Posted in Team Dynamics

Is working from home more effective?

“This working from home is working great. Working from home might be the new normal”. This statement or variations of it occurs a lot on social media these days, during lock downs all over the globe. People tend to feel more efficient in their individual work because they are not disturbed. Teams are reporting to be just as efficient or even more productive during these working from home times.
One can get the impression that we don’t need to meet anymore. We can just all stay at home.

I agree that we have learned that a lot can be done remotely, but I’m careful jumping into conclusions that this works just as good, or better than meeting physically. And so should you!

The longer time we work apart, the more we will loose sense of each other.

The main reason for the teamwork to work well, pretty much from the beginning of this working from home period, is because we didn’t have to spend time building relations to our team colleagues. Because we were working closely before, and meeting physically, our relations was already built. As time goes by, we will loose sense of each other, and more misunderstandings will arise. When new team members join, and others leave, the team dynamics will change, and it will get harder for the team to function properly. If you don’t spend time on building relations and discuss “working agreements” of some sort when you work remotely, I predict that your team’s effectiveness will start decreasing very soon..

Your experienced team is still forming

Teams that are not used to working remotely, will experience that this will be a game changer. It can be compared to adding/removing team members from a team or changing the domain the team operate within. Team members will have to orient themselves within the new boundaries and people will be nice and friendly (cordiality) to make things work in the new situation. As time passes and team is getting used to the situation conflicts can be expected and polarization will come to surface. If you know “Tuckman’s Team stages” this is where your team goes from forming to storming phase, which is completely normal. Again, pay attentions to relations and how to build trust.

What will happen when work is unknown from the beginning?

The period of remote work has been relatively short, and I suspect that most of the work your team is doing now, to some extent was started up while you were still together. The shared understanding, that is built automatically by being in the same room and being able to interpret body language and facial expressions, should not be underestimated. As we get our hands into complex problems and we are building solution that are complex by nature, we can not rely on this inherit shared understanding. If we do nothing this means that vital aspects of the problems is not covered. the amount of misunderstandings and failed coordination will increase, and it will lead to lower quality of the team’s output. The team will have to focus on how they communicate within the team, and with people outside the team and other teams.

Final thoughts

In short, be aware of potential pitfalls of working remotely. I have listed a few. Maybe a combo of working from home more frequently, but still meeting physically will be the right for your team. If you have the opportunity to meet physically with your team, use it!

Posted in Liberating Structures, Retrospectives

Sharpen focus of your team’s retrospective with Spiral Journal

Have you ever noticed somebody in a retrospective having trouble remembering what happened in a sprint or iteration? It can be hard to remember even 2 weeks back.

The liberating structure Spiral Journal, which is currently in development, is surprisingly effective in sharpen the focus of a team retrospective. In this post I will describe the process and share my reflections.

Steps

  • State the purpose of the activity; “Sharpen observational skills, and capture insight as action unfolds”
  • Ask the participants to divide a piece of paper in 4, by either folding twice or drawing 2 lines.
  • Guide participants to draw a spiral from the center, as tightly as possible, and in silence.
  • After few minutes, ask 4 questions one by one, and allow participants time to write their answer in to the specified square.
  • Ask participants to share their answers, if they want.

Reflections and observations

The questions can basically be anything, but the idea is that they should guide participants in a direction you find appropriate, for the following activity. I wanted my team to “tune-in” to what happened in the sprint, using these questions

  • Top-left: One impression of the last sprint?
  • Top-right: One thing I learned during the last sprint
  • Bottom-left: Name a problem that the team has, but we haven’t found the solution
  • Bottom right: What is the most important thing that the team discusses in today’s retro

For some, drawing a spiral on a piece paper, can be out of their comfort zone. Others might find it hard to see the purpose. Both might result in talking or even questioning the activity. Yet this exercise is so simple, that is worth giving a shot. What worked for me, when i faced resistance like this was being firm that the participants stayed silent during the activity. I told them that we would debrief afterwards and asked them to play along for now.  As debrief I asked, other team members than the the most resistant one “What did you get out of this exercise?”.  The answers made it so clear to everyone in the room why we did this activity, and i didn’t have to fill in a word my self. That was the moment I realised how powerful this structure is.

