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Why the idea of a scrum team is so powerful..

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The idea of a team has evolved over the last decade. What started off with a group of people working together to achieve a vague goal under the control of a manager/leader, has in some cases matured where teams are gradually getting more engaged and are aware of the business objectives and are being trusted to get to the finish line.

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The idea of a scrum team presented a new twist to the definition of a team, obviously with its share of discomforts. The thought of a team without a manager, attributes of self organization and self management and emphasis to build trust sounded great but had many heads shaking.

While some organizations have introduced structural changes to embrace 3 scrum roles (Scrum Master, Product Owner, Development team), most organizations are trying to fit the new roles in the context of their current organizational structure or are making a effort to somehow align existing roles to the new ones.

The thought that some existing roles may become redundant can be discomforting and lead to resistance. Some common questions/opinions are highlighted:

  • What about the “other” roles like business analysts, architects, project managers etc..?
  • These people have been with the organization for ever. We can’t let them go.
  • Our product owners are customer facing and have other responsibilities. They cannot be available to the team.
  • A Scrum Master? Who is going to manage the team?
  • Our teams are not mature enough to self organize.

The above questions are clearly indicative of the lack of understanding of the roles and the fact that the organization is focussed on individual roles and not the overarching impact of the roles.

The intent behind the idea of a scrum team was to bring all aspects of product development (business/product, engineering and process) together in order to realize the end goal. While the simplicity of the framework makes it acceptable, the roles continue to operate in isolation and be looked as “speciality driven”. To simplify, Product Managers assume that the responsibility of development team is to implement their ideas only.

As I went around coaching many organizations, I have always made a focussed effort to communicate the attributes of a successful and high performing scrum team, and the attributes that make the idea of a scrum team so powerful. Here are some key attributes that distinguish the great scrum teams from the good ones:

Screen Shot 2017-08-31 at 3.01.06 PMInclusiveness – Scrum teams works best in a inclusive environment. This means that while every individual might have a set of responsibilities that come with his/her role, what creates a big impact is how these roles come together and contribute to the overall success of the product. The idea that only Product Managers are responsible for product strategy, analysis and business decisions and development team implements the decisions made the manager defeats the purpose of a scrum team. In my experience, teams that have been able to achieve the highest level of productivity and created seriously innovative and disruptive products are the ones where these roles collaborate and engage on a day to day basis.

No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive

Mahatma Gandhi

 For example; the complexity and the time taken to implement a functionality can negate the value of the feature. This information from the development team can impact the priority of the items in the backlog and help the Product Manager make better decisions. So, the idea of a collaborative team that embraces the scrum practices as intended can have a positive impact on the business value produced and accelerate the time take to do so.

For a patient at a hospital going through a surgical procedure involving doctors from a variety of specializations, each doctor constantly provides inputs to others to make sure that every aspect of the patient’s health is known to reduce risks and keep focus on patient’s recovery. Each one is included to achieve the end goal.

Alignment – can go a long way in defining the interest of scrum team members. Often, team members have a very narrow focus on the immediate tasks at hand and lack clarity of the business goals and objectives. Creating alignment is a critical aspect for a scrum team.

Alignment is a practice, not a state.

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Alignment is critical both at the business and process level and the scrum framework provides practices to help create the alignment through the empirical process control. The scrum team exists so that product, engineering and process can tweak things to stay on course to achieve desired outcome.

Talking about alignment, US and India launched their respective missions to Mars about a year ago. A very big part of the journey to Mars that lasts about a year to complete is to adjust the trajectory of the space vehicle to aligned with the ultimate goal (red planet). This requires various teams handling a multitude of functions to work in complete collaboration and constantly align the vehicle to ensure that the vehicle does not go off course. Any kind of misalignment can have catastrophic results.

Passion  – Alignment creates passion. Once every member of the team is aligned with the end goal of the product with clarity about what defines product success, they contribute in their unique way using their skills to make it big and successful.

Unfortunately, team members work in silos either unaware of the end goal to be achieved or are just not allowed to create impact outside their territory.  There is no focused intent to leverage the team’s creativity, skills or knowledge to drive decisions.

A great leader’s courage to fulfill his vision comes from passion, not position.”

John Maxwell

Time and again companies like Amazon and Google have shared instances where teams were able to come up with innovative solutions just by understanding a problem, doing some experimentation and adapting to feedback and these are the people who feel passionate about what they do. The intent of a scrum team is to create this combined passion for what is expected to be achieved.

