Time to Think Together

Photo by Michael Yat Kit Chung

Photo by Michael Yat Kit Chung

Sometimes I find myself stuck over-analyzing a situation and wondering what to do next. If the system or situation I'm considering is understood well-enough, the next step should be clear. Or so I tell myself. When it is not clear, I am often reminded that others need to be involved in creating the next step--I only have a fraction of the information available to me. Inviting others to reflect and plan based on what we collectively know typically yields a better result too.

The benefits of inviting others to create and support change has been on my mind. I've been reading Margaret Wheatley's articles on organizational change, leadership, and relationships, and there are a lot of science references in her work. It's intriguing. And this passage stood out to me:

A simple means to support and develop relationships is to create time to think together as staff. Time to think together has disappeared in most organizations. This loss has devastated relationships and led to increasing distrust and disengagement. Yet when a regular forum exists where staff can share their work challenges, everything improves. People learn from each other, find support, create solutions, and gradually discover new capabilities from this web of trusting relationships.

Having worked in a number of organizations, I have seen how pressed people can be for time during the work day--it can feel like there's not enough time to meaningfully engage in conversations for regular events like sprint planning or retrospectives. I have yet to meet a team who can have a real retrospective of a 2-week sprint in under 30 minutes, although many have tried. It can be even more challenging to have time with those outside of the scrum team. When calendars are full and only small time slots are available with everyone, it is easy to feel defeated. Create the regular forum for thinking together, and over time, it may grow. And everything will improve.

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.

Relying on Experts for Their Expertise

Photo by Derek Bruff

Photo by Derek Bruff

How often do we put ourselves in the hands of experts and trust their judgment to help us?

I've been seeing the same hair stylist for over 10 years. She knows my hair, she knows my lifestyle, and she knows that I'm not going to spend much time styling my own hair. Each visit, I sit down in the chair and let her do whatever she wants. She's not going to give me blue hair or a really edgy style because she knows that won't work in my role as a coach/consultant and with who I am. I don't have to learn what to ask for or suffer the same style year after year. My stylist knows better than me what will work and what the trends are.

When I am picking out new glasses each year, I rely on the employee in the shop to tell me what styles look good and which don't. If she doesn't think a pair works on me, I don't bother to look in the mirror. Styles that I might not have tried otherwise make their way into the pool of options. I feel safer to explore new looks because I have someone who will give me honest feedback. Picking out a different style each year is exciting rather than nerve-wracking or mundane. She knows better than me what will work and what the trends are.

Shopping for clothes and accessories became easier when I started working with a stylist. She knows my lifestyle (work and non-work), she knows my body type, and she knows my budget. I show up to a dressing room full of items for me to try on and consider, and inevitably, there are a few pieces to push me outside of my comfort zone. Not every piece is a winner, and that's great--I tried something and decided if it was me or not. Sometimes the style is flattering and the item just isn't me, and sometimes the idea is great and the fit isn't. I end up with a wardrobe that works for me without the frustration of searching. It's hard to know what will work or not work when you see it on a hanger. Once again, my stylist knows better than me what will work and what the trends are.

It takes effort to become a trusted partner for your expertise. There's deep knowledge and passion for your area and continual learning. Building relationships and a willingness to tell the truth when something just doesn't work. And a focus on the other person over yourself. Those are the experts who experience the joy of a trusted partnership, and it's great when it is achieved.

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.

Avoiding the Accountability Bat

Photo by Dan Pearce

Photo by Dan Pearce

For the longest time, the word “accountability” bothered me, and I couldn’t put my finger on why. I’m a fairly responsible person. Before saying yes to something new, I try to pause and reflect on what I’m committing myself to and what I might need to say no to as a result. Being held responsible for my commitments is fine. So what is it about “accountability” that makes me feel anxious?

One day as I heard someone talking about how people need to be held accountable throughout their organization in order for real change to happen, I felt the anger and frustration in her voice. Her values hadn’t been honored. Sadly, I sensed she wanted to shame people for not doing their jobs the way she wanted. It’s like she was holding a baseball bat in her hands as she talked about needing to hold people accountable. No wonder I felt uncomfortable.

Most people don’t come to work to do a bad job. They are not children who require babysitting. They are humans who are trying, doing the best that they can, and occasionally making mistakes. Christopher Avery has a great view on accountability:

Accountability is external. Accountability is always a relationship between you and somebody else. Whether or not you are held to account isn’t up to you — it’s up to that other person.

We all need feedback in order to know how we’re doing and what we can improve, and the way that we deliver that message matters tremendously. We can show up with our imaginary baseball bats, hurt relationships, and allow a toxic culture to develop when we hold people accountable. Or we can be in alignment with our values and have healthy conversations about expectations, how are current behaviors are impacting others, and the results they’re producing. Accountability can build relationships and a culture of trust or it can be an excuse to tear people down. What is it doing in your organization?

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.

Creating Community

Photo by Matt Mechtley

Photo by Matt Mechtley

One of the keys to creating a community is to create a sense of inclusiveness--to foster deep democracy (a term I learned at Scrum Gathering Vegas earlier this year).  Whether it's a community of practice, a user group, a team, or an organization, each member needs to feel like a valued member.  Safety and trust have to be present.

