Lessons About Teams I’ve Learned From My Kids

I’ve been watching my son play team sports for the last 13 years. My daughter just started playing them this year. My son is graduating from High School next month and I’ve been in a very reflective mood lately – especially as his last game gets closer and closer. There’s a lot to be learned from watching kids play and I’m sharing some of my observations with you today.

  1. Don’t underestimate a player based on appearance.  Time and time again I have watched this play out.  People (myself included) make assumptions based on how someone looks and behaves only to find out how terribly wrong they were.  I have seen “gangly” kids go toe to toe against “stocky” kids on the offensive line in football and have had to close my eyes – certain someone was going to be injured – only to watch those stocky kids blocked over and over again. Will, determination, understanding their job on the team and the impact to the team if they don’t perform and the simple joy of playing goes a long way.
  2. When you get knocked down, get back up (unless of course you’re seriously injured).  Sometimes, players on the opposing side do things that test the other sides mettle.  Getting back up shows your teammates and the other team spirit and drive.  It also serves to challenge the other team to really focus on their game and not their play.  Getting up requires individual strength and determination that everyone appreciates – coaches, fans, officials and teammates.  When you get up, in effect you’re telling the other person to “bring it” and that unspoken message radiates from the rest of your team.
  3. Recognize and celebrate great players and teams whether it’s your own or not.  All teams work hard together, over a long period of time and give their best on the field.  As an opposing player or team respecting and admiring what’s great on the field is special and shows that you care about more than the win.  If you do happen to be on the winning team, you earn the respect of the other team.  If you’re on the losing team – same thing AND you win in a different way.
  4. Don’t be the team who is clearly better and run up the score on the less-experienced teams. Those teams suck. Instead be the team who is gracious and shows true sportsmanship. You will earn the respect and admiration of the teams you play and those who are watching.  Also, the teams will learn a lot from you that goes far beyond skill. Sure, those amazing teams can be fun to watch initially simply due to how well they play together, ultimately they end up being the team everyone roots against (except the parents of the sucky, winning team).
  5. As an observer (aka: parent in the stands) your job is to support and celebrate. Anything else is wasted energy and counter-productive. If you happen to actually know something about the sport because you have played it yourself and you think you have something of value to share, share it after the game and, preferably in private. Sharing it during the game just crushes the player and team spirit which serves to NOT HELP AT ALL.  Plus, all the other observers feel embarrassed for you.
  6. Be the veteran who celebrates the rookie.  When someone who is new to the sport tries out or plays, the veteran players who teach, help, coach and encourage the newbie are the ones who are seen as and become team leaders. They are the ones who create a unique and special experience for the new player and the team.
  7. One the game ends, focus on your team and the next game. The team who immediately disperses and goes home isn’t a strong team.  When the game is over get with your team, celebrate your successes, focus on where you want to improve immediately and get ready for the next game.

Have any of your own to share?  Would love to read your stories in the comments.

The Dreaded, Embedded Coach…

There’s a disturbance in the Agile force.  Consultancies and coaches who look for clients with a vacant coaching parking lot.  A place where coaches can roam the halls by the hour and bill for it without actually adding value.  I call this Embedded coaching and it’s something we, as coaches have a responsibility to eradicate.  Embedded coaching is great for people who want to make money and, from the business perspective, I can understand the draw.  I mean, if an organization is willing to continue to pay money and not realize value, why not?  Embedded coaches aren’t great for organizations who really want to improve nor is it great for Agile coaches overall.

Now, there can be several reasons why a coach isn’t adding value.  Things like:

  1. The coach isn’t a good fit for the organization and/or the team(s).
  2. The client really isn’t certain what they want to achieve so, then, the coach isn’t either.
  3. The client isn’t willing to be coached or do any of the heavy lifting so there aren’t results despite the best efforts of the coach.
  4. The coach isn’t good.
  5. The coach ceases to be a coach and becomes a player.
  6. The client doesn’t take advantage of the coach when he/she is there.
  7. The coach has embedded.

