Here at Vaco, we’ve been talking a lot about a simple word called “Done” and the negative implications of too much WIP, over commitment and an inherent lack of accountability. Lucky for us, metrics allow us to assess where we are and where we want to go.
Newly formed teams are exempt since the data has not presented itself just yet, but within a space of three full sprints, teams should know their velocity (3 sprint average) and % completed (per sprint).
Let’s assume my team’s velocity is 20. During planning, we commit to 20 points and feel confident with that amount of work. We are now on day four of the sprint and an urgent 3 point story arrives. We agree to pull the work into the sprint since we are comfortable finishing it along in addition to our other committed work.
Last day of the sprint: We finished the urgent 3-point story, but 2 others did not meet the Definition of Done (a 1 pointer and a 2 pointer). What was our % complete?
d.) Math is hard
The answer is C – 87%. Even though the team’s original commitment was 20, we still need to account for fluctuations that occurred during the sprint. By saying “yes” to that urgent 3 point story without saying “no” to any other originally committed work, the team had committed above their normal velocity.
Just a quick breakdown on the data:
Why does this matter?
This matters because all organizations should be completely aware of what they are saying YES to, and what they are saying NO too, when “urgent” work pops in mid sprint.
A team can only do so much. If the size of their bucket is 20 points, then that’s the size of their bucket. Any time you add additional work without removing work from the bucket, the bucket WILL overflow.
Just some food for thought.
I was early into coaching a new Scrum team when our Client contract came to a grinding halt due to a significant oversight. Until this was resolved, we were directed to cease all coaching which couldn’t have happened at a worse possible time. You see, the team was approaching their very first sprint review along with their normal planning, retrospective and refinement events. I was excited to witness the initial software demonstration and to observe stakeholder feedback. I was also looking forward to teasing out the next epic with the Product Owner and team.
I diligently followed the direction given to me. I let the team know they were temporarily on their own and sent them off on their way, minus their training wheels. A day later, their “Pre-Refinement” meeting was cancelled. This is not an official Scrum event, but a more intimate discussion, which includes the Product Owner, Scrum Master and UX Designer. The focus is to build up the backlog so the team has stories they can pull from during refinement.
Following that cancellation, I received another for the team’s Story Refinement event which included the following note: “The team has decided to focus on the new work for this hour, we will pick up next week.” I peeked into their Product backlog (yes, I know I was supposed to be hands off – but I’m nosy) and I counted 2 stories in total. We recommend the Product Backlog contains enough work to fill 2-3 sprints. This team barely had enough items to pull in as stretch stories!
My first instinct was to reach out to the PO and SM to persuade them to reconsider by explaining the importance of the refinement. To reinforce that Sprint Planning becomes relatively simple because the Scrum Team starts the planning with clear, well analyzed and carefully estimated set of stories. Also, I would have liked to dive deeper into why the team felt that focusing on the new sprint was of utmost importance. Did they overcommit during Sprint Planning? This was day two of their sprint, were they already feeling anxiety or angst?
Instead of overreacting, I paused to reflect on my strong desire to insulate them, using the 5 Why’s as guidance. The “5 Why’s” method is a handy tool to use to uncover our internal motivations, which ultimately helps us to determine which path to take. For me, it’s the bridge between panic and stillness.
Problem Statement: I feel the need to redirect the team.
I want to protect them.
So they don’t experience the distress and frustration of a last minute scramble.
Because it’s a chaotic and stressful feeling when you arrive at Sprint Planning and realize there’s insufficient work ready for the sprint.
Because the time that’s been set aside for Sprint Planning will need to be lengthened to allow for Story Refinement. Which means a longer and more arduous event.
Because they can’t move forward with Sprint Planning until they have their Product Backlog determined.
As you know, self-reflection is one of the most important skills of an agile coach. In review of my answers, it became apparent that this was not a life or death situation. I’ve been reinforcing the agile mindset, scrum values and principles. I’ve guided and walked along side of them, while teaching the nuances of Scrum patterns (and anti-patterns). I’ve done my part. The direction they decide to take is ultimately up to them.
With my why’s firmly in place, I made the decision to do absolutely nothing.
I figured the worst-case scenario is that the team arrives at the next Sprint Planning meeting and are faced with an empty Product Backlog. They’ll inspect, adjust, and adapt. Later, they’ll reflect during their Retrospective and will arrive at a few solid action items. In short, they will learn. On their own. And isn’t that what agility is all about?
During the Q&A portion of an Agile panel discussion, a Scrum Master asked the following question:
“My team prefers to have their daily scrum just twice per week. I know I can’t mandate that they have it daily, so what should I do?”
My initial reaction was to unmute zoom and shout “Of course you can mandate this! It’s called the DAILY Scrum for a reason!”, citing the official event title from the Scrum Guide. However, instead of prescriptively waving the Scrum gospel around, I paused to contemplate the word she used: “mandate”.
According to dictionary.com, mandate (when used as a verb) is to order or require; make mandatory. When you mandate something, you are coming from a place of authority, of leadership. You are now dictating the process; you are setting the rules.
Do Scrum Masters have the right to mandate rules to a team?
I know, I know, everyone hates a wishy-washy answer but hear me out.
Have you heard the phrase “Shu-Ha-Ri”? This term is derived from martial arts and is used to describe the progression of training or learning. Essentially, there are three stages of acquiring knowledge. I like to think of it as:
For example, this means meeting on a consistent basis (daily), keeping the Daily Scrum focused, raising impediments, strategizing towards completing the sprint goal, and containing it within a 15-minute time frame. Until these elements of the Daily Scrum are truly ingrained in the team’s DNA, I would expect the Scrum Master to continually reinforce (mandate) these rules.
When the team has moved past “Shu”, the Scrum Master can take a more flexible or pragmatic approach.
What indicates that the team has advanced from “Shu” to “Ha”? Or from “Ha to Ri”? Unfortunately, there is no magical “Ha-Ri Finish Line”, but you can hunt for clues such as:
As a Scrum Master observing these behaviors, I would feel confident stepping back and allowing the Dev team to bend some rules (ie: scheduling their daily scrum twice per week). However, I would monitor them to make sure they continue to stay within the guardrails of the framework, values, and principles, since it’s easy to get complacent.
In summary, there is a certain rhythm and rigor to Scrum. The Scrum Master’s job is to promote/support Scrum by helping everyone understand Scrum theory, practices, rules, and values. How this looks depends on the maturity of the team.
The one question I will always go back to is: Is this a true Shu, Ha, or Ri level team? The answer to this question almost always determines the best approach or course of action.
In this final blog of the “New Normal” series, let’s tackle something we tend to overlook or take for granted: nurturing existing relationships.
We get caught up in our day to day life, in our routines, in our tiny biosphere - that we tend to forget to nourish the working relationships we so carefully built. Like a flourishing garden, healthy work relationships grow when they are tended with care – watered, weeded and nurtured. Job satisfaction and long-term career success are built on this foundation and we would be doing ourselves (and each other) a disservice by neglecting them.