I think part of a community leader's role is like that of a stagehand--largely invisible and making sure the environment is right for the actors.  A community has its own identity, and a leader can shape it in a number of ways.  As an introvert, I try to create a place where all voices can be heard--not just the loudest, the smartest, or the funniest.  In fact, if the community leader is not attentive, the group dynamics can take a turn and drive people away.  The leader must be able to recognize the group's needs and interject as a facilitator to maintain the safety and trust for a healthy community to thrive.

How are you creating a strong community where people can be themselves?

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.

Upcoming Conference: AgileDotNet and the ALM Workshop

I've been spending some of my evenings and part of my weekends preparing for the AgileDotNet conference in Dallas on March 1st, I'm excited by the content being shared this year.  If you're looking for great agile training with industry experts, hunting answers to help your everyday work, or feel like you're climbing the agile mountain and stuck, AgileDotNet is for you!

AgileDotNet unites the worlds of .NET development and Agile methods, delivered by agilists passionate about providing superior content in unique settings.  Honestly, most of the sessions are equally applicable in any environment, regardless of the primary programming language being used, and the sessions in the Tools track will show how Microsoft tools can help support agility--it's not about tools for the sake of having tools.

This will be the fourth year of AgileDotNet, and the content will rock you! AgileDotNet brings developers, QA, scrum masters, project managers, and business leaders with all levels of experience to empowering and unique sessions across four tracks. You’ll return to work with the tools, motivation, and support to be more agile – as an individual and as part of a team.

#ADN13 is different from those past. Despite maintaining a high bar for great workshops and discussions, we realized there was a common theme among many of the most steadfast agile coaches and leaders trying to bring change within their enterprise.  The organizations are difficult to change.  Budgets, risks, unfamiliar territory, and planning are all excuses that point to one thing: the enterprise has trust issues.

At #ADN13, we will break the trust barrier down with a wrecking ball. You will learn from passionate field-tested agilists how to establish trust amongst the team, with management, and throughout the organization as a whole, regardless of the role you play.  I'll be co-presenting an advanced track session titled Eliminating Barriers: No More Us vs. Them that will talk about how to get your development teams collaborating with customers to build the right products and increase the agility of your organization.  Register now.

And as if the conference is not cool enough already with agile experts, Microsoft experts, and food trucks, Improving decided to up the game another notch. After the conference on Friday, there is a Saturday, March 2nd workshop at the Improving office--an Agile ALM with Microsoft Team Foundation Server Workshop. In this hands-on, mentored workshop, we will dive into how Visual Studio supports the Development process, the Quality Assurance process, and the Project Management process. We will have a full TFS environment, interactive labs, and instructors on hand for questions.

We will be breaking the day into the three segments.  Each section will include a free form section to bring your problems to the ALM Team at Improving and get some much needed answers.

  • Development Lifecycle Management is all about getting a streamlined routine that doesn’t hinder velocity and contributes to quality code. We will guide through developing, developer-testing, and deploying an application.
  • Agile Project Management can be quite challenging, and managing multiple projects even more so. We will dive into how to set and measure effective KPIs, automate reporting, and manage work items in an effective, logical, and visible way.
  • Quality Assurance Management is encapsulated in an agile environment able to effectively and quickly report on the status of the product. We will walk through defining test cases, writing test steps, recording automation, and enabling regression testing.

Join us on March 2nd and discover best practices around Agile ALM using Microsoft® Visual Studio and TFS. Bring your real-world problems for our on-site mentors.

Register Now!

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.

Treating Coworkers with Kindness

Photo by Nick Dawson

Photo by Nick Dawson

While I only worked three days this week due to the New Years holiday, it felt like a very long week.  I've been noticing areas where more humanity is needed in the workplace:

  • A developer on one team passed away over the holiday break, and it's a great loss to the organization.  It's a reminder that we are all people and should know one another beyond a cursory name and job title.  Relationships matter.
  • Someone negatively criticized a team's implementation design after team members worked over the holiday on it to meet users' needs and a short timeline.  The team was deflated by the way the criticism was delivered.  I am not ok with that.  Words matter.
  • An offsite team was perceived as trying to snowball a project manager during the holiday break, and communication to and from the team was poor as stress levels rose due to an increase in defects and challenges.  Emotions matter.

Software development is easy--it's working with people that is challenging.  And Agile places emphasis on people working well with other people.  Trust is a necessary ingredient, and a good place to start is with kindness.  Let's be kind in 2013 and give each other the benefit of the doubt, be mindful with our words, and focus on building stronger relationships.  Because it matters.

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.

Trust the Team

Photo by Shawn Honnick

Photo by Shawn Honnick

The hardest part of an Agile adoption is learning to trust the team.  An Agile project might not provide the normal indicators of progress that managers are accustomed to seeing.  The Agile adoption can feel uncomfortable for managers, particularly since their role is often not explicitly defined.  But how a manager acts can greatly impact a team:

  • A manager who questions the amount of work a team pulls into a sprint can make the team question its own judgment and feel pressured to do more.
  • A manager who demands to know what each team member is working on can make the team feel unsafe and may lead to estimate inflation or overcommitting to work.
  • A manager who tells the team how to solve a problem can make the team dependent and slows learning.

I wish I could say that rebuilding the trust after such actions is as easy as clapping your hands and saying, "I believe in the team."  But the truth is that trust takes work.  Demonstrating trust includes both the absence and presence of behavior, so focus on ways to build trust and avoid breaking it

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.