Getting Agile Teams off to a good start

Podcast Ep. 165: 2022: Getting Agile Teams Off to a Good Start with Quincy Jordan

Getting Agile Teams off to a good start
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Episode Description

This week, Dan Neumann is joined by a repeated guest, Quincy Jordan. Today they are talking about the vital importance of getting agile teams and initiatives off to a good start.

In this episode, they discuss the things that need to happen outside the Teams and that also need to involve them, what elements are required to support the Team and what to expect from them. Listen to this episode to learn more about how to support a Scrum Team to have the best start possible.


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Key Takeaways

  • Management should support the team in its efforts to deliver something of value to the organization
    • Sometimes a team needs mentoring that comes from outside the team
  • Establishing team working agreements
    • Teams need to have working agreements to help establish guidelines about how to do the work and communicate as a team
    • Conflict will happen; that is why rules of engagement are necessary to anticipate the way in which a team will address those potential conflicts
    • Leveraging emotions in conflict resolutions is needed; emotions cannot be removed from a human experience
  • Why do we care for getting off to a good start in the first place?
    • Awareness: A team needs to know why they are endeavoring in a particular project as well as they need to know what is the benefit and who is benefiting from the work
    • It is important for those on the front line to really know how their work ties to the top-line business objective; this is the way for them to see the value of the work that they are doing there
    • Quincy and Dan discuss the critical aspects in launching a team, which are covered by the methodology for change management called ADKAR: Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, and Reinforcement
  • The facets of getting off to a good start
    • After working on the Awareness, it is necessary to make it clear how the team is going to communicate
    • There is a benefit to anticipating how we are going to reward behaviors that we want to perpetuate

Mentioned in this Episode

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 the Agile Coaches’ Corner by AgileThought. The podcast for practitioners and leaders seeking advice to refine the way they work, and pave the path to better outcomes. Now here’s your host, coach, and agile expert, Dan Neumann.

Dan Neumann: [00:17] Welcome to this episode of the Agile Coaches’ Corner podcast. I’m your host Dan Neumann, and welcome to the new year. Welcome to 2022, and I have a special guest Quincy Jordan, a repeat guest, but a special topic about getting off to a good start. So Quincy, hopefully your 2022 is off to a good start.

Quincy Jordan: [00:39] Yeah, thanks Dan. Thanks for having me always pleasure to be on the Agile Coaches’ Corner. Always a pleasure to be here and yes, it’s vitally important to get off to a good start in 2022.

Dan Neumann: [00:52] Awesome. And while we could talk about new year’s resolutions and that kind of good start our, our theme here is more about getting agile teams and initiatives off to a good start.

Quincy Jordan: [01:05] Yeah, that’s right. There’s you know, things that I think about when we are considering agile teams getting off to a good start you know, we talk about team working agreements and setting expectations and all those types of things. But there’s some things that need to occur out side of the team that need to involve the team as well. And as much as you know, we in the agile community you know, kind of rake waterfall over the, over the coals quite a bit you know, there are some things that are pretty well, you know, in, in that arena and engagement, kickoffs, you know, that type of thing. That’s one of those things in, in my opinion. And so it is important that even when a new team starts, that not only do you do the things around team working agreements, which, you know, we can talk about that. But that there’s a kickoff that involves those who have decision making authority or impact they have some risk that is affected by how the teams deliver what the teams are doing because they need to know, and they need to, not only do they need know what to expect, but they need to know how they can support the teams from the outside as well. Yes, the teams, if they’re Scrum teams, yes, they are self organizing and, you know, all those things but there are support that’s needed, you know, from outside the teams. So those kickoffs, you know, are very important.

Dan Neumann: [02:41] Agreed. And a lot of time management gets forgotten about in agile team related conversations, but you hit the nail on the head management is there to support the team in that team’s effort to deliver something of value for the organization, whether it’s access to capital or access to people or access to tools or access to training. If those people don’t know how they can support the team, it it’s certainly gonna be problematic.

