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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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]


 

 

7 Reasons Why Some Corporations Hate Agile Methodologies

7-reasons-why-some-corporations-hate-agile-methodologiesConventional business wisdom will tell us that we should tell our shareholders what they want to hear so that the price of company stock will rise. This displaces the value that corporations will aim for toward the shareholder and not necessarily toward the customer. This is where Agile methodologies conflict as the goals of a conventional vs. agile mindset are not the same.

Below we will outline how conventional corporate mindset thinking conflicts with that of an agile mindset:

1- Focus on customers over shareholders

As a company you would likely be trying to appeal to both the shareholders and customers, however it’s usually shareholders that will come first and customers second. Based on agile principles and agile mindsets, the priority undeniably reverts to customers first! Everything in the agile value mindset reflects a goal toward delighting the customer and the accepted agile methodologies and processes show much evidence to conclude this is always the case.

2- Perceived Loss of control

The thought that there could be teams that are self-organized and self-managed leaves a sense of control loss by management at any level. Management may argue that if the teams are self-managing, then what is the use for management in the first place. Unfortunately this is a false perception, since management would likely still be needed for areas of business operations that are not covered by the day-to-day of agile processes. 

3- Perceived loss of authoritative rank and power

Most conventional businesses will follow the militaristic approach as the known command-and-control approach to business structure and organization. Companies with a highly vertical (hierarchical) structure being at one extreme and the more flat (horizontal) type of organization at the other end. Those with a heavy emphasis on a vertical structure tend to harbor many of the anti-patterns of an agile approach. Be it either from lack of trust or lack of willingness to let go of authoritative power, many companies that have a top-heavy structure will not be easily capable of converting or adopting agile.

4- Focus on delivering immediate customer value over immediate revenue

As many have noticed the periodic reporting of large businesses, especially those whose stocks are on the market exchange, the revenues that were forecasted must hold up in the later quarters or else face the consequences of lost share prices and market share overall. This places emphasis on how soon work can be done and made billable rather than concentrating on the actual scope and process of work to be done. The best interest of the customer is left behind as resources are stuffed into the work processes, rather than allowing agile methodologies to take their course.

5- Too much learning and too much change

Most who have reached a respectable level within their company whether it be in management or non-management (technical) levels, may tend to sit on their laurels all too often. Although we seem to hope that society is a meritocracy, let’s face it, some people just get to the higher positions based on years of experience rather than actual willingness to continue learning and changing. To this point, there are some who live up to their titles, but others who don’t and wouldn’t care to collaborate with their fellow colleagues either because they have underdeveloped people skills, lack of extensive knowledge, or because it’s seen as too much work to learn and share.

6- Customer value is cumulative while overall benefits only come if done properly in the long run

If there is anything we can’t promise is what will happen in the future. It is highly unlikely that an executive management team will wait to see if there will be continued commitment and support from their existing customers. Since much of what builds up customer satisfaction retention accumulates over time, most companies do not factor that in and will take the shortest path to generating revenue. Building quick untested solutions for the sake of having something billable does not look after the best interest of the client. This extends further to the disappointment of employees who are being told what to do, without buy-in. Some companies would rather sacrifice growth of their existing team synergies to result in high turnovers from unmotivated employees, rather than keep them on-board. This is why at the first sign of lost profits, most companies will take the immediate route of terminating their employees. The reason? It’s the quickest and easiest way to lower costs. However in the long-term it proves detrimental, and usually leads to further “voluntary” fallout where employees lose sense of purpose from the previous setback of layoffs. This affects customer relationships as the level of expertise and direct customer engagement from employees diminish.

7- Increased level of transparency perceived as very risky

Most companies do not share at many levels for fear that the truth may  reveal too much for many to be comfortable with. High levels of transparency bring about a sense of fear that the information provided can be way too sensitive or used against the company. Although transparency may reveal positive and negative aspects of a company and its operations, most companies tend to err on the side of non-transparency to avoid the risk at all costs. This approach of course lowers the level of trust and therefore the level of engagement from customers as they find out from latent communications throughout the project life-cycle.

[Image courtesy of cooldesign at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]


 

Why Apply Agile Project Management Principles (part 2 of 2)

The following is Part 2 of the previous post regarding agile’s 12 guiding principles, and why they are important for agile project management. For Part 1, << click here >>.