Show Your Appreciation
Just yesterday, my colleague requested I remain on zoom following a meeting we were wrapping up. After everyone else had dropped, he expressed his appreciation regarding a conversation we had last week. I do not recall his exact words, and honestly, it wasn’t the words that mattered. Because I can recount how I felt: understood, worthy, appreciated.
His facial expressions, tone of voice and eye contact conveyed thoughtful sincerity. I truly felt his words, his appreciation. All of this contributed to a welcomed side benefit – I experienced a closer connection to him. Close connections lead to greater trust. And greater trust leads to robust communication channels which lead to more impactful outcomes. Good stuff, right?
This Harvard study revealed that “gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”
In addition, expressing gratitude or appreciation instills loyalty which helps to develop a creative and positive working environment. This could be a simple “thank you” for putting in a little extra effort, for exhibiting vulnerability or for speaking up when no one else was.
With us all working from the comfort of our homes, it’s challenging to express our gratitude since we can’t buy one another a cup of coffee or a sandwich. So beyond verbal acknowledgements, what are other ways to express your appreciations?
Try creating virtual kudos at KudoBox. This free website allows you to select a card from 9 different styles, type your complimentary message and send via email. It takes literally seconds and the receiver will be pleasantly surprised by your thoughtfulness.
Let’s take this a step further. What about a handmade note of gratitude or recognition? To this day, my 82-year-old mother sends thank-you notes for literally everything. I often giggle at the formality of her letters, but I must admit - receiving her notes of appreciation give me the warm fuzzies (this is especially true when she adorns the envelopes with kitten stickers). She often tells me that writing the letters make her feel good, and yes, I feel good receiving them as well (the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree). Are we weird?
Apparently not. A study in Psychological Science confirms that people expressing gratitude underestimated how pleasantly surprised recipients would be to receive a handwritten "thank you" and how positive the expression of gratitude made recipients feel. On the flip side, people who wrote thank-you letters overestimated the potential awkwardness that someone receiving a heartfelt thank-you note would experience. This is proof that you can (and should) grab paper, a pen and a stamp – and let the receiver know how much they are valued.
For a slightly more expensive option, you can always send small gifts of appreciation. For example, an amazon gift card, a plant (you can’t go wrong with succulents), or a 1000 piece puzzle.
Even better – how about sending something more heartfelt, maybe something you created. This could be the results of your Great Aunt Barbara’s macadamia nut cookie recipe, a string of origami paper cranes or simply a homemade hand sanitizer or cloth mask. A handmade gift lets someone feel extra special because rather than giving a store-bought present, you chose to put your time creating something. Without a doubt, the person who will receive it will feel nothing but good vibes.
Connect With One Another
To keep your connections strong, how about picking up the phone to say hello. This means dialing a telephone number and using your voice.
Nope, speaking directly with another human cultivates unity and connection. Isn’t it nice to hear your colleague’s response in real time, rather than watching a “Margaret is typing…” while you sit on the edge of your seat, waiting for the verdict? Don’t you want to rekindle the energy of live conversation? Of laughter? Do your thumbs need a break? I know mine do. So, pick up the phone, hop on facetime and have a real conversation with real people.
In previous posts, we discussed scheduling a virtual coffee / lunch / happy hour with one another. This idea applies here as well. To further our relationships with one another, consciously schedule an hour or longer with a colleague or client. Grab your beverage or food of choice, turn on your camera’s and catch up. Tell them you appreciate them; tell them you are grateful that you are both connected. This is the perfect opportunity to connect with one another.
Working remote doesn’t have to equate to endless hours of social isolation or FOMO. In fact, it is now more important than ever to consciously strengthen our connections to one another.
Team bonding is essential for building or creating trust between one another, improving communication and dissolving imagined barriers. Stronger relationships result in higher performance, more engagement and happier team members. This is a win-win situation for everyone involved!
Here’s the thing: you don’t need to be in the same physical location of your colleagues to interact with them! There are countless opportunities to encourage continual team building and foster solid relationships. All from the comfort of your snazzy new home office.
Schedule a Virtual ___________ (Fill in the Blank)
Schedule a meeting with your colleagues, turn on those nifty cameras (remember from the previous post: no one cares what you look like!) and enjoy virtual coffee / lunch hour / happy hour.
Virtual breaks encourage socialization with your colleagues. They are specifically designed for workers to participate in idle chitchat, general discussions, or even light brainstorming. Consider this a pause in your day, a moment where you can rest your overloaded brain and connect with other human beings while consuming your beverage or food of choice.
For more activity, an alternative option is to participate in a virtual workout class (yoga, kickboxing, Zumba etc.) Instead of consuming calories, you can burn them by tuning into your favorite YouTube video for an interactive heart pumping workout. Remember, when we exercise, blood pressure and blood flow increase everywhere in the body, including the brain. More blood means more energy and oxygen, which makes our brain perform better.
Or maybe the team is stressed and would benefit by taking a mindful period of rest. How about a virtual meditation? Meditation can help eliminate negative thoughts, worries, and anxiety; all factors that can prevent us from feeling happy.
If you and your team members are new to meditation – try a guided one. A guided meditation is just that – a meditation led by another person’s voice. Because the mind tends to wander where it will, you may find it easier to focus and relax when your mind isn’t entirely left to its own device. Try a meditation led by Tara Brach or choose from one of these 70 free meditations.
Close your eyes and try to recall your childhood memories. Do you remember participating in show-and-tell at school? This was a classroom exercise in which children would bring an item from home and talk about it with their classmates.
Show-and-tell was designed as a conversation starter for children. This allowed other students a glimpse into the child’s home life, into what they valued. It also acted as an ice breaker and helped children connect with their peers in new ways.
Why not try a show-and-tell variation with your colleagues? You can use the first few minutes of your daily check in to display one of your prized possessions with an explanation of what it is, and why it is significant to you. Maybe there’s a compelling back story, something that would give people a glimpse into your hobbies or interests.
A different approach is present your favorite photograph. It could be that one of you holding a cuddly joey in Sydney, or finishing your first marathon: dripping sweat, bandaged up and beaming with pride. The photo doesn’t have to be framed, and it doesn’t have to be in perfect condition. It just has to speak to you.
To add a little creativity (or to throw a curveball to the group), you could suggest creating a rotating “theme of the week” where team members show photos of:
Google Earth gives you the ability to view satellite imagery, 3D buildings and terrain across the globe. You can zoom to your house or favorite coffee shop and then dive in for a 360° perspective with Street View. Imagine showing everyone where you went to college or the exact spot your husband proposed to you? Google Earth is an enjoyable way to visually share your story or home environment with your colleagues.
Engaging in game play is a relatively simple and straightforward approach to strengthening team bonds and relationships. Unfortunately, our society tends to dismiss play for adults. Play is perceived as unproductive, petty or a guilty pleasure. However, according to this article from Wanderlust, “Play has been shown to release endorphins, improve brain functionality, and stimulate creativity.” Play is pivotal. Play brings us joy and is vital for problem solving, creativity and relationships.