Quincy Jordan: [03:11] Absolutely. Even, you know, even access to mentoring, you know, one of the things that that I’ve seen before. And, and I think we’ve talked about some of this, you know, on, on previous podcast, but, you know, middle management will sometimes struggle with how they fit into the picture. And so one of the things that, that is also good in that kickoff is to establish who the go-to folks are in if they’re not established within a, not within the team, but in support of the team. So I’m thinking about a, you know, particular client before where there, there was a developer that was struggling, you know, in different ways and they really needed mentoring and that mentoring really needed to come from outside the team. And how much better might that situation have been if it was established up front where that mentoring would come from? Yes, it was good for that developer to collaborate with their teammates and share and, and learn. But that’s not necessarily where you want the mentoring come from to come from in that case. So during that kickoff event establishing when appropriate where that type of support can come from is not only important, but it’s needed. And it really helps to the overall success and the overall health of the team as well.

Dan Neumann: [04:42] Right. I think of situations where, you know, waterfall world, you know, and not even waterfall in a different setup, there’s an expecta, oh, we’ll give you a senior, they’ll be on the team, or we’ll give you the lead person they’ll be on the team. And a lot of times that creates follow the lead type of behavior and takes away yeah. Takes away the team’s initiative. And in this situation, it’s like, no, you are a self-managing team. And by the way, here’s a person to go to for the technical training, mentoring advice, sounding board, whatever you wanna describe that as.

Quincy Jordan: [05:16] Exactly. And, and that I think is a, that is a really good segue into team working agreements. And so when you are you know, getting off to a good start and so you want the team be it a Kanban team XP team, Scrum team doesn’t really matter it. I mean, it could be a crystal team for that matter. But you know, having a, a nice teamwork and agreement that helps to establish well, this is how we want to work together as a team. This is how we will communicate as a team. This is how we will establish our boundaries. You know, why is this important? Well, conflict is going to happen at some point, unless it is a, an engagement or a product that’s being developed in a very short period of time. Conflicts are bound to happen. And that’s not necessarily a thing. It’s just a matter of making sure that there are some good rules of engagement, so to speak that are established, you know, on the front end, so that when those conflicts happen no one’s caught off guard about how we’re going to address those conflicts.

Dan Neumann: [06:35] Yeah. One of the thing that really struck me when I was reading Lisa Atkins book, coaching agile teams, there was a section on conflict. And what I liked was I think there were five levels in there, and it went from the bottom type of conflict, which we have a problem to solve, which is every software team ever, right? So there is in a conflict. We have a problem to solve here up to, you know, world war three personal safeties in danger, and it was just a really nice way to break down conflict into five different categories. And there were some different strategies that could be employed at each of those five levels. And, you know, when we have a problem to solve, you know, a whiteboard and sticky notes goes a heck of a long ways towards getting what people have in their minds out. And, and so yep. That working agreement, how are we going to handle conflict? How does the team relate to each other is, is critically important.

Quincy Jordan: [07:27] Absolutely. And you know, one of the other things I think is important with regards to establishing that teamwork and agreement, getting the teams off to a good start is, is what I kind of consider like the notion of leveraging emotions. You know, oftentimes when conflict resolution is being sought, we like to say, well, let’s remove the emotion out of the picture. But here’s the thing. Can you remove the emotion without removing the human and really you can’t, we’re human beings. We can pretend that we’ve removed the emotion. But the emotion is there. So why struggle to remove something that you really can’t remove instead of leveraging it? And what I mean by that is you know, you can have emotions that can help drive passion towards delivering an excellent product passion towards quality really being encouraged towards team camaraderie and team collaboration. And so let’s leverage those things, but not only leverage them, it’s establish a good foundation of that at the beginning when we start that way when it’s occurring, it’s not, it’s not throwing people off where people are feeling like, wait, what’s going on? Are we kumbayaing? And we’re gonna like, hold hands. Like, what’s going on? You know, so they, they know upfront, Hey, this is how we’ve decided to work. We’ve decided to work in a very healthy way and know that conflict will come. And, but when it does, this is how we’re going to address it. And we’re not going to ignore how we feel about things, but we’re gonna leverage those emotions to help us succeed.

