When will my agile team self-organize?

Great! Your business has decided to move from a Waterfall paradigm to Agile Scrum and now you’re waiting patiently for the benefits to kick in. You’re hoping your Scrum teams start self-organizing soon and are inventively solving customer problems faster with better efficiently. You’re also waiting for the team to become major contributors to the business decision process based on their intimate knowledge of customers and their pains. And you’re waiting … Still waiting …

You ask yourself what’s holding the team back. The Scrum Master has trained the development team on the agile manifesto including the principle:

“The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.”

The Scrum Master has also trained the development team on self-organizing as described in the Scrum Guide:

  • defining the Scrum Team: “The Scrum Team consists of a Product Owner, the Development Team, and a Scrum Master. Scrum Teams are self-organizing and cross-functional. Self-organizing teams choose how best to accomplish their work, rather than being directed by others outside the team. … The team model in Scrum is designed to optimize flexibility, creativity, and productivity.”
  • defining the Development Team role: “Development Teams are structured and empowered by the organization to organize and manage their own work. The resulting synergy optimizes the Development Team’s overall efficiency and effectiveness.”
  • defining the Scrum Master role: “The Scrum Master serves the Development Team in several ways, including: Coaching the Development Team in self-organization and cross-functionality.”
  • defining the Sprint Planning Meeting: “The Development Team self-organizes to undertake the work in the Sprint Backlog, both during the Sprint Planning Meeting and as needed throughout the Sprint…By the end of the Sprint Planning meeting, the Development Team should be able to explain to the Product Owner and Scrum Master how it intends to work as a self-organizing team to accomplish the Sprint Goal and create the anticipated Increment.”
  • defining the Daily Scrum: “Every day, the Development Team should be able to explain to the Product Owner and Scrum Master how it intends to work together as a self-organizing team to accomplish the goal and create the anticipated increment in the remainder of the Sprint.”

It’s clear the Scrum Guide expects the Scrum team, and more specifically, the development team, be a self-organizing body. It’s also clear that training people that they should be self-organizing isn’t always enough. The organization must want and the businesses actively support the team becoming self-organizing.

Setting Expectations

Getting a Scrum team to self-organizing is hard primarily due to the fuzzy nature of what ‘self-organizing’ actually means. If you were to ask 5 people to define what a ‘self-organizing’ software team is you’ll probably get 5 different answers. But even in that result some truths are seen, it’s not how I define self-organization, it’s how the team defines it.

In Nitin Mittal’s Scrum Alliance article, “Self-Organizing Teams: What and How“, he describes 5 essentials of self-organizing teams:

  • Competency: Individuals need to be competent for the job at hand. This will result in confidence in their work and will eliminate the need for direction from above.
  • Collaboration: They should work as a team rather than as a group of individuals. Teamwork is encouraged.
  • Motivation: Team motivation is the key to success. Team members should be focused and interested in their work.
  • Trust and respect: Team members trust and respect each other. They believe in collective code ownership and are ready to go the extra mile to help each other resolve issues.
  • Continuity: The team should be together for a reasonable duration; changing its composition every now and then doesn’t help. Continuity is essential for the team.

I was once Scrum Master to a team during which I did training on the advantages of setting priorities, of sharing work, and of getting stuff done. The team was very good at their jobs and helped each other out whenever asked. However, I didn’t realize helping out had a limit until one day at the daily standup when the person working the most important story, the highest priority story, was out. I asked who could pick up the work to move it forward? No one raised their hand. One of the quietest people then said it was massively inefficient to have someone else pick up the work. For me personally this was a sad, sad day. After talking priorities, talking of sharing work, talking of getting stuff done, and talking how the team best works together, the team couldn’t let go of their own personal task responsibilities. The team couldn’t find it in themselves to embrace a team responsibility of getting the most important work done first. A self-organizing team would have kicked into a self-managing mode and re-allocated work so the highest valued work could continue. At the end of the standup, team members felt a stronger bond to their own work in areas they were most comfortable with than to the whole. It wasn’t competency but rather motivation that was holding the team back.