7- Working software is the primary measure of progress.

why-apply-agile-project-management-principles-2-of-2Since we can’t use what isn’t finished, there should be no reason to consider it as “done” until it really is complete. In other project methodologies, specifically waterfall, we measure progress as an overall percentage and consider that percentage as a measure of completion. Working software is the only measure from which we are considering progress since what does not work, has no way of receiving ROI. It’s like giving someone credit for climbing a mountain at 90%, but they never reached the peak. Further to this principle, it also confirms that if something doesn’t work, why would you consider it complete in any way, when there is no real guarantee that it will ever work.

8- Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

This principle calls out to respecting the human aspect of agile team work. To maintain and motivate an agile working team we need to consider balancing the cost of development to the cost of human quality of life. It therefore promotes a work-life balance as being the main consideration to sustainability of the long-term “constant pace.” We’ve all heard of burnouts and the detrimental effects they cause to sustainability. When considering sustainability, it’s not just about what can be profitable over time, but also considering people-conscious limits. Some companies don’t set limits or are afraid of telling their customers that they have limits on how long developers will do the work. They see it as a competitive advantage to have developers work long hours during the week or over the weekend. While it may seem advantageous in the short-run, it is not sustainable in the long run, as it will cause the team to burnout, get sick, or leave.

9- Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.

While it may be tempting to develop code, or product just once and give it a thumbs-up, it may not necessarily mean that it is optimal. This principle covers the need to always look into best practices before, during, and after the code or product has been developed. Even when reaching completion, there’s room to improve and update as necessary, and the iterative process or attempt to gain workflow automation in agile, allows for this to happen if and when needed. In software we can refactor the code so that it runs smoothly, however it doesn’t imply that the original code should have been done to the standard of “just enough” to get by. While developing an element of code or product, you need to design it with intent of how it will provide value for the end-user, since poor quality in the end will cause higher costs and time wasted throughout the product life cycle.

10- Simplicity (the art of maximizing the amount of work not done) is essential.

When developing products, we tend to get bogged down by how many features the end product will have. Knowing which features will be needed as a minimum viable product can be tougher than it seems. However this principle also looks at “amount of work not done.” It promotes the concept of working smarter not harder, since working harder doesn’t mean there will be any efficiency built into the agile solution. Being able to prioritize features is the key element to maximizing simplicity, as most customers fall for the illusion that a product with many features is a product with built-in value. However, what gets lost in that perception is that there is no value if 70% of the features won’t even be used by the end-user once it’s released. Being able to prioritize is certainly a hard-to-acquire skill and activity, but it is one of the essential pieces to building simplicity.

11- The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.

This principle leads straight to the agile team roles, and their ability to be “self-organizing.” This drives the idea that the best can come out of a team that is highly motivated, and has a high level of buy-in. When the architectures, requirements and designs come from the team closest to the product, you will likely get a better result than if they were imposed on the team from an external or top-down approach. It therefore leads to more a pull type approach from the team rather than a push type approach from upper management. The dynamics and results from a self-organizing team allows for the team to take ownership and pride in the product they will produce.

12- At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

Continuous improvement is something that resonates throughout an agile project. This agile project management principle calls out to the necessity of improving constantly and frequently with the mention of “regular intervals.” This of course implies that there is an iterative aspect to the tuning of becoming more effective, however it is not limited to just one period of time. The use of agile retrospective events is certainly the highlight of reflecting over ways to improve what happened in the previous sprint, but this principle also doesn’t limit it to just that. We could almost say that this principle should be carried on a daily basis, and with the agile team looking to find ways to “tune” themselves regularly. When looking at it from a waterfall vs agile perspective, we must consider that most waterfall projects only do this once in the project management life cycle and likely at the very end, when it’s already too late to do anything about it. Regular intervals for tuning and adjusting behavior makes it more pertinent and effective since it will be addressed throughout multiple sprints and it will allow a chance for the improved adjustment to be implemented.

[Source for Agile Manifesto Principles: Manifesto for Agile Software Development]
[Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]


 

Why Apply Agile Project Management Principles (part 1 of 2)

why-apply-agile-project-management-principles-1-of-2Many new projects seem to fail at the beginning, especially in hindsight, when looking back after months of development and product delivery progress. There have been many cases where agile projects did not even go over the Agile Manifesto which as most would should have been the first step. Beyond the 4 value statements from the manifesto, are the 12 principles that help guide the agile practitioner in keeping up with the 4 value statements. As we will see, all 12 were very cleverly worded and cover all angles that the agile mind would live by.

As part 1 of a 2-part series we will give further insight as to what those 12 principles are and why they are important for up-keeping in the context of agile project management principles:

1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software (in non-software projects this would refer to product).

