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Agile Product Team

Why Team Ownership Matters

Product ownership is one key factor in successful steering the direction of a product. It’s the capability for a team to autonomously shape and evolve their product based on a shared agreement. This autonomy, however, isn’t without responsibility; it demands accountability for the product’s trajectory and necessitates the use of methods and tools to forecast its future.

Product ownership in Agile methodologies offers a distinctive advantage – the ability to respond swiftly to change. Short feedback cycles empower teams to make informed decisions based on real-time data. This adaptability is crucial in a dynamic market where customer preferences and industry trends can shift rapidly. By minimizing external influence, teams gain the autonomy to collaboratively shape the product, aligning development efforts with Agile principles of flexibility and responsiveness.

Yet, autonomy in product ownership is a shared responsibility between the team and management. Agile coaches play a pivotal role in fostering the team’s willingness and capabilities to take ownership. Through coaching, they emphasize the intrinsic value derived from responsibility and accountability. Simultaneously, for autonomy to thrive, management must actively recognize and support the team’s ownership. Without such support, teams risk being relegated to mere executors of features rather than architects of innovative products. True empowerment emerges when the team’s autonomy is not just tolerated but actively supported, creating a culture of belief in the product throughout the organization.

Within Agile teams, a diverse mix of backgrounds, including software developers and those with product and customer experience, often prevails. However, the challenge lies in transitioning from a role focused on coding and feature implementation to actively deciding the product’s future. It’s not merely about coding proficiency; it’s about acquiring a holistic understanding of customers, market dynamics, competitors, and viable monetization strategies. The challenge is in broadening the team’s expertise beyond technical domains to encompass the intricacies of product strategy and market positioning.

In the traditional Agile landscape, product owners often hold sway in deciding the next feature. However, the full potential of an Agile team is unleashed when product owners consider the unique knowledge, skills, and time constraints of each team member. Agile product owners and coaches create an environment where developers are encouraged to take ownership. This collaborative approach is not just theoretical; it is actively communicated through various channels, such as speeches, blog posts, and daily interactions. Agile leadership finds its manifestation in routine Agile meetings like Scrum Daily and Scrum Refinement, providing platforms for inclusive decision-making and shared ownership.

While I think the advocated approach of seamless collaboration in decision-making and taking ownership as the 100% right way, I acknowledge the rarity of encountering this ideal scenario. It is my persuasive call to action. I urge readers, to explore and implement this approach within their teams and organizations. The emphasis lies on the potential benefits in product success and team satisfaction. While the ideal may be aspirational, the pursuit of enhanced ownership and collaboration promises tangible improvements in product outcomes and team dynamics.

Company benefits

When teams wholeheartedly embrace ownership of a product, companies stand to reap a myriad of benefits that extend far beyond the development phase. The alignment of the team’s collective focus with the success of the product becomes a catalyst for overall organizational growth. Here are some notable advantages:

Increased Accountability:

Teams taking ownership foster a culture of accountability. Each team member becomes more invested in the product’s success, leading to a heightened sense of responsibility for delivering high-quality results.

Enhanced Product Quality:

Ownership often translates to a deeper understanding of the product and its intricacies. Teams, when empowered, are more likely to strive for excellence, resulting in a product of higher quality that aligns closely with user needs.

Innovative Problem Solving:

An empowered team is more likely to approach challenges proactively. With ownership comes a sense of empowerment that encourages innovative problem-solving, enabling teams to navigate hurdles creatively and efficiently.

Improved Communication and Collaboration

Ownership fosters a collaborative environment where team members communicate effectively. Shared responsibility encourages open dialogue, leading to improved collaboration, knowledge sharing, and a more cohesive team dynamic.

Adaptability to Change

Teams with ownership are inherently more adaptable. The agile nature of product ownership allows for quick adjustments based on market changes or user feedback, ensuring the product remains relevant and competitive.

