5 Inefficient Communication Habits That Cause Waste

5-inefficient-communication-habits-that-cause-wasteIt’s not hard to believe, we have a tendency to waste a lot of time communicating whether it be through face-to-face, talking, texting, emailing, or chatting online. The problem with that is that everyone’s bad habits can get the best of you whether you like it or not. Have you ever gotten that email where you can’t decipher whether it was a request? some sort of prank? or yet something absolutely serious?

We all know the situation could be better, as many do in today’s day-to-day lifestyles, people claim they no longer have time for the simpler things in life, just relaxing or taking the time to do something truly for themselves. Below we’ve identified some of the bad habits that you may want to avoid, and for your own sake, be able to identify from other before you get pulled unnecessarily into someone else’s trap:

1. Putting “Quick Question” in the Email Subject Heading

The intent of someone who puts “Quick Question” in the subject heading of an email is certainly obvious: they have a need to resolve a question quickly. The problem is that the intent is a setup for one’s own need to get immediate gratification at the receiver’s expense. The question you have to ask yourself is how “quick” does a question need to be answered, and is it worth stopping what you are currently doing only to be distracted by someone else’s supposed “quick” needs. You may need to consider that there are times when someone’s need for a quick answer is valid i.e. a life-or-death emergency situation, but if you are seeing this type of email regularly coming from the same person, it indicates that they are certainly not taking their own time to get a little more organized. Then ask yourself this: Would you distract yourself from someone’s “quick” question, if they can’t get themselves organized? We are tempted to say “yes” if it was a situation where it was our customer, after all they are paying for it. Or are they? In the grand scheme of things you are doing both yourself and the customer a disservice. First, they will never learn how to organize themselves with prioritized efficiency, and second it will always be to your (and your company’s) demise as you keep your phone or emails rolling in for around-the-clock response times that weren’t necessarily part of the contract.

2. Calling With No Advance Warning About A Complex Question [something you couldn’t possibly have a quick answer to anyway]

We all know, receiving a call from someone in need is something urgent, should be taken seriously. However, you should be cautious about the intent of those who call others about a complex question that needs to be answered on the spot. The quick answer to that is “Can I call you back with the answer?” If they don’t want to give you the time to research and respond, then you know you may be facing issues about your response later on. The other way to prevent any misunderstandings is to ask that they send you a followup email outlining all issues in the question that needs to be addressed. Note, we are referring to a “complex” question. Failure to get this outlined in writing could present some issues down the road, as you run the risk of having to address “unmentioned” questions that they “thought” they asked you during the call.

3. Requesting Something That Could Easily Be Answered From An Online Search

Unfortunately, we all get this a little too often. In the age of Google, we still tend to get even those seemingly difficult (and more often simple) questions that can be easily answered by just looking it up online. As you may have guessed so far, we are referring mainly to the question “Can I answer this on my own?” Forcing someone (whether directly or indirectly) to answer a question that can so easily be answered is not only going to frustrate them, it could potentially cause you to not be taken seriously by peers. It could potentially create the “boy who cried wolf” scenario.

4. Sending Really Long Emails

Sometimes it’s necessary, but beware of the really long email. Unless you are sending out a newsletter or occasional email with reference to updates within your department, a really long email is what can cause many to just ignore right there and then, and for the next time around. We often forget that an email was meant to send a message, not a book… On this topic we are mainly concerned about quality not quantity. Many write their emails while restating the same issue many different ways throughout the body of the message. This only frustrates the reader while forcing them to read to get to the bottom of it, then only to notice they wasted more time reading it than it was worth. If you can’t get your message across in fewer words, then others may not see the point in reading your email. A good way to avoid this is re-read your message before sending it. If you find that you get bored or confused by your own email, consider that many others will certainly feel the same.

5. Sending Text Messages Even Though They Don’t Get An Immediate Response

The texting phenomena is at full stream. We all seem to do it, sometimes while driving, walking, or talking (if you do then STOP!!!). Let’s admit it, we all feel like it’s ok to text no matter what other activity is going on around us. The problem is that we don’t realize that we are creating a norm that we feel is ok, while many others (the silent majority), feel is inappropriate to do. Among these, is sending multiple consecutive messages to your peers while they may not be able to respond immediately, or better yet, they may not even see them by the end of the day. The last thing you want is having someone catching up with a backlog of messages, as the sender is rambling about something that couldn’t wait for input from the receiver in the first place. If that tends to be the case, a phone call may be a reasonably better alternative.

While the topics in the list above may seem obvious, there are many who don’t realize the auto-pilot mode that technology has all put us in. That is not to say that technology is bad. But what it does say is that we need to take it a lot more seriously, and more importantly we need to consider how we are affecting others in the process. If you are not taking your own habits (and time) seriously, you can’t expect others to do the same.

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How Osmotic Communication Uses The Subconscious

osmotic-communication-uses-the-subconsciousWhile the practice of agile requires a “Caves and Common” setup of teams, there is a reason for it. Mainly it’s to make sure communication is ongoing and regular. This requires a specific setup of office equipment and overall layout within the workplace. The “Caves” aspect refers to a place where some team members have the occasional place or space to work alone for a short or brief period of time, while “Common” is the area where most team members spend their time with the rest of their team for the majority of time in their day.

The Importance of Closeness Among Team Members

Agile practitioners would agree Osmotic communication takes place in most part within the “Common” space as everyone is communicating without barriers whereby conversations and discussions occur freely. The principle behind osmotic transmission and absorption of team members’ conversations implies that we acquire knowledge even if we are not an active participant in any particular conversation. Much like a song playing in the background, even if you don’t know the name of the song, if heard regularly over time, you may just be able to know the melody or lyrics without even trying to memorize them. How this actually is made possible is explained through the way our minds work on a subconscious level. It can be compared to a radio that is always on while the antenna is picking up frequencies at all times.

Much of what we do throughout the day, our daily routines, product purchases, learning habits, and inner thoughts are a result of our subconscious taking over very important aspects of our lives. Although it’s not easily explained, osmotic communication works on a highly metaphysical level. It provides a collective result, a lot of what teamwork provides only when they are in the same location, and not otherwise. This is mainly why the success of an agile team should not be given credit to any one particular member, but rather the collective effort of the entire team.

Osmotic Communication Effectiveness

The key idea behind making osmotic communication effective however, is that the communication should be within hearing distance of any or all team members on a regular basis. Without that, the knowledge sharing and subliminal absorption aspect gets chopped up. Using the radio frequency example, it’s similar to getting only some channels but not all, or a channel with a lot of static. This is how the subconscious mind works, it’s always on and absorbing without effort. It’s important when considering the physical team’s layout, especially in today’s work environment as many teams are known to be located remotely from each other, or with specific members working alone but connected online.

It’s no secret, a team that works together in the same physical space will communicate more efficiently either because of their added ability to listen in to each other’s conversations as well as read their body language. Compare this to a team whose majority of members are located remotely, there’s a big loss on the quality of communication. It becomes increasingly difficult to know if someone is actually being sarcastic or serious without having to see their facial expressions or body language. This is why conflict created among remote members for any particular team could escalate very quickly. They couldn’t possibly be (or become) an agile team with that factor to overcome.

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Agile Antipatterns: The Dangers of Groupthink

agile-antipatterns-dangers-groupthinkAs agile practitioners we are always looking out for the best interest of all stakeholders. We understand that the team is self-managing, self-organizing, self-(fill-in-the-blank…). Apart from being aware of the values and principles that make up the agile manifesto, we are also concerned that as human beings we have an unlimited propensity toward certain truths and abilities, but our ability to engage in antipatterns is somewhat limitless. Enter the antagonizing concept Groupthink. Notice it’s not spelled in 2 separate words or no hyphen to merit their joining. At first we may think there’s nothing to be concerned about this term, but with further investigation we realize that it’s not something you’d want for your agile team.

What is Groupthink?