What makes it so hard to motivate a team to feel responsible for the whole? When a business pushes individual roles & responsibilities over team commitments or when survival and blame permeates an environment, it’s very unlikely that the team will move beyond the ‘forming’ stage (team members sticking to what they know best individually and doing what they feel most comfortable with).

In some business environments, the dip in productivity while transitioning from ‘Forming’ to ‘Storming’ is unacceptable. This would be especially true in a strong hierarchical or Command & Control environment where those in the hierarchy are held responsible (accountable) for team performance.  If the business is clinging too tightly to a hierarchical and Command & Control environment, the likelihood of birthing self-organizing teams is diminished. At one company I was at, one of the most senior software engineers was a team lead. The team was always seeking his approval for any decisions and if the manager thought otherwise, the team changed their ideas to conform. This wasn’t the worse thing to happen but it was heavily reliant on the team lead always being right. A consequence of this was lower scores on the company’s engagement evaluations especially around empowerment and feelings of trust.

It’s worth the attempt

Adopting Agile and Scrum will not automatically cause people or businesses to change. For Agile and Scrum to make a positive impact, people will need to see that they need to change their own behavior. It’s possible to see that in an environment where individual knowledge or individual skills are the most sought after commodity, Agile may not be the right tool. In a business where rigid hierarchies and Command & Control are dominate, it may be a long journey to establishing self-organizing teams but certainly worth the effort.

David Ticoll in his Harvard Business Review article, “Get Self-Organized”, states that, “It would be difficult and risky—even foolhardy—to try to wholly transform a hierarchical business model into a self-organizing one. But the potential of self-organizing systems to enhance competitiveness is becoming clear to managers of some conventionally structured businesses.”

David Tricoll further states, “Today, the ability to stream complex, real-time information to the front line gives hierarchical companies greater power than ever to exploit self-organization.”

One approach might be getting the team to participate in business events such as creating business plans, working with customers and users, and respecting them as contributors to business success. Teams with greater insights to business and customer problems are more likely to be engaged with solving these. To be quick and competitive, businesses must relinquish control to the teams in the front lines and the teams must be willing to accept the responsibility. When the business leaders and development teams shared these insights, I’ve seen the development teams rise beyond their own specialties to rally around both the customer and the business.

For a team to become self-organizing, it will take more than a business to want and support it, it requires the team itself to see advantages in self-organization. If you’ve ever seen how an assembly line worked in days gone by, you’ll see an environment where self-organization would have been detrimental. Your job was to put nut ‘A’ onto bolt ‘B’ period. Repeat this for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week and you got paid pretty well for what to some people would be the most boring job on earth. The business wasn’t holding out hope that the workers would self-organize and the workers had no motivation to do so. In the factories, piecework was common. Workers were told what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. Software development is not piecework, if it were, robots would be doing it today. It is knowledge work where thinking both inside and outside the box are assets to the business.

In the situation above when a team member is absent, the moment the remaining team members decided that doing and completing individual tasks is more important, all advantages of self-organization were lost. Instead of adding value for the customer and business, the team had elected to follow a plan. The decision essentially comes down to: I have my own work to do and don’t have time to do yours.

To some, this kind of dedication is how you advance in the company. However, if the company were to emphasize customer and business value of work being done, it would cause a fundamental shift in team thinking, from doing tasks to getting the highest value work done quickly. When the business puts emphasis on value, the team is more likely to devote their combined efforts to achieving value. It would come to pass that even when one of their numbers is absent, progress won’t stop, although it may slow down. If the team is accepted as a fully participating business team member, not just a partner, the team will genuinely feel the success of the business is also their own success and act accordingly.

