"It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change!" - Charles Darwin

Monday, 3 July 2017

3 signs your daily Scrum sucks (and how to cure them)

It is actually a long time I have not written an educational article on Scrum. 
I have recently found some notes from a conversation I had with a community of Scrum Masters few months ago and decided to package them into a blog post. Hope you appreciate it.

So here are three small and easy to observe signs that you need to fix your Daily Scrum.

1. People are only interested in their own tasks.
I found that this behavior is also pretty encouraged by the common way of running the Daily Scrum, i.e. the famous three questions. I found many times that people normally follow with attention until it is their turn to speak; they simply disconnect after that.
When I see this, I normally propose the team to try a different way of handling the stand-up.
One way that works is to keep the same 3 questions, but have 3 rounds instead of one, with each person answering only one question at a time. 
This usually gives two benefits. 
The first of course is to keep people actively engaged until the end, since they know they will have to speak again. 
But there’s a more important one. It serves better the real purpose of the Daily Scrum of collectively assessing where the team is compared to the Sprint goal and collaboratively deciding what the next most important task is for each team member to complete, in order to move closer to the Sprint goal.
Another way (which brings even more benefits in my experience) is to run the stand-up not focusing on people’s tasks, but on User Stories. 
The idea is that the team takes one User Story at a time from the top and discuss about how to make it “done done” as soon as possible. Then you take the next and move on, either until you covered all the opened stories or until the 15-minutes time is up. In that way team members do not focus on the individual tasks, but more directly look at the Sprint goal as a collective goal to achieve. Sometimes you do not manage to talk about lower priority stories, so people who are working on those feel a bit excluded J. That provides some social pressure to contribute to complete the highest priority stories first, instead of minding their own tasks.
2. Everybody is looking at the Scrum Master instead of at each other
Sometimes it feels more like a status report. So I use the trick to encourage them to stay in circle, closer to the task board, and I take (or ask the Scrum Master to take) a step back, pretending I’m taking notes. I avoid looking at them in the eyes, so that they feel a bit uncomfortable and they are forced to find other eyes to look into: their team mate’s eyes. It works immediately most times.
I use the same trick also when they tend to look at their manager attending the Daily Scrum: I encourage them to stay in circle, leaving all other attendees outside.
3. People tend to have long discussions, trying to fix problems during the stand-up
I know that many Scrum Masters tend to interrupt discussions or ask people to continue discussion outside the meeting. This works some times, but many times I found that a bit irritating. I try to use and teach a different approach.
I normally try to explain at the beginning very clearly to the team that the Daily Scrum is intended for the Daily Planning, so that everybody understands and buy into this . So, when I see that a discussion is going on, I leave room for a couple of minute. If it is not concluded yet, I ask a question like: How do you think this can affect today’s planning? Most times people admit that it is not strictly relevant and propose to park it.
On top of that, in order to have the team really self-organize, because it is everyone’s responsibility to keep the time of the Daily Scrum, I always use a timer (a digital one or a “pomodoro”) to visualize the time passing and signal when it is up, so that the Scrum Master does not act as the bad time-keeper guy.
Of course the three above and other dysfunctions might be just a symptom of something deeper. 
If the techniques illustrated above do not work, it can be a smell of something more important that must be addressed.

What are the dysfunctions in your Daily Scrum?

Saturday, 20 May 2017

The 21st century´s paradigm to connect people and work to be done

Few days ago I had a phone call with a friend of mine. During our conversation she shared with me one of the challenges she is facing at work and wanted to check what I might think about.
Basically they have few issues when it comes to allocating people to work on a project they sold to a customer.

The challenges are multi-faceted:     
  • Finding people with the competences which fit that specific project
  • Finding people who are available to work on that project
  • Finding people who are willing to work on that specific project

Now the sweet point would be: a reasonable amount of people with the right competences, who are available at that time and willing to take on the project.

Very hard! Almost impossible! So what is usually the second best option?
Right! Put together on the project just who is available at that moment in time and hope it will not turn out too bad until someone with the right expertise can join and save the boat.

Does it sound familiar? I am sure it does, if we live in the same world.

But I have a second question: any guess what my friend’s job is?
Well, if you are thinking about anything among Project Manager, Development Manager or SW developer, you got it wrong. 
She is an architect: not a SW architect, a “real” architect.

If the fact that an architecture office might have similar problems to any product development company sounds unexpected to you, you have not considered the fact that the nature of the work is substantially the same in both fields: solving new problems which have undefined boundaries and multiple possible solutions within a complex environment where multiple entities influence each other in unpredictable ways.
To me this is just another confirmation of a pattern that I have seen in all organizations coping with work of such a nature and trying to apply traditional patterns to solve this challenge in the current century.

Can the situation be slightly improved by applying those patterns more efficiently? Probably yes and the PMI might have few ideas around that.
However my experience tells me that the problem cannot be solved if we do not embrace the fact that a totally different paradigm is needed.


  • Customer requests are more and more unclear: they do not know what they want. Problems are wicked: there is no pre-defined answer
  • Market is becoming more volatile: new and unexpected needs are emerging which require flexibility in companies
  • Professions are more and more specialized. Too many individuals I-shaped skills, which means they have deep knowledge and experience in just one area
  • Work is done in silos: lack of holistic view by individuals, but also knowledge domain in many professions is so big that is impossible for a single person to know-it-all
  • Having parallel projects competing for human resources is not sustainable anymore in the above context
  • Having people working on multiple projects reduces their effectiveness and productivity: context switching makes people waste time and produces stress, which can reduce IQ by 20%

So what is this different paradigm all about?

  • Understand the flow of value you create and setup stable, 100% focused, self-organized teams with a shared goal around your value flow
  • Bring highest value work to teams instead of allocating (or multi-allocating) people to work
    • Having the team as the atomic element simplifies allocation very much
  • Focusing on getting the most important thing out as fast as possible instead of focusing on making people busy (flow efficiency over resource efficiency)
  • Teams must be cross-functional: they must have all the competence needed to get work done
  • The holistic view of the work is kept at team level
  • Move from I-shaped individuals to T-shaped or even X-shaped professional who can do more things, so that you can have smaller teams with all needed competences
    • This can be partly achieved through synergies in teams, but also having the expert teaching to the others, to reduce the bus factor

Dare to take the journey? Do you have enough courage to address your own problems?

*In her book “Mindset”, Carol Dweck talks about the following concept: if you take two people, one of them is a learn-it-all and the other one is a know-it-all, the learn-it-all will always trump the know-it-all in the long run. See also what Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in an interview last year about his effort to overhaul the company culture.