improvements in quality and productivity, but certainly not anything near to what is possible for improvements. When we do assessments in this type of environment, we see Value Stream maps with waste at the 80-90% level so there is huge room for improvement… but it just doesn’t happen.

Scrum can definitely transform the world of product development. It can definitely act as a catalyst to get teams and organizations out of crisis. But that isn’t the whole world of work. I’m also concerned about the idea of using Scrum for general project management. There might be some good practices that are part of Scrum that would also be valuable in general project management (e.g. regular retrospectives, daily team meetings) but that doesn’t make Scrum a general project management framework.

I don’t claim that any of the above observations are “correct”. That’s partly why I am sharing – I would love to have a good discussion here about this because I think it is critical for us as Agilists to be able to answer this question well when we are asked: “what is Scrum good for?” – particularly since Scrum is by far the most popular Agile method.

I would love to hear other people’s observations about where Scrum works well (as I have defined “well” above) vs. where it either is only a modest improvement to existing approaches or where it might even not work at all.

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Agile Outside of Software

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The manifesto for agile software development (http://agilemanifesto.org) consists of 4 basic values:

1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools?
2. Working software over comprehensive documentation?
3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation?
4. Responding to change over following a plan

I’ve been thinking about how this manifesto applies outside of the world of software, for which it was originally created. These concepts are so engrained into various agile methodologies, which these days don’t explicitly refer to software any longer, that it begs the question: how does a team apply these four values to their work outside of software development; specifically, what would replace delivering ‘working software’? The other three values translate more fluidly to differing spheres of work. For example, whether in the field of business, sales, medicine, etc. placing greater value on all the items on the left over those on the right will produce a transformed culture and working environment. But what does ‘working software’ translate into in these various realms? Particularly relevant for non-profit organizations, the next possible question would be: what if we are not creating a ‘product’ or something that is ‘shippable’? What I’ve found to be the methodology which most aptly addresses this question is OpenAgile.

On its website: www.openagile.com it is noted that: OpenAgile is a learning system designed to help individuals, teams, and organizations build capacity for rapidly delivering value to their stakeholders. Rather than the focus being on a product, the aim shifts to learning and value. Yes, the ‘product’, if there is one (software or other), is important, but now there are even greater possibilities for the use of agile outside of software.

Though almost deceivingly simple, the principles animating OpenAgile are extremely profound. Through practicing the core foundational principles of truthfulness, consultative decision making, and systematic learning (through reflection, learning, planning, and action – all in light of guidance) the potential ability to ‘deliver’ something valuable is extraordinarily enhanced. Indeed, the greatest value could even be the learning that has taken place from the team or individuals themselves, the changed culture now animated by consultation engendering collaboration rather than competition, the regular and ongoing practice of truthfulness in a team resulting in accelerated transformation (potentially also allowing for that team to be more committed and driven to delivering a ‘product’) and the creation of a space where continual learning is the hallmark.

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Teams, People and “Resources” – The Culture of Agility

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In an Agile culture, it is considered rude to refer to people as “resources”. People are not fungible – you cannot just take any old developer and plug them into any old project. Skills, personalities, likes, talents, potential all are so dynamic and unique for each individual person. So any management theory (including traditional project management) that treats people as “resources” like oil, gold or computers, is making an unjust simplification at the expense of the people working in the organization.

Yet organizations need to be able to plan where to spend money, and certainly the people working in an organization are often one of the largest costs. From a financial perspective, from a business perspective, it makes sense to somehow treat people costs in the same way as other operational costs… and this often leads to dehumanizing people to the point of treating them like resources.

So how can these legitimate organizational needs for budgeting mesh with the equally legitimate approach of Agile to treating people as unique actors be merged? It is actually quite simple, but the ramifications are deep: treat TEAMS as resources. Teams become the fundamental building blocks of an organization. Teams move from project to project or program to program or operation to operation. There is still a need to support the individuals in an organization, but it is done in the context of teams.

