Podcast Ep 188. What Does a High-Performing Scrum Team Look Like? with Erica Menendez and Justin Thatil

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Episode Description

This week, Dan Neumann is joined by two Agile colleagues: Erica Menendez and Justin Thatil.

In this episode, they discuss the features of a high-performing Scrum Team and how this closely interacts with following and honoring the Scrum Values of openness, commitment, focus, courage, and respect. Dan, Erica, and Justin share valuable examples of their own Agile Journeys to define the main characteristics of a mature Scrum Team.


Listen on Apple Podcasts

Key Takeaways

  • A great Scrum Team:
    • Follows Scrum values: openness, commitment, focus, courage, and respect.
    • Knows how to focus.
    • Identifies the goal to be achieved and works in a self-organized way in that direction.
    • Is about having the psychological safety to be open about feelings, difficult circumstances, and even celebrations.
  • Social time at the Daily Scrum is up to each Team to determine.
  • The Team must volunteer to take action.
    • Scrum Team members must be able to recognize each other’s strengths.
    • Team Members can help each other with their personal goals.
  • How does a mature Scrum Team behaves when things don’t go well?
    • Courage and respect are needed to face the problem.
    • Team members know how to respectfully disagree.
    • Identify what is going to be improved, changed, and done differently.
    • A Scrum Team must be willing to try something different, experimenting together.
  • A Scrum Team is committed to working together in all of the different Agile values.
    • A Scrum Team is also willing to fail when trying to solve a problem with an innovative approach.
  • Trust lives in a Scrum Team.

Transcript [This transcript is auto-generated and may not be completely accurate in its depiction of the English language or rules of grammar.]

Intro (00:03):

Welcome to agile coaches corner by agile thought the podcast for practitioners and leaders seeking advice to refine the way they work band pave the path to better outcomes. Now here’s your host coach band agile expert. Dan Neumann.

Dan Neumann (00:17):

Welcome to this episode of the agile coach corner podcast. I’m your host Dan Neumann. And today joined by two of my agile thought colleagues joined by Erica Menendez and Justin <inaudible> Erica. Justin, thanks for joining today. Appreciate it

Erica Menendez (00:31):

Better to be here.

Justin Thatil (00:32):

Thank you, Dan, for having us

Dan Neumann (00:34):

Always, always happy to I feel like it’s easy for us to get caught in kind of looking at problems with teams and then coming up with ways to address problems with teams. And that was some of the thought around today’s episode, which is what, what does a good scrum team or a high performing scrum team look like? Anyway. So if you were to come in from the outside and look at a scrum team and you’re like, Ooh, that’s good. What would that look like? And so that is the topic we’re going to explore for today’s session and want to take a second to appreciate the folks that are listening to the podcast as we go on this exploration. So thank you for listening, Eric. Erica, would you like to maybe lead us off here with, with kind of your thought on what a good scrum team might look like?

Erica Menendez (01:27):

Yeah. So when, when we all kind of got together real quick yesterday, or a few days ago to, to start thinking through this, I know there’s so many different directions that you can really go and try to understand where a good scrum team kind of looks like comes from what you’re gonna see when you walk in the room. But when it all came down to it, we started really going to the heart of agile and the scrum values. You know, you look at everything and it kind of goes towards which all the different values. So if you really start walking through all the fives from values and just the different things that you’re gonna see as you walk in, so focus, openness, commitment, courage, and respect. So maybe that’s a, a good place for us to start,

Dan Neumann (02:12):

But I like it.

Erica Menendez (02:13):

Cool. All right. So focus,

Dan Neumann (02:15):

What do you think

Erica Menendez (02:16):

<Laugh> I mean, walking in and seeing a team that’s actually allowed to focus on something and isn’t just working on 18 different things at once and seeing different fires everywhere. More talking about anti patterns at this point, rather than what you’re hoping to see. <Laugh> but have, have you guys ever noticed something similar?

Justin Thatil (02:39):

It’s it’s a great thing to talk about anti patterns, right? So for us to learn you know, what a great team looks like, you sh you have to have been part of a great team, right. A high performing team. So, you know, it’s good to talk through anti patterns, things that we don’t want to be encouraging in a sense on a team for, for that learning aspect. Right. So what I like to think about when I join a you know, a team and observe what they’re doing. So from a terms of focus, as you said, right, are they distracted you know, whip limits as they are, they observing whip limits as work in progress. So too many items in progress could be down for distraction, right? Team members working essentially on their own task and not caring much about what else is happening within the team.

