What’s wrong with having a paper trail?

A friend of mine did an informal poll today:

If you need three pieces of information quickly, what’s your preferred method of getting them?

a.  Phone call

b.  IM

c.  e-mail

What’s missing from the options?  Face to face communication didn’t even make the cut!  The people who responded generally preferred e-mail and IM due to having a paper trail to CYA.  Seriously.  I get it.  I do.  The difference for me now is perspective.  Why the need to CYA?  Why not EYA and own it?  If a paper trail is necessary, the problem isn’t anything other than the culture that exists is one where covering your ass is necessary.

Channeling someone else here…..  that just makes me sad.

Be DARING and Disagree!

Why are we afraid to disagree?  Are we worried about hurting someone?  Hurting ourselves?  Do we worry about looking stupid?  Why do we focus on those feelings instead of focusing on why we want to disagree in the first place? Do we know how to REALLY disagree with someone?

That last question is the one that hit me.   Generally, people  don’t disagree with someone to upset them or hurt their feelings.  Disagreement happens with good intentions and I really believe this.  People disagree to expand horizons, offer different views, challenge the speaker to think/be/act more!  But how do people learn how to do this well?  How can you disagree without making someone feel defensive?

On teams, disagreement is necessary to achieve greatness.  There are smart people who all have good ideas.  Elements from a bunch of good ideas make a GREAT idea but you need disagreement to get there.

We need to learn how to effectively disagree and how to open ourselves and minds up to those who have the courage to disagree with us.

My response to the comment “How”:

Thank you for the nudge and the comment. I had a great reply, hit submit and *poof*. I’ll try to re-create it…

1. By listening – so often we aren’t listening to what the other person is saying. We’re thinking about what we’re going to respond with.
2. By aligning – we need to understand what the goal is. If each person is coming in with a different goal, it will be hard to align, disagree and agree. Common purpose. Align on it.
3. By asking – we don’t ask if people disagree. We ask if they agree. What would happen if we asked for disagreement?
4. By thanking – thank the people who disagree with you. They are probably doing it to help you NOT thwart you.
5. By acknowledging – there is more than one way.
6. By being open – we need to be open to trying different ways and approaches
7. By respecting – we need to disagree respectfully.

Be Like Water – A great insight from Ed Wehr

Ed commented on this post about being vulnerable:  https://agileyammering.com/2013/04/08/how-do-you-get-comfortable-with-vulnerability/  and I absolutely loved it.  Since it was buried, I thought I would bring it to the surface and give it the visibility it deserves.  Thank you, Ed.

From Ed Wehr:

Change. In itself often can push us into being quite uncomfortable. Even unstable in a situation. Some people are only comfortable with limits on change. A difference meant for the environment versus one forced upon ‘me’ and sense of self. A human’s capacity for change is not infinite. This would be sensory overload. I have seen people shut down and not only stop processing because they couldn’t keep up with the information. Some may even put blocking mechanisms to shut out any more sensory input.
Change may be viewed as an attack, meant as one or not. Response to stimuli is natural. Within the context of communication however, there is an analogy I often use. Be like water. Fill the container you are in. The moment, the situation, the comment. Explore into it. Pour into it. Even when some feedback comes as surprising, and initially cut as a painful stabbing. If you visualize it however; a knife into water doesn’t cut, doesn’t damage. The water washes it as gently as any other thing. There is no pain, no scar left to the water- which reforms and seeks its level again. In agile the visibility we seek, could be akin to the clearness to the water. As with all agile – there is a very heavy burden to balance as appropriate. Visibility too, can sometimes be overboard. Feelings can be hurt. Which is why there is an art as well to giving criticism and feedback. A jab may have the intended response you want, but at what cost? How much disturbance? Some feedback can be taken in and absorbed, and some might make smaller ripples in comparison with larger priorities and situations. Rest assured though, there is some spark, some larger reservoir and unique talent that deep down everyone whom strives to improve. Exploring the hurt is an expression of developing a fearlessness and confidence with ourselves. .