When we look at this first principle we see that customer satisfaction is the first thing that comes up, but that is not to say we need to do everything the customer wants outside of reason. This is why the second part of the principle mentions early and continuous delivery of valuable software/product. In all instances the customer relationship starts where ultimately there is a product to be delivered. If you note, the “early” part is also deliberate since it is essential to building the quick ROI for the client. The “continuous” part represents the iterative part about agile methods that allows for features to be built in with the value requested by the customer.

2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.

The requirements of an agile project are reflected by the Backlog (Product and Sprint). The backlog is the crux of the agile project methodology and workflow process, and is the basis of the work that needs to be done by the agile team. This principle of welcoming changing requirements in the format of a backlog allows for prioritization and re-prioritization at any moment within the sprint for the Sprint Backlog, and the Product Backlog throughout the agile project. Typically, the high level of transparency through daily scrums, and kanban boards, etc., allows for the agile working team to change requirements to reflect the ROI, resulting “customer’s competitive advantage” as needed and without the resistance that a project would have in a traditional waterfall setting.

3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.

The only way to gain return on a product is by confirming the results. Therefore the need to deliver “frequently” is tied to getting the most out of continuous delivery. This is part of the reason for preference to the shorter timescale, since that would provide more delivery cycles (iterations or sprints) and all resulting feedback loops from the customer and business. The other reason for preference to the shorter timescale is that it mitigates risks by allowing for developing time-sensitive competitive advantages (quicker time to market) of the software or product. When using lean tools the work-in-progress (WIP) becomes evident and quicker cycles prevent any wastes (so-called “muda”), and locks in the value of the delivered product.

4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.

When referring to working together daily this primarily refers to all agile team roles in the same room, face-to-face communications, and not so much on texting and emailing. Gaps in the daily interactions leaves room for unconfirmed value, and possible waste once business people and developers fall out-of-the-loop. The other key phrase is “throughout the project.” Some business roles, and developers may tend to fade in and out of the project if they are assigned to more than one project, and are spread thin throughout the course of the project. This leaves gaps in expectations and confirmation of progress when it is needed most.

5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.

When a project gets started and is ongoing, we need to make sure we don’t get in the way of agile team members that are experts in their domain. This is where we build in the element of “trust” and leave them to do what they do best. Giving them the environment and support relies on the scrum master role where there is a need to protect the agile team from outside distractions, and help remove blockages when they appear.

6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.

The key here is that people are to engage in “people-friendly” situations that promote easy communication with the least amount of “out-of-context” risk as possible. Body language makes up about 55% of communication, and therefore represents the most powerful component when compared to 7% verbal and 38% tone of voice. Since email messages can take on a tone the reader chooses to interpret them by, a message may be interpreted as malicious where in fact it could have been completely benign. The other advantage of the face-to-face communication is that everyone benefits from osmotic communication whereby knowledge and information is gained from background discussions from fellow agile team members. This presents an overall advantage since it effortlessly keeps everyone on the same page.

For the second part of this section  << click here >>

[Source for Agile Manifesto Principles: Manifesto for Agile Software Development]
[Image courtesy of Stuart Miles 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]


10 Ways an Agile Mind Uses World Class Thinking

10-ways-agile-mind-reflects-world-class-thinkingWhen we discover what an agile mind can bring to its surrounding environment, it would very much resemble that of World Class thinking. Steve Siebold points out the many ways that Middle Class thinkers differ from those of the World Class thinkers. But what we noticed, is how similar World Class thinkers are to Agile thinkers. Many are very close to what you would expect as characteristics and personalities of an Agile team member.

Below are some extractions from Steve’s list of differences between the Middle Class vs the World Class. We’ve explained how World Class thinkers relate to that of an Agile Mind:

1. The Middle Class avoids risk . . . the World Class manages risk

Agile team members use tools and operate with a series of ceremonies and events that allow them to manage risk. They don’t avoid risk since they know that risk is unavoidable. They understand that having daily scrums, sprint planning, sprint reviews, sprint retrospectives, etc., will allow them to reduce risk and minimize (not eliminate) it as much as possible.

2. The Middle Class focuses on having . . . the World Class focuses on being

The difference being agile is actually “being” agile through practice and experience, not just “having” knowledge by reading a couple of books or attending agile training courses. An agile team mindset focuses on “being” because they are aware and conscious about their agile working environment. This means that it’s not just about switching their agile hats on and off. This is much like being an athlete, you don’t stop being a swimmer when you are not in the water. Also, it’s very likely your mindset reflects everything toward being the best swimmer you can be, in and out of the water.