To me, one of the principle tenets of Agile is the team. The great power of Agile comes from a group of intelligent people working as one. Collectively they are more knowledgeable than any one individual although the shared experience may be less. To ignite the team requires the business to openly give the team responsibility and accountability for the outcomes of each iteration. For the business to move forward and empowering the team, they would need to establish safe boundaries from which the team can safely operate in.

When business leaders, product owners, and scrum masters attend the daily standup, what’s more important than hearing team members say,

I completed task <x> yesterday”,

is hearing them say,

we added <some> value to the product yesterday”.

The role of managers and customers on the self-organizing team

In an InfoQ interview, Rashina Hoda cites two environmental factors needed to be in place to enable self-organization to emerge. These are:

  1. Senior management at the teams’ organization must be able to provide freedom to the teams so that they can self-organize themselves.
  2. Customers must support the teams by being actively involved in the development process through providing regular requirements, clarifications, and feedback as required.

“Self-organizing Agile teams … require organization structures that are informal in practice, where the boundaries of hierarchy do not prohibit free flow of information and feedback. In an informal organizational structure, the senior management is directly accessible by all employees (maintaining an ‘opendoors’ policy), and accepts feedback—both positive and negative.”

– from “Supporting Self-Organizing Agile Teams What’s Senior Management Got To Do With It?” by Rashina Hoda, James Noble, and Stuart Marshall

Summary

For the business leaders, giving development teams insights to both business and customers plus giving development teams space to operate, will motivate teams to accomplish amazing things. When the business states these are our goals and asks the team to solve it in the best manner possible, you’re likely to see a team self-organize to meet the goals. No one goes to work hoping they fail.

When the business has a strong hierarchical and Command & Control environment, moving a team toward self-organizing is made more difficult but not impossible. Building a bridge of trust and respect is essential. By establishing a strong partnership between the business and development team, followed by full membership, the team can exercise their collective knowledge and capabilities to contribute to business successes.

In the end, it’s a mutual effort on the part of both management and the development team to become self-organized. It will probably be a bumpy ride along the way but with a clear goal as a guide, both should arrive at the destination together.

 

 

 

Agile Team High Performance Communications

What is it that makes a development team successful? Is it their ability to accurately predict the delivery date?  Is it their ability to keep bug counts to a minimum? Or is it something else? Could it be how well the team communicates and works together?

Years ago the measure of a great development team wasn’t the team at all but the individual. This person would meet their schedule as shown on a Gantt chart and, maybe more importantly, did so without much intervention or guidance from their manager. They could make quick technical decisions and they knew the product and how it was used. These people were known then, as they still are today, as high performers. So Agile comes along and celebrates the Team, does this mean high performers are no longer wanted? Silly question, of course they’re still wanted. It’s really about definitions and what’s best for the business and for business growth.

The high performer of the past was always about the individual and less about the team. The appraisal systems in use then and for the most part still in place today, focuses on the individual’s performance. If the team results were less than stellar, the high performer was said to be held back by the other members of the team. Clearly it wasn’t the high performer’s fault the team sucked.

Now assume for the moment your business doesn’t wish to go Agile but wants to build teams made up entirely from high performers. This is exactly what Netflix has done (see the Harvard Business Review article, “How Netflix Reinvented HR“, for an eye opening insight on how this works). Now the kind of openness and honesty that Netflix has won’t work in all companies, especially if the company uses performance reviews as a weapon to elicit certain kinds of behaviors. So for those companies unable to go the Netflix route, Agile seems a good choice for company growth and building teams of high performers.

Agile is about teams and teams are made up of individuals. The high performer in the Agile sense is someone who helps make their team a high performing team. High performers in Agile are Servant Leaders, they serve the team first. They do this not by doing the work for those who need help, not by ignoring those who are weaker, not by telling the manager that this person is no good and needs to be trained elsewhere, but by showing the person a better way to work, by devoting time and energy to help those challenged, by working with management to train and build up the competencies of those in need. But how do these high performers learn the techniques and skills of helping, of being selfless, of being a servant leader? Enter the Scrummaster or Agile Project Manager.

