Posts Tagged With: team building

While collocation is nice-to-have, meeting in person should be mandatory!

Colocation is often considered an enabler if not a critical success factor for successful project delivery.

While this makes sense for small teams, as we take on larger scale products and projects, it is not always practical to have everyone in the same room. Communication channels increase non-linearly as the size of a team grows and at some point it will be impossible from either a real estate or an effectiveness perspective.

As the size of an initiative grows, breaking down scope along component or feature lines can enable the distribution of contained work to smaller teams whose members might be collocated with a reduced need for constant communication. Having such teams distributed geographically should not be an issue so long as there is still the opportunity to conduct ceremonies such as a Scrum of Scrums to manage interdependencies, maintain alignment in release cadence and to raise shared impediments to the right level of resolution.

With such a distributed approach it is often tempting to use a purely virtual work model, especially on large initiatives where there could be a heavy cost to bringing everyone together once in a while. While this makes short term economic sense, Simon Sinek’s warning from Leaders Eat Last should not be ignored: “The more abstract people become, the more capable we are of doing them harm.

Sinek references Milgram’s experiments in the early 1960’s where test subjects were given the opportunity to do harm to someone else. While only 30% of these volunteers were capable of proceeding substantially through the experiment when they had to witness the (simulated) pain they caused, 65% were capable of doing so when they never saw who they were hurting.

Our very current problem of cyberbullying is another shining example of this. While we are still biologically social animals, the anonymity and separation created by the Internet and social media platforms reduces personal impacts of inflicting pain.

Trust is also hard to cultivate when we haven’t met those we are working with. While we hope that our co-workers will treat us as they would like to be treated, it is hard to feel psychologically safe with them if they are just an e-mail address or instant messaging avatar to us. As Sinek puts it “Trust is like lubrication. It reduces friction and creates conditions much more conducive to performance.

We may have differences of opinion at work, but if we have met and had the occasion to socialize outside of the office, it is much easier to see and treat one another as human beings.

Economize as necessary, but don’t eliminate opportunities for teams to meet in person.




Categories: Project Management | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Cultivate teams with lessons from your garden

With the return of warmer temperatures to North America, Spring provides us with the opportunity to spend a few hours each week gardening. Gardening is a great way to beat stress and the returns from a visual and potentially culinary perspective are compelling. But it also provides us with a number of lessons which can be applied to developing and sustaining teams.

Neither under nor over water

There is an art to correctly watering one’s lawn. Water it infrequently and too little and the grass will go dormant or will start to resemble the Sahara desert. Water too frequently and the grass roots will remain near the surface instead of growing deep and you will encourage the growth of fungi and weeds. Recognizing team members works the same way – neglect them and their engagement will diminish, but go overboard with praise and recognition will lose all meaning.

Weed promptly

Weeds grow in even the best maintained gardens regardless of the volume of herbicides used. Procrastinating on removing them can result in their proliferation. The same is true of unhealthy team member conflict or other dysfunctions. Turn a blind eye to this and the issue will fester and spread the way unchecked weed growth can choke out good plants.

Let the land go fallow

Letting a vegetable patch recover for a season or two after you have harvested is a good practice. While it can be tempting to plan work to 100% of available team member capacity, this approach rarely provides time for learning. The best source of learning may be work experience, but there is also benefit in giving team members a chance to step away from the daily work once in a while to attend a conference, watch a webinar or read a book or two. While giving them a break and a chance to recharge their batteries, it will also provide an opportunity to bring new ideas into the mix when they return from their training.

Variety is the spice of life

Perhaps you really like roses so you might decide to only plant rose bushes in your garden. But this won’t necessarily give you the best looking garden. Mixing it up by planting a variety of plants could provide the benefit of flowers throughout the year. It will also hedge (no pun intended) your bets against insect infestation or diseases targeting a single plant type which could wipe out your entire garden. It might be tempting to staff a team with people that are just like you, but you will get much better outcomes if you encourage diversity.

Thomas Jefferson might have been speaking about team building when he said “No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden.


Categories: Project Management | Tags: , | 1 Comment

What are your sprint goals?

Breaking projects into time boxes known as sprints or iterations is often associated with agile delivery approaches but can also be used to deliver on detailed requirements for an overall project’s scope following the (infamous) approach commonly termed “Water-scrum-fall”.

The benefit of this approach is that it helps to focus a delivery team on a small, achievable set of work items, providing stakeholders with frequent opportunities to provide feedback on completed work items while increasing the transparency and objectivity of progress reporting.

Agile delivery approaches encourage prioritization of the work backlog and this can also be a good practice when using sprints with traditional projects. But this prioritization might not be sufficient to generate a desirable level of energy and focus from the team, so why not define specific goals as one of the team’s standing agenda items for a sprint planning ceremony?

Sprint goals can help by:

  • Providing a measure of progress over and above completion of individual work items from the backlog. Meaningful sprint goals are truly milestones worth celebrating!
  • Giving voice to accomplishments that transcend scope delivery. For example, completing all work items for the sprint with zero defects or meeting sprint commitments without requiring any overtime from team members are both achievements worth celebrating.
  • Helping to focus the delivery team and key stakeholders on meeting a shared objective. This can encourage team self-discipline as they can use alignment with the sprint goal as a key determinant for whether a new work item proposed by a stakeholder or team member is worth adding to the sprint backlog.

Sprint goals should not be dictated, rather they should emerge out of the collective gestalt of the team and are a good pulse check for whether the team is aligned to the overall project vision.

When defining goals, the usual SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound) acronym can be used to test and refine them.

At the end of a sprint, the showcase or demo should include a presentation of the goals and whether or not they were accomplished, and the team’s retrospective ceremony should include a review of the goals including the identification of ideas for improving goals for future sprints.

As Albert Einstein said “If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or things.”

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

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