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.
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.