We don’t have to be physically collocated to play games. Lucky for us, technology is on our side.
Keep your eyes open for our final post of this series, which will provide tips and on nurturing existing relationships.
Collaborating with your colleagues from the comfort of your new home office space may at first feel awkward or uncomfortable.
Your once harmonious and maybe even enjoyable (!) meetings are now disjointed. The side bar conversations and inside jokes have become a thing of the past. Conversations feel disorganized and scattered; on conference calls maybe you all speak at once, or no one speaks at all. There are interruptions, people go unheard or perhaps there is that one dominant voice.
The worst part in all this? Because you cannot see one another, words that were once well received are now enormously open to misinterpretation. You are unable to sense the energy, emotions or fear in the room. I like to think of it as “the smell”. And on conference calls, that smell is often undiscernible.
Did you know that nonverbal communication is the single most powerful form of communication? “Nonverbal” includes elements like facial expressions, body language, use of space, gestures. When these are not visually evident, our true communication is compromised. I may have complete control of my voice and my words, but you won’t see my tapping fingers or the rolling of my eyes (two distinct signs of impatience and annoyance). Even the tiniest facial expressions or physical moments, reveal what is truly happening internally.
The good news is that there are multiple opportunities to tighten our communication game and cultivate brilliant team collaboration.
Revisit (or Create) Team Working Agreements
Shifting from in-person meetings to video calls may feel disconcerting. This is now your “new normal” and you can expect to encounter a transitional period, while you’re trying to acclimate. To make for a calmer, more pleasant adjustment, now this is the perfect time to revisit or create team working agreements.
Think of team working agreements as “house rules”. These are guidelines that will define how a team behaves, interacts and achieves their goals. Working agreements are important because it gives all team members a template for what is expected – which is vital when meeting virtually.
When creating working agreements, consider all the dysfunctional and disruptive things you’ve experienced in remote meetings. This could include disruptions (dogs barking, kids screaming), late arrivals, multi-tasking (“I’m sorry, can you repeat that?”) or inadequate facilitation. In these instances, what rules can your team put into place?
Some examples may include:
While capturing these agreements, discuss how you will be holding one another accountable. Keep in mind, these agreements should actually be followed, and not just documented.
Turn those Camera’s ON
Earlier we discussed the importance of nonverbal communication. This can’t be stressed enough! Until we are physically in the same location, the only way we can decipher one another’s subtle facial expressions, body language or gestures is by turning our cameras on.
The obvious must be stated here:
No one cares what you look like on camera (except for you).
Your colleagues aren’t snickering at your unbrushed hair or raggedy old hoodie. Instead, they will experience a sense of connection, of partnership. No longer are they speaking to a black void, unaware of how their words are landing, wondering if you’re listening, if you care. Seeing your face intent and smiling is what connects us as humans. It is what unifies us. And we need this now more than ever.
Here’s something cool - several online meeting tools (zoom, teams) provide the option to switch out your background image, which makes for engaging conversation (and hides what’s going on behind you). Instead of that blank gray wall, you can virtually transport yourself to an abandoned street in a cyberpunk city or smack dab in the middle of a Bob Ross type painting.
If you’re still feeling less than par, Zoom has implemented a feature called “Touch Up My Appearance” which evens out your skin tone, making you look “dewy and well-rested”. (Click here for additional Zoom tips and tricks.)
Lastly, set up your device or camera so that it has a clear, unobstructed view of you. Don’t sit too far from (or too close to) the camera and adjust it to be at eye level (so it appears that you are speaking directly to your colleagues).
Keep the Meeting Flowing
There should be one person designated as the meeting conductor. They are responsible for facilitating the flow of the session; staying on topic and keeping within the timeframe allotted. A skillful facilitator will make sure everyone is heard and feels included in the conversation. They will manage the dominant voices and encourage the quieter ones to be heard. They will also obtain consensus when necessary and bring the group back if the conversation digresses.
Facilitators sometimes find it difficult to get a word in edgewise – especially on remote meetings when the conversation gets extremely lively. One creative option is to use handheld signals (like this MeetingMinders Toolset) to provide visual indicators when a meeting veers off course. These are essential for facilitation, especially if a meeting has taken a nosedive down a rabbit hole or has been monopolized by an overzealous team member. If this happens, simply choose your weapon of choice (Rock n’ Roll rabbit Hole, ELMO etc.) and hold it to the camera to refocus the room.
Another underutilized, yet critical technique is “timeboxing”. Timeboxing is a simple time management technique that involves allocating a fixed time for an activity or discussion and then meeting that timeframe. Using an online tool such as this bomb countdown makes tracking and adhering to the timebox relatively easy and entertaining. If you share your screen, then the time left is evident to everyone, which is a polite reminder to wrap up the conversation.
Of course, no one wants to be the “Time Police”, barking out orders to stop talking once the time bomb explodes. Instead, a complimentary technique is to incorporate Roman voting. This gives the power to the group to decide whether to move on or continue the discussion.
At the end of the timebox, ask the group if they would like to continue discussion. Thumbs up means “Yes, this is fantastic, we still need to talk about it now”. Thumbs down is “I’m done with this discussion. Let’s move on.” This allows you, as the facilitator, to get a sense of whether you need to add more time or move on, without being the evil time keeping villain.
Use Collaboration Tools
There’s nothing worse than minimum engagement during remote meetings. Typically, this occurs when one person is doing all the talking – which leads to observers tuning out, rather than participants turning in. You know this is happening when a meeting mirrors the adults on those old Peanut cartoons (wah, whaaaa, whaa whaa).
To increase team engagement and interaction, try using an online visual collaboration tool such as Miro or Mural, whenever possible. These tools are incredible at helping distributed teams to work effectively together, from brainstorming with digital sticky notes to planning and managing workflows… all in real time! Consider these tools as your virtual thinking canvases thus allowing you to solve challenges by collaborated visually.
Both tools are intuitive and allow for creative interactivity and collective partnership. However, these can be slightly pricey. If you’re on a tighter budget, try Google Docs as an alternative. With their editing and styling tools, built-in templates, and real-time collaboration features, teams can collectively work on a project simultaneously and track their edits along the way.
Isn’t technology amazing?
There you have it! You now have four new ideas to tighten your communication game. With these tips and tools, you can put yourself and your team on the path to cultivating brilliant team collaboration.
Keep your eyes open for part five of this series, which will provide tips and tricks for remote team building.
You’ve created the perfect working environment and defined your new routine; however, you may still find it difficult to concentrate. Especially if your children, partner, roommates or pets are noisily swirling throughout the day. Don’t worry though! There are several strategies you could try that may increase your focus.