Groupthink is defined as the consensus or directions that a group of people take when faced with a decision. It stems from anything on the fear spectrum such as intimidation, or even just plain indifference. When stemmed from intimidation, the minority members may feel like they would need to agree with the majority so they could “fit in” or avoid being reprimanded. The proponent of such actions don’t appear to be so much about “ego building” but rather about “saving face.”

What Are the Dangers of Groupthink?

Therein lies the dangers of antipatterns what we have on a day-to-day. The old adage “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” rings in. How this happens to some extent is not necessarily with that one decision made on a particular day or particular week, but actually many decisions over many weeks, months, or even years. According to the Psychologists for Social Responsibility, Groupthink brings about the following inherent symptoms:

  1. Illusion of invulnerability –Creates excessive optimism that encourages taking extreme risks.
  2. Collective rationalization – Members discount warnings and do not reconsider their assumptions.
  3. Belief in inherent morality – Members believe in the rightness of their cause and therefore ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions.
  4. Stereotyped views of out-groups – Negative views of “enemy” make effective responses to conflict seem unnecessary.
  5. Direct pressure on dissenters – Members are under pressure not to express arguments against any of the group’s views.
  6. Self-censorship – Doubts and deviations from the perceived group consensus are not expressed.
  7. Illusion of unanimity – The majority view and judgments are assumed to be unanimous.
  8. Self-appointed ‘mindguards’ – Members protect the group and the leader from information that is problematic or contradictory to the group’s cohesiveness, view, and/or decisions.

Does an Agile Mindset Prevent Groupthink?

Does removing a wrong statement from research make it right? This is the type of question we need to ask ourselves when we are on the path of continuous improvement. If we remove what is wrong in any environment, we could forget that it was identified later on. It is sort of like removing pages history from our past. We may likely repeat this behavior. Verbalizing would definitely be a start, either through a work-session, or by documenting it at some point. When something is verbalized by either an individual alone, or by a group of people, there is a process of recognition that builds concensus and buy-in. This is a very important of component of practicing with an agile mindset along with the concept of transparency. We need to be cognizant that we all know what we are agreeing to, or better yet we are not tricking ourselves to fit the ideals of our own personal agendas, principles or motives. We are looking at the bigger picture and are aware that we all collectively are deciding, committing, and taking the responsibility of those decisions. 

One of the most important elements in agile processes, commonly held in the Retrospectives, is that it helps promote the feedback loop and putting all cards on the table about the direction the team is taking. That is not to say that feedback does not occur in a daily standup, sprint demo, or sprint planning as well. The empirical processes of transparency should prevent Groupthink only to the extent that the team is willing to admit they are heading in the right direction, i.e. the team members could still all willingly pave the road to detriment if they so choose. But only difference would be that at least everyone knows they all agreed to it. When we have Groupthink, there is some obscurity about the true direction the team may be taking, in most cases transparency is intentionally hidden so that the issues and concerns will not likely come to light.

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6 Main Reasons Why You Must Identify Backlog Item Dependencies

6-main-reasons-must-identify-backlog-item-dependenciesWhen creating and grooming a backlog in an agile project, it may come as no surprise that there is a constant need to manage it throughout the product’s lifetime. Common expectations from those who come from the waterfall mindset, is that you would just set up a backlog and the rest should take care of itself. But as you will eventually find out, you must identify backlog item dependencies.

The reality is that the moment you create the first backlog item, metaphorically it becomes a living organism. Many may think that the most challenging part of the backlog item, would be to fully define and estimate it. It certainly is one the earliest challenges in the backlog definition phase. However, it is important to consider, that with each additional backlog item that is created, there is an increasing need to consider inter-dependencies between all items. Not a daunting task if your list is limited to 10 or 20 items, but what about a typical project where there are over 50, 100, or more items.

Without putting the carriage before the horse, it is important to consider those backlog item dependencies initially with a backlog roadmap. Then it is also necessary to make it an absolutely regular activity to take on when backlog grooming. Below we identify the many reasons why backlog item dependencies need to be identified and linked to their co-dependent items.

1. Reduced Overall Project Risk

One of the main reasons why projects fail, is that there is no planning or overview of a roadmap before starting. Certainly, an agile project will prevent most of that with the regular sprint iterations and planning that happens before each is ready to start. However, what we are referring to here is more about consideration of what needs to be built, the moving parts, before all pieces of software or product can be put together. As an example, you can work on the roof of a house long before the house is actually built, but you eventually need to know that you need to build the foundation and structure before you will get to the roof installation. Further to that, you would need to identify the structural specifications (dependencies) to know that the roof will fit when the time comes to finalizing the house.

2. Value-added Efficiencies in Process Workflow

When your project is in mid flight, the last thing you want to get stuck with is realizing you just randomly selected some backlog items that don’t make sense to be in the current sprint. In the worst of cases, you would likely just leave it out as part of the grooming process. But on the other end, you would want to avoid idle time mid-sprint realizing that there were a lot of items that could’ve, should’ve, or shouldn’t have been there to begin with.

3. Facilitation of Priorities

As you identify dependencies early on in the project, the priority of all backlog items naturally present themselves. Like a seemless puzzle being put together from top to bottom, relating backlog items to see if there are or aren’t dependencies is tedious at first, but it becomes easier to balance as the software or product is being built.

4. Early Elimination of Blockers and Time Wasted

On a day-to-day process, through scrums and standups, a well groomed backlog allows for all team members to avoid getting stuck on blockers. Some blockers are inevitable based on the circumstances of the development process. But there can easily be blockers present on some aspect that could have easily been prevented, i.e. environment availability for a developer who would like to commit their code. Some blockers can have workarounds, but inevitably, the longer it is blocked, the more likely there will be time waste later on.

5. Proactive Conflict Resolution within Teams

When the teams gets to see the benefits of dependency identification, they will go on to assure there is regular backlog grooming almost intuitively. Each member’s best interests will gear toward pro-activity so that there is the least amount of conflict. Further to this, the team will be better prepared to resolve conflict should there be at any point. This is mainly a result of “lessened” levels of conflict. 

6. Increased Morale within Teams

As a direct result of lessened conflict, there will be heightened synergy among teams. They will have a higher tendency to gel together and get along. Effectively, this will prevent turnover and burnout with members of the team. Low turnover means that the team stays intact over long periods of time, and they benefit from not only being at the performing stage of team synergy, but also from the experience of working together for long periods of time. This benefit is irreplaceable and highly valuable.

Keeping an up-to-date backlog certainly has it’s benefits, but as we can see, keeping specifications up to date is not necessarily all about updating scope or tasks, but also continuously identifying how they are all tied together.

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Agile Team Behavior: Kindness Is Not a Sign of Weakness

agile-team-behavior-kindness-not-sign-of-weaknessMany in today’s corporate working environment are encouraged to show signs of confidence, strength, and leadership. The problem arises when it’s said and not shown. Some people tend to make up their own definition of leadership, or take on roles from fictitious movies. Much like leadership, there are many types: tyrannical, autocratic, cross-cultural, or servant, etc.. As we can see there’s a lot someone can interpret as proper forms of character traits. Some might say that because someone likes to tell someone else what to do, that they have a strong sense of leadership. This is false, and is not necessarily the case as history will tell.

So when it comes to drawing conclusions about someone’s leadership style, the important factors to consider are the results they provide. Do they promote failure or success? Is that very person creating a lot of adversity? Sure sometimes adversity is healthy in working environments that require change or innovation. It builds up ideas and brainstorming on how to resolve problems. But otherwise, you may be staring down an inevitable rabbit-hole of high employee turnover in the workplace. For those who try to take the easy way out, the bullies, the power-mongers, they will likely search to find easy targets to blame or throw under the bus when things don’t go their way. With today’s widely diverse and geographically distributed workforces, this could also play out to be a recipe for disaster. Stating the obvious, there’s a big difference in cultures from one country to another across the world. Even-more-so, there are huge cultural gaps with neighboring countries that share the same border.