3. The Middle Class sees themselves as victims . . . the World Class sees themselves as responsible

A self-organizing, self-managing agile working team knows that they are going to be responsible for the end result of their agile solutions. While they may have chosen not to become victims, the confidence they’ve built through team synergies allow them to meet their individual and group objectives without doubt.

4. The Middle Class is frustrated . . . the World Class is grateful

When faced with hardships and issues, the agile team knows that it’s sometimes part of their work. They depend on each other at all times and look to help each other out. Each member in turn, is grateful to be working side-by-side with each other and know that getting frustrated is wasteful energy. Part of this is through the scrum master role, or agile business coach, being able to protect and showing appreciation for each other as the team works through those issues.

5. The Middle Class is ego-driven . . . the World Class is spirit driven

The optimal agile team is aware that they are not a combined result of their egos. An ego is not what drives results, whereas spirit does. Although spirit can be broken, it can be set to greater sustainability over time. An ego is not immune to being broken either, and what we can learn is that it usually grows when it is given the wrong type of attention. Spirit overcomes negativity and is not fed by it. Growth comes with the combined spirit of all team members with results and authenticity of leadership that are much greater than those of an ego driven team.

6. The Middle Class is problem oriented . . . the World Class is solution oriented

When looking at building and creating agile solutions, the agile team knows there’s a problem to be solved. But they are not primarily oriented toward problems and how to fix them, rather, they are concerned with providing solutions. A successful product is not one that was made with problems to be fixed, but rather it is set on providing an optimal set of solution that are free of problems. The agile team working on a series of solutions is a lot more productive, since bringing attention to solutions increasingly expands into more solutions. In much the same way, bringing attention to problems creates more problems.

7. The Middle Class thinks they know enough . . . the World Class is eager to learn

Part of continuous improvement is knowing that we don’t know enough. This is where the agile team invests heavily in the use of sprints to not only develop a product, but also get to the point of retrospectives to learn what didn’t work, and finding new ways to work. The other way the agile team is eager to learn is by not resting on their laurels, and reaching new heights through practice and use of agile tools and agile games.

8. The Middle Class is boastful . . . the World Class is humble

When faced with praise, an agile team is humble and not boastful about their achievements. This is fueled by knowing that what was achieved was a result of the combined efforts of each individual within the group, and as a separate entity they are only a smaller part of the whole. The agile team also knows that being humble is a virtue and a strength that brings attracts others wanting to join that team.

9. The Middle Class denies their intuition . . . the World Class embraces their intuition

An agile team knows that they should embrace their intuition since it is a result of their synergies and attainment of high performance. The important aspect of attaining intuition is that it needs to be fed like a never-ending belief. The moment you deny or question the intuitive process, it switches back into over thinking mode. Over thinking will undo the intuitive process.

10. The Middle Class coaches through logic . . . the World Class coaches through emotion

Much like the world-class, an agile coaching philosophy will do so through emotion. An agile business coach knows that emotion is “energy in motion.” That relates to sensing where the agile team’s energies are and finding ways to bring them to balance. This is not just by trying to be a separate and logical member, but rather by being active part of the team and promoting the agile mindset. That would be the best way to know how each member is contributing to the overall performance of the individual and team.

[Image courtesy of Idea go at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]
[Source: Steve Siebold (177 Mental Toughness Secrets Of The World Class)]


 

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]


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]


Top 5 Agile Myths and Misconceptions

If you are planning on becoming agile at your workplace, you’ll most definitely come across some colleagues that have a negative outlook about what’s coming. The thing to consider is that everyone wants the benefits of being agile but they are not likely to be committed to actually making the changes to become fully agile. This is where myths and misconceptions come into play to justify potential failure down the road. Keep in mind this failure would not be from implementing agile itself, but rather the lack of actually implementing agile to its fullest potential.

Here are the top myths and misconceptions that must be dispelled or at least brought up in situations leading to disappointing results:

1 – Agile is Chaotic – It certainly isn’t easy, but when implemented properly and with many trained and experienced practitioners, agile can be very organized and structured. There is a lot more planning that goes into agile projects when compared to waterfall. In fact planning is done at the beginning of every sprint, but it doesn’t stop there.

2 – Agile is just a recent trend – Believe it or not agile has been around for many years, and it has taken on many forms over time. The term “Agile” is perhaps more recent in terms of use, but the methodologies that were around previous to what are now encompassed by what we’ve deemed as agile, have been around for many years, and still continue to be used.

