Reinvigorate Your Organization With Fresh Eyes Through Scrum
Before you read:
The following is a generalized description of problems I have seen. The path offered is just one-path; there are more. You will find a mix of Scrum Mastering and Product Ownership issues that form a common line of concerns many corporations face.
Corporations face aging products1 and an aging workforce2. Many large corporations are secure in their market position, but will they stay there? These companies have the financial means to sustain a substantial loss, providing them with a safe margin for error - Are they lax?
The door for nimble, smart competition remains wide open and invites a direct attack on what was once an unimaginable and unassailable position in the marketplace. The products need to evolve to stay competitive, yet, they cannot do so for reasons like the following:
- Unacknowledged loss of memory and aging minds
- Lost expertise from retirement
- Large crevices of technical debt that resist change
- Legacy systems that were built with an understanding that is no longer present
- Regulatory frameworks that make enhancement cost prohibitive
- A desire for the status quo in organizational structure
- An unspoke belief that nothing makes a difference
- Long tenure in one position that locks in corporate structure
- Failure to provide a means for meritus advancement
- A lack of appreciation of mentorship to the next generation and reverse mentoring
- Reciprocal systems that strengthen dedication to the company and self-development
- Old habits ingrained by ineffective cultural norms
- A growth mindset that sees new opportunities where others do not
How can a corporation overcome these obstacles? How vulnerable are they?
Find Fresh Eyes:
Professionals, switching from mastery in one domain to another, provide a means for corporations to reinvigorate their product lines and culture. Many large organizations face aging baby boomer groups with tremendous expertise in their product lines. Unfortunately, many baby boomer experts have already retired or forgotten more than they know about the products they built; acknowledging this loss is akin to accepting that we all grow old.
The right professional intent on mastering another domain can provide fresh eyes and the germ for something different. An excellent cultural mixture has new professionals focused on mastery, existing professionals that engage and mentor, young professionals seeking mastery, and professional teams. Teams are the mixing pots we stir to brew greatness in product development, and teams are the essence of Scrum. Teams provide the best means to build understanding, products, culture, and resilient systems.
Get hands-on, Get your hands dirty, and dig in. You need engineering leaders who favor action over prolonged periods of sitting and talking. There is a need for talk, but those conversations should be moderated and kept short.
Spend each day getting a handle on workflow - walk around product stations and surface hidden concerns. Leadership must be tireless to understand what is happening in product development today and show they care by being hands-on (this does not mean micro-managing!). Leadership listens far more than they talk.
Product Ownership decides what to detach from (let go) and what to attach to (hold close). Most product features fail; identifying promising features and evolving those features is where success blooms. Leading your teams with confidence in an uncertain environment builds greatness. Make small steps and adapt. Do not allow fear, anxiety, and doubt to debilitate your confidence in decision-making.
The most important meeting of the day should be no meeting of the day. Instead, adapt and shepherd along conversations that lead to action. Absorb a comprehensive picture of progress so that the next steps originate from ground-floor observation, not hopes and dreams.
Build a Dynamic Culture:
Scrum Teams typically leverage four practical time-based rhythms to generate results, capture feedback, and build dynamic culture.
- Intra-day teams manage their attention and swarm effectively on the work-at-hand.
- Daily teams review and adjust their plan for that day’s work.
- Weekly/Sprintly teams guide and select for next steps.
- Long-term teams assess market impact, ROI, vision, mission, progress, etc.
Long-term is often less predictable and harder to assess. Complex environments are loosely predictable. Favor speed of adaptation over the fight for prediction. Leadership must adjust expectations and not let fear of uncertainty cloud production teams' efforts.
Scrum Teams leverage all four rhythms. The production teams focus more on the first 1-3, and the leadership teams focus more on the last 4-2. Effectively, multi-team environments meet in the middle, where friction naturally occurs, and we identify opportunities.
Team relations are improved a long way, and everyday leadership seeks to strengthen them.
Do Quality Work:
Road signs of quality should demark all aspects of product engineering. Without quality work, future change is crippled or completely disabled. You must avoid evolving a mess in engineering that leads to dead design. Dead design can set your efforts back to 0 or worse.
To seek speed over quality is gross incompetence and a failure of leadership. Focusing on speed will create a mess, especially in complex problem domains—instead, nurture pride in craftsmanship everywhere. Pride in craftsmanship does not guarantee results; however, it is a far better bet than a mess.