In previous articles we’ve advocated about the agile mindset, something that can be a bit of a culture shock for those who are new to agile especially. When a working environment with constant power struggles or command-and-control tactics, receive new members that are of the agile mindset, the newcomers may be perceived as passive, non-assertive, and weak. This may be the foremost biggest challenge to bringing a company culture to becoming agile, especially when agilists are outnumbered. With these perceptions there are inevitable easy outlets by those who don’t want things to change, and lead to dismissing agile implementation altogether.

This brings us to the “kindness as a sign of weakness” perception. Socially it is everywhere, the aggressors are always seen as the strong-minded, or heroic only to be hidden from the truth, when they are in fact bullies. So what does this mean for the humble, the kind, the polite, or more importantly the “professional?” When faced with such adversity, are they actually the ones with little or no confidence? When someone is kind to their fellow bully co-workers, this is not a weakness but a sign of perseverance, and by far it is the ultimate sign of confidence. Only a confident person can put up with the bully archetype, not be intimidated, and continue doing what they enjoy doing without the disruption of their weaker counterparts.

In much of today’s society, what keeps our minds at ease is to know that there is much more of the kind and humble, than there are those who are bullies. What is important for those in agile circles, is to make a sincere choice, if the workplace is filled with those who like to harp on those who are perceiving others who are kind and humble as easy and “weak” targets, make the choice to decide moving over to another workplace or company that appreciates you. Your strength will be appreciated in like-minded circles.

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Agile Culture: Stop Wasting Time On What Can’t Be Resolved

When attempting to make great accomplishments, we tend to look at issues in the workplace, or in everyday life as opportunities to be resolved. This may distract from solutions that are very obvious and perhaps more urgent or easy to resolve. You may have heard of the expression “low hanging fruit.” Typically you would hear this when tackling a new opportunity, or when there’s a clear advantage to achieving a milestone or accomplishment.

Where is Your Company Placing Importance in Their Culture?

Keeping your sights on what the top priorities are, will likely keep things lean and mean. But outside the obvious, we are also referring to what is not obvious. Circular discussions in meetings, persistent and unattainable targets that never get met, can definitely be a drain on time, resources and motivation. Some companies tend to place importance on resolving issues that can’t be resolved as the next step to a break-through. This could be fine if there’s nothing else to do, but as we may all realize, time and resources are usually restricted. In a few words, why concentrate on what you can’t do, when you can concentrate on what you can do? So much time gets wasted on the “can’t do” mentality, when it’s just a matter of approach that needs a switch or refinement. Yes, this may seem a little philosophical at the moment, but being agile does really place importance on what is being done and how to adapt new ideas and processes to what was previously done.

When a team gets stuck in anti-patterns like analysis paralysis, a stagnant state that is usually caused by concentrating on what can’t be done at the moment, is a direct result to over-analyzing beyond the knowledge, developments, or tools available today. So if your team collectively doesn’t have the knowledge or tools, the low hanging fruit may just be to concentrate on obtaining the very knowledge or tools that will get you to the next step.

Getting out of Anti-Pattern cycles

A common cause of what may create a stagnant environment is the thought that all members of a team have all the knowledge needed to resolve an issue. But again, this is more of a pretentious approach whereby everyone avoids the realization that some learning is required. The problem is, nobody tends to want to step up and be the one to say that they don’t know. This kind of attitude is usually shunned upon and seen as weakness in many companies. But what does it really mean to be “weak?” Is it admitting that you need to do some learning and getting right to learning? Or admitting that you know it all and that you can waste everyone’s time pretending that it can be done?

Learning is Not a Weakness

Ultimately, what we can observe in the situation above, is that company culture can affect the decisions and approaches that employees will take. It’s not about always taking the safe route, but allowing for mistakes to be made, and also not to perceive those who admit to needing more to learn as being the weak ones in the room. In fact, this is probably the reverse, those that need the most learning and admit to it, will actually be your strongest employees. These are your true pioneers, as they have the approach needed to admit failure in times when it’s necessary to take a bold new step to a break-through process, or discovery. The company culture will guide that behavior, so it is best to re-evaluate and adjust accordingly.

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Joining an Agile Team? Know Your Personality Type

joining-an-agile-team-know-your-personality-typeThere’s an interesting thing that happens when anyone joins a company, or a new project. The thought of an Agile Team Personality Type, its effects on team dynamics, and getting to a state of performance, gives another indication on how fast everyone will reach that state. Depending on the workplace culture, it is easily assumed that everyone joining or about to work on a project is going to be competent, knowledgeable and a contributing member of the team. This is sort of like a “honeymoon phase.” What we soon discover that this initial impression will eventually change, sometimes for the better, and possibly for the worse.

Why are Personality Type Considerations Important?

Human nature will indicate, most of us have a tendency to give the benefit of the doubt to a stranger at the very beginning of a relationship. After all if it was any other way, relationships would never exist. What we tend not to do, is think of our personalities with regard to others we are interacting with. Further to this, we don’t normally think of the other individual personalities with regard to their compatibilities to ourselves and to each other. The good news is that this one consideration can accelerate synergy and performance on many levels.

What Types of Personalities are There?

There are many theoretical personality types, some ranging from 4 (four temperaments) to 16 personality types (Myers-Briggs). Some debate on which are better, more accurate, or more thorough. Most individuals think that others are like themselves at the beginning of a relationship, after all, who do we know better than ourselves? They don’t think about personality types, for example, most will think “this person is more or less like me” until the relationship develops. Later on they think about the relationship as “this person is more or less like me, but (adding exceptions).” Eventually it ends up being “this person is not like me” or “this person is a lot like me.” This would be the natural progression. But it’s the long way. Thinking about personality types of others (and yourself) up front and early on in a group relationship will empower you to know what is the best or worst expectation to come out of a team member, either individually or as a whole.

Knowing Personalities: A First Step Toward Leadership

The irony in some projects is that we tend to get caught up in the risks that could prevent the project from being completed as per the budget, timeline, or scope, but it’s taboo to think of the risk of the varying personalities that are interacting in the project. Some are compatible, and others not. But what we should stop and think about is, what actually makes a project unbearable? Is it a team working together to overcome problems? Or a team complaining about who is responsible for those problems? Knowing why this is a tendency through personality types, can allow you to take a step back, be a leader, see things outside the box, and then make the necessary preventions and adjustments.

[Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]


5 Micro-Aggressions That Break Synergy in Agile Teams

5-micro-aggressions-break-synergy-agile-teamsAs we’ve revealed in a previous article How To Recognize Team Synergy in Agile Teams, a team builds up its stages of forming, storming, norming and performing over time. It is in every team-member’s best interests to keep the synergy in agile teams at a “performing” level in order to carry out the tasks and deliverables set out by the project stakeholders. But as one of Niven’s laws states “It is easier to destroy than to create.” With that we’ve identified some common Micro-Aggressions that can easily destroy the team dynamic that took so much time to build up.

Micro-Aggression as described by psychologytoday.com, are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.

Below are some examples of common micro-aggressions that you may find the workplace, and should take action to diffuse if they become increasingly used by team members. As you may notice there are many possible situations where dialog can take the form of joking, or sarcasm in a way that the target may even smile, laugh or shrug. However, given that these statements reinforce stereotype myths they can actually be considered as micro-aggressions to some degree:

1 – Saying someone is too much of another type of ethnicity to be the one they currently are a part of

This could be in reference to one’s physical skin color, dietary or cultural preferences, or sexual preferences. Similar expressions can also present themselves when someone tells another “I didn’t know that [someone of a certain ethnicity] would like a certain food or activity [from another ethnicity].”

2 – Over-complimenting someone because it was a surprise for someone of their gender, status or ethnicity

There may be instances when someone is given a promotion, or new assignment that someone else may have wanted. Similar situations can present themselves when someone of a certain gender takes on a position that the opposite gender would typically be “expected” to have. An example of what can be said in this type of situation is “who would have thought you’d make it to the Senior Director position after just being a Manager.”

