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Agile Teams and Health Checks

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If you are a Scrum Master, Development Manager, Product Owner or an IT Stakeholder, you have been asked about your team’s performance. Agile was probably adopted to solve all the delivery problems your IT group was facing, or perhaps it was meant to be a silver bullet to meet the milestones demanded by the product/business team. Or maybe it was a way to go back to your collaborative roots when the company was smaller and seemed more nimble to adapt to changing needs and demands.

Whatever the impetus, you now are in an Agile shop and there is demand to get better. Some of you may be dealing with teams that have taken a step back; others may be dealing with leadership changes in the organization that ultimately caused process changes, thus potentially impacting your ability to deliver. We also run into situations where silo’d behaviour has set in within your teams due to various reasons. Teams change, team members go back to their old behavior, organizations evolve, budgets get cut, you hire new people, HR introduces new policies (example: WFH) – all of these can impact your team’s ability to deliver business value.


Why do you need a health check?

There could be a multitude of reasons for why you would want to do a health check. The most common reasons include teams being consistently late in delivery. Underlying reasons could include lack of predictability in estimation, difficulties in planning or high level of defects in each release.
Even with a high performing team, you may want to explore the effectiveness of the various practices that your team has put in place so that you can make adjustments in order to get even better.

In this article, let’s look at Agile project teams that have issues with delivery.


How do you know where to look?

Start with the Team.

  • If the team is not engaged, then you are not getting optimal output from the team. It does not matter if you have an army; they need to work together and as a unit to function well.
  • Look for symptoms like lack of attendance in meetings, individuals with disruptive behavior, lack of respect, lack of collaboration and constant complaining. This directly or indirectly causes a reduction in morale, as well as completely takes away the concept of teaming. What does this do? – You get a team that has no rhythm in how it functions; you also don’t make the true problems visible since you are constantly fighting the wrong fires.
  • I have seen teams that follow scrum terms but are not engaged at all. Team members file in every morning for the standup but are in a hurry to get out, or you may notice a member’s tendency to find excuses to not attend the standup. You may also notice some team members taking over the standup to deal with technical/architectural discussions. Some team members think the standup is for the PMO or the leadership and don’t see any value in it.
  • The retrospectives (start/stop/keep) for such teams also tend to be looked at by the team as something they have been “asked” to do. The team members or the project /product leads may physically be in the room but do not participate.
  • Lack of role clarity – If you are in an organization where you constantly hear questions about who is accountable and who should do something, that is a recipe for disaster. This has nothing to do with Agile, but the delivery within an Agile framework makes this even more visible usual. Also of note, if you have an environment that is based on command/control, well, it makes it even harder to get things done as a team.
  • Then there are teams where you see a hand-off. This is due to so called “specialized” roles on the team, or you can identify hierarchies within the team. Such teams show classic signs of little/no collaboration, silo’d estimation and difficulties in dependency management. They constantly defer decision making to someone higher up the chain. You also start noticing folks in idle mode because of the hand-offs. They are “waiting” for something to be done before they can get going. Such teams can also have leaders/team members that need to be part of every decision, thus taking away team empowerment.
  • Testing – An extension of the problem above is that you may also notice that testing is done independently and that testers and developers do not interact closely. In many cases, the testers belong to a completely different org than the rest of the team.

There are a number of other areas that can cause issues with delivery. There could be issues up the value stream (lack of ROI discussions/lack of strategic roadmaps, lack of portfolio governance), lack of true enterprise architecture, lack of development standards, company culture and un-realistic deadlines set by leadership. A health check may not resolve these larger problems.

So what can you do?

  1. Preform regular health checks
  2. Using Agile coaches/Change agent
  3. Indentify change agents in your team
  4. Make the output of the health check a part of the team member’s performance

If you do this for your team, especially if everyone on your team (including your leaders) understands why a health check is needed and buy in to the results of it, your team will get better. Just like an annual physical can help identify signs of illness, an Agile health check on a regular basis can help prevent your team from adopting bad practices and, more importantly, stay on a continuous improvement curve.

Comments   

 
Kelley Horton 2013-03-19
Great article!
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Rakesh Kumar 2013-03-20
Very interesting. My company just started doing something similar currently on a small scale.
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