What happens if you only focus on making the team agile?
Be careful what you ask for – you might just get it!
Whenever I face a new organization trying to implement Agile as a work method, a specific question always strikes me; “Why do you want to move towards Agile?” Very often I get the same response. “The team is too slow, they need to be faster”, “We want more flexibility” “We want to be a modern company” (And I guess this implies to become an attractive workplace where it is fun and stimulating to work.)
And as an agile coach I get thrilled. There is a need for a change, and they are willing to see Agile as the solution. So they fly me out to the inefficient ship in the middle of the ocean, wire me down, shout “good luck” and fly away, thinking that injecting me will fight the entire virus in the project and make it become fast and successful. A quick fix that will cure the problem and then they can continue with business as usual. I am limited to work with the team, alone. I am telling you… that is not really how Agile works.
Starting with where I am, and what I can do, my first observation is very often the lack of a common goal. Everyone is paddling in different directions. And some of them really don’t want to hit the ground, so they make a big effort within their own area, not knowing that the person behind them is doing the same – but in the opposite direction.
Next step is asking them to reflect on their situation and start asking for improvements. They feel they don’t have time for change, or they know they are good in doing this so they don’t want to change – afraid that their ranking will be degraded. As I share my experience of other similar situations they are often willing to try – who knows, this might be their last hope to get this in order. There is no way of reaching the owner and we have been instructed that all deliveries are equally important. So we pick one. When we all know where we are heading and the team begin to hoist the sails, not only do they start doing synchronized efforts, they also adapt to using new tools and letting go of old ones and the speed goes up.
So, now when the crew is aligned, they are in control of how to steer the boat in case of new instructions, and they are enjoying the ride, you might think the owner of the boat is happy. But to me this is when the real problem begins.
Everyone wants to be Agile, until they realize what it actually takes
Suddenly the stakeholders are complaining to the owner, which often has the title Project Manager on their business cards, and the one who is buying my service as a safety jacket, not really the owner of the product rather the owner of the project. He gets the feedback that the stakeholders’ orders are no longer followed. Managers rarely like unhappy stakeholder and to please them quickly, he comes to visit the boat and throw down an anchor and shouts “Why are you no longer following the stakeholders’ instructions?”
Sails are up and anchor down – everyone realizes it is a big risk when there is a storm. This is the first time the concept of a product owner with a common prioritized backlog actually is understood fully. But that require a change outside of the team!!
There is no quick fix for the team, but the following is steps I often take to identify and to point out to the organization.
How to help a team getting up to speed
- Gather information; Observe, communicate and ask questions– no one like to be told what to do from someone who did not even take time to listen in the first place
- Do a common reflection – this is the teams chance to ventilate what is frustrating and often the team have the solution them self’s
- Identify the goal
- Help the team translating their steps towards improvement. I use Scrum as a framework as I find it a supporting way to measure progress and Scrum provides a short feedback loop of collected improvements.
…. and to make sure they can keep it
- Make sure that there is a dedicated Product Owner who knows or understand how to cooperate and communicate with the stakeholders and the team to collect relevant information and makes prioritizations so a backlog can be created and maintained. (Storyline might be an helpful tool)
- Keep in mind, Agile is a MINDSET and it is proven that the ones who succeed the best with adapting to Agile are companies where the mindset is implemented in the entire chain, not only perceived as a method for the team. Agile is as much about culture and relations as it is about practices.
I’m sure glad the hole isn’t at our end… work as a team to find success: #edchat #teamwork #leadership pic.twitter.com/IQUA63CNC3
— Dr. Justin Tarte (@justintarte) 30 september 2013
This post was created by Guest Blogger Catia Hansen. Many thanks.
- catia hansen: Owned by the author
- women rowing boat together: Matt on Flickr | CC BY 2.0