In this episode of the Agile Coaches’ Corner podcast, Dan Neumann is joined by a frequent guest of his and AgileThought colleague, Quincy Jordan. Quincy is a principal transformation consultant and has been with AgileThought for almost three years.
Together they will be exploring when things are going so well that you just don’t notice that there are problems bubbling beneath the surface. They address what kind of problems show up when teams become complacent due to things going so well, how to spot these problems (and address them) before they start, and how to differentiate between when things are going “so well that you don’t notice” and actually being on the right path.
- The problems that arise when things are going so well that you don’t notice that they’re not:
- When a Scrum Master is doing super well in their role, those outside the team or the leaders in the organization begin to question if they really need the role
- However, if you remove that Scrum Master when the team is doing great and maturing well, things will continue in a downwards trajectory (the same way a car does when a tire goes flat)
- It’s the classic scenario of “you’ve done your job too well” and others don’t realize how valuable and important that is
- Sometimes the role of the Scrum Master is switched up or rotated in a way that doesn’t fully fill it and the wheels eventually fall off
- When things are going well, those who suffer from a hero complex lose the opportunity to be the hero — this can lead to situations such as:
- When developers have an abnormal tolerance for tech debt (i.e. they are not paying as much attention to the quality of code or adhering to standards that are good for the team, which creates an abnormal amount of bugs that the team has to fix. Then, said developer jumps in as the hero)
- I.e. Firefighters lighting fires to put them out
- When things are going well, there can be a tendency to start to question roles and processes (such as the Scrum Master role and the processes and organizational support that are in place to support the team/s)
- When things are questioned, it can affect not only the team/s, but it also affects the organization as a whole
- Both the team/s and the organization can become complacent if things are working so well
- When a Scrum Master is doing super well in their role, those outside the team or the leaders in the organization begin to question if they really need the role
- How to avoid getting trapped in this way of thinking:
- Leadership should be constantly assessing whether or not they’re providing the right types of problems to solve
- The team should be asking themselves if they’re looking at the right problems to solve
- Is the team properly considering Horizons Two and Three if they are beginning to go down the path of the Three Horizons model?
- Shift from “How much faster can the teams go?” and “How much more stuff can they deliver?” to “Are we delivering the right capabilities?”, “Are we delivering things customers want?”, and “Are we continuing to experiment and innovate”
- The wrong question is: “Can we make sure that we’re providing them with the right problems to solve?”, “Where can we, from a leadership standpoint, give more guidance to increase business value?”
- How to differentiate between a mature and a complacent team:
- Though they can sometimes look the same on the surface, a very complacent team will have far more carry-over stories than a mature team
- Ask: “How well has this team challenged themselves?” A more mature team would exhibit these types of behaviors as opposed to a complacent team
- A more mature team makes time for continuous improvement and retrospectives whereas complacent teams make them cut out or make them shorter
- Mature teams dig deep and find opportunities to improve
- Mature teams look below the surface and think more critically
Mentioned in this Episode:
- Quincy Jordan
- AgileThought Careers
- Agile Coaches’ Corner Ep. 101: “Are Scrum Masters Expendable?”
- Three Horizons by McKinsey & Company
- Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs, by John Doerr
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. I’m your host, Dan Neumann, and happy to be joined today by principal transformation consultant Quincy Jordan, thanks for joining Quincy.
Quincy Jordan: [00:26] Hey Dan, as always. Thanks for having me again.
