Agile and Scrum Blog – All about Agile and Scrum by Zuzi Sochova, Agile..
I help companies and individuals to be more successful.
Teaching teams and their managers how to be more efficient, how to provide better quality and how to communicate and organize teams so that people have fun, they are motivated and have high commitment. I support them in changing their traditional processes to Agile, or implementing Scrum and Kanban.
Several years in a row we managed to achieve high-quality program while keeping it affordable to the people in the Czech Republic. This year you can be looking forward to awesome speakers, for example, Samantha Laing, Pete Behrens, Heidi Helfand, Stephen Parry, and Marsha Shenk. Register soon, the conference is always sold out.
#2: Agile Journey Focus
The theme of this year is the Agile Journey. Agile is more than an IT process. We are going to talk about Agile transformations, leadership, scaling, the new ways of running your products and businesses, collaborative culture and great teams. See the program.
#3: Coaches Clinic
You can discuss any area you are interested in and get free help from experienced coaches at our Coaches Clinic. It is a unique and free service designed to help you with specific challenges you’ve encountered on your way to a more Agile way of working. The Coaches Clinic is prepared and organized by Certified Agile Coaches – Certified Team Coaches (CTC), Certified Enterprise Coaches (CEC), Certified Scrum Trainers (CST) and other experienced Agile coaches.
#4: Open Space
AgilePrague Conference is not just about listening. We want you to participate and come up with your own session. Every mid-day there is an open space where you have an opportunity to share ideas, discuss topics with each other and join a deep dive conversation with our speakers. Open space is an opportunity to create your own program and bring your own topics to the conference.
#5: Visit Prague
Prague is an awesome city, so why not combine the sightseeing & conference? Have a beer, wander through old town & narrow streets, enjoy one of the greatest historical cities
Being a Product Owner is not simple. At the end of the day, Product Owners are responsible for the overall Product success. They need to have business knowledge, authority and time. But let’s have a look what are the typical mistakes of a Product Owner as this is one of the very common questions at the classes and learn from that perspective. Here is the list:
Doesn’t Have a Vision
Without a clear vision, there is no direction, no way Product Owner can prioritize, and no Scrum. It’s just a mess where all we can do is to say “everything needs to be done”. The key responsibility of the Product Owner is to have a vision and be able to share it with everybody. Agile organization is about having an evolutionary purpose. If you don’t have it, why are you even here? Similarly to the vision, we have a Sprint goal in Scrum. Without it, everything seems like a good idea to do in Sprint. Sprint goal helps us focus on the need, the real business value.
Can’t Say No
There is no way you can do everything. There are so many options in a complex world. So much functionality customers can ask for. The Product Owner who says yes to all wishes from the customers will fail as the quantity will burn out the organization. Instead, Product Owners are prioritizing based on the business value, and as 80% of value is hidden in only 20% of the functionality, they need to say no quite often during their prioritization.
Doesn’t Have the Business Knowledge
Business knowledge is wider than just a product understanding. It covers the understanding of customers, the market, and the competitive landscape. Without such deeper understanding, Product Owners can’t make a decision and are drafted by different stakeholder groups into their politic fights and the products are usually failing to deliver the real value. Product Owner doesn’t have to be technical, but the business knowledge is critical to their success.
Product Owner who believes everything needs to be done is not a Product Owner but customer or stakeholder. Prioritization is key in Scrum, at any time you shall know what is more important than the rest and what are we going to invest our energy (effort and money) into next and the rest later or never, depending on the feedback and impact we achieved by the value delivered. There is always more functionality which can be implemented. But maybe that little we already did is good enough for now and we can focus on some other more important areas. As I said already, 80% of value is hidden in only 20% of the functionality. There is no need to implement 100% of the ideas you have.
Don’t Have Negotiation Skills
The Product Owners without negotiation skills are very weak Product Owners. They often end us accepting everything customers ask for and are struggling to say no. Negotiation skill help Product Owners to understand not only what the users want but also what they need. Ant that’s the key part of the prioritization.
Estimates are the Key
Product owners who focus too much on estimates are mentally tight to the functionality, not the business value. In the traditional world, the estimates are important as all we care about is delivery, and we need to deliver more. In the Agile world, it’s not about delivering features. It’s about achieving certain business value. And those two have often only very little in common.
