Does your organization have a meeting-driven culture? Not sure? Ask yourself how much time you spend in meetings. Are they effective? Search the Internet and you’ll discover that we spend way more time in meetings than we’re comfortable admitting. The Harvard Business Review claims that the figure has doubled in the last 50 years.
The designers of Scrum recognized this and deliberately kept the formal meetings to the bare minimum. It adds up to around 12-15% if you use the entire time box. Contrast this amount to many organizations and you will discover that Scrum is quite efficient.
Many organizations I’ve consulted for don’t have deliberate rules on how to conduct meetings. They’ve allowed the meeting culture to evolve on its own. As such, meetings are not very productive.
However, practising Scrum doesn’t automatically make you immune to this meeting burden. Teams still operate within the same office and with the same people. Scrum and Scrum Masters can help teams have better meetings.
Here is a typical example of the transition from meeting-driven culture. I was coaching a Scrum team and worked in the team room alongside the development team. On several occasions (over several weeks) I asked the team to review the product backlog and make estimates. They brushed it off and refused to do this work. Instead, they did this at Sprint planning, despite complaining that it made the session long and exhausting.
I wondered if the ‘familiarity’ of the team room discussions made the backlog work appear less important. So I created a meeting outside the team room and sent an invitation via Outlook. Everyone accepted.
I kept the meeting as a regular occurrence, and the backlog review work got done ahead of Sprint planning. The team was much happier.
Why did this work? It succeeded because the organization had a meeting-driven culture—that is, planned events sent a signal that important work requires a meeting. The extra meeting clearly wasn’t necessary, but it succeeded.
This exercise helped me realize that organizations have so many meetings because they have few ways to engage.
Many office cultures don’t promote face-to-face meetings. Could it be the desk arrangement? They don’t value the serendipity of impromptu meetings. In the absence of frequent, short, high-quality meetings, people are forced to meet in rooms away from their desks.
If you see this meeting-driven culture in your organization, it’s likely an expression of what it values. Improving it will require discussions on what you value more. Shall we plan a meeting?
When I train Agile classes (Scrum, Kanban), I ask the attendees to make a list of activities that they can start right after the class. Number one on that list is co-location. That is, move your team to the same space so that they are sitting beside each other.
Summer 2014. The IT group of “Big Data Marketing” was in the full throws of an Agile transformation spearheaded by the new CTO. I was brought in as a Scrum Coach. My initial objective was to launch a couple of Scrum teams and serve as their Scrum Master. Around the same time, the firm’s head of PMO had been re-assigned as the Agile Practices Lead (APL) and he and I began working together on supporting the new Scrum Master community of practice, populated by his new reports. Our work gradually evolved into much more than what either of us could have imagined at the time. This 3-part series is my first attempt at putting down the story of that partnership.
In addition to serving as the initial Scrum Master for some of the teams, I was also trying to help existing team members transition into the Scrum Master role. I wanted to develop internal capacity so that I could focus on supporting a growing program of multiple teams. As the number of Scrum Masters and teams I was supporting increased, so too did the need for collaboration with the APL.
At the time, senior IT leadership was focussed on getting those doing the work of creating value (the teams) to fundamentally change the way they were working. That is, into self-organizing teams with Scrum Masters as “servant-leaders”. This included the reassignment of project managers as Scrum Masters and business analysts as Product Owners and staff into cross-siloed teams.
Chaos and confusion ensued. It was a deliberate strategy of senior leadership: Disrupt the culture of complacency. Force people to transform by throwing them into chaos. Throw everyone into the deep end and the right people will learn to swim.
A great deal of pressure was placed on the Scrum Masters to measure and improve team performance (based on pseudo-metrics such as story point velocity). They were essentially told to create a new identity for themselves and this was painful. Similarly, the APL was on the hook to support all these people in their new roles – to be a “servant-leader of the servant-leaders”. This concept of servant-leadership was front and centre in the conversation: “What is it, and how do we make it work here?” My role was to help create a shared understanding of the desired new culture.
