Tag Archives: Nirmaljeet

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.

 

Distributed teams and dependencies – My talk at Austin City Limits Conference

I recently had this opportunity to talk at the Agile City Limits conference at the Dell headquarters in Round Round, Texas. There were a lot of awesome things about the conference. Awesome crowd, awesome energy and from the audience an awesome urge to ask some really great questions. Not to mention that the topic itself “Distributed Teams and Dependencies” was one that is the biggest concern with any large organization trying to adopt agile.

The primary intention behind this presentation was to decouple challenges with a distributed setup and agile. The problems teams and individuals face with a distributed team are resolvable through the use of right tools and techniques. With large and distributed teams, there is so much focus put on process that most teams gradually move away from individuals and iterations and drag themselves back to be driven by using more processes and tools.

The key to overcoming challenges with distributed teams is through using the right balance of agile teams with focus on product/project vision, cross team collaboration, building the right level of trust and understanding cultural sensitivity. Additionally, communication and collaboration tools along with required development tools become great facilitators for collaboration between teams. Teams using agile methods have had great success with tools like story mapping, backlog grooming, scrum of scrums.

I also took the opportunity to talk about what makes a good distributed setup and how organizations should focus on running Scrum successfully before scaling. At the end of the day, it is all about managing the distance.

The audience was particularly interested in understanding the opportunities around team dependencies. My focus in this part was to share my experience in how I and the teams I have coached addressed the challenges with team interlocks. After talking about why dependencies exist and the kind of problems dependencies bring, I walked through some tried and tested approaches which included:

  • Approach to plan to keep dependencies to minimum as you form new teams
  • Creating an open source model
  • Planning for dependencies ahead of time
  • Creating communities of practice for better collaboration

All in all, it was a great discussion and I hope the audience enjoyed attending my talk as much as I enjoyed presenting it.

Here’s my presentation.

Kanban and “On Hold” status

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Time and again I see Kanban boards with a “On hold” status. The justification for maintaining this status defeats the purpose of Agile completely. The most common ones include:

1. QA suggests that the story cannot be “In QA” status if defects have been found and the developer is fixing the same. Keeping the story in QA will paint a wrong picture around the time to get the story tested.

2. Developers have a issue keeping the story “in development” since the work was completed and the issue identified may not a defect but a change in requirement or maybe a corner case.

The reasons mentioned above are examples of lacking collaboration and team ownership. These concerns can be attributed to how metrics (lead time and cycle time) are calculated in a Kanban setup. Individuals get into a defensive when assessing cycle time as they think it is reflective of their individual performance and not about the team as a whole.

Imagine this happening in a car assembly line, no car would ever make it to the exit or best case we might have a car with certain key features missing as there seems to be no way of reversing the assembly. The key to the success of Kanban is about maintaining a manageable flow and as teams hop between stories and tasks, it is bound to impact the throughput of the team.

To summarize, it is imperative that teams look at tasks and stories as team goals instead of individual performance indicators. If a story cannot move forward, it needs to be taken off the line. There is no pit stops or reverse gear.

 

Agile Coaching, purpose and impact

Courtsey www.thecoachbusiness.com

You have been told about your next assignment as an Agile Coach. Your first reaction, check out the client website, you go to Glassdoor to get some employee feedback to assess the mood, get some company history and you are all set to hit the ground running.

The Agile Coach role comes up with its set of unknowns and that is what makes it fun, exciting and challenging. If you are a developer, you and your client know you are going to be writing code or if you are a Business Analyst, you and your client know that you are going to be gathering requirements. But if you are an Agile Coach, more often than not, your client knows very little about the end state where you want your teams to be before you sign off. So what are some of the things that an Agile Coach should be doing as you land into an alien world and what are some of the things that can potentially help create a solid foundation for an Agile adoption/transformation and make Agility the way of life. Here are some tips for :

  1. Investigate– ask direct questions to help you understand why management wants to embark on the Agile journey and surface any perceptions that the client might have about Agile methods, approach and end state. Informing the management on how Agile will impact them today and tomorrow will help setup a strong foundation for a sustainable Agile journey.
  1. Assess – Assessment drives decision-making and strategy. Every project and associated business is unique. The uniqueness can be driven by the market position, competition, volatility of business or simply maturity at the top. Coming into a project with a preset mindset of how Agility will be achieved is a recipe for disaster. An initial assessment should bring out details of key challenges that development or stakeholder or marketing is facing which in turn will help in selecting the right methodology to achieve Agility and derive its benefits. Remember, Agile is not one methodology; it is flexibility that facilitates adaptability.
  1. Observe – is the key characteristic of a great Agile coach. This includes observing management, teams and individuals. Quite often, start of an Agile transformation is a result of an individuals opinion which happens to be a ‘C’ level executive and is a decision imposed on everyone else in the organization.Since the success of Agile revolves around organizing, collaboration, teamwork and collective ownership, this is where the coach needs to bring in Agility for the management before taking it to the next level.  Looking for opportunities to coach, learn, and improve by observing the landscape is important for a successful adoption.
  1. Plan – Success of Agile depends on how individuals and teams are able to bring in the change in mindset and thought process. Experience suggests that implementing big changes tends to scare teams away. Also it impacts productivity since the focus shifts from task in hand to process change.Early assessment of teams in terms of their knowledge and maturity of Agile practices helps in defining a strategy for the change. In most cases I like to focus on process changes before jumping into the intricacies of the process including Agile engineering practices.The “Shu-Ha-Ri” approach is a great way to engage teams and individuals in effective and planned Agile adoption.

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  1. Connect – The effectiveness of a coach is driven by how it connects with the person he/she is coaching. In sport, a player or an athlete follows the instructions from the coaching based on the trust that the end goal is to achieve the best possible result. A lot of times the player might not believe in what the coach suggests but just follows instructions believing in the experience and knowledge the coach carries.  At the same time the coach understands the strengths and weakness of the student. This is where the connection between the two becomes critical. The coach explains the rationale behind each action that he wants the student to perform and constantly shares results that confirm improvement and progress that would result in motivation to persist.
  1. Inspire – Having worked with large IT services companies, I remember the time when duration of the assignment would decide the rating and potential salary hike one would get at the end of the year. The longer you hang on, the better it gets. Talking about a Agile Coach role, its the opposite. A coach’s effectiveness is gauged by how it manages the to inspire the teams embrace agility and get to the point when members of the team start coaching one another and produce value as a well oiled machine and becomes a habit.

Coaching is a great opportunity to be the impact. While the methodologies and techniques for process adoption are critical, the human skills play a much bigger role as you embark on this journey to help people see what they can be instead of where they are.

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