Tag Archives: Teams

The Case for Context Switching

Recently, Dimitri Zimine wrote an excellent little story about context switching. Joel Spolsky writes in “From the ‘You Call this Agile’ Department“:

Dmitri is only looking at one side of the cost/benefit equation. He’s laid out a very convincing argument why Sarah should not interrupt her carefully planned two week iteration, but he hasn’t even mentioned arguments for the other side: the important sale that will be lost.

Okay… I’ll bite.

Continue reading The Case for Context Switching


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Process Facilitator “Smells”

I have now trained over one hundred people in my Agile Project Managmenet / ScrumMaster Certification course. I’m starting to see and hear some of the results of this training. There are a couple specific “smells” that I have become aware of.

Continue reading Process Facilitator “Smells”


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Offshore/Distributed Agile: Challenges, Productivity and Tools

On the agile-usability Yahoo! group, someone asked about tools to mitigate the consequences of having an off-shore team doing some of the work. I have strong feelings about this.

Continue reading Offshore/Distributed Agile: Challenges, Productivity and Tools


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Agile Team Launch – a Howto Guide for Managers

Starting off on the right foot is just as important as it ever was. However, with Agile Work, this takes on a significantly different meaning than it does in other methods as the emphasis of what is “right” is also significantly different. This is a short guide on how to successfully launch a team using Agile Work.

Continue reading Agile Team Launch – a Howto Guide for Managers


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The Seven Core Practices of Agile Work

Agile Work consists of seven core practices. These practices form a solid starting point for any person, team or community that wishes to follow the Middle Way to Excellence.

Self-Organizing Team

Any group of people that wish to be an Agile Team need to take the initiative to determine for themselves how they are going to work (process) and how they are going to do the work (product). The term “team” really applies quite broadly to any size group of people that are working together towards a common goal.

Teams go through stages of development as they perform their work. The most important result of team development is the team itself, and not the specific skills and abilities that the individuals learn.

If the team is part of a broader organization, that organization must give the team the authority, space and safety to learn to be self-organizing. The organization’s leadership is responsible for determining the “why?”, some constraints on “how?”, and then letting the team respond to the need as best as it can.

Also Known As: Whole Team (Extreme Programming), Cross-Functional Team (business management).

Deliver Frequently

Agile Work uses short fixed periods of time to frame the process of delivering something of value. Each of these iterations or timeboxes is structured so that the team or group actually finishes a piece of work and delivers it to stakeholders. Then, the team builds on what has previously been delivered to do it again in the same short amount of time.

The sooner that valuable results can be delivered, the more value can be obtained from those results. This extra value is derived from opportunities such as earlier sales, competitive advantage, early feedback, and risk reduction.

There is an explicit tradeoff: the shorter the time to delivery, the smaller the piece of value will be. But, like investing in one’s retirement account, the earlier you start, even with small amounts of money, the better off you are in the long run.

Also Known As: Sprint (Scrum), Iteration (Extreme Programming), Timeboxing (generic), Time Value of Money (accounting).

Plan to Learn

Every type of work is governed by a Horizon of Predictability. Any plan that extends beyond this horizon of predictability is bound to fail. Agile work uses an explicit learning cycle tied in with the planning of work to accomodate this inevitable change.

First, a goal is required. This goal can be long-term. Teams using Agile Work then create a queue of work items to be done in order to reach this goal. Each iteration, some of these items are selected, finished and then the queue is adjusted. The changes in the work queue are based on external factors, and learning that the team does as it goes.

One of the most effective methods for the team to learn about how it is doing its work is the retrospective. After each delivery of results, the team holds a retrospective to examine how it can improve.

Also Known As: Inspect and Adapt (Scrum), Kaizen (Lean), Adaptive Planning (generic).

Communicate Powerfully

A team needs to have effective means of communicating, both amongst team members and also to stakeholders. To Communicate Powerfully, a team needs to prefer in-person communication over distributed communication. Synchronous over asynchronous communication. High-bandwidth over low-bandwidth communication. Multi-mode communication over single-mode communication.

The results of failing to communicate powerfully include wasted time for waiting, misunderstandings leading to defects or re-work, slower development of trust, slower team-building, and ultimately a failure to align perceptions of reality.

The single most effective means to communicate powerfully, is to put all the team in a room together where they can do their work, every day for the majority of the work time.

Some types of work do not lend themselves to this approach (e.g. creating a documentary video), but every effort should be made to improve communication.

Also Known As: Visibility (Scrum), Whole Team and Team Room (Extreme Programming), War Room (business management).

Test Everything

Defects are one of the most critical types of waste to eliminate from a work process. By testing everything, by driving all the work of a team by creating test cases to check the work, a team can reach extremely high quality levels. This ability to prevent defects is so important that only an executive level decision should be considered sufficient to allow defects into a work process. Quality is not negotiable.

