The Agile Tribe

Lessons learned on my Agile journey

Author: Colin McCririck

On a recent walk by the story walls of nearby teams I noticed some small innovations which led me to say “have you seen …..” at our management stand-up. I’ve now found little things on one team’s wall have permeated across teams to their walls including:

  • Slow moving card sticker
  • Repeating card sticker (for tasks or other items that repeat in multiple iterations)
  • An ‘away sick’ and ‘on holidays’ area on the wall to put people’s avatars, so that these things are visible to all visitors and the team – a big advantage of this is – the reduction in email (one of my pet hates is using email for all communication).

Some of the above might seem trivial but small improvements often make big changes over time. They also made me think and reflect on how I have viewed Agile:

  1. Agile maturity comes with many small steps
  2. It’s important to encourage teams to make these steps themselves
  3. Copying between teams is encouraged and is not cheating (as schools might have taught!)
  4. Having a critical mass of Agile teams propels maturity further due to the copying synergy (i.e. shared learning).

I thought Agile was much easier in small teams and organisations but am now convinced large organisations have greater opportunity to push boundaries further in the Agile journey. However, it does require patience and commitment to long term gain through small improvements and a culture that allows and encourages it.

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Spin your Wheels or Drive on Purpose?

Author: Jonathan Coleman

The Retrospective Itself

Theme: Spin your Wheels or Drive on Purpose?

I make no apology for this – I borrowed heavily from the YouTube Footage of Ken Block, the Rally Car Driver (especially this one)

9:00am – 9:05am Welcome and “Focussing question”

I welcomed the team to the retrospective – and thanked them for putting aside the time. I then asked the following question:

“How do we spend less time spinning our wheels, around issues and more time driving with purpose?”

9:05am – 9:10am Ken Block’s Gymkhana 3 Video on the big screen.

Lots of smoke, spinning wheels, and fancy footwork.

9:10am – 9:20am Quick walk through of the last 15 Iterations.

A quick show of hands of who was here for more than 1 iteration. More than 5, more than 10, back from the beginning!

(I had prepared an iteration timeline with post it notes (stickies) on some of the challenges we had encountered during the iterations. This required pre-work to remember it all).

The team was encouraged (and did) shout out and participate in what we overcame as we walked through the iterations. At the end of this we saw that we had overcome some pretty major obstacles. We were feeling pretty confident that no matter what came our way in the next release – we could tackle it and overcome it!

9:20am – 9:50am Three Laps of the room around the Issues.

I had organised several “stations” around the room with Butcher’s Paper, Sticky notes and whiteboard markers.

During the Iteration Walkthrough, we called out some of the major themes of what we had overcome – but spent our time Spinning Our Wheels vs Driving with Purpose. I then encouraged the team to gather around the hot topics they felt passionate about – and self organise into a group. Shortly after this chaotic time – we began our first “Lap” (i.e. 10 minutes brainstorming on the topic).

After the groups brainstormed ideas to help us overcome similar issues in Release 2 – or how to overcome the still remaining issues – the teams had to stop and select two spokespeople to stay behind – and then move on to the next topic! They had a very short time to get through this. This was also somewhat chaotic and very fun.

The two people left behind quickly introduced the topic to the arriving group – and then left to rejoin their departed group on the next topic.

After 3 Laps – the team had to stop and re-gather at the main wall.

Again they elected two spokespeople who presented the issues back to the group and most importantly – What they were going to do about them!

After this Retrospective – we wrapped up with a short summary, and I ended it by thanking them for attending the session, being honest and openly sharing their thoughts and actively participating. We then had a morning tea to celebrate the change in phase for the project, and everyone applauded the group and the retrospective.

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Agile's Secret Sauce – Part 3

Authors: Tracey Kay and Julian Coldrey

As project leads, we bring a certain perspective to how we have achieved the team culture described in Part 2 of this series.

So here are some things we did as a project leadership team that seemed to get a good result:

  • We picked the right people. It’s not about assembling the best, most high achieving collection of people. It’s about team fit and picking a group of people who work well together and, as a team, EXCEL.
  • We let the team self-select almost everything. Nothing says empowerment like the ability to choose how you work, what you work on, and who you work with. By enabling our teams to self-select and organise around our goals, they took on the choices as their own and were much more inclined to make them work (or even better, change them when it was obvious they weren’t working!)
  • We eliminated Leads to create accountability. It may seem counterintuitive to drive accountability by eliminating leads in an Agile team, but past experience showed us time and time again that creating leads for each skill set (“Dev leads,” “Test leads,” “BA leads”) caused an immediate diminishing of accountability with the rest of the team. We felt that if someone was given the “lead” role that it flew in the face of the culture of shared accountability we wanted to generate, so no leads became the order of the day.
  • We chose a specific leadership style. Leadership is always important, but in an Agile environment where empowerment and self-direction are critical to success, choosing the right leadership style is paramount. We decided to provide leadership that focused on the vision and purpose of the team, but which was not directive in terms of how to achieve these goals. In other words, our mantra was always “this is what we need to do, now let’s figure out how to do it as a team.” This really empowered the team, got everyone thinking, and ultimately helped create the sort of culture we were looking for.

We hope some of musings in this three part series about what makes up Agile’s secret sauce has resonated with your experiences of building high performing Agile teams. If we could take one thing away from this project experience, it’s that we’ve never regretted any investment we made into building a healthy team culture, as it has consistently been repaid in the form of a fantastic, high performing team who have fun!

Feel free to send us your Agile recipes for success too or direct us to other good blogs/articles.

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