3 Ways to Challenge the Agile Norm
By Soma Bhattacharya
Never fear challenging the norm.
A standup seems like the norm for any agile team, part of the identity associated with being agile. As many of us all now work remotely, it seems that the right way to start the day is by attending the standup and getting the status items, questioning team members—and dealing with interruptions from multiple stakeholders.
Whether you like it or not, there’s no one rule for getting the standup done. It’s about connecting with the team and being there for each other without ruthless questioning.
So, if you are not answering the standard three questions (What have you completed? What will you do next? What is getting in your way?), what else can you do? Here are what I call the three acts:
Changing the norms to ensure things are working for you—and keeping it that way—is agile. No one shoe fits all, so find what your team needs and try it out!
By Christian Bisson
In this article, I refer to “a single point of failure” as the situation when a company utilizes someone with unique expertise/knowledge that no one else has, or is the only one who does a particular task. By having these single points of failure within a team, you risk facing problems if that person becomes unavailable—or even worse, just isn’t part of the team anymore.
Fortunately, there are various ways to mitigate this!
1. Rotate roles within the team
There are several tasks that often fall by default on the scrum master or the “nice guy’s” shoulder. A good example is sharing a screen so everyone can see the backlog for a planning or a refinement session, or sharing the board in a daily scrum (if it’s not physical).
If that person is not there, then the meeting becomes less effective because the logistics (using Jira, screen sharing, etc.) is not necessarily well known by everyone.
By having a rotation system (by random name picking, for example), these tasks are eventually done by everyone and all can be efficient doing it eventually; therefore, the team doesn’t become dependent on a single person to know simple things like updating the story points of a ticket using Jira.
I once came across a team that couldn’t do its own planning without the scrum master sharing the screen and going step by step with them, and it had been doing it for several months!
2. Conduct knowledge transfer sessions
This can be done in many ways, but I’ve seen a lot of teams planning a weekly knowledge transfer session, where each time someone presents something to the others (a new tool, something they just coded, etc.). Another good way for developers to share knowledge is for them to code pair. That way, the code itself is known by two people instead of just one; throw in peer reviews on top of that and you will be in better shape if someone leaves or is on vacation.
The idea is to avoid having only one person knowing something; always aim for a minimum of two people. If you want to identify gaps, there is always the classic “lottery winner” scenario you can use, which is to keep in mind that it’s possible for someone to win the lottery and therefore become unavailable without notice. Although it might seem unlikely, the idea is to ask yourself: For every member of the team, what would be the impact if that happened?
3. Rotate members among teams
This practice is debated, but I feel it’s a good way to make sure the knowledge is properly spread. The idea here is to have a rotation system of team members among the teams. This practice is questioned by some, who will argue that to be effective, teams need to be stable—and changing it will make it regress to the “forming” stage.
That is indeed important to keep in mind when thinking about how/when the rotation will occur, but in the long run, people will be accustomed to working in all the various teams—and also be knowledgeable in all the different pieces each team takes care of. This gives a much higher flexibility depending on deliverables/vacations/etc., and lowers the risk of losing knowledge on something within the organization.
What tips do you recommend?
Is Planning Predictive or Persuasive?
To paraphrase Gen. George S. Patton, “A good plan, enthusiastically executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.” The objective of this post is to suggest that too much emphasis is placed on developing ‘perfect plans’ that attempt to accurately predict future outcomes (a passive process)—and not enough on using the planning process to proactively influence the project’s future direction.
The thinking behind this proposition comes from American political theorist John H. Schaar, who said: “The future is not a result of choices among alternative paths offered by the present, but a place that is created—created first in the mind and will, created next in activity. The future is not some place we are going, but one we are creating. The paths are not to be found, but made. And the activity of making them changes both the maker and the destination.”
In this frame, project plans become a guide to the pathway you are intending to make rather than a prediction about achieving something already fixed.
Unfortunately, the mathematical and scientific approaches to planning—particularly cost estimating and scheduling—have evolved in a way that implies that the plan is a factual statement of what will happen. This concept is embedded in contracts, law, and expert submissions going back decades. But is this approach the best way of achieving a good outcome? Fighting over what should have happened after it did not happen and allocating blame is not very useful, even in traditional industries.