An Agile team is cross-functional, but also constantly learning. Individuals on the team learn skills based on their own interest, but also based on the needs of the team for redundancy, parallelism, and expansion of capacity to take on new, more challenging work. Cross-functional teams can more easily (and more sanely) be compared for their value to the organization by looking at things such as their ability to produce finished product/services, their flexibility in serving the needs of the organization, and the quality/consistency of the work they produce. Teams can compete in a healthy way by striving for excellence in delivering value to the organization, whereas often competition between individuals can be quite unhealthy.

From a budget perspective, teams are easy to manage: each team has a fully loaded cost based on salaries, space, equipment, etc. The cost is (or can be) relatively stable or grow predictably, and can still be handled operationally. As well, unlike individuals, it is much easier to treat a whole team as a fungible unit: you feed work to teams based on their availability rather than based on a detailed analysis of their skills/capacities/allocations.

In Agile organizations, teams are resources, people are not.

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Case Study: Agile Process and a Twist on “20 Percent Time” for a Self-Organizing Volunteer Team

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Cross-posted from the personal blog of David D. Parker: A Changemaker in the Making

I am engaged in a learning process with a charity that has undertaken to implement a new model of volunteer coordination based on OpenAgile, an open source agile method.  We recently held an orientation with our new volunteers.  In the hopes that this information will be useful to others who are trying to innovate on their  model of volunteer coordination, here are the instructions I shared with the volunteers.  In summary, they cover our process for sharing tasks, the tools we use to communicate with each other, and our use of what we are calling “60/40 time” a twist on Google’s “20 percent time“.


I. Agile Volunteer Team Process

We are all here to support the charity. We are inspired by its mission and goals, and we want to help in a way that draws on all of our abilities, knowledge, skills, and creativity.
Our team uses a specific system for producing valuable results. We work in Cycles of 5 weeks. The charity’s staff talk with the stakeholders and decide what steps are necessary for accomplishing the organization’s goals. Each one of these steps, called Value Drivers, add up to providing value for the stakeholders once they’re delivered. The staff also decide the priority order for completing the Value Drivers.
In week 1 of the Cycle, there is a planning meeting with all the volunteers who are committed to doing work during the 5 week Cycle. All volunteers are urged to attend and participate.
  1. The meeting begins with reflecting on the results of the previous Cycle. These observations and lessons are an important part of the planning process.
  2. Next, the team of volunteers works together to create a Cycle Plan by taking the highest priority Value Driver and breaking it down into tasks. Tasks are represented by sticky notes on the wall.
  3. Third, the volunteer team counts the number of tasks needed to complete the highest priority Value Driver. If the past Cycle showed that the team can complete more tasks, then the team takes the next Value Driver in the list and breaks it down into tasks. This process continues until the team makes a unified decision that it has taken on the amount of work it can actually accomplish.
  4. The last part of the meeting is commitment. Everyone shares the responsibility for completing the Value Driver (represented by multiple tasks) by the end of the Cycle of work. Therefore each volunteer must truthfully commit to completing the work. If a volunteer is not comfortable committing to all the work on the task wall, then some tasks must be removed until everyone is able to commit.
In week 2, 3, 4, and 5 of the Cycle, the team of volunteers complete the tasks in the Cycle Plan (aka “doing work”).
  1. Volunteers are free to take whatever task is of interest to them. If they need more information about the task, they ask the other volunteers or the staff for details.
  2. When a volunteer begins a task, they sign their name on the bottom of the sticky and move the task into the “in progress” column.
  3. When a volunteer completes a task, they move the task into the “done” column.
  4. There are weekly conference calls where all the volunteers check in. They answer 4 simple questions
    1. What did I do last week?
    2. What will I do this week?
    3. What did I learn/observe?
    4. What obstacles, if any, are affecting my ability to do work?
  5. New tasks can be added to the wall based on any of the volunteers’ observations, obstacles, clarifications, questions, urgent new tasks, etc. If you add a new task to the wall, add your name to the bottom of the task, so that other volunteers can know who to go to for questions. Note that these new tasks must also be completed by the end of the 5 week Cycle.
At the end of the 5 week Cycle, the team presents the valuable results it has produced to the charity staff/stakeholders. Any insights, observations, corrections, etc. are factored into the next Cycle Plan.

