Behaviors in an Agile Delivery Team

As a Team Member of an Agile Team, we are always looking to understand what behaviors we should encourage and see practiced within a high-performance Agile Team. Here is a list of 14 behaviors that as a team member you should model. I once learned this from an Agile expert. Be the example you want others to be.

  1. Instead of complaining always having a “Bias Towards Action”.
  2. Watching out for team members who need help and pairing with them to get work done.
  3. Not blaming others outside of the team for what the team has done.
  4. Taking the time to understand users.
  5. Letting go of control and Trusting the team to get things done.
  6. Making sure no one works on things that do not fit a sprint goal.
  7. Not working on one-off projects without others knowing about it.
  8. Giving the team enough free time and not demanding overtime all the time.
  9. Coaching each other on how to receive feedback
  10. Saying No and saying “If it’s not in the backlog we don’t know”.
  11. Not compromising on quality.
  12. Being on time.
  13. Following core hours as a practice to do work.
  14. Making sure everyone in the team is giving open and constructive feedback

Looking Beyond Large Scale Agility

After being involved with a group that is probably the most Agile anywhere in the world, seeing hundreds of companies over the last decade trying to become Agile and so miserably at that, or after having taught Leadership, Kanban, Scrum and Agile Engineering workshops and finding that the same problems exist in organizations that existed a decade ago, I am really starting to wonder if its time for us all to really Look beyond Large Scale Agility.

If you are in an organization that is busy implementing Agile Change frameworks like SaFe, Less, Dad, Nexus etc you may be wondering

  • How all of this is going to improve your life. ?
  • What is going to happen to all the hard work you have put in this organization over the years. ?
  • Is your company getting better or worse?
  • How are you going to make more money and be happier?

You are not alone. The issue I have come to realize more so lately is one of Scale. Agile is heavily dependent on people, less in the process. Yet most companies we work for are heavily driven by the process and profit  Have the meeting madness. Leaders are incentivized to drive down cost. The pressure of shareholder satisfaction makes things tough to change.

Agility tends to work well in smaller groups. If your organizations are really small say 50 people, it’s really tough to implement Any kind of Framework. Pretty much the culture is one of “Get it done”. From 100 to 150 People scale All these things work beautifully. More than that you are in the “I am not sure this is working Zone”.  Dunbar’s Number posits that 150 is the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable relationships.

What we need is

  • Sess – Small Scale Scrum  NOT Less – Large Scale Scrum
  • RaFe, Right Agile Framework NOT SaFe Scaled Agile Framework

The fundamental issue in scaling beyond 150 to 200 is a simple one of coordination and one of leadership mismatch. At a scale of 150, you often have a group leader of some sort. The culture of this unit really depends on this leader. See this HBR Video that talks about 8 kinds of company culture.

If you see the video you would see one of the top kind of culture is Results Driven.

I would expect every profit driven organization is results driven. See the video above.

Every kind of organization should be results driven. So that means leaders are incentivized to get results.

Shown below is a typical organization where leaders are incentivized to get outcomes. Most of our organizations look like this. Broken by some sort of functional groups. Here shown are two Blue could be Sales and Marketing and Red – Could be Products. L (A) who is the leader for both the groups has to make sure the L(B)’s are incentivized correctly in  order to extract maximum results from the six leaders who in turn, so on and so forth


The book Leadership BS from  Jeffrey Pfeffer, a well known Stanford professor calls our many of the issues with leadership today. He goes at why leaders are actually not honest, not authentic, and not modest, do not often tell the truth, doesn’t build trust, and do not take care of others. In organizations such as the one above where top-down leadership is practiced, there is more of order following rather than ownership. Even if leaders really want to be Agile, The system is set up against them.

People who actually do the work are so far away from the real customers that they don’t have a clear understanding of what problems they are trying to solve for customers, are not empowered to decide anything without explicit permission from the leaders. In such organizations meetings is the norm as the person above has to delegate the work down, coordinate across different groups. Hence the normal problems of excessive meetings are seen in these organizations.

See this amazing Ted talk about what happens when leaders create an epidemic of meetings in organizations.

So how can we be Agile? Really agile. Agility is really about
– profitability of the business,
– Engagement of employees where they are empowered to solve and innovate for customers

It starts with three simple practices
1) Small groups that are direct customer facing creating a startup like a mentality in these groups
2) With a heavy focus on good solid agile engineering practices and a culture of teamwork.
3) Where leaders are elected by those they serve and are now serving than leading.

It’s really about Product or Service Agility. Are we creating products or services that delight our customers? We really cannot change org culture esp if your organization in more than 1000 people.

But we can do a lot of magic in the 125 range.

You can make a huge service to your organization by creating worthy leaders who are trained to lead from the side. The leaders can create a culture where truly the time of the team is protected so that they do not waste even a minute of their time in meaningless meetings, instead of by working together to creatively solve customer problems.

Share your thoughts and experiences on success or failure trying to implement large scaled Agile.

Agile Defined

The manifesto is governed by 4 Values and 12 Principles. Being Agile sticks when companies focus ground up starting with building the value system followed by practicing the values, doing some of the practices and hence getting the benefits. This is often referred as Inside Out Agility.