I discovered months later that the day after I started the engagement, around 50 people had been fired. This had nothing to do with me, but naturally people thought that it did. Even years later, this day was commonly referred to by the survivors as “Bloody Monday”. Because of the timing of the mass-exit, unprecedented in the company’s 25-year history, staff understandably regarded me as the consultant who advised the cull. It’s not exaggerating to say that it instilled terror, was emotionally coupled with the transformation as a whole and implicated me as an individual. I thought of myself as one contributing help, but I was regarded as one contributing to harm. I saw myself as a Hippocrates but I was known as a Procrustes. I only learned about this months later, after I had finally managed to cultivate a bond of trust with some folks. A consequence of this fear was that I found myself in many one-on-one sessions with new Scrum Masters who were struggling to adapt and afraid of being the next victim to lose their jobs. Rather than providing Scrum Master therapy, I should have been helping the company to improve its delivery capabilities.
The theme of this first stage was the deep, broad and painful disruption of people’s lives caused by this deep Satir J-curve transformation model deployed by senior management. What I didn’t fully appreciate at the time is that emotionally, people experience change the same way they experience pain. The human brain literally responds the same. Not only were these human beings experiencing deep, chaotic change, they were also experiencing deep pain. And I was complicit in this.
The other contract coaches and I attempted to bring the crisis to the attention of senior management. We believed that it was a leadership problem, they believed that it was a staff complacency problem. The standoff lead to the coaches losing access to the leaders we were trying to help. This was a deep crisis for the group of coaches and the staff. The staff were beginning to see us as their advocates and we failed. For many Agile coaches, their part in the story ends here. In fact, some of the coaches on our team soon decided to move on to other opportunities. Others were not asked to extend their services beyond their initial contract term. Fortunately for me, the story didn’t end here. I will share more about this in Parts II & III of this series.
A teaser: These days, I advise and coach senior management to take responsibility to deliver services to customers, to understand what makes their services fit for the purposes of their customers and to design and evolve service delivery systems the fitness criteria of which are transparent to all those involved in the work. Then, allow people to truly self-organize around how the work gets done. In other words, manage the work not the people.
Your business is an ecosystem of interdependent services, a complex adaptive system.
A bunch of organizations I know started their journey of increasing their agility with Scrum. That didn’t solve all of their problems. Kanban enables organizations to evolve their service delivery systems towards mature business agility.
As addressed in How Kanban Saved Agile, pure Scrum is extremely rare. Scrumbut (the disparaging label that spawned from so many organizations reporting that they do Scrum, but…) on the other hand, is extremely common.
In order to not be Scrumbut, you need the following:
Cross-functional development team of 7 +/- 2 people—ALL skills needed to ship product is present on the team—there are no dependencies external to the team;
One source of demand with no capacity constraints—the Product Owner is the customer AND full-time member of the team;
Sprints are one month or less, begin with starting new demand from the Product Owner and end with the delivery of potentially shippable Product Increments, followed by a retrospective about how to do better next Sprint;
“Potentially Shippable” means that the decision about whether to actually ship is purely a business decision. All the technical work is done;
If all of the technical work required in order to ship isn’t done, then the Sprint is a failed Sprint;
The Scrum Master is a servant-leader and Scrum educator to the entire organization.
How many organizations do you know of with Scrum teams that meet all of the requirements above? I don’t know one.
So, what’s the solution? Give up on Scrum? Are we still getting benefits from Scrumbut? Alright, let’s stop it with the Scrumbut already. Let’s acknowledge what’s really going with real teams in the real world and call that Scrum. Let’s refer to the above checklist as “Ideal Scrum”.
Agile scaling methods have become a popular risk hedging tactic for all the loose ends dangling around the real teams in the real world.
Here are some of the reasons for adding layers of scaling around Agile teams:
Teams are not fully cross-functional;
Teams have external and opaque depencies;
Many of these dependencies are shared services with multiple sources of demand and constrained capacity—often overburdened;
External dependencies can be other teams—demand from other teams shows up in their backlogs, prioritized by their own Product Owners;
Many dependencies don’t play by the same rules at all—some reside in a different part of the organization, with different structures and political forces;
The Product Owners are proxies for multiple stakeholders and customers and the Product Backlogs represent an array of multiple sources of demand, with different service level expectations, strategic origins, degrees of clarity, urgency and political forces pushing them into the deliver organization;
The Product Backlogs are made up primarily of solutions defined by stakeholders and translated by the pseudo-Product Owners as pseudo-user stories—how they get there is opaque, the “fuzzy front end”—and somewhere in here a fuzzy delivery commitment was already made;
The work of a Sprint includes all of the work that the non-cross-functional teams can get done—then whatever the teams get “done” is “delivered” (handed-off) to a subsequent set of teams or process steps (usually fairly well defined at an organizational level but outside of the teams’ influence);
Delivery decisions are made based on constraints imposed by legacy technology, systems and their gatekeepers (for historically good reasons);
The teams are “done” at the end of each Sprint, yet much work is still to be done before their “done” work is potentially shippable;
The Scrum Master’s are held collectively accountable for the collective deliverables of the teams and their ability to cross-team coordinate and integrate—accountability by committee translates into no one is actually responsible.
