Agile Coach Toolkit #8: Limiting Work-In-Progress

Do your team members have a tendency to pick up the next task to work on in case they get stuck with current task because they are measured for ‘utilization’? Such multitasking isn’t just bad, but also has harmful effects and causes stress on the person as proven by a study at Stanford University. Here’s a sample of Scrum board with no limit on WIP items –

Few issues with above view –

  • None of the Product Backlog Items are done as there are lot of tasks in progress. In case of any outage or downtime towards the end of the Sprint, most likelyno value will be delivered by the end of the Sprint.
  • This may also reflect a dysfunction that team members are working in silos, as everyone is busy working on something, but just not focused on delivering the most valuable story together as a team.
  • The flow of value delivery is constrained as the cycle time to complete anything valuable is impeded due to multitasking.
  • There is a high probability that the motivation and the morale of the team members might be low and in addition there might be a psychological pressure on the team to finish all the Product Backlog Items selected for the Sprint.

Recommended steps for Limiting Work-In-Progress:

  • You will need to have a buy-in from the team regarding issues with no limiting WIP items. Discussing above issues would be a good starting point to educate them.
  • Have them focus on the outcomes rather than ‘being occupied’. If any of the team members is stuck because the task he/ she is working on is blocked due to external dependency, instead of picking up a new task, review other WIP items of the team and assist the team members to get it done. This may mean learning new skills along the way and also help break down silos among the team.
  • When picking up work from the Scrum Board, always work backwards to ensure that tasks closest to Done is tackled first before moving backwards towards selecting next item to be worked upon. Such approach will also assist in reducing the Cycle Time.

Above steps will eventually lead to a Scrum Board that will look like the one below where value is continuously delivered to stakeholders during the Sprint –

Have you used this technique? If yes, please share your story.

References

Kanban and Scrum – Making the Most of Both – Henrik Kniberg and Mattias Skarin

http://brodzinski.com/2015/10/dont-limit-wip.html

Agile Coach Toolkit #7: Straight Feedback

One of the reasons Scrum allows opportunistic discovery is due to its short and fast feedback loops. With the aim to build a high-performing Team and to get the best potential out of each individual and to help them be successful, Agile Coach needs to provide straight feedback to them. But giving straight feedback is a daunting task especially since we are dealing with human emotions. In general, just the utterance of the statement, “I would like to give you feedback” sends the heart racing for a lot of people.

Recommended Steps for giving Straight Feedback:

  • Do not delay too long in giving feedback to the person. Best to give it while the incident/ event is fresh in the mind. My suggestion is to give it within the same day at the latest, if possible.
  • Take the person away from team and work environment, even for a coffee or for a walk to maintain it a bit casual. It helps to have such discussion in isolation to avoid other distractions.
  • Start by saying something on the lines of –

“I would like to give you feedback on … <topic>”

  • Be very specific and do not generalize the feedback as it will lose the essence. It will help maintain focus on the issue.
  • Get the person’s opinion on the matter you want to discuss by Asking Powerful Question

“How do you think you did in this … <topic>?”

  • Let the person share his/ her perspective on how he/ she believes the issue was handled. This will also serve as a checkpoint for them to introspect.
  • You may choose to then ask the person, “Why do you think you did it that way?” This will help the person to provide their reason for handling things that way.
  • Then provide your feedback on the specific topic. Avoid personalized criticism (“you are useless”) or judgmental comments (“your code is useless”) to the person. Give feedback with great humility, love and respect in mind when having such critical conversations. Remember your goal is to get the best of the person and make the individual excel in his / her role.
  • Then ask below question to the person to see if she/ he is in agreement –

“What do you think about that?”

  • Most likely they will agree with you. You can ask below question to get the person to think about next steps –

“What would you do next time?”

