Guilds and Communities of Practice

If your organization has started its agile journey then it’s probably concentrating on forming cross-functional teams.  Cross-functional teams are great to reduce hand-offs, foster diversity, creativity and innovation, but there are also advantages to gathering with like-minded people and honing your craft through the use of Guilds and Communities of Practice (COP). Although Guilds and COPs can also be cross-functional, we can certainly leverage them in this case for like-minded people.

Guilds and COPs can be formal, informal, led or grass roots.  Our objective here is to create a forum to share knowledge and discuss solutions to challenges within a specific practice.  As we create more and more cross-functional teams our work can begin to become more siloed. The Guild and COP can be used to break down those silos and engage in cross-team collaboration.  

We’ve been participating in user groups and similar gatherings for awhile, but the first I saw the model of Guilds introduced was within the Spotify Model.  There premise was to have people from different teams within a specific practice come together. They could share knowledge, discuss solutions to common challenges and sometimes even go so far as to identify agreed upon standards.

Guilds can go beyond just meeting on a regular basis and can also create websites, chats and social media channels.  These mediums can be used to share knowledge and collaborate on certain challenges real-time and provide instant consultation with experts within your vertical area of practice. At my current organization we have several COPs, webinars and channels to discuss areas of interest. Some are more formal than others, but they all contribute to furthering the availability of cross-department knowledge.

Guilds and COPs can also be multi-organizational or area based.  Here in the Tampa Bay area we have an active Scrum Masters’ Guild facilitated by Adam Ulery which meets every first Wednesday of the month. One of my favorite exercises with that group was when we partnered with the Denver Scrum Masters’ Guild to simulate a distributed environment.

In my current company and community we have established several successful Guilds and COPs (ex: Nielsen Agile CoP, Nielsen DevOps Guild, Tampa Bay Agile Meetup, etc.).  If your organization is on its agile journey then you should consider Guilds and COPs as another means to collaborate, share knowledge and break down silos. If you’re a person that is passionate about your craft then consider starting a Guild within your organization. You could bring some food and start by meeting for lunch.  You might be surprised how many people join you and how much you can accomplish.

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Using Kudos Cards !

Kudos 2

The Harvard Business Review cited a study by Losada and Heaphy evaluating team effectiveness measured by financial performance, customer satisfaction and 360-degree feedback of team members and found that the most effective teams had nearly six positive comments for every negative one. Medium performance teams had almost twice as many positive vs. negative comments and low performing teams had an average of almost three negative comments for every positive one.

In light of this and other studies, a great way to increase positive feedback within teams is the use of Jurgen Appelo’s Management 3.0 “Kudo Cards”.  I’ve had my teams use the cards to thank others on the team.  They fill out a Kudos Card and post it on the Kudos Wall.  Team members also announce any new cards at the beginning of their retrospectives, putting the team in a very collaborative and positive mindset.

Everyone wants to have a feeling of autonomy, mastery and purpose.  It provides intrinsic motivation.  Providing sincere positive feedback to your teammates can increase their feelings of mastery and purpose and make them more happy at work.

So why not grab some Kudos Cards for your team, create your Kudos Wall and watch the people on your teams smile more!

HiPPOs Impede Productivity

hippo

Does your organization make decisions at the appropriate levels or do they run every decision up the flag pole to seek the “Highest Paid Person’s Opinion” (HiPPO)?  Are the people doing the work consulted or are all decisions mandated from above on how they must do their work?  Is there a “HiPPO” in the room or meeting that comes out of nowhere and adds a new mandatory condition without being involved in all the previous discussions or research?  Not making decisions at the appropriate level is inefficient and ineffective; not to mention demotivating for workers.  As a manager, create autonomy within your teams!

You can imagine the time wasted if workers need to seek approval for all or most of their decisions; sometimes even having to pass through multiple levels of approval just for the HiPPO to then put the “kabash” on it.  Beware of HiPPOs that use buzzwords and mandate implementation of ideas without much if any research or validation.  If you think you may be acting like a “HiPPO” then do the following:

  • Check your ego at the door.
  • Think three times before telling people how to specifically do something, especially if you are an executive leader.  Tell them what you want to happen instead of how you want them to do it.
  • Listen, listen and listen – the best executive leaders take in as much information as possible from their people.
  • Ask open questions and explore the information you are given.
  • Create a safe environment for discussion in the workplace.
  • Establish a trusting environment and progress towards moving decisions down to the proper level.

