Scrum Teams and The “F” Word

What’s the “F” word in Scrum?

Not [F]un. Not [F]ire. Not [F]ailure.

What is it?

Most scrum teams deal with software engineers so they are concerned more about engineering challenges than anything else in all what they do.

In Daily Scrums. In Review Meetings. In Retrospectives.

Often, they don’t pay active attention to important “F” word.

Scrum Teams and The F word

Don’t get surprised when I say that the “F” word is their “FEELINGS!”

Don’t get surprised.

Techie guys don’t tend to speak more about their feelings. Essentially, they are left brainers so they seek logic in what they do. Feelings come as a second thought to most.

But what they feel while being a part of Scrum team is important for a Scrum team to succeed.

“People who feel good about themselves produce good results”

~ Ken Blanchard, Spencer Johnson, The One Minute Manager

(Read more about my experience with The One Minute Management Learning)

Cannot agree more: People who do not feel good about their work, cannot produce good results!

And, Scrum – or any other Agile framework for that matter – exist to produce great results; not for any other objectives.

Scrum Masters need to figure out ways to understand the feelings part of their team members and create situations where the team is motivated to assume the ownership of the tasks they undertake.

So, ask your team member directly how she feels if you have a great rapport with her. If not yet, there are other ways figure that out. Some example questions:

1. What excites you to do X, Y and Z?
2. What situations make your low point?
3. What situations make your high point?
4. How did you find working with other team mates on this sprint?
…and so on.

Choose the questions that open up your team members and share their experiences.

Experiences express feelings.

Understand what makes them feel good; what makes them feel uncomfortable and create situations that are motivating for the team members to perform.

A small but important soft skill that every ScrumMaster should have.

3 Tips for Product Owners to Survive the Chicken Test

As a Product Owner, why should you even think about the Chicken Test?

For a simple reason: You are accountable for ensuring that the product you’re working on achieves its goals.

The chicken and pig metaphor suggests that the difference between ham and eggs is this: the hen is involved, but the pig is committed. While Chickens may have other priorities, pigs have only one goal – make the project successful.

When it comes to Scrum, surviving the Chicken Test means that the Product Owner is not treated as someone who is not a member of the team.

Theory says that the Product Owner is a pig, committed to the project and judged on the results. However, the role of Product Owner is the most critical one in terms of conflicting priorities.

In practical world, often the Product Owner role is assumed by someone whose primary job is to directly face customers or interact with other critical stakeholders and in such situations, the scrum team may feel that they are interacting with a Chicken when they are communicating with the Product Owner.

When the Product Owner is treated as someone outside the team, there is a high probability that not the Product Owner’s other responsibilities but his behaviors are making the team uncomfortable.

It is obvious that most people don’t like to be with people who make them uncomfortable. Scrum teams are no different.

Team being uncomfortable with Product Owner is an impediment as it can impact their ability to deliver.

The team will react using more or less predictable behavior. You will be treated like a Chicken. Your inputs won’t be appreciated in daily scrums or retrospectives and the level of comfort will be less amongst the team members when you are around.

The result? Conflict among team members. Demotivated team.  Ineffective sprints. Delayed release cycles…

No Product Owner wants that, do you?

Here are my three Tips for Product Owners to Survive the Chicken Test

1. Honor your agreements:

Product Owners often get situations where they have to obey other commitment at a cost of the commitment they have made to the team.

Particular instances could be as small as promising and not meeting daily scrum or as critical as delegating the huge part of Product Owner’s responsibilities to a team member but the point is – the agreement is dishonored.

Don’t do that. Always honor your agreements.

The team cannot trust a Product Owner who does not keep his promises.

If the team cannot trust the Product Owner, the very essence of Scrum is compromised.

Don’t make agreements that you cannot honor. Period.

2. Exhibit unconditional commitment:

Let us face it. Almost all Product Owners are committed but not unconditionally. At least not always.

They may attend all the Daily Scrums as agreed but may not always pay attention to the junior most team member’s point of view.

Even if the junior most team member is not adding much value at the very moment, she at least deserves all the team members’ attention.

That is very basic but often not practiced as it should. Now, that’s an example of lack of commitment.

So how do you deal with that? Don’t choose to be the Product Owner if you cannot offer unconditional commitment for the project.

You may be an important stakeholder or the core Project Sponsor but you cannot be the Product Owner if you have any other priorities than making the project successful.

Have unconditional commitment if you take the Product Owner Role.

3. Make yourself available:

If you are NOT available when needed, it is often perceived as lack of commitment. When it comes to be part of a team that has ONE goal, managed perceptions are much better than assumed conclusions. None other than Product Owner can own that fact.

For any clarification or insight the team might need, Product Owner has to be available for the team.

There is an another aspect of making yourself available. You make yourself available to the team when you develop a personal rapport with team members such that they don’t hesitate to ask you questions. If team members do not feel closeness, changes are very high that they won’t consider that the product owner is available.

At the end of the day, as a Product Owner, you have to deliver the results. You’re rewarded if you do, you’re fired if you don’t.  If you don’t pass the Chicken Test, you need to work on yourself. If that’s the case, don’t wait, go fix it.

The Problem With Preparing User Stories In Advance

is that it lacks the “ownership” part.

Some Product Owners invest a lot of time creating user stories and provide them to the team in the sprint planning meeting.

It is an opportunity lost to explore team’s point of views and knowledge.