“Fail fast” = “Learn fast”

When people start saying “We learned” instead of “We failed” you’re on to something awesome. Some people have a reaction to the word “fail” that isn’t positive and may create a boundary to learning the concept you’re trying to teach. So, change the language. Learn FAST! Every attempt at something new – big or small – results in learning. From making attempts or trying experiments, you will find things that are good and some that are not so good. The point is you try something and you learn. As long as you’re open, you will learn. As long as you learn, you will get better.

When you stop experimenting or trying you.just.stop.

Who wants to just be stopped?

Creating a Team Vision

One of my favorite exercises to do with a new (in general or new to me) team is to have a team vision session.  Generally, I start with laying out what being a team means – A single entity working towards a common goal.  I lead a discussion on what high-performing teams “look” like and the characteristics they exhibit.  Then, we talk about what each individual has a goal for the team which usually generates some good conversations.  From there I move into the team vision exercise.

What do you want this team to be known for?  When people outside think about this team, what do you want them to think?

  • Have the team divide into two groups
  • Give them 5 minutes to work together and think about the answers to the above questions and creating a team vision description
  • At the end of 5 minutes, each group presents to the other and the non-presenting group asks questions and calls out what they like about what they’re hearing
  • After each group has presented, the full team works to create a joint vision based on the smaller group exercise.  They can pull from the discussions we had earlier, the outputs from their sessions and anything else they want to have incorporated.  It’s time-boxed to 5 minutes.

At the end, when they’re happy with their vision, we have a conversation about who is accountable to vision and how they will use/incorporate it into their day to day.  The final vision is posted in the room.  I use this to generate retro topics, re-visit team norms and a whole host of other things. I have found that team members will use it immediately with each other when they’re discussing approaches, establishing their sprint goal and working through conflict.

They created it.  They own it.  It’s their job to work together and strive towards their vision.

It can be powerful.  Let me know if you try it and whether or not it was a good use of time.

Optimize The Whole

When moving to Scrum we ask for a lot from the team members.  We ask them to be transparent with their work, stay focused on their commitment to the team and BE on a team among many other things.  While it may seem straightforward it’s really not.  A team is a single entity.  Each team has a unique and individual identity.  It’s about the whole.  For a high-performing individual, it feels like being a part of a team takes away from their status as a high-performer and the rewards that come with it.  Rather than a stand-out individual they’re on a team which may or may not be standing out.  It can feel kind of terrible for that person.

Being on a team takes a special kind of courage.  There’s faith involved.  One must be humble.  The teams needs must come before the needs of the individual.  As a Scrum Master, you can help the unique contributions of the individual bubble to the surface.  This enables the other members on the team to see what’s special about their team mate and leverage it for the greater good. The team won’t know you’re doing it but, they will see the fruits of your efforts and they’ll begin exploiting the awesomeness of their team mates on their own.  You will hear them recognize each other in Demos to stakeholders or just to each other.  What comes from this is pure gold on a team.  Now you have loyalty.

How do you do this as a Scrum Master?

  • Observe and listen.  There’s so much that gets missed in a conversation you’re participating in.  Participate in a different way and find the awesome in each individual on the team.  Then, look for ways to introduce it to the rest.
  • Have the team do an exercise to write down their skills and knowledge and let them all see how much more each of them brings outside of their traditional role.
  • Make the environment safe and foster the trust.
  • Reward and recognize acts of courage, humility and brilliance.

Optimize the whole of a person so the team can do the same.

Trust  – Courage – Loyalty – Awesome

My Favorite Team

My favorite team is the one I made the most mistakes with and learned the most from.  They also happen to be the most high-performing team I have seen.  They had trust, drive, commitment to each other and their work.  More importantly, they had fun.  It didn’t matter how difficult the work was, they still had a blast with each other.  Managers knew to leave us alone.  They trusted the team and it was well-deserved.  I had the pleasure of getting back together with them this week and we picked right back up where we left off.  Sometimes, I wish we could “get the band back together” but, I know that’s not part of my learning plan.

I couldn’t tell you what makes this team so special to me.  They just are.  This was the team that taught me to worry about the team and not about the work.