Dan LeFebvre (aka: Coach Dan), a coach whom I admire and respect a great deal, offered a definition of an embedded coach:

“I define embedded coaching as someone who is there 5 days a week working with a handful of teams or may be occupying the SM or PO role (either explicitly or implicitly by usurping the actual SM or PO authority) while being called the coach.” – Coach Dan

It’s the embedding I want to focus on.   I have a theory there’s about a 6-9 month maximum span of efficacy for a coach.  Granted, if the organization or number of teams is large and/or the problem is incredibly complex (transformation) more time may still be valuable and warranted as long as value is being added.  The reason I say this is because the more time you spend in a place, the harder it is to remain completely objective.  You come to expect and excuse certain behaviors – the “it is what it is” mentality can creep in (if you’re not very careful).  And, it’s after this time a coach is in danger of becoming embedded.

The embedded coach attends events and meetings, throws out some advice or observational feedback and vanishes down the hall.  He doesn’t collaborate – he pontificates.  He throws out a thought-provoking question and makes noises of interest in the responses, shrugs his shoulders and shakes his head.  Meanwhile, clients wonder “What, exactly, does he do and how is he spending his time?   At this point the client is wasting money and the coach is wasting time.  Not only that, the value of a coach and, perhaps, Agile is called into question as well.  And, this (calling into question the value of coaches and Agile)is NOT okay.

Coach Dan also offers the following for your consideration:

“I think coaches should work with the teams for a sprint or two then exclusively work with SM and leaders to improve their ability to operate with the agile mindset. Enterprise coaches also focus on establishing what I call the 3 necessary mechanisms to re-enforce agility: 1) impediments removal mechanism where slowdowns in the flow are rapidly identified, escalated and resolved; 2) building the capacity for internal coaching through internal people opting-in to the coaches role or through communities of practice; 3) agile portfolio management where the entire product/value flow is pull-based rather than push. A possible fourth is the “opt-in” cultural aspects that all good self-organizing systems need to truly multiply the effectiveness and delivery of value.” – Coach Dan

Dan Mezick, another coach whom I admire and respect, contributed the following Coaching Values which, I believe, are worthy of mention and introspection.  He also details supporting principles.

In serving our clients, we have come to value:

Creating Independence over generating billing
Championing Learning over avoiding risk
Building Relationships over building transactions
Inviting Participation over assigning responsibility

Ideally, coaches have chosen this profession because they love it and, happily, are able to support themselves and their families.  As coaches, we owe it to the profession and the clients we serve to ensure both are set up for success.   There are things we can do:

  1. Align on the goals of the engagement and the definition of value.  Meet regularly to openly discuss the progress and re-align.
  2. Ask the client “What value have I provided this week?”.  If he can’t answer, immediately diagnose the root cause together and agree on actions.
  3. Actively communicate what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and the results – realized or expected.
  4. Don’t establish a need for physical presence 5 days a week where you become a regular fixture of the environment and are taken for granted.
  5. Be honest and true.  You know when you’re not adding value.  Remove yourself with offers of alternate coaches or course of action.

Thank you for your time.

That Dang Project Manager Hat

I haven’t been a Project Manager in title for, well, ages.  As a coach or Scrum Master, I should have shed that hat long ago.  And, I did(ish).  The problem is it’s still around and, when things need to GET DONE,  somehow that hat just turns back up….on my head.  Now, the good news is, I realize it and can quickly yank it off and stuff it under my chair but, seriously, I wish it would go away.  It won’t ever go completely away though and I’m still learning how to keep it firmly on the shelf.

So, why did it find its way on my head?  The group I am coaching wants to GET STARTED!  It’s awesome the excitement they all have.  They are eager, after months and months of talking, to get to work.  And, they want to run it Agile and they are leveraging SAFe.  So, before the December productivity vortex hit, we all looked at the calendar and they identified dates for their Quickstart (3 day event for everyone on the release train).  This means, there is a LOT to do.  And, the month of December is pretty much shot so, there’s about 3.5 weeks to get everything accomplished so the train is ready to leave the station.  But, there’s also a Holiday in there AND, most awesome of all, snow storms.  WOOT!

