Monday, January 21, 2013

When Success bites you...

Many posts so far have dealt with the challenges of growing and dealing with issues within a team or a project. But what happens when you actually start to get positive results? This can be a surprising challenge for many organizations, and some inadvertently end up snuffing out a success just because of the surprise factor. I'd like to help you today by speaking about what do we do when we succeed.

There are many factors with Agile implementations, they include the coach, the teams, the environment and culture of the organization. All of these factors have to line up in order to start getting some progress. There are some logical steps with the initiation of this effort that go along with the “growing pains” of culture change – but in all instances, one of the things that must happen is that people who have been selected to work together have to at some time choose to become a team and work together or decide that they are not the group to do so. When this finally happens, the simple, logical steps to Agile start to “click” – and then things can go really fast in either direction.

For today, I want to focus on what happens when a group of individuals decides that they DO want to work together and become a team. Because it is an incredibly important step in any agile transformation. And it can get you much more than what you think you can get.

When a team gels together, you can sense a change of focus and feeling in the way that they look at work and the way they work with one another. The feeling is important, because it usually precedes the success in delivery and completion a coach expects. Once a group becomes a team, the division of work, collaboration and communication tends to become smoother and a little more defined. And the interactions between the PO and SM and team become simpler. This usually leads to help within the team, and at least a rapid understanding of issues and problems. This behavior change tends to happen sometime within a sprint, regularly when it is not expected and depending on the type of people and environment, usually within a few sprints of working together. At this time, you will start to see something “funny” in the burn up chart – usually, the completion of some of the stories in the sprint. This is just a preliminary phase, but if you are observing, this is a signal from the new team that they are ready to start really working together.

Once you get that signal, you are then looking for confirmation that this "teaming" has actually happened. There are many keys to this, and not all of them look like a nirvanic turn of events. Not all of the ceremonies you are using will go exactly as planned, not everyone will  be happily hopping along holding hands, and the environment will not all of a sudden become team centered. But you will see that the team dynamic switches, both positively and negatively if you see things via that filter. The team can become slightly more “cantankerous” by becoming more protective of one another. One common “protection” that you can see at this stage is that the team all of a sudden finds the courage to simply say “no”. This is extremely powerful. A positive version of protectiveness is collaboration – when you see people of different disciplines help one another out, only to discover value in what the other discipline brings to the table. This version is common on organizations that are heavily silo’d. But once the team starts to see itself as a unit, as a coach you then have to empower and encourage the behaviors that you know will help them be successful. And you know you are sitting right at the cusp of success.

If you are fortunate enough to have gotten this far, your team will start to use the processes that you have been showing them to great results. You will likely have to continue coaching, but usually the organizational resistance you had from these individuals will be lessened significantly. And with their new found powers of delivery and completion, morale should significantly improve. At this time, after the team has had a first delivery and after a first “healthy” sprint – it is time to challenge them to grow. It is also time to protect them organizationally. Few things garner more attention than success. If we are not careful, questions can come across as criticism and they can become a frightful experience. A solid coach can and should properly manage the attention and expectation of stakeholders and peers of a successful team – in order to allow the success to become something all teams aspire to, and not an opportunity to “tear holes” into the process. If you can manage top protect the team long enough to allow another team to succeed, now you will have a movement within the organization. And it will become easier to replicate and start the longer course of culture change on a much more solid footing.

As a coach, be careful to guide your team to success. Then, help other teams to reach this goal. In that way, you can foster collaboration and camaraderie, and help everyone reach the same level of team performance. This simple but important model can help you achieve change in some of the most challenging environments.

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