Tale of a team in midst of agile transformation

It was second week of October, I was finishing off my day in the office with the last assignment in agile transformation and was thinking about the success, failures and learnings from this assignment. With the same thoughts, I was also thinking of working on another opportunity where I can bring improvements, coach and teach scrum, enable lean practices to minimize the waste. As these horses of thought were running all around me, suddenly, Nick, one of the senior architects, entered my room and after exchange of social obligations, he said, are you interested to join our team as an agile coach. Nick joined my one of the agile training and he was impressed by the way it was conducted and learnings that he obtained out of it. Considering that he wanted me to assess his agile team and bring improvements in their current agile way of working. I responded gleefully and accepted his offer to join as an agile coach from next week Monday.

It was a sunny Monday and wind was calm, I reached office and Nick introduced me to his team members. The team members were present in two countries. I asked few questions with team members, which I am highlighting here to know their current situation:

  1. Which agile framework you all are following?
  2. Have you got a formal training on the agile framework you all are following?
  3. Are you aware of agile values and principles stated in agile manifesto?
  4. Have you had the agile coach/scrum master or someone from the team is playing the dual role?
  5. Do you have business representation who can order and prioritize team’s work?

I was not amazed by the response, I got from the team. All the responses were negative except for the first question, where one team member said we kind of follow scrum but am not sure. Nick looked at me and I had sensed what he wanted to covey to me, “You now know the condition and help me out”. After asking few more questions, it was clear to me that this is not a team, it’s a group of people divided into three groups as per the technology in which they were working and someone started this way of working without any training. I asked Nick to allow me to join all agile events for one sprint where I can assess the team on different parameters and come out with an approach to help and enable the cause.

I had joined all the agile events of team for a sprint and approached to different team members about their understanding of agile way of working and What changes they want? They were really an enthusiastic bunch of people who wanted to work in agile and by speaking to them I had noted few challenges:

  1. Teams had scrum master as a rotational role and in every sprint team got a new scrum master.
  2. There was no business representation and sprint planning did not matter as priorities kept changing.
  3. Teams had no idea about product owner, scrum master and development team’s responsibilities.
  4. Teams were formed on technology basis, which created dependency and delayed the delivery. Team size were between 12-15 people in a team.
  5. Sprint retrospective and sprint review were to know how many work items got completed in a sprint. Teams had not the sprint goal.

There were other major challenges and issues which I am not writing as the list would become very lengthy. I started working on the approach which we would take to transform this group into an agile team. I asked Nick for his time in the second week of November to present my approach and changes I would be prescribing for the teams to follow.

It was Thursday afternoon when I and Nick met to discuss on the approach and finalize it to start implementing the changes. I presented my recommendations to Nick which were:

  1. Use scrum to bring agile way of working.
  2. Coach the team in agile values and principles.
  3. Train the teams in scrum, it’s values and principles.
  4. Bring a dedicated scrum master and product owner for all the teams.
  5. Restructure the team having 3-9 members with a mix of skill set and experience i.e. cross functional and technical as I realized this is the component team not a feature team.
  6. With teams create an agile working agreement which will be reviewed on quarterly basis.

Before going for Christmas holidays, I conducted two agile and scrum training for the teams where I used the role play approach for learning. All enjoyed the training and had a good experience of agile and scrum values, scrum roles, scrum events and scrum artifacts. We thoroughly discussed the questions, misunderstandings and myths about agile and scrum. After the training, Nick and I met once more with team to create an agile working agreement, where we focused on

  • Timings of scrum events as team members were geographically distributed.
  • Teams to set sprint goal for all the sprints which will be of two week length.
  • Use of single and integrated agile planning and execution product by teams.
  • Asked the team members to self form the teams based on their knowledge, experience and expertise as they were working together for long. Later, I and Nick helped them to come to consensus.
  • Team to follow scrum and agile values and to start new way of working from first week of January, when we meet after holidays.

I and Nick caught up over tea after the session and were happy on teams response, learning and energy to work in new way. They were happy as most of their questions and apprehensions were covered in the session. I and Nick wished each other for Christmas and New year and left for the day with a satisfaction and smile to continue the journey after the holidays.

It was January 10, I and Nick met with team to start what we agreed before holidays. Nick had also identified Chris, the product owner who joined the teams to maximize the value out of the teams. I started coaching, guiding, teaching and facilitating all the teams. With my coaching and guidance teams were becoming mature as we did the following:

  1. Had the sprint planning of 2 hours with Chris, who put the business priorities in-front of the team, based on discussion teams set the sprint goals, created sprint backlogs and highlighted the dependencies.
  2. Had the daily scrum of 15 minutes to plan the daily work and share the impediments.
  3. I started working on removing the impediments highlighted by team in daily scrum with Chris and other stakeholders.
  4. Had backlog refinement meeting with Chris and team to inspect the backlogs and whether we are on track to deliver the potentially shippable increment or not.
  5. Had the sprint review with relevant stakeholders, where Chris told the stakeholders what team had created and delivered. He also highlighted what team had not delivered and reasons behind it.
  6. Team had the sprint retrospective, where we adopted 4L method to capture Liked, Learned, Lacked and Longed For by the team members. Team discussed on the goals which were difficult to achieve during the sprint by inspecting their approach to problems and agreeing for steps to solve the problem in the next sprint.

Teams and stakeholders started to like this way of working and were happy as:

  1. Teams were delivering a potentially shippable increment after every two weeks which was earlier not uniform.
  2. Customer satisfaction increased as stakeholders knew the goals of the teams as their business priorities were captured by team during sprint planning.
  3. Team members engagement had increased as they were sharing their ideas, solutions and approach to problems within the teams.
  4. Teams were focused on outcomes rather than outputs during the sprints which increased the value.

In March, I reassessed the team. I was happy with team’s performance but more needs to be done on empiricism and self-organization skills of teams. Nick and Chris invited me over a coffee to discuss the performance of the teams. They were also happy with what they were seen till now and asked me to reveal the secrets of agile coaching, teaching and facilitating. I smiled and said, it looks easy but it takes a lot to bring a change in behavior of a team as these are more psychological rather than physiological. It is a journey and not a destination. If we were to keep getting value out of these teams, we need regular coaching, guiding and training for these teams in agile and scrum values which looks very easy but difficult to master and only a trained and experienced scrum master or an agile coach can bring these changes. They both nodded and said, we want you to continue as a scrum master of these teams, but I had got the invitation from other business function to enable their teams in agile. I agreed to coach the teams till Nick and Chris got the dedicated scrum master for the teams. In May, we got the scrum master and I shared what I shared with you all with the chosen one (smiling) and left for my next agile assignment.

Please share your views and comments in the comment box.

Published by Raveesh Mishra

Transforming organisation's excellence through agile and DevOps practices, Business solutions, IT delivery management, Programme management and Quality Management.

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