Product Owners who believe they can create a plan (in agile called Backlog) and then step by step execute it with the development teams during Sprints are not real Product Owners. Backlog can’t be farther from a plan and an iterative approach of delivery is here to inspect and adapt and learn from experiments. Find out where is the real value. The approaches like Lean Startup are quite useful here.
As we said, Product Owner shall be able to run experiments. In a way, every backlog item is an experiment where you expect something will happen as a result. That’s the impact. Without knowing why you invest team time and energy into it, why to do it in the first place? Running an experiment without knowing how are you going to evaluate it is silly. That’s not an experiment but functionality you plan to deliver no matter what. Why? Because it’s important. Because I said so. Instead, spend more time identifying the impact so you know why you do it and what you expect to happen. Tools like Impact Mapping are quite helpful here.
Or shall I say systems, or projects? Because product definition is much wider than that. Product Owners taking care of multiple product don’t have focus, and often don’t have time. Considering Product Owner is the person responsible for the overall product success including the return of investment, it’s quite useful to have the focus for making the product successful and don’t switch the context all the time.
Not Part of the Team
Product Owners sometimes feel they don’t belong to the team. They act as Backlog managers, telling the team what to do, and then waiting to get results/blaming at the end of Sprint. Instead of that, Product Owners are part of the Scrum team, they are team members, they shall collaborate with the team on delivering the value and achieving the Sprint Goal. They are part of the team.
Being great ScrumMaster is a journey, where you have to learn a lot about Agile, Scrum, coaching, facilitation, change, business agility, technical practices, leadership… But all over it all starts with having the agile mindset. This time, I’m not focusing on who you need to be, but quite opposite what you should avoid, as one of the very common questions at the classes is what are the most common mistakes of ScrumMaster. So here is the list:
Being a Team Assistant
Taking care of the team, solve issues (impediments) for them, plan meetings… It’s easy to get there as it seems to be helpful. But only in the short term. Long-term, it will create unconfident people who rely on ScrumMaster and never take over responsibility and ownership. Instead, you shall show them they can solve most of their problems by themselves, and be a good coach, facilitator and servant leader.
Share ScrumMaster Role with Another Role
Such ScrumMasters have usually lack of focus. They don’t spend enough time observing, finding better ways for the team to become great, and are happy and done with the role once everything is ok. Instead of sharing ScrumMaster role with another role, have ScrumMaster full time, let them focus on how they can become great ScrumMasters and truly master the agility so it will help the entire organization. Give them space to invest more time to the other levels of the #ScrumMasterWay concept.
Team Only Focus
Speaking about #ScrumMasterWay concept, many ScrumMasters believe that their only role is to support their development team to be great. I mean this is fine, but it’s just a tiny part on the ScrumMaster journey. It’s like a kindergarten. You need to experience it. That’s where you learn and practice all State of Mind approaches, that’s where you get confidence in yourself as a leader and change agent. But even if you are super successful, it’s only changing at the team level. You need to go broader and follow the other steps of the #ScrumMasterWay model and change the entire organization into an agile organization.
Being a technical expert is dangerous for ScrumMasters. They feel a strong need to advise people on what to do. If you know a better solution, it’s just easier to tell them, then help them to figure it out. Instead, ScrumMaster shall trust the team they are the experts and coach them so they become better.
ScrumMaster is neither manager of the Scrum meetings, nor responsible for scheduling them. Instead, ScrumMaster shall be a facilitator, who takes care about the form of the conversation, not the content.
Don’t Believe in Scrum
How many times you’ve seen ScrumMaster who is doubting about the core Scrum so much that no one is following them? You need to be sure it works, need to believe in it, need to be the biggest Agile enthusiast all around. Otherwise, you can’t make the others to follow.
Apply ‘Fake Scrum’
Sometimes ScrumMasters take Scrum as just a process, don’t search for deeper understanding. Just do it (Daily Scrum, backlog, ScrumMaster role, …) as Scrum says so. They don’t have the right mindset. Agile and Scrum is not about practices, it’s a different way of thinking. It’s about “being” not “doing”.