Dan Neumann: [00:29] All right. Before we get into our topic for the day, which is, uh, exploring when things are going so well that you just don’t notice it and kind of pulling on that problem, if you will want to take a minute and, uh, kind of thank the folks for listening again, we’ve, we’ve continued to see month over month, the numbers of listeners grow. So that’s super exciting. That’s part of the reason we do this is because people are consuming the content. So what a thank you, the listener for that, and then also invite you. If you have something you want to reach out and ask us to address, that would be great. And if there is something happening where you’ve seen some super inspired agility and we should know, and maybe consider having that person on as a guest to maybe share that story and share that with, with other listeners, that’s also something we’d like you to reach out to with the email firstname.lastname@example.org. And lastly, I hate to hit people up with like three calls to action at the start and the marketing people might be like, just shaking their heads right now, but AgileThought is continuing to hire. And so if you’re listening to this podcast, I think there’s a chance we, um, would like to have you check out the careers page at agilethought.com/careers. Uh, we’ve got a lot of remote positions, uh, several of those in Mexico for our listeners who are in, uh, Latin America, Mexico, specifically. Um, we’d love to have you check those out and see if you’re a good fit developers, QAs. There’s a whole bunch of positions out there. So that’s, that’s the call to actions for now. Let’s talk about when things work so well that you don’t even notice, Quincy.
Quincy Jordan: [02:10] Awesome. Let’s do it.
Dan Neumann: [02:12] Why is that a problem?
Quincy Jordan: [02:15] Well, you know, if you think about, um, when you have teams, let’s, let’s start with the team level. Uh, you have teams that are performing really well. Uh, and let’s say you have certain roles on those teams that are doing extremely well in particular, let’s say the Scrum Master role. All right. So there are times where I’ve seen where a Scrum Master is they’re doing really such a good job that, uh, those outside the team or, or leaders begin to question, well, do we really need, you know, this role, like the team is they’re performing really well. Uh, they’re producing really good code, you know, and the business values, they’re all those types of things. Uh, and they begin to question, you know, the value of that role, continuing they’re not necessarily questioning whether or not it was needed to begin with. Um, but they’re now beginning to question whether or not it’s needed to continue. And, and I know that, you know, there are those out there that will say, well, a Scrum Master, you know, at times, uh, they’re almost like they’re to get the team started, you know, to some degree in the end, you know, until the team matures,
Dan Neumann: [03:34] None of you, we subscribed to, but I’ve heard that.
Quincy Jordan: [03:38] Yes. I I’ve heard it. Uh, and so this is part of the challenge that I have with that is what I have seen more often than not. And to be perfectly frank, I’ve actually seen this with traditional project managers as well, that when the Scrum Master is doing a really good job team seems to be maturing really well. Uh, if you remove that Scrum Master things continue, you know, they, they continue much like a car continues when a tire goes flat, right? The car is still moving. It’s still going forward. You may not realize that damage is occurring. Um, but by the time you do, you know, your tire is unraveling going down the highway. So, uh, that’s much the same with that Scrum Master role that yes, initially it looks like the team can just continue just fine, nothing’s wrong, but give it roughly 45 to 60 days and, uh, what was going so well that you didn’t notice
Dan Neumann: [04:40] Pretty soon. It’s that rim grinding on the asphalt and sparks flying all over at that point, you’ve been doing it way too long when the sparks are flying and it’s like that, right? What’s so with Scrum teams, you look and you’re like, well, what happened? Well, I wouldn’t even call them a Scrum team at that point, if you don’t have a Scrum Master, you’re not a Scrum team. There’s only three roles in Scrum.
Quincy Jordan: [05:03] That’s right. Yeah, that’s right. Yeah. And so, you know, at that point now people are trying to figure out what’s wrong, uh, and it’s damage control. Right. But now that Scrum Master is off somewhere else. Uh, and maybe they’re brought back in, you know, but, but it’s really an unfair situation. It’s, it’s the classic scenario of you’ve done your job too well. And others don’t realize how valuable and important that is.
Dan Neumann: [05:32] Right. And in fact, we’ve, uh, we’re going to do a deep dive on that, I think in another week or so with looking at the, uh, the way the podcast episodes are going to release with Sam Falco, because we had a listener who contacted us and said, I’ve got three really well-performing teams in an organization that’s pretty agile. And it’s feeling like an existential crisis. They’re wondering is my job still safe as a Scrum Master with some really well-functioning teams in an agile organization. So, um, stay tuned. I’ll be curious to get you to say it. Sam said he has strong feelings about this and I would expect him to. Yeah.
Quincy Jordan: [06:06] Yeah. I mean, there, there are genuine concerns around that. So yeah, I would look forward to internet podcasts as well.