While this blog is being written, my eyes wander over to the dirty dishes before bouncing to the unopened mail scattered on the counter. I remember that I haven’t rescheduled my dental appointment or contacted my insurance company. As my cell phone dings and lights up with text messages and news feeds, I contemplate what time the puppy last went out. I’ve been perched on this kitchen barstool for two hours and my lower back is screaming.
What’s wrong with this picture?
I am not physically located in the office environment that I created for myself. I am not seated at my comfortable ergonomic chair, with the door closed to drown out activity. I’m not surrounded by my productive or calming tools (see blog 1 - Build a Productive Environment) and I’m clearly not in “focus mode”. The surrounding noises fight for my attention and my brain is on overdrive. I sympathize with the animated dog in the movie “Up”, who is continually distracted by squirrels. The struggle is real.
Does this sound familiar to you?
When this happens (and it will), immediately walk – no run! - to your designated workspace. Sit down. Close your eyes and take a deep breath. Fill your ears with calming music or white noise. Write down whatever is on your mind; these will be dealt with later. Turn off your devices (phone, watch etc.), or better yet – set them elsewhere in the house. Create an automatic reply for the next hour and then close email, chat and your browser windows. Let your colleagues know you will be off the grid for a little while. Hang a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door to indicate that you are unavailable to the folks at home.
By eliminating distractions, you will become better at concentrating, but this takes deliberate practice. Eventually you’ll find yourself being able to resist temptations which will improve your focus and allow you to accomplish your goals.
In the morning, prioritize what needs to get done and identify any activities requiring your undivided attention. Review your schedule and block off time in your calendar where you can work without interruptions. This doesn’t have to be excessive; you can achieve a significant amount of work within a 30-minute time block. The key though, is to respect the appointment. Treat it like you would treat any other meeting, by starting on time, being present and ending on time.
Music. Makes the Focus. Come Together.
If you’re struggling to find your groove, grab your favorite noise cancelling headphones and get ready to tune out, by tuning in. The right kind of music (or sound) can help relax your mind, increase concentration and optimize your productivity by reducing distractions. In addition, music activates both the left and right brain at the same time, which maximizes learning and improves memory (bonus!!).
For the best focus music, choose tunes that keep you awake but won't cause you get up and shake what your mama gave you (wait until you have a break for that). Some musical options include:
Whichever you choose, noise levels matter. Ensure the sound isn’t too loud or too soft, so you can receive the maximum benefit.
Just Say No to Multitasking
Multitasking is the practice of doing multiple things simultaneously, such as writing an email, editing a document or responding to slack while attending a conference call. In theory, this sounds amazing. Look how much we can accomplish at once – it’s as if we have 4 different brains, all working in perfect harmony tackling our to-do list at an overwhelming speed! Look at us go!!
Sorry friends, researchers at Stanford University have bad news for us.
Multitasking is doing more harm than good.
According to this study back in 2009, “People who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information do not pay attention, control their memory or switch from one job to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time.”
It’s all a mirage. Multitasking is less productive than doing one single thing at a time. The American Psychological Association backs this up with their own research. They uncovered that the mind and brain were not designed for heavy-duty multitasking.
Switching between tasks causes a significant loss in time, due to the cognitive load imposed. When you ricochet from one task to another, you need to remember where you left off in the task that you are returning to. The more complex the task, the more time you will need. And the more prone to error you are.
Although these time switch costs may be relatively small, sometimes just one second per switch, they can add up to large amounts of time when people switch repeatedly back and forth between tasks. Think about it. How many times, in the past 60 minutes, did you switch contexts? Now take that number and multiply it by the number of hours you are awake. That’s a lot of wasted time.
If you want to get things done (and get things done correctly) without losing precious time, then just say no to multitasking.
Define Your Focus Time
As mentioned in the previous post, the Pomodoro technique is a time management method which structures your day based on 25 minutes of focused work followed by 2-5 minute breaks. This approach teaches you to work with time, instead of struggling against it.
Start by identifying the task you need to focus on and then make a small oath to yourself: “I will spend 25 minutes on this task, and I will not allow for interruptions.” You can do it! After all, it’s just 25 minutes. Set a timer and get to it. If a new “must do” item pops into your brain before the timer ends, write it down and get back to work on your task.
When the timer rings, stop whatever you are doing, pat yourself on the back, and grab a 2-5 minute break. Stretch your limbs, get outside, grab a cup of tea or do some other non-work-related activity. Whatever you do, make sure you use your break as a purposeful pause.
Consciously settling into your quiet space, blocking outside interferences (Squirrel!!), and following the Pomodoro technique will go a long way to promoting clarity and focus. This leads you to greater productivity and accomplishment… which automatically lends itself to an overall feeling of triumph and joy. Who doesn’t want that?
Keep your eyes open for part four of this series, which will provide practical techniques to foster amazing collaboration with your colleagues.
You’ve created the perfect working environment – one which is ripe for productivity, creativity and focus, but you may discover that it’s increasingly difficult to find your flow.
Working from home allows you the flexibility to structure your day however you would like (which could be either a blessing or a curse!). Because of this, it’s important to establish a solid routine - this will be critical to your overall success.
According to this study by researchers at Tel Aviv University, "ritualistic behavior in both humans and animals developed as a way to induce calm and manage stress caused by unpredictability and uncontrollability — heightening our belief that we are in control of a situation that is otherwise out of our hands."
Predictable and repetitive routines help you take control of your day and, subsequently, your life. However, creating a routine can be hard to do, especially when no one is pushing you to get out of bed in the morning and your commute is from one room to the next.
Define Your Core Working Hours
A common frustration we hear is “I never stop working, since there are no office hours at home”. You may be struggling with an overlap between “working time” and “family / personal time”. These lines blur if you don’t consciously devise a realistic schedule to adhere to.
There are several things you should consider when establishing your new core working hours.
You’ll want to balance the needs of your family (including your pets!) with the requirements of your job. Do you have an infant, younger children or a high energy puppy? Are you the primary chauffeur or dog walker? Do you fix breakfasts or home school your children? Take their schedules or routines in account when creating your own.
What are your natural circadian rhythms? If you’re an early bird, perhaps you can begin working before sunrise when you’re fresh and focused. If you’re a night owl (and if your position allows), you probably concentrate best when the house is silent, and the sky is dark.
Working 8 or 9 hours straight is taxing and just plain unrealistic. Consider portioning your workday into small chunks of focus time to avoid burnout and to counterbalance distractions.
Whatever you decide, clear your new core working hours with Management and your colleagues to make sure this is acceptable. Explicitly communicating this upfront will help to avoid any potential misunderstandings later. Lastly, prominently display your schedule near your office space so your family will be mindful of your time commitments.
Take Charge of Your Morning
How you start the day is just as important as the day itself. What you do in the space between opening your eyes to opening your laptop is vital to your well being.
To determine this, consider what’s important to you. Is it exercise, meditation, journaling? Consuming your first cup of coffee in a quiet space? Showering or putting on “real” clothes? Be thoughtful when defining your morning routine. Contemplate what activities both nourish or energize you and then write it down. Writing these down takes pressure off you to remember what you must do, which reduces mental clutter.
