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.
Just an agile-dork writing about dorky agile things.