Dan Neumann: [06:12] And I see it, you know, even if the Scrum Master isn’t removed the other form that’s taken, maybe the Scrum Master moves off to help another team that’s, uh, in more desperate straits. And then the team decides what we’re going to do. Something like rotate the Scrum Master role or some other incarnation that, that doesn’t really fill that role very fully. So yeah, they’ve got one, but next Sprint it’ll be somebody else and Sprint after that, it’ll be somebody else. And it I’ve seen the wheels fall or the, to use your tire metaphor. I’ve seen the wheels fall off that too.
Quincy Jordan: [06:42] Yeah. And even when teams take that, that approach, uh, you know, w what I say has never worked, no, I wouldn’t say it’s that where, I mean, plenty of things have work in certain situations, but, but I would say that I don’t think when, when teams take an approach that they consider, uh, the amount of context switching, you know, that takes place with that. And, you know, typically it takes three Sprints for a team to normalize when you essentially, when you make a change in either the, uh, team formation or, uh, team members, you know, so, so there’s, you know, there’s a, there’s a consequence to that, you know? Right. Um, but one of the other things I wanted to, uh, for us to kind of talk about and get into along these lines of when things are going so well, you don’t, you know, you just don’t notice, uh, is it also becomes something that frustrates those who, who suffer from a hero complex, you know, as well, because things are going so well, wait, I don’t have my opportunity to be the hero anymore. Right.
Dan Neumann: [07:58] That hero complex, we were talking. So like the analogy, cause since it’s apparently analogy day is, you know, firefighters who go light fires so that they can go put them out or, you know, in software, it’s the project manager who’s going to come in and save the project or the Scrum Master who’s front and center for the team, pulling all the strings. And they like to tell everybody about it in the Sprint review and how they, how they saved it. And it could be a developer too, you know, who’s, who’s, um, hoarding the work so that they can say, well, I did all this stuff I did. I did. I did. So those are three things that come to my mind for what that hero complex might look like.
Quincy Jordan: [08:34] Yeah, absolutely. And you know, maybe the one I would zero in on is when developers have an abnormal tolerance for tech deck, you know? Yeah. They’re, you know, letting bugs, uh, go through. And I wouldn’t say that they’re necessarily creating the bugs, but maybe they’re not paying quite as much attention to, you know, the quality of code, um, or, you know, even before we started and, you know, the podcast is running, we were talking about, uh, you know, maybe not adhering to, you know, some of the standards that may be there for the team, uh, which then, you know, creates maybe an abnormal amount of bugs have to fix, uh, before the end of the Sprint. And so you have this one developer that, or a couple of developers or whatever that, you know, they jump in and, you know, Hey, we, we worked all weekend and we got all the bugs fixed. And so we met our Sprint goal. Okay. Uh, you know, that can happen, but I mean, should that have happened in the first place? You know? No. So, uh right.
Dan Neumann: [09:47] Well, I mean, if it is happening, then it’s like, well, is the agile principle of sustainable pace, present, you know, do we actually have a team that’s paying attention to technical excellence? Right. So yeah, in most cases we can think, unless somebody just really loves working on weekends, who’s super excited and, you know, they have a different idea of what, like that’s cool party on. Like, if you get excited about that and you know, you have all that energy to pour into the work. That’s cool. Uh, but a lot of times people use the weekends to not do work.
Quincy Jordan: [10:19] Yeah. Yeah. And, you know, and I think, you know, part of the, the point that we’re making here is just that, uh, when things are going so well that you don’t notice it, it takes away that opportunity for that, uh, hero complex individual, you know, to, to exercise that hero complex, which let’s be clear is not a healthy thing for the team. The hero complex is not healthy at all, um, whatsoever, uh, and you know, but it becomes a frustration.
Dan Neumann: [10:54] Right. And so, uh, and it’s okay if those people, you know, go somewhere else to, to be heroes that’s okay. They’re just, you know, you want to make sure that they’re not being disruptive to the team and its ability to perform well. So we, when the team is doing well, there’s, there can be a tendency then to start to question roles, the Scrum Master role, some of the processes or organizational support that are in place to support that team. Um, and that’d becomes dangerous. Yeah.