II. Communication Tools

Over the time we have worked together, the volunteer team has decided to use a few tools to help us communicate. The main tool is the task wall and sticky notes. The secondary tool is a shared Gmail account.
NOTE: This list of instructions is a working, evolving document; it is not set in stone. Volunteers are encouraged to work together and adapt the way we do things to create a system that works well for all of us.
  1. Login and read new messages
  2. Emails in the Inbox means there is work to be done (if the task is complete, archive the email to remove from the Inbox aka the To Do List)
  3. Apply Labels – Gmail doesn’t use folders; it uses labels instead. Apply labels to emails to assist other volunteers with how to treat the content of that message.
  4. Write up volunteer tasks for the task wall (Note: Label as “Task Written & Posted”)
  5. Get work done:
  6. Move the task on the wall to in progress
  7. If the task came from an email, label the task with your name
  8. When the task is complete, label as “Task Complete” and archive the email so it doesn’t appear in the Inbox
  • ??? – this means more information or context is required to understand the request –> ASK QUESTIONS, or get help, to complete the task
  • By Volunteer Name –> This means the task/email is in progress; A volunteer labels the email with their name when they accept responsibility for a particular task
  • FYI (For Your Information) – these are emails that contain information that is relevant to volunteers, but does not necessarily require action be taken. If action is required, write up a task and post it on the wall)
  • Task Complete – Use this to label When a task is complete; archive the email so it doesn’t appear in the Inbox
  • Task Written & Posted – apply this label after you write up the task and post it on the wall
  • Social Media – these are emails that apply specifically to social media like Twitter, Facebook, etc.
  • Website – these emails are relevant to website updates

III. What is 60/40 Time?

There are many reasons why people volunteer.  Here is a short list that comes from Molly Schar’s article Making the Most of Nonprofit Volunteers:
  • Belief in the mission of the charity
  • Desire to “give back”
  • Meet new people
  • Make new business contacts
  • Invited or inspired by another volunteer or staff member
  • Improve resume
  • Learn new skills
  • Benefits such as free events
We want all of our volunteers to get the most out of their experience here. Rather than insisting that every moment of a volunteer’s time be spent on completing tasks on the wall, we ask you to split your time 60/40. We want to give our volunteers freedom to spend a large portion of time doing things that satisfy their motivations while still providing value to the organization. For example, if someone has an interest in building skills in using social media, but there aren’t currently any tasks on the wall related to social media, the volunteer would be encouraged to use 40% of their time using social media to benefit the charity. The remaining 60% of the time is essential for delivering other important results to the organization. We aspire to having a trusting environment, so it is up to you to monitor how you’re spending your time. During progress updates, all volunteers are encouraged to share what they’ve accomplished during their 40% time. This will help other volunteers to learn what motivates their teammates and will give the team information that can be integrated into future Cycle Plans.

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More Agile Practices for Social Innovation, Non-Profits, Charities and Volunteer Organizations

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I have started composing a series of articles on my blog A Changemaker in the Making that are intended to briefly explain how to apply different agile practices to the work of social innovators, non-profits, charities and volunteer organizations.

The first article covers Self-Organizing Teams an important consideration for organizations that want to use their people resources more efficiently and to create a culture of empowerment.

The second article explores The Agile Workspace and ways to create an environment that is conducive to fruitful interaction.


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Comparison of OpenAgile with Scrum

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OpenAgile is similar to Scrum in many respects. Both are systems for delivering value to stakeholders. Both are agile methods. Both are frameworks that deliberately avoid giving all the answers. So why would we choose OpenAgile over Scrum?

The most important difference is in applicability: Scrum is designed to help organizations optimize new software product development, whereas OpenAgile is designed to help anyone learn to deliver value effectively.