Dan Neumann: [09:22]
I like what you’re talking about there and kind of making it even explicit. I think back to a team where there was just some unusual behavior from my perspective happened within the team. And it reminds me of the, the quote, why would a reasonable person behave that way? So you have to start thinking about why. And we did a, a journey lines exercise also in Lisa Atkins book, but where we talk about how people got to where they are currently, and the one guy who was really anti-agile, the way he, it was because he was on an agile project and they ignored engineering excellence. It was a garbage app, the way he described it. And he was frustrated and it hurt and led all kinds of bad things on the team like, oh, now I know why you, yeah, that was, that’s not a terribly agile project from, you know, continuous attention to technical excellence principle. So let’s agree that we’re not going to create a mess here. And that went a long way. So bring the passion for technical excellence. And somebody else brought their passion for adherence when the auditors come in and take a look, we better pass. And she was very passionate about that. But yeah, saying, oh, no, you don’t be passionate about that would have been a mess.

Quincy Jordan: [10:40] Yeah. And you know, one of the other things I think about as you were saying that it kind of brought up the the idea, and I’ve seen this a lot with teamwork and agreements, and a lot of people will advocate for this, which is assume good intent. So we are going to start off by saying, well, we’re gonna assume good intent if someone does something that rubs you the wrong way doesn’t go over. Well, well, we’re gonna assume that the intent was good. Maybe the delivery was bad. Maybe the word usage was bad, but the intent, you know, was good. And you know, that’s another one of those things that can really help diffuse many situations before they ever occur. But I think that’s, that’s another one of those things that helps us to get off, you know, to a good start with teams.

Dan Neumann: [11:34] Yeah. For sure. As, as you’re talking through, that’s something, you know, we, working agreements are, are important. There’s lots of good that can come out of those. Here’s how we agree to behave. Here’s what we do when we misbehave, when those rules are broken and are our stakeholders engaging with us and how can they help? It also gets me thinking of why are we doing this project in the first place? I think sometimes people get together and there’s a backlog and, and off we go, but let’s, let’s pull on the thread for why are we doing this in the first place?

Quincy Jordan: [12:09] Yeah. You know, we, you know, says, you know, we, we recently went through some ADKAR training some refreshing for some and new for others. And one of those things is awareness, you know, so to get off to a good start, it’s always great to bring awareness as to why are we endeavoring on this particular project, product de delivery work, whatever you wanna call it. But why are we doing this? What’s the benefit of this? Who benefits from this and how do we see value in it? One of the things that that was pointed out, what helping people to, to really get the, the Witham themselves, you know, what’s in it for me. And so bringing that awareness really, it answers a lot of the questions for people that they may have when they hit a stumbling point of frustration of why they’re even doing the work. And so it helps them to stay focused on, oh, this is why it’s important. This is who it can benefit. Maybe they don’t know, you know, the exact person, of course, but in the spirit of a persona, you know, they have an idea as the type of, of individual that may benefit, you know, from this.

Dan Neumann: [13:50] Right. The, the awareness of the why can then lead to that decentralized decision making that we’re looking for. We talk about teams being self-managing, if you don’t know why the project is being done in the first place, when it comes time to make decisions about how to best move the project towards its goal, you don’t know, you have to go ask you play mother, may I, with the big bosses, if you don’t understand why your project is formed, what its overall objectives are, and that becomes a big problem.

Quincy Jordan: [14:24] Yeah. And so in line with that, that also just kind of brings to mind the utilization of OKRs and which kind of seems like a leap, but it’s important for those on the front line, the hands on keyboards, it’s important for the teams to really know how that work ties to top line business objectives. So that that level of awareness is there so that they can see the value of the work that they’re doing there. And in some cases, if they, if they see it, but they don’t quite understand it, it puts them in a position to where they can ask questions. They can, you know, better understand it. They’re not necessarily questioning why we’re doing this, but they’re just genuinely going back to assume good intent. They’re just genuinely trying to understand why would a consumer want this? Why would a user want to do this? And this really helps them to understand that and, and not necessarily play UX, you know, designer, but help them to get in the mindset of the user that will benefit from the work that

Dan Neumann: [15:41] They’re doing. Yeah. What’s the objective. What are, what are the key results? How do you measure success? And I realize we probably threw in an acronym and maybe we just we’ll pulse on that for a second. So ADKAR change management, A D K A R for awareness, desire, knowledge, ability, and then reinforcement of, of that type of change.

Quincy Jordan: [16:02] Yeah, yeah. Which is, is a methodology for change management. That is very, there are many out there, but that’s one of, one of the ones that I have personally use as one of the ingredients, to my secret sauce for transformations.

