Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Are you Really an Agile Team?


Easy to Understand but Hard to Apply

Many of us claim to be Agile teams.  Our team made this claim until a colleague (Brian Keirstead) challenged us on how we were ignoring some basic practices of Scrum.  Here are some of the reasons why he pointed out that we weren't a Scrum team:

  • We had a single 15-20 person team
  • We did not have a formal Sprint Planning 
  • Our backlog was scattered across a couple of excel spreadsheets
  • We did not force-rank our backlog
  • We had QA operate as a separate phase (sometimes in the next sprint)

As much as we agreed with him, we argued that we were necessarily different.  We needed to adapt the Scrum framework to suit our needs.  "We need to make the framework work for us!!".

Looking back, I can admit that this approach is flawed. Scrum is a really simple Agile project management framework.  If you are first starting out with an Agile team it's likely you don't know - what you don't know. The easiest way to learn is by doing... until it becomes "muscle-memory". Much like learning any skill you need to first learn the rules before you break them.

The Pain Means Your Growing

Many of us mistake the pain of learning is a signal that we're doing it wrong.  Our pain in adopting Scrum revealed the following:

  • Organizational impediments are sometimes phrased as "the way we do business"
  • Team work does not always come naturally
  • Saying NO is not easy, but important
  • Time-boxing is crucial to empirical analysis 

The Way We Do Business

When we broke the 15-20 group into 2 separate teams there was a lot of resistance. We complained that we weren't able to see the big picture.  We believed that our large complex app required an equally large team.

The reality was that we failed to articulate a clear concise strategy.  Having a big group was our way of hiding this fact.

We also did ad-hoc "Planning" as we were stealing a Kanban style of taking on stories continuously. However we did not put strong WIP (Work-In-Progress) limits in place, or craft stories to be all equal in size.   As a result we...

  • often slammed QA with large number of stories
  • were unable to forecast a release date
  • did not operate as a team on a focused goal

But There's an "I" in Agile!

Developer culture often focuses on the brilliance on an individual, a hero ... a "Rock Star" developer. Having smart, motivated and intelligent people is a good thing.  However, no individual should cast a shadow so large, that it leaves others in the dark.

Standup's started to reveal how poorly coordinated we were. We often spent the whole day not talking to each other. We had a habit of measuring success by completing our individual user stories.

By having a dedicated Scrum Master we were challenged to learn how to work together towards a common Sprint Goal. Once teams began to really gel, we saw a dramatic increase in velocity.  But more importantly, we really started to love working with each other.  To this day, we point to our team mates as one of the best reasons we love our job.

Rebel Scrum Master

There was a period of time that developers were not empowered to voice concerns and make changes. To give teams more autonomy our Scrum Masters were encouraged to say "no" a lot:
  • "No" to having Managers/Leads at Retros
  • "No" to having 20 people interrupting a 15-min standup
  • "No" to ad-hoc requests mid-sprint to aren't aligned with the Sprint Goal
By giving the Scrum Master permission to play the bad cop, teams could properly focus on the Sprint. Once we got the basics we didn't require the largely defensive role of the Scrum Master.

To quote Ken Schwaber "...a dead Scrum Master is a useless Scrum Master".  It's can bean easier pill to swallow making many small changes - over large swooping ones.

Empiricism not Imperialism

Often at the end of a Sprint, we'd let a story roll over until the next day of the sprint. By focusing on "getting credit" for the work on the sprint, we were hiding problems that we needed to be solved.  In this example, we needed a clear "Definition of Done" that included QA verification. The fear of missing a sprint prevented us from learning.

As Star Wars taught us so well, fear is a great source of learning.  Luke Skywalker was taught this fact when he pleaded with Yoda to train him. "I won't fail you! I'm not afraid!"

Yoda - a seasoned Scrum/Jedi Master saw Luke as young and naive.  "Oh! You will be.... you will be." 

Unlike in the movies, it isn't an Evil Empire that is standing in the way of your teams success... it's likely just a very common aversion to pain fear and failure. 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

What Motivates Your Team?

How do you know what motivates your team?