In Agile Work, removing a defect is the only type of work that takes priority over any new features/functionality/production. If the end result desired is to maximize value, then removing defects is an important means to that end.

A team has an ethical duty to discover new ways to effectively test their work. This can be through the use of tools, various feedback mechanisms, automation, and good old problem-solving abilities.

Also Known As: Canary in the Coal Mine (Scrum), Test-Driven Development (Extreme Programming), Defects per Opportunities (Six-Sigma).

Measure Value

Since Reality is Perceived, it is important for an agile team and organization to have a clear method of describing and perceiving what is important for the organization. Measuring value is a critical method for describing and perceiving what is important.

A single metric can be used to drive all the measurement and goal-setting and rewards in an organization. All other measurements are secondary and must be treated as such: limited in use and temporary.

There are many things which are easier to measure than value. It is often easy to measure cost, or hours worked, or defects found, or estimate vs. actual… etc. However, all of these other measurements either implicitly or explicitly drive sub-optimal behavior.

Also Known As: Measuring Results (Scrum), ROI (business management), Economic Driver (Good to Great), Running Tested Features (Extreme Programming).

Clear the Path

Everyone in an organization using Agile Work takes responsibility for clearing the path, removing the obstacles that prevent work from being done effectively. Clearing the Path doesn’t just mean expedient, quick fixes to problems, but rather taking the time to look at an obstacle and do the best possible to remove it permanently so that it never blocks the path again.

In the Agile Work method, the Process Facilitator is the person who is responsible for tracking obstacles and ensuring that the path is cleared. To do this, the Process Facilitator maintains a Record of Obstacles.

Clearing the Path is sometimes painful work that exposes things we would rather not deal with. As a result, it is critical that people build their capacity for truthfulness and work to develop trust amongst each other. Building a capacity for truthfulness is not something that can be done by using an explicit process.

Also Known As: Removing Obstacles (Scrum), Stopping the Line (Lean).


Remember also, that these practices must always be viewed and implemented in the context of the Agile Axioms. These axioms provide a check to ensure that the practices are not being applied blindly, but rather applied appropriately to the given situation.


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Groups do Better than Individuals at Problem Solving

It’s official. Someone has done a fully-controlled experiment to prove that groups are better at solving problems than even the best individuals working separately. For example, a group of three people, was better than the three best people working independently.


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Managing “Leaderful” Groups

In agile development circles self-organizing teams are all the rage nowadays. And I often hear people bemoaning the “evil managers”. And no doubt in many circumstances and organizations there is real work to do here and real dysfunction to resolve. But I’m less concerned with the analysis of what’s wrong and more concerned with what can we do differently and better. IE: How can we develop the skills necessary to practice effective self-organization.

So what does it mean to be a participant in a “leaderful” group?

Continue reading Managing “Leaderful” Groups


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Fantasy Estimation

In software development (and in many other types of projects), there is a typical non-agile approach to estimation of project size. This method starts with a high-level understanding of the work to be done, the requirements, and uses that to make an initial estimate of the project size. This estimate is often stated in units such as man-months. There is a very important piece missing here that makes this estimate completely useless… that makes it pure fantasy.

Continue reading Fantasy Estimation


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Link: Eight Barriers to Effective Listening

On the Retrospectives Yahoo Group, Michael Webb posted a link to his article Eight Barriers to Effective Listening. This article provides practical advice on how to improve communication. Since one of the basic practices of Agile Work is to maximize communication, this article is essential reading!

Continue reading Link: Eight Barriers to Effective Listening


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How the Process Facilitator can Help the Team Handle Out-of-Scope Work Requests

Sometimes an agile team is innundated (or maybe just slightly distracted) by requests for individuals on the team to do work for people or groups outside the team’s official stakeholders. This can happen, for example, in a corporate culture that promotes the exchange of favors. This past weekend at our Agile Coach’s gathering, Deborah Hartmann shared her method of detecting, exposing and discouraging this unofficial work.

Continue reading How the Process Facilitator can Help the Team Handle Out-of-Scope Work Requests


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Methods of Prioritization

In Jean Tabaka’s new book, “Collaboration Explained : Facilitation Skills for Software Project Leaders“, she describes several methods of collaboratively prioritizing a list of items (for example a project’s work item list). The methods she suggests are excellent, and I would strongly recommend the book. However, there are a couple variations and additional methods that I have used successfully that I would like to share.

Continue reading Methods of Prioritization


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Agile or Not Agile?

Every once in a while the del.icio.us tag for Agile turns up something really interesting. This evening, I found this article about the ongoing use of the term “Agile”. The article is brief and a little weak, but it brings up a concern that is always niggling in the back of my mind. Interestingly enough, a good friend of mine, Christian Gruber, emailed me another web page of similar import…

Continue reading Agile or Not Agile?