The feedback from the teams were: “Drawing made me forget things around me and got me in the zone”. “Reflecting on the question helped me remember what happened in the sprint, something I normally find hard”. “We spent 20% of the time, to figure out what to talk about in the retro, and 80% to discuss the actual topic”.

I highly recommend to try this out! Let me know how it goes!

Posted in Retrospectives

Practicing retrospectives – A retrospective training workshop!

How do one become a good retrospective facilitator? The same way as with anything else you want to master: Practice, Practice and Practice. But when dealing with retrospectives we run into a dilemma: You can’t really practice the execution of a retrospective unless you execute one. And it may seem hard to just throw yourself into trying it, without practicing first.  If you don’t know if you can swim (or simply keep your mouth and nose above the water) would you jump into the ocean?

Previously I have conducted workshops on the topic “facilitating retrospectives” with a combination of teaching theory and facilitating self-reflection. It was alright, but something was missing. Kind of like a swim teacher standing next to the pool telling the group of students how to swim, asking them how they think they are doing, and then telling them to jump in the pool in the deep end. Maybe the student got a few useful tips in the process, but did they learn to swim? Did they get the courage to jump in? Did the ones that jumped in survive?

If I were a swim teacher, I wouldn’t accept that uncertainty, so why should I when trying to share my knowledge on facilitating retrospectives? That’s why I wanted to put together a retrospective workshop where participants could practice preparing, planning and facilitating a retrospective in a safe zone, were total failure did not have any consequences. In the Swimming metaphor, I wanted the students to get into the pool and try swimming without risk of drowning.

In this post I will share the process and some reflections (in italic) I had, for the 4,5-hour workshop I facilitated for the ScrumMaster community in my company. Continue reading “Practicing retrospectives – A retrospective training workshop!”

Posted in Liberating Structures

3 lessons learned when planning a workshop with Liberating Structures

I have realized that Liberating Structures are helping me being a more successful ScrumMaster. I have written about my experienced benefits of Liberating Structures as concept, as well as links to useful resources in the first post of this series. This post is about my experiences and reflection on the planning process of a workshop with use of liberating structures. The primary reason for writing about it is for the sake of my own reflection. If you can use it as well, that’s awesome. Also, if you disagree, have questions, or if you spot room for improvement, don’t hesitate to comment.

The PO of my team, who is very visionary, wanted to shake things up in a management group that she was a part of. Some very ambitious goals were set by top management, as a part of the company strategy, and she knew that for these goals to be met, this management group would have to do something completely different from what they usually did. I instantly said “yes”, when she asked me to co-facilitate the workshop, and it paid out for me with some valuable learnings Continue reading “3 lessons learned when planning a workshop with Liberating Structures”

Posted in Liberating Structures

Liberating Structures – Min Specs for Definition of Ready

I have realized that Liberating Structures are helping me with being a more successful ScrumMaster. I have written about my experienced benefits of Liberating Structures as concept, as well as links to useful resources in the first post of this series. This post is about my experiences and reflection on a specific Liberating Structure. The primary reason for writing about it is for the sake of my own reflection. If you can use it as well, that’s awesome. Also, if you disagree, have questions, or if you spot room for improvement, don’t hesitate to comment.

Context and reason for choosing

The team had previously identified the need of having a Definition of Ready. Previous attempts in making a Definition of Ready has resulted in a poor list, which the team stopped referring to quickly after the meeting. And when a team member mentioned the need of a Definition of Ready, heated and unfruitful discussions emerged about should we have it or not?; What should it contain, and what not?

As a Scrum Master I needed to find a way to facilitate a discussion that gave everybody equal possibility of contributing; a feeling of being heard; ownership for decisions made, as well as doing it effectively, to avoid wasting time of worthless discussions.

The “Min Spec” is designed to Specify only the absolute “must do’s” and “must not do’s” for achieving a specific purpose so I chose this for the Team’s Definition of Ready workshop.

The group consisted of 4 people in the room, and 2 via skype, and me (facilitator)

Steps and reflections

I highly recommend to read the original Min Spec description from the inventors, which I used as basis for this Definition of Ready workshop. Below I have listed the steps I went through, along with my reflections.