The team of people I am lucky enough to work with right now are amazing.  A massive can-do attitude.  They have overcome illness, broken down cars, two snow storms, children’s illnesses, broken pipes (for 4 people!) and a host of other things way out of their control.  They have all come together, rolled their sleeves up, opened their minds and have focused on getting ready.  They have trained, collaborated, learned, been challenged, formed as a team and had fun.  Honestly, it has been amazing to see and be a part of.  There is absolutely NOTHING this group of people can’t accomplish.  As a coach, this is heaven.  As a PM, I cannot stop thinking about all of the logistics and coordination and organization that needs to happen.  It’s not that there aren’t people working on those things.  They are.  Will it all get done?  Probably.  If something doesn’t get done, will it matter (really matter)?  Probably not.

Coach me:  ALL the right ingredients are there.  The people and the experience are what matters.

PM me:  I need to make certain there are enough post-its, flip charts, sharpies and who is getting red yarn?

Coach me:  These people will adjust.  What matters is their mentality and how they come together through this first event.

PM me:  How can they possibly come together if there aren’t enough sharpies and flip chart markers?!  And, who is printing the hand-outs?  Wait – do we even HAVE a final head count yet?

Coach me:  These guys have it.

PM me:  They have everything except the awesome colored, smelly markers.  They NEED those.

Coach me:  Shut up, PM.

PM me:  Will do – as soon as I have every minute of the day plotted out and accounted for….and confirmation on the sharpies.

So, for all of you former PMs out there who are transitioning to Scrum Master, your PM hat is never really gone.  You just have to recognize when it’s there, on your head, and take it off.  I bet, over the next 8 days, I’ll be taking that sucker off multiple times daily and apologizing to people for continuously asking them if they are certain we will have enough sharpies.

Giving Thanks For Scrum…..from Virginia

Oh how I wish I were at the Agile Boston “Give Thanks for Scrum”  event!  Unfortunately, travel and hosting Thanksgiving made the trip impossible.  Since I can’t give my thanks personally, I figured I would write it all down here.

My background is in Product/Project Management.  Back in the day, there wasn’t anything about IT that really and truly interested me other than getting things done so I could move on to the next challenge.  I was one of “those people”.  You know the ones….

  • It’s *just* a web page.
  • I need it by the <insert date here>.  You will need to figure it out.
  • Why can’t you tell me how long it’s going to take?  I sent you an e-mail with a full paragraph explaining what I wanted.

Then, I became the IT project manager and every one who had ever been on a project with me previously had their revenge.  Holy cow was it ugly.  I swear, when you’re coming up a seriously steep learning curve you find things out about yourself.  Who knew crying for joy when the file mounts were finally installed was completely acceptable?  Then along comes Agile and my very warped and limited understanding of it.  I botched it – completely.

Happily, there’s this class “Certified Scrum Master” you can go to and learn about being a Scrum Master.  Joe Little and Jeff Sutherland were teaching and my eyes were opened (WIDE) to the fact I was doing it completely and utterly wrong but, man!, did I leave that class inspired!!  Have you met Jeff Sutherland?  He’s got the best vibe about him; straight shooting, practical, kind and real.  Throw that Boston accent in there and there you go!

Scrum felt like home to me (once I learned what it was about for real).  It is so clean, straight, common sensical and simple (but not easy).  Following that class, for me, there was no other option and I began the journey of experimentation, learning and exploring.  Today, I get to work with people every day who want to learn this too.  I get to watch teams come together,  see minds opening, coach others, write about it, expand my own knowledge, teach, explore, learn, grow and try.  The list goes on and on.  If you had asked me, even 10 years ago, if I would doing this kind of work, I would have told you no.  Yet, here I am, having learned so much about myself and hoping against hope I can do the same thing for others as so many wonderful people have done for me.

I have accomplished much more than I thought (or dared to believe) I was capable of accomplishing.  What’s more, I believe I will accomplish even more.  I have a true, sincere passion for the work I am lucky enough to do and the people who are kind enough to allow me to work with them.  I’m very thankful for Scrum and I wish I could thank Jeff personally for the time he gave me, the framework he helped create and the course my life seems to be on right now.

Whipped by WIP?

