Remembering to Breathe

Photo by Deanna

Photo by Deanna

When I am trying a new exercise or my trainer is pushing me to do more reps at the gym, I find that I have to remind myself to breathe.  If my breathing feels off, I struggle to focus on what I am doing.  Similarly, if a team isn't remembering to breathe, its cadence might be off and members might be struggling to focus on the right work.  I recently talked with a team that has had challenges meeting its sprint commitments, and their release date is approaching quickly.  In a panic, the team had agreed to change its sprint length, cut short its retrospective, and not focus on creating a clear plan during its sprint planning.  Needless to say, the team's challenges have not been resolved through these actions.  In fact, the team was on track to continue down its murky path until one team member suggested what had been in the back of others' minds: cancel the current sprint.  The team had been in such a hurry to deliver that they didn't know what they were supposed to be delivering.  Story conversations were churning, and the end was not in sight even though the release date was getting closer.

So they agreed to cancel the sprint.  And change the sprint length to be shorter but of consistent size.  And to work with their Product Owner to rewrite the backlog so the stories were clear, estimatable, and small enough to be completed in their shorter sprints.  Bold moves, but as an Agile coach, I think the team is in better shape.  Now we can all breathe a little easier.

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.

If No One Sees What the Team is Building...

Photo by rubyblossom

Photo by rubyblossom

A friend of mine was telling me about a recent "agile failure" at his organization:

A team has been working on a new product, and the organization has given them everything they ask for--the team has been able to design its physical space and buy new furniture for maximum collaboration.  The organization trusts the team, its Scrum Master, and its Product Owner immensely.  But after a year it is suddenly discovered that the team has not delivered a valuable product.  Where did agile go wrong?

While that short summary clearly leaves out a lot of details, the team was allegedly using scrum, which means the team should've been having a sprint review at the end of each iteration--where were the stakeholders?  I love it when an organization trusts its scrum teams, but I worry when the organization's stakeholders aren't engaged and giving feedback.  A scrum team is not an island.  It exists within an organization, and it needs input from various parts of the organization in order to be truly successful.  

Burndown charts and other reports don't provide the same opportunities to collaborate with a scrum team to deliver a more valuable product as an effective sprint review meeting--particularly if the reports are falsified, as they were in this example.  If an organization is spending money on a team, it should be interested in seeing the results of their investment, and I suggest looking at the working software that is produced.  I don't know of any metrics or KPIs that are going to help an organization prevent a team from lying to them, but I'd suggest asking how many people have attended a sprint review and seen the working software.

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.