Justin Thatil (03:36):

That could be an, an intake pattern, right. And lack of focus, the focus could be team focus, right? So as part of a sprint planning session there’s a sense of goal that the team is striving towards as a, you know, if everyone’s aware of what they need to be striving towards and they’re collectively working and self-organizing around them around that goal, right? On a daily basis, you come in into a daily scrum event, and that’s a key telling observation as a scrum master on, on to observe how the team is is operating right for their day to day. And they’re self organizing around the problems at hand for the day, you know, as opposed to just giving out a status update to whoever they report to or happens to be present on their daily scrum, you know, things of that sort around, you know, highlights, focus. Those are some of the things I can think of.

Dan Neumann (04:41):

Yeah. So kind of paraphrasing or summarizing some of the things I think you, you talked about, so Erica, right, we look for the presence of the scrum values in, in a well functioning team and then thinking of focus, it would look like fairly limited work in process, a reasonable, you know, use my little air quotes, a reasonable number of items in progress, not, not many team members collaborating with each other to deliver those. And then self-organizing around the goal for the next day, the, the actions they’re going to take communicating about ’em in the daily scrum, but not exclusively communicating in the daily scrum. It isn’t like the huddle you break, and then you all go run separate directions. It’s like, okay, here’s the game plan now let’s keep working on this together or in small groups.

Justin Thatil (05:30):

Yeah. That’s a great segue. Right. So how, how do, how does the team break off, off the da daily scrum, right. Do they go about back to their own desks and just go about their day or have they actually come up with a plan, Hey, this person highlighted that they needed help. I’ve got a few spare cycles right now, or they talk about, Hey, I’ll have some couple spare cycles afternoon. I should be able to help you then, you know, that kind of dialogue, is it being elicited in a daily scrum and just observing what the team does after they break off the daily scrum. That’s a great one. Yeah.

Erica Menendez (06:02):

Yeah. And it, it kind of pretty much leads into the next one, which is openness kind of, and I hate to, to keep harping on just the daily scrum, but it’s a really good way of just seeing how the team wants to work together in probably the most casual setting, but also prescribed setting within scrum. Like if they’re coming in and not being open with each other about, you know, so this morning was the rough one, or just joking around for a minute, if it’s completely silent and then completely silent after, like you said, everyone walks back to their desk. It kind of just says, people are maybe thinking they’re being focused, but focused on the wrong stuff. And, and more just not being open and working with each other and hanging out in their own silos.

Dan Neumann (06:46):

Yeah. I like the, the openness you described of a couple types bubbled through what you were talking about. So openness of, yeah, I’m struggling. I could use some help or you know, today’s, or, or openness about what’s going on in your personal life. Yeah. Today’s a garbage day for Dan and I’m doing my best, but not all here or whatever the case might be. So it’s, it’s the openness about the work, but also openness about being a full human, you know, without going into, I don’t, again, the extreme of that, where it’s all just about, you know, the emotional stuff that gets brought in. That’s certainly not what we’re looking for, but a little transparency to an appropriate degree for the workplace about what’s happening in, in your world. That that’s an excellent example of openness.

Erica Menendez (07:33):

I feel like that’s actually one of the ones that went away the most when we all were virtual too. So it’s kind of a really good one to focus on. If, if you feel like your team’s going off the rails, it brings everyone back to the humanity of what’s going on.

Dan Neumann (07:49):

It does. Yeah. I, I was talking with somebody yesterday at the end of the day and, and the challenge of shifting to the all remote, where it’s easier to disengage cameras off passively joining participating as needed, but not much more. It’s a very interesting thing to think what a, what a high performing or a good scrum team looks like now, as opposed to maybe what we thought one might look like back, oh, the good old days of 2019, you know, when we get together and use sticky notes,

Erica Menendez (08:29):

It’s funny to call it the good old days now because it’s, we’re continuing to work in this, in this way of working. So, you know, it’s more just the old ways maybe to say it that it’s funny,

Justin Thatil (08:43):