Dan Neumann: [16:23] Quincy secret sauce, put it in a little bottle.

Quincy Jordan: [16:26] And, you know, helping to influence and be an advocate for change in transformations because it’s, it’s all part of it. And, you know, and, and as we’re thinking about, and talking about getting teams off to a good start, well, that good start is a change because if you’re starting, that means you’re starting from one thing and into another. And so helping people to, you know, adopt that change, move into change. ADKAR is a good way to do that.

Dan Neumann: [16:56] Totally agree. Yeah. You talk about those, those facets of ad car are critical for launching a team. Are they aware of why do they have a desire? If you want a team to self-manage and be motivated, they better have some desire to it. Do they have the knowledge to execute? And then, like you said, with the developer who needed mentoring, do they have the ability, are you putting the right people, you know, on the team at the think of a basketball team, if they don’t know what they’re out there doing, they’re gonna have a hard time self-organizing or self-managing.

Quincy Jordan: [17:41] Yeah. And that, so that also, yeah, I’m glad you said that, because that also brings to mind about the establish establishing whose role is what who’s going to take on what role and, and when, because just because someone takes on a role at the beginning doesn’t mean they maintain that mold the entire time. There may be an agreement that the role will rotate or or under certain circumstances, they may pivot. So establishing what the roles will look like, how the roles will go, those things are, you know, also, you know, again, just vitally important.

Dan Neumann: [18:23] Yeah. And as you, we talk through these, this isn’t like a 30 minute kickoff, we, and grab everybody throw ’em in the room, put up the 10 PowerPoint slides in 30 minutes and off he goes, this sounds like a, a much more involved type of kickoff. And that’s, I think, consistent with what my experience has been when teams have formed and started out well.

Quincy Jordan: [18:45] Yeah, absolutely.

Dan Neumann: [18:48] What other facets of getting off to a good start, come to mind for you?

Quincy Jordan: [18:52] Let’s see. So we talked about the awareness of the work. I think also making clear delineations of how how we’re gonna communicate with one another. Mm. So I think that’s one of those things that is overlooked and assumed that, oh, okay, well, of course, we’re going to, we’re gonna video, or we’re gonna do this. We’re gonna do that. But I think about different clients where, for example, we at agile thought, we normally use teams now in the teams and many of our clients use as teams. Some of our clients use zoom, but then every once in a while we have a client that uses WebEx. And it literally just kind of throws things off a little bit, you know, because everyone’s not necessarily looking to do that. Everyone in the client is but we are not necessarily always looking, you know, to use that particular tool or whether, you know, JIRA is gonna be the tool of choice or Azure. Your DevOps is gonna be the tool of choice, just communicating, how are we going to relate to one another, what we are intending to do, what we’re currently working on, what results we’ve gotten and and how we’re going to measure power success. So that communication is something that should not be overlooked and something that should have specific emphasis, you know,

Dan Neumann: [20:23] Placed on it. Right. I think of, like I said, the tools, okay. We might agree it’s Azure DevOps or JIRA, et cetera, but then it’s. Yeah. But what goes in there and, you know, one team working agreement might be, if it’s not in the system for record, it’s not work. Like we’re not doing it. If it’s not here, I run into the situation where teams are busy on all kinds of stuff, but it’s, you know, it doesn’t reflect Theban principle of make it visible, or it doesn’t have the transparency that scrum would advocate for. It’s just this mystery drag on the team, what are they doing? Who knows? Right. So what’s the tool? How are we agreeing to use it? What tools do we use when, when do I use email? When do I update the, the work item and our work management tool? When is it an instant message on slack or teams or discord or whatever, like just getting really clear on what all those channels are.

Quincy Jordan: [21:16] And are we okay with different team members using specific tools that work for them accomplish a certain thing, but it’s not the tool that the entire team is going to use. And, and in some cases that may be fine in other cases, it may not. It, it partly depends on, I think how repeatable those things need to be whether or not someone else needs to able to follow it later on down the road. But in some instances, you know, there’s a tool that can do a thing really quickly that everyone else isn’t used to. But this particularly individual knows about and then, okay, is that tool approved to use becomes the other aspect. So just establishing those, all those ground rules, like you, you can’t really underestimate how important it is to start off good. You just, can’t the better off you start. Typically the better, you know, everything goes down the road, the easier it is to pivot, deal with conflicts. All those things is it’s just so much better if you have a good start.