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Work Item Backlogs as Queues – Agile vs. Lean

A recent discussion on the Scrum Development list (Start of Discussion) provides a good follow up to my parting words in The Art of Obstacle Removal about agile practices themselves becoming obstacles. I have excerpted a small amount of the discussion and added my own comments here.

Continue reading Work Item Backlogs as Queues – Agile vs. Lean


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Privacy for Self-Organizing Teams

Why are observers to the team’s daily status meeting not allowed to participate?

Continue reading Privacy for Self-Organizing Teams


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Salutogenesis and Agile

Twenty-five years ago American-Israeli Medical Sociologist, Aron Antonovsky developed the theory of salutogenesis. As opposed to the traditional pathogenic model of medicine focused on the study of disease, salutogenesis is the study of health. Since then, his work has been integrated into the field of public health and health education. This asset or strength based type of approach to individual or institutional development has been found in other fields such as organizational development and community development. In organizational development the field of Appreciative Inquiry and in community development the Asset Based Community Development model share the essential premises of salutogenesis. Quoting Garmezy, Antonovsky highlights the medical professions focus on deficits:

our mental health practitioners and researchers are predisposed by interest, investment and training in seeing deviance, psychopathology and weakness wherever they look.

This type of approach to work based on weakness and deficit can be found in most of our organizations. It seems to me that although Agile exposes inefficiencies and problems in organizations, it’s focus never-the-less is to build on strengths and assets. It is in this light that I have been thinking about Antonovsky’s work and what it can offer to Agile.

Antonovsky came to this theory of salutogenisis when he carried out a study on Israeli women going through menopause. He found that there were a number of women who, according to all indications of the pathogenic model, should be suffering severe symptoms (because they faced severe stressors which cause illness). But they were not suffering at all. To his surprise he discovered that these women happened to be survivors of concentration camps. He found certain qualities in these women that resulted in what he called a higher “Sense of Coherence” than the other women.

Sense of Coherence is made up of three factors; comprehensibility, manageability, and meaningfulness.

Comprehensibility means that whatever happens to a person, she is able to make sense of it and understand it, that is, the challenge is in some way “structured, predictable, and explicable.” Manageability means that either the resources are available to one to meet the demands posed by the stimuli,or one has a way to find them. Meaningfulness involves having a sense of meaning in the important areas of one’s life or recognizing “these demands are challenges, worthy of investment and engagement.”

Antonovsky found meaningfulness to be the motivational factor of the three, although he also found that all three mutually reinforce one another. For example if one has a high sense of comprehensibility but is low on the other two, one ends up not having the motivation to find resources and soon after this causes comprehensibility to be lost. If one is high on meaning and missing the other two, Antonovsky explains that there is a good chance to find the other two.

The theory of Salutogenisis may provide researched and proven reasons why Agile is so empowering for people. This research may also provide more insight into how to deepen Agile experiences to higher levels of empowerment. Agile methods help people to make sense of the market place by allowing for iterative delivery and adaptive planning, thus increasing their level of comprehensibility. Iterative delivery, adaptive planning and the concept of amplifying learning are all conducive to increased sense of manageability. Because people spend most of their time at work, it is quite important that they feel a sense of meaning in their work. The concept of empowering the team and the practice of self-organized teams and appropriate metrics can contribute to increased sense of meaning in one’s work.

Salutogenic food for thought for the Agile practitioner:

Antonovsky associated comprehensibility with consistency which he defined as “the extent to which one’s work situation allows and fosters the clarity of seeing the entire work picture and ones place in it, provides confidence in job security, and supports communicability and feedback in social relations at the workplace”.

How can the concept of consistency be promoted in Agile projects?

Manageability is related to under load/overload balance which is defined as “the availability of resources to the individual and to the collectivity within which there is interaction to get the job done well” and “…the extent to which the work situation has room for allowing potential to be utilized in substantively complex work.” The opposite of the former results in overload and the opposite of the latter is a situation of under load.

How can Agile projects guard against overload? How can an Agile coach and Agile teams fully utilize the capacities of its members?

Meaningfulness is closely associated with participation in shaping outcomes. Antonovsky explains beautifully the relationship between these two concepts:

When others decide everything for us-when they set the task, formulate the rules, and manage the outcome-and we have no say in the matter, we are reduced to objects. A world thus experienced as being indifferent to what we do comes to be seen as a world devoid of meaning.

In light of the concept of meaningfulness how can the principle of self organized team and shared decision making be deepened in Agile work?

Reference:
Antonovsky, Aron (1988). Unraveling the Mystery of Health: How People Manage Stress and Stay Well (Jossey Bass Social and Behavioral Science Series)


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