When working with a new agile team or when a role like the Product Owner or the Scrum Master changes, I’ve found that it is prudent to visualize the specific team responsibilities. If the majority of the team has a basic understanding of the role of Product Owner and Scrum Master this method could be especially useful. Much more so than the alternative of teaching the group about generic guidelines and hoping they figure it out. (However, as a facilitator you should coach the group on which responsibilities could be ideal for thier role-based “standard” agile practices.) Another factor for Scrum centric organizations is that the Scrum Guide doesn’t have details about managers, so this is a good opportunity to codify that for your team(s).
I’ve used this method to help out dozens of teams, and it typically aids in sorting out if everyone is doing the right things, and allows for grey areas to be accounted for.
Team Roles Visualization Exercise
Timebox: (30min for established teams, 60min for new teams)
Purpose: Bring clarity and alignment for the roles on an agile team.
- On a whiteboard draw out columns for the core roles for the team (PO, SM, Devs, Mgr, etc)
- Have each individual in that role write in the various responsibilities, processes, and even meetings they feel they’re responsible for.
- You now have an inventory of likely most of the things that comprise the teams rhythm of operation. As a facilitator/coach, write down any gaps you are seeing.
- Now go through each column and make sure the group is aligned, or if certain things should be moved to a different person. Also, help ensure the gaps you may have written down are addressed.
- Document the results with a picture or transcribe to a document that can be posted on your team portal.
- It’s suggested to distribute the results to the entire team.
For brand new teams or for teams that do not have an agile background, this similar exercise may be another option to help nudge along this activity. Scrum Roles and Responsibilities Game
Fear not agile warrior, you are not alone and help is on the way. They are many situations where someone just knows that agile could help or even change the face of the entire company if utilized…yet someone or many people within an organization are opposed to the idea. So what should you do? First off what are some reasons someone would be against agile?
- The’ve been on a team where agile was used, and failed.
- They don’t know enough about agile or have misconceptions.
- They don’t believe agile is right for their organization/product.
- They’ve worked with an Agile Coach/Scrum Master/Consultant that was not very good at their role. Yes, not everyone does their job well…even in the wonderful agile community.
- They are from the past (I kid…I kid! That was an IT Crowd reference)
Now for the part you really came to this blog post for: What are ways I can help my organization adopt and/or support agile?
- Start emphasizing agile principles in whatever work you are doing. As a consultant that works on a wide array of projects with a variety of methodologies, I’m often tested with how to apply principles on a personal level. Getting out of the theoretical and nitty gritty practical application is a great exercise towards see if/how agile could work at your organization. If this is something you feel is “out of your league” or you just don’t have the time to do, it’s OK. There’s other ways to makes strides towards becoming more agile.
- Propose solutions to problems from an agile perspective but without using agile lingo. Some people are just turned off to agile terms and immediately roll their eyes when you say “backlog grooming” or “daily scrum”. But if you are able to problem solve using agile principles you could begin to win over even the harshest of critics.
- Create a mini scrum board for tracking your own work. I heard a story of a person who was trying to advocate for their company to adopt agile, and started doing a scrum wall in a shared space. Pretty soon scrum boards were up all over the company. Some were labeled “Inspiration wall” or “Wall of vision”. Everyone from IT to Sales was using them. Baby steps can be better than no steps, right?
- Contact consulting companies. See if they would be willing to share about agile within your organization. Some consulting companies will do this for free because it’s a great way for them to help your cause, as well as demonstrate their expertise in this area should you need their services down the road. Or see if they are willing to just share free resources with you.
- Join user groups and contribute to the agile community. There have been times where my primary daily function was far from an agile focus, but I was able to stay energized by attending local groups or writing blog posts in my personal time. Also, sometimes effective reflection comes when you are looking in from the outside.
- Find a new opportunity. (Please take this with a grain of salt as it’s just my opinion.) This for many reasons isn’t the first option anyone would like, but it may be the right solution. As the industry seems to be moving more and more towards adopting agile, it’s less likely that a company is just flat out rejecting agile. It could be that they proclaim to use agile but it’s very broken or dysfunctional. These kinds of situations can cause stress if you are a firm believer in the agile principles. But is the disappointment or stress consistently outweighing the rewards or satisfaction experienced? If yes, it may be time to look for new opportunities. Robbie Bach wrote a relevant article you may find useful called “Knowing When To Walk Away“
What about you? What advice would you have for someone in this scenario? I’d love to hear what other people have done or are doing.
If you work in an organization that utilizes one of the many agile methodologies, you have probably heard the statement “that’s not agile”. It could be about a proposed process change, or a critique of an existing way of doing things. It baffles me to no end when people get lost in the weeds about if something they want to try as a team is agile. This is unfortunately very prevalent in Agile Coaches and Scrum Masters who have a lot of experience. Since agile is an emerging idea that is really starting to catch some momentum, some who have been advocates for a longer period of time can be standoff-ish about how to do things. This should be a huge red flag, because there are so many variations of agile and not every organization is the same. You can know all the right things, but completely fail at helping a team adopt agile. That is why it is very important to be flexible, and not have a “better than” mindset. The principles of agile/scrum are meant to be a guide, not a law that must be perfectly adhered to. I’m not suggesting you should throw all caution to the wind and try any and everything, because “everything’s agile!” No. What I am primarily addressing is the way in which this topic is approached.
So, who’s right? Maybe saying “that’s not agile” can be valid. Or maybe we’ve lost sight about what agile is all about. Let’s just take a quick peek at the Agile Manifesto for a refresher on what it’s all about:
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan
To be brash: If someone tells you “that’s not agile” and it’s something that could enable one of the 4 agile main points of the manifesto, I would seriously question how well they truly understand agile. And agile by nature is something that I believe will continue to evolve as people uncover better ways of doing things. (sound familiar?)
If your organization is looking for an Agile Coach or Scrum Master or you are just trying to improve your skills in that realm, here are some suggestions for what not to do, and what to do.
- Don’t try to impress anyone with your agile credentials. Do try to identify things that have been successful on similar teams/organizations.
- Don’t be preachy when trying to present new ideas. Do suggest ideas with a humble and flexible attitude.
- Don’t rely solely on past experiences of what worked for other teams. Do spend a lot of time listening to people’s needs an challenges.
- Don’t react when people are critical of agile. Do find a way to tie what people want back to agile principles and show them how they could enable those things.
- Don’t press your own agenda. Do thoroughly understand how you can support management’s vision.
- Don’t treat the agile principles as a law. Do use them as a guide for making continual improvement.
- Don’t be too critical of a team’s existing processes. You never know how much hard work they have put into building what’s there. Do make a point to try to build on existing foundations, and position it as an improvement rather than tearing down.
- Don’t be too quick to judge what will work best for a team. Do ask a lot of sincere questions and follow the breadcrumbs of how things became the way they are.
Hopefully the next time you want to say “That’s not agile” you can remember the big picture and help your teams find the very best solution. What things are important to you as an agile proponent in these regards? Do you have any good stories to share?