Practice safe scrum… or be prepared to live with the consequences!
For some of us, too many ritual Agile meetings have not been a pleasant or productive experience, whether we’ve been running one or standing in one. The reason is simple: disrespectful human behaviour. Late to start. Off task. Talking too much. Not contributing. Low level discussion of problems. Attitude. Egos running wild. Finger-pointing. Bad-mouthing of code—without even knowing who wrote it. The list goes on.
There are many good ideas out there that get us closer to scrum ritual happiness, as in the example that follows. (We pass along those we find as ‘Real Scrum Advice’ posts.)
Education has known for a long time it can give Business some pointers on proven techniques to modify and manage how any team functions—kids or adults. Unfortunately, Business tends to think it knows all (or at least, Education knows a whole lot less).
Steve Peha’s interview with InfoQ was very interesting. Not only did he talk about how Agile and scrum approaches can work in the classroom, but he also opens the door to insights for improving Agile adult work environments. Because even in small teams where everyone basically gets along and works well together, implementing his key points reinforces positive team dynamics.
Why practice ‘safe scrum’? Because the benefits of the ‘virtuous’ Agile cycle that results are tangible for the team, and they multiply. Stress is reduced. Confidence increases. Collaborative problem solving improves results. Productivity goes up. People LIKE coming to work and they are HAPPIER. The benefits extend all the way to the product end users, as the joy of work well done can transform the project.
“If we get past all of those fears to a place where we communicate more freely and more openly about what we do and don’t know, we can dramatically increase learning and remove the friction that often builds up when perhaps two people disagree and they let that disagreement just fester for day after day after day and sprint after sprint after sprint.”
Sound familiar? How do you lead a team to improve working conditions, especially if the team doesn’t have a formal leader? What if the team’s current cultural norms not only don’t support personal or professional ‘safety’, what if it functionally does the opposite? Under the guise of ‘witty fun’ or other one-upsmanship power games, when barnyard politics rule, the resulting hierarchy doesn’t optimize team results.
Anyone can make a difference. To begin, lead by example. A well-timed candid observation to the group can be a catalyst for real discussion. Team members talk one-on-one all the time, so there’s an opportunity to move gossip into something more productive… organize behind the scenes and then bring specific issues with suggested solutions it to the larger group. Kick off a discussion of group norms.
Education folks might think in terms of:
#1 The Safety Message. (verbally stated as a group norm and we all ‘walk the talk’)
- “Nobody will put you down or call you stupid.” (to your face or behind your back)
- “There are no dumb questions. Ask.” (because somebody else probably has the same question and is reluctant to speak up)
- “Brainstorming Rules apply!” (Have an idea? Put it out there for discussion, NO JUDGEMENT on YOU, we just analyze the idea.)
- KEY: As Scrum Master, you can say all this at the start of a new project and new team, but it needs to be modelled all the time and reinforced when necessary—by everybody. Anyone making snarky comments gets called out immediately—by the group, not just by the scrum master. Respectfully worded, as softly or directly as needed for that person to get the message. Reinforces the positive for everyone.
#2 Positive team culture. However you define it. What is it now? What would be better? Is it…
- Customer centric?
#3 Structure. For people and process. Both need it for the team to function well.
- Vision is understood (the Big Picture, Team raison d’etre)
- Work is well organized (the bits and pieces, a solid WBS)
- Communication is planned (at least some)
- Progress is apparent (however measured and monitored)
- Success is celebrated (regularly, for real!)
Yes, it’s change management and it’s as complicated as the code you write. And, it doesn’t happen over night. Check out Mike Cohn’s comments about initiating Agile process in an organization as the challenges he notes can remain long after the introduction.
And when all is said and done, isn’t it really pretty simple? It’s about RESPECT. For other people and their code.
Of course, Scrum Masters using ScrumMaster™ can avoid holding team meetings for sprint planning, daily status updates, and end of sprint retrospectives altogether. That’s one way to minimize uncomfortable team contact. But, getting to the source of the issues and dissolving old patterns holds far greater rewards.