Top 10 Team Practices
March 30, 2008
There are some great books on agile team dynamics nowadays. My personal favorites include:
- Collaboration Explained by Jean Tabaka
- Agile Retrospectives by Esther Derby, Diana Larsen, Ken Schwaber
- Right-Brain Project Management by Michael Aucoin
- Great Boss Dead Boss by Ray Immelman
- The Blind Men and the Elephant by David Schmaltz
The problem is that most people do not get the time they want or need to read about these topics. So, I have created the following: Top 10 Team Practices list and one-page printer friendly version to remind us of some of the basic points.
If you lead a team then print the sheet and post it somewhere visible and do a mental inventory of the practices from time to time. If you are a member of a team that could do with a boost, print a copy and post it on your manager’s wall, I am sure they will thank you for it! (actual results may vary.)
1) Empower them – By giving control for local decision making and work sequencing to the team we gain the advantages of additional insights, better motivated teams, and more practical plans with less waiting.
2) Listen to them – The team is closer to the technical details of the project and also best placed to determine the most successful solutions to project challenges and problems. Encouraging the team to solve the project problems has two main benefits. It demonstrates they are valued for their insight as well as their output, which makes people feel more involved and appreciated. Also, solutions suggested by the team are more likely to be embraced and executed with enthusiasm. It is better to have a 70% optimal solution executed with 80% enthusiasm than a 100% optimal solution executed with 40% enthusiasm.
3) Trust them to get the job done and solve problems – micro management undermines trust and stifles the feelings of creativity, empowerment, and task ownership that we are trying to promote. Instead check up on status more passively from the daily stand up meetings, project velocity, and retrospectives.
4) Judge when to step in / away – empowering a team does not mean abdicating involvement. Instead it means closely monitoring and deciding when to step in and when to step back. Many variations in team velocity and project disputes can be classed as “common cause variation” and are best solved by the team. However, externally sourced issues or major upsets (“special cause variation”) are prompts for immediate intervention.
5) Create a productive workspace for them – Agile teams need open plan areas for easy communications, wall space for charts and cards, and tools like digital cameras, collaboration software, projectors for demos, etc. Make sure they have them.
6) Provide support for them – An important part of removing impediments is to make sure people have what they need to be productive and successful. This not only covers the computers, software and external group facilitation they ask for, but also training and mentoring that they may not directly ask for. Where areas for development are identified, discuss them with the team member involved and if acknowledged as areas for improvement, then provide mentoring and training to grow them. The project needs productivity and often the best way to get this is to grow the production capability of the team members. It helps to make people feel valued and improves staff retention too.
7) Encourage reflection and adaptation – No process is created optimally the first time and no plan survives contact with the enemy. Accelerate project improvements by encouraging reviews, look-backs and adaptation. Code reviews and retrospectives are great ways to find areas for improvement. Make sure you implement the suggestions and check back to ensure they are actually delivering the anticipated benefits. Also, ask open ended questions to the team like “Where are we vulnerable?”, “Where do we most need to improve?” then shut-up and wait for suggestions.
8) Reward and recognize them – Teams need regular rewards and recognition to maintain enthusiasm and fuel “problem busting” behaviour. Waiting for the project to be delivered before celebrating is too little, too late and may never happen if the team gets demotivated or members quit due to lack of recognition. Find frequent (but real) victories to celebrate as a team and recognize individual achievements with a sincere “Thank You’, or gift as appropriate. The outward ripple of appreciation and improved mood pay dividends.
9) Communications – Share project news, both good and bad freely with the team. Demonstrating this desired behaviour shows it is OK and valuable to share information. Communicate the project vision and sub-component visions to ensure people have a common understanding of the end goals that we are all aiming towards.
10) Align objectives and promote people – Find out what people want to work on and then wherever practical, find ways to integrate this work in the project. Aligning their personal goals with the project objectives is a great way to boost commitment and productivity. Finally, help people progress in their careers and promote the deserving ones above and beyond your control – you will lose a good resource, but who knows where they will be working when you need your next job.
Download as a printer friendly one-page summary: Top 10 Team Practices.pdf
Very interesting top ten. I'm just a bit worried about those people who "don't have time" to read books. What are they doing that's so important? More important than taking a step back and thinking about their own process? Maybe one of your top 10 should be "Take some time to read a book about team dynamics".
Posted by: Mark Stringer | March 31, 2008 at 07:59 AM
Thanks for your comment, I agree people that “don’t have time” for reading books are concerning. Obviously they are “not making time” and instead perpetuating their limited views of how to manage teams.
I attended a great presentation by Tim Sanders (author of “Love is the Killer App”) once where he quoted a statistic that project managers read on average 0.78 books per year. That’s not even one book per year – scary! Perhaps by the time some people become PM’s they feel like they have done their “keener, learning stage” of their careers? Regardless of reason PM’s seem to be among the lower continuing-education segment in general, which is worrying.
Obviously many managers work very diligently to refine their skills, I suspect people who read PM blogs and probably the same people that do read lots of books so I am probably not reaching the desired segment here. However, as the career progression cycle continues to shorten and people become PM’s at younger ages, let’s hope we get a higher proportion of managers who do make the time to read about team dynamics.
I also agree that "reading some books on team dynamics" should form part of the "7) Encourage Refelection..." for project managers, good suggestion.
Thanks for reading and your comments, regards
Posted by: Mike Griffiths | March 31, 2008 at 09:25 AM
I especially like #7. It is important to be adaptable in your project management. Integrated project management offers just such an opportunity. With technology and innovation, it is possible to become more adaptable. I also think #9 (communications) is also very important.
Posted by: Miranda | April 07, 2008 at 12:49 PM
People, and they way that they interact, are the most important determinants of success on a software development project.
Team should be active participants on your project decisions, not just working on your decisions. People who work together closely in co-located teams will often manage themselves.
Posted by: AgileGuru | April 17, 2008 at 10:02 AM
The top 10 team practices are alinged with Higher Order needs (Theory Y, Douglas McGregor, 1960s). The assumptions made are that employees are self motivated, ambitious, self-directed and anxious to accept greater responsibilities. Theory Y management style brings our creativity among staff and a Theory Y manager will help remove barriers that prevent employees from achieving full potential.
This are simple but very good 10 points. I like them !
Posted by: Rajat Dhameja | April 24, 2008 at 09:43 AM
Yes, we use Theory Y approaches to lead and motivate agile teams. It takes some trust to get there, but trusting others opens doors to higher productivity.
Thanks for your comment.
Posted by: Mike Griffiths | April 30, 2008 at 04:31 PM
I agree teams should self manage and be actively involved in decision making. I wrote this related post on Team Solving last year that might interest you.
Thanks for reading and posting your comment.
Posted by: Mike Griffiths | April 30, 2008 at 04:37 PM
Wonderful, common sense plan to help great teams create great products. The philosophy helps to let team members get the most out of themselves.
But it is a two-way street and the team has to produce a product that the organization wants and if it can't do it in the timeframe the organization wants, then at least give and achieve an estimate of completion time and features. I am guessing that swift, quality achievement is the assumed result of the motivational and organizational steps.
Posted by: TomMariner | May 28, 2008 at 03:58 PM