Category Archives: Team

Lesson from Chair Yoga at Global Game Jam

“You’d be surprised how strong you feel when you’re not on the edge all the time.”- Latasha Flint, Yoga instructor

This insightful comment was made during the 2016 Global Game Jam, at our South Bend site, The Branch coworking.   During the weekend-long 48 hour game-creation event, we took a break for Chair Yoga, led by Latasha, from Therapeutic Indulgence.

The development teams took a 30 minute break from creating games and participated in a yoga session that included focused breathing, stretching, and relaxation exercises. No special clothes were required, and no trip to a studio was needed. We used the chairs we had, in the space we were in. Just that short break to get moving left everybody feeling refreshed.

Afterward, Latasha and I were talking, and the question was posed:  “Why do we push ourselves to the limits, and beyond?” It was during this exploration that Latasha mentioned “You’d be surprised how strong you feel when you’re not on the edge all the time.” That struck me as a very profound comment, and one whose applicability goes way beyond yoga and athletics.

Frustrated Team Member, Pushed too much

Consider how many times software teams are pushed beyond “sustainable pace” to put features that have never been vetted by customers into production by date that is rather arbitrary. How does that make you feel?

How strong could you feel? Woo!

What would it look like of we backed away from that edge a bit, and took a different approach? How much stronger would people feel? How much better would employee engagement be? How much better would relationships between people in the company who are focused on technology be with those people who are focused on the financial, marketing, or product facets of the business?

Agile Principles Constellation – A Retrospective

Have you ever wondered if what you are doing is “agile?” Sometimes the work you’re doing doesn’t feel like it has much “agile” to it, especially if you are being asked to do a specific set of work in a specific time frame. Damn you, iron triangle!

Agile Principle of the ManifestoYour workplace isn’t “agile” or “not agile.” Certainly there are parts of your organization that will be aligned with agile principles, and there are some aspects that are likely not. This retrospective is designed to explore your organization’s alignment as it relates to agile.

Here is the outline of the retrospective. Feel free to adapt it as you see fit. If you do adapt it, please let me know what changes you made.  If you use this retrospective, I would like to hear how it went. You will note that the general flow for this retrospective matches the outline in the book Agile Retrospectives – Making Good Teams Great by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen.

Set the Stage With One Word Check In

One word check-in. Consider something like “how did the last sprint feel?” This gets everybody to talk at least once.

Gather Data Using a Constellation

The constellation exercise is a way to visualize the degree to which people feel a principle is present or absent from their work. Here is how to conduct this activity:

The facilitator reads one principle out loud, and then places it on the floor near the center of the room.

People then position themselves relative closer or farther from the statement based on how much they feel the principle is present in their environment (e.g., team, organization, company, whichever you chose). If somebody feels it is strongly present they would stand close to the principle you placed on the ground. If somebody feels it is not present or “anti-present”,  they would stand very far away.

Give people a moment to observe the pattern and perhaps jot down anything they noticed.

Pick up the principle you just used, and move on to the next one. After all twelve principles have been read, move on to generating insights.

Generate Insights

Ask people what they noticed about the constellations that took place during the Gather Data activity. Some question you might consider include:

Which of the principles were strongly present? Which were strongly absent?
What similarities or differences did you notice about those principles?
Which had the most disagreement amongst the group?
Which had disagreement by role?
Which had some individuals who felt differently than the majority of the group? What unique perspective might those individuals have?

Decide What to Do and Closing

I would encourage you to determine what kind of activity makes sense for your team to use for the “Decide What to Do” and “Close”. If you want to get more options for these phases, jump on over to the Retromat and give it a spin.

Retromat Screenshot

Background on some of the decisions

Why did I choose to do all twelve principles before generating insights?

I didn’t want to do a deep dive on each of the principles. I was more interested in having the team see the constellation that formed for each principle, and then generate insights on a subset of the twelve.

Why did I choose not to do a constellation based on the “left side versus the right side” of the Agile Manifesto itself?

Certainly, you could create an activity around the values in the Agile Manifesto. However, I have found that the values of the manifesto are a little too vague for this type of conversation. While the principles are more specific, they are still general enough to generate deep conversation.

Preparation and Supplies

Plan to use a room that is fairly open, leaving enough room for people to move about freely.

In preparation for this retrospective, print out each Manifesto principle on its own sheet of paper.

Have a note-card for each individual participating, so they can make notes about their observations. Maybe pre-print each Manifesto principles on a separate 3×5 or 4×6 card for each person.

