What is the one legged stand-up for!

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Forgive me. I didn’t have time to write a shorter letter.”

We are not talking necessarily about uni-dexterous people.

The basic idea of a stand-up is for the team to synchronise itself and self-organise around the sprint goal. However it is not uncommon for this understanding to be missing in practice. As an aside the difference between “not uncommon” and “common” is that the former is saying that  something is not rare, but not necessarily common and the later is taking about something that is common and it’s occurrence should be almost a given. Of course the phrase “not uncommon” can be used in a situation where someone is trying to be polite, or not give offence. Now John Major,  according to some sources (however questionable) took this to an art form, but there might indeed be a point in his manner of communication. Similar to Rumsfeld’s much pilloried “known unknowns….”, which actually had a very valid point, and even said so fairly directly, cannot provide certainty of not being misunderstood. Now, “not being misunderstood”, in light of the current discussion may seem to be different from “understood”, but the difference is difficult to discern. Indeed the only thing I can think of is that, “being understood” precludes obvious confusion, while “not being misunderstood” doesn’t. However where was I… ah, and maybe this is  one way in which someone speaking at a stand-up can meander all over the country. Indeed if you have senior managers present they feel even more inclined to blabber.  If you think all this is blabbering, then you are to be easily forgiven.. now, where was I? Ah…The stand-up, as people debate the recent developments and blocks and next steps, sorry they were not meant to debate, only discuss, or maybe just describe briefly during the stand-up. So coming back to the point, team members are taking in whatever information is being aired and are reacting to it. This manner of stand-up, especially if the prevailing corporate culture is wallowing in being politically correct, will invariable mean a lengthy discussion even as a part of the formal stand-up.

In case the team sees the stand-up as a pure status reporting, then mostly each person will provide a quick monologue to some extent in a forced or resigned manner, and not uncommonly,  even guarded; Now, I need not point out to an intelligent bystander, that “not uncommon” is not the same as “common”, however returning to the subject under discussion…such a team’s stand-up will be mostly pointless, and useful only to the manager/supervisor, if at all. So a short stand-up is not necessarily a good one! I must also caution that a pure status report generally places a strong temptation for people to look good, especially if senior management is present. A good case, for senior management to only rarely attending stand-ups or even better not at all.  In case the team is not too disengaged, there may be instances where impediments are aired but a bit late.  Now “not too disengaged” is different from engaged, something we’ve been discussing and defining but not debating. The engaged team is a different animal, but it could be a mixed blessing….

… especially if everyone is eager to show how good they are! Then they’ll talk and talk and not shut up. This is particularly true of Indians (As you can see from the writing above also as the saying goes “Put ten Chinese in a room, and you’ll never get any one to speak up, put ten Indians in a room, and you’ll never get them to …”

This is where the one-legged stand-up comes in: The team member speaking has to give his update standing on one leg. Of course he is free to choose which leg, as long as he is not one legged.

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Benefits of Scrum (jargon-free)

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I just happened to read Tobias Meyer’s insightful article:  http://agilethinking.net/essence-of-scrum.html and suppose describing the results of teams/organisations doing Scrum  would be an useful addendum.

The primary benefit is significantly better productivity, but there  are a handful of other important benefits(possibly even more important):

1. Focus

2. Higher possibility of building the right product

3. Speeding up learning, which increases the rate by which previous benefit is accrued.

Coming back to the topics of productivity, I’ve personally helped teams increase it in the range of 30 to 60% and am convinced that those teams can do even better. So the claims of a 200% increase in productivity by some others are not necessarily codswallop. (However I’d caution against productivity becoming the MAIN/ONLY goal of adoption.)

Manager! Leave the team alone!

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We don’t need no disruption
We don’t need no time control
No breathing down the neck in the server room
Manager, leave the team alone.

What do we do if a senior manager is asking for a ‘resource’ from within the team, in the middle of a sprint, to deal with some urgent matter?

As with a lot of things, this is better preempted, by informing as much of the surrounding organisation as possible before the start of a Scrum project, that we have to keep a team constant for at least the duration of a sprint. In other words the organisation should understand that the ‘NO CHANGE RULE’ is critical and central to the Scrum way of working.

However, senior managers may not pay sufficient attention to this or feel that whatever is occupying their minds at the moment is of utmost importance, and they can pull ‘resources’ (actually people) out without too much consideration. It is the Scrum Master’s job to protect the team, and as such does throw the Scrum Masters into a very difficult situation. The organisation culture will be a dominating factor in how people (SM included) behave. In many organisations the hierarchical structure combined usually with a command and control culture means that Scrum Masters are either powerless in face of such disruption or get into a downward spiral of de-motivation. This effect should be highlighted after the sprint end, to the management including any effects on how the team struggled to meet the sprint goal.

The Scrum Master in such circumstances should talk to the team and PO, and if applicable to the PO’s manager (who could be the senior manager in question) about the side-effects of pulling someone out mid-sprint.

Organisations where everyone is well-educated about Scrum, will seldom face such a situation without being able to make corrections and recover fast. This situation is particularly difficult in organisations which are largely ignorant of Scrum and the attendant principles. So it is important to respond to this situation without using jargon in such settings.

Speak in terms of disruption, de-motivation and relative importance of the sprint goal versus the work the pulled out ‘resource’ will do, versus the importance of adhering to the rules of the game. Such a conversation should also guide the persons making this decision to think in terms of ramifications of such requests and induce an inclination for senior managers to talk to the PO and SM before making any such requests/orders to pull out people, in the future.

All this engenders a culture where disruptions are kept to a minimum and only for good, genuine reasons. A relevant point here is the case when in response to a management edict coming from much higher-up, and in essentially a knee-jerk reaction, someone is pulled out even before it is really clear what exactly needs to be done. In other words the person pulled out cannot really begin work, since certain clarifications are still being sought. In such cases the useful practical steps to take consist of the Scrum Master taking a close look, spending sometime to discuss this with relevant team member, so they are prepared, wait till the end of the Sprint, so there is minimal disruption. Then after the sprint ends, the team can be reset, with a freshly updated backlog, which may include this ‘urgent’ piece of work; alternatively the person in question will not be part of the team for the new sprint, and works independently.