Under the Agile Umbrella, there are many methods. Scrum is a method, Kanban is another. There are many others as well. Within each of these methods, there are many practices.   

In general Being Agile means, you are using one or more of the Agile frameworks but are surely following the four values and 12 principles as much as you can.

Screen Shot 2018-04-30 at 11.45.01 PM

The recommended approach to go with imbibing Agility is something called Inside Out Agility. This focuses on making sustainable changes based on Culture, Structure, Agile Values and Principles and then following practices like Agile and Scrum. Most of the Agile transformation programs that follow an outside in Agility in order to gain the benefit of Agility. While the Inside out is not an easy path it has proven to be more successful than any other approach.

Practicing Scrum Well

Just like any sports team. there can be the winners like the ones who go to the super bowl, or those that get kicked out each year right before the playoffs even start. ( If you don’t know American Football you may not get this point. I live in Seattle where football is a big deal ).

Anyways, it is up to the team and the coach to work together to produce a great product.This simplicity of Scrum becomes the reason where teams feel Scrum is not working. 

There are some necessary conditions for doing Scrum Well.

Energized And Empowered Scrum Team – On top of the list is how energized and empowered team members are to ship quality products out of the door.

The entire goal of Scrum is to create a direct relationship between the stakeholders who seek value and the people to can create value.

There should be a Culture that Values Transparency – In Organizations that do not value truth and transparency, Scrum may not add much value.

Management does not micromanage – Top down command & control and the Scrum culture of openness and honesty often contradict each other. In fact, more than 50 percent of Agile Transformations today fail because of the middle management’s inability to let go.

Have a Sense of Urgency: Scrum works well when the organizations feel the urgency to do things faster, and of higher quality. In places where there is no pressure to ship anything and where quality is not important, Scrum does not work well.

Jeff Sutherland, one of the co-creators of Scrum Suggests the following steps

  1. Get Started with Stable Teams.
  2. Look at Yesterday’s weather to successfully pull backlog items into a Sprint.
  3. Swarm with One-Piece Continuous Flow.
  4. Allot time for interrupts and do not allow the time to be exceeded during the Sprint. See Illegitimus non-Interruptus Pattern.
  5. Write Daily Clean code by following XP Practices.
  6. When things go wrong do something about it immediately (See Emergency Procedure).
  7. Find out what one improvement will increase the happiness of the team the most, and implement that improvement in the next Sprint.
  8. How do you get teams to have fun? (Happiness Metric).
  9. Teams that finish early accelerate faster. Take less work into a Sprint.

Ref: http://www.scrumplop.org

Sometimes the teams give up on Scrum too soon saying “Scrum is not working, let’s try the other new framework”. You should try Scrum for at least one release cycle or a few sprints before changing anything. 

In this early stage do not change anything. Scrum is really good at exposing the mess in an organization. If your organization is afraid to fix the mess Scrum exposes, then it may be tough to use.

Remember the 10 things in Scrum are the simple rules of Scrum. Don’t change them.

Also, there are many other techniques e.g., Kanban. Feel free to evolve your process and use other Agile Practices as well.

Scrumtuphobia!  Fear of doing Scrum Wrong.  HENRIK KNIBERG

As a general guideline, as you master Scrum, you can always subscribe to practices from any of the Agile frameworks to become Agile. 

How Does Scrum Feel?

Let’s get some keywords out of the way first.  

Scrum  – A framework to deliver value to the customer iteratively.

Sprint – A time box where an increment of value is delivered. Mostly 1, 2, 3 or 4 weeks.

Roles-  Scrum has Three Roles.

    1. Scrum Master – Remover of impediments. Team motivator, Servant leader
    2. Product Owner – Voice of the customer. Works with team and stakeholder to create value.
    3. Development Team – A self-organized cross-functional team that delivers value.
    4. Scrum Team – Collectively the Scrum Master, Product Owner, and Development team are called this.

Events– The Scrum Framework has four productive events. ( meetings )

    1. Sprint Planning – Plan the work of sprint so that we can deliver value at the end of Sprint.
    2. Daily Scrum – A 15-minute daily plan.
    3. Sprint Review  A product feedback, inspect and adapt cycle.
    4. Sprint Retrospective – A process improvement Inspect, Adapt Cycle

Artifacts – Things of value produced in a time-box.

  1. Product Backlog – A backlog is a term for a list of things to do, also called Requirements. This is owned by the Product Owner
  2. Sprint Backlog  Also called As Task Board or Scrum Board.A tool used by the development team to be transparent about the work they are doing in the sprint.
  3. Product Increment – This is the reason we do Scrum. To build something of value in Short iterations of time.

An easy way to remember the core Scrum Framework is with the 3-4-3 rule. Yes, there are only 10 things to the Scrum Framework.

In Scrum, 3 Roles, the Scrum Master, Product Owner, and Development team go to 4 Events – Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, Sprint Review and Sprint Retrospective in which the produce 3 core Artifacts. The Product Backlog, Sprint Backlog and the Product Increment Itself.