Dan Neumann: [22:32] Oh, for sure. And I like that you brought in, how do we measure success if you’re measuring the success of a team by full utilization of all the air quote resources that’s one way to measure success. If you’re measuring it based on hitting a particular velocity or consistency of velocity, that’s one type of measure. If you’re measuring it by impact to a user of your actual system, that’s really different than those activity based measures. And, and so it can be very empowering to know, look, what do we value? And what does success look like as the team? And it’s not who types the most code, right? Or who’s yeah. You know, booking the most hours or whatever the case might be.

Quincy Jordan: [23:17] Yeah. And if there’s also thoughts around rewarding behaviors that we want to you perpetuate,

Dan Neumann: [23:35] Oh, that’s a whole can away. That’s a whole different podcast, I think, but yeah. How, how do we reward it?

Quincy Jordan: [23:40] Yeah. And, and not create a hero complex at the same time, but help to establish a one team culture.

Dan Neumann: [23:51] Yeah. Yep. Yeah. For sure. And you don’t wanna create you don’t want the, the desired incentive to create bizarre behaviors that are unintended and that’s incredibly difficult to do. If anybody says they’ve got the one way to do it, it’s beware. There will be an unintended, there will be an unintended consequence. It’s just a matter of what it’s going to be. Yeah. Well, Quincy, thanks for taking some time here and talking about getting off to a good start is very apropos here at the start of 2022. Absolutely. Any closing thoughts on the topic?

Quincy Jordan: [24:30] Just pretty much just reiterating some of the things I’ve already said, but starting out 2022, it’s a new year, just like other years that have been new years, but we’re coming out of a pandemic 2020, 2021, you know, were times like we’ve really, quite frankly never seen in our generation, but coming out of those times, just moving forward, putting the things in the past that are in the past and marching on tours, those things that are in the future that help to uplift, motivate, and keep us encouraged. That’s pretty much all what I would like to advocate for.

Dan Neumann: [25:12] Perfect. Yeah. I’m, I’m counting on it. Being a, in a nice, fresh start here off to off to 2022, there are a couple resources that come to mind on this topic. One of them was a blog post by Esther Derby and it was on the, I think the title was something like miss the beginning, miss the end. And it was essentially, if you don’t kick off an effort, well, you, you aren’t going to land it well. so that was one and then a not too thick book by Diana Larson and Ainsley nice, which was on liftoff and it has some nice prescriptive approaches and there’s some facets of launching a team. They have a, a cute little picture of like a butterfly taking off. It’s, it’s beautiful. Like I would expect for Ainsley and Diana. So just a couple resources. We put those in the notes.

Quincy Jordan: [26:02] Well, sounds good. All right.

Dan Neumann: [26:05] Anything on your continuous learning journey at the start of the new year, or are we starting with a blank slate

Quincy Jordan: [26:10] In the new year, still evaluating, still evaluating? It’s I don’t, I wouldn’t call it a blank slate but there are some things that I want to double down on, and then there are other things that I want to explore, you know, that I haven’t been for. So I’ll, I’ll save some of those for next time, as far as any specifics need to see how it goes.

Dan Neumann: [26:35] Perfect. We’re, I’m looking forward to it. Well I should take a moment and you, the listeners for, you know, continuing to download and engage and if you have comments, of course, you can email them to podcast@agilethought.com. If you have questions or topic ideas, we’d, we’d love to hear more of those. So just a shout up to the listeners here as we kick off the new year and a shout out Quincy, thanks for being first up here in appreciate it.

Quincy Jordan: [27:03] Absolutely. Thanks, Dan. Always a pleasure to be here.

Dan Neumann: [27:06]
All right. Until next time.

Outro: [27:08] This has been the Agile Coaches’ Corner podcast brought to you by AgileThought. The views, opinions and information expressed in this podcast are solely those of the host and the guests, and do not necessarily represent those of AgileThought. Get the show notes and other helpful tips for this episode and other episodes at agilethought.com/podcast.

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