Waiting for Someone Else to Start the Change
ScrumMasters often wait for someone else to initiate a change. They are reluctant to take over responsibility and ownership and the organization is not moving anywhere. Instead of waiting forever, ScrumMaster shall be a change agent, responsible for the entire organization Agile journey.
Scrum and Agile Expert
It’s enough to understand Agile and Scrum. Which is simple so we are done. Being ScrumMaster is a journey, and you can never stop learning. Even if you feel you know Agile and Scrum, there is always something new. And there are those other domains you need to master: coaching, facilitation, change, business agility, team dynamics, technical practices, leadership, … The learning is never ending.
We Are Great Team, We Are Done.
Often ScrumMasters let their team believe they can be done. The team is good, we finished our Agile transformation. Don’t bother us with new ideas. We know how to work. We are self-organized. You can never be done in a complex environment. There is always a better way. So instead of this false believe, ScrumMasters shall coach the team so they see other opportunities to inspect and adapt.
Searching for an “agile mindset CEO” is frankly a nightmare. Everyone who tried it can confirm that. There are not many CEOs with enough Agile experience yet in the world and those few who has it are not likely looking for a job as they are usually quite happy in their current organization. So, no matter which executive search firm you choose, or what you write to the position description, the search firms are no real help here. Unless you already spent effort up front on growing the talent internally, you need huge luck to get someone who understands agile more than a basic theory. No matter how desperate you are searching for a CEO, this is still just a small obstacle, not the real reason for a structural change.
The real need for top-level change starts when most of the organization is having an agile mindset. The Agile transformation is about being agile. How many times you’ve heard this request: “How about if our management give us more support on your Agile journey?”, “How about if our executive team is Agile and don’t just push it to us?”, “How about if they practice the same way we work as well?”Would that make it a difference? Maybe. So why don’t we go one more step ahead and change from the top and become a role model for the entire organization? As the organization has changed and Agile is not solely the domain of the IT anymore, but the business agility got into every department, the need for a change at the top level is inevitable. Why do we need a CEO in the first place? Just because that’s how organizations always been? Shouldn’t we ‘eat our own lunch’ and change the way we work entirely? Shouldn’t we apply the same principles the team do? Sounds simple, right.
And as usually it is simple to understand, hard to do as it needs courage. Courage to say “We are going to be different.” We will have Organizational ScrumMaster and Organizational Product Owner instead of a CEO because it will be closer to the way we work at this organization, fits our values, and last but not least we believe it will help us to be more flexible and adaptive at the organizational level. And that’s worth of trying.
The Organizational ScrumMaster would be focusing on the right culture, mindset and structure, so we become high-performing innovative organizations which embraced agility, and Organizational Product Owner would be focusing externally to the business, vision a purpose to we know where are we heading and why and are value driven. Both roles need to respect each other and be open with each other, the same way as it is in a single Scrum team, as together they will be part of the Organizational Leadership Team, and the network structure of self-organizational teams. There are two roles in Scrum by a reason instead of one. When you ask people if they would suggest to combine them, no one feels it is a good idea. And at the top organizational level, we would still do it? The similar reasons are valid at this level as well. When you think about it, it fits the way we work much better, then a single CEO – supports the right organizational mindset, transparency, and collaboration, it is consistent with who we are.
From a legal perspective, it is perfectly possible, and it’s not that much work either. You might need to change the bylaws a little, but there is no reason why you can’t do it. From a hiring perspective, it’s much simpler, as you are not looking for that ‘superhero’ personality who would be great with both internal and external sides. Try it. As I said already, all you need is courage. And that’s one of the Scrum values anyway. Experiment, and from that stage inspect and adapt. Now, do I believe that this SM-CEO or PO-CEO will eventually make themselves out of job? No, I don’t. It’s the same as the team level. Even if the team is self-organized and knows the business well, there is still work for ScrumMaster and Product Owner. Similarly, at the organizational level, there is still a need for Organizational ScrumMaster and Organizational Product Owner even when the network of collaborative teams got self-organized, business value-driven, and customer-centric. The Organizational ScrumMaster and Organizational Product Owner would use Leader – Leader style to build other leaders around them, and if they are successful, the organization will become purpose driven where leadership will be emergent and structure liquid. The same way as it is in the Scrum team, the Organizational ScrumMaster and Organizational Product Owner will move from those who explain, tell and share, to those who coach, facilitate, and keep the system spinning. And that’s what is the Agile Leadership about.
