Bootstrapping an working agreement with a Scrum team by Jimmy Jalén

I’ve been working on a collection of great blog posts about the Scrum Master role. If you have a favorite article on the Scrum Master role, or it’s goals and responsibilities, let me know by submitting it here: https://bit.ly/TheBestScrumMasterBlogPosts2020

Jimmy Janlén’s post on setting up working agreements with your Scrum team

What’s a “working agreement”, Vasco? Good question! As a Scrum Master, one of the things I worry about is if the team members are aware of the (often implicit) agreements they have with each other.

Not having a clear picture of what we have agreed to, may lead to conflict as an outcome of missed expectations. Most commonly, it leads to bugs in the software, and delays in delivery.

So, how can working agreements help reduce bugs and eliminate delays? A simple example of this might be a working agreement like: “share bad news early, even before there are any indications of delays or other consequences”

This agreement, will help the team keep in mind the need to discuss and solve problems early, before they escalate. But, as a single agreement, this would not be enough for a team to work with.

Take It To The Team: The WorkingAgreements Workshop

As a Scrum Master, I also know that the team itself will have a more complete view of the agreements they need to work well together.

I have a few ideas, and will bring those up in our “working agreements workshop”, but it’s up to the team to define and ultimately put into practice those agreements!

In 2017, Jimmy Janlén published an article that helps you prepare a working agreements workshop. In this article, he describes what has worked for him when defining working agreements with teams. Jimmy also shares tips and guides for each of the sections of the workshop.

Jimmy defines the working agreement as capturing “the expectations we have on each other within the team when we collaborate and communicate. I’ve seen teams call it “Code of Conduct” or “Ways of Working”. I call it Working Agreement. You call it whatever makes sense for you.”

Check out the Working Agreements Workshop blogpost by Jimmy to learn more about working agreements, and to get a facilitation guide for his approach to this critical workshop.

Have you had working agreements workshops with your teams? Share below your insights and questions!

Holding space, a Scrum Master guide with links and tips

As a Scrum Master that studies, and constantly tries to improve your craft, you’ve probably heard (and even used) the phrase “hold the space”.
For (some) native English speakers, this phrase may be easy to grasp, but as a non-native speaker, I can vouch for the difficulty of understanding what this means in practice.
As a Scrum Master myself, however, this phrase is too important to dismiss as “insider talk”, so I want to share some links and tips about “holding the space” as a Scrum Master.
First, let me refer to a blog post at Stanford’s site by Linnea Ann Williams called “Holding Space: A Scrum Master Overview”. The blog post is about the role of the Scrum Master, but it is also about what it means to “hold the space”. My key takeaway from this blog post: As a Scrum Master I must help the team and the stakeholders create the conditions the team needs to perform (hold the space).

The basics of the Scrum Master role and the meaning of “holding space” 

But there’s a lot more about the meaning of “holding space”. Many of the aspects of that approach are in the Scrum Guide (PDF version from the year 2020 here), and some are well described in this blog post by Aditya Chourasiya, titled “Scrum Master – Roles and Responsibilities”. Aditya describes “holding space” as a set of responsibilities that include:
  • Shield teams from interruptions to optimize the outcome
  • Facilitate effective Scrum ceremonies
  • Help Product Owners develop a positive rapport with their team and accept him/her as a part of the family
  • Step back and let the team learn from its own experience – successes, and mistakes.
Aditya’s article gets into the very practical aspects of the role, and I find that approach very useful when defining my own approach to “holding space”.

Taking Holding Space all the way up to “11”: Open Space Technology as a school for Scrum Masters

Open Space Technology, is an approach that helps people find solutions to difficult problems by working together, collaborating on possible answers to those problems.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because that’s what we expect Scrum Masters to do when it comes to the teams and their search for a solution. We want Scrum Masters to help the team find a solution (or more) for a difficult problem, by collaborating inside the team, and with outside contributors, other teams, or stakeholders.
That brings me to another resource (WARNING: this is a book, not a blog post!): The Tao of Holding Space, a book by Chris Corrigan. This is a long read, and I don’t expect everyone to read it. So let me review some key takeaways from the book.
Chris is a seasoned Open Space Technology facilitator and often writes about facilitation at all levels and all kinds of organizations. Therefore he has a lot of experience to share on “holding the space” and what that means in practice.
One of the inspiring phrases from his book is right there in chapter 1, and I think it describes perfectly what the Scrum Master role is about: “Harrison Owen wrote that “holding space” is an act that is at once totally present and totally invisible”.
And the book goes on with inspiring phrases. In chapter 2, Chris writes: “Sitting in stillness invites [other] people to move.” This reminds us that when we don’t take action – as Scrum Masters – we are helping others “find the space” to express their own ability to lead and help the team.
In chapter 10, we are reminded of one of the key aspects of Open Space Technology: “Whatever happens is the only thing that could have”. This encourages us to work with what happens in the team, instead of trying to direct the team towards what we think is “the right thing”. Accepting what happens in the team, at every turn, is also part of “holding the space”

Conclusion

This is a short blog post about what “holding the space” is for Scrum Masters.
It has some very practical blog posts and a resource that inspires us to look at the activity of “holding space” from a different perspective: the Open Space Technology perspective.
“Holding the Space” is not just a phrase, it’s a very practical and pragmatic thing we do as Scrum Masters.
What is your approach to “holding the space”? Share your thoughts below!