There Is More Than One “RIGHT” Way

After Scrum Mastering many teams, I have seen all kinds of approaches used to resolve a team issue or challenge.  When I observe Coaches or Scrum Masters advice being offered with some insistence thrown in, I cringe a little. The reason why I cringe is because I used to be the person giving the “advice” with insistence.  And, let’s be honest,  it wasn’t advice.  It was direction.  Rather than advising, I have tried to learn offering.

Offering recognizes the teams status as an empowered, self-organizing unit.  They can choose to accept your offer in whole or in part.  They can also reject it and that’s OK.  Teams need to chart their own course, try their own way and experiment.  When they’re successful, it’s all theirs.  When they’re not the learning is all theirs too and they will incorporate it into their next adventure.  However…..

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different results. – Albert Einstein

Sometimes, you have to put your foot down.  For example, when a team is constantly committing (but not really) to too many story points in a sprint and can’t understand WHY they’re not able to complete them, putting a cap on points in the next sprint is a good thing to do (IMHO). That said, a lot will depend on the team.  Are they honest with each other? Are they honest with themselves?  Are you willing to have your advice followed, be unsuccessful and mess with the teams’ sense of empowerment? What is it you want them to learn?  Really ask yourself tough questions before putting your foot down and identify other avenues to help return sanity to the team.  Make sure your motivation and intention is pure.

No two teams are alike.  What worked for one may or may not work for another.  Google, offers multiple routes to get us from point A to point B but, the selection is in our own hands.  The same should be true for teams.  There is more than one “right” way and you’re not a traffic cop.

Don’t you just love skeptics?

I actually do.  Especially when they’re on my team.  There’s nothing I relish more than showing someone that, yes, Scrum actually works.  I love them in class when they ask all kinds of questions trying to get me to say “You’re right.  Scrum and Agile won’t work for you.  Keep on keepin’ on.”  I think, in order to really get Agile to work, the people have to change.  Scrum forces the change but, at the end of the day, it’s still the people.  And when you have a team that is excited and doing well and a skeptic joins and tries to crush their Agile will to live, well, the new team member is in for surprise.  You can’t be skeptical when a team is producing, offering help, learning and having fun.  It’s hard to be skeptical when you feel great about your work AND you’re not on a death march anymore.  Also hard to be skeptical when you discover risks sooner and before it really, truly hurts.  What I love most about the skeptics is they become the BEST advocates.  Yep.  I love the skeptics.

Does your team have a cold?

I started running again recently.  It’s miserable when you have done NO exercise for so many years to start trying to get back into it.  I was following a plan that eases you back in and I was doing really well.  I had just about completed my fourth week.  That’s kind of a magical week for me when doing anything new because it’s right around the time something starts to become a habit and, well, it gets a little easier.

Enter THE COLD.  I was so miserable and, truly, not able to run.  The cold turned into an upper respiratory and went on and on and on despite my best efforts to be better.  By the time I felt better almost another four weeks had passed.  Earlier running almost habit….GONE.

I went for my first run on Monday and it was truly horrible.  I was amazed at how much I had lost and, honestly, thought about throwing in my shoes.  Today, I went out for my second one and it was easier.  Not awesome but, better.  I felt good and I’m pretty sure on Friday, it will be even easier.

It got me to thinking though how teams work so hard to get into their groove and establish new habits and sometimes, something happens to shake them up a bit.  Like…. a cold.  Maybe it’s a new team member joining or a major change in scope but, it throws them off their game.  It can be discouraging and, as a Scrum Master, you have to help them get better and quickly.  You don’t want the cold to turn into more and have them really thrown off their course.

So, how do you do this?

1. Pay attention to the mood of the room and be alert for the first symptoms

2.  If the symptoms persist, ask questions:  How do you guys feel everything is going?  Does something feel off?  Remember to be quiet and wait for them to break the silence.

3.  Keep the conversation going until they find the diagnosis.

4.  Ask the team the best way to treat it and start treatment immediately.

You don’t have to wait for a retro.  There’s a chance that will be too long.  Nip it in the bud early!