Efficient Decision-Making

With ownership, decision-making becomes more streamlined. Empowered teams can make decisions efficiently, avoiding unnecessary bureaucracy and delays. This agility is crucial in rapidly evolving markets.

Employee Satisfaction and Retention

Ownership over a product creates a sense of pride and accomplishment among team members. This increased job satisfaction contributes to higher employee retention rates, reducing the costs and challenges associated with employee turnover.

Customer-Centric Approach

Teams that take ownership inherently adopt a customer-centric mindset. They are more likely to empathize with users, resulting in products that genuinely address customer needs and preferences.

Faster Time-to-Market

Ownership accelerates the development process. Teams, empowered to make decisions, can respond promptly to market demands, ensuring faster time-to-market for new features or product releases.

Long-Term Product Vision

Teams with ownership are better positioned to contribute to the long-term vision of the product. Their understanding of user needs and market dynamics enables them to align development efforts with the broader strategic goals of the company.

In essence, a team that takes ownership of a product becomes a driving force for the company’s success. The synergy between individual commitment and organizational objectives creates a positive feedback loop, fostering an environment where innovation, collaboration, and adaptability thrive. The investment in empowering teams to take ownership pays dividends not only in the quality of the product but also in the sustained growth and resilience of the entire company.

Skills, Methods and Tools

Mastering a comprehensive set of skills, employing effective methods, and utilizing the right tools are paramount for success. A successful product ownership journey requires a strategic blend of technical proficiency, collaborative skills, and a toolbox equipped with methodologies tailored to understand user needs and market dynamics. In the following section, we delve into a curated list of skills, methods, and tools essential for teams aspiring to fulfil ownership of their products. These elements collectively empower teams to navigate challenges, make informed decisions, and drive product success in today’s competitive and ever-evolving market.

The journey towards product success is intricately tied to the ethos of team ownership. As we’ve explored the skills, methods, and tools that empower teams, it becomes evident that the benefits extend well beyond the realm of project completion. A culture of ownership not only enhances product quality, innovation, and adaptability but also contributes to a harmonious and motivated team dynamic. As we embrace the principles of agility and collaboration, let us recognize that true success lies in the hands of those who take ownership, driving excellence, and steering organizations towards sustained growth. Through collective empowerment, teams become architects of their own success, shaping a future where product triumphs are synonymous with the unwavering commitment of those who truly own their endeavors.

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Agile Team

Onboarding : The Scrum Master’s Role

Scrum masters love to work with stable teams. But sometimes the outside world kicks. Colleages leave the team and other arrive. As a Scrum Master, your mission is to guide the new colleagues through the twists and turns, helping them seamlessly integrate into the team’s dynamic while ensuring that Agile principles remain at the forefront. In this blog post, we’ll explore the challenges and solutions involved in the art of onboarding new team members in an Agile software development environment.
Let’s dive into the intricate world of Agile onboarding and discover how the Scrum Master plays a pivotal role in this intricate process.

Aligning Onboarding with Agile Principles

Agile principles emphasize trust, collaboration, and delivering value. These principles can guide you through the onboarding process. Trust your team to get the job done, and extend that trust to your new colleagues. Embrace change and recognize that external factors may trigger adjustments to your team’s composition.
To adhere to the principle of delivering value frequently, avoid assigning newcomers to menial „newbie“ tasks. Instead, empower them to work on valuable tasks from the outset, allowing them to contribute meaningfully to the team’s goals. Regularly reflect on the onboarding process as you would on your product development to ensure its efficiency and effectiveness. Involve the entire team in these reflections to encourage a culture of continuous improvement.

