Saturday, February 15, 2014

Information Radiators - How to Heat Up Your Team (A Fictional Story of Success).

Recently I was asked to drive a new software development project with a project team that has been working together for more than a year. Management direction to me? "We want you to use Agile!"

After spending some time with the leaders on the team, I found myself in a challenging situation. The team, while possessing amazing talent, had no focus or organization. The team members were application developers, business analysts, and system testers. They didn't know what they were working on for more than a couple of days. Additionally, the product owners (yes, there were 15 of them) were spending too much of the team's time making decisions about what features were a priority.

I went to work. I reserved a conference room for the team, built a Kanban board, and started training the team on the basic principles of Scrum. Additionally, I scheduled a meeting with the product owners and coached them on the importance of having a single voice when communicating to the team. We identified a chairman to attend our daily Scrum meetings to act as product owner. The chairman would meet with all of the stakeholders, collect their stories, and bring those to the team with a single voice.

Our first daily Scrum is today! I walk into the conference room with the Kanban board, and the whole team is sitting around a table talking about sports. I coach them through the 25-minute Scrum meeting and then, the next day, there are no chairs in the conference room when the team arrives. Of course, the team thinks this is really funny.

They also realize that we are going to stick to even the most basic principles of Scrum. When we begin placing stories (we had already planned by this time) on the Kanban board, I start to see the eyes of the team light up just a little. The first information radiator is in place. Shortly after, our Scrum meetings are hitting our 15-minute target and the team is focused on collaboration and transparent communications.

Time passed, and during one of the Scrum meetings I noticed that a couple of the team members had fallen back into providing status updates to me, instead of sharing knowledge. One team member in particular was very young and very smart. When he began providing his update, I turned to face the wall and didn't look at him until I heard him stop speaking. When I turned back around, he had a confused look on his face. I asked, "What just happened?" and several of the team members reinforced the principle of communicating with the team during the daily Scrums and not providing status updates (pizza party!!!). This helped me understand that the ScrumMaster can be an information radiator by simply using body language to help the team remain focused.

Later that week we experienced some issues and I went to several of the team members' desks to discuss our course of action. To my surprise, they had built personal Kanban boards at their desks to track their tasks at their level. Yah! Success!

Senior leadership growth
Once we were in a full swing of sprints, I started placing product burn-down and sprint burn-down charts beside the Kanban board. This required a little bit of training with the team and product owner, but they started seeing the bigger picture. The team really enjoyed seeing the burn-down charts progress, and it built a feeling of accomplishment. Then the competition started. How many tasks can we move from "In Progress" to "In Testing," and how many tasks will the tester move back to "In Progress"? The team was having fun, getting the job done, and producing a quality product.

After one of our daily Scrums, the product owner requested that I meet with the other stakeholders to discuss the project. During that meeting, the product owner told the other stakeholders, "You must see these burn-down charts. They tell us all of the information we have been trying to find for months." Shortly after that I was posting the burn-down charts (built in Excel) on an enterprise project status site for all of the stakeholders to see. While this was more work for me, it created a transparent communications platform that demonstrated to the entire organization the challenges of the project and the successes of the team.

Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results. -- Andrew Carnegie

"Information radiators" can be the fuel your team needs to be successful. Remember, we are Agile, so try new things that will work for the team and demonstrate the principles of Scrum. Use what works, tweak what needs to be tweaked, and get rid of anything standing in the way of team organization and transparent communications.

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