Three Agile and Scrum questions from a reader

Three Agile and Scrum questions from a reader

Delivering work using Agile practices can be tough because work environments vary and different organisations throw different kinds of challenges on us. I often receive questions from readers about agile delivery practices. What I have been observing for a while is that the questions mostly relate to dealing with people. As Jerry Weinberg said through his Second Law of Consulting, “No matter how it looks at first, it’s always a people problem.”

This post answers some of the common questions that I recently received from one of my contacts. I have made some minor edits to make the questions generic. 

Coaching teams and organisations

Question 1. How should I as a Scrum master go about coaching the organisation about Agile. I come from a consulting background and coaching is usually limited to the Scrum team that I work for. Are there any techniques that can help me coach organisations or stakeholders?    

Answer: As a Scrum master, oftentimes you will only work with a couple of teams. Coaching one or two teams is easier, manageable and more convenient. However, there’s no optimum number of teams that a Scrum master can work with. Although it might appear useful that a Scrum master should only work with one team, a lot depends on the nature of the work the teams are doing, their maturity in terms of the agility, the complexity of the work, the structure, size and the culture of the organisation etc. 

One thing is sure that as a Scrum master, an organisation wouldn’t want you to be spread too thin. In his book Secrets of Consulting, Jerry Weinberg offered us his Law of Raspberry Jam, “The wider you spread it, the thinner it gets.” And, as you may know, good jam has lumps. I think a thinner jam loses taste too. In our terms, that’d be losing focus or interest.

Now coming back to your question of coaching the organisation. It pays to confirm what someone means by coaching. People often confuse training and coaching. Let’s assume that they want you to coach the organisation on using Agile practices. How would you do that? Of course you will understand their context, the training and skill gaps, and possibly the problems they want to solve through coaching. Accordingly you will find the things that will offer you few quick wins and time to find a long term solution.

Techniques of coaching depend on who you’ll deal or work with. I often mix things to make them accessible and practical. For example, I’ve organised brown bag sessions, arranged team surveys to find out what they want to learn, scheduled coaching sessions with other Scrum events so that teams don’t use the sprint time for training, coached teams by organising team contests etc. My experience is that given sufficient notice, stakeholders enjoy taking part in contests or challenges.

 

Getting pushed back on Agile Delivery

Question: Many times I get to deal with Clients who have low agile maturity. Either at the team level, or at the stakeholder level. I get pushed back on Agile process delivery as this would disrupt their business. In such a scenario, I initially did an Agile/Scrum 101 training. Talked about my successful experiences from the past with successful Agile delivery. However, I still felt that the clients or teams were not convinced. How should I have approached this as SM differently to get the stakeholders or team to buy into Agile ways of working?

Answer: That’s a good question and many Scrum masters, Agile coaches and delivery managers experience similar challenges.

First thing that we should understand is that Agile itself is not the goal. Even though some organisations might say that they want to be Agile, their main objective is possibly to solve some other problem through applying Agile methods or the mindset.

What often seems to happen is that when given a responsibility, many Agilists blindly start applying frameworks, tools or methods. This results in pushback from teams as well as stakeholders. (You might want to watch this video about tools and frameworks). Agile is about change and we know that people don’t like change because change is hard. (But remember that change is not always resisted. Having new born babies brings a huge change in people’s life, but almost everyone enjoys that even though it turns their lives upside down, at least for a while.)

Your clients must have hired you for a specific reason or reasons. They wanted you to solve some problem for them. Understanding their problems, their context and what bothers them builds your own confidence in the problem solving process and also instills confidence in the client. Running Agile 101 is the easy part. Knowing whether that is required, is the hard part.

Old School Product Owner?

Question: I had a tough PO who needed all requirements into the project delivery roadmap. What would be the best way to convince a PO that we cannot have all the features in the product roadmap and can only accommodate a MVP approach ensuring we can only focus on features that can be developed in a given period of time.  

Answer: It appears to me that your PO was not trained in product ownership and was only carrying the PO label. You might want to show them this video from my talk at the Agile POs and BAs meetup. In this talk I explained what product ownership is and how the prioritisation works. I’ve heard that many people found it useful. 

Although things have slightly changed since Henrik Kniberg wrote about MVP, sometimes I still use the sketch that he created to explain the idea.

You may also want to make sure that the POs you work with get training in product ownership and understand that their job is not to manage people, but to work with them for frequent delivery of valuable outcomes. You can do that by building a trusted relationship with them. Think about getting into a social contract with them.

Side note: there is no single ‘best way’ for almost anything, but there are always many good ways. ‘Best’ expresses ‘the only way’, while there can be more than one way of achieving our goals.

So, these were my responses to the questions. What else would you add to these answers? Would you answer these questions in a different way or would you give a completely different answer? Let me know.

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Tips for Job Seekers

Tips for Job Seekers

As a #JobSeeker, one of my mentees asked for help and I gave him few tips to deal with the current situation. I hope they are useful to others too.

