The Importance of Vision Statements

Photo by Phil

Photo by Phil

There’s lots of advice out there about creating vision statements or defining a purpose—at least five articles appeared in my blog feed on the topic in the last 2 months. A strong vision statement resonates with people, aligning them in creating a future that would not otherwise exist. Vision statements start with the goal of inspiring others. They create a sense of purpose for people to rally around.

Personally, I like vision statements that capture the aspirational sense of what could be possible. There’s a dream-like quality to the vision, and sharing it with people evokes a response; an energetic bond is formed through the vision. The visionary inspires the vision-runner to make it a reality. A shared purpose or goal is established.

The best thing a Product Owner can do to truly take ownership and inspire others is to establish and communicate a clear vision for the Product. Why are we building it? Whose lives will be improved by it?
— Don McGreal

One source suggested then making the vision concrete. Elaborating more details about what reality would be like if the vision is achieved. While I appreciate making the vision more vivid, I’ve found that shorter is better when it comes to documenting it—an elevator statement is easy for people to remember and expand upon. A few go on to add measurable goals to the vision—to make it more real. In my experience, people can get tripped up on the measurements and struggle to remember the vision itself with such specifics defined. And the other elements of the vision—the captivating essence and the dream of what can be—may be lost.

Connecting the vision with the audience is key. I’ve witnessed leaders communicate their vision and listeners become confused or lose interest right away. Using language that people understand—putting the vision in real words rather than lingo or jargon—can make it more attractive. It’s the storytelling of a vision that ultimately matters most.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Coaches Say the Darndest Things

Photo by timechaser

Photo by timechaser

It goes without saying that I love coaching. I am involved in user groups, I attend conferences and camps regularly, and I deepened my skills through intentional practice by becoming a Certified Professional Co-Active Coaches.

There's an energy that is created when coaches come together and share ideas. A buzz, a liveliness. It's exciting and reinvigorating!

I've been fortunate to work with some incredibly talented coaches, and I had a big realization a few months ago: we coaches talk funny. We have our own language. And it can be alienating to those around us.

Working with a pragmatic technical coach, an integral agile wizard, and a Deming-influenced management consultant at a client organization was an exciting and a rich learning opportunity for me. If you listened in on our conversations, you would hear things like:

"How do we design alliances with the teams we are coaching?"

"What's going on from the IT perspective? WE perspective?"

"How do we encourage teams to enhance testing within the sprint to improve quality?"

"What would a statistical quality control implementation look like here?"

Conversations were lively, future-focused, and included constructive disagreements. And then I realized that one person was often quiet: the internal coach we were mentoring. The language we were using was full of jargon and difficult for him to understand at times. And he didn't always feel comfortable asking us to slow down and explain.

Someone we wanted to support very much was being left out.

Reflecting on this, I realized that the coaches I admired the most used words to connect to others. They understood ideas well enough to translate them into natural language. As we learn new concepts, we often get hung up on the terminology and use it often to integrate the learning for ourselves. Once integrated, it's easier for us to ask, "How would help us work together effectively?" and "What practices are supporting us? How is culture helping or hurting?"

Let's be aware of the language we're using and the impact it's having on those around us. A wise coach once told me, "I'm ok with changing the words to help someone else get onboard with an idea. I'm already sold on the idea myself, so it doesn't change it for me."

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Achieving great team culture and communication in a distributed team

Guest post by my friend and coworker Jane Prusakova; read more on her blog at http://softwareandotherthings.blogspot.com

Photo by Jane Prusakova

Photo by Jane Prusakova

A distributed team faces many challenges that cannot be solved organically through face-to-face conversation amongst its members.  However, it is possible to have a highly productive remote, or distributed, team using technology and various remote communication channels.

Communication setup should be easily available and accessible for all team members.  It is helpful to have high-quality tools – broadband connection for voice and video, good speakers and microphones, large screens.  Conversations tend to flow a lot smoother when people can recognize who is talking by their voice and when face expressions are visible on video without a delay.  The teams should also pre-configure and test communication software and hardware.  Every person on the team should be able to initiate and participate in conversations as needed with minimal hassle.  Meetings that spend the first 15-30 minutes fiddling with software accomplish less and are filled with frustration.

Another good way to foster communication on a distributed team is to allow conversations to flow before and after scheduled meetings, just like they would for a group of people in the same room.  Have a meeting line started ahead of scheduled time and allow people to continue talking after official meeting is over.

When a distributed team consists of several collocated groups, take special care to avoid ‘US vs THEM’ terminology and mentality.   Make sure people from different locations get to work with each other, as well as with team members from their own location.  Inform the entire team of accomplishments of all the other team members, regardless of where they happen to be located.   Every successful team has its own go-to people who are experts in certain areas.  The distributed team develops its experts by distributing information about members’ skills and figuring out ways to work together remotely.

Finally, hold the members of a distributed team accountable for reaching out to their fellow teammates.  It is the responsibility of every professional to gather resources needed for doing their work.  That includes finding the right people to cooperate with, building good working relationships, and establishing effective communication.  Whether local or remote, every member of a team needs to participate in the team if the team is to be productive and successful.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

What are you saying to your team?

Photo by Thomas Bruce

Photo by Thomas Bruce

There's a particular song that is often played at swing dances for the Shim Sham to be danced called It Ain't What You Do (It's the Way That You Do It).  It's a great song, and I found myself thinking about the title with relation to the way we communicate to and about our teams.

Recently I heard about a Scrum Master who wasn't listening to her team when they said that they would not be able to complete all of the sprint's work.  She insisted that the team had committed to the work and didn't want to hear anything more about it.  Sadly, it is situations just like this that surely caused the wording in the Scrum Guide to be updated in 2011:

Development Teams do not commit to completing the work planned during a Sprint Planning Meeting. The Development Team creates a forecast of work it believes will be done, but that forecast will change as more becomes known throughout the Sprint. 

The Scrum Master is described as a servant leader, and two of the characteristics of the servant leader are listening and empathy.  By refusing to acknowlege what the team is saying, the Scrum Master displays a lack of empathy, and the team is hurt by this.  It is not an easy role, but the Scrum Master must be a servant leader.  In the example I mentioned above, it seemed like management wanted the team to complete its work at any cost, but optimism, overtime, and additional team members weren't the quick fixes that management hoped they'd be.  Teams don't need cheerleaders--they need support.  They need the environment to get work done and impediments to be removed.  They need courage to deal with reality.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.