Jurgen Appelo, author of Management 3.0, identified that not only does empowerment improve worker satisfaction, but it enables the management of complex systems.  Complex systems are not sustainable and collapse without empowerment.

General McChrystal’s troops had to be autonomous and make decisions in the moment, since Al Qaeda would change tactics constantly.  There was no longer time to assess the situation and run it up to command for a decision. The troops needed to react on their own.  They just couldn’t call back for instructions every time they got in a fire fight where things were changing by the minute.  Heuristics could be set by command, but the troops needed the autonomy to make their own decisions and at a later time share their experience and knowledge with command and other troops.

Some roadblocks for managers empowering teams is that they feel a loss of control or insecurity.  You do not diminish your worth as a manager by empowering your people.  Your worth as a manger is measured by how well your team performs and a well empowered team is a much more efficient and effective one.

In some instances, management does not trust their subordinates to make the right decisions or they’re just plain entrenched in command and control.  Hopefully, if you are a manager reading this, upon reflection you recognize the efficiency of empowering your people and teams and will work towards that end.  If you are not completely comfortable empowering your people then start out with low risk activities and build up as you progress, but you need to start.

As a manager, consider the correct empowerment decisions based on the competence level of your people. Don’t misunderstand empowerment. It is not something that is either present or not. Below are seven authority levels that have been extended by Management 3.0 from Situational Leadership Theory; each with a different level of empowerment:

  • Level 1: Tell: You make decisions and announce them to your people. (This is actually not empowerment at all.)
  • Level 2: Sell: You make decisions, but you attempt to gain commitment from workers by “selling” your idea to them.
  • Level 3: Consult: You invite and weigh input from workers before coming to a decision. But you make it clear that it’s you who is making the decisions.
  • Level 4: Agree: You invite workers to join in a discussion and to reach consensus as a group. Your voice is equal to the others.
  • Level 5: Advise: You attempt to influence workers by telling them what your opinion is, but ultimately you leave it up to them to decide.
  • Level 6: Inquire: You let the team decide first, with the suggestion that it would be nice, though not strictly necessary, if they can convince you afterward.
  • Level 7: Delegate: You leave it entirely up to the team to deal with the matter.

The bottom line is that as a manager you need to get the HiPPO out of the mix and start finding a way to empower your people.  In doing so, you’ll find that their motivation will increase.  Daniel Pink, world renown author and business thinker, tells us that the three factors that lead to better performance are Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.  The first, “Autonomy”, (click here for Dan Pink’s video), is ones desire to be self-directed.  People and teams can accomplish amazing things when given autonomy and this greatly contributes to intrinsic motivation.

If you are a worker, the best way to battle a HiPPO is with facts.  If the HiPPOs ego does not allow them to relinquish their position, especially with an audience present, then do whatever you can to try and gain more trust from them in the future and increase levels of empowerment for you and your team. Another tactic is to have a set of objective criteria in selecting ideas or setting priority.  If the door is open to an opinion then the HiPPO can certainly insert theirs at the top of the list, even if it will not provide the most value to the organization.

So as we move forward with our organizations, let’s concentrate on empowering our people (see empowerment video “Greatness“) and reducing those HiPPO moments. If we do then we will find we have benefited by having more motivated workers and a more efficient and effective work environment.

Agile Open Florida

agileopenflorida

Have you ever been to a conference where you don’t know the specific topics of discussion until the morning of the conference?  That’s what Agile Open Florida and other OpenSpace Conferences are all about.  OpenSpace conferences rely on the attendees through self-organization and spontaneity to create the agenda as part of the conference’s opening ceremony.  An overall arching topic is designated for the conference.  Meeting rooms are allocated and time slots are defined.  At the beginning of the conference, any attendee can write their discussion topic on a piece of paper, get in line, announce it on the microphone to the group and then tape their paper on the big board in an available time slot and room of their choice.  You may be an expert on the topic looking to educate others or someone who knows little about the topic and is seeking to draw others opinions to the discussion.