Middle managers are scrambling to pick up the pieces because they are actually accountable for delivered results.
Generally speaking, the aim of Agile scaling methods is to apply larger Agile wrappers around clusters of Agile teams in order to re-establish some kind of hierarchical structure needed to manage the interdependencies described above. Whether its a Release Train or a Nexus, or whatever else, the idea is that there is an “Agile Team of Teams” managing the interdependencies of multiple, smaller teams. As long as the total number of people doesn’t grow beyond the Dunbar number (~150), the Dunbar-sized group is dedicated and cross-functional, there is a team managing the interdependencies within the Dunbar, there are no dependencies outside of the Dunbar and there is some cadence (1-3 months) of integrated delivery—it’s still “Agile”. All of this scaling out as far as a Dunbar (and only that far) allows the enterprise to still “be Agile”—Scaled Agile.
This is all supposed to be somehow more realistic than Ideal Scrum (with perhaps am overlay of Scrum of Scrums and a Scrum of Scrum of Scrums). It’s not. How many organizations do you know of that can afford to have ~150 people 100% dedicated to a single product? Perhaps today there is enough cash lying around, but soon enough the economic impact will be untenable, if not unsustainable.
How does Kanban address this problem? Your business is a complex adaptive system. You introduce a Kanban system into it such that it is likely that the complex adaptive system is stimulated to improve. The Systems Thinking Approach to Introducing Kanban—STATIK—is how you can make such a transition more successful (@az1):
Understand the purpose of the system—explicitly identify the services you provide, to whom you provide them and why;
Understand the things about the delivery of the service that people are not happy about today—both those whose needs are addressed by the service and those doing the work of delivering the service;
Define the sources of demand—what your customers care about and why;
Describe the capability of your system to satisfy these demands;
Map the workflow of items of customer-recognizable value(@fer_cuenca), beginning with a known customer need and ending with the need being met through stages of primary knowledge discovery (Scrum teams somewhere in the middle, towards the end)—focus on activities, not looping value streams;
Discover classes of service—there are patterns to how different kinds of work flow through your system (they are not arbitrarily decided by pseudo-Product Owners), what are they? Group them, they are classes of service and knowing them enables powerful risk management;
With all of the above as an input, design the Kanban system for the service;
Learn how to do steps 2-7 and start applying it directly to your own context in a Kanban System Design class;
Repeat with all of the interdependent services in your organization—every “dependency” is a service—Kanban all of them with STATIK and begin implementing the Cadences.
Don’t get hung up on teams, roles, your latest reorg, how people will
respond to another “change”, who’s in, who’s out, etc. These are all part of the service as it is now—your current capability. Initially, no changes are required at this level. The kanban system will operate at a higher level of scale. Through feedback-loop cadences, it will evolve to be fit for the purpose of your customers without a traumatic and expensive reorg. Who is responsible for this? Identify this person. If you are the one thinking about this problem, there is a good chance that it’s you. Whoever it is, this is the manager of the service; take responsibility, do the work and make life better for everyone.
Our IT group started with Scrum. Scores of people got trained. Most of our Project Managers became “Certified” Scrum Masters. Most of our Business Analysts became “Certified” Product Owners. We purged some people who we knew would never make the transition. We reorganized everyone else into cross-functional teams – mostly developers and testers. But now they are Scrum Developers. We tried to send them for “Certified” Scrum Developer training but hardly anyone of them signed up. So they are Just Scrum Developers. But we still call them developers and testers. Because that’s still how they mostly function—silos within “cross functional teams”, many tales of two cities rather than just one.
After the Scrum teams had been up and running for a while and we were able to establish some metrics to show the business how Agile we were (since they didn’t believe us based on business results), we had a really great dashboard showing us how many Scrum teams we had, how many Kanban teams, how many DevOps, how many people had been trained. We even knew the average story point velocity of each team.
The business didn’t get it. They were worried that Agile wasn’t going to solve their problem of making commitments to customers and looking bad because we still weren’t able to deliver “on time”.