I value curiosity, freedom and acceptance.  It's an easy mistake to make decisions based on your own motivations - but what about your team?  What motivates them?  How do you, as a leader make decisions that align with their motivations?

I'm a huge fan of Jurgen Appelo's Management 3.0 game "Moving Motivators".  It is deceivingly simple and incredibly insightful.  It’s a really simple tool that takes very little time to explain.

It starts with the following 10 cards that can be remembered with the acronym CHAMPFROGS:

  • Curiosity
  • Honour
  • Acceptance
  • Mastery
  • Power 
  • Freedom
  • Relatedness
  • Order
  • Goal
  • Status

You can the download the below cards from the Management 3.0 website.

Here are the 2 steps I take with my team:
  1. Rank your motivations from least to most important
    • record these rankings to skip this step in the future
  2. Consider a recent change and how it affected your recent motivators
    • move it up if it was positive
    • move it down if it was negative 

The game addresses how complex our motivations are.  There cards are a colourful way to give your team a language to consider what intrinsically motivates them.

It also is a great way to visualize how some things are more important than others.  Jurgen derived these 10 motivators from various reputable resources (Daniel Pink, Steven Reiss, Edward Deci).

Non-Confrontational and Effective

When reviewing these cards with another person, it can be non-confrontational as you are facing the cards and not each other.  A simple example with a co-worker may be, “How did moving from a large 20 person team to a small 5 person Scrum team affect your motivators?”.

Personally, I did this exercise with my team and found myself surprised by what I learned.   This tool allowed my team to speak specifically about what the found de-motivating and why they found it so. It also removed the need for us to debate on the change itself.  We focused solely on their motivations and how it affected them.

It’s also a great tool when you bring something up - and it doesn’t affect motivations at all.  You don’t need to talk about it.

I created the following 2 minute video to help illustrate how to play the game and why it is valuable:

I'd encourage anyone to try it out with their team, co-workers or even their managers. More interesting that the tool itself... is the dialogue it generates. I hope you find yourself as surprised as I was by learning what motivates your team.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

How to Build a High Performance Team


Culture-fit doesn't need to be Voodoo Magic

Having a team with cross-functional skills is fundamental for Agile teams.  Culture-fit can push these teams to a higher performance. This doesn't need to be a "from-the-gut" activity.  Here are three steps I have taken to build teams with the right culture fit:

  • Select individuals with similar core-values
  • Pair "Professors" and "Entrepreneur" within a team
  • Ask individuals privately who they enjoy working with


Jurgen Appelo describes core values as "the ones that come naturally to you. Without them, you wouldn’t be yourself." -https://management30.com/product/workouts/create-value-in-your-organization/

The challenge I found, is that if you ask someone their core values... they either may not know, or may tell you what they'd like to be true.  I've found the the "click-down" tool to be a great way to interview your team and learn what really makes them tick. 

Professors and Entrepreneurs

I have no shame in admitting this is stolen right from Spotify's playbook.  The basic idea is that the Professor wants to get it done perfectly ... while the Entrepreneur wants to get it done quickly.

"There is a healthy tension between these roles, as the entrepreneur tends to want to speed up and cut corners, while the professor tends to wants to slow down and build things properly.  Both aspects are needed, that's why it's called a healthy tension." - https://dl.dropbox.com/u/1018963/Articles/SpotifyScaling.pdf

With Spotify's setup, they have the Product Owner and Chapter Lead play these roles.  However, we found success in setting up our teams who had natural inclinations as either a Professor or Entrepreneur. 

This healthy tension would generate solid intelligent debate about applying "best practices" and balancing out the need to be "results-oriented".

This works really well once you've found individuals who share similar core-values.  If this is lacking, what could be a healthy debate between a "Professor" and "Entrepreneur" may instead be demotivating and disempowering.

Ask Them

Although this may seem obvious, it can easily be a missed step in forming new teams.  While you would want to avoid a conversation about "who's the better developer?" ... it can be a fairly neutral conversation to ask "who do you really enjoy working with?".