Conclusion

It is very important for individuals, teams, and organizations to explore the principles behind how they operate, and not simply follow the rules of the framework-du-jour. The goal of this framework is to explore those principles. Please feel free to add your thoughts.

To Inspire Teams, Forget Goals. Define Purpose.

Howard Schultz on PurposeWhat’s your team’s purpose? Is it a real purpose? Whose life is better because of what you do? What pain do you relieve? What new reality do you make possible? Who would notice if your team stopped delivering? If you easily answered those questions, congratulations. If not, you are like a lot of teams. Many don’t have a connection to a real purpose.

A lot of teams simply have goals. Maybe you are working to improve code coverage with automated tests. Maybe you want to increase code quality, reduce defects, or pair program. Those are worthwhile goals, but they are not purpose. Here is how I see the difference between goals and purpose:

Goals provide a target.

Purpose provides inspiration!

Failing to meet a goal leaves people feeling deflated.

Working for a real purpose gives a rallying point when times get tough!

Goals are used for evaluating individuals.

Purpose is about changing lives!

I hope you see the value in having purpose. For those teams that don’t know their purpose, how do you uncover it? Try these suggestions to help you identify your purpose:

Imagine –This is perhaps most appropriate when you are starting a new venture. How do you see the purpose of the organization? If you can be clear about the purpose early in your team or organization’s life, it can be used as a filter against which to test all the ideas and opportunities that come at you. It will help you say the most important word in the world: “No!” Having a well-defined purpose helps you stay focused and not get distracted by opportunities that don’t fit.

Interview customers – Talking to a customer can have a profound impact on how you see your team’s purpose. What did they struggle with that led them to your product or service? Ask them how you make their life better. Why do they use your product? If the product were no longer in existence, how would their life be less well off?

Visit your customers where they use your product – Interviews can be helpful, but sometimes people are too close to the situation to really see what is happening. When you see your customers “in the wild” you may end up with insights you didn’t have before, and notice behaviors they exhibit that they weren’t even aware of.

Business model canvas – The Business Model Canvas is a convenient way to collect information about how your business operates. There are two aspects of the canvas that apply to the topic of purpose; the Value Proposition and the Customer Segment portions. These will help you articulate what makes you unique from other groups, as well as identifying for whom you are providing that value.

Don’t be efficient about it – All too often, in the name of efficiency, I have seen too few people involved in activities like customer interviews, site visits, and wrestling with the business model canvas. I challenge you to engage the whole team in these activities. You  will get deeper insights when you compare what people saw and heard. You will definitely create a deeper connection between the team and the purpose they saw. Be inefficient, and prepare to be surprised at the positive results.

You might know, but your team might not. How can you help the team to really make the purpose part of their conscious?

Talk about it – Whether you are a team member or a leader, it is important to have a dialog about the purpose of your work. You might have said it before, but there is so much communication noise that it is likely people forgot, especially if it was lost in management mumbo jumbo. Just saying it once is not enough. Invite conversation with your team about the purpose. How might they see it differently? Talk about it, and then talk about it again. There is value in keeping it in the forefront.

Make it relatable by telling a story –Humans have, for millennia, told stories. We are wired to remember stories. PowerPoint slides with bullet points are no substitute for a true story of connection. Ditch the slide deck, and practice telling and rebelling the story. And remember, the good stories need to be told repeatedly. If you don’t have a good story to tell, go see your customers and find the story.

Make it visible – When somebody walks into your business or team area, what do they see? Is it obvious what your purpose is? If not, it is time to do some redecorating. Create visual reminders about the team’s purpose. Make them personal. Do not have eagles soaring over still lakes with motivational phrases on the bottom. Have something that is specific to your team and it’s purpose. Keep the visuals fresh. Don’t let them become wallpaper.

So, ask yourself: Does your team have a goal or a purpose? Goals are, perhaps necessary. Purpose is inspiring. If you find your team has only goals, dig deeper. Identify the purpose for your team’s existence, and unlock the possibilities!

Take a Trip to the Principles Office

Agile Principles PresentationUnderstanding, and embracing, the agile principles is fundamental to becoming Agile. That is why I chose to present my session “take a trip to the principles office” at the Agile and Beyond conference in Dearborn, Michigan. I want to encourage people to consider the principles as they encounter novel situations and work to determine their best path forward.

The presentation Take a Trip to the Principles Office is available for download as a PDF.

The Take a Trip to the Principles Office worksheet is available for download as a PDF.

If you are interested in the journey lines activity, you can find that on the Coaching Agile Teams site.