Once you’ve established your new morning routine, set your alarm so you have plenty of time to accomplish your activities before launching into your workday.
Take Consistent Breaks
Breaks increase productivity and creativity. Working for long stretches without breaks leads to stress and exhaustion. Taking breaks refreshes the mind, replenishes your mental resources, and helps you become more creative. According to research, “Aha moments” came more often to those who took breaks than those who didn’t.
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method which structures your day based on 25 minutes of focused work followed by 2-5 minute breaks. A longer break (15-30 minutes) is taken after completing four work periods. This technique is wonderful, not only for maintaining focus but for incorporating deliberate breaks throughout the day.
Try the 50/10 Rule. Work in 50-minute intervals followed by 10-minute breaks. When you work according to the 50/10 Rule, there’s no grey area for getting your work done. Fifty minutes is a manageable amount of time for uninterrupted work, and a ten-minute break is enough to recharge your productivity muscle.
An office environment automatically lends itself to daily activity such as walking to / from the car, squatting to clear that paper jam, or climbing stairs to your next meeting. Working from home does just the opposite due to being enclosed in a smaller, confined space the entire day. Therefore, it’s necessary to intentionally incorporate movement.
Moving your body on a regular basis is vital for your mental and physical health. Research shows that when we exercise, blood pressure and blood flow increase everywhere in the body, including the brain. More blood means more energy and oxygen, which makes our brain perform better.
There are multiple approaches to incorporating activity during the day. Here are a few ideas to try:
Whatever you do, figure out what works for you and don’t over think it. We all have different needs, goals, and desires which is why it’s important to create our own routines. Begin by setting one reasonable “try” and just do it. Keep in mind - it’s never too late to start a new routine.
Come back for the next post for tips on how to maintain focus!
Build a Productive Environment
Okay, so you are forced to work from the privacy of your home. Now what? Let’s begin with establishing your new environment – one which is ripe for productivity, creativity and focus.
Find a space in your home that can act as your new office. Many of us don’t have spare rooms lying around and that’s okay! Get creative! This is the perfect time to convert wasted space into a fully functioning area.
Investigate the nooks and crannies of your home, with fresh eyes and an open mind. Is there a corner of a room you can turn into an office? What about that dining room used only on major holidays? Or the large landing at the top of the stairs, where the kid’s toys tend to multiply and accumulate? Ask yourself - Are you really utilizing your craft room/attic/den/basement, or can it be converted into an office? This is the perfect time to take stock of how you are using your existing square footage and to identify unused space.
While you’re hunting for a cozy nook to call your own, consider where the natural light filters in or where the house may be slightly quieter. Where does the sun rise or fall? What is the view from the nearest window? Where would the least amount of distractions (noises, smells, activity) occur? Are there outlets nearby?
Fill it with Productive Tools
Now that you have identified your new office space, fill it with objects that foster productivity, creativity and focus. You’ll need a flat surface such as an office desk or table (I love this one by ikea! It folds neatly or spreads out, depending on your needs) and an extremely comfortable, ergonomic chair with wheels.
A standing desk is another fantastic alternative due to its health benefits, such as burning a few extra calories and reducing shoulder or back pain. They range in price but are worth the initial investment. A standing desk converter (like this Bublitz Height Adjustable Standing Desk Converter) is a more budget friendly option offering the same advantages.
To keep your electronics within reach and at maximum power, add a charging station to your workspace. If possible, set up a larger monitor (24-inches or more) at eye level; this will help alleviate eyestrain and neck pain. (Tip! If money is tight, see if you can borrow one from your employer.) Another way to maximize productivity is to invest in a pair of comfortable noise cancelling headphones or a headset. Wireless ones are optimal, so you can free up your hands for organizing paperwork or shoo’ing the family away.
Fill it with Calming Tools
Now that you’ve got your electronics in place, consider adding a small table lamp for warm light and a potted plant to reduce stress and produce oxygen. Include a beloved framed photo, a lightly scented candle, your favorite trinket. The goal is to surround yourself with items that bring a smile to your face and an ease to your mind; all of this adds to your productivity.
To further separate your new working space and for added privacy, order a wide room divider (wayfair has a wide variety of choices). Free standing or floating bookshelves help to further organize your space, along with storage cubes. A wall clock with silent hands allows you to work free from distractions and keep tabs on the time. The possibilities are endless!
Now that you have a proper (and fully functioning) workspace, it’s time to consider how you can structure your days to be both productive and gratifying. Keep your eyes open for part two of this series, which will provide tips and tricks for creating a new routine.
“The team just doesn’t have a sense of urgency.”
Have you ever uttered those words? Or felt the frustration from this preconceived notion? Have you ever wondered why your teams aren’t performing to your expectations? You question whether they just lack passion or simply don’t care? Or maybe they just aren’t into their jobs? Are team members just phoning it in?
Did it ever occur to you that…
Maybe they don’t have the skills necessary to perform the work, and need to be taught? Or maybe they can’t focus due to getting pulled in multiple, conflicting directions? Maybe the user stories are too large, too complex, or too bulky to finish within a sprint? Maybe they are working on outdated laptops, with severe performance issues, and they literally cannot speed up their process? Maybe they don’t understand the expectations due to language, cultural, time zone, or physical barriers? Or perhaps, maybe the sense of urgency was never adequately conveyed because they don’t know why they’re doing the work?
How would asking curiosity-based questions change our internal narrative? The dynamics of our relationships? What if we proceeded based on curiosity, rather than secretly fuming from a place of scrutiny and distrust?
Assuming positive intent (API) is the first step towards strengthening our bonds with our teams, rather than destroying them, based on false presumptions.
I challenge you to try API as your personal internal experiment. Afterwards, reflect on your experience: Did your relationships shift? Did you gain insight about yourself, your team members, or the process? Did you find yourself responding from a place of empathy or concern? How did it feel to assume positive intent – did you feel less frustrated and gain empathy?
This is just one step we can take to strengthen our relationships and build in psychological safety. Not only at work, but in our personal lives as well.
Stay positive! Stay curious!
During a recent client engagement, I advocated that Scrum Masters schedule one-on-ones with their team members. Afterwards I was approached by a Scrum Master who was curious as to the “why” behind this recommendation. He thought the purpose was to receive feedback and answer questions regarding the Scrum Process. His assumptions were correct, but he only touched the surface, so I thought I’d dive a little deeper.
The Scrum Master is a servant-leader for the Scrum team. They serve the development team in self-organization and cross-functionality – through training, mentoring and coaching. Great Scrum Masters want to help grow the team, enforce accountability and encourage productivity, and empower collaboration.
Essentially, the Scrum Master is the team coach.
A One-on-One session is an extremely efficient technique to:
One final note – spending one-on-one time with a person sends the message that the person is valuable. When the focus is on understanding team members’ concerns and helping them be productive, the SM is also building trust…. Which is KEY for high performance.
