A couple of the teams I’m coaching had new people join them recently, and I was asked to be part of their onboarding. There is well-organised content covering the company and the technical aspects of the teams’ work, but what should I cover as their coach? I could explain Agile and Scrum principles, values and practices, but would that help the new team members understand what’s expected of them?

Instead, I paired with one of the experienced team members and we put together a “cheat sheet” with links to some key resources, e.g. where to find the group’s product roadmap. We covered how but also why the teams do things, for example, “how do teams know that they’re building the right thing?” – we also need to understand why it is important to get feedback on what’s being built, and why shorter feedback loops are preferable.

Given the new team members are being bombarded with lots of new information we wanted to give them an overview and some examples, but also some pointers so they can remind themselves and discover more … and the best way to learn how their team works is to ask their team! As their coach, I’m always happy to answer questions and discuss other ways of doing things, but I’m especially happy when teams learn from each other and run experiments to find improvements; I’m hopeful that having the new team members question their teammates will lead to them considering alternative approaches.

Finding value

As part of the warm-up for a retrospective this week we were asked to share an article of clothing which represented the previous sprint. I picked a photo of a jumble sale because I felt we had been trying to find the value in a pile of possibilities – there are many things we could do, but which is the “best”? At a jumble sale, you really shouldn’t try something on then put it back and repeat until you find the thing you want; however, we have the benefit of being able to conduct small experiments to see if we’re doing the right thing.

By taking a small step and inspecting the outcome we can decide whether to continue going in that direction, make a small tweak based on what we’ve learned, or maybe go back and try something different.
To avoid any cognitive bias we should be clear beforehand what criteria we will use to analyse the outcomes; stating those criteria also helps identify any metrics we should collect.
For me, this is the heart of agility – short feedback loops that enable us to learn and react. That reaction helps us deliver what our customers need, and stop working on something as soon as it stops providing value.

4 Simple Steps

I was watching Henrik Kniberg’s keynote at AgileByExample 2016 and I liked his T-shirt (as well as his speech, of course)
It sounds like 4 Simple Steps, but clearly it’s not simple or everyone would follow them. The challenge is to find out what’s preventing some or all of these – how is the system holding us back? Is there value in doing some, or is it “all or nothing”?
Of course, the answer is it depends 🙂 It starts with having conversations and helping people see the challenges, or at least listening to whether they even see the challenges. There is no “right” answer but maybe there are some answers which are less than ideal.

The new norm

Everyone seems to have posted their tips/tricks/techniques/tools for the new norm with dev teams working from home, so I’m probably not going to post anything groundbreaking (wow, way to convince people to read this post!) but simply what we currently find works for us – it’s just some hands-on experience which might be helpful.

We still have access to our regular tools for kanban boards, wiki (lightweight docs), code repositories, etc. but there are some things which we are just used to doing face-to-face, with sticky notes and whiteboards so these were the tools for which we needed to find alternatives.

Firstly, it was important to let the teams find what works for them – there’s no point in telling everyone to use a particular tool if it doesn’t meet their needs, and who knows better than the teams themselves. Even though we use BlueJeans for video chats and Slack has built-in video calling, when asked how they’ll stay in touch throughout the day they picked Discord – they’re familiar with it (as gamers) and it’s proven to be stable under heavy load.

For retrospectives, we tried a variety of tools; Retrium works well but has a limited set of formats; for more freedom we picked Mural (i.e. it’s just whiteboard) although Google Jamboard or BlueJeans’ built-in whiteboard are great for impromptu discussions as they don’t require us to send out invitations. (Note that when the BlueJeans call ends it just wipes the whiteboard so remember to grab a screenshot!)

One feature we like with large groups is BlueJeans’ facility to set up breakout rooms; using that in conjunction with 1-2-4-All from Liberating Structures.

Obviously, we need to make sure not to put anything confidential or sensitive on these public tools but for ephemeral discussions, they seem to do what we need… at least until we find a newer, shinier alternative 🙂 so what are you finding works well?

Update: The addition of Snap Camera has made video calls more entertaining – it’s owned by SnapChat but it can be used with BlueJeans.