Happy Birthday Team

Birthday cakeWelcome to your team. A new one is forming, storming, norming, performing, and yes, adjourning or re-forming as we speak… somewhere.  Bruce Tuckman wrote about the stages that teams go through.  In the agile world of software we do the work a little differently than we used to.  We also grow and enable teams – after all, these are the groups of professionals that do the work!  Ideally they will encompass and deliver everything it takes to get through the organization and into the customers hands.   More today than ever before, companies interview not only for a candidate’s technical ability, but their grace in problem solving AND their fit for working in teams.  Emphasis is placed on the constant ‘connectedness’ and the clarity of communication.  The team you are going to be a part of is typically included as part of the interview process.  There are lots of reasons why we form into teams.  To prevent ourselves from being lost amidst a very large organization, to have a common sense of purpose, make better decisions… and so on.  At it’s core: A team is a group of people holding themselves collectively accountable for using complimentary skills to achieve a common purpose.  I wanted to leave myself a few notes as I again become part of a new team.  Especially concerning one that may be new to agile or scrum software development.

I think it was the movie Princess Bride where the giant had trouble in fighting the man in black only because the moves used in singular, one on one interactions are much different than those needed when you are facing many.  A gang, a pack, a team, somehow we have a small group of people that for many reasons, are together in this.  

Seek the Wisdom.   Be straightforward, but the wisdom in doing something often is not.   Sometimes not everyone is ready to receive so realizations can come at different times. We typically want to do the right thing.  Even the right way, if we know how.  When presented with an idea, listen, consider, and explore the possibility of what people are trying to understand.  It shows respect, and many times we learn from the encounter.  It helps us practice being flexible in our thinking.  This will be the greatest resource you bring to the team.

Mind the Balance. Asses for impact. Is the effort of  simply trying something a little time to learn something.   Typically the all or nothing is a false dilemma. Sometimes we build vertical slices up through layers of architecture… sometimes we build a little architectural runway.  Be comfortable in seeking the Mark that is Twain (between the two).

Be a time traveler.   Often I find myself in the midst of a conversation between two people that strongly disagree.  Then the perspective and context comes in, they are both really talking about the same thing, only from different points in time.  The ability to alter your perspectives, build from one to the next, and right size the work so that it can be done in deliverable increments is learned.  Practice makes it a skill.

Go forth into the Org.  This speaks to being empowered.  Very few teams are islands.  The ability of a team to exist in some environment, requires being able to forage, communicate and align.

Be a Constant Gardener.  Have patience for growth. There is also implied weeding (maybe refactoring),  feeding (celebrate small wins and improvements),  reflection (retrospective moments), and even cross pollination (shared experience and lessons).

If you’ve not heard of it, there is a race called the Sawtooth Relay.  Take a team of 6 and some volunteers and divide a 62 mile course through the mountains into 12 legs.  I was part of a new team that took on the challenge.  I wasn’t even part of the original team.  I took someone’s conflict and stepped in to fill the gap.   To this point I have never run more than 6 miles in my life.  With the relay, I would run two 6 mile segments in the same day.  I took someone’s difficulty as my own challenge and opportunity.  It even meant a 1400 ft elevation change along one of the segments.  This team had never run together, no one had been in the race before, and none of us had run this distance.  We started at 3:30 am and everyone simply amazed me as we each ran our leg and contributed.  After all was said and done, I ended up with and additional 3rd leg of the race.  One runner on our team had to pull up with a painful injury.  We were all concerned and thankful that a week later there were no lasting effects.  I got to both start and to finish the run – which I think to be a great honor.  Our team came in under the 10 hour mark – which to a person, we thought was very successful for what we collectively hoped to accomplish.  I myself, appreciated several things about this new team!

We had individuals from different teams across a software program come together as a team for this event.  This was a great chance to continue growing our cross-team communications.

We shared the truth – we were honest about what hurt, and shared every thing we could to help.

We did it by the rules – we took to heart the honesty and integrity that everyone even the 304 other relay teams and the 5 individual Ultra runners (who ran the whole 62 miles) were striving for.

We savored EVERYONE’S encouragement and help.  Especially if they weren’t on our team.  (Running at night, my headlamp started going out, and another team loaned me one of theirs…  My appreciation for help in a time of need goes way beyond words.  We in turn encouraged others. We went out of our way to  keep each other motivated, and share the experience.