Quincy Jordan: [11:26] Yeah. And I’m glad you said that because, so we talked about at really the team level and in some of the opportunities there, you know, around that, but it also affects the organization as a whole and where it affects the organization as a whole is, you know, they become complacent, you know, or they could become complacent. Um, if things are so well, um, that they don’t even notice. So they really want to make sure that, uh, they’re constantly looking okay, are we providing, you know, the right types of problems to solve? Are we looking at the right problems to solve? Uh, you know, are we considering, you know, if we start going down a line of horizon, one, two, and three, are we looking at horizon two and three, you know, at all?
Dan Neumann: [12:21] Yeah. So let’s the, um, for folks, cause I had horizons go through my head too, and there might be some people that are like, what what’s this horizon stuff we’re talking about. So maybe we can just share amplify. So horizon one is kind of your bread and butter, the operational things that the stuff where you truly do want to maybe look to improve efficiency, as opposed to, when we talk about a lot of Scrum teams, its effectiveness or solving complex problems. So it’s, um, I think my McDonald’s analogy, look, McDonald’s just needs to squeeze efficiency out of how the line operates at some level that that would be like a horizon one horizon two, then if you want it.
Quincy Jordan: [13:00] Sure. So horizon two is you’re, you’re basically taking your bread and butter, uh, scenario, but you’re applying it into new markets. Uh, and so an analogy.
Dan Neumann: [13:13] So Uber to me looks like an example of that where, Hey, they’ve got people in cars, they’re driving around all over the place. Holy cow, we could move food as well as people. That’s an example to me, of something where I thought a horizon two came to mind. So we’ll take our food example and we’ll apply it to Uber as an H two.
Quincy Jordan: [13:31] Yeah, absolutely. And so, and so then when we’re looking at, um, H three, uh, which, you know, many, many tech companies chase, chase H three, you know,
Dan Neumann: [13:44] Over and over whatever, feels like a dog chasing a bone because that’s, that’s the purveyor, I’m sorry, dogs, don’t chase bones, dogs, chase cars, and tails tail.
Quincy Jordan: [13:55] Um, but then it’s like the elusive, uh, unicorn, you know, that everyone’s looking for. Right. Uh, and not that it’s something that you can’t actually accomplish. So we do use that term unicorn a lot, but it is the thing that is, you know, what’s the next big thing that people have not thought of in that particular space, you know for that company.
Dan Neumann: [14:33] I think so. Thank you. So H one, two, three, and bringing it back to, uh, when things are going so well, you don’t notice. I think a lot of times organizations can get stuck in, Hey, we’re doing pretty okay at the H one stuff and stay there until they get disrupted massively by somebody who’s been balancing the horizons with somebody in an organization who’s been balancing those. And that has now become a disruptor for that company. And then that creates chaos. So you go from this really stable state things are okay. Things are okay. Things are okay to, Oh my gosh, we have a A FinTech like we’ve been doing traditional banking and a FinTech just came in and um, now they’re doing mortgages through an app.
Quincy Jordan: [15:13] Oh, absolutely. Yeah. I think about in, maybe this is taking us down a rabbit trail a little bit too far, but you know, think about, um, you know, I mean really like Tik TOK is in my opinion, disrupting Netflix, Hulu, like anything that’s that, that, uh, takes someone’s visual attention because you only have so many hours in a day.
Dan Neumann: [15:41] Do you, do you have a Tik TOK video. Is there a Quincy Jordan Tik Tok
Quincy Jordan: [15:46] No, I don’t have a Tik Tok video. Not a publish one anyway.
Dan Neumann: [15:51] Yeah. Well it’s, you know, it gets to, are we working on the right thing? So if you’re, um, if you’re a social media video provider and maybe you’ve been going along and, and kind of complacent now you’ve got this. Um, and maybe the teams are delivering consistently and there’s, there’s no major drama now you’ve had your eye off of the horizon two or the horizon three, and now drama’s coming your way.