There’s a new norm at hand coming together. Right. So it’s gotta be more intentional. You know, having those side conversations, opening up your daily scrum with just you know, five minute of chatter you know, it’s gotta be more intentionally planned, I guess, and facilitated that’s as opposed to yeah. In a room setting. I think it’s more natural. And one of the things that we were talking about the other day is, you know, how much laughter as part of the you know, on the team’s day to day, right? So for laughter to occur, there’s a sense of openness. That’s gotta be there, right? There’s folks, folks trusting each other and being able to commiserate or or celebrate, you know, I remember one of my teams where there’s a particular member, she would notice somebody got a haircut, right? So she’d be the one, the first call out, Hey, I said, notice that you got a haircut and people became accustomed to that to wanna expect, Hey, if I got a haircut. And so, so didn’t notice it there’s something wrong. So, I mean, you know, just little things like that little traditions and, and you know, it’s very healthy for a team to have. Mm-Hmm,

Dan Neumann (09:54):

<Affirmative> another facet of we’ll put a pin in it. I have another facet of openness and we’ll see if I remember when I come back to it. I’m not sure how I feel about taking the first five minutes of a daily scrum to, to be social. And so I’ll put it in the it’s it’s complex. I’m not anti-social for sure, but I do wonder, I think it’s an interesting facet. I feel like people show up right at the start of meetings now, whereas before we might trickle into an actual room in person and that’s where some of the, the banter and, and things like that would happen. See,

Erica Menendez (10:32):

That’s funny. Cause I actually find the opposite most meetings. I mean, maybe it’s just because I’m not overly strict is to showing up right on time. But most meetings that I’m a part of tend to start two to three minutes late. So, you know, you have that two to three minutes of everyone trickling in from the last meeting to kind of conversate. Yeah. So, huh. I

Dan Neumann (10:51):

Dunno, team norms. It’s, you know, again, it’s not like a thou shelter thou not, it was just kind of an interesting reflection where for me sometimes I’m like, can we just get, can we get going, like, please, it’s about finding that right? The, the balance. Well, our, our weekly coaching practice meeting seven minutes of social time at the beginning party on I’m there with you right about minute. If it goes into minute eight or nine, it’s like alright, what are we doing?

Justin Thatil (11:24):

Yeah, it’s gotta, yeah, it’s gotta be natural too. Right. You don’t wanna force it either, right? Yeah. So for team daily, scrum, it’s not to say that daily you’ve gotta do it, but if it’s the happens to be okay, we’re in a good spot in the sprint. And the there’s a sense that we should have enough time to spare, you know?

Dan Neumann (11:44):

Totally. Yeah, no, definitely, definitely not disagreeing. I just had one of those, huh. Thoughts as, as we went into that right. Between and what I’ll circle back to. So thank you for the digression was we talked about focus and openness, and I think at the intersection of those is something we look for, which is people volunteering to take action. So the team is focused and I’m being open enough to say, I can help with that as opposed to waiting to be tasked with it or hope to God, nobody actually makes me do the thing that I really don’t want to do. But if I’ve got the skills to do it and the capacity, or I can learn, you know, being open and volunteering to, to take that action, I think is really important for, for well functioning teams.

Erica Menendez (12:27):

And that’s a great segue and the courage <laugh>,

Dan Neumann (12:30):

Which keeps we’ll just keep segueing through this thing. Yeah. I love it.

Erica Menendez (12:33):

Just having the courage to step up within the team, even if you don’t know if you’re the best person on the team to pick it up. If you’re the one with the time, pick it up. Seeing teams that do stuff like that and are willing to let someone learn and let someone ask questions and pick it up, even if they might understand it better, such a great time on the team.

Justin Thatil (12:56):

The other aspect is, you know, team members recognize each other’s strengths, right? So if the person particularly doesn’t volunteer themselves, but somebody else on the team, Hey, this looks like a great area for you to look into, you know, they they’ll call each other out. Yeah. Right. So that’s another level of of a team like cohesiveness and bonding that’s happened to know and, and realize who’s, you know, what are the strengths that each of the team members bring to the table? Mm

Erica Menendez (13:27):

Kind of a great example of working around what we’re saying is I had a team member once that was a QA and really wanted to work on becoming a dev he’s newer in the industry really wanted to work on it. So they would give him some smaller stories and say, this is probably a really good one for you to work on and pair with us on. So giving them the opportunity to have the courage, to pick up new stuff, to increase their career and, and really work on things. That’s right. It’s just an amazing thing to see.