There are four rules and one law of OpenSpace:

  1. Whoever comes are the right people.
  2. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have.
  3. Whenever it starts is the right time.
  4. When it’s over – it’s over.

Law of Two Feet:  Use your two feet to take you where you can contribute, share and enjoy and feel free at any time to leave and join a different discussion.  It’s OK to move around.  It liberates you and keeps the energy level high.

Agile Open Florida has been utilizing this format in the past and this year was no different.  The conference was energetic.  Attendees were meeting new people, catching up with old colleagues and exchanging ideas both in and outside of the sessions.  You learn so much from hearing others situations, ideas and remedies and just being part of the community outside of your own workplace.

Agile Open Florida was one of many events in the community that allows you to draw from different people’s experiences and expertise. There are also Meetups, Guilds, Slack channels, etc. that are open to all with little to no fees.  So if you’re not involved in your community, think about doing so.  Find out what’s available in your area.  You’ll find you have a wealth of knowledgeable people out there willing to share their experiences.

Candor Improves Productivity

Business people having a meeting and discussion

Many times we focus on the more visible factors related to productivity, but how many mistakes could we erase and how much time could we save with candor?  Research by NASA in the 1980s found that “take-charge” pilots made incorrect decisions much more often than pilots who included their crews, even in as little as a 45 second time frame.  Healthcare studies concluded that a nurse would only speak up 8% of the time when a doctor was not following the proper hygienic protocol while conducting medical procedures.  Efforts that require just your team are 80% more likely to succeed than those requiring cross-team collaboration.  Most people would rather stay silent then provide criticism to a co-worker leading to frustration, water cooler conversations, gossip and/or passive aggression.  For others the outcome becomes yelling and public berating.  Some of these situations could arise in a moment’s notice and likely become emotional, putting you at an even bigger disadvantage.  Your body uncontrollably gets ready for “fight” or “flight”.  It releases adrenaline and pumps blood to your arms and legs while sacrificing blood to your brain, making the promise of a constructive conversation that more difficult.radical-candor-2x2
Figure 1:  The Candor Inc. Radical Candor Quadrant

So what can we do?  Kim Scott, co-founder of Candor, Inc., tells us that we need to operate in the “Radical Candor” quadrant (see Figure 1 above) where we directly challenge, but at the same time care for the person we are talking to.  It is much easier to give and receive feedback when you feel that the other person cares for you as a person.  Many of us can conjure up a vision where we would react completely different to the same message from two separate people. The book “Crucial Conversations” advises if we sense that the other person is not feeling safe with the conversation, then we must step out of the conversation and build safety before continuing.  After establishing safety, you identify what you would like as an outcome of the discussion and lead with the facts.  Listen and concentrate on the desired outcome and not on winning.  The way the message is delivered is important and goes to creating safety.  Too many jerks deliver the message inappropriately and then say “I tell it like it is”, thinking this gives them carte blanche to be obnoxious.  They are certainly not creating safety with that tact.  The flip side of the coin is “sugar coating” the message.  If you “sugar coat” the message then many times the recipient will not catch your meaning or gravity of the situation.

If you recognize the benefits of conducting candid and crucial conversations then start with yourself and dig into the available information out there on the topic.  We’ll make a lot of progress and save a lot of time with proper candor.

For a more detailed understanding on this topic, read the book “Crucial Conversations” by Kerry Patterson and Joseph Grenny and visit Candor Inc.’s website at http://www.radicalcandor.com

Multitasking Is Inefficient, Ineffective and Bad For Your Brain!

multitaskingdriving

Many people boast about their ability to multitask, but it’s really nothing to brag about.  The simple truth is that it’s inefficient, ineffective and the human brain is not built for it.  If you’re multitasking you’re not going to be able to produce your best work.  This is why many states have implemented laws such as not allowing drivers to text.

Studies show that you’re not doing your brain any favors either.  The brain produces dopamine when we successfully complete a task.  Our brain loves these quick little dopamine hits when answering an email or text and crave even more, resulting in even more multitasking.  Another down side is that multitasking also increases the production of a stress hormone called cortisol and this tires us.  Beyond the chemical implications, our brains were designed to focus on one thing at a time and when we barrage them with information it only slows them down and produces less than quality results.

