Archives: August 27, 2013

Panic Zone

Had another glorious day out with my nephew last week. This time I took him to Blakeney for a picnic, more crabbing and then we went out on Beans Boats to see the seals at the point. I love animals and going to see the seals has become like a pilgrimage each year for me. Disappointedly we did only catch 5 crabs, but I blame my brother who forgot the bacon. Fish heads just did not cut it!

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We also had the Agile Coaching Exchange (ACE) with Nigel Baker who presented his Optimus Prime and Change session. It addresses organisational evolution towards a Scrum Method. Nigel is one of the funniest people in Scrum I know and he didn’t disappoint me on the night, his humour was on form. Most amusing had to be the teaching of the pisello technique. Well you have heard of the pomodoro technique of time boxing for 20 minutes, well this is the time boxing of 20 seconds. It translates to Pea!

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So on the topic of changing organisations I want to talk about one of the key challenges that I tend to come up against.  When people ask me what the best part of my job is I say ‘people’. Ask me what the worst is and I say ‘People’

Every coach has faced people who are happy with status quo and don’t outwardly support the way the organisation is heading with its delivery method. So as coaches, how can we help them on the journey?

A few years ago I was introduced to the 3 zones model.

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The Comfort Zone

The comfort zone is where we are the majority of the time. It’s the location of the skills and abilities we’ve built up over our career. In the comfort zone we are the most ‘comfortable’ . However we cannot develop ourselves and build new skills when we are in this zone. It consists of the abilities we can already do easily.

The Panic Zone

Have you ever become so worried you can’t focus? Then you’ve probably been in the panic zone at some point of your life.  Activities in the panic zone are so tough that we don’t even know how to approach them. The overall feeling of the panic zone is that you are uncomfortable and possibly discouraged. Like the comfort zone, we can’t make progress or learn in the panic zone.

The Learning Zone

Between the panic zone and the comfort zone is the learning zone. You only develop yourself further by embracing activities that are in the learning zone. The skills and abilities that are just out of reach are in the learning zone; they’re neither so far away that we panic nor close enough where they’re too easy.

So how does this relate to organisational transformation?

When we go into organisation as coaches and come across resistance, it means that we have possibly pushed people into the ‘Panic’ zone. We have to identify what their panic is and then work with them to resolve it. Here are a few examples of ‘panics’ that I come across most frequently:

  • What does this mean to me? Will I still have a job?
  • What if I cannot do this new role?
  • I do not want to dilute my skills
  • I was a manager, am I not anymore?

There are many more examples, but we need to consider how we approach the change and not push people into ‘Panic ‘ and shut themselves down. We need to articulate the change through a vision and ensure that we know what the current end state is anticipated to be, and how people fit into that picture.

We need to anticipate that certain people will need 121 coaching to help support them through the change and consider how they can be incorporate into the change to help influence others.

People are at the core of our business and so we need to invest the appropriate time and effort supporting them through the change and our lives as coaches will be easier.

There is another category of people who do not openly show their fear with reluctance or negativity. These are the ones who claim to get and support Agile, but their behaviours tell you otherwise. They think they are being cunning to disguise their true feelings, but it’s pretty apparent. The above won’t work for them, but I reckon that’s another blog in itself!

Final thoughts

I want you to consider your approach to working with individuals, teams and organisations and how you can coach them to be in the optimal place of the Learning Zone.


Retrospectives

As a child my parents used to take me and my brother to Wells next the sea for holidays. I have to say it is my favourite beach and it brings back many fond child hood memories for me.

Faced with what to do with my parents, my nephew and the dog for 4 days recently, I happened to be cruising the internet and came up with the brainwave to relive my youth and booked up a caravan for us all at the very same site. This was my opportunity to take my nephew on the same adventures his dad and I had when we were younger.

Now, those that know me wouldn’t expect the words Helen and caravan to be in the same sentence, but I took the risk and ensured that I ordered the luxury version. I must say though that caravans have significantly improved since my child hood!

Wells has a fantastic beach, pretty woods and a little train to take you to the quaint town centre. Once in town, there’s time for the rock shop, fish and chips and a spot of crabbing. I whole heartedly recommend paying a visit if you have never done so.

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So whilst I was reminiscing and retrospecting with my nephew,  a couple of my friends were struggling to retrospect with their own teams. One was advised that ‘The team didn’t need a retrospective as nothing has happened’ and the other was encouraged to squeeze it into 30 minutes. Even the most mature teams would struggle in 30 minutes, but this team was only on sprint 3 and most certainly needed to discuss their issues.

