Monday, August 19, 2013

Do You Cycle or Swim?

Looking at this title, you may wonder what this post is about.   This post is about one of the challenges we face in geographically distributed teams.  This is about communication among distributed team members.  In distributed agile teams this surfaces at early stages because of the fundamental characteristics of agile projects - short delivery cycles, the need to communicate regularly, etc.

Communication and coordination are among the most challenging areas when working with geographically distributed teams spread across different time zones, countries and cultures. English is spoken in several countries. However spoken English in every region has its flavor  - I mean, the usage and accent are differ from country to country.  Do you find it difficult to communicate and coordinate with geographically distributed teams or customers? Do you find it hard to decipher their accent or pronunciation? Are your team members going through this issue?  If yes, you will like my article 'Do You Cycle or Swim' published in Agile Record.

Download a free PDF copy of this article!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

My Session at Scrum Gathering India 2013 - Part 2

This is the second part of my post about my session titled, ‘How Do We Learn? -  A Key Question for Practicing Scrum Teams’ delivered at Scrum Gathering India 2013.  In the first part I started with the 70-20-10 formula and ended with learning styles.  We are individuals and our learning styles vary.  We are team players too.

We are team players
It is most likely that Scrum team members are team players. This is one of the key factors that make teams successful. When we work in teams, we learn a lot.  We learn by pairing, helping, discussing, playing, following, and so on.   Team retrospectives help us in learning.

Active learning happens significantly in group setting or in teams.  Our retention rate increases when we participate in demonstrations, group discussions, hands-on practice or learning by doing, and teaching as shown here.

When I was putting this in front of a group elsewhere, someone asked me, “Do you mean to say that we can live without class room sessions?”

The answer is  'No'.  When you have an instructor or facilitator or a teacher who is effective, your class room sessions are going to motivate you and keep the flame burning throughout your life!  This is the significance of class room sessions.  Also, class room sessions are appropriate for some topics. To reiterate, we are not undermining the power of passive learning. We are here to understand the effect of active learning as well.  How many of us contribute to active learning in our teams?

According to Bloom's taxonomy, when we limit ourselves to remembering, understanding, and applying, we operate with lower order thinking skills.  When we move up by analyzing, evaluating and creating, we acquire higher order thinking skills.

Now the questions I have are, ‘Should we keep practicing and delivering or go beyond that?  Should we limit ourselves to lower order thinking skills? And don't we have to acquire higher order thinking skills?’

Where do we start?
We start by believing what we do.  We have to regularize what we do and make it a habit.  We have to meditate enough to rest ourselves.   We have to become curious.  Moreover, we must align ourselves to maximize the outcome of learning.

What do we do when we do not have curious team members?  This is a question that came across in my session.   The ultimate answer is, “Make them curious.”  How?  This is where team interaction helps.   You have a key role to play here! You become curious. Identify one or two team members who are ready to spread this 'curiosity' virus.  Check if you are involving your team members.  Identify and involve a coach.   Eventually, your team members will start showing curiosity.  And you will start nurturing a learning team.

Here is my list of takeaways. I am sure you have some more. Please feel free to let me know through your comments.
  1. Class room sessions are necessary (in some cases) but not sufficient. 
  2. Reading is essential.   Thinking, validating and experimenting are going to help you improve.
  3. Practice a lot. Hands-on experience maximizes learning.
  4. Is that it?  No!  Involve your team members.
  5. Share.  Teach. Become a mentor. Help your team members.  These will benefit you as well as your team.
  6. Start moving up from lower order thinking skills towards higher order thinking skills.

Watch these again
Here are the two video clips we watched together at the end of my session.  These are worth watching again.
  1. Bring On the Revolution by Sir Ken Robinson
  2. Three Rules to Spark Learning by Ramsey Musallam

My Session at Scrum Gathering India 2013 - Part 1

I believe that writing a blog post to communicate with you is more effective than sharing a slide deck.   That works for me and you because of two reasons.  First, my slide decks are very crisp and heavy with pictures and animation.  I use them as presentation tools.  They are not for offline communication.  Second, blogging helps me articulate my thoughts and present them in a conversational style, add some stories and summarize the takeaways.   When this happens to be a 2 to 5-minute read, it saves time as well.   This blog post is about my session titled, ‘How Do We Learn? -  A Key Question for Practicing Scrum Teams’.

How do we learn? This is one of the seemingly most simple but important question you and your team members need to ask yourself and think through.  We are professionals.  Obviously we know why we learn and what to learn.  However, many of us seldom think enough about how we learn.

We are individuals
We are individuals. We attend class room sessions at colleges or universities. We go to conferences. We attend workshops and seminars.  We seek mentors or coaches. Mentoring and coaching are essential aspects of professional life these days.

Does it mean that we can put as many adults through class room programs and start churning?  No!  Let us stop churning!

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Let me tell you a story. It happened last year.  That day I completed a group session to spread awareness on Agile Software Development. It was a group of thirty young engineers.   They were part of agile teams.  They attended my session to know more and wanted me to clarify their doubts.  At the end of my session, I looked at one of them and asked, “Now tell me, what the next steps are for you and your team?”   He waited for a second and replied, “I think we will attend more detailed training programs on continuous integration, unit testing, etc.”   I paused for a moment before I encouraged him to start hands-on learning, or learning by doing things.   He was not aware of the 70-20-10 formula.

70-20-10 formula
According to the 70/20/10 formula, which is a concept developed by Morgan McCall, Robert W. Eichinger, and Michael M. Lombardo at the Center for Creative Leadership, 70% of learning happens through practice, hands-on experience or problem solving, 20% of learning happens when we work with experts or coaches, observe them and listen to their feedback, and 10% of learning comes from formal training.

We read books. We browse the internet.  We validate what we hear or read by going through additional references. Sometimes we learn by writing.

We learn by practicing, experimenting, exploring, observing, applying and thinking.   What we learn from class rooms and conferences or workshops is just the beginning. Are we doing enough practice?

We learn from our mistakes. We say ‘fail fast, fail early’.  It does not mean that we can fail frequently and learn from mistakes because doing so is expensive.   Sometimes, mistakes motivate us to unlearn. And we can’t stop learning from mistakes.   And we cannot avoid learning from others’ mistakes!

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Involve me
Have we ever seen team members who feel that they are not being involved? As a Scrum Master or a leader do you involve all your team members?  Involvement is essential to kindle learning.

“Tell me I forget. Show me I remember. Involve me, I understand.”  -  Chinese Proverb.
Teaching is an effective way of learning. How about making teaching or knowledge sharing a culture in your team?   When there is no involvement, team members do not come forward, they do not share their ideas, and they do not volunteer to teach and their participation remains sub-optimal in retrospectives.

Learning Styles
Then there are learning styles.  Here are some examples.

Visual – If this is your style, you prefer using pictures, images, and spatial understanding.
Auditory/Musical - If this is your style, you prefer sound and music for learning.
Physical/Kinesthetic – If this is your style, you prefer the sense of touch.
Solitary – If this is your style, you prefer to learn alone through self-study.
Social - If this is your style, you prefer to learn in groups.

Even though we work in teams, we need to keep in mind that the learning styles of our team members are not going to be the same.   Some are going to be great experimenters and the others are going to be great contributors to discussions.   We cannot force one way or one style of learning on all team members.

So what do we do? Find more on this in the next part.