The technique is not only useful for team members. I often recommend that Scrum Masters schedule regular one-on-ones with the managers of their team members. This is NOT a complaint session nor focused on airing dirty laundry.
Instead, you establish a partnership where you both are helping each team member, and the overall team, be the best they can be. This also helps the manager increase the effectiveness of their own one-on-ones with team members.
I’ve noticed the term “Scrum Master” results in a variety of facial expressions for people who are unfamiliar with the Scrum roles. These run the gamut from confusion to suspicion to outright incredulity.
“What does this even mean? What is this “Master of Scrum”?
Sounds like complete rubbish; an imaginary role that offers no credibility or substance.” Their body language further reinforces their intrinsic cynicism – arms crossed, neck tensed, palms clammy. I imagine they envision hundred-dollar bills engulfed in flames, each time a Scrum Master deposits their paycheck.
I rise to the challenge and dutifully describe the role of the Scrum Master.
A Scrum Master is the “servant leader” for the Scrum Team, Product Owner and organization. This means promoting and supporting Scrum through teaching Values, theory, practices, and rules. Scrum Masters serve the Scrum team by shielding them from outside forces, removing impediments and coaching them in self-organization and cross-functionality, all of which allow them to focus on creating high value products. They also encourage the team to improve its development process and practices to make it more effective and enjoyable for the next sprint.
They serve the Product Owner by offering techniques for effective product backlog management, ensuring goals, scope, and product domain are understood by everyone, and facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed. The organization relies on the Scrum Master to lead and coach the Scrum adoption, induce change to increase the productivity of the Scrum teams and help everyone to understand and enact Scrum and empirical product development. In addition, the Scrum Masters are continually monitoring transparency by inspecting the artifacts, sensing patterns, listening closely to what is being said, and detecting differences between expected and real results.
Without Scrum Masters, we must assume that the Scrum Team and a Product Owner work together like a well-oiled machine and fully comprehend Scrum. (I have yet to experience this.) Who is going to help those outside the team understand which interactions are helpful and which aren’t? Who will explain the agile “Why” behind the agile “What”? Who is monitoring the health of the team, keeping Scrum events focused & efficient, and coaching the team on autonomy, cross-functionality, and self-organization? Who is continually observing the team dynamics, enforcing the agile mindset, and challenging for continual improvement?
After explaining all of this, a mental light bulb turns on, I know this because their facial expressions change. Their eyebrows relax, body leans forward, fingers steepled at their lips, in a thought-provoking manner.
AHA! Perhaps I’ve cracked the code.
What if we replace the role of “Scrum Master” to “Team Coach”? If leadership and team members viewed them as “Team Coaches”, then perhaps they wouldn’t be continually trying to understand or justify their role.
After all, every great team needs a coach. Don’t they?
In the eleven years I’ve known my husband, I gained 30 pounds. I’ve tried numerous attempts at losing the weight – I’ve counted points. I’ve counted calories. I tried low fat diets, no fat diets, low carb diets, no carb diets. I would lose 5 or 10 pounds, and then gain it back. It was a wild roller coaster and I felt like a failure… and I was frustrated. Convinced something was wrong with my body, I asked my doctor to perform multiple blood tests. They always came back fine; I was quite healthy. Overweight, but healthy. I was convinced that it was the DIET’S FAULT.
This was weighing heavily (pun intended) on my mind while creating a training deck. I was in the process of inserting a slide on the 5 Core Scrum Values, when it hit me: I wasn’t personally aligned with these values myself.
I wasn’t focused. Like most people, my diets kicked off on a Monday morning. I followed the diet to a “T” on Mondays and Tuesdays. Wednesday’s were a little slippery, sometimes I would sneak a free office cookie or two. Thursday’s were “girl’s night out” which meant indulgence. Fridays: Date night with my husband which meant more indulgence.
By Saturday morning, I would wake feeling remorseful and defeated. I would then chalk it up to a “bad week” and decide to start again the following Monday, giving myself the weekend to “just relax and enjoy” – which really meant, fried food, wine and exercise avoidance.
I wasn’t being open or honest with myself. I continuously made careless choices without any sort of personal accountability. I literally ignored my role in this thing called weight loss. It was the epitome of denial.
I wasn’t respecting the rules of any of the diet plans. I cut corners as much as possible – over measuring, under exercising, sneaking bites of this or that. Essentially, I was a big fat cheater.
I didn’t have the courage to admit this to myself. It was all too easy to blame everything around me but being honest was scary. I felt vulnerable and embarrassed. Weak and shameful.
Clearly, I wasn’t committed to losing this weight. All signs point to this.
I realized it wasn’t the diet’s fault.
It was mine.
What’s my point here? If Scrum isn’t working for you, I challenge you to turn inward and ask yourself if your organization is aligned with the 5 Scrum Values.
Are you FOCUSED?
Are your team members adhering to WIP limits? Do they have WIP limits? Are your scrum teams able to work on what they committed to at planning, or are they continually switching gears? How’s your quality? Do you have test automation? Is your Scrum Master focused on process improvement? Do you even have a dedicated SM?
Are you OPEN?
Is all the work visible on the Scrum board (or are your team members working on “side” projects no one knows about)? Do your teams follow working agreements? What about Definition of Done or Definition of Ready? Do your teams feel comfortable raising concerns or are they “yes” people?
Are you RESPECTFUL?
Are you following the Scrum Guide? The 12 Principles? Does your organization respect your team’s working hours or are they expected to work nights / weekends to meet unrealistic deadlines? Are your team members “T” shaped? Cross functional? Do developers help test? Does the team feel responsible for the work, or do they still have that “silo’d” mindset?
Are you COURAGEOUS?
Do you have the courage to approach the difficult conversations, the elephant in the room? Are your teams encouraged to experiment? Do they have the organization’s support if they fail? Are your Product Owners empowered to make decisions or are they just order takers? Does your company ever say “no” to clients or at the very least, negotiate scope? Do your team members ask for what they need?
Are you COMMITTED?
Are your team members committed to the sprint goal? How often are they rolling stories from sprint to sprint? What are the consequences when this happens? Is the entire organization committed to continuous improvement (top down and bottom up)?
My final point here:
It’s not Scrum’s fault.
Just like it wasn’t the diet’s faults.
If Scrum isn’t working for you, I challenge you to turn inwards and ask yourself if you are aligned to the 5 Scrum Values. Think FORCC (Focus, Openness, Respect, Courage, Commitment).
Today I placed an online lunch order to be picked up at noon. I’ve eaten at this establishment on numerous occasions and have always ordered the same thing: Zoodles (zucchini noodles) and eggplant meatballs. This is my “go to” meal when I want something that tastes decadent but is low in calories.
It’s a beautiful, sunny spring day and I enjoyed my walk to the restaurant. I wandered up to the counter, gave my name, received my bag and headed home. On arrival, I pulled the container from the packaging and snapped off the plastic lid.