Justin Thatil (13:54):

Yeah. And that that’s at the point, you know, the point where you start folks, you know, voicing their, their interests and things that they wanna learn and their aspirations, you know, what makes them, you know, wanna be part of the team cuz they’re so, and so, you know, part a person on this team that is such expertise in this area that I’m interested in, I’d love to pair with you, you know, those kind of conversations, just coming into bearing fruit, you know, it’s, it’s beautiful to see.

Dan Neumann (14:22):

Yeah. So that, that taking the, the teamness outside of the specifics to deliver on the sprint goal towards the product goal, but really also factoring in the personal growth interests. Here’s something I would like to learn about, do try, contribute to et cetera. Mm-Hmm, <affirmative>, that’s interesting.

Justin Thatil (14:44):

Sure. I’ve seen that, you know, kind of that those conversations can happen at any, any point in time. Right. retros, I think are good ones where I’ve seen that occur. You know, when, when teams deep dive, but not, it’s not to say that’s the only place that can happen, right? Yeah. If it’s happening, it’s awesome.

Dan Neumann (15:02):

Mm-Hmm <affirmative> yeah. Thinking of, you know, ways to make this system more resilient. One of the interesting times to look at a team is when things are not going well and to look at the behaviors, when things go off the rails, I’m trying to figure out how it fits to focus, openness, respect, courage, and commitment. But it’s you guys maybe will help me with that, but it’s like, oh, things aren’t going well right now, how does the team respond? Do they retreat? Do they start taking pot shots at each other blame, right. We’ve talked a little bit about blame in some other podcasts. What do you guys, what do you guys think about that? The behavior you see when it, when things don’t go well,

Erica Menendez (15:47):

Well, they have the courage to step up. I mean, bringing it back to courage there, but also you can start thinking about respect to the courage to step up with the respect within the team to, to say, oh, you know, that’s a great conversation for us to have and it’s bothering you or it’s something that’s a problem. So respecting each other.

Justin Thatil (16:07):

Hmm. Yeah. And respectfully disagreeing to something. Right. So, you know, how, how’s the team responding to each other’s ideas and ideating together? Are they, you know, shutting it down or are they building upon an idea that was proposed to, you know, make it even better? You know, those kind of things. And, and it’s, you know, respect being present is the utmost importance there, right? It’s, it’s supposed to shutting the mud, somebody down or shaming them for bad idea or things of that sort, you know?

Dan Neumann (16:40):

Yeah. As, as you were talking through the, the response, it also made me wonder about kind of committing that this should not happen again. And how are we going to, what are we going to change, improve, do different that we will have other difficult times in the future, but we will not have this same particular difficulty because we’ll put in place behaviors, processes, technology that will help avoid this problem again.

Erica Menendez (17:10):

Yeah. And that, that’s a great way to bring in the last value. I mean, it’s been in pretty much everything committing to, to making the changes, but also committing to working together in all of the different values. If you’re not committed to the values then

Dan Neumann (17:26):

Mm. I see. Justin’s wheels turning. Yeah. <Laugh>, I’m waiting to see what it’s, I’m gonna fill that arrow while those wheels turn. What, what you think in there, Justin,

Justin Thatil (17:34):

I was thinking about so experimentation. Right. how does that get into commitment? So commitment to experiment in a sense, right? How is the team open to with ideas towards solving the, you know, the problem that they’re facing together, right. Are they willing to try something different this next you know, this next print, for example, right. This problem is surface, we’re learning together. We’re retroing about it and talking, discussing you know, how we’re gonna prevent from this happening again. Right. So there’s gotta be, you know, that’s, at that point, there’s a learning that’s happened on the team and they’re, you know, committing to making sure that doesn’t happen again. So in itself, it’s the framework that the team is putting together, you know, going forward, right. To ideate and experiment and be willing to, to fail. Right. If it turns out, okay, we try the sound and then it’s, it’s not quite the right solution, but Hey, we’ve tried something now let’s try a variation of this

Narrator (18:48):

Habit topic you want us to tackle, send an email to podcast agile thought.com or tweet it with a hashtag agile thought podcast.