I bet if you asked any CIO if they would rather release 5 features into production or have 10 efforts in flight they would prefer the former.  Based on my observations, there are way too many decision makers out there who, based on what’s happening in their IT departments, seem to prefer the latter.  When I ask why that is, often, what I hear back is the roadmap was set, the business has their dates and, so, we need to get things started.  Remember, the business strategists are on the hook for ROI so, it would make some sense they would ALSO prefer to deliver 5 features instead of having 10 in flight.  Again, based on what I observe…not so much.  Shockingly, the end result is less delivery, lower quality and a really frustrated group of associates.  Executives are also frustrated by late delivery and lack of completion but, they are unwilling to pull back and limit the WIP.  Their ask?: Work Harder.  My ask?: Stop Starting and Start Finishing!!

To me, the most simple solution is to JUST SAY NO.  This approach doesn’t seem to be an option most places.  The business, the managers and the executives won’t take no for an answer.  Also, it’s not safe to say no.  I mean, really, you’re probably not going to be climbing the ladder if you say no even if it means doing so would yield a better return for all.  Saying no takes a great deal of courage and it’s not fair to put that burden on those who are lower on the totem pole trying to deliver on everything.

One could also PAINT THE PICTURE.  Make a square “plate” out of a piece of paper.  Write everything on a post-it (standard size please.  don’t cheat with the really little ones) you currently have in flight.  Go to your immediate supervisor and have her fill your plate.  Anything that doesn’t fit, doesn’t get worked on.  When something finishes, bring back the stack of post its and fill the space (or NOT!  *gasp*).  I recommend only having room for a maximum of 4 items (and, really, that’s pushing it).  If you’re a manager, ask those who report to you to go through this exercise.  I would bet you will receive their undying gratitude for even caring about it in the first place.

Another means to address it is ROLL UP YOUR SLEEVES.  This is for managers.  I am really suggesting you return to your roots for a bit and pitch in.  Either tackle some of the work yourself to help close things out or, at the very least, de-prioritize anything you have going on to focus instead on serving your team.  Find ways to, at a minimum, make their jobs easier and less frustrating to minimize the impact to morale.

Probably the most impactful would be QUANTIFY THE LOSS.  What would have happened had you closed 10%, 20%, 50% more?  Demonstrate the loss to the bottom line and get the attention of those decision makers!  Other sources of data to pull from may be associate surveys and attrition rates.

It pains me to see people in funks due to the sheer quantity of work in flight.  It’s not a good feeling for anyone to never complete anything.  If you get excited by the fact you were able to respond to 10 e-mails and set up 1 or 2 meetings, it’s a sign.  Take a look around wherever you are and if there’s any applicability to your situation and consider prioritizing how to reduce the frequency and duration of being whipped by WIP.

The Dormant Environment

Death Valley Spring 2005 Bob Canfield

I was listening to a TED talk and the speaker threw out the word “Dormant”.  He used it to describe Death Valley which is named Death Valley because, well, nothing grows there.  No rain=No growth.  However, something happened in 2004….it rained (7 inches in fact) and in the Spring of 2005 Death Valley was having quite a hard time living up to the name.  The floor of Death Valley was covered in flowers.  Turns out Death Valley isn’t dead.  It’s dormant.  Underneath the barren landscape was loads of potential just waiting for an inviting environment.

I’m a little obsessive about environments – specifically environments for teams to be successful.  Today, more than ever, there are companies, consultants and coaches out there trying to crack the Agile nut in order to deliver value more frequently, efficiently and of higher quality.  It’s a HARD nut to crack.  The frameworks, Scrum, Kanban, XP and the consolidation of them in SAFe provide the manual and direction for companies to take.  Yet….they’re [still] not seeing the expected and much-desired results and I believe, with every nook and cranny of my heart, the reason lies in the environment.

DORMANCY:  The state of quiet (but possibly temporary) inaction. – Definition from http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu

Underneath the surface of the frameworks we’re using or, if you prefer, the foundation, are the Agile and lean values and principles.  But, I don’t believe the appropriate amount of time and attention is spent on teaching these.  Certainly not to the point where they’re understood well enough to be put into practice.  What’s more, I don’t believe most environments are suitable for the demonstrative manifestation of these values and principles.  So then what you end up seeing are the process side of frameworks in action – not people.  The frameworks are designed to bring the values and principles to life.  Frameworks need people to bring THE FRAMEWORK to life.  So, really, you need people to bring the values and principles to life and the environment, generally, just isn’t conducive.