I was greeted with large zucchini chunks, not zoodles. I expected zoodles. Where were my zoodles? Why wasn’t I told there would be no zoodles? The receipt reads “Spaghetti and meatballs”. I check the website and re-read the description just to validate that I haven’t lost my mind. Yes, it says zoodles. First world problems I know, but I was incredibly disappointed to have received zucchini chunks instead.
I PAID FOR ZOODLES, damnit!!
What does this have to do with agile?, you may be asking yourself.
I’ll tell you.
There’s a certain mindset in agile, a culture of transparency, honesty, courage, rigor. If the zoodle-makers (“zoodlers”) had an agile mindset, someone would have either A.) called me prior to making the dish to inform me that zoodles were not happening for whatever reason or B.) told me upon arrival, with an apology, explanation and a potential discount and/or food swap.
When I contemplate what agile “means to me” – I inevitably return to the 5 scrum values: Focus, Openness, Respect, Commitment and Courage. It’s about telling the truth. It’s about humility and vulnerability and doing what’s right, not what's easy. It’s about navigating the complex world with grace, poise, and love… it’s self respect and consideration for others. Agile is grit, truth, passion. Righting the wrongs. Shining a light on the elephants. Being courageous, living your truth.
The agile mindset does not discriminate. Whatever your career path, whatever your role – whether you are a software engineer or a zoodler, we should all aim to be focused, open, respectful, committed and courageous. That’s the agile way.
I recently attended a talk given by a colleague known for her sense of humor and creativity. While her audience was sprinkling in, the speaker opened her browser and navigated to Wheel Decide; which is a customizable virtual wheel of fortune, complete with the spin and clicks (but minus Vanna White & Pat Sajak).
As an ice breaker technique, she had pre-populated her wheel with engaging & open ended questions for the audience. As folks settled in, she asked for volunteers and spun the wheel. They were then presented with a question determined by the .. wheel of course.
This approach towards relationship building resonated with the group (which consisted of company wide ScrumMasters & colleagues). Their interactions between the questions and each other was light hearted and humorous.
Back at my desk, I created my own Wheel of Fortune, complete with questions such as:
(In full disclosure, these questions were shamelessly borrowed from this book.)
I now open my "getting to know you" wheel at the start of the standup. The team randomly chooses the lucky recipient and the wheel is spun. This is a simple way to begin our day and it typically leads to smiles and entertaining stories.
I consider myself an outgoing introvert - definitely reserved among a large group of unfamiliar faces, but genuinely engaged & energized when it's one-on-one.
In my spare time, I gravitate towards jigsaw puzzles, reading, coloring, crafts, meditation and yoga. My energy tends to soar after brief periods of solace and silence, my mind woken and brain invigorated. Following this recharge, I've reached the pinnacle of my social self - the Kim who wants to peel back the inner layers of my colleagues / friends / family members ... strengthen relationships.. form tighter bonds... become BFFs....
Sometime this enthusiasm isn't shared, as I've encountered a sprinkling of withdrawn / quiet / "leave me alone" types during my IT years, And I get it.
I really do.
However, as a Scrum Master, I am compelled to build relationships and strengthen bonds, but I'm also sensitive to the fact that this goal may not be reciprocated. Which I find, to be a tragedy, really.
To nudge people into opening up, I've created a sampling of powerful questions (shamelessly stolen from my own coaches) - which seems to do the trick. I keep these questions posted on my monitor and return to them when/if conversation stalls.
Here they are:
Internal to work
Outside of the office
A few tips:
* Never ask a question you don't feel comfortable answering yourself.
* Use these questions sparingly! The intent is not to ambush or interrogate our colleagues.
* Consider your audience - if you feel the question may not be taken well, don't ask it! Employ common sense, empathy and respect.
I hope this helps! Do you have additional questions I can add to my list? Let me know!
What is Sprint Planning?
Spring planning is needed for the team to negotiate which stories will be tackled within the sprint. This should be decided after reviewing the number of hours available against the number of task hours required. In addition to hours available, the team should understand their velocity/trends as well - but that's another blog altogether.
How is it done?
1. The Product Owner prioritizes the refined sprint backlog stories and clarifies requirements.
2. The team’s “Sprint Budget” is identified – this is the number of available hours the team has to work on during the sprint. Ideally, the dev team is allocated to working 6 hours per day, to account for meetings and other interruptions.
In my Deutsche Bank days, the team would write their names on the whiteboard (stacked, as rows) and the days of the sprint (as columns). Looking at the days, they would write a "6" within their row for all days they would be working at 100% capacity. If there were holidays, PTO, offsite training - those days would be shown as "0". We would count the number of all teammember hours available and notate that as well.
3. Stories are deconstructed into tasks.
As a Product Owner for this group, I taped & prioritized the printed stories / wireframes / gherkins etc. to the whiteboard. Before tasking began, I would review the stories one last time and answer any questions. From there, they would self organize into small groups and tackle the tasking for each of the stories.
4. Tasks are estimated in hours.
6. Add up task hours and deduct them from the Sprint Budget.
7. Commit to the stories the team knows they can get done.
8. Identify several stretch stories just in case the team delivers early.
My DB team was cross functional and "T" shaped. The developers were able to assist with testing as needed, which allowed them to truly own & swarm on work. During the tasking part of this meeting, the Product Owner is not involved although she should be available for any questions that arise. Typically, the ScrumMaster facilitates this session with the team members.
The end result of this session is for the team to:
Benefits of Tasking:
Challenges of Tasking:
As Scrum Masters, we are responsible for having the courage (<-- One of the scrum values) to not only observe, but to also provide tangible, constructive and valuable feedback to our team members as well.
Even if it’s uncomfortable / awkward / scary.
I grew up an only child and was thrilled when praised by my parents, teachers, friends, family etc. Accolades in the form of hugs, paper certificates, applause, shiny gold star stickers or smiles confirmed my value and motivated me to maintain or improve my good work.
As a professional adult, I still bask in the warmth of positive recognition and compliments, but know it’s not always sunshine and daisies. I can recall a conversation with a previous manager/mentor who once asked how I like to receive feedback. I smiled. “Are you familiar with the shit sandwich?”.
The “Shit Sandwich” is built like this: Bread (flattering content) + Meat (unflattering content) + Bread (More flattering content).
Because I’m an extremely sensitive perfectionist and I absolutely hate to disappoint, I respond well to this structure. Although I’d love a delicious glutinous carb only toasted sandwich, I welcome observations and suggestions for further improvement.
My second favorite feedback tool is the SBI, which stands for “Situation, Behavior, Impact”.
According to The Center for Creative Leadership, “When you structure feedback in this way, your people will understand precisely what you are commenting on and why. And when you outline the impact of their behavior on others, you're giving them the chance to reflect on their actions and think about what they need to change. The tool also helps you to avoid making assumptions that could upset the other person and damage your relationship with him or her.”
