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Refreshment for weary agile teams


In a recent article on the website of the Scrum Alliance Bob Martin addresses the problem of Scrum teams which after a period of hyper-productivity faces declining productivity and team morale.  His article aims to lay out a possible path back to high-performance and great outputs and client delight.  The key he claims to get the team back to a stage where it can go fast and stay clean.  And, he continues, both productivity and the output have to be measured.  He suggests to utilize engineering practices of eXtreme Programming (XP) such as Test Driven Development (TDD), Continuous Integration, Pair Programming, Collective Ownership, and Refactoring.

So much can be said: Bob’s article is convincing.  It is important that we need to keep our teams go fast and stay clean.  However, is measuring productivity and rewarding teams at the core of re-aligning flagging teams?!  I don’t think so.  What I think causes declining productivity and a deteriorating team morale along with lower quality deliverables is often an imbalance of the factors that ensure project success.  Let me tell you what these factors are and how you can find out if your own team fulfills these preconditions for success.

First, the team needs to have a common understanding of the project vision.  A project vision goes beyond project objectives or in the case of Scrum it goes beyond the Sprint or Product Backlog. A vision defines the purpose of the project or product in the first place.  We all know that requirements change throughout the lifecycle of a project.  The vision is less prone to changes.  The key is that the team understands and lives the vision.  For this to happen they need to be able to relate to the vision in its daily project life.  It needs to motivate and drive their activities.

Second, effective collaboration is not static.  It needs to be nurtured.  Just because you have a performing and hyper-productive team in one sprint doesn’t guarantee that this will go on forever.  Collaboration has to be nurtured on an ongoing basis for it to bear the desired fruits which is a high-performance team.

Third, performance is important and it needs to be promoted.  This is where Bob’s list of engineering practices comes in very handy as they help promote performance on the individual and team level.

Fourth, ongoing productivity and performance require reflection and continuous improvement.  Create a culture of learning in your team.  Often teams neglect proper regular retrospectives or lessons learned sessions.  The momentum and excitement of the beginning have flattened.  In such a situation I recommend to bring in an outside person to facilitate a lessons learned workshop and review the work of the team.  It is necessary and laudable that the team holds regular retrospectives.  This is no substitute to conduct external project reviews.  Provided they aim to identify ways and means to boost productivity and performance of the team.

Fifth, ensuring ongoing results should be a given in any Scrum team.  But is it really?  How tangible are our deliverables?  And how much value to they add to the customer?  Do they really delight the customer?  Have we lost touch with the customer?  Are the deliverables in sync with the overall vision of the project and/or product?

All of these 5 principles have to be balanced.  It is not that there is one principle which is the most important one.  They all have to be balanced.  And it is up to the team to do so.  If the team cannot see the trees in a forest, someone has to stand up to this task.  It is a question of leadership and it is a question of success.

To learn more about what it takes to re-align a weary scrum team, read book “Leadership Principles for Project Success” (CRC Press, 2011) or contact me directly.

Posted in: Agile, Book, Leadership, Project Management

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