SPECIAL XMAS BONUS: Yogini Moodley on learning to speak freely as an engine of improvement for Agile teams

For Christmas week 2020, we have a special treat for you. Yves Hanoulle and I interview great Agilists and Scrum Masters that you will probably not hear from in your local Agile conference. 

These are people that are really pushing the state of the practice, and we want to bring their forward-looking, and hopeful ideas to you in our Christmas Special Week for 2020.

 

When Yogini took on her Scrum Master journey, she noticed that there was more friction in the team. Curious, she looked into the reasons for that friction. After all, they had just left Waterfall-like ways of working behind. What was causing that friction? Was it Agile? As she looked more into it, she found that Agile had something to do with it, but the real reason for the friction between team members was that they were, for the first time, honestly discussing the problems they were facing. They were no longer apathetic, and that was visible in the level of friction between them. 

Another side effect of Agile adoption, Yogini noticed, was that the team was much more productive, “they did more in a month, than I thought was possible in six!” Yogini shares. 

A key lesson for Agile teams: speak freely 

This story led to a key lesson for Yogini. Agile teams improve and transform their ways of working when they speak freely and aren’t afraid to tackle tough conversations. 

When teams finally take on the difficult topics that are impeding their progress, they often fail to reach consensus. However, as Yogini reminds us, that’s no reason not to act. “Buy-in does not imply consensus!” She reminds us.

Retrospectives as the engine of growth and learning

Retrospectives are the aspect of Agile methodologies that Yogini wants to highlight as key for teams and individuals working in an Agile environment.

And in that spirit, Yogini recommends Agile Retrospectives by Diana Larsen and Esther Derby as the book for all agilists to read and learn from.

In the spirit of self-improvement, Yogini mentions and recommends the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. She reminds us that part of the Scrum Master’s responsibility is to improve herself, otherwise, improvements elsewhere are less likely to happen.

The Christmas Agile Message from Yogini Moodley

Yogini asks us, in this festive season, to take time to reflect, and practice being mindful of what we do, say, and feel. The challenge she leaves us with: “think about the habits you have at the moment, and what you’d like to leave behind, in 2020”

Merry Christmas friends!

Do you wish you had decades of experience? Learn from the Best Scrum Masters In The World, Today! The Tips from the Trenches – Scrum Master edition audiobook includes hours of audio interviews with SM’s that have decades of experiences: from Mike Cohn to Linda Rising, Christopher Avery, and many more. Super-experienced Scrum Masters share their hard-earned lessons with you. Learn those today, make your teams awesome!

About Yogini Moodley

Yogini is a certified Scrum Master and agile practitioner, with extensive experience in the financial services industry, in roles that encompass both business and technology. She is passionate about enriching the lives of people and nurturing and growing teams to deliver value to their customers, and an active member of the agile community locally and globally. 

You can link with Yogini Moodley on LinkedIn and connect with Yogini Moodley on Twitter

You can also find out more about Yogini Moodley’s company at their website.

BONUS: Justin Chapman on becoming one of today’s top Agile leaders, lessons for Scrum Masters just getting started

Justin published a book named “Become on of today’s top agile leaders”, where he shares his lessons learned on becoming a top Agile practitioner and leader. 

In this episode, we explore his lessons learned and learn about the key topics in the book. 

You can get Justin’s book here.

Even when Agile is bought into, it’s hard to make significant progress

Continue reading BONUS: Justin Chapman on becoming one of today’s top Agile leaders, lessons for Scrum Masters just getting started

BONUS: Peter Oliver-Krueger and Michael Dougherty on shifting from “product” to “people” centric practices in your Agile adoption

Download the first chapters of the book Shift: From Product to People at: https://bit.ly/shift_book

If you have already accessed the book, you can log back in at: https://www.oikosofyseries.net/login

Peter and Michael just finished the first half of a book they are writing together on the topic of shifting our attention, and focus from the “product” focused techniques to “people” focused techniques in order to achieve superior performance. 

The first four chapters of the book are freely available here. Sign-up to get the first four chapters today.

Listen to the podcast with Peter and Michael in the player below, and check out the show notes with the details of the topics discussed.

