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.

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.


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. 

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}

Are you failing with Agile, Here is a checklist to help you fail?

I had a very interesting coffee discussion yesterday with a senior product engineer at a very large cloud computing team. It was centered around the fact that in Scrum when we put the pressure of velocity and show the demo, teams start shipping crap to customers.

Many teams working in Scrum and Agile techniques take Agile as a way to do fast paced development. When you look at the net output after a few years, the product is a bunch of messed up code that is worth throwing out.

The agile manifesto is centered around – Working Software over comprehensive documentation –

I wish this was instead written as  – Delighting customer over comprehensive documentation. Writing a well done product takes a significant amount of discipline from a product team. The teams that focus on output of showing something fast end up in rotten software over time.

Here is a checklist that will tell you if you are going to failing with your product. These are in no priority order

1) More Velocity Syndrome – Your customer or management is focused on more velocity every sprint. Soon coaches are trying to optimize for waste removal , fast paced demos and a each day feels like a 100 meter race.

2) Agile or Scrum Become more important that the product itself .  Think  of any place that has ever succeded by putting focus on the techniques. No agile technique will help you if your organization cannot focus on less things and get them done in a systematic way

When you are doing agile well, you should not heard the word agile or Scrum in a organization.

3) Agile coaches rule the roost: There is a new wave of  people who were not there 10 years ago . These are called Agile coaches. Many are self proclaimed gurus with no actual complex product creating background. Choose your coaches wisely and don’t listen to them managers. Good teams choose coaches well. If your coach comes in and starts telling you do that everything you do is wrong, show them the way. Ask them to stay for a release cycle and show you how to do it all the way.

4) Managers addicted to keeping people busy: Many managers are busy trying to keep people busy . Writing a good product requires focus, patience and a bit of love. If the manager is always trying to keep team members busy where is the time to innovate. When you hear someone saying i want 80 percent utilization, start looking for a new job. They clearly don’t know what they are doing.

 5) Product Backlog fiasco – Your backlog looks like a so messed that you feel like throwing up. A good backlog should be around 50 to 100 items and should be visual. The team should have a clear idea of what they are building.

6) Estimation Accuracy Epidemic ( Often called as Fibonacci Fever) – You will see teams trying to size work as 2 points, 3 points, 50 points. Management disagrees saying they want more accuracy of estimation.

Software is a empirical system the only way you know your product is right is when someone uses it. Follow a simple rule ship a few items to production every month or as needed.

7) The myth of the self organizing team – Putting five people together does not make anyone a team. A team needs a clear purpose, goal and a good coach to win. Some kinds of work may not need a team.

8) Bugs rate is going north – IF  you do Agile well you should see 0 defects. To do this you need to do a few simple things 

  1. Work in pairs in small teams
  2. Test your product well and don’t check-in code that does not have unit test
  3. When you find a bug, write a test first, check it in, and then fix it. This way you never have to see the same bug again.
  4. Keep Design simple but not Stupid. Many agile teams have gone to the extreme with Kiss principle. KISS – Keep it simple stupid does not mean – Do stupid things in code”.  Agile does not mean no design. Agile means you take the time to do necessary design.
  5. Always demo work only when completely done.Done means done . There is no half done fully done.

9) You feel like moving from Scrum to Kanban or vice versa. Note that the process is not the problem, people are. When you switch to scrum, if you dont follow the values of Scrum, Openness, honesty, transparency you will fail. No questions asked.

10) Feedback and failure  is not appreciated here.  – If you are worried about giving feeback to any one in the group or  your manager for lack of fear of losing job or being humiliated, you are already in the wrong kind of team. if your organization i not appreciating failure or feedback, they do not appreciate you.

Of all the things the difference in great product companies is the ability to listen to customer and employee feedack

Do let me know if you check at least more than five in the list above yes. If you checked none of these items above you are working for a fake organization.

Have a great time building awesome products. Focus less on Agile focus more on your customer experience.

How much to jump?

I was talking to a very senior exec of  US Corporation who was comparing his India Agile team with the Brazilian Agile team and I was really amazed the way he said it. That got me writing this article as I think he is right.

Here is what he said – I ask my teams in India to Jump they ask how high. I ask my teams in Brazil to jump, they ask why?

Is this really true?

1) Are teams in India allowed to ask Why ?

2) Is it a cultural thing that asking why is considered socially incorrect.

More on this thought soon? But I needed to pencil this down for now.