Next blog in the “From Good to Great” series (Don’t Copy Find Your Own Way, Radical Transparency, Agile Mindset, and Collaboration) is focusing on cross-functional teams. It seems like basics, but I realized that organizations still don’t fully understand why the cross-functional teams are critical to Agile and Scrum success. I guess it is grounded in the fundamental mindset shift, where the organizational focus is moving from functionality driven to the value driven. In traditional organizations, the delivery of functionality was the key. That’s what we focused on and that’s what we measure. It’s the world of allocation and reworks caused by misalignment which all over creates so many dependencies, that delivering end to end feature is a nightmare and takes forever.
In agile organizations, the focus is changing to deliver business value. And here is the problem. Business value is hard to measure before you get feedback from the customers and users. There is no formula. All you have to do is to get feedback fast and inspect and adapt based on that. And here we are: the cross-functional team is an enabler of fast feedback as there is no way users will give you quality feedback on the backend or one system change while they have a hard time to imagine what does it mean for them. They give feedback on the end to end functionality, that actually often goes across all the technologies and systems in your organization. As such, teams need to be able to deliver value end to end. Otherwise, you are mentally at the manufacturing line where teams work in sequential mode and trying to parallelize this work creates so many dependencies that are making your life hell and preventing teams to focus on the value. They micro-focus on the part of functionality without seeing the whole and the feedback will suffer.
The typical misunderstanding is that cross-functional team means that everyone needs to be expert on everything. But that’s not needed. All we need to have is a team willing to learn and take over responsibility for the end to end value delivery. A team, which can take any item from the backlog (which is end-to-end functionality which brings the value by the definition) and finish it together. They don’t need to take it as individuals, they collaborate as a team. In most of the cases, it’s not that hard in reality once you overcome the initial resistance of team members and the overspecialization mindset of the organization. Try it, and see that I was right :).
In addition to what has been said, we don’t do functionality because we can, we don’t do it because we believe there is a value, we implement it as we expect something to happen. It is impact driven, strategic approach. And that’s a game changer. In order to be able to measure impact, we need to be able to deliver working product frequently so you can really see how different functionalities changing people behavior. And to do that, cross-functional teams are the essential enabler.
During their agile journey, companies often ask what shall we do if we can’t have cross-functional teams. And the truth is I don’t know, except make it happen. It only needs courage and focus, which are two of the Scrum values after all so nothing new. All over, Agile without cross-functional teams is only empty process, kind of a fake agile where we are using the terminology but not changing the mindset at all.
Next blog in the From Good to Great series (Don’t Copy Find Your Own Way, Radical Transparency, and Agile Mindset) is focusing on the collaboration. There is nothing magical on it, just people are so got used to working as individuals that they forgot what the collaboration is about. However, collaboration is the key aspect of the Agile environment and if you can’t collaborate, there is no way you become Agile.
The traditional organizations are all about processes, rules, and delegation. All we need to do is to analyze the situation, come up with the way we want to handle it, and describe it in a process, and follow it. It shall be enough. It’s the world where we simply rely on processes in our day to day decision making. In simple situations, it works well, as the transparency and predictability of the situation are playing in favor. In complicated situations, it might not be flexible enough and people and organizations will struggle to react properly to the situations. In a complex situation when it’s hard to predict what happens it’s mostly failing.
“Tight processes are killing creativity and only work at simple and predictable situations.”
The more complicated is the situation you face on day to day basis, the more are companies failing to describe the process to be followed. It seems to be unavoidable that rules and practices are not enough to be successful, delegation come in place and the situation results in creating new roles and position for those who are responsible for certain part of the process. It allows more flexibility and responsiveness as people on the contrary to the processes can make a judgment based on the particular situation and solve it better. It’s the world of individual responsibility, where we create a single point of contact we can blame when things go wrong. Similarly to the previews process-oriented world, there is no real collaboration happening. Either I do it, or you do it. And it must be clear who is the owner.
“Individual responsibility kills collaboration and team spirit.”
Finally, over here we cross the line of collaboration. At least from a technical point of view.