The third wave of Agile adoption: People focus

As Peter and Michael describe it, we went through different phases of Agile adoption in the industry. The first phase was a move away from projects and into a “product” thinking approach to software development. The move to focus on people is according to Peter and Michael, the third major shift in our industry.  Continue reading BONUS: Peter Oliver-Krueger and Michael Dougherty on shifting from “product” to “people” centric practices in your Agile adoption

BONUS: The top 3 challenges to better retrospectives with David Horowitz

In this episode, we interview David Horowitz who’s the CEO of Retrium, a company that builds tools to help you facilitate remote retrospectives. The links to Retrium’s Retrospectives Academy below are affiliate links, if you prefer to follow a link that takes you to Retrium’s site, but does not give anything back to the podcast, you can. Just follow this link: Retrium.com. On the other hand, if you want to help us grow this podcast, you can follow the links below or this link to Retrium’s Retrospective’s Academy.

As David started his Scrum Master journey, he was faced with a big challenge. He struggled with remote retrospectives. No wonder, he ended up creating and being the CEO for a remote retrospectives company. He experienced the pain first-hand! 

As he got started experimenting, he found the Lean Coffee format to be effective (see our Lean Coffee episodes). However, he found that even when the format worked well, there was something else missing. 

The collaboration that can be had when the team is in the same room simply isn’t the same when we are all remote, and sometimes even without video! 

Solving remote retrospectives, one tool at a time

Continue reading BONUS: The top 3 challenges to better retrospectives with David Horowitz

BONUS: Boosting collaboration with an Internal Unconference, Gene Connolly and Jeff Campbell

Jeff is the author of Actionable Agile tools (available on Amazon, and direct from the author at bit.ly/aatbook).


Collaboration is one of the key aspects of focus for Scrum Masters. We are, and should always be on the lookout for way to improve collaboration in our teams, and across teams and departments. In this episode, we dive into a specific Actionable Agile Tool that aims to boost collaboration: The Internal Unconference. Gene and Jeff share their own experience organizing Internal Unconferences, and why this even may be exactly what you need to improve collaboration in your organization.

Discovering how to improve collaboration across departments

Continue reading BONUS: Boosting collaboration with an Internal Unconference, Gene Connolly and Jeff Campbell

How to coordinate #remote teams (and improve collaboration in #covid19 times)

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

We started a survey to collect your biggest challenges when it comes to transitioning to remote work. You can submit your answers here.

From that survey, the early results are conclusive, one of the biggest challenges you are facing right now is to help your teams coordinate their work, and collaborate effectively after transitioning to #Remote work.

So, to help you adapt to this new #Remote work reality, we collected the following strategies and tools for helping #Remote teams coordinate and collaborate effectively.

Scrum is #Remote ready, especially this one tool…

Read on for the full list…

Continue reading How to coordinate #remote teams (and improve collaboration in #covid19 times)

Working from home with Kids: Our #Remote work journey continues

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Many of us have started to work from home while our children are also at home, which presents additional challenges. Here’s a collected list of tips from our listeners on Twitter. You are not alone! Many others like you are working from home with kids!

Stay calm, be empathic with your colleagues

One of the most important rules when working from home is to respect each other, we are all in the same situation, we are all getting started in our #Remote work journey. A simple practice that will help you with this is to tell your self: “We are all figuring it out,” she said. “It might get a little messy.” Yes! It will, sometimes, get messy. But it will also improve over time.

Be understanding with your colleagues, give the example and say also to them at the start of your next call: “We are all figuring it out,” she said. “It might get a little messy.”

Use your mute button generously, but accept when the noise comes from the other side! Have a post-it ready to remind your colleagues they are not on mute. Be kind, though 🙂  

Pay attention to your children. You’ve gained time, give it to them

Our previous Scrum Master Toolbox Podcast guest and listener Bola Adesope reminds us that we have gained time by not having to commute. It’s only fair that you dedicate that time to your children. You will all benefit. In Bola’s own words:

Sotiris adds:

Talk to your partner/spouse. Agree on how you will help each other

Many of you are working from home with your spouse or partner. You are probably both in the same situation, so talk early about how to handle the situation.

Daniel suggests ~2 hours shifts, talk about it, and agree on what would work for you.

Another tip is to share your work meetings calendar with your spouse/partner and try to help each other. You may try to book meetings when one of the adults in the house is not having another meeting (if possible).

In any case, don’t forget: be empathic with your spouse/partner too! You are both going through the same experience.

Anna has a slightly different approach, she suggests short bursts (more likely to work with smaller children), it’s a bit like the famous Pomodoro technique (which some already call Mozarella technique because “Pomodoro” apparently have been trademarked 🤷🏻‍♂️)

Adjust your expectations, but know that you are learning and improving as you go

Rene reminds us:

Remember, this is what being empathic towards others and yourself means! However, you are an Agilist! You also know that you will be adapting and improving over time. Stay with it.

