All Pain and No Gain

In an Agile transformation we all focus on getting the teams set up, training them and get them working in Scrum (or whatever).  Then, you have these teams going and you see some improvement but maybe not the BIG BANG improvement  you thought you would see.  So, you start looking into what the teams are doing.

Are they having stand up? – CHECK!

Are they doing Sprint Planning? – CHECK!

Are they having Retros? – CHECK!

Are they using a Scrum board and burning down daily? – CHECK!

Is it effective? – Ummmmmmmmm

The thing is, the tactical parts of Scrum are in place to teach the teams how to think and work differently.  A team can only get so far with the tactical elements alone.  In order to realize the benefits of Agile, a team needs to shift their mind set and so the all the people outside of the teams.  The tactical part of Agile is easy.  It’s the Cultural part that’s really difficult.

If teams are having challenges breaking down the work into small enough increments, you may be able to address it with some training and hands on guidance during planning.  However, if the business cannot think differently and insists or MORE it may be that the team isn’t empowered to break it down smaller.  Or, maybe, in demo, stakeholders are critical of the “little” the team has ready and pressures for MORE.

If teams aren’t continuously improving and having their retros, it could be that the team needs some instruction/coaching on what continuous improvement means.  Maybe the Scrum Master isn’t leading effective retros and needs some help there.  Or, maybe, the team isn’t given the time for retros because of some outside forces insisting they do something differently.  Maybe the Scrum Master doesn’t have time to learn how to be a Scrum Master because they’re busy writing status reports, going to status meetings and completing documentation for an organization that hasn’t embraced Agile yet and relies on Project Management artifacts and methods.

I’m staring to think an Organizations transformation doesn’t start with teams at all.  I think it starts with everyone else.  Scrum and Agile are easily applied to any type of work.  The Agile values and principles are also applicable to any type of work.  Maybe the teams should be left alone until everyone else understands how to work in this way.  In focusing the effort outside teams first, the culture shift could start with those who have the ability to stifle or supercharge the teams.  Once everyone outside the teams are ready for the teams THEN the transformation can begin.

Because, until the culture starts changing – in earnest – an organization is really just going through the motions NOT transforming.

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2 thoughts on “All Pain and No Gain

  1. Hi Valerie! Put very nicely! I completely agree. The longer I’m doing “this” the more I think that the usual agile transitions (consultants train the teams in the IT dept) are band aids that companies apply so that the higher ranks don’t have to change. I’m just not sure where that leads me… Do I really think that management consulting is the only thing that could possibly work…
    What’s your conclusion? How would / do you approach it?

    PS: I think this is going in the right direction: http://yuvalyeret.com/2012/09/20/starting-with-managers-kanban-also-called-product-stream-representative-kanban/

  2. Thanks for the comment, Corinna. I don’t believe training the teams is a band-aid per se, but I believe we’re doing the teams a disservice when management isn’t trained and ready themselves. So, I think we need to be management and team consultants. There’s too much heavy lifting for teams alone. Management is necessary in the creation of a positive, supportive and continuously improving environment and we have to be able to show them how. It needs to be safe for teams and management to FAIL (First Attempt In Learning) fast and often. I’m really thinking it starts w/ management and NOT the teams. Now….just need to find a place to test that hypothesis…

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