Fostering Collaboration and Trust

From day one, trust every new colleague to deliver their best value and leverage their skills to benefit the team. Encourage them to work on tasks that contribute directly to the product, avoiding trivial assignments that serve merely as onboarding exercises. This approach not only integrates them faster but also reinforces their sense of ownership and accountability.
Furthermore, invite new team members to share their fresh perspectives on the development process and team dynamics. In the initial weeks, they may identify inefficiencies or opportunities for improvement that more experienced team members might overlook. This open dialogue builds trust and ensures that any impediments or issues are promptly addressed.
By implementing these strategies, you can streamline the onboarding process, enhance collaboration, and empower new colleagues to become valuable contributors to your Scrum team. Agile principles serve as your compass, guiding you through the ever-changing journey of integrating new talent.
In conclusion, onboarding new colleagues in an Agile environment demands adaptability, trust, and a commitment to delivering value. As a Scrum Master, your role is to facilitate this process while maintaining the team’s cohesion and adherence to Agile principles. By embracing change, fostering trust, and prioritizing value-driven tasks, you can ensure a successful onboarding experience that sets the stage for your team’s continued success.

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Agile Team

Coaching Tactics for Navigating Operational Challenges

In the dynamic realm of operational agility, where change is constant and demands are unrelenting, the integration of Agile practices might seem like a daunting task. However, it is precisely in these fast-paced environments that Agile principles can have the most profound impact. This post is a journey into practical coaching strategies, tailored specifically for a predominantly operational Agile team. We will explore how to seamlessly weave Agile methodologies into the fabric of daily operational tasks, while adeptly managing the rapid, unforeseen changes that are inherent in this environment.

Coaching an operational Agile team begins with immersing oneself in their world. This means acknowledging and appreciating the unique challenges they face. These teams are responsible for maintaining system availability, attending to customer needs, and managing complex technical upkeep. Within this context, Agile principles should be introduced not as a one-size-fits-all solution, but as a set of tools that can enhance efficiency, transparency, and the ability to respond effectively within this operational landscape.

Operational agility hinges on the team’s ability to adapt swiftly. When introducing Agile practices, emphasize their inherent flexibility. Begin with foundational Agile concepts and gradually introduce practices that align with the team’s existing workflow. It’s essential to recognize that not all practices might translate seamlessly and that some adaptations will be necessary to suit the unique operational nature. The heart of operational agility lies in striking a harmonious equilibrium between planned tasks and unforeseen work. An effective coaching strategy involves introducing techniques like Kanban, which offers a visual means of managing both planned and ad hoc tasks. The use of Kanban boards can help the team navigate ongoing operational work while remaining flexible enough to accommodate emergent demands.

In the operational sphere, decisions often need to be made swiftly. Here, Agile principles can lend a guiding hand. Teach the team how to apply Agile values when it comes to prioritizing tasks. Concepts like user stories or tasks can help visualize and manage their work, and the core principles of collaboration and customer focus can serve as touchstones in their decision-making process.

For operational teams, the daily huddle of a Daily Standup can prove invaluable. Encourage the team to hold concise daily meetings to discuss progress, challenges, and any adjustments necessitated by unexpected work. This practice facilitates real-time communication, alignment, and the ability to pivot plans on the fly.

Operational excellence thrives on constant improvement. After each work cycle, facilitate Retrospectives where the team can reflect on what went well, what could have been better, and how their processes can be refined. By embracing the concept of ongoing enhancement, the team not only fine-tunes their regular tasks but also becomes better equipped to manage the unexpected.

The multifaceted nature of operational work often requires diverse skill sets. Encourage cross-functional collaboration between team members who bring varying expertise, such as software development and technical maintenance. This interplay of different perspectives enhances problem-solving and fosters a shared understanding of operational complexities.

Operational landscapes are rarely static. Teach the team the importance of flexibility and introduce them to the Agile notion of committing to a certain amount of work within a specified time frame, rather than being beholden to rigid plans. This mindset allows for rapid adaptation without compromising on deliverables.

Coaching a mostly operational Agile team demands a nuanced approach that blends understanding, flexibility, and the intrinsic tenets of Agile methodologies. By seamlessly integrating practices that celebrate adaptability, collaboration, and perpetual learning, coaches empower these teams to navigate their dynamic surroundings while upholding the standards of operational excellence. In this harmonious convergence of Agile finesse and operational mastery, the team emerges as an agile force capable of not merely surviving but thriving amid the ever-shifting operational landscape.