The Challenge of Getting Components Working Together

Will the components work together?If you take a large, complex process, break it into components, give separate components to different software team, and then recognize teams for their completion of individual components, you run a risk that when you stick all the pieces together that it won’t work. So, if you are in a component-centric delivery teams, what can you do to help have the best chance of producing a working solution for your users? I’d like to share three tips for giving your team the best chance to build a working solution.

First, make sure that folks are vigilant for the functionality of the whole system. You might opt to have a separate team be the watchdogs for the system, but ideally it is everybody on the individual teams, too. Building a complete system requires a mindset for thinking about the whole, even when working on just a part of it. Without a mindset for the whole, it will be impossible to do anything to retrofit the quality into the work product.

Second, once folks are vigilant for the system as a whole, the next simplest thing to do is to make sure that each team is engaging with the teams that are “upstream” and “downstream” from them. Individual component teams should make sure that the adjacent component, those that you consume or the team(s) that consume the results of you work, work together as intended. Engage those teams to identify the points of interaction and define the behavior that each side expects. It is important to have a conversation that goes deeper than just what the structure of the data is going to be. Be sure to agree on what the data is going to mean, and what the anticipated behavior is going to be based on the data. Once you agree on what the structure is, and the behavior that will be driven from it, you can “mock” the interfaces, creating a dummy interface to work against until the actual system to interface with is in place.

The third bit I would like to share is to move toward an end-to-end suite of automated tests. Consider defining the tests that need to pass before you build the system. Then, you automate the tests, and components are only “done” when the tests for the whole process pass. The test-first approach forces the conversation about what should happen in the system, versus trying to catch all the things that do happen. This type of change will not happen overnight. It takes time and technical skill to put it in place. But, you have to start somewhere, and work toward a robust framework for components to be plugged into.

So, in summary, here are three important elements to have a complete quality picture for your product

  1. Build awareness and a mindset in team members
  2. Get teams to coordinate with the teams who build components that need to be interacted with
  3. Begin working toward test-first automated suites

Being good agilists, it is unrealistic to think that all the behavior will be implemented at once. Agree on the general plan for iterating toward the complete solution. Over time, you will build up a more robust, higher performing, system of people and technology.

I Committed an Act of Civic Hacking

And you can, too!

The weekend of June 1 and 2 will be the Day of Civic Hacking. While helping to organize the Hack Michiana event, I discovered that I committed an act of hacking. Let me share it with you, and then make a case for you to join the hacking on June 2 in South Bend.

Origins

My hacking started with something I found annoying. Every day I drove to work, I passed by any number of houses that must have had municipal code violations. Code violations are things like grass more than nine inches tall, broken windows, those sorts of things; they create major quality of life issues for the city’s residents. It was never clear whether the city knew about the problem, or not, and if anything was happening with the matter.

The Initial Situation

It turns out that the city of South Bend has  a site where you can look up code violations one at a time by doing a “case search.” While this approach is useful if you are trying to look at a single property, it is not that useful for identifying trends, clusters of properties in a certain geography, or identify patterns where single landlords might be responsible for a whole host of houses that are in violation of municipal code.

There had to be a better way!

Search By Case

Eureka Moment

I noticed that as I drilled into individual cases, looking for the status, the URL with case details contained an attribute for “Case Year” and an attribute for “Case Number.” Lo, and behold, the case numbers were largely sequential. Sure, sometimes there were gaps, but for the most part they went up sequentially.

What are computers good at? They’re really good at following patterns.

Requesting Assistance

My software development skills are no longer what they use to be. I knew it should be possible to create a program or script that would crawl the cases and pull out data into a table that would be more useful than looking up individual cases.  I contacted a former coworker of mine, Charlie, and asked for assistance with this project. Before too long, Charlie had written a Python script that could increment the case numbers and pull the interesting data elements off the web page. What we got was a file with information like Owner Name, Street Number, Street Name, Case Type, Case Status, etc.. All of the sudden, we a collection of data and not just individual data points.

Visualizing the Data

The next challenge, now that we had a bunch of data, was to tackle the visualization. Again, asking a favor of a former coworker, Ken. Ken agreed to help out. The Google Maps API was something he had been interested in, and this project was an opportunity to explore it for a particular purpose. After some tinkering with the API, we decided that an interim solution was to use an service called BatchGeo, which would geocode a file and visualize it in Google Maps. It was a crude solution, but adequate for where we were at the time.

Map of South Bend Code ViolationsWhat we ended up with was a map of the code violations in South Bend. The color coding shows the issues that are closed, and those that are open. You can zoom in or out, filter, and search. You can go down to the street level and then click through to the City of South Bend’s web site for additional details. Pretty nifty, I think.

