Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Group Vs team


I have seen many “Agile teams” working quietly without talking to their teammates. Every day they are at work sharp 9 AM, pick up a user story from the backlog, finish it and go.  Their interaction with other team members is limited. But each one is really happy as the are achieving something. This is where the line separating the “groups” and “teams gets blurred.

A team is a group of people who cannot work without depending on each other. That is, they have high interdependence on each other. However, a group need not have interdependence.  A good example of a group is a call center.  Typically in call centers, each attends the customer requests on their own and solves the problem. If one of the individual’s in the call center group is blocked with an issue, the rest are not affected. They could still continue working.

However, a team has shared the responsibility of delivery, and their work should be interdependent. In other words, team members have an agreed goal and the only way to achieve the goal is to work together. My thumb rule is, a user story cannot be moved to “Done” without the help of at least four other people :-)  

I believe that if your team room is very quiet you might want to check if there is anything wrong there. You should ask why teams are not talking to each other ? do they have shared responsibility of work ?  do they have a common goal to achieve or individual goals?  How many people do you need to complete an user story?

Photo courtesy:

Sunday, May 31, 2015

How to build resilient Scrum teams ?

Some time back I attended a session on raising resilient kids. I learnt that building resilience is all about building the ability to bounce back and learn from all kinds of adversity—including setbacks, threats, stress and trauma.   

Here are some notes from the session.

How to build resiliency in kids?

1. Providing unconditional love and acceptance
2. Trust them
3. Provide safe environment for them to fail
4. Trust their problem-solving skills
5. Encourage independence and let the child solve its problems
6. When they are hurt, listen to them calmly and provide them comforting feeling
7. Let the child know the consequences of bad behavior
8.Set the expectations and rules of the game
9. Provide enough freedom to be creative
10. Accepting your kid as he/she is the key to making them resilient

In fact as part of coaching engagements, this is exactly what we encourage Scrum teams to be.  A Scrum Master should work towards building resilient Scrum teams. 

How do you build resilient Scrum teams ?
Just replace “kids” with “scrum teams” :-)  in the above section and you have the answers.
Bottom-line is, a Scrum team should be trusted and encouraged to solve their problems.  

There is a huge misconception in the Scrum world that “Scrum Master”(SM) is there to remove the blockers/impediments, and I would strongly discourage this characteristic. 

As long as Scrum Master is solving all the challenges, the team stays crippled and dependent on SM. Sometimes the SM must consciously step back and allow the team to struggle to solve their problems.

With the right environment and boundary conditions in place, the team should be allowed to work on the goal. The team should be trusted and encouraged to figure out the solution. When they fail, instead of punishing them, they should be comforted, and support should be given.

Before I conclude this short post, What other characteristics have you observed in resilient teams?

Photo courtsey:

Friday, May 22, 2015

Are you building product for the customer or the PO ?

One of the biggest challenges facing the Scrum community is understanding the role of Product Owner(PO).

Most of the Scrum teams believe that  PO is a mediator between the customer and the teams. That is, there is a strong belief that PO gathers requirements and passes it to the team. This way of working is the most ineffective way of doing software development. Any hand-off creates wastes and also, PO would end up becoming a bottleneck.


Instead, the most effective way would be for the PO to facilitate the conversation between customers and the teams as much as possible.The direct conversation is not only effective but reduces ambiguity,delay and avoids wastes.


Yes, I understand organizations say it is difficult to get customers on board and spend effort, time, money to engage teams. I guess this is where the organizations need to make a call, whether they want to build great products for the customers or the product owner !!

Monday, May 04, 2015

Stop following the successful companies

It is a common practice to look at successful people and learn the “best practices” as much as possible. The belief is that, by copying the successful practices, we become successful as well. My question is, does that really work ?   Can you become successful investor like Warren Buffet by reading every article/book written about him?

Even many organizations are obsessed trying to copy the practices from Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc. There is nothing wrong with it. However, I believe that one could learn more from failures than successes. So, focusing on the stories from failed companies would be more valuable than popular/successful companies.


There are couple of other reasons why I believe it is time to stop following successful companies:

1. Successful companies became so while they learned from many failures during their journey. Each failure would have enabled them to build some kind of structure to support from future failures and making them resilient. The media in turn focuses only on the “final” state of the company rather than the journey.

One would never get a chance to understand the “resilient structure” that has been built in place to withstand failures.  That’s why, copying only the “practices” from the final state without having a proper resilient structure in place will cripple companies even with a small tremor.

2. There is always a third dimension that you would never get to see.  In another research, the scientists found a pattern of increase in ice cream sales to increase in deaths due to drowning. They were baffled until they realized the 3rd dimension to this data/research.

The ice cream sales increased mostly during the summer, and this is the time where most kids would like to relax and enjoy swimming in rivers/pools as compared to winter months. This increase in swimming proportionality increased the fatalities as well.  As a researcher, if you ignore the 3rd dimension, in this case, the seasonal impact on ice cream sales, one would end up banning the ice creams.

Similarly, the success of every organization would involve some kind of 3rd dimension which is difficult to know/understand. Trying to copy simply the practices could be more harmful than helpful.

Toyota is my favorite example. 1000s of books have been written about Toyota Production system, Lean thinking, etc. Even Toyota allows people to visit their factories and learn from them. The question is, can you become like Toyota by copying their practices?   One would never be able to replicate Toyota or any other successful company. The success comes only from learning that typically happens through failures.  One should try to build their own set of practices based on their context/experiences.