We celebrated the achievement and this meant special appreciation for the volunteers without whose participation we would not be allowed to run.

We adapted our processes and adjusted how the team operated.  Sure we made a few mistakes, but none of us felt halted by them.  There wasn’t enough time to dwell on it and angst or anger wouldn’t have been useful anyway.

I look forward to doing better!

This will be a reminder to myself as I again become part of a new Agile team.

  1. This is about doing our work differently
  2. Cherish people  but don’t just associate, achieve together.  My day is ever better when I have learned something new AND I have been productive.
  3. You are part of a team for a reason, and just as you are unique, the team will have it’s own personality.  Like any seed needs sunlight, water and soil,  teams need space, support, and empowerment.

Can you hide in a team… sure… Leave your grumpiness, your bullying, and your defensive insecurities elsewhere… we have work to do.

The Worst Teams

  1. Always find an excuse, never fault ourselves. Can’t be corrected.
  2. Miss the opportunity. Don’t use the chance to improve… may be heads down in activity – something always breaks, but never look up, learn, level up.
  3. Never venture beyond and out from their comfort zone, like program contributions, or even cross roles.  We isolate ourselves.
  4. Have fun only by criticizing others. Stereotype and make blanket statements, leaving criticism without specific recommendations and even better.. a willingness to help.
  5. Have no urgency.
  6. Leave mayhem behind that other teams don’t want to clean up.  Management may have  to smooth interactions over.  Never becoming truly become aware of  our impact.

The Best Teams

  1. Don’t stress, aren’t defensive – they are forward looking.
  2. Have some fun and celebrate the achievement.
  3. Help each other grow.
  4. Give honest feedback.  We are also honest with ourselves.
  5. Learn something new.  More importantly they teach others.
  6. Exhibit a fearlessness in exploring. They TRY IT.
  7. Have a tempo which allows urgency and thought-full-ness.  It IS possible to show urgency for some things and patience for others.
  8. Adapt – Accepting the situation and weigh the impact to implement recommendations.
  9. Think at different levels, context switch, or time travel.
  10. Make whatever we touch better – improve.  Innovate, create, surprise…
  11. Are calm problem solvers.
  12. DELIVER.  Higher quality.  Higher standards.  There is no hesitation for representing what anything is really like.


The last two miles of the Sawtooth Relay I will always remember…  The penultimate mile was painful, and the more I concentrated on the pain, the slower I got and the pain only increased…  That Last mile I focused instead on going faster… pushing myself.  My pace increased, my running was lighter and smoothing out, the pain went away… I finished knowing I poured myself into the moment and gave more.  The accomplishment pushed past the limits I knew for myself,  it made me proud to be part of the team. More so, as I knew others had done the same.

What Running and Agile have in Common


I took up running again.  It began at the challenge of a team.  It has been a long and slow pace at which improvement comes, but its still noticeable.  So when a friend suggested  I read Born to Run -by Christopher McDougall, it seemed very timely.  An intertwined story about the stars and history of ultramarathon runners… Running all day… and sustaining that run.  The oracle at Delphi would not foresee a moment when I run 60 miles at a clip… but, I am a better runner.  As I have the tendency to look everywhere for wisdom, here are a few of the agile musings I came away with:

1) Don’t get distracted from your quarry

What I REALLY mean here is problem.  True story.  While in a training class, someone started in on “Yeah but how do you…” and chained into what seemed endless minutes tying to at least a dozen different problems, complaints, limitations of the company, etc…  I like to imagine that the rest of the class was about to throw chairs across the room and ready to move on.  It’s not that the person liked to hear the sound of their voice.  They didn’t know how to track and hunt. There are two ways I thought to handle this.. .  One is to hold them after school, pointing out that the situation merits a little more detail and attention. Another is to lead into a teaching moment. An analogy from running.   Way back in time man hunted for survival.  Long ago, the homo sapiens bested the stronger and tool using neanderthals in survival by simply being able to run down prey.  The really big mastodons were disappearing, but the little antelopes and rabbits were prevalent.  You couldn’t catch one in a minute, but if you AND A TEAM of your friends were willing to run an hour, or four…  your quarry would be overheated and pretty  much sit right down.   The problems came when your particular animal got back into the heard/hole and you lost them and selected a new, fresh animal to start chasing again.  That’s where the protection of herds come in, to deceive, exhaust and confuse the predators.  We see it too in schools of fish.   If you are able to lock on and take down the same problem, without distraction to some others, you will be far more successful   Break a singular high priority problem apart from the herd of distraction and “stay on target”.  Agile breaks big things down into smaller actionable things. Don’t chain all your problems together. You are really telling everyone you can’t track what is going on, you are overwhelmed and need to rely on an outside perspective for a bit.  We are naturally cooperative hunters built to tackle problems in groups.  While doing so, learn from the best among us.

