Powerful Relationships

I don’t think I can emphasis the importance of focus on PEOPLE.  Above all, PEOPLE.  You might wonder if I’m still talking about a software development company, and yes, yes I am.  This year has been a humbling learning curve for me.  To realize that all along, all my well intended efforts on process, and value delivery are mostly in vain if I let the people down – or didn’t bring them on the journey with me.

The strength of good, healthy relationships which allow people to give regular and constructive feedback to one another, to allow us to improve how we work together.

Without exception, all of the audible books which I’ve listened to have been aimed at listening, understanding, respecting – and even loving people.  Serving in a way which is quite unusual for the corporate work place.

What a fantastic surprise it was when I attended a conference earlier this month which had a very similar focus.  The focus on forming good relationships.  Understanding, nurturing & respecting the individual in a unique and authentic way.  CARING about them, and helping them succeed.  Having leaders that purposefully do this, is what differentiates GOOD businesses from GREAT ones.


Individuals & Interactions

I love growing with a team, seeing them grow, and seeing them flourish.  The journey of complex beings learning to work together in a productive and honest way, solving complex problems in an unpredictable environment.  I really find it magical to observe when a team gets it just right.

I’ve been working with my one team for about 18 months, and over these past few months they’ve gone through some significant changes.

Losing People


A new project kicked off, and all the most senior team members were extracted from the team to work on the new and exciting project.  You can just imagine what that does for skills and experience in the team, as well as the morale of those left behind.

Way of work

The team was running scrum, even before I started working with them, however it just wasn’t working.  They constantly had (have) an influx of unplanned work, that has to get done to support the business.  This is not due to bad planning on their behalf, so it’s extremely demoralizing to get to the end of each sprint and realizing that they didn’t deliver on their committed goals.  Trying to use the burndown chart to track their progress during the sprint – even worse. So, we switched to kanban.  At this point there were a couple of individuals who were so negative about pretty much anything work related.  I don’t think anything could really have made a difference, and even in retrospect I don’t think there was much to do to fix the situation.

New Team Mates

With the team short staffed for a while, we eventually got some new team mates to join in.  In the midst of negativity it sure was hard for new people to get onboarded & productive.  There was some undermining, and things got ugly.

Losing more people

We got to a point where the team was so dysfunctional that the product owner suggested having separate planning sessions with each individual.  This was probably the same time that our product owner started looking out for another job, and before we knew it, he left.

A fresh start

Although we were now in a space where there were some crucial skills missing, the team had somehow picked themselves up, and started afresh with renewed energy.  I was amazed to see how certain people, previously marked as problem employees, suddenly started to contribute to the team’s success, and coming out of the shell.  The team has managed to fulfill all roles quite successfully, despite the fact that there were still missing skills.

To conclude

I have to admit, I did not see all there was to see at the time.  In retrospect, I can see the ugliness – the undermining of new team mates, and even purposeful ignorance on certain work items.  The negativity is more clear when I look back, and I feel sheepish that I didn’t recognize it for what it was.

What I’ve also learnt is that when you get the right group of people together, who have a positive outlook, and willingness to jump in on things that are not their expertise, you can have a much healthier, more productive team, than when you have a team with the best of all skills, but bad attitude & outlook.

Out with the old, in with the new…

I’m working at a well established firm.  They’ve been in business for a few decades,  and a lot of their employees have worked their for at least a decade.

I’ve learnt that it’s really tough to inspire people to be better and more when they’re content to repeat the same mundane task day after day.

Reinforcing even more unhealthy behaviour is the fact that the company rewards individuals with elaborate overseas holidays, for individual  achievements & performance.

The consequences of such rewards are immense, and also obvious, which is why I find it so peculiar that a company uses this method to motivate it’s employees.  People don’t want to share their knowledge, and they don’t want to work in a team.  Sharing means that I’m setting someone else up for success, and in the process reducing my chance of getting that lovely overseas holiday.

This also, inevitably means, that any new employee that joins the company, is pretty much screwed, because those who will be willing to help and invest time in up-skilling such new employees are few and far between.

I would expect major corporations to invest a lot of money and effort in figuring out how to motivate individuals in a sustainable manner.  Instead of the carrot & stick approach, try to ensure that people on all levels understand how their contribution is meaningful, and how they can contribute to the greater good of the company, instead of focusing on their own personal gain.

