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Groundhog Day - Agile Teams

For some teams, soon after the buzz of 'going agile' wears off the iterations/sprints can feel repetitive and even pointless. For example, in Scrum the cycle of planning, stand-ups, review and retrospectives without understanding the 'why' can feel like a waste of time. It reminds me of the 1993 film Groundhog Day.

For those who haven’t watched the film, it’s about a news reporter Phil Connors who continuously wakes up to the same day. He soon finds it boring and purposeless.

Warning: movie spoiler ahead.

The Problem

  • Not really an agile team - they just happen to be on the same project at this point in time and they pass work on to each other when they have ‘done’ their bit. I’ve been in these teams where each sprint turns into a mini waterfall project and is subject to all the same problems. Working in this silo approach in an effort to be efficient, leads to a lack of collaboration between team members which results in rework, defects and the blame game between team members.

  • The team is overworked - when the team (or more likely management) focus becomes to increase output, and 100% FTE utilisation, activities such as planning, reviewing work with customers, and improving the team get cancelled.

  • The team thinks the Scrum meetings are a waste of time - Have you ever had a meeting where half of the teams bring in their laptops to just continue working? If this is happening the meeting really is a waste of time.

  • The team only does what they are told - Software and business-related problems are complex, and the people who are building these solutions are often simply instructed what to do. Agile teams want to solve problems, not fill quotas.

The Solution

In Groundhog Day, Phil Connors begin to realise that improving himself, and by really connecting with and selflessly helping others, he realises the best version of himself.

  • Don't skip retrospectives - take the time to improve the team. During sprint planning, it's important to allocate time (ideally 90 mins right after the sprint review) for this important activity. If the retrospective is continuously skipped, there is a major risk that issues and blockers which will impede the potential of the team will continue to damage team moral and/or waste effort and time.

  • Caring enough to speak up - This is radical candor - caring personally and challenge directly. For example, if your team mate had some spinach stuck in their teeth, would you say something, and how would you tell them? Similar if a team member wasn't delivering to their usual high standard, would you just keep quiet, call it out in front of their peers, or have a private conversation after the meeting? When a team care about each other enough to have radically candid conversions, they quickly start collaborating more and caring about the sprint outcomes and the impact they are having on the customer.

  • Understanding the Agile principles and value - The Scrum events are all important to make the sprint successful and to deliver the best outcomes for the customer. However it requires the whole team to clearly understand not just Scrum, but the agile values and principles it was built on. Understanding the 'Why' behind each of these meetings will ensure the sprint is successful.

Below is a list of Scrum events and their applicable agile values and principles:

What do you think?

Have you gone through a similar challenge?

What things did you experience? Any recommendation?

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