Within the unpredictable currents of operational demands, Agile practices serve as a guiding star, steering the team towards equilibrium and mastery in an environment defined by its constant state of flux.

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Agile Team

Failing to Create Value: Antipatterns That Hold Back Agile Teams

Scrum is known as a framework that ensures the important things to be done first. It is often introduced in companies where different approaches of prioritizing the next workable item did go wrong. Scrum is often seen as the savoir in this scenario as it should deliver the right stuff each sprint. But more than often the same mistakes about the prioritization of workable items are done in scrum the same way as it is done in other approaches. This article describes four antipatterns regarding the prioritization.

Multiple Priorities

In Scrum the sprint backlog is ordered in a sense that if the team completes the topmost sprint backlog items the value that will be delivered has been maximized. This means that each team member should focus on completing these top items.

If each team member does have a different priority to work on, they counteract against creating the maximal value. Hence if a dev is stuck on for example the first item in the sprint backlog and asking for help, answering that one is having other priorities it is not the valuable items that are done within the sprint but the personal priorities of the dev.

Naturally, the developers do not produce a priority on their own. Multiple priorities come from multiple sources of priority. It is not the sole priority of the sprint backlog that is taken into consideration but mostly the priorities are pushed into the team from somebody else, sometimes even the product owner. Any scrum team should speak out against multiple priorities as they reduce the chance of delivering the right things first.

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Teams outside the scrum team

The development members of a scrum team might have more responsibilities than being a fulltime developer for the team. Developers may only be half of their time available to work on sprint backlog items and need to undergo other tasks in the rest of their time. This becomes a problem if the workload about these different responsibilities is not transparent for the team, as it if often the case, or team members are totally underestimating the effort for their side quests.

Team member might even be part of another team or taken into urgent task forces during a sprint. Having obligations in different teams at the same time and the urge to fulfil both obligations will lead to not being able to focus on any of the work that needs to be done.

Development tasks a team can handle should always be executed by the team itself and within the planned sprint. Do not take development members temporarily out of the team to do something that seems more important. Let the team handle it.

Additionally, any task outside of the scrum need to be transparent and preferably consistent over time. This makes sure the team does have a good understanding of their skills and their capacity for a sprint.

Disregard the sprint backlog order

Scrum master notice that developers are working on sprint backlog items that do not have top priority even if the workable items at the top have not been finished. As described in the first section having multiple various sources of priority could lead to not focus on the workable items at the top.

Sometimes it is even due to personal preferences, skills and sometimes even convenience. Scrum master need to take action against this. Make clear that the sprint backlog is the only source of priority. Therefore, the product owner needs to know about the external priorities of any item. This way, he even might consider the product backlog item as important enough too and accepts that the developer is working on these items. If this is not the case, you need need to convince people to work in the top items first. Scrum master can help developers as well as the company to understand the process of creating value.

Tasks in progress > Developer

Having more product backlog items in progress than you have developer within the scrum team is an unmistakable sign of not focusing on the most valuable items in your sprint backlog. This might have distinct reasons. Sometimes developer do need some more information about a feature they have started developing. Sometimes they need to wait for technical impediments to be solved. Sometimes it is also due to personal preferences, skills and convenience that developer tend to start working on a new product backlog item even if others have not been finished yet.

Take care that every sprint backlog item is clearly described and did not need any more information to be started. If information is needed anyway developers should actively try to get this information and should not wait that the information is somehow finding its way itself.

If developers are regularly waiting due to the same technical impediment this needs to be observed and removed in the future. Impediments that need to be removed from the team could be a good topic for a scrum retrospective. It provides the possibility to deeply talk about the root cause of the problem and find a solution for it.