A University of London study showed that people experienced a significant drop in IQ level when multitasking.  Even context switching, which is a less rapid switching of focus, costs us in efficiency and effectiveness.  In fact, interrupting your focus to read an email has been shown to reduce your effective IQ by 10 points.

Gerald Weinberg, computer scientist and psychologist, has assessed that context switching between projects costs you 20% of your time per project.  This means if you are switching back and forth between two projects for the week then you will effectively have only 40% of your overall time to devote to each project due to the cost related to switching context (see the graph below from Gerald Weinberg).

multitasking2

With all the distractions technology has introduced in society and the workplace, it’s a wonder that we can get very much done at all.  We have emails, texts, tweets, alerts and social media to name a few. To address the situation, try to commit to specific blocks of time to address these and minimize interruptions.  Work emergencies will occur and interrupt our work efforts also.  It will help to derive a criterion with your customers for the definition of an emergency and effectively triage incidents.  Whenever possible we want to have people assigned to one project/task at a time, let them get it done and then move onto the next one.

The bottom line is that multitasking is not something to add to your list of skills, but instead something you want to minimize.

Try the exercise below to illustrate the loss of time due to context switching.

Exercise

Label three columns on a sheet of paper as follows (“1-10”, “A-J”, “I-X” [the roman numerals]).  Now time yourself on how long it takes you to first write the numbers 1-10 individually under the column labelled “1-10” then writing the individual letters A through J under the “A-J” column and then writing the Roman numerals I through X under the “I-X” column.

Now time yourself for this second way of writing down the letters and numbers.  Get a fresh piece of paper and put the same three columns on the top again.  Now, first write “1” in the “1-10” column and then go to the next column and write “A” and then the next column and write “I” and then return to first column and write “2” and so on, writing each next number or letter in the next column until all of them are written down.

Your time in writing them the second time is substantially longer than it took the first time.  Why is this?  Because switching focus costs you time.

Agile Principle #1: Satisfy the Customer

Value

Agile Principle #1 states “Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable solutions.”

Principle #1 is #1 for a reason!  Every team, group or organization has a customer, whether it’s an internal customer, an external customer or both.  The utmost concern for our team must be that we are providing value and satisfying our customer, for without that nothing else really matters.  In almost all cases, satisfying the customer is economically driven and teams have limited people and resources in doing so.  We relatively rank our items to address our most important and valuable items first.  This may be easy and quick for a simple “to do” list or we may have to spend more time for a list of more complex initiatives, always with a watchful eye on expending just enough effort to do so and no more.

Peter Drucker stated “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all”.  Working on the right thing is important and we can increase our success by adhering to best practice relative ranking exercises.  Even in doing so, we can still fall prey to failure. Failure is not necessarily a bad thing.  Much is learned by failure, but if we are going to fail we want to expend the least amount of effort to do so – in other words, “fail fast”.  By failing fast, we can quickly pivot or pick up something new that will provide customer value.

“Through early and continuous delivery” is a phrase in principle #1 that amplifies two significant points which are “leveraging feedback loops” and “maximizing value”.  Feedback is the cornerstone of Agile. Feedback loops are akin to a sailboat tacking to its final destination.  The tighter the feedback loop the better we can adjust and stay on line, but also the more effort we expend on the checking process.  Determine how long you want to sail along before checking your course.  Early and frequent feedback loops with the customer enable us to adapt, pivot and fail fast.

Releasing early and continuously allows us to also maximize value.  If we have 20 things prioritized, we then identify the smallest number of those things that will be of acceptable use to the customer and provide maximum value.  As an example, if we were building the first Automated Teller Machine (ATM) and we wanted the machine to “Withdraw Cash”, “Deposit Funds” and “Inquire on Balance” would it be wise to wait until all three features were available before delivering it to the customer?  Would it be wise to wait for the ATM to be able to remember what your most common withdrawal amounts were and proactively offer those choices?  Or would it be wiser to deliver the ATM as soon as possible without certain features?  These are decisions that you need to make, but the point is that the longer you wait to deliver value to the customer the longer you wait to receive the economic rewards which in turn is losing you money, along with depriving you of essential customer feedback as they use the solution.  So why not deliver the smallest number of features that provides the most economic value and then adhere to Principle #1’s phrase of “through early and continuous delivery of valuable solutions” by then delivering subsequent prioritized features continuously throughout the life of the effort.