3 – Recipient of confidential information is told that someone of their status or position would not typically receive it

This situation will typically present itself when someone in a senior-level or superior position tells someone who reports to them, that they were lucky to have that “secret” information, as someone at their “level” wouldn’t typically be a privileged recipient.

4 – Being told a seemingly positive remark in a sarcastic or ambiguously negative tone

There are numerous times throughout the day where team members may tell their colleagues short and seemingly positive remarks like “Good Luck!,” “That should be fun!,” or “Yay!.” As you may notice, those expressions can be said in a truly genuine positive light, but they can also be said in a totally opposite regard.

5 – Being asked the big question “What are you?”

This question is clearly ambiguous and takes the inquiry too far to be comfortable, and it presents an entire list of potential issues that can make the target feel inferior. The “what” is probably meant to probe the target’s ethnic background, but it can certainly be taken to ask about someone’s sexual preference, gender, or in some circles their social status. The point here is that the target can be taken to be inferior to the one asking the question.

When questions of a micro-aggressive nature are asked, it’s important to realize that the person asking the question may not realize they were being an aggressor to begin with. We all have a part to play in diffusing these types of micro-aggressions, starting with ourselves. This is to say that we all may fall into the trap of asking or partaking in a micro-aggressive statement and may not have realized, intentionally or not, that we may have made someone a target in the process. Reading up or talking about the topic in the workplace may be a good first start to identifying the appropriate types of dialog to have around teams with diverse backgrounds.

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The Values of Being Self-Made For Agile Learning

the-values-of-being-self-made-for-agile-learningYou can never lose if you are determined to learn. Having the will to learn empowers you to know what to do, even if it is eventually to find out what not to do. Agile learning experiences allow you to do just that. To put this simply, you typically have 2 paths to learn, you are either told what to do, or you find out for yourself through your own experience on what to do, i.e. trial and error. With the analogy of getting burned on the hot stove, you can be told it is hot and will burn you if you touch it, but you will never really know what that means if you’ve never been burned before. Being told relies heavily on someone else for your growth, but what happens when that other person is not there?

Why is Being “Self-Made” Important?

Give yourself the ultimate test, ask yourself if what you’ve accomplished at any stage in your life was because you were told (or expected) to do it, or you did it because you yourself were trying to determine what to do. One path removed power, the other empowered you. We tend to get distracted by true sources of power, namely money. We strive to gain monetarily, but what if someone was given that source of power, but didn’t know what to do with it? It would go to waste wouldn’t it? Placed in the hands of someone who can’t think for themselves, it could even be used to do harm. This is where the term “self-made” comes into play. There are certainly much higher value to be considered a self-made person since it solidifies and confirms that you have gained through personal choices and experiences. This also means that a self-made person gains the added toughness of dealing with failure without being able to blame others for it. This builds character and if overcome, creates innate abilities to succeed and make further attempts to make things right.

Being Part of a “Self-Made” Agile Team

The structure of the agile team is one that should rely on the concept of being “self-made.” Why? Because learning is at its peak when you have a sense of self-consciousness. You are aware, you know that what you know is not enough. We tend to look at knowledge as finite, i.e. you took the course or made the grade so now you know everything there is to know about the subject. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. This is in part what many in the workplace dislike about those who claim they know everything. A team runs much more smoothly when the stage is set that they are all in in it to learn together and if they persist unconditionally, without pointing fingers and with compassion, there is a very high likelihood that they will succeed.

Wanting to Experience: The Key to Learning

When a group of people are proud of their greatest moments, they will likely stick together for the long run. Some may see learning experiences as a stepping stone to other new ways to learn, and others see it as a one step to being complacent. However if there is one factor that is certain from successful people is that despite all the experience they have, they refuse to stop experiencing and learning. This creates efforts that other like-minded individuals can be drawn into, and the learning cycle continues. The roles of the Agile team are there for a purpose, servant leadership being a huge part of it. We all think that the Scrum Master is the only one practicing that type of leadership, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. Remember that the Scrum Master is not just a role, but also a role model, so it should not be left to one person to display specific and/or positive behaviors. Admittedly, it takes good synergy and team development before you get to a point of comfort and working efficiency within teams, but it is attainable and the benefits can be realized.

In order to get started with your learning path, ask one simple question “why?”. There’s a reason why children at an early age ask that question incessantly, as humans we are wired at an early age to want to learn, but then socialized into a system where we tend to stop. Go through your list of personal “why’s” and you may notice for yourself that there is something you may not have realized is stopping you from learning.

[Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]


 

 

5 Important Agile Interview Questions

5-important-agile-interview-questionsIf you are looking to recruit someone new in your company whether it’s for a new Agile implementation, or to replace someone who left, it’s important to get specific Agile interview questions asked up front during the recruitment and selection process.

Below we’ve outlined some basic yet relevant questions that you can ask a potential candidate, and gauge whether or not they are going to be a good fit for your department, team, or organization. That is not to say that your candidate should answer all of them correctly to be considered the perfect member to add to your team, but they should be within some level of understanding on why these questions are being asked.

1 – What does Agile mean to you?

For this question,  you should be looking for closely related Agile principles and values. It’s important to see how close your candidate can get to mentioning and explaining those values of:

A. Check whether your candidate is referring to how they like to interact in groups, looking to share ideas and solutions while promoting team building and servant leadership. If they tend to emphasize the processes and tools, this might not be such a bad thing but you should try to steer them into more group dynamic and group transparency based topics. If they don’t respond or get sidetracked to following orders and making sure everyone in their surrounding work environment must conform to process, this might be a less suitable candidate. However this is not the only basis on which to make your decision.

B. Many who try to impress in an interview, tend to throw ideas out of which documentation they would create and use throughout an agile project. It’s important to see if your candidate sees the value of delivering a working product. If they are the type of person that is trying to make sure everything works around the product except for the actual delivery of the product as necessary, it’s important to see if they are making this distinction.

C. If your candidate is more concerned about how many contracts they can get out of the customer, they might not understand the importance of the other aspect of Agile values which is to try to gain as much customer collaboration as possible. You wouldn’t want interactions with the client to be about how to draft a new contract every step of the way. Remember it’s the soft stuff (people skills) that’s the hard stuff, so your candidate should be able to demonstrate how they are able to engage the customer into problem solving discussions and come to mutually beneficial agreements.

D. If your candidate seems to be more concerned about project plans and gantt charts, they may be stuck in a waterfall mindset. These plans in an Agile setting are a distraction to actually executing the process of developing actual product. For this you should be trying to see if your candidate is looking solely to write-up a plan and make sure everyone follows it (command-and-control) vs. being able to point out the inherent importance of having a team self-manage and create a product based on prioritized features that a market is ruling as important for ROI.

2 – What types of Agile processes have you implemented before?

With this question, you should be able to get the candidate to point out if they’ve actually implemented Agile methodologies whether they are Scrum, XP, Lean, etc.. Key words that you can look for are those found from the beginning to end of the cycles. Words like Sprint Planning, Kanban Board, Burndown Charts, Retrospectives, etc.. You should be able to check and see whether they have an understanding of the ceremonies and events that occur through iterative cycles. More importantly, they should be able to point out why those processes exist and how they fit together to make a fully Agile environment possible.

3 – What is your idea of an Agile mindset?

The character and personality of your candidate fundamentally must be a good match to the agile mindset if they are to practice Agile. Common sense, right? however you might come across some who think they know what it means to be Agile but portray a completely different mindset. You may want to have a look at our other related articles that shed some light on what qualities an Agile Mindset has (or does not):

4 – How often must Agile be practiced during a project?

The answer to this one is simple: at ALL times! If your candidate starts to mention which aspects of agile should or shouldn’t be implemented, as if to compare switching it on or off like a light switch, this person may not actually understand the importance of synergies built over time through agile principles. This question is best answered in a holistic overall “outside the box” sense. Agility is not to be pulled apart and peeled only for certain parts and principles. This leads us to our next question.