1. Do some planning:
– what can you do to manage the situation in the short term
– what does the long term look like

2. Stay afloat:
– In the short term, find ways to generate some income (selling used things online still works.)

3. Take Action:
– Re-connect with those you know and build new connections. Others might be in the same shoes as you are. So, gently ask for help and follow up after some time.
– Apply for relevant jobs.
– Can you deliver an online or virtual training? Consider those options too.
– Make a list of things you are good at. Don’t judge yourself by saying, “I’m not good at anything.” Just make a list. Can you cook, sew, build, design, teach, sing, dance,..? Someone out there might need help in that.
– Stay up to date with your skill area.
-Negotiate your rent, utility rates and mortgage.
– Can you secure a government grant to start a business? Find out.

4. Stop worrying:
Yes, easier said than done, but let’s try that. Worrying takes energy away. Distract yourself from negative things. Do things that make you feel better.

Things will improve eventually. Stay positive.

Advice for Job seekers

 

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Is Remote working doing more harm than good?

Is Remote working doing more harm than good?

Is remote work doing more harm than helping?

In the past weeks some of my clients, friends and ex-colleagues have told me how they’re working longer hours, getting lesser exercise and spending less time with family.
That indicates a big problem. And that problem is burnout.

While working longer hours you may see high productivity in short term, but the consequences can be disastrous in the longer term. So, please stop it!

What can/ should you do:

– Block your diary for breaks. Have short breaks if you’re worried about disruption to work.
– Use lunch breaks for exercise and walks. Can you attend meetings while walking?
– Talk to your colleagues about good practices and prepare a working agreement. (I’ve written about how to create these. Visit my blog.)
– Stick to your delivery or release planning process. Agile releases allow you to flex the scope. What would your stakeholders prefer? A massive surge in productivity now and a massive drop later; or a continuous flow of delivery?

What else can we add here?

I work with teams and individuals in improving their delivery practices. Connect with me if you need help.

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I didn’t know who Adam Gilchrist was and how that’s about career

I didn’t know who Adam Gilchrist was and how that’s about career

You’ll possibly find it funny that I didn’t know that Adam Gilchrist was a famous cricketer (read the full story below). I had little interest in cricket and I hardly knew any Indian or Australian players except the most famous once. That created no problems for me other than funny remarks from colleagues that I didn’t know about the game that my own countries (India’s and Australia) were so passionate about. 

 How successful someone is in their career is clearly seen by the passion they show about it. Passionate people deal with challenges more easily than those who do something just for the sake of it.

But what if you are not passionate about something and it’s just an interest? Well, the good news is that you can develop an interest and become better. Although in this post I will focus more on how passion helps you grow in your career. 

Let me start with a story first!

Few years ago I received a phone call from an acquaintance who told me that he had a breakfast invitation for me with Adam Gilchrist.

“Well, a breakfast sounds great. But who is Adam Gilchrist and what does he do?”, I replied to my connection.

There was a pause on the other end of the line. The silence broke and the person on the line informed me with a disappointing tone that Adam was a famous Australian cricketer. Then he asked me whether I watched any  cricket.

In fact I never had any interest in cricket. And therefore, I politely declined that invitation. I knew that if I had attended, people would have talked about cricket and my contribution (or the lack of that) could have got a bit awkward for Mr. Gilchrist and others.

That story ended there. However, the theme didn’t seem to.

Later in the year I attended a training on Agile processes organised by my employer. During lunch I started chatting with the trainer.

Being a practitioner, mostly you talk about your common area of expertise. So I asked the trainer, “Melbourne has many good Agile meetups going. Do you attend any?”

The trainer replied that he was often busy and doesn’t get time for attending meetups and events. Fair enough!

In order to not sounding rude, I acknowledged that response with a neutral statement and said that there was a conference coming where few famous Agile practitioners were speaking. Of course, I mentioned few names which our trainer didn’t seem to recognise. And at the next moment, he disappeared in the oblivion.

Actually, he didn’t return to continue the conversation and avoided any other discussion where any such references were used. I have a feeling that he only knew what the training material referred to.

The first scenario above demonstrates my ignorance about about the game of cricket and a well known player. Since I never had any interest in cricket, not recognizing Adam Gilchrist is hopefully pardonable.

I believe that it is okay not to know someone from a field that has little or no impact on you or your profession. But I think it is not okay to not know people who have made significant impact on the particular craft that you belong to.

WHY?

I would be surprised to meet those physicists who don’t know Richard Feynman or Stephen Hawking or Neil Tyson. How would you feel if you ask an aspiring (Hollywood) actor what she thinks of George Clooney and she shows her ignorance about George Clooney’s existence? I would be surprised too, even shocked! 

Although it seems to me that it is only the tech industry that appears to be losing it. 

I come across programmers writing applications in Ruby on Rails but never thought of knowing the origin of its creation. I come across multitude of testers who never know anything about testing beyond writing test scripts.

Does it really matter?

Not knowing the originators or those who have spent years practicing and developing the craft you work in may not affect you in your job, if it is only a job for you that pays a wage that pays your bills. That is, you are in a 9-5 job and don’t really care as long as it is provides ‘job safety’ and pays on time.

Where it might affect your growth is in the community and at employers who are passionate about their crafts. Why? Because that shows that you are not passionate enough.

Technology has made this world much smaller than you may think. It is far more easier to know about individuals and their skills.

Don’t let lack of interest be your enemy for your next job..!

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