Agile Rituals Improved – Preparation

This article is the second of a series of two on boosting the effectiveness of Agile rituals. The first article emphasizes increasing people participation while this article focuses on meeting preparation.

Preparation is important because a lack of it can result in long, boring, clumsy, ineffective rituals. Among other things, I think this is partly why famed coach Allistair Cockburn sometimes provocatively asks the following in his training: “Agile is less efficient than Waterfall because?” In any case, here are some tips to avoid the self-inflicted wound of sloppiness.

Note: As in part one, this article assumes the reader is familiar with Agile, and that participants have recognized that their rituals need help and are willing to try new work methods.

Tip #1 – To speed up Scrum backlog grooming and planning meetings, have the Product Owner send the stories to be covered 48 hours ahead of the meeting, and set the expectation that team members read them. This pre-screening allows you to skip the deadly read-out and enables the discussion to commence immediately. You’d think that a public backlog would make this automatic, but sometimes the organization needs a little help developing the habit.

Tip #2 – Did you ever witness a public argument between some or all of the members of the servant leadership team (architect, manager, PO, and Scrum Master)? Yeah, me too. It is not pretty. It is also hypocritical because those same people then ask the teams to self-organize, which is something the leaders just demonstrated they couldn’t do themselves. To avoid public arguments that confuse team members, servant leaders must meet before all major rituals and sort out any sticking points.  Private debate and public alignment are the order of the day.

Tip #3 – One person should be in the ritual room 10 minutes ahead of the meeting time to get the technology up and running. Also, don’t ever attempt something in front of a large group without a dry run first. Just don’t do it. Murphy’s law won’t allow it.

Tip #4 – Don’t wait for people to stroll in to get the ritual underway. Get started exactly on time. The majority of participants will appreciate it. Any tardiness will fix itself after a few people have to walk into an active session. This is especially important when customers are present.

Tip #5 – Don’t get delayed by laptops being swapped out in the middle of a presentation. Do exchange and consolidate files ahead of time. Better yet, consider not using slides. That’s just one of the many fantastic communication tips from Training From The Back Of The Room.

Tip #6 – If different computers absolutely must be used during a demo, have people pre-login applications like remote desktop to make toggling a breeze.

Tip #7 – It is not always easy for remote participants to determine that they are causing distracting noises. Background noise, keyboard clicks, coughing, chewing and ringing phone can really diminish the quality of the communication between sites. As the number of participants increases so does the difficulty of maintaining a proper mute/unmute state. Consider using someone with admin rights over the communication tool to help mute unwanted sources of noise and preserve people’s dignity.

Tip #8 – Conversely, pay attention to local sources of noise and position microphones carefully. Food with crinkly wrappers, equipment fan, shifting chairs, and fingers tapping tables can be distracting to local participants and prevent remote attendees from hearing. In fact, establish your own feedback loop by having a local leader call in from a nearby room to experience the event first-hand.

Tip #9 – The pressure of organizing an event can sometimes cause key meeting artifacts or important activities to be overlooked. Do use an agenda checklist for all rituals. A public checklist also subtly cross-trains participants to self-serve.

Tip #10 – Don’t trust that yesterday’s prototype will just work today. The larger the team, the less likely this is. Do use lock and key for physical prototypes, and freeze the assets for digital ones. This is especially important when the ritual is costly to reschedule, such as some customer demonstrations.

As a change agent, you should be mindful that the emerging Agile culture is not torpedoed by clumsiness. In most cases, the only thing missing to achieve effectiveness is the drive to have it. That drive is embodied in a professional level of preparation. We covered several actions that can be taken to have shorter yet more effective Agile rituals, and most have very low barriers to execution. How else do you like to see your teams and leaders prepare?

Works cited

“Perfect Score”, by Evan Shuster, The Noun Project, Web. 30 Mar. 2016.  Modified.

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