OpenAgile is an improvement over Scrum in the following ways:

  1. More effective teamwork and team practices, in particular the Consultative Method of Decision Making, and
    applicability over a larger range of team sizes from a single individual on up.

  2. Recognition of the individual capacities required for effective learning, namely Truthfulness, Detachment,
    Search, Love and Courage. Scrum acknowledges a separate set of qualities, but does not show how they systematically connect with the requirements of a Scrum environment.

  3. Systematic handling of more types of work beyond just “new artifacts” and “obstacles”. In particular, OpenAgile includes calendar items, repetitive items and quality items and acknowledges their unique qualities in a work
    environment. OpenAgile also provides a framework to include additional types of work beyond these five.

  4. Improved role definitions based on extensive experience.

    1. There is only one role defined in OpenAgile (Team Member) vs. three defined in Scrum (Team Member, ScrumMaster, Product Owner).

    2. There are multiple paths of service that allow Team Members and Stakeholders to engage with an OpenAgile team or community in different ways. There are five paths of service: Process Facilitation, Growth Facilitation, Tutoring, Mentoring, and Catalyst.

    3. The Process Facilitator path of service is similar to the ScrumMaster role with the following major differences:

      • is not responsible for team development
      • is not necessarily a single person, nor is it a required role
    4. The Growth Facilitator path of service is similar to the Product Owner role with the following major differences:

      • is responsible for all aspects of growth including value (like the Product Owner), and individual and team capacity building.
      • is not necessarily a single person, nor is it a required role
  5. Integration of principles and practices from other methods. Two examples suffice:

    1. From Crystal: creating a safe work/learning environment.

    2. From Lean: build quality in, value stream mapping, root cause analysis, standard work.

  6. OpenAgile allows interruptions during the Cycle. Scrum has the concept of Sprint Safety. This makes Scrum
    unsuitable for operational work and general management.

  7. The distinction between Commitment Velocity and other uses of the term “velocity” used in Scrum. Commitment Velocity is the historical minimum slope of a team’s Cycle burndown charts and determines how much work a team plans in its Engagement Meeting.

  8. Flexibility in the length a Cycle. Scrum requires that Sprints (Cycles) be one month in duration or less.
    OpenAgile allows a Cycle to be longer than that and instead provides a guideline that there should be a minimum number of Cycles planned in the time expected to reach the overall goal.

  9. The Progress Meeting in OpenAgile does not require people to take turns or directly answer specific questions.

  10. Avoiding conflict-oriented models of staff and management (Chickens and Pigs in Scrum).

  11. Terminology changes to be more clear in meaning and applicable beyond software. A comparative glossary is
    included below.

Another major difference between OpenAgile and Scrum is how the community operates. OpenAgile is an open-source
method that has a specific structure for community involvement that allows for continuous improvement of the system. Scrum is closed. It is closely managed by it’s founders and this has led to challenges with the method becoming dogmatic. OpenAgile is meant to constantly evolve and grow.

Comparative Glossary between OpenAgile and Scrum

OpenAgile Scrum
Cycle Sprint
Cycle Planning Sprint Planning and Sprint Review
Team Member Team Member or “Pigs”
Process Facilitator ScrumMaster
Growth Facilitator Product Owner
Work Queue Product Backlog
Work Queue Item Product Backlog Item
Cycle Plan Sprint Backlog
Task Task
Work Period Day
Progress Meeting Daily Scrum
Learning Circle w/ steps Inspect and Adapt”
Delivered Value Potentially Shippable Software
Stakeholders Chickens”
Five Types of Work:

New, Repetitive, Obstacles, Calendar,

– no equivalents –

User Stories, N/A, Impediments, N/A, N/A

Consultative Decision Making – no equivalents –
Sector / Community – no equivalents –

References on OpenAgile:



References on Scrum:



“Agile Software Development with Scrum” – Schwaber and Beedle

“Agile Project Management with Scrum” – Schwaber

“Scrum and the Enterprise” – Schwaber

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Seven Essential Teamwork Skills

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I’ve been researching teamwork lately.  I just finished reading “The Discipline of Teams” by Katzenbach and Smith which is an HBR summary of their much more substantial book “The Wisdom of Teams”.  I decided that it would be good to be able to describe the essential skills an individual needs to acquire in order to work effectively in a team.  First stop, Google and a search of “list of teamwork skills”.