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Agile Scrum Team

Onboarding team rookies the scrum way

As stated in the scrum guide a team is “is a cohesive unit of professionals focused on one objective at a time, the Product Goal[1]”. But people working together on the same goal does not make a team in a sense of effective collaboration. To get a team to a certain level if effectiveness it needs more. The team member should know what everybody is able to do and what team members can’t do. They should have trust in a sense that everybody is able to deliver value for the team. It needs knowledge about the preferred way of communication and knowledge what drives team member to perform in a sustainable way. And to get everything that is needed it needs foremost stability in these cohesive unit of professionals. If team members are exchanging the stability is lost and it needs time for everybody to get back to trust, knowledge and understanding of each other.

Nevertheless, it is in the nature of teams that team members might leave the team, while others are going to join. In the recent months I have I’ve seen a bunch of changes on the organisational level of teams as well as constant changes within scrum teams. In this article I’ll focus on the challenges of onboarding new development member in a scrum team and how the team tackled these challenges based on the five scrum values Commitment, Focus, Openness, Respect, and Courage[2].

Tackle the challenge

The biggest challenge for new team members is within the past. New team members did not participate in all the different discussions and decisions the rest of the team did to continuously improve themselves. All the little team rules that came up the last couple of months are not aware for the team rookies. Additionally, the team has built up some gut feeling about their own processes like quality assurance, the need of pair programming on certain topics or the estimation of story points. Each inexperience is small but together they sum up to some bigger friction.

Courage

“The Scrum Team members have the courage to do the right thing, to work on tough problems”

Onboarding a new colleague can be a tough problem. So many things to teach, and you want to get the team back to performance as soon as possible. Even if your team has been very stable in the past (Congratulations !), any of the team members has been in the position of being the rookie in the past. Hence the team can help a lot regarding the onboarding plan. The team should have the confidence and the courage that they know best what is needed. Give them time in advance and they will to the right thing to have the new members as part of the team as quickly as possible.

Commitment

“The Scrum Team commits to achieving its goals and to supporting each other.”

Talking about commitment to a goal people tend to think at the sprint goal and delivering value in a sprint. You should not lose sight of delivering value, but the value might get a little smaller while you onboard new colleagues. The team still commits on their goal which is to get the team member on board. This might not deliver value to the product you develop directly but a commitment to get everybody on board is a commitment to value in the long run (even for your stakeholders).

Focus

“Their primary focus is on the work of the Sprint to make the best possible progress toward these goals”

You got your team to have the courage to make a decision about the onboarding plan themselves, and you got the commitment that the onboarding is part of the sprint delivers some value for your stakeholders. As you might have already experienced stakeholder will try to get some pressure on the team and on their team members as well to deliver the task that they like to see with priority. This is regardless of the onboarding situation. But especially during the onboarding it needs a lot of focus on the task of getting the new team member into the team. The onboarding should be the task with highest priority within a sprint and everybody needs to focus on achieving this task soon. There is no possibility to postpone the onboarding to a later date.

Openness

“The Scrum Team and its stakeholders are open about the work and the challenges”

Onboarding is not a task as any other task. The people to onboard need a different attention than a software change. The value added cannot be determined as easy as for a software change and additionally you might react even more agile with people than you do with software. Nevertheless, it would be best to be open about the change in the team, the impact on the next sprints and the team’s velocity. Tell your stakeholder about the onboarding and make the effort it takes to gain domain knowledge and team process transparent to everybody.

This is where the team members need to change their focus from developing and start focus on onboarding the new colleagues.

Respect

“Scrum Team members respect each other to be capable, independent people, and are respected as such by the people with whom they work.”

Respecting other people seems to be obvious to most people. Nevertheless, it cannot be emphasized often enough. The team should be convinced that the new member will be a possibility to improve the team even more. Make sure that everybody is aware of the possible team backdrop in the short run, as it needs some effort for the onboarding. If team members know this, and stakeholders are aware there is less pressure and therefore more time to acknowledge the growing diversity of the team.

[1] https://scrumguides.org/scrum-guide.html#scrum-team

[2]https://scrumguides.org/scrum-guide.html#scrum-values