5 – Can Agile be tailored?

This is a very important question as the candidate should be able to read between the lines. In practice it’s well-known that you should not be tailoring Agile right from the start unless you have many years of Agile experience. Many of the reasons why Agile fails, is because it is tailored to fit another mold, i.e. trying to fit Agile into Waterfall, and this is where false beliefs about the effectiveness of agile come in to play. Your candidate should be able to respond with a “yes, but…” type of answer. From there they should be able to point out that tailoring is not ideal, and that it would take place perhaps after multiple iterations and sprints, where the agile team notices certain events or processes that aren’t working well for them. This would usually be coming from the Sprint Retrospectives and observed in each successive retrospective to see whether they’re continuously improving or not. This makes the tailoring process more safe and tuned to the team’s needs.

[Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]


 

Agile Coaching and Mentoring – Wisdom Explained

If you’ve heard of situations where the “student becomes the master” and “the student becomes the teacher,” you might be asking yourself exactly what does that mean. Most think there is a distinct difference between the role of a teacher or master to that of a student. If there is one thing to consider is that they certainly cannot exist without each other. The main distinction behind how a student becomes the master is usually by the amount of practice the student had, and how he or she may then stand when compared to their own master when it comes to wisdom. This is also what happens in agile coaching and mentoring toward the agile team relationship.

Coaching and Mentoring – What is the difference?

agile-coaching-and-mentoring-wisdom-explainedMany consider the role of a business coach to be a mentor, and vice versa. A coach’s role is diverse and really depends on the background of the individual. Some might have specialized industry knowledge and experience in which they are taking part, but others might have process and/or procedural experience from a more diverse or general industry background. There’s no better or worse when it comes to those differences, however where there is a more distinct ability in question as to how much that individual analyzes, learns and gives back to those they interact with. That being said, an agile coach can be a mentor, and an agile mentor can be a coach. The difference there is how much time, dedication, and direction that takes place between the mentor and mentee, or coach and coachee. The mentor role might be better suited when the role is specific, i.e. a mentor for a developer is usually best suited when the mentee is also a developer. In agile circles, those lines are somewhat blurred and most of the agile coach role is taken on by the Scrum Master role. The agile business coach however, can be a separate role and is just as important as any other role.

When is the Coach a Student?

Remember when you were a student in class back in school, college or university? You were always thinking about how the teacher, separated by many years of knowledge, would always be the prime source of information, direction, authority, etc., on the class subject. We had the distinct notion that the teacher had taken on the role of the “all-knowing” in the classroom. But what we need to realize is that the teacher was also in an environment where they too were learning, and looking for answers themselves. Certainly many teachers had many styles, some better than others. Do you remember what made the great ones great? and the not-so-great ones not so great? What you may have realized is the level of involvement but also the level of in-depth conversation with the students. You may notice that the teacher although being a source of information and specialization expertise, was immersed in getting to know why their students thought the way they thought. They were learning too! This is very much the same way an agile coach and mentor would be with the agile working team and its members. The coach, just like the teacher, is also being a student to some extent. Why? Because they are in a state of constant learning, despite their high level of knowledge.

How Does Knowledge Transfer into Wisdom?

While in the student vs. teacher scenario, we can see that the student is the one always looking to prove their knowledge to their peers and teacher in a classroom. Many students might be motivated to attain a certain grade and use their knowledge to show everyone just how much they know. Wisdom comes when there’s a higher sense self-motivation, self-control and knowing when to use the knowledge, not just to get the grade, but also when to use the knowledge in and outside of the classroom. This also goes hand-in-hand with knowing that despite having increased levels of knowledge, nobody can ever know enough. This is the true turning point on wisdom. Much like power, it’s not about using power at all times, but when to use it that brings a better sense of refinement to any situation.

Creating Genuine Purpose to an Agile Coaching Philosophy

For those who become ambitious in their line of work, whether in agile team roles or not, there has to be purpose and thought to the “why” in their role. When ambition is driven by getting to the top of the ladder for popularity or for a sense of superiority, there is true lack of wisdom. The difference happens, as an agile mindset will show, when one’s purpose is to share with others. Much like a coach or mentor, they should not aim to become one just for the title, as someone in a highly regarded role that gains a lot of attention from all stakeholders in an agile organization.

[Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]


 

5 Signs Your Agile Team Roles Might Be Falling Behind

After a couple of weeks, your team has undergone a couple of sprints. As an agile coach, scrum master, or team member you start to wonder if there are any signs that the agile team roles are performing up to par, or better yet, if there are tell-tale signs that your team is likely to under-perform in the long run.

Below are some distinct signs that you need to look out for:

1 – Velocity is fluctuating and unpredictable

The point behind tracking and managing velocity is to expect that eventually the velocity will stabilize at some point. This will go hand-in-hand with being able to make decisions on how many remaining sprints can be used to eventually complete the prioritized items in the product backlog, or how many points will be used for planning the subsequent sprints. If the team members are being pulled in and out of external assignments or multitasking on multiple projects, it would be expected that velocity is not going to stabilize any time soon. This type of issue can be rectified if the scrum master role or agile business coach point out to team members that they should remain exclusive to the one project being measured.

2 – Scrum and standup durations go off topic and outside timebox period

In many circumstances, we tend to go off topic on meetings where the members involved lose sight of the purpose or agenda of the call. If everyone is stuck on trying to resolve an issue on the scrum or standup, there needs to be a clear signal to all, “make a note of the issue,” and the respective members close to the issue can work together to help resolve it after the meeting. As a self-organizing team, all members should eventually realize that the scrum/standup meeting is not about problem solving, nor is it entirely about status. Some agile practitioners do not realize that the meeting ultimately is about commitment to the team. The update comes when saying what was done yesterday, but what will be done today, given there are no blockers, is the commitment. Beyond that, there should not be any reason why a scrum/standup would take so long.

3 – Overly dependent on fill-in roles

5-signs-agile-team-roles-might-be-falling-behindThis issue comes with improper planning, lack of agile training, or missing skills assessments. It becomes a very awkward situation when large gaps in skill sets occur in the project. This may also be a result of disengaged stakeholders that may have misrepresented their requirements early on. The main idea behind having a self-organizing team is to be sure they can cover each other’s skill gaps in a general sense, but if there are huge gaps, i.e. there’s nobody with agile business analyst capabilities, and project requires one, there certainly needs to be a discussion around why that position isn’t filled right from the start. Other issues start when agile team members are partially assigned to another project at some point mid-flight in the project. As an example, if a Product Owner is not fully engaged, the backlog ordering and prioritization will suffer. This may put a strain on the entire team to fill in for. Since the Product Owner is the one who knows the business values of the features to be ordered in priority, it’s not necessarily an easy gap to fill. Someone needs to step in and take over that role on a full-time basis so that the backlog is groomed effectively and with the expectations of the stakeholders.

4 – Loss of transparency and hidden agendas

There may be instances when some members are no longer motivated, perhaps because of personality incompatibilities, or superiority complexes. Obtaining an agile mindset is not easily achieved by everyone, but there are some that fall back into command-and-control mode, or don’t feel  the need to attend agile courses. In doing so, this may bring about the sense that some team members are trying to “one-up” the other by keeping information hidden from others until the last possible minute, and catching everyone by surprise. Nobody would want to find out toward the end of the sprint that a particular feature can not be implemented, if that information was actually known at the beginning.