  • If the person disagrees, let him/ her vent a bit. Let the person reflect back on it and ask again, “What do you think about that?” If the person agrees, help chalk out the next steps in above point.
  • If the person does not take the responsibility, acknowledge it (that he/ she will not take the accountability) and say “I’ll take it from here.” May be a good idea to escalate in case the matter needs intervention from HR.

Have you used this technique? If yes, please share your story.

References

Coaching for Performance – John Whitmore

Giving Feedback Straight

Watch our expert from https://www.projectmanager.com/?utm_source=youtube.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=GivingFeedbackStraight give insight on why giving straight up feedback to your project team will improve project success and why it"s your responsibility as a project manager, to let your project team know how they"re going on a regular basis.

Agile Coach Toolkit #5: Active Listening

Have you ever been in a situation where someone is talking to you and when they ask a question like, “What do you think?” you realize that you were zoned out? At that point, with slight embarrassment, you ask the person to repeat what she/ he just said. It is difficult to maintain focus on listening to a person due to many interruptions and distractions (audible, visual or other senses).

Listening actively to others is one of the most powerful tools you can have for effective coaching. There are 3 levels of listening –

  • Level 1: Internal listening – You tend to listen more to your own inner voice rather than focusing on what is being said. At this point, you may be making opinions or be judgmental.
  • Level 2: Focused listening – At this point you maintain a laser sharp focus on what is said by the person. At this level, you are listening intently to every word and “listening” to every nuance in the conversation.
  • Level 3: Global listening – At this level, you are able to uncover the underlying meaning of the spoken words and are conscious of the emotions of the person. This enables you to connect with the person.

For effective coaching, you need to be at Level 2 and then have the ability to listen at Level 3. At times, you may find yourself drifting to Level 1. In such cases, you will need to make conscious effort to bring yourself back to Level 2 for a meaningful coaching experience.

Tips for Active Listening:

  • Get rid of distractions like mobile phone, laptops or other electronics, move away from noisy places.
  • Before the conversation, become self-aware by taking a moment to assess your mood and clear your thoughts.
  • Maintain an open posture – unfold your arms, unclench your fists and keep good eye contact.
  • Active Listening is difficult to master and requires a lot of practice to get better at it. It is very effective when used with “Asking Powerful Questions”.

Have you used this technique? If yes, please share your story.

References

Agile Coaching – Rachel Davies, Liz Sedley

http://www.coactive.com/learning-hub/fundamentals/res/FUN-Topics/FUN-Co-Active-Coaching-Skills-Listening.pdf

Agile Coach Toolkit #4: Effective Facilitation

As an Agile Coach, you frequently encounter situations which demand quick thinking to get things moving in the right direction. Over time I have found few techniques which come out handy and always keep these in my playbook in case need arise. This is the fourth part in the series of tools that I have found useful in my role as Agile Coach – Effective Facilitation.

Purpose – As a Scrum Master, you will need to facilitate Scrum events, decision making, conflict resolution and other critical discussions. This will require some preparation and deliberation to ensure the goals are met.

Description – Facilitation is needed to ensure that the group works cooperatively and effectively. As a Scrum Master, you will need to take care of a few aspects to help meet the goal(s) of the discussion. Tips for effective facilitation are listed below –

  1. Ensure that everyone participating in the discussion understand its purpose. You would need to set the context at the beginning and may have to reiterate once in a while when you see that the discussions are digressing from the context.
  2. Working agreement at the beginning will help. E.g., mobile/ electronics usage, punctuality, participant expectations, etc. Listing the Scrum values, especially if you are going to deal with conflict resolution may help the discussion.
  3. If the event/ meeting is not interactive, you may want to spend some time take some time to find the root cause.
  4. Create a safe environment for people to speak by ensuring that people focus on task at hand rather than pointing fingers. Immediately interject if there are any personal attacks.
  5. Use Timeboxing to ensure that discussions are productive.
  6. Balance the discussions so that introverts feel included in the discussions.
  7. As a facilitator, you need to read the mood in the room to take breaks at regular intervals to keep the energy level high for productive discussion.
  8. Be neutral in your stance and do not take sides (beware of your implicit bias during heated discussions)

Have you used this technique in coaching your team? If yes, please share your story.