3 – Agile needs a lot of training – You need to start somewhere, but experience is valued more than training. Being on an agile project while being open to learning about it, can give you all the training you need. Certainly that comes with asking questions, reading a few books or attending a couple of seminars of agile courses along the way, but there’s no more training than any other process in today’s workplace.

4 – Agile is for small teams – Many people who have worked on large projects might see that agile and sticking only to the basic agile team roles is unattainable, at least in the strictest sense. However, an agile working team can be scaled and works very well with the proper structure put in place. Beyond that, keep in mind agile isn’t purely about the processes it imposes, but also relies heavily on the people and collective emotional intelligence of the agile team adopting it.

5 – Agile doesn’t require testing – For those accustomed to waterfall vs agile projects, most would be expecting to find or look for the QA testing schedule. The one that typically comes at the end of every waterfall structured project. With agile the testing takes place simultaneously throughout the project and is done in a more seamless process, usually facilitated by tools like jira. The testing (inspection) goes on from beginning to end and is part of every sprint.

[Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]


How to Recognize Team Synergy in Agile Teams

Ok, so you’re about to start your project and you look toward your resourcing department to get new team members to join the group. You realize quickly, that you want to be sure you can foresee whether or not your colleagues will allow for creating something great and interesting. As you proceed with introductions and discussions, you start to wonder how soon your agile team will reach its fullest potential regarding synergy and the related benefits of reaching that high point.

Team Synergy is NOT instantaneous

recognize-team-synergy-agile-teamsWe must consider that everyone can learn to get along and get the project from start to finish with a deliverable that all stakeholders expected, like a well oiled agile supply chain. Office politics aside, there will be those that have their own hidden agendas, clique mentality and those who will want to do things their “own way.” This of course means they are not team players, but I’m speaking to those who like what they’re doing and prefer to do things as a team. Fundamentally I’m referring those who are professional-minded.

What does this mean for an agile team even with a good set of skills and capacity to deliver? Stages that all teams must undergo over time, regardless of each member’s level of maturity or project methodology you use, it will happen in the same order as the following:

1. Forming: This is the initial stage, and it’s the easy stage. It simply represents the team members getting together, being formally introduced, and everyone getting to know one another.

2. Storming: This next stage is where everyone starts to flex and see what their colleagues are capable of, but also where boundaries are set, whether implicit or explicit. It’s where everyone identifies with their strengths and makes sure everyone knows what their area of expertise is. This evidently, is the stage where most conflict will occur, and as you might guess, is where everyone’s level of maturity will show up. So there will be resistance, and possibly group dynamics that will bend and stretch. A good recommendation at this stage is to get some good agile consulting, agile training courses, or participate in agile games sessions.

3. Norming: This is the stage where the “dust settles from the storm.” Everyone recognizes their differences, and moves to agreement whether pleasant or not, but they work to understand and trust each other’s area of expertise, despite disagreements in certain areas, they take on their roles within the group.

4. Performing: This is typically the final stage, and it’s where the team dynamics and synergy are at their optimal level. In comparison to all stages before it, this would be the fun stage, and it’s typically where you want to keep the agile team intact, motivated, and contributing. Soon after this stage, we would typically adjourn as the project ends. For the best interest of your customers, you likely would want to keep that team intact from one project to another, unless you’re willing to expect a period of disruption. Depending on how many members of the agile team you switch in or out, the impact and time to get back to performing will vary. The potential results gained from a fully functional agile working team reaching this stage is a considerable asset.

Getting There is a Challenge, Staying There is an Even Bigger One

Consider that all these stages are in constant flux, especially when new members are introduced to the team and it’s regardless of whether or not you following waterfall vs agile principles. Another important factor is the size of the team, the larger the team, the more channels of communication there will be and that increased complexity will extend the duration of those stages. Learning to identify each stage as an agile team progresses will help everyone to understand what types of agile solutions and outcomes to expect.

Another point we should not ignore, is the impression that we are in a later stage, when everyone has not entirely transitioned. That is to say, even if the team appears to be “performing” (something I like to call “pseudo-performing”), they may not have actually gotten past “norming,” possibly from the effects of a few bad apples, or members that just can’t agree to anything.

On a final note, these stages cannot be forced on a fixed or expected timeline regardless of whether or not you are considering waterfall vs agile, but they can be facilitated by an agile business coach, an essential part of an agile team. It wouldn’t necessarily be a formal note to the team saying “hey everyone, we’re in the ‘norming’ stage so let’s move on to the next stage.” Rather it would be along the lines of a statement such as “I can see our tasks are progressing well and there’s no major disruptions, everyone is in constructive agreement, we reached the ‘performing’ stage.”

[Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]