The Scrummaster by virtue of training, study, reading, networking, and experience, is ideally suited to help those willing team members become great servant leaders. I say willing as some people will be pre-disposed to resist anything that distracts them from their first love, being developers. These people will need personal coaching to help them help themselves and grow their own servant leadership behaviors. The very first thing needed for any team to be successful is open and trusted communications. Below are 4 ways the Scrummaster can help build stronger communication links within the Agile team.

Team Communications

Most Scrummasters spend a considerable amount of time observing the team, how they behave toward one another, and how they communicate. Listed below are some of the behaviors I’ve observed and some suggestions on how to improve team communications. None of these are a one-off thing to do but will need to be repeated many times to change the team’s behavior. None of these are mandated but can easily be accepted by team member to varying degrees. Given time and patience, team members will build up toward being a high performing team.

  1. Development team members wearing headphones. This can be a bad situation as people are generally very courteous and often reluctant to disturb someone who’s wearing headphones. There’s no real good answer except to discourage, not necessarily eliminate, the behavior through team and one-on-one conversations. Some teams have set aside a “quiet hour” to solve this but this reaction can have a detrimental affect on open lines of communication and collaboration. Strike a balance where the team’s ability to collaborate and communicate are not stifled by someone wearing headphones. Make efforts to create tasks that easily allows pairing. Watch for the team member who appears to looking for help but doesn’t attempt to interact with headphone wearers.
  2. Team members who don’t stop working to listen. (This is about conversations within the team, not interruptions from outside the team.) Good face-to-face communications usually requires people to be face-to-face. The ability to make eye contact and observe facial expressions is important to help gauge emotion but it is also a sign of respect. When you stop and devote your full attention to someone while they talk, you are showing respect to them and the thing they’re talking about. I find that people are generally not aware of this behavior so I would suggest filming, with the team’s permission, how the team interacts during the day. When I’ve done filming in the past, people were very quick to see flaws in how they communicated and were able to make immediate and lasting changes.
  3. Team members who don’t know very much about each other. This may seem unnecessary to some but it’s really an essential ingredient for trust, empathy, and understanding. I was once helping out a Scrum team where there was constant fighting and bickering. This had a lot to do with people having their ideas and opinions ignored by everyone else. It mattered little that the person with the idea might be the subject matter expert because no one else knew that. I asked different team members what they knew of their fellow team members and it was shockingly little. One way to introduce people to one another is to do Journey Lines. I started a new project with several teams and we all did journey lines of our work careers to great success. People walked away saying they never knew or understood the depth of experiences some of their team mates had. I can’t emphasize enough the value of the Journey Line tool. It gets to the heart and soul of everyone on the team and once learned, you can’t go back. Below is an example Journey Line from Lyssa Adkins‘ book, “Coaching Agile Teams”.

    Source: “Coaching Agile Teams” by Lyssa Adkins
  4. Getting the team out of the office once a week. In my talk, “The Journey to Servant Leadership”, at Scrum Australia 2016, we encouraged people to do a team off-site once a week. Although our Scrum Australia talk was focused on transforming a manager into a servant leader, one important tool for getting the team members talking about decisions instead of the manager making decisions was this once a week meeting in a coffee shop. Part of the journey to servant leadership requires the team take on additional responsibilities and make more and more decisions. During these weeklies, the formality of the office hierarchy and structure disappeared and these team members spoke openly and honestly. The team members not only spoke about issues and problems they had in the office, they also talked openly about their families and weekend plans. But for the Scrummaster (or coach), this is a great opportunity to listen and observe how the team interacts and arrives at decisions. Back to the Servant Leader talk, my observation at the coffee shop was the team was unable to commit to a team decision even when it was overwhelmingly obvious they understood exactly what that decision should be. In talking to the team members later, the primary reason they didn’t make the decision was they feared backlash from the product manager. The decision involved fixing a problem the team had introduced in the previous sprint. The team needed to hear from the product manager that it was ok. This is all well and good in the Command & Control environment but is not the desired behavior in Agile. It wouldn’t fly at Netflix either. The team had to learn that collectively, they know more than the product manager and are better suited to made a quality decisions. The Scrummaster can use these off-site meetings to listen and understand team dynamics to spot areas for improvement. The team was having a conversation in the coffee shop they would normally not have in the office. Also, make sure the right people are there. If the team had the product manager in the coffee shop, the team decision would have been endorsed by the PM.