Through some of the outlined and other practices we can deliver value to our customers continuously.  Continuously Providing Value = Happy Customer!  🙂

Watch the Work Product, Not the Worker!

Manager Watching Clock

At a number of organizations, I am observing management concentrate on the number of hours a worker has worked, ignoring some of the more important factors impeding software development.  The worker’s hours may be one of the most visible factors, but rarely the most significant.  Singular or heavy concentration on this by management indicates that the organization has a poor software development economic framework.

As direct or indirect pressure is applied to the worker by measuring hours worked without addressing product related factors, the worker will be pressed to engage in inefficient activities and context switching.  This activity further camouflages some of the important economic factors we really should be addressing.

We need not concentrate so much on the inefficiency of the worker, but instead more on the product. If we have no economic standard to order our efforts, then a couple of things could happen.  We work on efforts depending on which “HIPPO” (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) matters at the time.  We stop and start efforts as the next important emergency trumps the previous.  We take in new work without finishing the work we already started. If this were manufacturing, we would see incomplete inventory laying all over the warehouse, visibly showing us something is dreadfully wrong.  In software development the inventory remains invisible.

Our greatest waste is not unproductive developers, but instead the wasted time incurred by product thrashing, poor communication, idleness due to dependencies, working on the wrong things and other product related factors.

Let’s start concentrating on these more important factors first instead of singularly concentrating on the more visible factor of how many hours our workers worked this week.

Daily Scrum Personas

Daily Scrum Team

The Scrum Guide defines the Daily Scrum as a “15-minute time-boxed event for the Development Team to synchronize activities and create a plan for the next 24 hours”.

Each person answers 3 questions:

  • What did I do yesterday that helped the Development Team meet the Sprint Goal?
  • What will I do today to help the development Team meet the Sprint Goal?
  • Do I see any impediment that prevents me or the Development Team from meeting the Sprint Goal?

The Development Team leverages these 3 questions to inspect, self-organize and empirically adapt to deliver the Sprint Goal.

The above information is straight out of the Scrum Guide, but as we practice our Daily Scrum we just might meet up with some of these people, listed below, that will provide us some coaching opportunities.

I hope these examples are helpful for the person just starting to implement Scrum at their organization and a review for other experienced Scrum practitioners.  Anyone who has any additional examples, please feel free to add them as a comment and we can build on the list!

Larry

Larry “Looking for a Leader

Larry is 45 years-old and has been in IT for nearly 25 years.  All of those years have been working in a strong command and control environment. He’s a very structured individual and a compartmental eater.

Larry looks directly at the Scrum Master while answering the 3 questions.  This is a tell-tale sign that Larry is looking to provide a status report to a person in charge.  He has not yet embraced the philosophy of a self-organizing and empowered empirical team.  He should be speaking to the team and not any one person. Explain and reinforce the empowered empirical team through coaching, games and exercises.

Penelope

Penelope “Problem Solver

Penelope went to well-respected university and was a double-major in Computer Science and Philosophy.  She doesn’t have much patience for useless formality or rules that get in her way.  She loves to dive into the detail and solve problems.  Her mantra is “Patience is a waste of time!”

Penelope conducts an immediate deep-dive into details surrounding information voiced during the Daily Scrum.  When an issue comes up during Daily Scrum, she asks questions and begins to solve the problem on the spot.  We need to coach Penelope and the team to list topics for further discussion in a parking lot or discussion list.  When the Daily Scrum is done then you can identify who wants to participate in the discussions.  There is no reason to involve teammates who are not interested in that topic.  The conversations can be conducted right after the Daily Scrum or later as the team sees fit.