This already starts feeling like a collaboration. At least at the first look, as there are more people working together. However, there is still one person responsible and the other just helping them. It’s a good first step, but at the end of the day, it’s closer to the delegation scale, than collaboration as the unequal ownership make one side more invested in the results than the other, where the owner usually makes decisions, plans, and responsibility, while the other support them with the inputs. It’s still more likely to create blaming than shared ownership and responsibility. While it may be a good first step, it’s not collaboration as we speak about it in an agile environment.
“Helping each other on their tasks is not a collaboration. Collaboration needs equal ownership.”
Finally, there is a real collaboration, where people have shared responsibility, shared ownership, and one goal together. It’s not important who does what, there is no task assignment up front, they all just do what is needed and make their decisions at the time. This is a type of collaboration, is what makes teams in Agile and Scrum great. Such collaboration creates high performing environments. If you truly want to be agile, and not just struggle to pretend that following practices are enough, it’s time to get rid of individual responsibility, which is often grounded in your org chart, position schemes, and career paths and learn how to create a real collaborative environment with shared responsibility and ownership. Learn how “We can do it together”.
The next topic in my Agile HR series focuses on evaluations and performance reviews. Once you hire the right person to the team, it’s time to start thinking about evaluations and performance reviews. In a traditional organization, it was pretty simple. Each employee got a task assigned, each task can be evaluated and linked to particular KPI. In Agile organization, it’s not that simple as multiple people collaborate on the same task and even if you try to set some KPIs at the beginning of the year, they mostly become irrelevant somewhere on the way so there is nothing to evaluate at the end of the year.
The most simple practice used in agile environments is to set a team goal instead of an individual. There is still risk that the goal becomes obsolete during the year, but at least you support the team collaborative culture. The slightly better option is to break the year cadence and create shorter goals. After all, there is no magical on the year cadence when we deliver product regularly. A good practice is to let teams design their own goals, but you need a high level of trust in order to be able to move this direction. Some companies like OKRs, however, I see them too close to the traditional KPIs. Those were still traditional mindset practices spiced by little agility.
A good step on the way is replacing evaluation part by coaching conversation focused on employee development. As every coaching conversation, it is not about the coach but coachee (employee in this case) and is focused on raising the awareness of the person about themselves and their abilities and potentials. When done well, it can skyrocket people performance. But here is the downside – unfortunately, not many managers are good coaches which is a limit in most organizations.
Finally, if you are ready to be truly agile, how about if you do it in an agile manner and run regular frequent retrospectives instead of any form of evaluation. Together with radical transparency, it will create enough clarity about performance towards the Sprint Goal, product vision and entire organizational purpose so people can adapt in a very efficient way. Simple and powerful. Indeed we talk about not only team retrospective which brings so powerful peers feedback but also overall retrospective as it is designed for example in LeSS and organizational retrospective which can be facilitated for example in a form of world cafe or open space. All together it will engage employees in solving team, cross-team, and organizational issues, and increase their motivation to come up with creative and innovative solutions how to be better in delivering value and achieving the organizational purpose.
The frequent retrospective cadence brings regular feedback that allows fast changes and small improvements on day to day basis which as a result prevents big disappointments and surprises of traditional performance reviews which often brings demotivation and stress. Issues got solved sooner, before they are too big and poison the team or department and people get help to work on those issues early, ideally from their peers. You might not be ready for that tomorrow, as the culture of transparency and trust is not there yet, but you can go step by step until no-one misses any KPIs, performance reviews or any formal evaluations and frequent feedback, inspection, and adaptation become the regular way of work.
At this stage, we often stop using the name of Agile HR and change it to Talent Development where the entire focus of the HR is changing to support overall employee journey and development. Supporting coaching and mentoring programs, and creating an environment for effective peer feedback are just a few ideas about where to start.
The more organizations shift to Agile, the more they need to redesign how they work with the employees. During this series, we focus on different functions of HR in Agile organization and explain the fundamental shift HR need to do in order to support agility in the organization.
