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How I went to the gym to see something ridiculous – and why it matters to the way your team works.

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Unwillingly, I rolled down the window. Police officer standing by my vehicle introduced himself in a regulatory way and then moved into the essentials:

– You were driving a bit fast…
– Yes, I know – I was sincere, which wasn’t necessarily the best option.
– Where’s the rush?

I didn’t have a decent and believable answer to that. I needed to figure something out. Read more

If you have enough agile practitioners in your social network, it’s almost certain that you will notice someone posting an article on team development. In majority of cases, it will be based on research done by Bruce Tuckman in the 1960s. Even if you’ve never heard of him, you surely must have heard of the four phases: forming, storming, norming, and performing. Let’s have a quick overview of them. Read more

Sometime last year, when I still allowed myself to mindlessly surf the web every now and then, I stumbled onto really weird photo. While it’s easier to find something like this than something worthwhile, this one was really odd. It showed, for lack of a better description, a bunch of obese people destroying bathroom scales with baseball bats. Read more

When I get to stage to talk about anything related to Scrum, you can expect me to do a few things. Sometimes I prove that most Agile companies are actually working waterfall style. In other cases, I ridicule the concept of becoming proficient at anything during a two-day course. And quite often, I prey upon Scrum Masters, in the most annoying way possible. All it takes is a simple question, flavored with a touch of surprise.

I ask them what they do.

And as I do that for a few years now, I’m still waiting for any single soul to provide me with some reasonable question. So far, it didn’t happen, which is odd. I mean, the Holy Book of Scrum has a whole section dedicated to the role. How hard can it be to remember any of that?

It might’ve been easier if any of Scrum Masters did what’s stated in The Book.

Let’s see what’s in there.

The Scrum Master is responsible for promoting and supporting Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide. Scrum Masters do this by helping everyone understand Scrum theory, practices, rules, and values.

The simplicity of this description is truly misleading. Unless you’re familiar with the Guide to the letter, you’ll have no idea what it means. As top brass in companies cannot be bothered with such minute details, Scrum Masters create what they understand as more clear descriptions.

Which makes all the executives to wonder why their well-oiled machineries would need anyone to remove impediments. The practice of propagating these alternative role descriptions is quite harmful. Nobody in the organization will be compelled to find out what Scrum really is. But, back to the Guide.

The Scrum Master is a servant-leader for the Scrum Team. The Scrum Master helps those outside the Scrum Team understand which of their interactions with the Scrum Team are helpful and which aren’t. The Scrum Master helps everyone change these interactions to maximize the value created by the Scrum Team.

Servant leadership is one of the most ridiculously absurd concept I know. I mean, do you know any other approach that is known for decades, helps companies achieve great success, and is so counter-intuitive that almost nobody really attempts to do it?

Simply put, despite all the benefits, servant leadership strains managerial egos beyond what they teach you at business school.

Guarding interactions, on the other hand, is the most notorious thing that Scrum Masters claim to do. That’s something. But here’s where the Guide gets more specific.

The Scrum Master serves the Product Owner in several ways, including:

  • Ensuring that goals, scope, and product domain are understood by everyone on the Scrum Team as well as possible;
  • Finding techniques for effective Product Backlog management;
  • Helping the Scrum Team understand the need for clear and concise Product Backlog items;
  • Understanding product planning in an empirical environment;
  • Ensuring the Product Owner knows how to arrange the Product Backlog to maximize value;
  • Understanding and practicing agility; and,
  • Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed.

This is where the fun begins. The last point on the list is the most visible to external stakeholders. All the meetings, silly retrospective games, millions of post-its to recycle. Product planning can also score high on visibility scale, though only in organizations that are a bit more aware of what they do. It’s no wonder that this is what most trainers, coaches, and participants focus exclusively on these two.

The rest is to be honed on the battlefield, even though our Scrum Master is now professionally certified. In two days.

The Scrum Master serves the Development Team in several ways, including:

  • Coaching the Development Team in self-organization and cross-functionality;
  • Helping the Development Team to create high-value products;
  • Removing impediments to the Development Team’s progress;
  • Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed; and,
  • Coaching the Development Team in organizational environments in which Scrum is not yet fully adopted and understood.

This part is clearly visible to the team, which has interesting consequences. With good intentions on all sides, Scrum Master is likely to drift towards the third and the fourth way. Often, they simply lack understanding and experience in leadership, coaching, and business to do anything more.

If they stray into this territory too far, they might pass the tipping point – which pushes them into abyss called Scrum Team Secretary. All in plain sight of their teams, which may – and ultimately will – question the point of the role. Scarily enough, if things get to this point – they will be right.