The emphasis of the conversation is on personal preference - not performance.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Your Agile Mindset is Limited


We're Great - And You Are Not

In the book Tribal Leadership, David Logan speaks about 5 distinct cultural stages we see in organizations. 

  • Stage 1 - Life Sucks
  • Stage 2 - My Life Sucks
  • Stage 3 - I'm Great ... And You Are Not
  • Stage 4 - We're Great.... And You Are Not
  • Stage 5 - Life's Great

Stage 1 organizations are very uncommon and are only seen in prisons and criminal organizations.

David Logan points to the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) as an example of workers working at a Stage 2 cultural level.

Approximately 50% of workplace culture operates at Stage 3.  Stage 3 culture sees competition amongst employees as means of increasing overall performance.  Many successful organizations operate at this cultural stage.  However, the Agile/Lean movements have shown how teams can out perform individuals.  

Many Agile teams and companies operate at Stage 4, but still identify it's greatness in comparison to other teams.  Agile teams within large corporations can be seen as religious zealots. You may here them speak about "how waterfall is foolish", or how other teams "just don't get it".  This cultural level is high-performing - but is still limited.   

Stage 5 cultures operate at a level of "Life is great".  There are a precious few organizations that fit this mold.  Zappos and Morning Star are often pointed to as examples of organizations operating at this level.    

We've had the good fortune of meeting Doug Kirkpatrick who was there in it's inception of Morning Star. Here is Doug's TED talk on his experience with Morning Star and how they have no bosses and are entirely self-managed.

In Fredric Laloux's book "Re-inventing Organizations" he describes 5 paradigms that directly relate to these 5 cultural stages:

  • Level 1 - Impulsive Red (Wolfpack)
  • Level 2 - Conformist Amber (Army)
  • Level 3 - Achievement Orange (The Machine)
  • Level 4 - Pluralistic Green (The Family)
  • Level 5 - Evolutionary Teal (Whole Living Organism)

The following video describes these paradigms, examples of organizations that apply them, and the impact of taking on each paradigm.

The easy conclusion is to aspire for your organization to be a "Level 5".  However, as David Logan points out in his book "Tribal Leadership"... "you can't skip a step". Upgrading your organizations existing culture means starting with where you are.

Someone in a Level 3 culture needs to be valued for their individual contributions before extending into a team.  As well, Level 4 cultures are a necessary stepping stone for most organizations, before considering a self-managed team. Lastly, Level 5 is not sustainable unless we have learned the language of Level 4. 

Regardless of where your organization is, it's important to speak the language of their current stage.  The book "Tribal Leadership" offers a great deal of examples and tools to help upgrade your organizations culture.  

Personally, I've been fortunate to get the support of others that have been through similar transitions and transformations.  Whether they are Scrum Masters, Agile Coaches or seasoned Executives, there is no shortage of people who are willing to share their passion for creating truly excellent organizations.  

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Tribal Leadership - 21 Day Challenge

Tribal Leadership - 21 Day Challenge


This 21 day daily exercise was painfully exciting and rewarding.   It's been a fundamental part of my growth in learning to lead.  This description taken from the sign-up page describes it best:

"It's free, but it's not easy. It requires that you watch a short (3 minute) video each day, and take the action that's required. The actions require courage and commitment—two characteristics all leaders share. "  

I came out of the challenge with a few really helpful tools including "Click-Down" and "Mountains and Valleys".  

An example of a growthful challenge is the "Reputation Challenge" on day 6.  It's a simple exercise where you "Find three people whose opinion of you is important and ask 'what is my reputation?'”. 

A key value of this exercise is that "Managers Derail Because they are not Managing Reputations".

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Big Ego's and Star Trek

That's a lot of Ego

Transactional Analysis is a very accessible theory of modern psychology. It's been a great tool for me to engage in "Adult-to-Adult" conversations.  The following 10 minute video is a great introduction to the concepts.

It's an obvious statement to say that Leadership is largely about people.  However, attending Greg Witz's Leadership workshop was a great way to learn by doing.  As pre-work, we were asked to have our colleagues answer multiple choice questions to determine what our predominate ego states are.