So then my open ended question, at the end of all this… How do I affect the change that I want? How do I bring about this sort of thinking, and how do I become the catalyst for the new future that I envision?

Moving Motivators

Disclaimer:  I might have fallen a little in love with this exercise 🙂

DSC_1069I’ve run this in a couple of teams, and each time the results and responses are so different, but each time I find it amazing how people are surprised by their team mates’ motivators.

I’ve found that the exercise gives quieter people in the team a voice, to explain why certain things are important to them, and why they do things the way they do.  I’ve also found people who loved experiencing the liberation of realizing that different people are motivated by different things, and that it’s OK!

I’ve got 10 sets of these cards in my goodie box, and they’ve been so useful.  Whenever a group of people have to work together, there are frustrations in the group.  Looking at the frustrations from the angle of what DRIVES people’s behaviour based on their motivators has a huge impact on a team, and creates a safe space to discuss our differences in a respectful way.

If you’d like to learn more about the exercise, and how you can run with it in a retrospective, here’s the link to the Moving Motivators website

Agile mindset, the only true way to get to business agility?

I find myself in the midst of really interesting discussions lately.  Most recently I attended a talk by Verna van Schaik changing to an agile mindset.

Mindset, culture, values…

This “world” which people dream and teach of, really resonate with me.  But how do you REALLY go about changing stuff like that?  There’s no framework for “fixing” people’s mindset and values. I know that starting with myself is the best answer, but I just feel that sometimes that might not be enough.

How do we, as scrum masters create the opportunity to delve into those “touchy-feely” areas, without freaking out our very non “touchy feely” developers, and even business managers.

I’ll be pondering this a while longer before jumping to action, before bringing this into my retrospectives.  In the meantime, I’m going to change the way that I interact.  The questions that I ask.  The language that I use.  As for changing mindset, that might take a while 🙂

Kanban Love

Disclaimer: I’m a huge kanban fan, and have been for a while.  However, my pet peeve is when people think that kanban is easy.  I guess they think it’s easy, because they only ever get to stage 1 – mapping out the current process – visualizing it.  And there it stops. 

I’m in the process of moving my one team from scrum to kanban (again).  In an environment where our stream of work is highly unpredictable (almost support type work items), we have found it incredibly hard, perhaps even impossible to serve the business in an efficient manner, and sticking to a 2 week timeboxed iteration with committed work.

For this reason, and some others, we are currently experimenting with kanban.  For me, one of the toughest parts of kanban is to observe the entire workflow system, and identify one area to improve and monitor to check success.

First of all, when initially mapping our the workflow,  my teams have more often than not, started somewhere in the middle of their actual workflow, and ended before stuff was really done.  This causes people in the team to be busy with stuff aside from our visible tasks on the board.  At first it might not be too noticeable, as it’s small little admin jobs which don’t take up that much time.  In the long haul, these items chew up time without anyone even realising, and before long, your team is probably spending a significant amount of time on these nitty gritties.

What I’ve tried to do to avoid this, is to include these in lane policies, where possible.  Sometimes this doesn’t make sense though, and you have to adapt the entire board.

Another anti-pattern which I’ve come across, is that a lot of people have the idea that the lower your WIP limits, the better.  The effects of different WIP limits are interestingly illustrated in this video – you can quite clearly see the effect of having your WIP limit set too low.

  • What have your experiences been while implementing kanban?
  • How have you and your teams decided on – and perfected – WIP limits?
  • How do you identifies areas that need change and improvement?

Manifesto for software craftsmanship

Disclaimer:  For those not familiar with the agile manifesto, this post might not make too much sense.

I’m prepping some training material for 2018, and was wondering how I can enhance the training from being pure process driven, to actually providing values to my teams.  Most of my teams that this is aimed at are techies, and unless if we can talk about practically implementing changes and ways of work, there really isn’t much point.

In my quest, I found the Manifesto for software craftsmanship, and I’m so keen to share this with my teams when we kick of the training on the 17th of January.  I think it’s a great addition to the Manifesto for agile software development.

If anyone else has done some interesting exercises on this topic, please be so kind as to share, as I’d love to have some different viewpoints by the time I attempt this.

Here is the manifesto

Image result for Manifesto for software craftsmanship