Delight – The term delight is often associated with customers but it holds equal importance when it comes to the team we work with. The question one may ask “so how do we delight the team?”. As humans we get a sense of delight from small gestures from people around us. These can include writing a note of gratitude for all they do for the team and the project, engaging in activities to familiarize with the ups and downs of their lives or by just acknowledging what they do as a member of the team.

There is no delight in owning anything unshared

Seneca the younger

When a team comes together to achieve a common purpose and hold each other accountable for the collective success, delight happens. Acts of support, trust, belief, respect, openness result in a overall delightful environment and experience.

Click here to read about an experiment conducted by Thalia Wheatley called impact design to evaluate a delightful experience.

Celebrate – A unique attribute of scrum teams is their ability to celebrate success and failure. The cause of a success or failure is never attributed an individual but the whole team.

“Each day offers a reason to celebrate. Find it and experience true bliss.”

Amy Leigh Mercree

The important aspect of celebration in this case is that the celebration should become part of the team culture. Celebrations should happen frequently, for the whole team and in a way such that it leaves a lasting impact of the team members.

Conclusion: As organizations embrace the scrum team idea, the thought process needs to go beyond the need, skills and title of a role. Instead the focus needs to be towards creating an environment where unique skills are coming together to achieve a common goal in a inclusive environment where there is passion, alignment and celebrations and delight is not just for customer but for every member of the team.

 

Scrum events are NOT working for you if…

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Image courtesy: agiletrick.com

Rarely does a agile coach get to transform a completely waterfall team/organization into agile these days. Majority of the organizations are already on the agile band wagon and claim to be doing some sort of agile, however; it is quite obvious that all is not working for them.

The start of an engagement for an agile coach is all about observation. Watching teams participate in Scrum events gives a good sense of the maturity of the individuals, team and organization. Here are things to look out for to know that Scrum events are not working:

  • There is a leader – We need leaders but we also believe that everyone in a Scrum team is a leader. Often, there is an individual or a couple of team members that are the “experts” and end up taking control of Scrum events. So if these “leaders” are calling the shots and driving all decisions, Scrum events are not working for you.
  • There is silence – Scrum teams are all about collaboration and communication. One of the key agile values is “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”. So if your Scrum events are all about forced communication where team members are not motivated or do not feel safe to share their point of view, Scrum events are not working for you.
  • Something important keeps coming up – The occurrence of Scrum events have been designed to bring the team together frequently to be able to put the idea of inspection and adaptation in practice. However; often team members are absent from the Scrum events with the most common excuse being that there is an important issue to address. When doing Scrum, nothing is more important than the Scrum events. So if your team has something important to address when they should be collaborating, communicating, inspecting and adapting during a Scrum event, Scrum events are not working for you.
  • Design a solution – Every Scrum event had a recommended time box. For example, a daily Scrum should not be more than 15 minutes long or a sprint planning event should be 8 hours or less for a 4 week sprint. These time box recommendations work only when teams a disciplined in keeping a focused agenda for a event. However;  teams spend 30 to 45 minutes on a daily Scrum or a sprint planning session spans multiple days. This usually happens when team members get into a “design the solution” mode leading to significant waste. So if your Scrum events are turning into design and problem solving meetings, Scrum events are not working for you.
  • Team members are checked out – Knowing the significance and reasoning behind each Scrum event is crucial. Each Scrum event is specifically designed to achieve specific objectives in alignment with the agile values and principles. However, it is observed that team members do not focus on the value of the event but rather go through the motions. If you observe that team members are either checked out or focused on their individual goals, Scrum events are not working for you.
  • External decision makers – What the team can get done and how a business problem should be addressed are decisions that a Scrum team owns. A self managing Scrum team is one that makes decisions that are in the best interest of the project knowing their capabilities to deliver. If you Scrum team is under pressure from external forces and are unable to self manage and organize, you Scrum events are not working.
  • There is inconsistency – Having Scrum events occur consistently at the same time and as per a defined cadence is important to reduce complexity and build team discipline. For example; it is recommended the team has a daily Scrum in the morning to be able to create a plan for the day, however; if this is moved to afternoon on a give day and moved again the next day, it effects the consistency and causes unnecessary adjustments. If the occurrence of Scrum events is not consistent, Scrum events are not working for you.
  • Can’t we just – A phrase that is heard quite consistently when working with Scrum teams is “Can’t we just…”. This might be said when the Product Owner is trying to sneak in that extra story into the sprint backlog or when the team members are pushing to fix a bug in the next sprint and call the not done story done. If team members are constantly trying to find ways to step outside the Scrum boundaries, Scrum events are not working for you.