This is not the first time I have seen these behaviours. Teams are not always seeing the value of retrospectives, and from my experience I would say the reasons are in the following areas:

  • They are not engaging for the team
  • Improvements or challenges get discussed, but nothing ever get resolved
  • Not facilitated well so the lose momentum and focus

Let’s tackle these one at a time.

Making your retrospectives engaging

It never ceases to amaze me how many people I meet who don’t vary their retrospective techniques, and still use the classic (What went well, didn’t go well, etc).

I encourage 3 types of retrospectives;

  • Team retrospective – A look at the last iteration from the Scrum Team perspective
  • Release retrospective – A look over a release or period of time and could include people external to the Scrum Team
  • Deep dive – A targeted retro to tackle a specific problem e.g. Why do we never complete all the stories?

There are great books and websites out there that host a whole plethora of techniques for every possible situation you find yourself in. Each team is different and will have their favourites, but variety is the spice of life. One of my earlier teams were extremely creative and so they got the most out of the drawing, word association and improve types. Others were more data driven around milestones.

Never be afraid to try out new techniques and if they don’t work, move onto the next. No one wants to be doing the same one forever! I also encourage that you get people up and active, no one wants to be glued to a seat.

Continuously Improve

Why wouldn’t you get demotivated if you are raising issues or improvements that never get actioned, and are talked about sprint after sprint. As ScrumMasters and Coaches we should be encouraging the teams to discuss these items, find solutions and take the actions into the sprint. We cap these at 2 or 3 per sprint to ensure that they are committed to and can be resolved. We need to ensure that we allow time to complete these activities as part of the sprint planning meeting.

We should also be encouraging those larger action items to be raised as user stories, and discussed with the Product Owner for scheduling as part of the Product Backlog.

Regardless of how we action them, all of the issues or improvements need to be stored, visible and brought to each of the retrospective meetings so they aren’t forgotten, and can be brought into play at any time.

Also as a ScrumMaster consider whether it makes sense for you to resolve any of these for the team yourself  E.g. Getting super sticky post it notes as the others fall off the wall.

Ultimately if the team see that issues are resolved and improvements implemented, it will encourage them to raise and resolve more. Leading to high performance  and self organisation.

Get organised

It is not acceptable to rock up unprepared. You need to prepare! Even seasoned professionals need time out to think about how they are going to facilitate the session, and help to drive out learning and information.

I usually book a timeslot of 2 hours for a retrospective and look to reduce this as the team matures. Conducting a release retrospective can take up to half a day depending on complexity of the release. Either way, leave yourself plenty of time to achieve the goal.

The book Agile Retrospectives by Esther Derby & Diana Larsen gives a good structure for us to follow and the percentage of time suggested for each section.

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  • Set the Stage 10-15%
  • Gather Data 15-20%
  • Generate Insight 15-20%
  • Decide What To Do 20-25%
  • Close 10-15%
  • (Breaks 10-15%)

Using this structure,  slot in the format of the retrospective and maybe an ice breaker or closing game for the team enjoyment. Icebreakers are a great way to get people talking and can be used on teams that have been together for a while also. It is a fact that if you can get people to engage and speak in the first 5 minutes of a meeting, then their contribution to the meeting will be increased compared to those who did not speak.

Facilitation of this meeting is another important aspect. ScrumMasters need to be reading the unsaid word in the room through looking at the teams body language, and listening to what they are saying. Using these observations you can then interject with powerful questions to help draw out more information or feelings.

Sometimes I come across very laissez-faire ScrumMasters. There is nothing wrong with having a laissez-faire style of leadership, however some use it as an excuse to take a back seat. They can sometimes hide behind saying they want the team to solve their own problems. I agree that teams need to solve their own challenges, however sometimes the lack of facilitation by the ScrumMaster is not laissez-faire but lack of interest or they don’t understand the problem. Never be afraid to give options on how you have seen other companies solve similar problems. This can point them in the right direction, but ultimately they will implement what’s best for them.

Final thoughts

Retrospectives are a must have part of any team and the appropriate time and consideration need to be given to them.

I challenge you to take a look at your own practices in this area and see where you can make improvements.

Get in contact if you need any help or want to brainstorm techniques.