Get Out of the Way:
There is executive oversight. Still, it should have minimal impact on production teams. It should not tie production up with
- Long meetings,
- Progress reports,
- Audit needs,
- Imposed processes,
- Budgeting anxiety,
- Quarterly earning noise,
- Stock buybacks, and
- other activities meant to appease the emotional concerns of untamed uncertainty.
Uncertainty is a reality, and focusing on unproductive emotional processing that does not lead to quick action is counterproductive. Counter emotional uncertainty with an action-oriented mindset and good leadership. Keep extraneous interference (fear) away from your production teams.
There exists a need for executive leadership, but their product is an environment that enables production by limiting extraneous interference (fear) and encouraging collaborative outcomes (wins).
Move Early, Often, and in Small Steps:
Design acceptance trials and strengthen feedback loops vigorously so that engineering can detect how to adapt the product. Keep the cost of change to a minimum to accommodate future changes.
When building complex products, believing you will know what to do before trying to do something is arrogant. Again, move in small steps (agile), produce quality outputs, study impact for feedback, adjust, and do it again. Your goal is a product that can impact the marketplace and displace competitors. You should encourage adaptive, energized teams that see each setback as an opportunity to understand and evolve the product.
Adjust plans to the needs of the product. Sometimes things are more predictable, and additional preparation can help roll things out smoothly. Prove it! If yes, continue, or you just talked yourselves into a fantasy with no factual basis. Base plans on observable facts, not hopes of predictability, and that the universe will stop upsetting your dreams. Work in small steps (agile), confirm what you are doing quickly, and adjust whenever necessary.
If you feel profoundly stuck, do something, anything at all, and quickly regroup. Avoid sitting still and contemplating how to make perfect steps. Ask questions like ‘What else can we try?’ Action-oriented is better.
Relationships among the teams are paramount. Each team member should be engaged at some social level and actively share information, review, and pool knowledge with team members. Each team member should willingly swarm with members of other teams.
Train each team member in technical skills and effective collaboration. Train each team member that feedback and action are encouraged and that being right is not as important as the right idea. Yes, egos need a pat on the back but not at the expense of collaboration or product outcomes.
Do not live in fear of losing a great resource. If someone wants to leave, then let ‘them’. Accommodating each person’s demands sickens and weakens the team. Sick, weak teams do not build great products and ultimately cost the company far more. If you fear the cost of personnel change, you will become paralyzed trying to make perfect steps and avoid discomfort, which signals the need for change. If one person is that important, why have you not mitigated the risk of loss? Lower the cost of change. Hire for great teams. Set up reciprocal merit systems that reward a culture of collaborative behavior. “Oh, so and so works best alone -- it's their personality type.” well, encourage them to work elsewhere; you will screw up your teams, products, and culture if you accommodate them.
That means credit for favorable outcomes and impact is showered on the teams rather than on leadership. Outstanding leadership does not seek the limelight of attention and praise for personal, professional, or monetary advancement. Great leaders are reluctantly pulled into the limelight by their subordinates and peers. Great leaders do not undermine the direction of the teams by seeking to show authority over subordinates simply to appease their ego or desire to display power. It's not about being right; it's about better ideas and outcomes - always (Note: that is not a rule for the narrow-minded to distort and justify their bad behavior).
- Move early, often, and in small steps (agile).
- Work as a team (scrum).
- Allow the team to pull work; don’t push (lean).
- Adapt to reality and adjust (agility).
- Explain and acknowledge decisions, especially failures (accountability).
- Clarify decision-making authority (ownership).
- Display confidence even when you are not (leadership).
Scrum Teams (3-8 people) are the center point for all long-term success. If you cannot build a great team in the small, greatness in the large will be impossible. Scaled Agile frameworks that cannot prove small teams are fantasy3, and adopting one is akin to a drug-induced high -- it will be deflated4 by reality (it might take a while (months or years), but it will happen). The company's product line has the best chance for long-term success when leadership positions for Professional Scrum Teams.
We can ensure the future if we adopt an improvement mindset. Scrum provides a team-based approach to building great products, and leadership must be the counterweight tone to reinvigorate when weakness inevitably shows up.
Can Scrum help reinvigorate your organization with fresh eyes in the face of dual crises?
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