5 – Repeated anti-patterns that were identified in Retrospectives

As you come to the end of a sprint, the team’s opportunity to provide continuous improvement feedback is driven in most part by the retrospective session. This allows everyone to identify what they did that went well, and didn’t go so well. Further to this, there are categories of instances that should be identified as what to “continue doing,” “stop doing,” and “start doing.” As you might guess, the hardest part to do out of those three instances is the “stop doing.” We can see even in our present lives, that habits are hard to break, and in most cases we like to keep the good ones, but really try hard to get rid of the bad ones. Over time it may be normal to see that certain bad habits within the agile team continue through multiple sprints, however if you’ve reached past your third or fourth sprint with the same habits continuing forward, there may need to be some further process analysis to zoom into why these ineffective workflow processes or habits have not been extinguished. A simple and fast way to get to the root of most issues, is through activities such as asking the “5 Whys” or drawing (and populating) a Fishbone Diagram.

What to Expect From the Team

The agile working team is one that learns and innovates over time. If everyone is there only to keep up with the status quo, the team will inevitably under-perform, too many negative issues will be left unresolved while leaving no time to address value-added tasks. The team should be engaged right from the start, with ample opportunity for buy-in from each member. If there are doubts being raised early in the game, that might be normal, but keeping those doubts on the radar, and perhaps even asking the product owner to add them to a risk-adjusted backlog (no matter how ridiculous they may seem) can provide some great benefits over time.

[Image courtesy of iosphere at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]


Bringing Continuous Improvement to Project Methodologies

To those who have never seen agile at work, it would seem a bit odd to think of implementing it at first. Most people would see the vast levels of acceptance while bringing continuous improvement to project methodologies and think it was literally impossible to put into practice. But that is exactly what Agile is, practice. We live in an imperfect world, but we also have come to the belief that “practice makes perfect.” We’re not sure if that expression became so popular because it rolled off the tongue so well, or because practice really does make things perfect.

Perfection is unattainable, but reaching perfection is attainable. Typically when we’re practicing anything whether it be a sport, hobby, or process, we come to realize that we have a tendency to do it better and better every time we do it. Upon completion we use expressions like “note to self” in order to be sure we don’t make the same mistake again the next time. Or vice versa, we make sure we try another approach that is slightly different. It is exactly this line of thinking that fuels innovation. Much in the same way, this is how Agile project methodologies became what they are, bringing speed, synergy, and continuous improvement through regular practice.

Why Tailoring Agile Impulsively is Not Recommended

bringing-continuous-improvement-to-project-methodologiesAs some will find out eventually, we will not likely have a truly perfect product by the end of the first sprint, and there probably will be some revisiting or refactoring later on. However, with the use of multiple sprints, the team is aware that there will be goals to practice constant improvement of the existing processes along with a learning curve with each iteration. Whether it be the result of bug-fixing, improved design, or better material for a longer lasting product, it is that very system of agile project methodologies that allows increments to be built upon with regular feedback. As an example we can refer to the much ignored and under-practiced Sprint Retrospective. As there might be a sense of time limitations, to get things closed off and ready for delivery at the end of a sprint, some teams and stakeholders will make the sacrifice of skipping the retrospective to do what is thought to be more productive completion work. This is in fact a huge sacrifice, since the habit of skipping the retrospective in itself will wipe out the need or perceived need to do one for any future sprint.

An instated workflow process that does not leave time for a feedback loop, will likely leave one out for all future workflows. When this happens, danger presides and can only be undone when someone with a persistent agile mindset (likely an agile business coach or scrum master role) attempts to inform everyone that it needs to be added in. As you will likely notice, the “swimming against the stream” effect will come into play. It will be met with much resistance to change as we know most groups are prone to. It also will be met with much discouragement and heartfelt and time-wasting debate since there will be many who will be on both sides of the fence.

Setting the Record Straight

This makes the point, agile project methodologies, principles, and mindset are in place to function like an entire working organism, the events that are meant to take place are much more effective when they are all in plugged in. If they are removed or tailored, there has to be a highly experienced agile working team with an experienced agile coach that could pin point the possible downfalls of removing any aspect. Further to this, the highly experienced team would need to come to the agreement that if the foreseeable pitfalls were to occur, the missing pieces will be added back in, and with certainty of knowing that the pitfalls are being caused by the tailoring process itself, much like “trial and error” in experimentation. If the agile team roles are made up of fully inexperienced members, therein will be the ultimate risk and error just waiting to happen at which point there is no easy return even with agile training courses. This is where the self-fulfilling prophecy will come into place whereby naysayers will state that agile doesn’t work in the form of the much dreaded “we told you so.” Continuous improvement has a lot to do with accepting change. When sprints are completed and done properly over time and with additional coaching and mentoring, it becomes much more effective and seamlessly risk-free so that changes become more acceptable.

[Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]


 

How to Manage Epics as an Agile Tool in Planning

how-to-manage-epics-as-an-agile-tool-in-planningAs part of a large project, you may have a complex product to develop. Whether for intangible (software, games) or tangible (hardware, electronics), there is a need to structure your backlog by level of complexity and size. Although we typically do not go so far as creating Epics in all agile instances, they can prove to be a handy agile tool if created and used in an organized fashion.

The idea behind Epics are to create a sense of commonality between multiple user stories. It is important at this stage to be sure your agile team members are not using the terms for Epics interchangeably with other terms that could drive confusion in day-to-day communication. But along with this defined approach, all team roles (product owners, business analysts, scrum masters, developers, etc) should think of Epics structures and how they will be used going forward. Here we look at Epic examples in hierarchies for Features, Themes or Requirements.

Features in Epic Hierarchies

One way to look at an Epic is to identify it as the high-level feature. As an example we are referring to the physical features of a landing page on a website. It would have a header, footer, content, images, media, etc. With that you can further breakdown the characteristics with user stories, and then tasks to look like the following:

Epic(Feature) —> User Story —> Task(s)
Example: Header —> As user, I would be able to use a search bar to search the site content… —> Investigate Search Bar functionality

Themes in Epic Hierarchies

Epic —> Theme —> User Story —> Task(s)
Example: Landing Page —> Page Structure —-> As a user, I would see 3 columns… —> Create left column, Create right column, Create center column

Requirements in Epic Hierarchies

If you were developing a series of websites for instance, you would need to repeat a set of requirements for each website. In this case you would likely re-use the requirements as you start each website, and then vary those features. The following example would facilitate re-use of the requirements from one website to the next.

Epic(Requirement) —> Feature —> User Story —> Task(s)
Example: Website Landing Page —> Website Page Navigation —> As a user, I will be able to navigate to all site pages from the landing page… —> Create Navigation Bar

There is no definite way to use Epics, these are simply examples. The variations can be infinite and can vary from team to team, project to project, or product to product. But as we know that Epics are typically large user stories, and represent a level above the user story. One thing that needs to remain stable is that the agile team must agree to structure that makes sense for them.

Using Epics to Stay Organized

Using Epics as an agile tool to organize the stories, can enable easier overview of the different product components (features/requirements/themes). As the sprint backlog can list tasks to be developed by multiple agile working teams on different features at the same time, the overview of each Epic can help the Product Owner prioritize stories and interlinking dependencies with each other.

Another useful setup that helps in the structuring of swimlanes for your Sprint/Kankan boards is to have them created according to your Epics. This makes the horizontal divisions clear on the common groupings. It also adds another dimension to manage on your board, but it certainly would be helpful in larger sized projects.

The most important part in creating structures, is to keep it simple. If there is too much team discussion and confusion where everyone is lost in managing the structure, it means that it’s not simple or clear enough. Of course, if all else fails, keep in mind that Epics are not essential. If your team doesn’t see a need for them to exist in your agile product management scheme, just leave them out, as they might not be required due to your project not being as large or complex as originally thought.

[Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]


5 Ways an Agile Coaching Philosophy Enables Agile Teams

5 Ways an Agile Coaching Philosophy Enables Teams to BE AgileAdopting an agile coaching and mentoring philosophy for your team can be very beneficial. Most believe that all that is needed to keep the agile team in good shape, is with the scrum master role. This may be the case sometimes, however the agile coach brings about much more than what the scrum master can do. This also applies more to larger scale teams where there are many scrum teams, and their respective scrum masters. The agile coach can take on the role of scrum master of scrum masters, but generally they can represent the organizational coach and mentor with the agile mindset. The title in most cases is not important, but the role itself is relevant to take on the following ways to inspire their teams.