Knowledge and skills are not anymore the key factors of what are we looking for. Agile organization builds on top of the collaboration, encourage innovations and need high flexibility. Experiences are also applicable only to a certain extent. It’s more about having an open mind, being able to learn new things, and collaborate with others to deal with complexity and unpredictability then being an expert with deep but narrow specialization. If you don’t think so, have a look at your own career. How many of you are still having in the same specialization? Most of the people changed their career more than once. And it’s getting even faster. So would you still care about hiring experts with particular specialization? Not really as they create silos and prevent your organization from changing a direction of the business. Agile organization needs people who are ready to learn, inspect and adapt. People who are not afraid to take over responsibility and run experiments. People who are not stuck with one way of working often saying “we always did it this way” and are ready to change their way of work as the business needs it.
Skills are easier to be learned then mindset.
If you think about it, it’s very hard to create a traditional job description based on skills, and experiences as those are soon to be irrelevant. The new advertisement for an open position can say instead:
“We are looking for an enthusiastic, flexible, and open-minded person, who is ready to take over responsibility and collaborate with others on achieving the value. We are a team-oriented organization with a flat structure, which will support you in your personal growth. Join our team for a day to experience our culture. Together we can [achieve the vision].”
Quite different, right? When we tried it, no recruiting company was ready to support our needs. How many years of Java experience they need? What is the position description you are hiring for? No matter if you were looking for developers or new CEO… Quite a mismatch. Eventually, we realized that hiring new graduates is easiest for us. They were flexible, had ideas and be ready to be learned. All we had to do was to create a team learning environment based on pair and team working where they can get things fast. We realize that learning is easier than unlearning old habits, so very often, to get fresh graduates up to the speed was easier then hire Sr. Employees with individualistic habits which were creating more harm than help for the team environment. And that’s a hard message for all people who believe experience years count and shall result in a higher salary. Maybe if you are working for the government, but in Agile space, not necessarily as the recruiters may not care about your traditional company experience years at all.
Unfortunately, a similar experience was with executive search companies, no matter how ‘big name’ of recruiting company you choose. They often had no idea about what agile is, so they are not helpful assessing the candidates, nor finding relevant people either. If you are looking for a leader with an Agile mindset, they are hard to find. Most of the executives are having bad habits acting as directive managers from hierarchical traditional organizations and again, it’s easier to grow leaders from your organization then hire externally.
So if we can’t measure experience and skills and count working years, how shall we find out if the person is the right match? The same as in every other relationship. Let’s start ‘dating’. In this case, it’s about meeting team members at the interview. To be able to talk about the usual day, see if candidates feel attracted and also talk about candidates dreams and visions, to see if there is a match. Once they pass, they can go with the team to lunch. Informal conversation is critically important to learn about each other. And finally, it’s a good practice to offer a candidate one day at the company. To try and feel how it’s gonna look like.
Hiring is more about creating relationship then assessing skills
If you feel uncomfortable with having interviews just like that, and feel a need for more formal assessment, you can try to role play some situations. Again, it’s not about correct answers as there are no correct answers in the complex world, but seeing the behavior and reaction when the candidate is surprised. Those situations are great to know how the candidates react when things go unpredictably. Again, it’s more about personality, approach, and mindset then skills and knowledge.
That’s it. Forget experiences which are mostly irrelevant and skills which are soon to become irrelevant and focus on the relationship and employee experience. That’s the only way how you can be successful in finding the right employees and truly supporting the culture of the organization.
#1: Business Agility 2019 Conference (New York, USA) March 13-14 2019. This conference has the most innovative format of all Agile conferences – three short industry experts’ talks are followed by facilitated conversation around tables.
#2: Agile Prague Conference (Prague, Czech Republic) – September 16-17, 2019. An awesome program, collaborative atmosphere of open space format, good value for money.
#3: Big Apple Scrum Day (New York, NY, USA) – May 10, 2019. Enthusiastic community, great space.
#4: Agile Austria: (Graz, Austria) June 25-26, 2019 – great place to meet Agile enthusiasts. Have fun with games and workshops.
#5: ACE! (Krakow, Poland) – May 23-24, 2019. Innovative form & great atmosphere. Focusing on not only Agile but good design, LeanUX, and Design Thinking.
#6: Agile 2019 (Washington, D.C., USA) August 5-9, 2019. Top Agile conference for the size and speaker selection. It’s a huge event which is unfortunately very expensive, but always worth the visit.
#7: Agile Days Istanbul (Istanbul, Turkey) April 4, 2019. Very interesting conference organized by local community focused on Organizational Agility.