It all started with a tweet by Tobias Mayer:
“Don’t make assumptions” says one school of wisdom, “Assume positive intent” says another. I choose the first. You?
I’m a card bearing member of the second tribe (at least I thought I was) so I answered:
The second one. Makes me kinder.
Going into difficult conversations assuming positive intent has rarely left me disappointed.
Or as Gitte Klitgaard so beautifully put it:
I find that I get what I expect. So if I expect good, I get good.
My experience is exactly the same. Whenever I don’t manage to assume positive intent and give in to blaming thoughts it leads to more disappointment. My beliefs always always leak into what I say and how I say it.
That’s why I ask someone else to facilitate / mediate in my place when I cannot honestly assume positive intent for each party.
The “don’t assume anything” school of thought has never helped me to prep angry people for constructive conversations. When someone thinks others to be malicious, countering their theories by saying “You don’t know that. Don’t just assume that” only helps for about 2 seconds:
They rake a hand through their hair and say “Yeah, I guess you’re right. I don’t know that for sure.” Pause for effect. “But I swear, they’re just doing that to fuck with us!” Aaaand, back to square one.
What did help multiple times is giving a couple of scenarios in which the enraging behaviour is a result of good helpful intentions of the other party and doesn’t manifest their evil and / or stupid nature.
Giving examples of how something might have had positive intent opens the door to really talk. I’ve established a possible alternate reality 🙂
What’s really going on is something we can try to find out during the facilitated conversation.
After I laid out these thoughts, Tobias remarked:
Talking “of how this might have had positive intent” is very different to making the assumption, isn’t it?
Huh? Hm, I guess that’s true. Apparently I fall inbetween the two schools of thought and my mindset when preparing to facilitate is “I assume that positive intent is possible (while not actually assuming any particular motive)”. And I can come up with at least 2 positive intent scenario for any given situation.
Learned something about myself there. It’s a mindset that has served me well so far. What’s your mindset for crucial conversations?
Recently I’ve been presenting our Work Hacks at a couple of places and talking about pairing up as part of it. Not only do we pair program but we also mob program and pair up across roles: Dev and UX designer, PO and customer support, UX and PO, dev and customer support, dev and … You get the idea. We’ve done just about every combination our very cross-functional teams allow for.
Whenever I talk about this, a common follow up question is: “How did you introduce pair programming?” or “How did you make people adopt pair programming?”
We didn’t. Nobody made a concerted effort to establish pair programming at sipgate.
Not long after we started using Scrum it dawned on us that Scrum alone wouldn’t save us. Only combined with sound software engineering practices such as the ones from XP would we be able to improve our codebase.
Sometimes I hear tales by developers from other companies about management not wanting them to pair program or TDD. In our case the opposite was true. Our management was okay with TDD and pair programming. There just weren’t many people interested in doing it.
Fortunately “not many” is more than “nobody”. There were some curious minds and teams who started to try it out.
It worked well for them so they kept doing it and told others about it. And what do you know, just a few short years later (about three or so) the tables had turned and pairing up was the new normal. Now you were the oddball when you didn’t want to pair up.
To this day it depends a lot on the team. Some teams pair up all the time, some mob, some only pair up for critical stuff. All of that is okay.
We all agree that pairing programming leads to fewer defects and better readability. And pairing up across disciplines helps us keep tight feedback loops and to spread knowledge.
A Scrum Master from the financial industry shared a gnarly retrospective problem with me:
My gnarly problem is that I have one member of my team that doesn’t like to participate in our ceremonies. Her body language shows it, but her words never do. She doesn’t really talk during any of the ceremonies, just tells our manager that she thinks they are a waste of time.
I keep trying to play games and spice things up and I’ve tried the boring, to the point method of: works well, not so well, and needs improvement …
I just can’t get her to engage! Any help on this?
This seems to be a very common problem. I’ve certainly had it. That’s why I want to share an edited version of my answer here. I try to keep a focus on retrospectives although it seems to be a larger problems.
In a live coaching situation there are loads of good questions to ask: How does the team react? Was there ever a retrospective during which she was engaged? What is she like outside of the retros?
Without knowing many of the specifics, here is some generic advice.
Prologue: We can’t force agile on people
In general, I’ve stopped forcing people. As Marshall Rosenberg said, you cannot make people do anything. We certainly can’t make them “be agile”. If she doesn’t want to be there, she won’t engage. What would happen if she didn’t have to come? How would that affect the team? How does it affect the team now that she’s not engaging?
I’ve often seen teams invest a lot of energy trying to include someone who didn’t really want to be part of it. Not everybody is cut out for agile. Not everybody can be won over. That’s okay. Time will tell if she wants to work in an agile team or not. Sometimes it’s best for everyone if someone leaves the team – As graciously as possible: Let everyone save face. Certainly no mobbing!
But we’re not there yet. Everybody deserves a fair chance and we’re trying to include someone.
Make it worth her time
She gave a reason for her disengagement, at least to the manager. And it’s a valid reason. Veronika Kotrba and Ralph Miarka taught me: “Everybody is the expert for their own situation”. If she thinks it’s a waste of her time, then it’s a waste of her time. Period. The question is: What would make it worth her while?
[This post first appeared in German.]