References

Agile Coaching – Rachel Davies, Liz Sedley

Scrum Insights for Practitioners – Hiren Doshi

Agile Coach Toolkit #3: Asking Powerful Questions

As an Agile Coach, you frequently encounter situations which demand quick thinking to get things moving in the right direction. Over time I have found few techniques which come out handy and always keep these in my playbook in case need arise. This is the third part in the series of tools that I have found useful in my role as Agile Coach – Asking Powerful Questions.

Purpose – As a Scrum Master, you will deal with different personas in the Scrum Team with clear goal to build a high performing team. Dealing with human psychology is complex at best (though I feel that it is chaotic at times). At times you are pulled into situations where there are conflicts among the team members and you may need to coach them to ensure it is constructive and doesn’t go down into war zone.

Description – Coaching is a guided discussion meant to sort out conversations, set goals or learn new behaviors. Start your coaching conversation by welcoming the participant and asking the person what he/ she would like to get out of the discussion. This will help set the objectives for the discussion and serve as a guardrail for channeling the conversation. This stage should not take more than 10% of the time.

Let the participant open up and talk about his/ her concerns. To get the person open up more, you may need to ask open ended question like –

“Tell me more about it?” or “What else?”

In order to gauge if the person has tried solving the issue by himself/ herself, you may ask below question –

“What have you tried and how has that worked out?”

Sometimes I find it helpful to ask below question to understand the person’s emotional state by asking –

“How does that make you feel?”

In addition to helping the person express his/ her feelings, it also provides us with good insight into how emotional aspects play into the issue. One of the useful follow up questions I find helpful is –

“If you were to give a suggestion to friend who in this scenario, what would it be?”

This helps the person to take a step back and analyze the problem from third party perspective. Sometimes, even a short question like below also help explore few options

“What is possible?” 

Unless that person has not come up with options and you want to give any suggestion, first ask the person –

“May I offer you a suggestion?”

Then add your thoughts by stating –

“Have you explored … <option>?”

After the conversation has run its course, you would like to wrap up by asking the participant to summarize the take aways and next steps to ensure there will be a fruitful follow up. This should ideally be no more than 10% of the entire conversation.

Have you used this technique in coaching your team? If yes, please share your story.

References

http://www.coachingagileteams.com/2008/04/15/agile/powerful-questions-for-agile-teams/ – Lyssa Adkins

Agile Coaching

Agile Coaching: Are your retrospectives effective?

Are you in a situation where your team(s) has been practicing Agile for a while and teams are following ceremonies meticulously, but still there are no significant improvements sprint over sprint or release after release? If yes, I have some antidotes that I will share through series of blogs that you can experiment with.

One of the Agile principle is, “At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly”. This in a nutshell is Continuous Improvement (CI) and one of the ceremonies that assists you in implementing CI is Retrospectives.

Start with Retrospectives: Ask these questions.

  • Are the retrospectives effective? 
  • Are the team members open & honest?
  • Is there a good flow and exchange of information that is fact based that the team can relate to?
  • Is enough flavor added to each retrospective to ensure that they don’t become monotonous?
  • Is the facilitator neutral? 
  • Did the team put the action plan for the improvement areas after root causing the problems? 
  • Is the team taking at least one improvement idea that they are in total control of instead of relying on parties outside their team?  
  • Is someone within the team held accountable to ensure the improvements are put in action?
  • Did the team reflect back on the improvements implemented in the retrospective that follows?

My observation as a Agile Coach has been that teams are generally very enthusiastic to begin new work as soon as current work is completed and they cut corners or miss on Retrospective entirely thereby missing on a important Agile Principle – “Inspect and Adapt”