Summary

Building an Agile team of high performers starts with the individuals in the team. The Scrummaster can help build up their communication skills which is an important first step. Scrummasters will do and redo the above steps often as it will take time to get the team anticipating and understanding the wants and needs of everyone else on the team. This can take 3-6 months for most people in the teams to change although it could take longer.

Communications opens up many doors of opportunities not only for Agile teams but also for companies and company growth. A Forbes article, “Why Communication Is Today’s Most Important Skill“, author Greg Satell gives some historical background to great communicators. He also gives us some current examples of how business can flourish using communications.

The sooner people in your team and company are communicating, the sooner they can all be on the same page.

 

Environment for Better Agile Teams

One secret to a great Agile/Scrum team is the environment where they work and will spend a large portion of their daily life. This environment is made up of many things but arguably, the most important are communications, physical environment, and management support.

Communications

Communications is critical for the success of any team: waterfall, agile, military, or sports. Scott Amber has a great article, Communication on Agile Software Teams, which includes the graph below showing the effectiveness of various communication channels.

Face-to-face communication is essential to:

  • communicate bad news e.g. Honey, I don’t have any money
  • communicate sensitive information e.g. I lost all our money at the dog track. I know I said I’d stop gambling.
  • communicate anything that would benefit from eye contact, a reassuring nod, and other body language e.g. do you forgive me?

Phone or video communication is appropriate to:

  • come to a quick, clear understanding e.g. Honey, tell me again why you kicked me out
  • removing small bits of confusion e.g. I can come home when what freezes over?
  • make a personal introduction or ask a favour e.g. Mom, could you lend me some cash for food?

Email communication is appropriate to:

  • to share complex Information that does not require discussion e.g. From: Dewey, Cheatem & Howe, Attorneys at Law. Dear Sir, What follows is exactly why you lose the house, the BMW, and the dog… 
  • to confirm the details of a face-to-face or phone conversation e.g. Mom, as I said earlier, I don’t have any money for food
  • to pass on information without interrupting someone e.g. Dear Sir or Madam, I need a job. Will you hire me?

Communications and the scrum team

Communication behaviors to and within the Scrum team is probably the single most important team asset a Scrum Master can cultivate. Communications lays the groundwork for trust, team engagement, and team empowerment. It is no surprise that communications is one of the 12 Agile principles.

The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.

Let’s break this down this principle into its components:

“most efficient and effective method of conveying information”. One big advantage for face-to-face communications is observing facial expressions and body language. This means that one can read the other’s body language to see if there’s understanding, discomfort, boredom, or something else. For example a product owner is discussing a user story, are the team members understanding the concepts or do they look confused or bored? Face-to-face communications gives a product owner an opportunity to show they care by asking probing questions of the team and actively listening to understand the team’s perspective.

“to and within a development team”. This means that outsiders as well as team members use face-to-face communications. The product owner uses face-to-face communications to demonstrate respect for the development team. This is accomplished through direct interactions and active listening to the team’s feedback. Face-to-face communications establishes shared experience that can enhance all future communications.

Management uses face-to-face communications to build trust, share their strategy, explain it clearly, and answer questions honestly. Face-to-face communications helps create camaraderie that is the basis of cooperation and success across the organization. This can make the development team feel valued and gives them a chance to contribute to organizational strategies.