Stories created through such activities often serve as meaningless piece of document in the greater whole.

A good user story is complemented by the team talk. It is more on target when it is written collaboratively. A user story should be able to convey the essence of the story, not every single detail that can be imagined around the story.

The lean concept, “just enough” applies while creating user stories as well.

When it comes to grooming your backlog and envisioning the future of your product and organization at large, user story, when done as a team activity, has potential to produce wonderful results.

Don’t engage in an Agile activity just because it is a ceremony. Get the essence of it and practice it in the right way.

Great user stories are user stories that are owned by the team. If your user story has not got 100% ownership, something is wrong that needs to be fixed sooner than later.

How Every ScrumMaster Should Deal With Attention Issues?

Ever been part of a team where team members didn’t pay attention to what was being communicated?

Yes, in Scrum teams also that happens. Especially in the Daily Stand-ups.

Team members don’t always pay attention to what other team member is saying.

Most people get this habit from their daily lives. They go to doctor and while talking to them, they’re checking their BlackBerry. The same people go to restaurant with their spouse and spend more time with their mobile device than their spouse.

They are just like that. Involved in something else when they’re with someone else.

No wonder that kind of people would want to do the same even when they are part of a scrum team.

That’s not acceptable.

As ScrumMaster, you must coach every team member about importance of attention.

Conversations are most important tools in agile frameworks. They get your work done. And you can’t have a conversation without your team members listening to one another with 100% of their attention.

Listening with intent and with 100% attention is what makes Scrum team successful. That becomes and impediment if not resolved early.

Non-listening frustrates people and they tend to lose interest in the project.

Scrum team members are also human beings with their strengths and weaknesses. Scrum team is a committed team and commitment works when every team member trusts and respects one another.

If that does not happen then Scrum processes might still be there but there won’t be a Scrum team.

As a ScrumMaster, coach your team members to listen. Re-state and coach again and again so that they get why it is important.

Your conversations show who you are. Let your conversations say you’re committed. Let the whole team get it sooner than later. If not, then you’re not doing the right job of a ScrumMaster.

Should a talk on Agile engage its target audience?

“Of course it should,” would be the your answer if you know little bit about Agile concepts.

But in practice, often they do not!

I was watching a YouTube Video from an “Agile expert” who is a Global Head of Delivery with a Leading Based Software Development Company.

My expectation was: I will get new insights about agile from his practical experiences. And guess what: I am writing a blog post titled “Should a talk on Agile engage its target audience?”

Funny, isn’t it?

Not only his speech was NOT engaging, but also there were clear misconceptions communicated –  he referred to the Agile as methodology which it is not.

Agile is a framework or mindset. Sure, you may create your own methodology based on Agile but it is not a methodology.

About engaging its audience, if you really have mastered Agile mindset, everything you do, within and outside of your professional work, will confirm to core agile principles, only the context would change.

If you deliver a talk and DO not ask questions that engage your audience, no matter what other expertise you have, you are not conveying the “right” message.


Don’t Code for Perfection

Enter year 2000 to know that Ket was more than a competent programmer. Not just competent, super intelligent too.

He was also a kind of perfectionist.

It was initial two years of his career but because of his intelligence he was leading the team of five and working day and night on delivering a software product that had hundreds of order booked prior to its launch.

Ket simply wouldn’t allow the less than perfect code to check in into the code repository. The code had to be “perfect” and he has to be absolutely clear about it.

He would allow the code to check in only when there is no other way left. He had to handle a lot of pressure from the investors also.

Ket’s way was a surefire recipe of a slow disaster, isn’t it?

So, don’t code for perfection. Don’t be like Ket that way. Code for excellence instead.

No one will be impressed with the software app that you have not released. You even do not know if it is a minimal viable product or not.

Perfection doesn’t exist. Strive for excellence instead. Use iterative approach. Define a set of feature, prioritize them, pick a potentially releasable set and build them to the demonstrable piece of code.

People who invest in iterative learning already have what is called “The Agile Mindset.”

That’s exactly opposite to “Perfectionist Mindset” where you invest in your illusion more than anything else without even knowing whether there is a possibility of good ROI or not.

The analogy used is for a software app but same is true with a book or a blog post or a logo design.

Ship early, ship often and keep getting better. [Click to Tweet]

Scrum is possibly the most powerful tool to help you do that. Don’t wait, find out when scrum works and when it doesn’t.

Roman Pichler on Product Backlog

Reading an excellent post on Product Backlog from Roman Pichler – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly Product Backlog.

The product backlog is the roof that covers a Scrum Project.  So what’s good, bad and ugly about it?

Good – Simple list. Flexible. Supports sprint and release planning.

Bad – Needs that are hard to describe in a list-form become difficult to maintain. Often requires another tool. Also, when it becomes challenging to use a list when release planning is not feasible.

Ugly – When requirements are stated with unnecessary details, and the list is of hundreds of items, product backlog becomes ugly and hard to deal with.

The way I see it, bad and ugly part of product backlog have more to do with how it is used and less to do with product backlog itself.

Nonetheless they are important and cannot be overlooked. Similar to how a Scrum Project evolves as it progresses, implementation of product backlogs will also evolve.

That’s why Roman talks about an alternative to Product Backlog – The Product Canvas, which is a really good tool to see and use.

Progressive elaboration is the key nature of things in Scrum, isn’t it?