My personal notes, for facilitating the Min Specs

Continue reading “Liberating Structures – Min Specs for Definition of Ready”

Posted in Liberating Structures

How to involve and unleash everyone in a group

As a team facilitator, your responsibility is to ensure that everybody in the group

  • Has equal possibilities to contribute
  • Feel that their input has been heard
  • Take ownership for whatever decision the group makes
  • Feel their time is well spent – Efficient and valuable

Seem like a big responsibility, and if the list makes you feel a bit anxious, I perfectly understand it, because I feel the same way. Yet, I need to say, there is more to it. Today’s world is changing faster than ever, and everybody needs to move faster. This also calls for a need to be able to foster “Creativity and Innovation” when facilitating.

Did you lose your breath now? I almost did, just by writing it!

When it comes to facilitating retrospectives, I have a decent toolbox to pick from to achieve some or all from the list above. However, I have been struggling to find ways on how to ensure equal contribution, ownership for decisions, efficient processes and room for creative thinking, outside of the retrospective.

Søren Weiss, who is an agile coach, change agent and someone who inspires me a lot, introduced me to Liberating structures. It changed everything. Continue reading “How to involve and unleash everyone in a group”

Posted in Working as a ScrumMaster

More storypoints completed = More effective?

Here are 2 stories…

Story #1

Manager (to team): “I would like you to become more effective!”
Team: “No problem, we’ll just double our story point estimates, then we will complete twice as many points next sprint.”

What will the manager answer?
A. “Great! I’ll say that to my boss”
B. “Well, that really don’t make you more effective, only the metrics changed”

Story #2

“In my team, we use estimates. After the sprint, the manager says: “You did not deliver all you promised”. The team feels bad and decides to increase the estimates as a buffer, to ensure they won’t take too much into the next sprint – without telling the manager. The team completes everything the following sprint and the manager is happy. The next sprint the team silently increase their estimates a bit more, only to complete a higher amount of points at the end of the sprint. The SM and the Manager is really impressed because this team now completes more points than any other team.”

Story 1 is one I made up (kind of), and story 2 I was told by a friend of mine, when he wanted my opinion on the topic “Storypoint inflation”.

Putting it as simple as in story 1, most people will believe B is the best answer – without hesitation – and will not accept the suggested solution to just devalue the story points. But story 2 seems to appear more often, even though the only difference compared to story 1, is the speed of story point inflation. So why does it happen? Continue reading “More storypoints completed = More effective?”

Posted in Working as a ScrumMaster

ScrumMasters are stupid

Are you a ScrumMaster? Have you chosen to build your career as a ScrumMaster? Yes? Well, that’s stupid! I mean: It is a job where you will always face resistance to change either from your team or from the organization around the team, or even both. They may not even understand the role. In the beginning you might not even truly understand it yourself. The successcriteria of a ScrumMaster is vague, and difficult to navigate after, so you will constantly question if you are doing a good job.

To some, a job like this is self-torture. It can be sometimes, but other times it is the most satisfying job – at least in my opinion. So if you are as stupid as me, and keep on trying, because you think it is the right thing to do, this blog post might be of help to you.

The purpose of this post is NOT making you capable of avoiding the traps I fell in, because I believe you must learn from your own mistakes. Instead I hope it will ease the fight of getting out of the traps, so the learning process for you, will be shorter than it was for me. Or as a minimum you can identify with the challenges, making you aware, that you are not alone – which can give you some energy to hang-on and continue what you are doing. Continue reading “ScrumMasters are stupid”

Posted in Retrospectives

Agile or Not – Retrospectives is key!

As human beings, it is our nature to learn. We start learning when we are small, we learn as we grow up, and even as adults. We learn about life – to make decisions. We learn more – to make better decisions than previously. We do it all the time. It’s our nature. We are hardwired with this skill.

Regardless how natural this come to us when it’s about daily life, and only ourselves involved, it becomes something extremely difficult, for many many people when we put ourselves in a workplace together with other people. Continue reading “Agile or Not – Retrospectives is key!”

Posted in Working as a ScrumMaster

Visualisation of “Very very important tasks”

“I have this very important task that needs to get done. Who will do it?”
This is a phrase often heard, and every ScrumMaster eventually will have to deal with. A mature agile team will have it’s work agreements and processes to deal with this type of request in an efficient manner. However, not so mature agile teams, and teams in a early state of their agile journey, should be very alert when hearing this sentence, as it maybe a symptom of an underlying and more serious problems.

But why should we be alert? It’s just <someone> who wants to get this task done, what is wrong with that? Continue reading “Visualisation of “Very very important tasks””