Healthy Agile teams need a boost of C vitamins

For many project owners and scrum masters, the sprint review (aka the demonstration and review of a sprint outcome) is one of the few chances they have to see their direct reports functioning with their Agile team and to witness the outcome of their work.

One of the most interesting side-effects of sprint reviews is that they act as the monitor of the health of an agile team: positive or critical dynamics and interactions among team members can often be revealed by observing this session. Hence, sprint reviews can truly act as thermometers of Agile teams and optimal interactions.

Healthy Agile teams dynamics revolve around three fundamental fulcrums of smart collaboration, here at Herogami and when consulting for customers we happily run a joke around the C letter and call them the Three C Vitamins of Agile collaboration. Here they are:

The first C stands for Connection between members. One can observe if the team is moving as one unit and just how well the members of the team are interacting with each other. Is one role or person particularly quieter than another? Does the relationship between developers and testers feel collaborative or contentious? Many of the best sprint reviews I participated in have a celebratory feel to them. The team collectively feels they are working on something meaningful and making significant progress towards the product vision. Hopefully, you sense this vibe.

The second C stands for Conversation around the product. The conversations in a sprint review should revolve around the product backlog and specifically around the value users should be receiving by finishing items in the backlog. This happens best when the team focuses on the acceptance criteria while they are demonstrating delivered value. The acceptance criteria is often the “script” for the demo. Otherwise, the demonstration tends to wander, making acceptance of the user story as complete quite challenging. Healthy conversation from the product owner about what’s on the horizon for their product is also a good sign.

The third C stands for Completion. Similarly, I have experienced some painful sprint reviews when the team is obviously not ready to demonstrate a completed story. For a story to be done, it should be in a state of potentially releasing it into production today should the product owner deem it ready. If this is not the case, something is amiss.

If, as a project owner or team member, you feel that one of the above “C’s” is not properly shaped in your team, take a deep breath and prepare to change something. Here’s a few hints, given the vast array   want to consider 

1. Make sure you have enough seniority in your Scrum master. The scrum master doesn’t have to be a technical genius but should be someone who understands which roles need to be filled in the team and how to find help for any impediments team members may encounter. They are not there to tell the team how to do their jobs, but to help them with whatever the team members need to make sure the job gets done.

2. Be consistent. Either Scrum or not Scrum at all. Don’t scrum haphazardly. Most teams approach Agile by tailoring practices to their habits. This works so-so. Even if you don’t feel like “scrum” is being done exactly right, continuing to push through the process builds confidence across the team. 

3. Do not skip Daily Stand Up Meetings (or let people sit). The Stand-ups ritual are there for a reason, the stand-up should always start with an energetic, “Yay-team!” attitude. Turn all phones off, this is really important if sales and marketing people are involved in the meeting

4. Never skip sprint reviews. If attending daily stand ups and weekly sprint planning is important to empower the execution phase,  retrospectives should not be negotiable. Attendance and engagement is most important for consistency. To make sure your team members start leaning into the practice of reviewing their work together, you may consider shortening the length of your Sprints from two-three weeks to four-five days, at least at the beginning of the project.

Teams moving to an Agile approach often complain about the number of meetings they must now attend. Planning sessions, daily stand-ups, sprint reviews, retrospectives, and product backlog grooming are now populating their calendar and they wonder when they will actually have time to work. Worry about this later, straighten your C’s first.

Grumpy Herogami, Architect

18 May 2017