Put It On the Team

May 10, 2013 Matthew Badgley

Do you want to have more effective daily stand-ups? Do you want to have the planning meetings flow better and increase the value of these meetings? Do you want to see continuous improvement flow from your retrospectives? If your answer is yes, then put it on the Team.

I’ve written about trust, relying on strengths, and improving self-organization many times — and the message of these can be summed up as “Putting it on the Team.”  Make the team responsible for solving problems; make the team responsible for defining how to deliver; and making the team accountable for delivery.

Most of the times when we talk about the concept of the team self-organizing, is it more focused on the “how” part of delivery, and not the process. However, remember that the meetings (or ceremonies as some call them) are primarily for the team. Specifically, the Iteration Planning, Daily Stand-up (or Daily Scrum), and the Retrospective meetings — these are for the team, not the stakeholders or managers. Do the stakeholders and managers gain value from these meetings? Yes, but the real value is the fact that the team takes ownership of what they are going to deliver; they take ownership of holding each other accountable to deliver and work through problems themselves; and they take on the responsibility of improvement.

A lot of times we (as in Managers, Scrum Masters, Team Leads, Type-A Team Members) want to install processes and templates around these meetings. This usually happens after a few weeks or several months of trying an agile development framework and either not following the guidelines of the framework or the team not taking the initiative to make improvements. We’re not getting any value and the team is resisting and or blaming the whole concept — we want to fall back to more structure and being told what to do.

A great example of this is when a team’s stand-ups start becoming mundane, overrun their time boxes, and team members don’t show up. So what happens is we come up with a template for the team to keep up with for daily stand-ups, as well as establish a set of metrics we answer to during the stand-up. And of course, this just becomes one more thing for a team member to keep track of, as well as an unintentional mechanism of command-and-control.

As an ex-Director/Manager, I often wanted to step in and help — and I usually would come up with a template and/or some hard-prescribed structure and tell the team to follow it. I wanted to help, and that’s what Managers genuinely want to do. But I was quickly put in my place when one of my team members said, “Let us figure it out; it’s our problem.” I gave guidance and advice, but otherwise I got out of the way. I let the team come up with how they were going to make their meetings more effective. And at the end of the day, they simply looked at the frameworks themselves and decided to more closely follow the existing framework guidelines — e.g., keep stand-ups to 15 minutes and stick to the script, then allow the time remaining to become open-space troubleshooting time.

At the end of the day, remember that more process does not equal more better. Rely on the team to solve problems, over-instituting process and templates to solve problems. I think I’ve heard this before somewhere …


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