Quincy Jordan: [16:15] Yeah. And so not to, you know, hammering on Tik Tok too much, but, uh, because I have actually been observing it, you know, quite a bit lately and as many others, you know, because of the pandemic and so forth. Um, but I, aside from the entertainment part, I have really just been observing, okay, what, what is this really doing? And, uh, it’s replacing the news in a lot of ways in a lot of people are actually looking at Tik Tok to get more relevant news because these are videos that are not necessarily, you know, going through, you know, the major media. Uh, they’re definitely not. Uh, you know, and, and so some people feel like, Oh, Hey, I’m getting the thing that the news media would not actually show me. Uh, and like I said, there’s only so much time in a day. So if someone was going to normally watch the news for 30 minutes, you know, to see what was going on or something, um, and so some are now watching Tik Tok and that same span of time, and maybe not intentionally doing it, watching it instead of the news, but, uh, but that time has gone. And so once the time has gone, then they’re doing whatever else they need to do. Uh, yeah.
Dan Neumann: [17:36] And so when new we’ve got, um, organizations that are kind of things are going so well that they don’t notice then really shifting from how much faster can the teams go, how more stuff can they deliver to, are we delivering the right capabilities? Are we delivering things customers want, are we continuing to experiment and innovate and try new things? And as I say that, then in maybe take the risk that one of those things doesn’t work and maybe, you know, um, disrupting the things are going so well, you go, Ooh, crud. That didn’t go so well. And, and that’s, that’s okay.
Quincy Jordan: [18:13] And I think that brings up a really good point around, you know, this, this desire for the ultimate efficiency, you know, sometimes that, uh, senior leaders, you know, are looking for, to come out of their teams and they’re constantly wanting to evaluate their teams based off of productivity. You know, how, how much, how many stores are doing, how many, how much code are they cranking out? Um, and in some ways they’re looking at that as the thing that says the team is doing really well. Um, but there is a point where there’s a threshold and there’s a threshold where the team is pretty high performing. Uh, you know, their velocity is not going to increase any more and remains, you know, sustainable. Uh, and so at that point, that’s when you’re kind of starting to hit the point of, well, things are working so well that you don’t notice and then comes along a senior leader that says, well, you know, can’t, can’t, we squeeze more juice out that fruit, you know, can’t, can’t, we get more out of them. And the question isn’t, can we get more out of them? That’s really the wrong question. The right question is, can we make sure that we’re providing them with the right problems to solve? Where, where can we, uh, from a leadership standpoint, where can we give more guidance, um, to increase business value? Because that’s where it needs to be. Not how much can the team prank out, not, you know, uh, can we get their velocity up? No. Okay. We want to make sure to have a lot, the volatility, you know, stays consistent, uh, being their change in velocity, but no, we’re, we’re not wanting to, continuous improvement does not mean ever increasing velocity. Uh, and we want to guard for those kinds of things.
Dan Neumann: [20:19] And when, or when leaders start to say, Hey, we want, we, gosh, it’d be really great. If you did X, Y, or Z from a metric standpoint, if we, they want stable velocity, guess what teams will give it to you? If you want to increasing velocity, they’ll give it to you. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re doing something better. They’re just, they know that they know that they’ve got a target and they’re expected to hit, they’ll find a creative way to hit that target, whether it means extra value delivery or just making the numbers look good somehow.
Quincy Jordan: [20:48] Yeah. I’ll often, uh, I completely agree.
Dan Neumann: [20:52] So in this episode, we’ve been talking about when things are working so well that you don’t notice, and that kind of begs the question. I think I’ve seen situations where teams are just complacent is the word that you would, you would use. I think they’re things are just happening. They’ve got the same process. They’re not high performing, but they’re performing enough. Maybe they’re just, they’re just kind of going with the flow and the continuous improvement part has gone. And how, how might one differentiate, Hey, we’re doing really great and maybe just feed us a better backlog or some of those types of things from know, we’re not great, but you know, we’re here.