Nicholas

Nicholas “New Guy”

Nicholas is 22 years old. He just graduated college and joined the company about 3 months ago.  He’s a little overwhelmed with all the things he needs to learn at the new job.  He’s hardworking, but insecure about the amount of work he can get done in a day compared with his experienced teammates.

Nicholas talks about anything he can think about that he did in the day, so that his team will not think he is unproductive.  He mentions the meetings with his manager and other non-sprint related activities.  Nicholas and the team need to be reminded that they need not speak about non-sprint related activities during the Daily Scrum.  They should only be speaking about information that pertains or impacts the sprint.

Sammy

Sammy “Scrum Master”

Sammy was a project manager for 5 years until his company adopted Scrum and he transitioned to Scrum Master.  Sammy likes nice orderly meetings and ensuring that the team is on track for delivery.

Sammy sets rules for the team, such as punctuality, no interrupting, etc.  He sets the order in which people should speak to increase efficiency.  Although rules are not necessarily a bad thing, the team should create rules of engagement and determine the speaking order on their own.  We need to take every opportunity in having the team realize and practice that they are a self-organizing team.  Conduct activities and games to fortify this concept.  Try having the person currently speaking choose the next person to speak.

Priscilla

Priscilla “Product Owner”

Priscilla has worked for this company for 20 years.  She is very intelligent and understands the sales and advertising business very well.  She also loves technical work and is adept at pulling data and analyzing it.  She always wants the latest technology solution and, even though she works in sales herself, is an easy sell.

Priscilla listens to the Daily Scrum, but cannot help advising the team on how to order their work effort to be more efficient.  She questions remaining time on tasks and pushes the team regularly at the Daily Scrum. We need to counsel Priscilla that the Daily Scrum is for the Development Team to assess progress and figure out as a self-organizing team how to accomplish the Sprint Goal and deliver the agreed upon sprint backlog items by the end of the Sprint.  As the Product Owner, Priscilla should not be interjecting during the Daily Scrum.

How Should We Structure Our Agile Teams?

Agile Team

There are two types of teams, Functional Teams and Cross-Functional Teams.  A Functional Team, sometimes referred to as a Component or Specialty Team, is comprised of people with the same skill set.  Cross-Functional teams on the other hand are centered around delivering the same business value and consist of people with different primary skill sets.

The Functional Team benefits from frequently sharing and bettering their specific skill set knowledge across the team.  It is easier establishing and enforcing standards. Communication and collaboration within their specific skill set is very efficient, since they are all on the same team.

A Cross-Functional Team on the other hand benefits from having people with different primary skill sets so it can deliver the requested business value without or with minimal dependencies on other teams.

When looking at the two different team types, there are a couple of important questions we must ask ourselves to decide team structure.

Question 1:  Do we currently have enough people with that skill set so we can place a person on each Cross-Functional Team that has a need for that primary skill set?

We don’t want someone being a member of four different teams.  In fact, many Agilists believe that a person should only be a member of one team.  I believe there may be exceptions, but there should be a good reason for it and once you split a person across more than two teams it should certainly raise a red flag.

Question 2:  What will be the most important and most frequently needed communication and collaboration?  Is it with others with the same skill set or is it with people delivering on a common business initiative?

Communications with and dependencies outside of the team are responsible for most of the delay in software development.  If we can keep the need for cross-communications to a minimum, then we can minimize this delay.

I learned a valuable lesson a few years ago when I took an existing group of integration specialists and divided them up across cross-functional product teams.  On the surface this appeared to make perfect sense.  I thought the cross-functional teams would benefit greatly by requiring less hand-offs, better design decisions, simplified planning and improved speed of delivery.  What I didn’t realize was the integrations people needed to communicate more with each other.  The integrations code was legacy code.  It wasn’t very loosely coupled at all and every time you changed something you had to coordinate with the rest of the team.  Obviously, this technical debt needed to be addressed, but until that time it made more sense for the integrations people to be on one team.

The main point is to determine where the communication needs are and base your team structure on those findings.  After I learned this important lesson through failure, I also found a book, “Management 3.0” by Jurgen Appelo, which addressed the topic in “Chapter 13: How to Grow Structure”.  I highly recommend this book for this subject and other great information and insight.

Happy Team Growing!