2) ‘Easy, Light, Smooth’

I not only wish I could run this way… I want to Scrum like this all the time.  Easy, Light, Smooth.  It is true that this is disruptive innovation that we are taking on, but to do that easily, with a light touch, and make the whole process smooth takes some mastery.  Does this feel natural? Is my impact light or heavy? Are things in fits of stops and starts or is there a continuous and even flow?  There is a wonderful Rugby shirt that had the phrase “Train Hard – Scrum Easy”.

3) ‘Accept what the trail has to give you’

By trail I mean work, environment, situation, and even ourselves.  I don’t mean you should give up and let everything just come or even remain unchanged  What I mean is this:  There is a difference in fighting a trail, wishing something better and be stopped, instead of simply accepting the reality of the present moment and emphasizing the action to run ahead.  Watch team behaviors and you will instantly recognize when one has trepidation because the work is unfamiliar, and another just leaps right in to tear and task it apart though both teams may have a very similar skill set.  No situation is ideal, and accepting that, not being stuck by it, allows us to move forward.  Even a downhill run can be dangerous.  Be aware of the trail, accept it’s twists turns and difficulties.  In responding to it we look to ourselves to adjust and meet the challenges.  If you have a choice to take one step or two – try to take three in-between the rocks that exist, along the path.  You may never know how hard this path will be, when it will end, you may not even be able at times to control which path you take, you can only really control your own ability to adjust.  The best runners also leave the trail undisturbed, without tracks.  I think of this as focus vs distraction, and destructive impact vs a lightness of being. This also means DON’T CHECK OUT.  Be in the moment and bring your awareness – otherwise you may get tripped by a turn, or fall off a very steep switchback.

4) ‘You are stronger than you think you are’

When pushing ourselves past fatigue and stress and into the extremes, there is an sense of power and strength we never tested and didn’t think we had within us.By pushing through an impediment, and obstruction, we become familiar with a whole new level with new boundaries to explore and build ourselves to fill.   Be it in an ultra marathon – or a release.  We are working on our endurance here, that it will become extraordinary.  A sustainable pace over very long distances.  Some distances are measured in time.

5) ‘Eat like you are poor’

All right, this may be a stretch – but it is how I think.  A coach wanted his runners to eat like they were poor, to keep their diet simple and basic. No frills, not fancy, not expensive, just the bare minimum. It was not a knock against anyone’s socio-economic status, it was a way to get his runners to focus and prioritize on something he knew affected their performance every day.  Here, I  emphasize to Communicate Simply.   If you have to – keep it basic and use paper. Remove all the fluff and indirection between you and your intended audience.  Scrum doesn’t dictate NO documentation.  It was the agile manifesto/principles (the Best agile document I’ve seen yet) that stated  – we value working software over documentation and realize there is some value in both.  The balance and purpose to that value was left to us.  Use BIG information radiators that foster more conversations which prepare us for DOING the work better.  Go and TALK to them.  Talk while working.. pair programming, peer reviews, etc.    Have a great amount of heart when you do communicate.  It is our obligation to share whatever we can spare. Even of ourselves.  No exceptions.

6) The Best runners enjoy running

The best sprinters enjoy sprinting; the best teams enjoy teaming. The best coaches…   The only way we can conquer something is to embrace and love it.  Refuse to let it go and know it so well that you are not afraid of it anymore. (remember point 4) I told one team the other day that their sprint number can be viewed like a version of themselves.  Was team 4.0 better than team version 1.0?  Absolutely.  I also look forward to their next version and mentioned all the ‘firsts’ they had done along the way.  They enjoyed improving.  If I could match their pace… I might run over a few mountains yet.