Quincy Jordan: [21:36] Yeah. Yeah. And I do think it’s valuable to make that distinction. And, you know, maybe to crystallize that a little bit more, I, I look at it as, uh, you know, how do you, how do you differentiate between a team that is complacent versus a team? Um, that is just mature because they can actually sometimes look the same because a mature team is kind of running on all cylinders. Uh, you know, they’re, you know, they have fewer bugs making their way through. Um, they have, they’re managing their distractions a lot better. They’re, uh, ensuring that they’re being very transparent about, uh, dependencies with one another dependencies outside the team. They’re bringing awareness to those things. Uh, the Scrum Master is, you know, helping to remove those impediments. Uh, and so on the surface, the very mature team can have a very similar, uh, traits and characteristics as, you know, a very complacent team, but a very complacent team I would say one, you’re probably going to have a far more, uh, carry over stories, you know, happening than, uh, a very mature team. You know, would you still have carry over stories in a mature team likely, um, you probably should have at least one, you know, um, otherwise I would then kind of question the assist team probably actually complacent. Like if they’re hitting it right on the spot every time and a little bit of a red flag of, you know, maybe some, some, uh, sandbagging going on, but, uh, you know, and how, how well has this team challenged themselves, um, in terms of their own velocity? I know I don’t mean others saying, Hey, can you increase your velocity? Can you get core story points through, but I am saying that team taking it upon themselves to look and say, Hey, look, and, you know, for three or four Sprints, you know, we, we pushed harder and we were able to get, you know, X amount done, but, but we know that we weren’t really sustainable. Um and so they’re taking it upon themselves to, to back up just a little bit, like those are some of the things that are more mature team, um, would do when someone thinks that you would look for, are they, do they exhibit those types of behaviors? Um, as opposed to a team that’s complacent is really more or less just letting it all happen, you know, to them, you know, more something being more proactive about it.
Dan Neumann: [24:07] Yeah. That taking time for continuous improve. And I think a well functioning team will still make room for the retrospective. A team has become complacent. It’s like, Oh man, we’re getting nothing out of our retros. Let’s make them 15 minutes because they’re not being effective. I’ve seen, I might’ve seen that a couple times. Right. It’s or, or we could invest a larger amount of time and go a little deeper and really find another opportunity to improve.
Quincy Jordan: [24:36] Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I think that’s, that’s a whole nother podcast.
Dan Neumann: [24:44] And so I think I like you described, right. So there’s the surface level things look. Okay. And it’s important to, uh, look below that surface and to think a little bit more critically or, uh, and that’s it circling back to where we started with the Scrum Master role. That would be something I would expect a Scrum Master to do is to say, Hey, let’s look deeper. Let’s really explore how we’re doing. Um, and yeah, maybe the team decides they need to take a step back so that they can go forward in a, in a better footing, um, with better delivery. And that would be an example of, uh, of things working very well. All right. Well, I appreciate you taking time to explore the topic here today. I know in the past we’ve talked about, Hey, what books are you reading? COVID has really disrupted a lot of things in life. And for many folks that’s been the reading side. I don’t know if, um, not to put you on the spot, but I’m going to put you on the spot. Have you been, been consuming anything or what’s been your journey?
Quincy Jordan: [25:45] Yeah. I’ve just been picking up and putting now, uh, what matters, uh, measure what matters, uh, and not putting it down because it’s not interesting, just quite frankly, just, you know, time in trying to make sure, make sure that I maintain my own, uh, you know, well-being of, of making sure that I relax and, you know, the whole secure, sustainable pace.
Dan Neumann: [26:10] That’s, that’s good. So you’re a smart man for doing that. It’s been, uh, been very similar. I’m still marveling at, or when we used to have time to commute places because I do the work thing and I, I get out and I do a run and have some family time and I’m like, well, crud, where did all that time go? So, yeah. Yeah. Well, good. Well, I look forward to exploring another topic with you in the future, and thanks for joining.
Quincy Jordan: [26:32] And thanks for having me again.
Outro: [26:36] 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 hosts 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.