As IT leadership, we were really in the hot seat. We started to talk about why the transformation wasn’t going as it should. We knew better than to bring the Agile coaches into the boardroom. They were part of the problem and needed to be kept at arms length from those of us who were making important decisions. Besides, their Zen talk about “why?” was really getting old fast. Some thought it was because we didn’t have the right technology. Others were convinced it was because we didn’t have the right people. After all, we didn’t go out and higher experienced (above-average) Scrum Masters and Product Owners, instead we just retrained our own people. Clearly that wasn’t working.
We started with improving the Scrum Masters. We went out and hired a few with impressive resumes. We developed some Scrum Master KPIs (HR jumped all over this one). Then one day we had a collective flash of brilliance—since the ScrumMasters are the servant leaders of teams, we will make them responsible for collecting and reporting team metrics and this will tell us how well the teams are doing and how they need to improve. This surely would be the key to improving the performance of IT and get us on a better footing with the business.
But we didn’t get the response we were hoping for. The ScrumMasters soon complained that the metrics of the teams were impacted by dependencies that they had no influence over. When we pushed harder and shamed them publicly for failing to produce meaningful metrics, they tried harder, but they weren’t able to do it. Some began disengage. “This is not the job I signed up for” became their new mantra. This was puzzling. We were empowering them and they were recoiling. Maybe we didn’t get the right Scrum Masters after all. Maybe we needed to go out and find people who could think and act effectively beyond the confines of their own teams. Or…
If you go on line and type “soft skills” into your browser, you will come up with a plethora of sites. That’s because soft skills are being touted as the most important skill set for any individual in any career. Soft skills are becoming de rigeur in job applications and leadership training of every kind. One might say that there is, in fact, a soft skills revolution occurring in every sector of society.
What is motivating this revolution? Perhaps the more automated our world becomes, we see that our more human characteristics and relationships are needed to balance such a high degree of automation. Perhaps it’s become clear that human characteristics are what drive everything forward in either a positive or negative fashion.
With the advent of the Agile Manifesto (www.agilemanifesto.com) and agile processes permeating business and organizational cultures more and more, people are abandoning the silo mentality and striving to create a more communal environment and team consciousness. Many organizations and businesses are learning that teams rather than individuals are more effective at accomplishing goals.
When a team of people have to work together, there is an expectation that they will all do their best to get a job done. On the other hand, it’s also normal for people on a team to encounter hiccups and even conflicts, whether it’s issues of personality, ego or disagreements of one kind or another. Then there are those team members who do not feel safe to offer their opinion, or those who harbor a prejudice against a certain type of person they may be required to work with.
By putting people together to work alongside each otherday after day, we are creating a potent mix. Human beings are extremely complex and diverse after all. There are volumes written about both the need for and the difficulty of people working and achieving together.
From a recent Insight BTOES newsletter about hiring practices:
“If they’re the best there is in their craft but would prefer to just do their job and be left alone, it isn’t likely they’ll engage in team improvement activities and become a contributing part of the new culture.It’s simply not worth taking on the resistance/non-engagement that you’ll have to deal with until your patience runs out and you’re right back where you started…”
Many corporations now claim that soft skills are the number one priority when hiring, Hard skills can be easily taught but soft skills make the difference whether a person is even teachable and flexible enough for a corporate environment.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, because soft skills have not been the focus of our education systems, and those who have them need continuous practice and improvement. But everyone has the potential to become more empathetic, cooperative, supportive, and respectful.
Whether it’s learning to communicate effectively, or to create a sense of cohesion in a team, there are many pieces that can be put in place to help any team (and its individual parts) be more powerful, effectual and happy.
One very basic ingredient that can make a world of difference to a team’s work is to feel safe. Safety comes with having clear and consistent goals. Team members feel safe to speak his or her mind without fear or judgement, even if their opinion is different from others. A team feels safe to experiment and to succeed or fail. Safety is built on the very essential idea of trust.
Psychologist, author and consultant Harvey Robbins has written extensively about the idea of trust as a key element of any team. He describes trust as follows:
· Trust means setting clear, consistent goals. If people don’t know exactly what they’re supposed to, they will feel set up to fail…
· Trust means being open, fair, and willing to listen. This requires more than making a thoughtful, considerate face. It means listening to the words other people are saying.
· Trust means being decisive… It’s a challenging thing to say, but sometimes it’s better to make any decision – good, bad, or indifferent – than it is to make no decision at all.
