Posts Tagged With: Peer-level support

Breaking habits requires substituting one routine for another

I was asked to facilitate a lessons learned session for a program team using a retrospective format. After the team had brainstormed, prioritized and discussed most of the challenges they had faced, it became clear to them that there were only a couple of root causes for most of the main pain points they had identified. Neither of those root causes was a true learning but rather they were just simple reminders of good practices to follow for large, complex programs. I then asked them the somewhat rhetorical question: “Remembering now what should have been done then, how will you ensure that this doesn’t happen on a future program?”

A project team I’ve been working with has struggled with judging how many work items they can successfully complete within a sprint. In the retrospective for their last sprint, they identified a number of simple, effective ideas for resolving this chronic concern. Again, I challenged them with the same question: “You’ve come up with a great list of ideas, but how will you ensure that you actually act on those the next time you are sprint planning?”

Both of these experiences reminded me of how difficult it is to break habits.

In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg has written about the three part neurological loop governing habits which was discovered by MIT researchers: a cue, a routine and a reward.

In the project team’s case, the routine has been to accept more work items than they can complete in a sprint even when historical evidence shows this tactic hasn’t worked out well. The cue is that moment in the sprint planning ceremony when the team makes their sprint forecast. It’s hard to say what the reward has been but perhaps it’s the temporary high which comes when we take on a significant challenge as a team.

To break habits, we need to find a way to substitute a different routine for the old one and soliciting the help of a close, trusted colleague might be one way to do this.

The team could designate a single individual to come to the sprint planning ceremony with a stuffed pig or some other visual gag which represents gluttony. Then, when the team is about to forecast how much they will accept in the sprint, that team member could hold up the pig and say “Oink! Oink!” to remind all of them to be a little more conservative. While the team might not bask in the short term glow of having accepted a bloated sprint forecast, they will enjoy the much more rewarding experience during their sprint review when the product owner and other stakeholders congratulate them for improving their predictability.

Breaking habits is hard to do but by identifying cues and implementing good routines to swap in for the old ones, we can prevail.

 

 

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Categories: Agile, Facilitating Organization Change, Project Management | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Need help team building? Try to escape an escape room!

There are multiple types of external events which a project manager or Scrum Master could consider to increase the level of collaboration and cohesion within their team. Escape rooms provide a fiscally responsible, but highly effective option.

For my readers who have never experienced one of these, an escape room provides a small team (ideally no more than eight people) with the task of completing a set of puzzles within a fixed duration of usually 45 minutes to one hour. These puzzles are incorporated within a fictitious scenario such as escaping a prison or surviving a zombie apocalypse. The narrative and challenges in lower quality rooms will follow a linear path and focus on solving one combination lock after another whereas better ones will provide the opportunity for parallel and alternate paths as well as providing puzzles which test multiple senses.

So why am I such a proponent of this type of team building activity?

Collaboration is a must, not a nice-to-have

I’ve enjoyed almost a dozen escape rooms and the mental and physical work involved in solving most challenges requires close collaboration. If one is shackled to a fellow “cell mate” at the start of a scenario, both have to work together to ensure that the keys to their shackles can be reached. Many puzzles require team members to coordinate their activities across different points in the room so once again, you can’t go it alone!

We is greater than the smartest Me

It’s a lot of fun trying to solve escape rooms with a group of self-stated Type A leaders. As the clock ticks down, it becomes apparent that the wisdom of the group needs to be harnessed rather than relying on a single leader. Situational leadership is exercised as some puzzles require spatial acuity, some memory or mathematical skills and others will demand physical dexterity. Escape rooms often have a few fiendish red herrings which can mislead one or more team members and ignoring these can be a good exercise for overcoming group-think.

We all need a helping hand sometime

All escape rooms provide teams with the ability to ask for assistance from a staff member at least once over the duration of the game. Deciding when is the right time to ask for help can pose its own challenges, especially if some team members are unwilling to show vulnerability. The same is true within the team – someone might believe they can solve a puzzle, and refuses to ask for help, but with limited time, the team will need to have the discipline to swap them out if they aren’t making progress.

Communicate, communicate, communicate!

With clues to solve a puzzle scattered around the room or even split across multiple rooms, team members need to effectively communicate with one another in order to efficiently solve puzzles.

Focus

There are lots of distractions in an escape room. Multiple puzzles, false clues, artwork and interesting (but useless) trinkets and gadgets can trap us into losing focus. Support from the team is needed to help individual players focus on solving one puzzle at a time.

Unless the escape room is very simple it’s rare that a team will complete their first escape room. When time runs out, rather than just rushing to the nearest watering hole, it might be worth holding a quick retrospective to understand what everyone learned and to identify opportunities for improvement with the next escape room event as well as with our projects.

To plagiarize Michael Jordan, a single team member’s talent can solve individual challenges, but teamwork completes escape rooms.

Categories: Agile, Project Management | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Does knowledge transfer change with agile?

We have all experienced this: a key contributor announces their departure and a mad scramble ensues to transition their knowledge to the rest of the team.

But does this change when the team is using an agile lifecycle?

On the surface, it might appear that there wouldn’t be any significant differences in how it is done regardless of the nature of the work or how it is performed. After all, knowledge transfer is usually a case of a subject matter expert educating others through either a live session or through some sort of persistent record such as a wiki, a video or an audio recording.

While this is true, there are characteristics and specific practices in agile delivery which can impact knowledge transfer.

Traditional delivery usually relies on individual specialists who remain focused on their role and area of expertise. On the other hand, agile delivery encourages the development of generalizing specialists who will develop a broader set of skills and knowledge. Higher levels of collaboration are also expected in such contexts which increases the amount of exposure that individual team members have to each other’s knowledge.

While this won’t translate into full fungibility across a team, there is less likelihood of only one team member possessing critical information. This won’t happen over night. It will take many weeks of working together as well as explicit encouragement by supporting stakeholders such as functional managers for generalizing specialists to develop.

Another enabler is non-solo work – pair programming, hackathons, mob programming and model storming are all practices using this principle. While the primary purpose of these practices is not knowledge transfer but rather quality and speed, it is a valuable side benefit. Rather than having experts share knowledge in an academic manner, demonstrating how their knowledge can be applied towards completing work items is more effective.

Whereas traditional delivery tended to emphasize documentation as the medium for passing work between roles, agile approaches focus on minimal sufficiency. While a newly formed team might require more documentation to facilitate shared understanding, a long lived team might successfully deliver with much less. The challenge becomes when a new or junior team member joins as there may be insufficient reference material to enable self-learning. But this should not cause any major issues if someone on the team volunteers to pair up with the newcomer to help fill in the blanks.

While the need for shared knowledge is there in all contexts, effective agile delivery can reduce the critical of explicit knowledge transfer.

 

 

 

 

Categories: Agile, Project Management | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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