1 – Showing the team how to be open

Many teams whether in their beginning forming or norming stage will need to build on their openness throughout their communication process. The agile coach would be there to explain and show the benefits of being truthful and communicating openly, without hidden agendas. Also they can help build on agile team roles that might be lacking direction or depth. Occasionally some roles haven been taken on without necessarily knowing the full extent that role may need to contribute. The agile coach can provide this additional support to getting those particular team members to acquire communication skills, and the benefits thereof, to their fullest potential.

2 – Modelling what it means give and earn respect

There is an old saying that “respect can not be bought, it must be earned.” This is saying rings true in all levels of an organization. The agile coach knows that they can’t go around asking that everyone respect each other, but they know that with proper demonstration of leadership, others within the team will get to see from the agile coach how the proper use of communication and demeanor truly benefits everyone through the interactions with the teams. By earning respect from their peers, not just by title, but actual use of meetings and personal interaction.

3 – Bringing out special talents of each team member

It is very likely that peers within a team will compliment each other on the great achievements they’ve accomplished. The agile coach however, can make note of skills and talents that each individual will have. Being able to reach out to those looking for continuous development, the agile coach can provide mentoring sessions and guidance. The agile coach may also be able to set up agile games that promote deeper learning for the team, as well as agile training courses specific to each role or situation.

4 – Optimizing team performance

When the team has reached its top performance and velocity is steady, the agile coach can look to make sure the dynamics of the teams are protected. By that, it means that despite any change within the teams, the agile coach can identify if there is a good fit for the current team if someone leaves or joins. Also, where there is concern for self-organizing capabilities, the agile coach can explain how everyone can take on challenges and decisions on their own. This can be done by story-telling or giving real examples of how top performing teams have accomplished similar accomplishments.

5 – Keeping a positive outlook in the face of failure

Inevitably with all new developments and innovations that team attains, there is a likelihood of failure and disappointment. In those instances, the agile coach should be able to reach out to the agile working team and explain that it is normal and acceptable. The other important aspect that the coach will do is keep the team’s spirits up despite that. True team building comes with being able to show that everyone can get back up and do better the next time. Regardless of the number of times failure may occur in their agile solutions, the team can learn that it will be able to accomplish a lot more by not complaining or worrying about the past.

As we can see, the adoption of an agile coaching philosophy can facilitate many of the organizational aspects that we take for granted. Some of the points raised above may happen on their own, or may even be forced. Having an agile coach on your side is a choice, but when it comes to company values to keep their teams in top shape, wouldn’t you rather have someone there to give proper encouragement that teams need when looking for guidance?

[Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]


10 Signs of Unsound Agile Individuals

Top 10 Signs of Unsound Agile IndividualsYou may not always notice at first, but you may come across certain individuals within agile product management circles who although they may consider themselves practicing agile principles, may in fact not be.

Here are a couple of tell-tale signs on how to identify unsound agile individuals, or get some indication that someone isn’t grasping agile as it is meant to be:

1 – They use the term agile to refer to a process

You may see this one as the most common. Where the fact that their development cycles involve the use of sprints, they interpret this as being agile. This is one of the most common reasons why misinformed management see agile as ineffective. Most software development managers and their teams will take certain aspects of agile, mainly in the form of an agile tool, and then try to explain to management that they are doing things in an agile project methodology. Due to the lack of overall understanding of what agile is, this inevitably leads to failure, and the creates the misconception.

2 – They say agile for Kanban/Scrum/XP/Lean Interchangeably

Rather than referring to the synthesis of methods, processes, practices, principles and ideologies of agile solutions, some individuals seem to identify with only one agile practice, i.e. being knowledgeable in Scrum, they speak in terms of Scrum in itself as what it means to be agile. Certainly practicing scrum would be a step in the right direction, but it’s not all there is.

3 – They have a command-and-control approach to management

When someone uses their work title as the only form of authorization and direction to make decisions, you will inevitably see lack of innovation and creativity from the teams they were meant to lead. Micromanaging is counter-intuitive to the servant-leadership approach that agile promotes.

4 – They would rather work alone

You may notice those that like to just do things on their own, and see it at the most effective way to get things done. Agile is not accomplished in a bubble and it requires the full spectrum of agile team roles and the synergy that it provides.

5 – They prefer low-effective forms of communication

If the person you are speaking to prefers regular use of emails, texts, and IMs as their principle forms of communication it will short change the entire chain of communication. The reason for this is that most of those messages lose the original intent they are meant to convey. When we consider that 7% of all communication is words, 55% visual, and 38% vocal, we can see that there are some serious limitations to just communicating in a written form.

6 – They think that agile alone guarantees project success

This comes from many misconceptions, but mainly it principally comes from limited depth in understanding how to become agile. Some people like to throw around agile as a plan for success because they read about it in an article, when in fact they do not realize that using it as a “buzzword” for a solution does not mean there would be the proper steps taken to succeed.

7 – They expect others to “do-as-they-say”, not “do-as-they-do”

This is similar to command and control, but goes beyond structure. We are referring principally to when you have someone who likes to do things contrary to what they’ve recommended or said. Also where they tend to see a sense of impunity, bullying and envy among teammates is along the same lines of where someone has lost the grasp of what it means to be a part of an agile working team.

8 – They do a lot of talking and not enough listening

When you see that someone is regularly the only one talking or interrupting in a conversation, this means they are likely unable or unwilling to be active listeners. This likely could be interpreted to mean that they don’t value your opinion and would rather be in a position of influence rather than compromise or collaboration. This is not to be confused with active participation. If someone is asking relevant questions they are likely listening very closely and want to hear more about what others have to offer in the conversation.

9 – They judge unsparingly

We’ve all heard of tough love, but when you have someone who persistently rants and gives negative, unconstructive criticism it puts a halt on all team synergy. Nobody wants to contribute in an environment where they will be judged.

10 – They have low EI (Emotional Intelligence)

Many people are stuck on having the most knowledge, the most expertise, the most qualifications. All of that means nothing if you do not have a personable way to approach those you interact with. For someone having a low EI means that there’s a lack in ability to distinguish between their own emotions and those of others. This makes communication and trust (among other things), very hard to accomplish. In the presence of someone with low EI, most will interpret that person’s actions as being negligent, narcissistic, arrogant, or unsympathetic.

Giving these examples will hopefully shed some light on the types of signs where others who would likely present themselves as agile mindset individuals. This is not to be used as a means to single out those types of individuals to be banned from such teams, however we do encourage regular agile coaching, training, and courses to help educate them about the impact they take on their overall environment. It is difficult to find people knowledgeable in all areas of agile, as most pick their area of comfort and become highly skilled practitioners in their specific area of expertise.

[Image courtesy of iosphere at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]


Top 5 Ways Agile Mitigates Risk

Top 5 Ways Agile Mitigates RiskIf you’ve ever been on the project from hell, you may be able to relate to the resulting extra costs, lost time, excess waste and lost customer satisfaction. Implementing agile properly can help reduce the occurrence of such shortcomings. The beauty of agile is that it is already tailored to reduce risk and therefore increase the value of the product being developed whether in a manufacturing or software environment.

Parts of an agile framework that promote risk mitigation

1 – Sprint Durations: We all know that the agile framework is founded on sprints and multiple iterations. We can tailor those sprint durations from 2 to 4 weeks once we complete the agile release planning. Is your project likely to be high in risk? Try reducing the duration of your sprint to the lower end of the range. The reason for this is that you are building in more frequent cycles for each of your deliverable features. Further to this, you get to revisit your planning cycle more frequently and determine the accuracy of your agile team velocity in less time, making it more predictable and therefore reducing risk over time.