· Trust means supporting one another…Your team belong to you, and you belong to them.
· Trust means sharing credit with team members. You are there for them, not vice versa. If you are a glory hog, you are stealing from the team.
· Trust means being sensitive to team members’ needs. You should know what legitimate secondary agendas they may have, and be willing to help them achieve their personal goals.
· Trust means respecting the opinions of others. The worst thing a leader can do is denigrate or dismiss or ignore team members. If they’re no good, move them off the team. But even then you owe them your respect.
· Trust means empowering team members to act. It means trusting that they are up to the challenges that you trained them for…
· Finally, and ultimately, and most difficultly, trust means being willing to suffer… The ordinary leader exposes his people to all the risk. The trusted leader assumes risk himself.
Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/716760
When a team has clearly articulated goals, it helps build a sense of cohesion, in that every member is aware of what they are working toward. When team members are allowed to work out an action plan toward achieving a goal, this gives everyone a stronger sense of purpose and ownership.
If you’re wondering whether a Team Development workshop would be of benefit to, or is necessary for your business or organization, here are some thoughts from MindTools that can help you decide:
Are there conflicts between certain people that are creating divisions within the team?
Do team members need to get to know one another?
Do some members focus on their own success, and harm the group as a result?
Does poor communication slow the group’s progress?
Do people need to learn how to work together, instead of individually?
Are some members resistant to change, and does this affect the group’s ability to move forward?
Do members of the group need a boost to their morale?”
Everyone has the potential to grow their soft skills. However, a company may not have the resources to help unlock this potential in its employees.
If team development is not part of a company’s culture there may be discomfort in dealing with friction arising from a lack of soft skills. In this case, an external facilitator or coach can be a very helpful resource to guide a work team, using thought-provoking activities and role-playing, to find greater connection and trust amongst themselves, and to address issues with a detached point of view.
Organizing such a workshop for your team does not mean they are not doing well or failing. It means you, the team lead/ manager/ CEO/ HR person, etc, care about your team’s best interests, highest achievements and happiness.
Valerie Senyk is a facilitator for Team Development with BERTEIG, and can be contacted by going to http://www.worldmindware.com/AgileTeamDevelopment
You want to be practicing Scrum! You’ve taken Scrum training, received your industry certification, and perhaps even experienced being a Scrum team member. In your heart you believe Scrum is the right tool and approach for you, and you believe your current organization and your customers could really benefit from Scrum practices.
However, for whatever reason your organization is either hesitant to consider Scrum or believes it’s a bad idea. Perhaps there was an experience with a poorly executed pilot. Perhaps your leadership see it as being too risky.
What do you do?
This article explores how you could subversively practice ScrumMaster-ing in your workplace without getting into trouble or breaking the rules. (Ssh…we won’t tell!)
Before you even begin strategizing, you need to ensure that what you do aligns with the Scrum values, namely:
Doing Scrum subversively will certainly take considerable courage, focus and commitment on your part. Be aware you will be challenged to respect the existing organizational culture and norms, and your organization may push back on your efforts.
You also need to acknowledge that the very act of being subversive means you are not being completely open or transparent that you are trying to practice Scrum.
Or you could tell your workmates, “I’ve had this terrific training in Scrum and could we try a few of the techniques to see how they work?” Then introduce something as simple as time-boxing or holding retrospectives with your colleagues.
You will also want to ensure what you do is harmonious with Scrum Theory and the pillars of empirical process, which are:
1. Transparency 2. Inspection 3. Adaptation
Normally, one could say there’s a direct conflict between being transparent and being subversive. Keeping this in mind, it is imperative you be absolutely transparent on the actions you are taking and what the specific goals, outcomes or learnings are that you hope to achieve.
However, given the circumstances you’ll likely choose to not use Scrum terminology to describe what you are doing. In other words, describe the practices and activities that you are implementing or recommending, express their benefits and what you hope to accomplish, but don’t explicitly call them by their Scrum name.
As for Inspection and Adaptation, those approaches should be perfectly aligned with your intent to try to help your company become a learning organization. That means you will need to park your ego at the door and accept the results. If your learning shows your subversive Scrum activities do not provide the benefit you’re aiming for, you will need to stop them regardless of whether you think they should work.
Let’s explore some activities and practices you may want to tactfully consider to help your organization benefit from Scrum (without actually “doing” Scrum).