Face-to-face communications gives both the product owner and managers a chance to confirm the team’s understanding of key issues, identify gaps and encourages ongoing feedback and engagement.

“is face-to-face conversation.” This means that you should not explore alternative methods of communications unless absolutely required. Bug tracking tools, paper documents, and email are not an acceptable alternatives to face-to-face communications. However, video or Skype call, or old fashion phone calls may be the best if face-to-face isn’t possible.

Encourage your team to speak to each other even when working. This allows others to overhear and can provide them an opportunity to contribute. I’ve observed most companies use IM tools, Slack being the predominate tool. The down side of these tools is dominate personalities can prevail and quieter people often times do not give their voice. Quieter people will often need prompting to get their thoughts, ideas, and opinions out and IM tools can fail in this regard. The team includes everyone and everyone should be encouraged to participate in important decisions the development team is making as they solve the customer’s and product owner’s problems.

And the very best way to conduct a face-to-face conversation is in front of a white-board (see physical environment below).

Physical environment

The physical environment and management support go hand in hand as the environment is usually provided by management. In the best environments I’ve seen, the Scrum team (development team, scrum master, and product owner) sit together to foster better communications, building a sense of team, and limiting outside distractions.

The value of a team space is the sense the team gets with ownership, which is not too far removed from a family’s first home ownership: it ours! This is a comfortable place for the Scrum team to live and work 8 hours a day. A place where daily scrutiny is (hopefully) absent. The first Scrum teams I helped form were given a cubical that could easily seat 6 with lots of room to spread out. There were partitions that gave a strong sense of privacy and a double-sided whiteboard on wheels was just at the entrance. I also ‘found’ some small round tables that fit nicely inside so the team had a place to huddle. I don’t remember anyone saying it was heaven but it was quite good. Management really wanted these teams to be Agile and even offered to redesign the team area if the team wanted.

InfoQ has additional reading on developing an ideal Agile work space in the article, “Designing Collaborative Spaces for Productivity“. It’s a little dated but you’ll get the intent for team space with a lot of ideas.

Co-located teams

The prime ingredient for the co-located team, other than a place to put their computers, is a big wall or whiteboard for the team the ‘think’ with. When I was setting up multiple Scrum teams I had purchased double sided whiteboards on wheels for each team (there wasn’t much wall space available for all teams). After a while some teams acquired two of these whiteboards. These boards were used as the Sprint Board, software designs, component designs, and system architecture designs. They also held the team’s metrics, customer names, business contact names, and most anything the team needed documented.

Another item that helped was a conference room for the team’s exclusive use. This made impromptu meetings possible when needed. This quiet space was very beneficial during customer interviews and user testing. It had a whiteboard, table & chairs, a computer and a phone. Nice private spot for the individual or teams use.

Another item was a dedicated test environment, configured as customers would. When I was at a product company, the Quality team set this up to mimic customer environments as close as possible. The Quality team created simulators and the development team made use of off the shelf simulation tools. All this allowed the team to better build in quality. For a digital product team, this would be a fully functional A/B testing site or staging area.

And finally, what development team is happy with their computers or workstations? Here the company went to great lengths to keep the development team up to date with the latest technology and software packages. However, as Scrum Master, I bought SSD drives and software for the team when they needed it and the company couldn’t act fast enough. I was usually reimbursed but not always.

Distributed teams

When you have team members or whole teams off site, the effort you put into communications will determine how well it goes. Here are some tips I gathered from Vodafone on their communications with off site teams.