Here’s a real world example:
During our retrospective yesterday (situation), you were texting on your phone when the other team members were adding sticky notes to the board (behavior). You are highly regarded on this team so when you appear checked out, I’m concerned that other team members will also follow suit. (impact).
For me, the SBI method is easy to apply and helps to provide behavior changes. Also, it allows me to completely consider the what, why and how prior to the conversation.
To find out how they would like their feedback to be given, provide a few options to your team members. By opening the conversation this way, you’ll have a much more engaging and effective discussion.
The purpose of a retrospective is to inspect how the previous sprint went with regards to people, relationships, processes and tools. This is where we reflect on ourselves and our work in order to identify the good, the bad and future opportunities.
Retrospectives allow us to create an actionable plan to implement improvements so that we can become better at what we do. After all, the bad habits we have developed over the years are not going to disappear with the wave of a magical wand & a "bippity bippity bop!". Teams have to continually work to reinforce good patterns of behavior and eliminate the not so good.
1.) Hold a retrospective at the end of every sprint. (Very Important.)
Basic Rules of Engagement:
TIPS FROM OTHER SCRUMMASTERS:
I like to schedule an 'as needed' Release retrospective with my teams for them to inspect the release from a holistic, big picture point of view. It's essential to pause from the nitty gritty of everyday coding/testing so they can review the release process and course correct/pivot if necessary.
The list below includes some questions that I ask the team to mull over, so they can pinpoint, assess and identify improvements.
Questions to consider:
To save the team time and to allow for some serious juicy conversation, I will forward this list of considerations a few days ahead of time.
The intent of the refinement ceremony is to ensure the backlog remains populated with items that are relevant, detailed and estimated to a degree appropriate with their priority; and current understanding of the product and its objectives.
The team (Product Owner, ScrumMaster, Developers) meets regularly to refine the product backlog, which can lead to any of the following:
Prior to the refinement session:
During the refinement session:
More information on estimating stories based on the Fibonacci sequence can be found at: http://www.allaboutagile.com/how-to-implement-scrum-in-10-easy-steps-step-2-how-to-estimate-your-product-backlog/
TIPS FROM OTHER AGILE PRACTIONERS:
- My team meets daily for an hour; we alternate Design meetings with refinement sessions. Yes, this is time consuming -- however, since we’ve already discussed the story implementation beforehand (during Design), we’re able to efficiently identify story points and tasks during refinement.
- Having 2 refinement Sessions per week keeps us from falling behind. In addition, I have a nice set of stretch and future sprint stories to pull from.
- For any team members off site, we use either Pointing Poker, Planning Poker or Plan-It Poker. (All are free, and defaults to Fibonacci point values but can be customized ahead of time).
- I like this because
• Team members can vote when they are ready and there is a button to ‘Show Votes’ all at the same time.
• There is a timer that re-sets after each ‘Clear Votes’ has been triggered (optional)
• There is the option to join a session as an Observer.
- I always try to have an Acceptance Meeting at least a day or two before each refinement session to make sure there are no questions in regards to testing. I always book it, but we end up cancelling if we don’t need the time which is about 80% of the time. If we are all on the same page, I know that the refinement session will go smoothly. If we’re not, I at least have some time to add more details or even split a large ticket into smaller tickets before the refinement session. Also, having them aware of the tickets is almost as much detail as I am will allow him to help me timebox in the refinement session so we stay productive.
- The QA on my team reviews the stories before the developers see them, so they can verify that the acceptance tests are captured and that the story is testable.
- I send the list of stories to the team about 24-48 hours before refinement. They review them and reply all, responding with questions or red flags about the stories. This lets us identify stories that require a design session or other technical planning and are not yet ready for refinement.
- During the meeting, each story is timeboxed – 4 minutes for discussion, everyone throws points, then 2 minutes to discuss and agree on points. If a story needs more than 6 minutes, it’s not ready for backlog refinement and we hold it for a design session.
**Just an additional note **
You may have heard this ceremony referred to as “Grooming”, but recently, that word has been given a pretty bad connotation. Which is why it’s “Refinement” is the more accepted substitution. You're welcome.
During a recent retrospective, my newly formed scrum team raised a concern that they weren’t “plugged in” with one another throughout the sprint. They were all working on stories which contributed to the goal, but they didn’t see the outcome of their work. An action item was raised for the following sprint: “Incorporate sprint reviews” which they all agreed was needed.
As you are probably aware, the purpose of this event is “to inspect the increment and adapt the Product Backlog if needed”. Therefore, I scheduled the review prior to their sprint planning and retrospective. The day before, I reminded them of the upcoming demo and requested they self-organize, keeping it contained to 45 minutes.
The day came and each team member demonstrated the results of their work. They asked each other questions and clarified various misunderstandings, but mostly it was smooth sailing.
At one point, the Product Owners ears perked up on a particular comment made by one of the Dev's. He recognized that something was amiss and probed for additional clarification. Apparently there was a security gate that hadn’t been considered for production. Following a lengthy discussion, the team ultimately changed direction -- adding 3 new high priority stories for the next sprint, in order to address the discrepancy.
The PO was astonished and questioned why this wasn’t raised earlier. Frankly, he was frustrated, which was understandable – I probably would have been too. However, as the Scrum Master, I was elated! I could barely contain my excitement -- this was precisely the point of the sprint review.
Due to this particular Scrum event, the team identified gaps which could then be immediately addressed.
… And in my eyes, that’s a major win. It’s what Scrum is all about.
As with most people, I typically act based on what’s important to me. As an example, at retrospectives I show burndowns, burnups, velocity. I talk with the team about predictability and throughput. I remind them of the importance of collaboration and sprint commitments. Essentially I communicate what I believe is imperative for team success.
I’m often met with silence, which I assume means disinterest. The longer I speak, the more frustrated I become because WHY AREN’T THEY INTERESTED IN THIS? IT’S SO IMPORTANT!!!!
Being that my teams are distributed, I’m unable to assess body language - but I can see their pupils glaze over and eyelids flutter. Lately, the retrospectives have been painful and rather uncomfortable. The team is disengaged & quiet, and honestly -- even I don't look forward to them. I realized it’s time for a new approach.
In my quest for continual self-growth, today I stumbled across this quote: "This is their meeting, not mine.” (how strangely coincidental!)
This is so obvious.
And so simple.
How did I forget?
Pushing my ego to the side, I arrived at a retrospective this morning with one question for the team: “What do you care about?”.
For once, quiet team members spoke up. Eyes shined a little brighter. Developers were eager to answer that question. The answers were varied:
This was astonishing to me. They talked about their true concerns & took ownership of the actions. One person even voicing his anxiety of the roller coaster velocity (!!). We didn’t focus on the sprint per se, but the team identified what was really on their minds.
By flipping my objectives into a true servant/leader mindset, we were able to have a very direct, efficient conversation, resulting in actionable goals - and ultimately team improvement. (<-- Important to me! )
I guess, sometimes we don’t see the forest through the trees.
Just an agile-dork writing about dorky agile things.