Occasionally, there will be a micro-climate where, somehow, a team is flourishing.  I’ve heard these teams referred to as “magic teams”.  The magic of them is they created their own environment or micro-climate and bucked the odds – kind of like the Spring of 2005 in death valley.  Which, goes to show you, it’s not actually magic…it’s the environment.  Creating the environment is the key to unlocking the potential of people to bring the framework and the values and principles to life which will then bring the amazing results we’re all searching and striving for.  Oddly enough, those micro-climates are noticed by others as well.  The magic team is sought after and asked about their secret and the magic team will gladly, willingly give it away and, then, those seekers will tell you all the reasons why replicating it just aren’t possible elsewhere.

Maybe we just take for granted the environment will be there or it will evolve to meet the changes in process and approach.  Or, perhaps we don’t even want to think about the environment because changing or creating environments is difficult, hard work.  Also, there’s nothing telling you that a framework NEEDS any certain type of environment.  All of that said, I can’t think of a single organization who isn’t fully capable  and up to the challenge of creating an environment to enable success.  Especially if, at the end of all that work, the results would be nothing short of spectacular.  I would go so far to argue that the environment of every organization is dormant….quietly inactive.  I may even take it a step further and say the “environmentalists”, or those with the ability to be, are complacent.  Meanwhile, there’s all this potential just there, waiting for the right environment or a very persuasive environmental activist to get the ball rolling.




A Reminder to Balance

I hope you will forgive a bit of a personal ramble here…

One of the reasons I am such an advocate of Agile is it makes work fun.  To me, it doesn’t matter if you’re in delivery or not – working in this way is enjoyable and rewarding.  Another reason I love it is the idea of working at a sustainable pace.  It’s funny how often you have to remind teams they don’t HAVE to kill themselves to deliver or over-commit isn’t it?  I don’t think I have ever heard someone tell another person “You’re spending too much time away from work.”.  What you work on, who you work with and what you produce all have the potential to enrich your life.  I believe Agile, in the right setting, has the ability to turn that potential into reality.  We spend a lot of time working – let’s make it as awesome as we possibly can.

I have personal work experiences which are great examples of awesome and others….not so much.  Reflecting back on those that weren’t so great, I’m struck at how much energy and emotion I put into them.  They took away from my life outside of work – negatively impacting me, the people I love and the people at work. I learn from every experience but those not so good ones, are the ones that truly altered my point of view.  I discovered my boundaries and actively seek to enforce them, no matter the cost, because I’m unwilling to experience that kind of negative impact myself again.  I’m also unwilling to knowingly and negatively impact those I love again.  Even when doing work I love – as I am now – I still have to be mindful of those same boundaries.  It’s tempting to put more effort and energy into doing something I love so much but, the cost to those I love isn’t a debt I’m willing to take on.

I’m lucky.  I get to work at something every day that I love and find rewarding.  I’m also fortunate to have had experiences (though I didn’t feel so fortunate at the time) that reminded me how important life outside of work is.  I’m thinking the goal isn’t really a sustainable pace – for me or for teams – it’s balance.  It’s having the ability to grow as a person, separate from your career, and spend time, effort, energy and emotion on the people, activities and things you love.  Finding the balance may be the key to really being able to bring your whole self to work every day and enjoy the time you spend there as much as you enjoy the time away.

Clearly, this isn’t really an “Agile” topic.  It is something I learned and, therefore, keeps with the overall theme of this blog.  It’s highly probably what I’ve shared isn’t new to anyone.  Really, it’s just a reminder for myself.  Balance and Evenflow.

Write Your Own User Story

I’ve talked before about creating a vision for your life and how helpful it can be in assessing opportunities and situations.  I’ve also talked about how relevant Agile and Srum are to real life.  So, it’s not surprising for me to suggest that leveraging the User Story format to succinctly capture a personal vision is something interesting to explore.  Think on this for a moment YOU are the Product Owner of your life.  What do you want?