There are many more smells that are seen detrimental to the effectiveness of Scrum. Some of these include Scrum Master assigning work to team members, daily Scrum being a means for management reporting etc… I am sure you have observed many more smells that expose the ineffectiveness of a Scrum event. Please share in the comments below.

Dallas TechFest

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If you are a techie with a keen interest in the area of User Experience and mobile development, go ahead and buy for tickets for this year’s Dallas TechFest. Not just that, you will also have an awesome opportunity to attend some insightful talks by Allison Pollard and Chris Murman about Technical Excellence  and Organizational Mindset.

Click here for the complete schedule and register.

Wrapping up 2015

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As the year draws to a close, I would like to thank you all for taking the time to read my blog posts and providing your feedback.

To put it simply, this was an interesting year. A year of success and failure but most importantly a year of learning. Let’s continue to work together to make things better each day.

I know I will be making a conscious effort to write more often and write about what matters to us, share my successes and failures and work with you all to improve continuously. What are your plans?

Wish you all a Happy New Year….

Nirmal

Agile teams and measurement of success

What does success mean to you? One gets different answers depending on who the question is being asked. When talking about agile teams, the primary measurement of success is measured by how often teams deliver incremental business value driven product, directly resulting in more revenue to business or enhanced customer satisfaction or both. 

As teams undergo training on agile values and principles, they get particularly excited with the idea of self organization and empowerment. Once trained, it is time to put the values and principles to practice. However the realities of management and control become a common cause of conflict resulting in the teams having to  make a choice between agile behavior and management impression. The choice is quite obvious. 

While a lot is done to encourage teams to become agile, management continues to be resistant. A big part of this resistance to change has to do with the perception management has about teams. Teams are constantly stereotyped as individual performers who cannot be trusted to deliver a defined scope of work in a defined time frame unless micromanaged. The result, teams are constantly given dates by which they need to deliver. To add to this, management continues to measure teams by data that does not encourage agile behaviors.

Tell me how you measure me and I will tell you how I behave                                                                                                                                                          Eliyahu Goldratt

Here are some key measurements that when looked  in the right way will help get a true sense of what is being delivered and how successful the initiative is:

  •  Alignment (Alignment is a practice, not a state) – Once a vision has been established, a conscious effort to ensure alignment with the vision becomes critical.  alignment-clipart-061An great analogy of alignment was the recent mars mission by the India Space Research Organization (ISRO). The mission took almost a year to reach Mars from Earth  but the biggest success factor is how it goes through coarse correction each second. There are systems built to just manage this aspect of the mission and the failure of the same can result in waste of immense magnitude.
  • Incremental Value – Every bit of effort spent should translate into incremental value. Value can be something small that the business is able to see and provide feedback on to something equivalent of a business increment that increases revenues.  moneystackIn a lot of cases, teams have been seen spending effort on something that has nothing to do with the intent behind all the effort. For example; teams are often see spending time on  making their velocity or their sprint burn down look good which provides no value. It is absolutely critical that everyone involved has a consistent definition of success. 
  • Fail fastI was watching a video of the CEO of Google recently in which he talks about failure and why failure needs to be worn as a badge of honor. Most organizations have not been able to create an environment where individuals and teams feel safe to fail. The most obvious impact of which is elongated time spent on presenting inaccurate data pushing projects to fail late in the game hence resulting in huge waste.

       Failure needs to be assessed all along the way and all involved parties                       should challenge each potential failure point to ensure failure can happen              early and learning can be put in practice.

Post Script

None of the above mentioned parameters can be quantitatively measured which is where the standard metrics based on the methodology only work as facilitators to the mentioned parameters. A conversation around methodology specific metrics only results in the core benefits of visibility, transparency being lost. Standard metrics should be assessed with an intent to gauge the health of an initiative driven by a well defined and consistently understood vision, ongoing alignment to the vision, delivery of incremental value and opportunity to fail fast.