My suggestion is that we adopt a more agile and adaptive approach to planning focused on engaging all of the important stakeholders. This type of collaboration is far more likely to craft success! Working with people to build a plan they are willing to commit to achieving is far better than telling them what the plan says they have to do. Then working with them to progressively adapt the plan to deal with the unfolding reality on your shared journey towards success is far more likely to optimise the eventual outcome.
The final project objectives of time, costs and outcomes are unlikely to change in most projects, but the pathway you chose to follow towards achieving these objectives is yours to make, adapt and improve along the way. The two key ingredients are building consensus and commitment with the stakeholders (particularly those involved in the work)—and then keeping them engaged. In this scenario, the project plans become a key communication tool and people are held accountable for achieving their commitments.
The analytical aspects of planning are still important, and should be used to support this approach. There is no point in committing to a plan that will deliver failure. What the analysis shows is the scope of the problem to be solved, and the solution is crafted with the project’s stakeholders. The trade-offs and challenges of project management don’t change; the difference is moving from a paradigm where the project manager tries to make people work to the plan, to one where the project manager leads the team in planning to achieve the project objectives and outcomes.
How flexible is the planning on your project?
 Legitimacy in the Modern State (ed. Transaction Publishers, 1981) - ISBN: 9781412827485
By Lynda Bourne
In my previous post, Innovation and Design Thinking, Part One, I focused on the personal and cultural aspects of innovation. But having an innovative idea is only a small part of the challenge. To create value, the bright ideas need to be transitioned into practical products or solutions that can be applied, sold or used.
Well-managed projects are a key element in building the new product or solution, but traditional project management, even agile project management, is rarely sufficient.
One well-established technique that bridges the gap between an idea and a practical project: design thinking.
The original concept of design thinking was built around problem-solving with a shift in emphasis from traditional analysis toward innovation and synthesis. Design thinking tends to be promoted by its advocates as a complete solution to delivering innovation within an organization. A typical model looks like this:
There are many models, with minor differences, to explain the process. But they all involve the following basic steps:
The problem with these models is a lack of process around creating the solution. My suggestion is using design thinking to link the creation of a culture that encourages the development of innovative ideas (the focus of my last post) with the use of project management to deliver results.
I believe that bringing project management disciplines into the design thinking process—starting from the validation of the design brief (is the proposed solution feasible, viable and desirable?) through to the delivery of the innovation and realization of benefits—is likely to result in a more cost-effective outcome in a reduced timeframe.
Innovative thinking should be encouraged within every organization. But you need pragmatic innovation to move the best of these ideas from an abstract concept to a proven concept that delivers value. Melding design thinking and project management seems to be one way of achieving this objective.
What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Plan for the Velocity of Change to Keep Increasing!
Human Aspects of PM,
Categories: Agile, Best Practices, Career Help, Change Management, Complexity, Facilitation, Generational PM, Human Aspects of PM, Human Resources, Innovation, Innovation, IT, Leadership, Leadership, Lessons Learned, Portfolio Management, Program Management, Project Planning, ROI, Stakeholder, Strategy, Talent Management, Teams
By Peter Tarhanidis, Ph.D., M.B.A.
Today, developments in emerging technology, business processes and digital experiences are accelerating larger transformation initiatives. Moore’s Law means that we have access to exponentially better computing capabilities. Growth is further fueled by technologies such as supercomputers, artificial intelligence, natural language processing, Internet of Things (IoT) and more across industries.
Business Process Maturity
According to market research group IMARC, automation and the IoT are driving growth in business process management (BPM); the BPM market is expected to grow at a 10 percent compound annual growth rate between 2020 and 2025.
Customer experience is redefining business processes and digitizing the consumption model to increase brand equity. Gartner reports that among marketing leaders who are responsible for customer experience, 81 percent say their companies will largely compete on customer experience in two years. However, only 22 percent have developed experiences that exceed customer expectations.
The Way Forward
I’ve developed a few guidelines to help navigate this change:
Change is now inherent and pervasive in the annual planning process for organizations. Given that, I like to ask: What is the plan to prepare staff and colleagues to compete in this hyper-transformation age?
What observations have you made to keep up with this new era’s velocity of change?