Now What?

I wanted to give one example of some civic hacking that I fell into. There are lots of challenges, and you can help solve one. Join us on June 2 for Hack Michiana, our local participation in the National Day of Civic Hacking.

Civic Hacking isn’t  about technology. While it is interesting to scrape data, geocode it, and then visualize it on a map, the real value comes from being able to foster positive action based on the liberated data. That is where we need a broad range of people to participate in Civic Hacking. You can help turn information into action!

What might one do now that they can see more patterns in the data?

What collaborations between concerned citizens, community organizations, and the government might be possible once people really grasp the situation?

We need your participation. It might not be for this project, but there is a project somewhere that you could become passionate about and make huge contributions to.

More Information on Civic Hacking

This video is a nice introduction to Civic Hacking. Take a few minutes to watch it, and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday, June 2.

Coworking is a Smart Move

I recently had the pleasure of writing an article for the publication Small Biz Forward, an electronic newsletter produced by Nancy Becher. In the article, I talk about why coworking is a smart move for freelancers and small businesses. I encourage you to check out the publication. There are nice articles from a number of small businesses in the Michiana area in the e-pub.

Coworking in South Bend

The Branch

While the phrase “coworking” is a new phrase for some folks, the concept resonates with them. There are coworking options in the Michiana area, and each coworking location has its own personality. There will be a new coworking space in South Bend, called The Branch. The space will be opening in spring. The Branch is designed for entrepreneurs, freelancers, startups, not-for-profits, and folks who moonlight. The downtown South Bend location provides access to the restaurants, coffee shops, and other professionals that work in downtown. If you are interested in joining The Branch, let us know through the web site.

There is a brochure available, if you are interested in more information, as well.

Other spaces in South Bend include LangLab, and Maha Luna is planning a coworking space in the future.

Other Coworking in Michiana

If you are in Sturgis, be sure to check out Business Success Unlimited, who is having an open house on March 23.

If you are near Plymouth, check out The Midas Center.

If there are other locations that you are aware of, please feel free to comment and share them.

5 Global Game Jam Lessons For Your Team

This weekend, I had the experience of participating in Global Game Jam at IUSB. How does an event like “Global Game Jam” relate to your work? Keep reading….

What is Global Game Jam

In short, GGJ is a weekend-long event that starts at 5:00 PM Friday and ends at 3:00 PM on Sunday. Within that 46 hours, participants form teams and each team creates a game that is based on an announced theme. The IUSB Global Game Jam event, in my opinion, an unqualified success. How did we go from largely a group of strangers to two teams that produced  I Dream of Oleg the Unicorn and Heart Maze? This post has some of those observations and some suggestions for your “real” work.

Observations

A Purpose – The goal of the weekend was to create a game in 46 hours. The goal was unambiguous. People who were not interested in supporting that purpose were not present. And we weren’t just a group of folks individuals that were “working.” The purpose allowed us to really get excited about what we were doing.

Embracing Diversity – The event, and fellow participants, welcomed participants who were interested in making a game. Period. Game creation requires a wide range of skills; music, art, software, testing, imagination, organization, and many more. We collectively found ways to contribute, and to encourage others to contribute.

Visible Work Plan at the IUSB Global Game Jam

Loose Organization – The work we had to do was made visible and tracked. A light-weight backlog was on a whiteboard, the name of the person who took on the task was next to the activity. Notice I didn’t say the person who was given the task.We made the work that had to be completed visible, and people took it on. We even had a local reporter for the newspaper hear that we needed the sound of a fish, and she offered up her heretofore under-appreciated “fish” sound to the cause. Loose organization creates room for people to contribute.

Effective Leadership – We had a leader emerge on the team. The leader kept the goal of the weekend in front of us. Ideas were welcomed. Some of those ideas made it into the game, and others were struck from the plan as the weekend went on. The presence of the goal and a leader who could help the team decide, allowed for prioritization of the various ideas.

Nothing says “light mood” like high-fiving unicorns with an explosion and rainbows! Thank you, Tim Bell, for the awesome art work on this!

Light Mood – I have participated in similar weekend-long events. One reflection on this event relative to the others is that I left Global Game Jam feeling fairly relaxed. While I enjoyed participating in the 2011 Grand Rapids Give Camp and local Startup Weekends, they seemed much more exhausting.  Don’t get me wrong; both Give Camp and Startup Weekend were excellent events. But, the mood was much lighter during Game Jam, despite having a similar weekend-long event with a hard deadline.