At sipgate, we’re more than 10 teams that work (more or less) independently of each other. Each team is self-organizing. Together we deliver more than 20 updates of our services to our customers. That makes it hard to stay up to date with all improvements. That’s why the Scrum-prescribed „Review-Meeting“ evolved into a synchronisation meeting for us. During the “demo” we update each other and reach a shared understanding of where we are.
Every second Thursday we meet at 3pm. Representatives from each team take turns presenting their results. Results = stuff customers can do, that they couldn’t do 2 weeks prior. The teams get to bask in applause for their successes. Just don’t dare show work in progress that’s not live yet! The demo is reserved for things that customers already benefit from. “99% done” doesn’t cut. It’s not of value yet and not worth mentioning.
Logistically the turn taking is easy-peasy, thanks to Google Slides. Whoever first feels like creating slides on the morning of demo day copies last demo’s slide deck and shares the link with everyone else. Then it’s on: massively parallel slide editing with up to 20 people creating slides at the same time.
Come 3pm we all gather and walk our way through the slide deck. The representatives come to the front and present their part. Teams get gold stars for live demos of new features 🙂 BTW, the representatives are not fixed. They change from demo to demo.
The latest beautiful trend is that teams working on the same product have banded together to present in one go for their shared product instead of presenting team-based.
It takes 10 to 15 people 30 minutes or less to present. That’s all we need to update each other about the latest changes in our products.
PS: The demo is one of the “24 Work Hacks” in our book of the same name that will soon be available in English.
This made me relize that I’ve written about the composition of our teams over the course of the years but not about how people join and leave teams. Let’s take a look at this now.
Crude self-selection into initial teams
We made the switch to Scrum and cross-functional teams in 2010. Tim (the CEO) asked two designers and me into a meeting room. There was a board with a table in it. Three empty columns headed Team 1 | Team 2 | Team 3. The teams would start with Scrum one after the other with two weeks (= one sprint) in between and we each should pick a column.
The three of us were the first ones who got to choose a column, so I just picked the first one. I was looking forward to getting started with this whole Scrum thing. I still think that many of the people looking forward to Scrum self-selected into that first team. It was certainly fun to be part of that team. Continue reading
Maybe it’s because usability was such a strong focus of mine for such a long time but I feel like most good ideas boil down to usability. It’s kind of my “grand unifying theory of good practices”. To me, Agile Software Development is about providing good usability to the customer (not necessarily the user). Clean Code is about good usability for other developers. They’re both about going the extra mile to make someone else’s life easier.
Not convinced? Well, I hope it’s easy to see how Clean Code will make code more usable for its future maintainers. That’s why I’ll concentrate on making the case that agile software development is for product development what usability is for product. Continue reading
When you let the writing on whiteboards stay on for long enough – say, a couple of month – dry-erase markers stop being “dry-erase” and start being “leave unwipeable shadowy traces behind”. You’re left with an unsightly board, no matter how often you wipe. Water doesn’t help, at least not against dried up German Edding markers.
Even worse are traces of the slim tape that some teams use to create tables on their boards. Its remains are stickier than candy floss and way uglier.
Fear not, my colleague Frieda has the miracle cure: Clean your whiteboard with “Wepos Kunstoffreiniger” (= Wepos plastics cleaner) and it will become perfectly clean and smoother than a baby’s butt. Way smoother, actually.
That’s also the catch: After wiping your board with the cleaner you have to wipe it with water. Otherwise no sticky note will stick to the board. Try it, it’s quite fascinating. The sticky notes fall right off of the infinitely smooth surface.
If you don’t have tape traces you can also get rid of the old marker markings with a wet microfibre cloth. Again, kudos to Frieda for finding this trick.
The very last resort, for people without any equipment, is ye olde overwriting trick: Retrace the old writing with a whiteboard marker. The solvents in the marker’s color will also work on the old markings and make them wipeable again. It’s works, it’s just tedious.
Do you have any neat tricks for cleaning dried-in markers?
Not all retrospectives go well. When you support a team as a Scrum master, there are all kinds of strange behaviours or team dynamics that can make retrospectives go sideways, time after time. A facilitator can’t always prevent that. At least I can’t. Not always. Got lots better, though. Over the years I’ve picked up several different angles to get retros back on track (what I think is the “track” anyway). Enjoy:
Choose specific activities
When I started out as a Scrum master I thought my only option was to carefully choose activities to nudge people into the direction I thought they needed to go. And for some situations that works well.
Talk to individuals
Then I started to address individual behaviour in spontaneous 1:1s whenever I could snatch the person alone. For instance: “I’ve got the impression that you often address me during the retrospective (/standup/…). The information is not for me, it’s important for the others. I would love for you to try to look at the others more.” Continue reading
When health is concerned, preventing issues altogether is often easier than treating them once they’ve manifested. The same can be said for retrospectives:
Either Deborah Hartmann Preuss or Steve Holyer said that in a conversation and it rang true. Very few teams get a proper liftoff and they lose weeks and months of productivity to initial friction. In contrast, a proper liftoff sets up a team for success by laying a solid foundation of agreements and shared understandings. Then the team doesn’t have to spend their retrospectives patching up problems that could have been avoided.
What are liftoffs exactly?
You might know them as kickoffs, jump starts, launches or project starts – a meeting at the beginning of a team coming together and / or starting to work on something. I’m going with the name “liftoff” because of the book by the same name written by Diana Larsen and Ainsley Nies. Continue reading