The Scrum Master serves the organization in several ways, including:

  • Leading and coaching the organization in its Scrum adoption;
  • Planning Scrum implementations within the organization;
  • Helping employees and stakeholders understand and enact Scrum and empirical product development;
  • Causing change that increases the productivity of the Scrum Team; and,
  • Working with other Scrum Masters to increase the effectiveness of the application of Scrum in the organization.

Now, this is the sad part. Unless we’re speaking of a very small organization, nobody will want that to happen. It’sa  little surprise, to be honest. Would you like someone who has just finished two-day course to plan Scrum implementation in your company? Maybe, you would like them to lead and coach the organization during the adoption?

Some Scrum Masters catch that quickly. Many never do, believing – in good intentions! – that what they learned during these two days is enough. And not every trainer corrects that mistake.

After all, why would they rock their own boat?

How to become a good Scrum Master? It’s obvious, easy to figure out, difficult to actually do. It just takes years of humility, experiments, and hard grind. Regardless of certificate.

(And while we’re at it – do get to know the Agile Manifesto in the process. I know dozens of Scrum Masters who hardly ever heard of it. Now, that’s failure of training at its finest.)

So you’re a Scrum Master, business owner, manager or any other kind of a leader – and you’d like your team to be able to conquer the world. Or just deliver products and services your clients will love. Welcome to the first of series of articles designed to make your journey easier. Today, we’ll tackle the robotic aspects of your team.

Are you into some team sports – football, basketball, volleyball, anything like that? Think of the best team you know, one that raises the bar beyond reach of all others. If you’re not into this kind of entertainment, simply ask around – then choose the most popular answer. That is, unless you surround yourself with local sports club hooligans – but then you wouldn’t be reading this article.

Got the team? Great. Now, spend few minutes or so, on watching them playing – YouTube or Vimeo should do just fine. Make notes about how they play.

Even if you’re not familiar with the particular sport, you should notice one thing. For perfect team, things just happen. Somehow, right players show up at right places to perform right actions. You cannot see any deliberate planning or synchronization. Both of which are often simply impossible, due to extreme dynamics of the situation. It’s almost like magic.

Then it’s everything but magic.

That’s the imprinted, repeated reaction to a specific cue. If teammate on position A does B, you do C. Specific situations are analysed, broken down, and rehearsed during training. Thousands of times. Then, the moment the trigger is activated, you start doing your part. And that’s without even thinking about it or realizing that!

It’s the same mechanism that decides the sequence of actions you perform every morning. One that allows you to commute mindlessly, the same way, every single day. One that decides how exactly you wash your teeth.

Automated response to imprinted scenario is what we call habit.

Competent sport coaches teach their teams the rules. Good ones teach tips and tricks. Great ones design and foster habits.

As each of us has thousands of them, from tiny ones to those defining our personality, so do teams and organizations. Generally, every concept composed of creatures of habit, has habits on its own.

Now, for a few weeks, observe the habits of your team. Spot triggers and reactions. When e-mail arrives in team mailbox, they do A. When new bug arrives on their task board, they do B. When they come to work, they do C (which clearly stands for Coffee, at least in IT).

Some of these habits are great. Some are close to meaningless. Some are devastating.

Spot them, share with the team, ask them to look around themselves!

Which puts you one step closer to growing the team to conquer the world.

As for next step – modifying habits – I’ll cover that next week. Stay tuned!

In a manic world of fitness, there’s a phenomenon called “active couch potato”. It describes a person eagerly engaging in various physical activities, from gym to marathon running – yet, stuck out of shape. As it turns out, for many, even regular trainings are not enough to offset the utterly sedentary lifestyle. Sitting in the car, welded to the desk at work, chilling by the television – running your 5k every Saturday morning won’t make up for it.

I should know well. For quite a few years I was a textbook example. That somewhat overweight guy crossing the half-marathon finish line in the photo above? That would be me, a bit over half a year ago.

And as, with quite a lot of effort and relentless support of few of my best friends, I moved past this limbo, I realized how many teams and organizations behave the same way. They’re capable of heroic achievements every few months (say, just prior to some major product release), then get intoxicated by their epic success, learn nothing, and decay into the world of widespread mediocrity. Several cycles more, they’re surprised by their lack of form, however it’s defined in their business context.

So, is your team an active couch potato or fit and healthy?

There’s a long-awaited point in history of each development team. Weeks and months of their hard work, conveniently split into sprints, are finally about to conclude in the Holy Grail of boards, managers, and shareholders – the release. This is when all the changes and adaptations couple with technical excellence and the finished product – or just, hopefully, valuable part of it – is given into willing hands of end-users. I believe there are countless parallel universes in which things just work fine. Users are happy, sales skyrocket, and team seamlessly switches to next product. Thing is though, we live on planet Earth, which leads to a slightly different outcome.

Namely, all hell breaks loose. Read more