1. Lead by Example
As someone that appreciates the values of Scrum, you should aim to educate others and provide them with a similar understanding. That means practicing these values in how you show up and in everything you do, even explicitly calling out certain actions when they are a prime example (whenever it is appropriate).
This does not mean preaching! Instead, it could be sharing your thoughts about something when contributing to a decision, or simply pointing out when and how something that aligns with the values contributes to a better team, a better experience, or a better solution.
Leading by example also means being human and honest when mistakes are made or when failures occur. This can be particularly risky in an organization that has not embraced Agility, or where failure is frowned upon. That is where you need courage, and a commitment on your part to hold improvement of the work above your own individual career needs.
2. Communicate More
Make a concerted, conscious effort to communicate with your team and partners more. For example, get up out of your seat and spend more time in informal face-to-face discussions rather than sending e-mails or chat messages.
Perhaps you can have short, informal meetings with just the team either daily or several times a week to see what’s been done, what needs to be done, and what challenges the team is facing. The key here is to keep it short, focus on what is needed to move work forward, and define actions to address issues. Then always follow up and make sure the actions are being pursued and that progress is shared with the team.
3. Be Open And Transparent
Although you may consciously choose to not use the proper terminology and language of Scrum, the key is to always be honest about what it is you are trying to do, why it’s important, and what the desired outcomes are.
To this end the goal should be to become an organization that “learns about learning”, constantly tries to improve, delivers value faster, and applies new knowledge in the best possible way. Scrum may be a fantastic catalyst for that, but there are many other approaches that will achieve similar results.
4. Use Better Meeting Practices
Another approach to consider is improve meeting experiences by time-boxing and defining a specific scope for each meeting. Setting a time limit and outcomes for a discussion helps create a sense of urgency, manage expectations and focus the conversation on the most important topics. The facilitator will need to enforce these constraints, otherwise you lose the effectiveness of the practice.
5. Have One or More Key Stakeholders Empowered to Make Product Decisions
This may be a considerable challenge in organizations where there is little appetite or understanding about Scrum practices, but do what you can given your authority and influence. If possible, try to have a single voice (key stakeholder) defined as the person with the final authority on the product or service that your team is delivering. Work with that individual to set them up for success by connecting them with the other stakeholders, perhaps facilitating discussions with them, and showing the key person(s) effective techniques for prioritizing the work that is being asked for.
6. Limit Efforts to What Matters Most
One practice that is important to apply, but often difficult to master, is focus. Limit work and discussions to the most important tasks and activities, and request that other discussions on lesser-important work be delayed. Always try to focus the conversation back to what is currently the most important work.
On occasion you may even want to point out times when plans were well-defined in advance but ultimately changed a lot when the actual work was in progress. This indicates the waste in planning too much up front and in constant task-switching. When done in conjunction with time-boxing this practice becomes a little easier.
On a macro scale, try to limit development to smaller chunks of end-to-end deliverables. In other words, deliver small things often all the way to completion as much as possible (e.g. to a staging environment). Then show the outcome and deliverable to stakeholders and customers, explaining that although the final product may not be done, this is to get them something fast and gather feedback.
7. Reflect on Learning
When possible, ensure that reviews of completed work happen frequently. Ensure the outcomes, functionality and value is shown and that learning (for the product as well as the methods) are part of the discussion.
Without becoming intrusive, seek stakeholder feedback frequently and informally. Be willing to demonstrate an ability to pivot plans based on that feedback.
As a team, hold informal retrospectives of how you worked together. If the term “retrospective” is contentious, consider calling them something else, such as a debriefing.
8. Visualize and Display Work
Have your own personal backlog and list of current activities visible at your desk. Use post-its to represent all work that you have on your plate, and ensure it is always up-to-date. Prioritize the work items you have coming up, and visually represent this as a rank-ordered list of things that you have to do.
It won’t take long for people around you to notice what you are doing and ask about it. Use this as a great opportunity to educate others on the values of transparency and focus.
9. Keep Your Team Size Appropriate
If you are on a particularly large team, see if it is possible to split that large team in to smaller groups. The benefit is more face-to-face time and interaction across the new team, an increased sense of belonging and commitment to the new team’s purpose, and it should also be easier (in theory anyway) to get decisions made and increase alignment.
The challenge will be finding a logical way to split the teams to mitigate dependencies of people, skills and products, and ensuring the new teams can still collaborate with one another. Geography might be a good way to split the team if you are distributed, but you would need to ensure all the skills to deliver the solution exist on all new teams.