Dan Neumann (18:59):

Yeah. That’s an interesting topic that came up recently for me. A lot of times you’ll see a team that wants to we’ve got to we’ve gotta gather all the, all the information, whether you call it requirements or get the design right. Or whatever, we need to know all the things before we go do the thing. And that’s really tough with emergent software work, where you’re doing things you probably haven’t done before by nature of creating software and phrasing it like an experiment, I think gives you the opportunity, whether you prove or disprove your hypothesis, it’s still valuable. Whereas if we try something and it doesn’t work, that feels a lot like failure. But if we say let’s prove or disprove this hypothesis, then I feel like you, it’s easier to win either way. And you get that little I dunno that little mental boost, like you didn’t fail. You actually succeeded cuz now you’ve proven or disproven something by making actual working software. So I think that experimentation in committing to that is an interesting thing to think through.

Erica Menendez (20:06):

And it’s a great example of, I mean, all of the things we’ve talked about are examples of how you really have all the different values within everything. But I mean, you have the commitment to the experiment, the respect of each other to, to fail or work well, the courage to fail in the first place and step up and try and experiment and the focus to actually focus on an experiment and be open with each other. I mean, you can take all of these things and, and find everything in there. <Laugh>

Justin Thatil (20:36):

Very true. <Affirmative> very true.

Dan Neumann (20:37):

It’s like one of those association things we used to play a game in one of my coaching things Rory’s story cubes I think is what they were called. And they have little tapes on them, objects, Ty objects typically. And you would roll them and then basically make a story out of the dice that showed up. But it could be a story about the sprint. And so I don’t know, a bell let’s say might be one of the objects on the dice and I’d be like, oh yeah, this <laugh>, you know, it rung my bell, like getting hit in the head or, you know, it it’s, it sounded musical or whatever your story would be about, but it’s a little bit of free association kind of fun to do that with the the scrum values and, and what good teams look like.

Erica Menendez (21:22):

I like that. I’m definitely gonna steal that one.

Dan Neumann (21:24):

<Laugh> yeah. The story cubes are fun. You can do it virtually. I don’t know if there’s an app for that. I imagine there is, but we’ve done something as simple as just put a, a webcam pointing at the dice and somebody would roll them and share the screen. Taking photos is a little cumbersome cause then you have to upload cetera, but yeah. Build yourself a little, a little spot to roll them into and yeah, it’s fun. We should try that sometime.

Justin Thatil (21:51):

That’s the way to do the little five minute I was talking about that could be a little five minute exercise at the beginning little games, right? <Laugh>

Dan Neumann (21:58):

That’s true. Yeah. Dad, to jokes. One of the teams that I’ve worked with tells dad jokes. One of the people on the team is notorious for coming in with a couple dad jokes or Halloween jokes or whatever the, the, the holiday of, of the time is nice.

Erica Menendez (22:13):

So bringing us to the values again and how we just kind of talked through how we see all five, pretty much in, in everything that a good team tends to display when we were all kind of chatting, preparing for this podcast, we realized that there’s one that I wanna make sure we kind of talk through that isn’t really there, that we’re kind of surprised isn’t there and that’s trust. So seeing trust in, in all of what a team does and how they work together and how valuable that is.

Dan Neumann (22:46):

Right. You know, we’re, we are trying to establish trust. One of the things when teams say at the end of sprint planning here is our sprint goal. And then they achieve that sprint goal. That is a trust building activity with your stakeholders. The absence of that is, is the opposite where people are like me, ah, I thought we were doing something else here the last week, 2, 3, 4, what happened? So, yeah, Justin,

Justin Thatil (23:13):

Right. I was thinking same absence of trust, you know, what kind of dysfunctions that could bring in, right? So if, if somebody doesn’t trust that this particular individual on the team can pull, you know, pull the task off and they resort to, okay, I’ve gotta do this myself. You know, how does that go to a team atmosphere? Right. yeah. Trust is paramount and establishing ways for, for that to grow within the team, you know, facilitating sessions where you know, you celebrate things that go well that, you know, require trust to be present you know, things of that sort it’s important for sure.