  • Spend a minimum of 3 weeks with the full team, either at their site or have the team on your site – Vodafone does 3-6 weeks leaning toward the longer time
  • Communications order of precedence: Face to Face -> video (Skype, Google hangouts) -> voice -> text – Vodafone uses a 24/7 video feed to communicate with their off site teams
  • Set up a camera and microphone in each distributed team area so people can casually communicate anytime
  • Bring in an outsider to observe your communications so they can objectively rate it – listen for silences or no questions, these can indicate a communication problem
  • Take special note of when the off site team works, their time zone, their start time, end time, lunch time, break time(s) – have a big clock set to their time
  • Provide context, give the big picture of the business and the details of where a story/task fits – Macro & micro details are important
  • Understand the culture of the team – how they work and what they expect are very important – are they waiting for direction and decisions by you?
  • Stylize your communications to cater to the off site team’s culture – say thank you for small things and smile
  • Finally and most importantly, the off site team is not a partner, they are an extension of the local team – don’t get into the habit of us and them

When working with distributed teams in other countries, check out www.worldbusinessculture.com to gain some insights to their culture. For example in the Philippines, it’s extremely important to be aware of the sense of ‘face’ of every member of a group because an insult to one could be construed as an insult to all.

Management support

From the Agile principles:

Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.

Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.

The Scrum Guide doesn’t list any roles for managers but this doesn’t mean there isn’t a strong management presence and influence. The Scrum team and product owner are the link between the product and customers/users. Product managers and line managers are the link between the Scrum team and the company. Without the company there is no product and without a product, there is no company.

Hire the right team members

Management starts by hiring people who will eventually become members of the Scrum teams. A while ago I asked Gary Swart, then CEO of oDesk, how he hired team members. His answer was attitude mattered more than their skills. Heresy you say, how will the work get without all the heroes? Managers like their heroes, those super productive people with whom they can count on in a pinch. Of course the heroes don’t go away but, as Ilan Goldstein, managing Director of AxisAgile, has written about Scrum team members:

We prefer Attitude over Aptitude
That is, while there is value in aptitude, we value the right attitude more.

Gary Swart used three attributes when hiring a new team member, in order of importance, are:

  1. Motivation – is the applicant driven to succeed in their chosen field?
  2. Personality – will the applicant work well with the culture and the people there i.e. brilliant jerks may not make it in
  3. Skills – do they possess the basic skills necessary to do the job and are they eager and willing to learn more, even outside their specialty?

Getting the right people is important and this responsibility usually falls on management.

Support the team

My early experiences in software development was in the defense industry. We had a matrix organization where, as project manager, I would need to speak to several managers each day on progress and other statuses. These managers were well within their rights to tell me or the team what to do or which tasks to work next. This was a waterfall environment and all dates, capabilities, and deliveries were agreed to when the contracts were signed. The managers’ responsibility and accountability was to get the project in on time, within cost, and with the contracted scope. It all worked but did take its toll on people. This relationship has changed with the introduction of Agile but maybe not as much as you might think.

Managers in an Agile environment are thought to possess qualities of a Servant Leader. Today’s manager serves the team, helps the team manager their project and project tasks. Today’s manager supports the team by helping the team find their own successes. And in the process, the manager becomes more successful. The goals of management in an Agile environment is to deliver high value software to the customers as quick as possible. They do this by empowering one or more Scrum team to determine which features are of the greatest value to customers and allowing the teams to implement & deliver these features in their own way.

Summary

Setting up and maintaining the optimal team environment is hard and requires effort by both the teams and management. If you do nothing else, strive to perfect communications between the business and teams and within the teams. This open communications will pay off with not only having people knowing what they need to know to be successful but allows for the possibilities of new ideas and innovative solutions.

When setting up team spaces, if possible, involve the teams in the layout decisions. Most companies will probably run with an existing office layout but a whiteboard wall to divide up team homes is relatively cheap and is remarkably useful in achieving greater productivity. By any and every means possible, give each Scrum team ample wall or whiteboard space to help productivity.

And none of the above can happen without management support. Management comes to recognize that the Scrum teams pull together to satisfy the customers with the highest valued products first. Management’s role is to support the Scrum teams in ways that help these teams be successful. They accomplish this by hiring the right people with the team’s involvement and by ensuring the Scrum team has every scrap of information needed to increase their chances of success.