Make Your Work Jam

Take the lessons from Global Game Jam, and look for ways to apply them to your work, and improve the effectiveness of your teams:

  • Make sure that the team has a purpose, and that it is kept in front of the team. If you don’t know what the purpose is, go find it.
  • Embrace the diversity of skills and perspectives on your team, and celebrate them. People likely have hidden talents that will make your team stronger. Create space for those talents to emerge.
  • Keep the organization of the work as light as possible. Remove what is unnecessary. Overweight organization is both productivity-killing and soul crushing.
  • Build leadership skills on your teams. Build people who can help share a vision, and rally others around the common goal.
  • Keep the mood light, and the energy high. Whether you are a team member, a stakeholder, or a manager, help foster a lighter mood on your team.

In conclusion, I want to take a moment to appreciate the team: Adam Valdez, Andrew Kroepel, Blake Robertson, Charlie Guse, Jen Purdy, Matt Forsythe, Matt Neumann, Sarah Gradeless, and Tim Bell. Your spirit and talent made a busy weekend very enjoyable.

Agile Sustainability; Culture, Management, and Metrics

What are some keys to sustaining an Agile culture and organization? As part of our coaching, Susan DiFabio and I have been exploring sustainability as we iterate on our session for Agile 2012, entitled  “Keeping the Dream Alive: Keys to Agile Sustainability

As we prepared for the Agile 2012 workshop, we had the opportunity to share at the Agile Cincinnati June meeting. We promised that group that we would share some of the references that we used when creating the workshop. Those references are:

Corporate Culture

The Reengineering Alternative” by William E. Schneider
This book describes the model of corporate cultures that was referenced in the presentation.  It goes into depth about how the research was conducted, how the model emerged, as well as examples and opportunities for how to use this knowledge to help organizations leverage their strengths.

Metrics

Measuring and Managing Performance in Organizations” by Robert D. Austin
Based on his doctoral thesis at Carnegie Mellon University, the author presents the reader with many insights on what actually happens when humans are measured as part of an organizational system.  Robert Austin’s book includes information from interviews with eight software measurement experts who represent a variety of opinions.  “Measuring and Managing Performance in Organizations” provides important information for anyone who is trying to use measurement to guide organizational decision making.

Management

Building Effective Teams: Miss the Start, Miss the End by Esther Derby
Esther is a thought leader in the area of organizations, team dynamics, and leadership. This blog post describes the manager’s role in creating an environment in which teams can become high performing. Susan and I have seen teams that have struggled, at least in part, because they lack the foundational elements of “real team” and “real purpose.”

Summary

To be agile, it is important to think well beyond the ceremonies and roles of a particular agile framework. We hope that this list of references helps you explore the topic of Agile Sustainability in more depth. We would also welcome you to let us know what materials you would recommend people study on this topic.

Lastly, thank you to everybody who attended the workshop in Cincinnati. We look forward to sharing with folks on Thursday afternoon at Agile 2012.

There can be only one

Are you on a team where tasks seem to get started but not finished? Does the daily standup involve updates where individuals work on what seems like the same handful of tasks for multiple days?

Here’s a technique you can try for limiting work-in-progress. Instead of identifying task ownership whereby team members write their name on multiple task cards, ask each to use a single PostIt note with their name on it. Each person gets only one note with his or her name on it. Let’s face it, even if you have more than one task in the “In Progress” column, you can only work on one at a time. The sticky note is to be placed on the task that is being worked on at that moment. The note is moved throughout the day when changing tasks.

Here are some benefits of this approach:

Token to help address too much WIP

  1. Only one task can be claimed by any individual.
  2. The team now sees exactly who is doing what work at any moment.
  3. The team sees which tasks that are “In Progress” but not being worked on.
  4. Knowing what each person is working on makes it safer for team members to begin work on idle tasks.
  5. By no longer staking your claim to a whole set of tasks, you invite more collective ownership of completing the team’s work.

In addition to simply putting your name on a single sticky note, you could also capture data about context switching with this simple method. Write the date on your token. For that day, put a tally mark on the note each time the token moves from one task to another.

By using the date and tally marks on the card, you can get a sense for how much context switching is happening throughout the day. Perhaps thrashing is an impediment for your team. Of course, if you switch tasks six times and 5 tasks are completed, you probably don’t have a problem. If you switch six times and nothing gets to “Done,” there may be an impediment’s root cause to search for. Collect the notes throughout the iteration and look for trends in the data.

I hope you find this technique useful. Feel free to comment on the post.