Create a routine of reflection, individually and with your partner/spouse. And if your kids are old enough include them in that reflection. They will benefit from your example and will learn to be deliberate about reflecting and adapting to novel situations in their lives.

Help your children learn and practice skills at home, it’s a win/win!

The final tip comes from Paul:


Do your children already want to practice a skill? Maybe playing the piano or guitar? Or learn how to draw? Help them out. Buy them an internet course, and let them practice. Those skills will be beneficial immediately for you, and in the future for them! It’s a win/win!

What other techniques and approaches have worked for you? Share your learnings below in the comments!

Stay healthy, #stayhome and enjoy your children!

5 Tips for those starting their #Remote work journey

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

I’ve worked remotely since 2014. Sometimes for weeks at a time. Most of that time as a Scrum Master or Agile Coach, so I’ve had to learn a few things about working with remote teams. Here are some of those tips that I’ve collected

Get used to booking 15 min sessions with colleagues

When we work remotely, it is quite normal to have more meetings. That’s how we synchronize our timetables. There are fewer opportunities to meet colleagues in the corridor, kitchen, or while walking out to lunch or a coffee break.

So, I started booking 15min session with colleagues, to be able to interact with them, but not completely disrupt their day (or mine).

Here are the rules I follow:

  1. Book the 15min session just before or after a meeting they already have in the calendar (to avoid breaking up their un-interrupted time)
  2. If I need a decision, I send an email ahead with the topic and a few possible decisions (3 is a good number)
  3. Keep discussions short, if no solution can be found, book another call while talking to my colleagues

My goal with these 15min sessions is to keep in touch and get work done in short bursts. Turns out (based on my experience) that most 1h meetings can be avoided by having short 15min sessions to make decisions. However, sometimes that’s not enough, and we book another session for later that day or the day after.

Have breaks!

One of the hardest lessons for me to learn though, was the need to have breaks. When working remotely, all my colleagues are literally a few keystrokes away. There’s no physical barrier (thought there might be a mental one, more on that later). This means you end up having back-to-back meetings, and not getting up from your seat, which may make you feel productive, but will negatively impact your health and creativity.

In my experience, having a 10-15min break every 2 hours is a good rule of thumb, although sometimes I do get up and walk around more often than that. To keep me active in those breaks I either play a game (I’m a big FIFA fan) or do exercise (I bought rubber bands to do strength when traveling or at home).

I’ve learned that a 10-15 min break will help me be more creative when I get back to the “zone”.

Create a routine

I’ve developed my own routine over time, and I expect you will too. Over time, I learned that sitting down right after breakfast is my best strategy. I have breakfast and get right down to the most important tasks (I keep all my tasks in Evernote. Although I’ve tried other tools, I feel text files are my best tool).

After the first work burst, I’ll walk around, play a game and think of the next tasks.

I usually have meetings only in the afternoon (I’m a morning) person, and in the evening. Between the morning and afternoon slots, I have a longer break, maybe an hour or so.

Because I usually have evening meetings, I break up the afternoon with a walk outside to go shopping or go running.

That’s my routine, but you should think about what works for you. Are you a morning person? Or are you more productive in the afternoon?

Set up a workplace you are proud of (you will be on video often!)

When I started to work remotely, I used whatever space was available at home. That’s great for when you get started, but over time you will feel a bit out of place, or get tired of setting up and tearing down your workspace. Recently I’ve bought a green screen and a good camera to be able to create a space that I’m proud of. In the picture to the right is my “morning” workspace. I feel like I’m in a real office, and so do my colleagues!

If you have a sufficiently powerful computer, ZOOM will handle the lack of green screen, so there’s no need to invest in that. And if you use Skype you can blur the background so that your presence pops-up on video. Pro tip: surprise your colleagues with the “coolest” office you can find online! PS: I use PIXABAY and Google image search to scout the net for office spaces.

Track your work, keep yourself accountable

Over time, I’ve had to learn to be even more organized when working from home than when I had an office to go to. Working from home means that you have less of the implicit signs from people coming to talk to you, or having coffee break chats. #Remote workers are both in charge of their work, but also have less information available to make the right priority calls. Because of that, I’ve started to write down what I want to achieve when I start working. I have a “today’s tasks” note on Evernote, and keep all my work there. I write down everything I need to achieve for that day and will jot down future ideas on a future date.

I start my day by writing down the date and listing the tasks/achievements for the day (see image). During the day that list will change, and I’ll also write down tasks/achievements under future dates.

My system is loosely based on David Allen’s Getting Things Done system. If you don’t have a task management system, start now. Start with pen and paper, and slowly try out and adopt a digital tool.

I might write a longer post about my time-management and work-management system. I’ve developed it over quite a few years and learned what works for me (and what does not).

These were 5 simple tips that I’ve learned work for me. What works for you? What questions do you have? Share your experiences and lessons learned below.