Yesterday, 10th April 2014, I attended the Bath Scrum User group event presented by Geoff Watts.

The venue was good, it was at the Bath Innovation Centre which is next to the train station, and there were about 40-50 people.

I was really looking forward to this presentation as I recently started reading Geoff's book "Scrum Mastery", and I wanted to get some insights from the author himself.

HISTORY

The start of the presentation was really clever. Geoff started reading us the children's story "Goldilocks and the Three Bears".

At that point my mind was trying to work out why "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" could be connected to Agile teams, but I couldn't figure it out.

Once he had finished to read the story, he initiated a true-false sentences session regarding the story.

Some of the sentences were:

  • Goldilocks was a child
  • the hot bowl of porridge was Daddy bear's bowl
  • Goldilocks knocked before entering the house
  • There were only three bears

As you can see the sentences were pretty straight forward, still he did not get unanimous answers to any of them.

Some people assumed that Goldilocks was a child, and so they said "TRUE" to the first sentence, but, in the story, there is no reference about Goldilocks age.
Here we all used our historic knowledge of the story and assumed that she was a child, maybe because we remembered the pictures in the story book, were Goldilocks is indeed portraied as a child.
Other details were actually TRUE, for example, she did knock at the door, but again some people remembered it and others didn't (I didn't!).

This exercise was a way to explain the concept of HEARING, not just listening, actually actively hearing what it is said.

Most of us just assumed they knew the story so they did not pay a lot of attention to the details. They kinda switched off their hearing, they were just listening.

H(earing)ISTORY

Geoff then connected this story with Stand Up meetings (or Daily Scrum whatever you want to call them) as there is a risk that no one pays attention to whatever their team mates are saying.
I've personally witnessed stand ups where some team members were fiddling with their phones or looking out of the window while another team member was talking. Geoff then explained to us an exercise that could rectify that frustration: the Last Letter First game.
The rules of the game are:

  • whoever speaks next needs to start his sentence with the last letter used by the previous speaker.
  • the following speaker is chosen randomly.

We had a crack at it and it was actually really interesting. You need to pay attention to each of the words said as you do not know which word is the last.
There are plenty of other games/exercises that you can use to spicy up your stand ups and retain attention, just google it.

HI(nformality)STORY

Informality helps your team members relax, be honest and boosts creativity.
How do you get more informal? Well, Geoff suggested to start by learning a bit more about your team members, more personal things, like hobbies, interests and funny stories about them.
A way to try this out is playing the Kevin Bacon Game.
Every team member writes down 5 things he/she has done or are interested in (e.g. I broke my nose while playing football, I was in a band, I've been to Iraq). Then, one of the team members reads all of his 5 things aloud. The other members will need to find a connection with one or more of those things in their list.
Once someone got a connection, it will read that aloud to the team, and then another member will need to find another connection to what has just been said until everyone in the team has spoken.

HIS(afety)TORY

Unfortunately Geoff did not go into great details on this but the point was that the team needs to feel safe to be performant.
Safety can be achieved by simple things like Team Identity. Creating an identity for the team, maybe by asking the team to come up with a logo and a name. More importantly come up with a Purpose for the team.
This actually goes back to one of my previous posts about Motivation, where Purpose is one of the three components for genuine motivation.
An example of purpose for a team could be "Making the impossible possible", "Delight users with state of the art solutions" and so on.

HIST(arget)ORY

HISTORY

As well as a purpose the team needs to have a target to be able to improve.
A couple of things you can suggest to define a target are:

  • Ask the team to come up with some properties a team should have to be a great team.
  • write those properties on a spider/radar chart.
  • ask the team to grade themselves against those properties ( a 1 to 10 scale is ok)
  • put the results on the chart.
  • analyse it with the team and ask them which properties they think needs to improve to become a great team.

You can do this at the end of each sprint and compare it with the previous sprint to see if you met the TARGETs you've set.

HISTO(pen mindness)RY

How open minded is your team?
This is a million dollar question. We all think we are but then in practice, our experiences and our knowledge will norrow our vision and keep us from seeing things in different perspectives.
An Agile team needs to be open minded as everyone in the team should and must contribute.
This means beeing open minded in trying new techniques or technologies, listen to suggestions made by people that are maybe not the experts, and so on.

At this point Geoff asked us to look under our chairs to find a paper clip. This was the introduction for the open minded exercise called the Paperclip Challenge.

Still grouped as teams of about 7 people each, we had to come up with the most creative use for a paperclip.
This forced ourselves to think out of the box and some great ideas came out (hook, tweesers, book holder,etc.).

Open mindness is also key for innovation, seeing something new in things that we've been using for years, find a new purpose for things.

This topic reminded me about a talk I saw at Mind the Product 2012 in London. It was by Tom Chi, the Experience Lead for Special Projects at Google X. He is the guy leading the team behind Google Glass.
To come up with prototypes for Google Glass he challenged his team to create 15 prototypes a week using some clay, a hanger and paper. Watch the video for more details.

HISTOR(esilience)Y

"Ability to cope with problems and setbacks". Yeah a good team needs to be able to cope with problems and setbacks and never give in. Teams should accept critique and feedback, take them on the chin and move on, improve.
Scrum Masters should be used to this. My experience is that you have to fight every battle if you want to make a dent in the company culture and start moving towards a more agile environment. So never give up!

HISTORY(es and...)

This is about creating collaboration in the team.
A "Yes, and..." answer is compared to a "Yes, but..." answer. The latest could block the team as it maybe points out all the negative things that could happen, while the former usually formulates an offer to improve.
A "Yes, but..." answer has also the power to shut people up and make them more self-conscious and think twice or not even participate in the discussion anymore.
So nurture your team collaboration by encouraging a more "Yes, and ..." approach.

Conclusion

I got a lot of inspiration from the meet up and plenty of things to try out and experiment with.
For example use the Goldilocks story to explain why user stories should be used only as a remainder for a conversation and not as requirement specs.
I'm looking forward to finish Geoff Watts' "Scrum Mastery" book and learn even more techniques I can use.

About Author

Simone Vicentini

Simone Vicentini

Creative Agilist, Scrum Master, Tinker, Developer.