10. Push for Automation
If you are in a development environment where tools, automation and engineering practices are not currently being used, and they could be of value to your organization, then start investigating whether it is possible. Tools and automation aren’t cheap or easy to implement, but they dramatically encourage you and your teams to collaborate better and they enable the adoption of Scrum practices such as fast delivery of value.
Be confident that your own creativity may help you unlock ways of practicing Scrum methodology without disrupting your organization’s practices.
You may or may not be able to implement all of the above actions but, as one Agile coach says, “it’s all about how YOU show up, how YOU are.” In the final analysis, your example, your enthusiasm, your courage will be the best you can offer.
In reality, Kanban isn’t actually saving Agile nor is it intended to, nor is any thoughtful and responsible Kanban practitioner motivated by this agenda. What I’m really trying to convey is how human thinking about the business of professional services (including software development) has evolved since “Agile” as many of us know it was conceived around 20 or so years ago. The manifesto is the collective statement of a group of software development thought leaders that captured some of their ideas at the time about how the software industry needed to improve. Essentially, it was about the iterative and incremental delivery of high-quality software products. For 2001, this was pretty heady stuff. You could even say that it spawned a movement.
Since the publication of the manifesto in 2001, a lot of other people have had a lot of other good ideas about how the business of delivering professional services can improve. This has been well documented in well known sources too numerous to mention for the scope of this article.
Substantial contributions to the discourse have been generated by and through the LeanKanban community. The aim of Kanban is to foster environments in which knowledge workers can thrive and create innovative, valuable and viable solutions for improving the world. Kanban has three agendas: survivability (primarily but not exclusively for the business executives), service-orientation (primarily but not exclusively for managers) and sustainability (primarily but not exclusively for knowledge workers). Kanban provides pragmatic, actionable, evidence-based guidance for improving along these three agendas.
Evolutionary Theory is one of the key conceptual underpinnings of the Kanban Method, most notably the dynamic of punctuated equilibrium. Evolution is natural, perpetual and fundamental to life. Long periods of equilibrium are punctuated by relatively short periods of “transformation”—apparent total and irreversible change. An extinction event is a kind of punctuation, so too is the rapid explosion of new forms. Evolutionary theory is not only a scientifically proven body of knowledge for understanding the nature of life. It can be also applied to the way we think about ideas, methods and movements.
For example, science has more or less established that the extinction of the dinosaurs, triggered by a meteor impact and subsequent dramatic atmospheric and climate change, was in fact a key punctuation point in the evolution of birds. In other words, dinosaurs didn’t become extinct, rather they evolved into birds. That is, something along the lines of the small dinosaurs with large feathers hanging around after Armageddon learned to fly over generations in order to escape predators, find food and raise their young. Dinosaurs evolved into birds. Birds saved the dinosaurs.
There has been a lot of social media chatter and buzz lately about how Agile is dead. It is a movement that has run its course, or so the narrative goes. After all, 20 years is more or less the established pattern for the rise and fall of management fads. But too much emphasis on the rise and fall of fads can blind us to larger, broader (deeper) over-arching trends.
The agile movement historically has been about high-performing teams. More recently, market demand has lead to the profusion of “scaling” approaches and frameworks. Scaling emerged out of the reality of systemic interdependence in which most Agile teams find themselves. Most agile teams are responsible for aspects of workflows—stages of value creation—as contributors to the delivery of a service or multiple services. Agile teams capable of independently taking requests directly from and delivering directly to customers are extremely rare. For the rest, classical Agile or Scrum is not enough. The feathers just aren’t big enough. Agile teams attempting to function independently (pure Scrum) in an interdependent environment are vulnerable to the antibodies of the system, especially when such interdependencies are merely denounced as impediments to agility.
Some organizations find themselves in a state of evolutionary punctuation (the proverbial sky is falling) that can trigger rapid adaptations and the emergence of local conditions in which independent service delivery teams can thrive. Most large, established organizations seem to be more or less in a state of equilibrium. Whether real or imagined, this is what change agents have to work with. However, more often than not, the typical Agile change agent seems adamant that the sky is always falling and that everyone accepting that the sky is falling is the first step to real and meaningful change. This is not an attitude held by Agile change agents alone. This is a standard feature of traditional 20th Century change management methods, the key selling point for change management consulting.