That is; it is very important for organizations to build safe to fail and fail-fast/fail-often culture.

Going forward, start chasing the stories from failed companies and stop following the successful/popular companies.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Its high time that we stop using Velocity

Velocity in an Agile environment is the most misused-used and misinterpreted word/metric.  The key issue is, teams and stakeholders interpret Velocity as a productivity measurement rather than capacity of the team.

I don’t blame the team or the managers. But the “word” itself. If we look at the synonyms for Velocity(see the screenshot below), all of them point to quickness, momentum, acceleration, which naturally encourages people to connect this with “productivity”.  


Google for Acceleration or Velocity and one would find following images… These images push people to think more of a competition, race and winning rather than a team work or a capacity.

image image image

I think we should stop using the word velocity and start using the word that creates some mental image to show the “team’s capacity”.


Do you think this is a fair call ?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Coaching intervention during a team conflict

Every team goes through some stages of conflict before they stabilize. Leaders need to be conscious of intervening during such conflicts.  The knee-jerk reaction of a typical leader observing a conflict is to jump immediately to “fix” the problem. It is highly recommended that they avoid it and take a step back to monitor the situation first.

The leaders need to find the appropriate time and context to intervene for coaching. Here are some examples and contexts.

1. Self-organizing teams are in the process of learning. They are trying to check the boundaries and positioning themselves in the team. Conflicts in such situations are imminent. The leader or a coach assigned to the team should avoid intervening in such contexts. 

image These teams are like butterflies emerging from pupa. Yes, there is a bit of process, pain and time involved to emerge out of pupa, and one needs a bit of patience. Trying to expedite the process could actually kill the butterfly. 

2. Research suggests that creative and innovative work actually needs healthy debate and conflict. Intervention is needed to help the in understanding the differences. There are many times a person or a small group within a large group might be thinking tangentially. This could lead to conflicts and it does not mean that there is anything wrong here. In fact, such conflicts avoid groupthink.

For example, an engineer embedded in a marketing team obviously think differently. The engineer could be considered as a trouble maker as he/she is different than the rest of the marketing team. In contexts like this, the leadership or coach intervention is essential to assist the group.

As a leader one needs to drill down a little bit, get rid of the noise and study the type of work before intervening. The diversity of the team needs to be taken into account while dealing with a creative team as well.


3. If the team is working on a routine and repetitive kind of work, coaching intervention trying to facilitate discussions could backfire. Instead, a root-cause analysis with a management intervention is critical for smooth functioning.  

To conclude, if you see or hear a conflict, don’t jump to fix the problem. Try to understand the context first. Many a times, the conflict is actually good for the team, and the organization in the long run.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Overcoming the Obstacles to Achieving Agility and Delivering Business Value

I am  excited to say latest version of  Cutter IT Journal  has published my article “Overcoming the obstacles to achieving agility and delivering business value” .  I  authored this article exclusively for Cutter. 


In this article, I have articulated various issues that hinders agility in the organization. I am proposing the Systems thinking approach to solving the organizational and agile challenges.In order to achieve true agility, it is not sufficient to blindly follow the agile practices but to think beyond Agile. One should look at fixing the organization structure, focus on uplifting the relationship between business and IT and last but not least, fix the funding model.

I have shared some practical tips and solutions to achieve true agility beyond practicing Agile. The article is exclusively available for Cutter IT members and could be downloaded from here.

Here is the abstract of the article:


This months issue covers the following topics, including mine (highlighted)


Vince Ryan and David Putman open the issue by exploring several common difficulties experienced by groups moving to an Agile approach. These range from cargo cult behavior -- blind adherence to the what of Agile without knowing the why -- to the technical abilities of people to work in an Agile environment. The authors delve into key issues such as empowering people to actually make the changes required to support Agile, as well as ensuring that they have the proper skills to be able to thrive. The authors explore such areas as training, the recruitment of new people, and offshoring/outsourcing with respect to the changes that may be needed for an organization to truly reap the promised rewards of an Agile approach.

Our second article, by Cutter Senior Consultant Lynn Winterboer, examines one of the less traveled paths of Agile -- the implementation of Agile approaches in the DW/BI space. Winterboer addresses the challenges of breaking this type of work down into small slices, when it has traditionally been an "all or nothing" deal. She describes what is perceived as technical inefficiency in the small slice approach and how that is balanced by the business efficiency. Winterboer shows not only the advantages gained by earlier delivery of value, but also the effort required and "instability" incurred during the transition. In the end, both organizations in her case studies found ways to deliver smaller aspects of the total solution, providing more value sooner to their stakeholders.

In "Overcoming the Obstacles to Achieving Agility and Delivering Business Value" Venkatesh Krishnamurthy dispels the myth that "Agile is a tool" that can be discarded when you're "done,"much as a hammer is put away once a construction project is completed. He asserts, correctly in my opinion, that simply following Agile practices does not make an organization Agile. The use of systems thinking to view the transition in the context of the whole organization shows how the organizational structure, funding models, and business/IT relationship must change in order to support true business agility.

Finally, Alan Shalloway speaks of how Agile and Lean have "lost their shine" as the result of misapplication. My experience certainly supports this assertion. Shalloway proposes the use of a Lean-Agile hybrid approach that leverages both the organization-wide strengths of Lean and the team-level strengths of Agile. Like Krishnamurthy, he recommends the use of systems thinking in order to take a more holistic view of the context in which the Lean-Agile transition is taking place. Shalloway describes this ecosystem and the unexpected effects that can result when you don't consider groups outside of the development teams.

Read more about this issue here