For myself, when I'm feeling creative and generating ideas
I gravitate towards "Spontaneous Child" ego state.   When working with others I sometimes find myself in the "Nurturing Parent" ego state.

This works great when we're in a pinch and need to rally the troops towards a common goal.

However, I've learned that this can sometimes trigger negative reactions. For example, the "Critical Parent" ego state may see the "Nurturing Parent" or "Spontaneous Child" as either insincere or manipulative.

In these interactions, I find it's more productive if I stick to the "Adult" ego state - focusing on results and facts.  It's a deliberate choice on how I communicate, without changing who I am.

As a Star Trek geek, I noticed many examples of the various ego states in the show.  I've tried to find video clips that demonstrate how various ego states start out, and change through the interaction.

Hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Critical Parent and Angry Children

Worf plays the "Angry Child" ego state often.  Picard demonstrates how a little "Critical Parent" ego state can provide a healthy challenge to the "Angry Child".

Spontaneous Children, Angry Child and Adult

Q provides lots of examples of the "Spontaneous Child". Picard starts with a little "Angry Child" and closes with some "Adult".  I'm not personally advocating for using the "Angry Child" as demonstrated, but it provides some context on how the "Angry Child" could cut to the chase especially if a "Spontaneous Child" is being disruptive.  Equally important, it's interesting to see how Picard quickly follows up with an "Adult" ego state.

Withdrawn Children, Nurturing Parent and Adult

Here, Deanna Troi starts as a "Withdrawn Child", and Guainan comes in with with a mixture of "Spontaneous Child" and "Nurturing Parent".  Guainan moves the dialogue to a close with them both engaged in an Adult-to-Adult conversation.

Angry Child, Critical Parent and Adult

In this scene Data takes command of the Starship Enterprise. Worf unproductively challenges Data frequently with his "Angry Child" ego state.  Data pulls him aside and initiates with a strong "Critical Parent" ego state and closes with Adult.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Experimenting with 1:1’s

Creating a Healthy Work Environment

I've had inspiring managers and horrible managers. They have all dramatically influenced my health and well-being.  These experiences have taught me that a healthy work environment is a result of hard work. And a crucial element of this hard work is experimentation.

I want to create a work environment where people are surprised by their own potential.  An environment where we respectfully challenge each other to play at the top of our game. Since change is inevitable - continuously learning through experimentation is vital.

Here are a couple of simple experiments that we've been running with my team during our 1:1's.

Moving Motivators

"Management 3.0 #Workout" is fast-becoming my favourite management book and resource toolkit.  Moving Motivators is a really simple exercise that I've done in my 1:1's with my team, but you can use it with your colleagues or even in retrospectives.

It's a simple way to prioritize from a set of 10 "motivators".

...and then have a dialogue about how change impacts your motivations.

Here are a couple of references to the game that should help get you started:


Click Down

In the "21-day Tribal Leadership Challenge" David Logan introduced the "click-down" tool with 2 simple steps.

1. In a conversation with a co-worker, listen for a word that would be "blue and underlined".  That is, if you were to "click on it" it would take you to additional content.  For example your co-worker may say "I am really frustrated with how this sprint is going."

2. Ask an open-ended question about that word to elict a deeper conversation.  For example, you may ask "Why are you so frustrated with how this sprint is going?"

You would repeat steps 1 and 2 until it becomes "uncomfortable" or difficult for the other person to answer.  When you get to that place, you've usually stumbled onto their core-values.  It takes a bit of practice to make sure you make it part of an organic part of your conversation.

Read more about this and listen to David Logan here:

Final Note - Bringing Devices into 1:1's

When I first started holding 1:1's with my team I'd bring my laptop into the room and take notes.  I found that screens would put up walls in our dialogue and broke up the natural flow of the dialogue.  I've still bring my laptop occasionally to 1:1's, but use a pen and index cards to capture notes.

This also allows me to pay closer attention to others, by jotting down notes as they speak. Instead of being burdened by follow-up questions or "click-down" words... I'm able to more closely focus and listen to what they have to say.