2 – Retrospectives: At the end of each sprint you are meant to go over all the events and processes that went well and not so well. You then carry these results forward in to your next sprint as your “lessons learned.” Since you will be doing this for each sprint, the frequency of those retrospectives gives everyone on your team the opportunity to tackle ineffective processes, and the chance to implement more effective ones. This reduces your risk of being wide open to possible wasted initiatives.

3 – Backlog Grooming: The ongoing process of backlog grooming for your Product and Sprint backlog allows the possibility of revising and reviewing the priority and importance of the features your team will build into each iteration. This is primarily the Product Owner’s responsibility, but it is supposed to be done in conjunction with the inputs from the rest of the agile team roles and stakeholders. The more frequent the backlog grooming takes place, the more you are able to reduce the risk of ROI loss by not implementing lesser valued features, and implementing immediate returns from your agile solution.

4 – Promoting Transparency: When all stakeholders are engaged in a project, and being at the utmost expression of their intents and expectations, there is less risk for all team members to go off track and building an unwanted set of deliverables. Much of the transparency comes from what is gathered through the accumulation of the events that take place during the sprint such as: Sprint Planning, Standups, Sprint Reviews and Retrospectives. Each of them allows everyone in the agile team to know exactly what is going on and the risk of delivering anything less than what all stakeholders expected is lowered.

5 – Frequent Deliveries and Sprint Reviews: When we get to the end of each sprint it typically represents a similar implementation as one project management life cycle at a smaller scale. The development team is expected to deliver all backlog items that have reached their definition of “done.” Since all backlog items that were completed and demonstrated are added on to the existing product, there is no underlying wondering on how or what the finished product will look like. It is delivered at the end of each sprint, whether as the initial product deliverable or the increment of that initial product with additional features. Since we do this frequently on agile projects, the risk of wasted features is reduced once the product is delivered. Customers get instant gratification since they will get to use the product immediately.

Most risks can be avoided, as much as the agile framework will help prevent them from manifesting. The points to consider then making sure that the risks remain at bay, are to make sure that stakeholders are engaged to the greatest extent possible. It is imperative that the stakeholders involved are genuine and without hidden agendas. This would allow for quick turnaround to address risks and issues presented.

[Image courtesy of jscreationzs at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]


 

How Servant Leadership Increases Agile Team Productivity

Did you ever give a very clean concise explanation to someone who was as asking very general question? You did this with the best of intentions so that you could share your knowledge and hope that the answer to the question was helpful. It probably was, but what you realized then, the only definition of the topic that the person will use at all times was the one you just gave them – without discovering for themselves what the many areas that topic may hold.

It’s not always about what to say, but mainly what not to say

how-servant-leadership-increases-agile-team-productivityAs servant leaders in agile teams, regardless of our the project methodology as waterfall vs agile, we need to identify where there is that fine line between giving finite information vs opening up the level of discovery on that topic by giving just enough to get interests elevated so that your team or individual members will continue to learn about that topic. No doubt, there are many modes of discovery for people in agile team roles. It’s human nature to stop learning when we think that we know all there is to know. Sometimes we feel as though, whatever our leaders or agile business coaches tell us, is all there is to know. This is where there are fine lines that servant leaders might cross. If you appear to be the only source of information in the eyes of your agile working team, you will always be that source and you will not be doing your team members any service. This will prevent your team from becoming self-organized.

Leaving the mindset of absolute control and absolute direction

It is important to realize that there are ways to keep someone on the path to staying innovative and productive. Mainly as servant leaders you need to keep your answers short but provide enough indication that there are multiple relevant sources of information. Certainly this comes with time, you need to somehow be a subject matter expert, or at least have access to some. But the main idea is how to keep the communication clear and give just enough to fuel the need to know more and more, and on a regular basis. The other side to this is to make sure there is no judgement when failure is imminent. We need to see failure as one of the ways we learn. The important part about seeing where the current path is leading to, is not to give too much information where you become the point of reference to each step. It’s easy to follow steps and that is where you may stagnate the innovative mind to just want to follow instead of taking the initiative.

Inspiring has a greater impact than informing

Whether providing agile consulting as agile servant leaders or as agile business coaches, there is greater benefit to being increasingly aware of what some of the side effects of our leadership and communication style may be. It’s fun to give information and know that it’s appreciated. However, if responding usually in the form of a question (i.e. what do you think would resolve this issue? or what issues do you notice come up frequently and why?), you may get your team to think self-sufficiently and get thinking on how to progress with much more impacting results. This will promote the need to attend more agile courses, or better yet create a system of agile games that enables issue resolution. Do not limit the amount of information you can provide, but give just enough and think along lines of quality, not quantity of the information. See it as planting a seed. The growing of the plant grows best on its own while giving it right amounts of soil, sun and water at different times. This is the best way to ensure its growth. It will grow without the expectation that you will need to pull on the stem to expect quicker and faster growth.

[Image courtesy of ratch0013 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]


Sharing is Caring – Why Transparency is Necessary in Agile Teams

In agile consulting there is much emphasis on having all parts of the agile team working together in the same direction, that even when there is conflict, it is mainly constructive. With that we tend to give rise to quick failure only to give a quicker solution so that progress continues. When all parts don’t communicate and hold back, the system falls apart. An agile working team is based on the principle of being transparent – no secrets!

The Agile Team Dynamics Working Toward Transparency

When we think of the primary agile team roles (Scrum master, Product Owner, and Team), we might be easily swayed to think that they are a distinct and separate part of the whole. In some ways yes that is true, but in every other way, they are a very synchronous part of the agile system. That is to say, they always communicate much in the same way that the human brain works with the other parts of the 5 human senses. When one part hears a sound, the entire brain works together to analyse the situation so that when there is a sense of danger or harmony, the reaction is acted upon without judgement and without resistance. All parts work together to give a common result.

sharing-is-caring-transparency-in-agile-teamsThe other benefit of all senses working together in one’s brain, is that new and more intuitive senses come into creation. When you see that everyone thinks about something right before someone else is about to say the same thing, you know that there’s much more at work than the regular senses can provide.

What Breaks Transparency

If there is one thing that breaks all forms of constructive progress is fear. Much like Roosevelt’s saying “Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself’,” that is a very true statement. Much like every other team, there are causes to what might keep others from sharing and communicating information effectively, and therefore reducing transparency.

Here are a few of such causes of fear:

1 – Failure – Someone can have a great idea, but as a result of fear of failure will hold back from sharing with the rest of the team. Think of all the ideas we had that we thought were ridiculous, but when someone else acted upon it, we found out it was a great and highly popular or profitable invention.

2 – Lack of Trust – When we get over the fear of failure we may traverse another realm of fear, the lack of trust. We might actually get to the point where there is self-confidence in what we might be able to contribute to the team, but only to be taken down by the possibility that someone might steal your idea or even worse, take all credit for it.

3 – Past Experience – This is a big one. Due to societal anxieties and situations that cause many to try to avoid the past, many try to undo or avoid what may have happened in the past. What most might not realize is that every team is different, even more so, is that there are many more situations out there that might seem the same as previous one, but are in fact not the same due to even slightly different variables.

4 – Success – You might ask, how can this be??? Well many people think that success is going to change their life so in many ways this is the fear of the unknown. What this might mean to a further extent is that many are afraid of the attention gained by success because they don’t know how they will react to it.

How do we get past fears?

Agile processes and methodologies strive for bringing out intuition to the team members and groups that adopt them. With that comes about the need for many angles toward increased knowledge and practice. The ways in which to accomplish agile solutions, and perhaps break the habit of fearful thinking is by attending online agile courses, agile training sessions, agile games, agile consulting, or better yet just get an agile coach on your team.

A business coach would be able to analyse and review an agile project methodology, and pick out what areas of fear that could be holding a team down. Getting to the bottom of what is preventing the team to move forward will get team members to gain speed and velocity much more quickly and build on team synergy that is remarkable if set in the right direction with the right ideas.

[Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]


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