Naturally, most self-identifying “Agilists” see themselves as change agents. Many of them find themselves in the position of change management consultants. But the motivation for change can quickly become misaligned: Change needs to happen in order for Agile to work. If you are passionate about Agile, you will seek to bring about the environmental changes that will allow for Agile to thrive. We don’t need to follow this path too far until Agile becomes an end in itself. It is understandable then that for some, Agile appears to be a dead end, or just dead.
But if there is a larger, over-arching historical process playing out, what might that be? Perhaps it has something to do with the evolution of human organization. Perhaps we are living in a period of punctuation.
Recently after attending a Scrum Alliance webinar on “Best Practices in Coaching,” I was reminded of my experiences teaching Acting students at university, and how I used changing status to help them achieve their best.
Status refers to the position or rank of someone within a particular group or community. I believe it was Canadian Keith Johnstone who introduced the idea of “playing status” to theatre improv teams. It is used to create relationships between characters onstage, and to change those relationships to move a story forward.
Status can be indicated through position, posture, facial expression, voice and clothing. It is a fascinating tool for any trainer or coach to use.
At the beginning of a semester with new students, I would invite them to sit on the stage floor in a circle with me. I would welcome them, discuss my expectations of their learning, and tell them what they could expect from me. We’d go over the course syllabus and I’d answer questions. I purposefully put myself in an equal status to them, as a way of earning their trust, because the processes of acting* requires huge amounts of trust. I also wanted to establish a degree of respect in them for the stage by all of us being in a “humble” position on the stage floor.
However, when I would introduce a new exercise to them that required them to go beyond their comfort zones, I would deliver instructions from a standing position while they were seated. By elevating my status, I conveyed the importance of the exercise, and it was a signal that it was not something they could opt out of. In this way, I could help them to exercise their creativity to a greater extent.
Another way I encouraged my students to take risks was to take risks myself. Sometimes I would illustrate an acting exercise by doing it myself first. For those few minutes I became a colleague with my students, one of them, equal in status. If I could “make a fool of myself” (which is how it may look to an outsider), then they could too.
I had one student who had great potential, but who took on the role of class clown and would not give it up. He fought against going deeper and getting real. One day in an exercise where they had to “own” a line of dialogue, I had him in a chair onstage, while I and the rest of the students were seated. He had to repeat the line of text until it resonated with him and became real. After some minutes, nothing was changing in him. In desperation had him turn his chair around so his back was to us. I then indicated to the other students to quietly leave the room. He could hear something happening but was confused about it. He was not able to turn around and look.
When I allowed him to turn around it was only him and me left in the theatre. I had him go through the repetition exercise again. Without an audience, and with me still seated, he finally broke through the wall he had erected and connected with the line of text from his inner self. It was a wonderful moment of truth and vulnerability. I then allowed the other students back in, and had him find that connection again with the students there. He was able to do it.
He is grateful to me to this day for helping him get beyond his comfortable role as clown to become a serious actor.
When training or coaching, it seems to me there can be huge value in playing with status. Sometimes taking a lower status, an equal status, or a higher status, can move a team or upper management into discovering whatever may have been blocking the process. Again, there are many ways to indicate status and even a status change to effect progress.
In his book, “Improv-ing Agile Teams,” Paul Goddard makes some important observations about using status. He writes: “Even though status is far less obvious than what is portrayed on stage, individuals still can take small steps to encourage status changes within their own team. For example, asking a team member who exhibits lower status behaviours to take ownership of a meeting or oversee a process not only boosts that person’s confidence but also increases status among peers…these subtle actions can help make lower-status team members feel more comfortable when expressing new ideas or exposing hidden problems.”
A colleague reminded me of a 1975 publication called “Power: How to Get It, How to Use It,” in which author Michael Korda gives advice about facial expression, stance, clothing and innumerable ways to express “power.” The idea of using status in the context I’m writing about is not about gaining power, but about finding ways through one’s own status changes to help unlock the capacity and potential of others.
How can a coach use status to help someone in management who is blocking change? Is someone on a team not accepting what others have to offer because s/he is keeping his/her status high? Is a Scrum Master necessarily a high-status team member, or rather a servant to the team (low status)?
I am curious if any coaches or trainers out there have used status in a way that created growth and change.
*Good acting is a matter of the actor finding the truth in oneself as it relates to the character he or she is playing. It requires vulnerability and courage to step out of one’s known persona and take on another as truthfully as possible. Inherent truthfulness also applies to work in any other endeavour.
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.
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?”
“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 disruptionof 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.