Nov 23

IT professionals are just like humans

What do you think is the coolest: Starwars or Startrek? You are part of the in crowd if it’s the latter. Then you must be a geek and not a nerd. That is what I found out when I searched for the drives of software developers.  Although I not at all a fan of science fiction myself, it triggered me though to wander around some more in the world of software development.

In this world, people work more and more ‘agile’, often implemented by doing Scrum. It is founded in the Manifesto for Software Development (http://agilemanifesto.org). I think Scrum is a fantastic, iterative project management method which facilitates simplicity, co-creation, multi-disciplinary input, self-organization, team work and use of new insights along the way. In order to create as much business value as possible.

Still, it could happen that team deliverables turn out to be sub optimal or even worse. Despite having top of the bill, driven and ambitious IT professionals, despite having followed agile and scrum principles accurately, despite the seniority of the Scrum Master (Scrum-process facilitator) involved, despite an agile organizational environment.

How come? Because there are still human beings involved.

Human beings. Generally speaking: humans who love developing the most beautiful software, who are technically ambitious and are often very critical and cocky as well. Who will, if they have to, prefer content over working relationships. Who need room to maneuver.  And all kinds of other human vices and virtues. Who often are not used that much to working together, to taking responsibility for the team results, to giving feedback to one another, to addressing coworkers, to asking for help, nor to giving progress updates. Indeed, the (project) manager would be the one taking care of all this.

Then put these people in a result responsible Scrum team. The effect? They will show similar group behavior like any other result responsible team of course! Tuckman defines four phases of team development, which a team need to go through in order to grow: forming, storming, norming en performing, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuckman’s_stages_of_group_development).

In each phase the cooperation patterns are different, but they have one thing in common: it is always about the quality of the interactions between the team members.  Which you cannot resolve by using another scrum tool or process, even a seasoned Scrum Master is not able to do that. Nor tastycupcakes.org! To grow as a team, you need weeks, months or even longer  of experiencing and experimenting on cooperation, including conflicts and problems which could serve as learning materials. There is no scrum tool which can make it go faster. You have to work through and address these obstacles. To overcome together and mature as a team.

So, dearest Scrum people, if results are not that good as you would expect, you could take a look at the quality of the team interaction and cooperation style. Next to working on getting a good scrum process, a customer who understands and supports agile and a fine Scrum Master.

Here some unusual questions you could ask yourselves in order to find out what is really going on in your team:

  1. Ruler: The desired team output  per sprint is made explicit in user stories . But is also clear what the expectations are on the longer term? Who defines these? Is everybody aware of them? What about mutual expectations between team members, are these made explicit and discussed? And is it clear to everybody which competences are needed in order to cooperate well towards team results? What are individual interests during a sprint and how do they relate to the shared (customers’) interest?
  2. Ownership: Is every one feeling responsible for the quality of the cooperation within the team? In which way is this reflected in visible behavior? Are you taking responsibility for your own behavior in the team or is the other one to blame? The things you do: is it want to or have to?
  3. Do, think, want: As a team member, are your actions in line with what you think and feel? If not, what inside of you is causing this?
  4. Are there any non effective patterns in the way the team cooperates? In which dysfunctional loop are you caught as a team? And what is reason the team keeps doing this, what is the benefit to holding on to it?

Difficult questions, aren’t they, especially the last ones. Most often the Scrum Master feels he/she should be the one addressing these. And that is fine, unless he is not aware of his own role and influence on the team dynamics. He or she is part of the system. Therefore  it sometimes could be helpful to ask an outsider to facilitate. Someone  who is curious like an alien and who is sincerely interested in stuff and questioning things the team considers as ‘normal’.

I wish you all a lot of success guys! Which planet do you come from?

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