Let us look at what goes on in one sprint for a Scrum Team which is doing two-week sprints.

Day 1: Sprint Plan -The Development Team, Product Owner, and Scrum Master meet in a sprint planning event. This is normally 4 hours max for a two-week sprint. In this event, the team “Pulls” items that are ordered as high priority and breaks them into what done means for each item.  The team defines a Sprint Goal that they can march towards.

As the team finishes the sprint planning the Scrum Master is cleaning up the task board and getting it ready for the current sprint. The team members help prepare the board too.

Screen Shot 2018-04-30 at 11.26.43 PM

Day 2:

The team starts with a Daily Scrum in the morning. The Daily Scrum is done in front of the task board.

It is a good practice to update the task board before the daily scrum to keep the daily scrum going smooth.

Day 5:

Screen Shot 2018-04-30 at 11.26.50 PM

This team works on something called one-piece workflow. Which means they really like to finish one story completely before pulling another.

The task board on Day 5 looks like this. ( This is just an example)

The team has finished story A and is working on B on Day 5.

What else do you notice that is different from the task board today?

The team has also updated the burndown chart. Their burndown chart has the number of tasks on the Y-Axis and the number of days on X-Axis.

They also demo the  Backlog item A to the Product owner and get acceptance from him.

Day 9:

 

The team has finished two stories and decides not to pull the third story as planned as they have no more time. They get acceptance on the second story too. Way to go team.  You Rock!.

They meet in the evening for half an hour to “Get Ready for the Sprint Review”.

Day 10:

Screen Shot 2018-04-30 at 11.26.54 PM

The team is delighted to have finished two of three stories. This is called the Say Do Ratio.

Sprint Review:  The Development Team, Product Owner, Scrum Master meet for an hour and a half to talk about what was delivered in the sprint. 

The product owner talks about the two stories completed and then the team members take turn to show the two stories to the stakeholders in the room. 

They get feedback back about a small change that was requested in the Story B. The product owner says he will get it changed.

The sprint review ends with a small celebration.

Sprint Retrospective:

The Development team, Product Owner, and Scrum Master meet to discuss improvements they can do to the process so that they can do better. They plan to meet for an hour and a half.

The entire Scrum team talks about the two impediments that came in between the sprint, that slowed them down due to which the second story took a bit longer than they thought. One of them being story B turned out to be much bigger than they thought.

They take an action item to break stories smaller so that this problem does not happen again. The Scrum Master erases all content in the room except the one action item that they took. 

This sprint ends.

Leadership Models and Books

As an Agile leader I find it useful to be reading books on leadership and models I can learn from.

Here are recommended reading if you are a leader working with people.

  • 7 Habits of Effective People
  • Primal Leadership or Emotional Intelligence ( Goleman)
  • The fifth Discipline  ( Senge)
  • Fierce Conversations (Scott)
  • Good TO Great ( Collins)
  • Difficult Conversations ( Harvard Negotiation Project )
  • Drive (Pink)
  • The Servant (Hunter)
  • The Power of TED ( Emerald)
  • The 5 Dysfunctions of a team ( Lencioni)
  • Focusing In Clinical Practice – The Essence to Change
  • Reinventing Organizations ( Frederic Laloux)
  • The 3rd Alternative (Steven Covey)
  • Leadership And Self Deception 
  • Quality Software Management, Vol. 1: Systems Thinking ­ Gerald Weinberg
  • Quality Software Management, Vol. 3: Congruent Action ­ Gerald Weinberg
  • First Break All the Rules

New ScrumMaster Checklist

This list is a place for new ScrumMasters for their very first ScrumMaster Job.

Welcome to your new ScrumMaster task. It is a tough one and sure is confusing. No Organization actually has a role like this. So where do you start.

Set up a meeting with  your manager and the manager of the team that you will be ScrumMaster of.

This meeting is important so you can expect what kinds of things they are expecting you to do. You should talk to them about things you are expecting to do

  1. Make impediments Visible.
  2. Facilitate the 4 core Scrum Meetings
  3. Remove Impediments

That is it. Make sure they are okay with these three things. If you hear no for all three of them, don’t take this job.There are many other things you can do but the above three arissues-board3e core to your job.

Make impediments Visible.

Next create a impediment board and make sure the managers know that you will put something here and if you cannot figure out how to solve it in a day or two, you will ask for their help. Also if possible make this a physical board.

Facilitate 4 Core Meetings.

Find out when the sprints are starting. If the team is not yet sprinting, just add the work they are each doing into one list and call that the product backlog for now.

Find our who the product owner. You have to make sure you have a Product Owner for Scrum to work.

In general all Scrum Meetings should follow the following principles

1) They need to be high energy

2) They need to start in time

3) Only the Team and PO are needed. Don’t invite anyone yet

4) They always end before time

A general agenda for all meeting

  1. Opening
  2. Purpose of the event
  3. Task-board for each event
  4.  Close with Action Items
  5.  Do a mini retro about the event itself.

Here is the  five items for each of the meetings.

{Work in Progress}