Initially, the story will be too big – Epic sized.  That’s OK as long as it’s something you can true back to and captures your vision.  Obviously, it will need to be broken down to a Theme or Feature.  It’s possible to have one for work, for family and personal.  These will also be too big and you will need to break them down further into story size.

As you go through the exercise of creating your personal backlog, remember it’s all negotiable and will shift.  You may choose to discard, add and change stories.  You may also decide to move things around and change the order up.  All of this is to be expected and encouraged.   The important part here is you are clear in your ultimate vision – the Epic.  This allows you to begin to define  your path so you can focus on and use it to make informed decisions.  If you have  understanding, your “how” will be easier to chart.

I also like the idea of being able to respond to changes as they arise and learning more through emergence in order to refine the vision.  It’s a very elegant way to keep your focus on your end goal without letting shifts in the environment bog you down.  If you are clear on what you want in your own mind the bumps, turns and surprises of life won’t be as frustrating.   It’s something you can share with your “team”.  No one goes through life completely alone – no matter how it may seem.  And, even if you think you’re alone in your journey, when you share your visions, it’s surprising how people will help you realize it because they know what you’re trying to do.

On my last trip I was asked “What do you think about when you go to sleep at night?” and I was able to respond easily.  I think about all the things I need to do tomorrow, next week, next month and so on.  The person I was having the conversation with said: “Stop.  Tonight, when you go to sleep, think about where you want to be five years from now – what it looks and feels like.  Focus on it.   Forget about the time in between.”

In short, write your personal backlog.  Try not to start with the books you want to read or the classes you want to take.  Limit yourself to WHAT you want.  You’re the Product Owner.  You’re also the product.  Own it.


A Retrospective For One

It’s easy (most of the time) for me to coach others.  I truly hate when I have to coach myself.  I talk a lot about having an open mind and being willing to try new things.  I ask team members, leaders, co-workers and all kinds of people to just give things a chance.  These concepts apply to me too.  As I go through my own changes, I need to coach myself and remember openness, only courage, trust, focus and respect.  It’s not an easy thing to do though and I’m reminded, again, about how difficult change really is.

When coaching, I am able to see situations from a different perspective and, because I have the understanding I have, offer insight and advice.  When I’m just living my life my perspective isn’t very objective and it’s difficult to think through how to apply my understanding to my situation.  As I go through this change, I find I’m constantly challenged to just stop, wait and process information before I react.  My project management roots run very deep in my personal life and I have expectations and plans for how everything should work but, sometimes it doesn’t and I’m forced to remember that value “Responding to Change OVER Following a Plan”.  My plans are pretty good though and WOW life would be smooth if everything went according to it. The odds are pretty good too that, even though it’s not going as expected, it will probably all turn out just fine.

Today, I took some time to assess what I was feeling.  I wrote down what was bothering me.  Then, I thought about WHY it was bothering me.  Finally, I assessed whether or not any of the bothers are in my control.  For the ones that are, I started thinking what action I would take.  Does all of this sound like a retro?  It was.  It was my own personal retro.  It worked too!  I have solid actions I can take which will keep my focus where it belongs.  I should mention a crucial piece of data was my personal vision.  Having that really helped me hone in on what the most important items are.

Finally, for any of you who may have going or are going through something similar, I’m reminded it’s not easy for most people to coach themselves and it’s OK to have your own, persona,l coaching moment.  What’s not OK is not taking the necessary time for reflection and allowing the squishiness to continue.

My Light Bulb Moment

Thanks to Michele Sliger for asking me to write it all down!

I started out as an ”Agile Project Manager”.  I accepted a contract for an IT project (my first) and was told it would be run as an Agile project.  I had no idea what Agile was and I was a Project Manager.  I had a great track record as a PM of driving results.  I googled Agile and was thrilled to learn my entire team would be in the same room, everything they were doing would be on the board and we would only have a 15 minute meeting once a day to discuss the project.  Oh….how very wrong I was.  Mind you the team delivered after slogging through entirely too much overtime, continuous pressure from me and the business and constant driving.  Unfortunately, their work never saw the light of day – two weeks before launch, the project was pulled.  What had worked for me before didn’t work this time.  I heard a lot from the people on the team who knew what Agile was and I was decidedly NOT a Scrum Master.  I cared, a great deal, about the people on the team and there were certain things I began to grasp but not enough to make a difference for them.  Honestly, why I stayed in IT after that project is beyond me but, I did.