Strangely, not much turned up on the first page.  The best result is found at “7 Essential Skills for Teamwork” which is a page on a public elementary school web site.  So, here’s my adaptation of their list:

Active Listening

Active listening is a skill that allows a person to completely focus on the communication of another person including both verbal and non-verbal aspects.  Active listening requires the ability to delay thinking of your own responses until after a person has finished speaking.  One simple way of doing this is to echo what a person is saying in your silent internal voice.  When someone says “I think we should build a new gimbal on the widget”, you are saying exactly the same thing in your own mind.  Active listening also requires that you request clarification, often by rephrasing what a person has said and asking if you have understood correctly.  See Active Listening on Wikipedia for more information.


Being able to frame and express questions effectively helps us understand and integrate knowledge into our own mental model of the world, or even to modify our mental model.  Asking questions is easy.  Asking good questions is much harder.  We need to use an appropriate set of words and tone of voice so that we do not alienate or offend the recipient of the question.  For example, asking “why did you do that?” will often put people on the defensive since they will assume that you mean you disagree with their actions.  Instead, saying “I do not understand the reason you did that.  Could you please explain it to me?” can be a much more gentle way of getting to the same information.  Here is a great article about Questioning Skills on MindTools.com.

Logical Argument

When presenting an idea or position, being able to logically support it is important to exploring the truth of it.  This includes being able to share your assumptions or axioms, the data you are basing your argument upon, and the logical sequence of reasoning to reach your conclusion.  Being able to avoid fallacious logical methods is also important.  Some great videos about good and bad logical argument forms on Critical Thinker Academy.


Showing respect includes acknowledging the fundamental human value of the existence of your teammates, and being able to step back from your own understanding of the world to acknowledge the legitimate nature of the perspective that other people have.  This does not mean that you have to let teammates get away with inappropriate behavior.  In fact, respect for your teammates will allow you to support them in behaving in ways that are in alignment with their fundamental nobility as human beings.  Although somewhat simplistic, I really like this little set of rules about being respectful on wikiHow.


Offering help and actually following through with real assistance are aspects of helping.  When you suspect that a team member is struggling with something, you offer to help both verbally and with your actions.  This can take the form of offering information, offering emotional support, offering to assist with problem-solving, or actually taking action to do an activity together.  When we help someone, we share their burden.  Although phrased in a rather self-serving way, this article on forbes.com has a great list of ideas for how you can help others.


Sharing our knowledge, time, skills or physical resources are all aspects of sharing.  Sharing among team members is focused on those things which will help a team reach its goals.  This is similar to helping except that it tends to be more of a transaction than an ongoing activity.  The transaction is that you give a gift and then the other person uses that gift to meet their needs.  Sharing does not require reciprocity.  If you share something with another person, you should not expect that that person will return the gift at any time in the future.  Strangely, there is very little written about this out there on the internet; a Google search found nothing in over ten pages of search results on multiple search terms with the word “sharing” in them.  If you know of some good reference to go into this in more detail, please, please let me know in the comments!


It’s probably obvious, but in order to effectively be on a team, you need to participate!  Participation itself is mostly obvious: do work with the other team members.  However, there are also some less obvious aspects of it.  You are not participating when the team is having a discussion, you find it boring, so you check your email.  You are not participating when the team makes a decision and you abstain from helping to execute the decision because you disagree.  You are not participating in a work team when you are mentally checked out because of a crisis at home.  There is some interesting stuff here on wikipedia about Participation.

All of these skills are critical teamwork skills… but there may be others.  Do you think there are other skills missing from this list that are critical for effective teamwork?

Please share!