Dan Neumann (23:56):

Mm-Hmm, <affirmative> perfect. Yeah. So who knows every couple years, the scrum guide gets revised. We’ll see if there are any changes to the scrum values. Cause they were a fairly recent addition. So yeah.

Justin Thatil (24:10):

Listen to us podcast. <Laugh> make a of it. <Laugh>

Dan Neumann (24:14):

I dunno if I have that kind of power, but it would be fun. <Laugh> think

Erica Menendez (24:18):

We’ll find out.

Dan Neumann (24:19):

Yeah, we will. We will find out well, Erica and Justin, we’re, we’re getting towards the back part here. So I’ll ask you for some closing thoughts and why don’t we go ahead and Justin, would you mind starting for us?

Justin Thatil (24:32):

Yeah. so closing thought, I think it’s really important as, as scrum masters, you know, to, to always have that vision of what a high performing team is. Right. So that was our intent with today’s session to give you all a glimpse into some of the teams that we’ve experienced ourselves that had remnants and, and of, of being high performance teams. So keep experimenting, you know, all the scrum values that we just touched on. Right. observing each aspect of it being present on the team and you’ll, you’ll be good to go.

Erica Menendez (25:13):

Yeah. And I’ll say every, every team’s best probably looks different or not probably does look different. And I think that’s something that we kind of touched on a little bit in saying we’ve seen this work, we’ve seen that work, but without saying what’s high performing for one team might not be high performing for another team. So just recognizing that every team is different and every team wants to work differently. I mean you still have to bring in the values, but the way that they’re brought in and what works for them.

Dan Neumann (25:41):

Yeah. It’s interesting to think of what high performing looks like. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> for now as best we can do given the current circumstances and, and trying to continue on that agile journey, better leverage the scrum framework if that’s what people are doing. But, but to keep along that journey and say, Hey, for now, this is where we’re at and as good as we can do, and then keep chipping away at the different constraints that, that keep that team from being better. So thank you both for taking the time to explore the topic of, of what good or high performing scrum teams look like. Now we get to the part of the podcast where we kind of inquire about continuous learning journeys. And I’m curious Erica, would, would you have something to share on your continuous learning journey?

Erica Menendez (26:27):

I actually completely forgot about this portion of the podcast until we just about got here and realized I am gonna be really bad and just say I’m in the middle of moving. So my continuous learning is just focusing on moving and the process of that. So I don’t have anything in front of me right now, hoping to put something soon, but not right now

Dan Neumann (26:50):

<Laugh> life happens. Yes. I think is <laugh> is, is absolutely acceptable for sure.

Justin Thatil (26:57):

For me. It’s so as of late, there’s been a need to, to sell in a sense, right? So I’ve actually come across a book around the ti title, agile selling get up to speed quickly in today’s ever-changing sales world. Right. So just trying to get an insight into how agile could, could com part into sales. And and then what triggered for me to look into this topic is essentially a statement from, you know, one of my leaders essentially that saying, and we’re all in the tech world. And you know, as, as, as technologists, we’re, we’re usually usually bad at selling ourselves. Right. So just trying to explore on that, on that thought and you know, then dive into a little bit of the sales world. What does that look like? And see if I can get some learning from there.

Dan Neumann (27:54):

That’s interesting. My journey. Yep. Yeah. So yeah, whether you’re selling services or software or an idea, like what if we tried something different here? They’re all different kinds of selling you, you try something different. Might not be a statement of work per se, but it’s still, you’re selling somebody on an idea. So I’m kind of curious to, to hear more about that as, as you get farther through that. So thank you both for joining on the podcast and we’ll look forward to having you again at some point in the future.

Erica Menendez (28:27):

Thanks Dan. Thank

Outro (28:31):

This has been the agile coach’s corner podcast brought to you by agile thought. The views, opinions and information expressed in this podcast are solely those of the hosts and the guests, and do not necessarily represent those of agile thought. Get the show notes and other helpful tips for this episode and other episodes, agile thought.com/podcast.

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“A great Scrum Team identifies the goal to be achieved and works in a self-organized way in that direction.”Erica Menendez

“A Scrum Team must be willing to try something different, experimenting together.” Justin Thatil

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“A Scrum Master has to have the vision of what a high-performing Team is.” —Justin Thatil

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