Following that project, the next team I had was already formed and doing well on their own.  I still hadn’t had any training but, was asked to be the Scrum Master.  I started reading more and asking more questions of those around me who seemed to get this whole Agile thing.  I came into the team sure I would make them different and better.  I came in without acknowledging or respecting their history.  I asked them all kinds of questions about the work they were doing, why they were doing things the way they were doing them, pushing them a little so, in short, I didn’t really learn much and it still wasn’t clicking for me.  It was not a very comfortable place to be for anyone.  Then, someone had the brilliant idea to combine two teams together – mine and another – and that was when things started to get interesting.  The team that joined my team DID get Agile and they were not at all OK about how I was running them.  They pushed back.  I went to CSM training.

Joe Little and Jeff Sutherland were teaching the course and, as I sat there, all the pieces started coming together.  I understood how it was supposed to work and how I wasn’t doing anything AT ALL to make it easier.  Jeff Sutherland made the point that I still true back to all the time:  Protect The Team.  I came back to work energized and excited.  It clicked and I couldn’t wait to get going.  That said, there was this HUGE team which was really two teams trying to keep their individual team identities in place and continue to be the good teams they were separately.  It wasn’t working. I knew, in theory, what I was supposed to do but I didn’t know HOW to do it.  They fought over desk position, norms, how stand up should be run, how planning should be run and we were all incredibly miserable.  I thought I was doing the right things and protecting the team.  I wasn’t.

I asked another Scrum Master for help.  He came to observe a retro and, at the end of an hour, told me I couldn’t stop.  I had to keep the team talking for as long as it took for them to work their issues out.  The retro lasted all day.  Seriously, all.day.long.  Everyone was open and honest including me.  There were things said which were really hard to swallow for me.  I really had been trying to do the right things.  They made me question everything I had ever thought about my abilities. However, after that retro there was something different.  We all realized we were all trying to do the right things.  There was no malice or ill intent.  We trusted each other a little and we had overcome a decent amount of pain together.  After that retro, I started reading, researching, asking and experimenting and the team let me.  I would tell them what I wanted to try and why and I knew they would tell me when I was off track. They would tell me because they knew I was trying and I wanted to get better.  They also wanted to be better.  We all wanted to be the best team possible.

So, we’re all on an upswing now and someone decides to split the team back up.  Yes.  After ALL that pain we needed to split.  I remember being in the room with several other people figuring out who would go where and they were all looking at me to make the new teams.  It tore me up though.  I had gotten close to everyone and they were doing so well but, I did it, and I chose the team I was going to stay with.  The team was named BOB.  We worked together for about a year and it was the single-most rewarding and fun time of my career.  What I learned from that team in terms of trust, what empowered teams can do, what protecting a team meant and what the role of a Scrum Master really was is what has shaped me and guided me to where I am now.  It is an experience I hope everyone working in Agile can have.

We were nearing performance management time and I was writing my self-appraisal.  I didn’t have anything to write.  I didn’t have any results.  There were no “BIG WINS”.  In fact, I sat there thinking I hadn’t had to do much with the team at all.  I started to get truly worried about what was going to happen come end of year.  With none of the usual problem-solving, risk mitigating, implementation strategizing and scheduling management-type-stuff my piece of paper looked really empty.

“Scrum Master for a team who has delivered more scope than originally requested within the same amount of time.  No defects released into production.  Team has created automated test harnesses to enable faster identification of defects and leverage the QS resource more effectively.  Team members have learned new skills to be more efficient in their delivery approaches.  The team manages themselves, including removing most impediments. The team has created a build book to be used by the platform and serve as guidelines for UI development.  The team is able to respond quickly to change and is frequently sought after by the business to help shape strategy and inform intent.”

The TEAM had done great.  They had knocked everything thrown their way out of the park.  They were having fun and everyone wanted them.  Then it hit me.  They did it!  They were a self-managing, self-organizing, high-performing machine.  That’s what is supposed to happen.