Starting an agile project with a new team provides a great time to reflect on what we take for granted.
It offers an opportunity to refocus on what we think is ultimately most important.
We anticipate the questions new team members have.
We see reservation as they engage teammates who have more experience.
We’re ready for the moments they sometimes shut down or defer to others’ “leadership”, even as I hear them making sound observations and assertions, and leading the team in their own way.
We watch their pensive expressions when we introduce new terms or use some of our overloaded agile jargon in ways they are not accustomed to hearing.
We feel their pain when they worry about:
- Am I doing it “right”?
- What if my “velocity” is too low?
- How should I be feeling right now?
- This all moving so fast, what should I be doing?
- Am I going to get this? Am I going to fail?
I also see curiosity, interest and willingness to learn something new.
When I read through community conversations about team roles, story points versus engineering hours, documentation, kanban and the like, it seems to me that the most powerful promise a leader can make in building a new scrum team is that everything is going to be OK…
It is important that we keep moving forward, developing practices and refining how we look at project management and product delivery. With our new teams, however, we can’t expect they can simply read a book or attend a class.
Even in a hybrid team environment with a blend of experience, learning something that we hear is so easy and adaptive (but has a lot more rigor than the hype) can seem like a sip from the fire hose. After all, we call this “agile”… if you come into your first agile team knowing only about the benefits, how hard can it be?
And in the face of years of hard-won knowledge, agile development is still about learning. I am not convinced we can’t always learn new things from new teammates, so I leave a little extra room as we start new projects to listen to their questions and observe how they react in conversation.
Ten years ago, I remember teaching my newbie agile teams about the impact of notions like trust and truth in writing software.
We had open conversations about how various disciplines promoted trust or kept us focused on what were building together.
The fundamentals still work with new agile teams today.
- We accept that our earliest work at estimation and velocity sets up a baseline.
- We don’t hold “feet to the fire” for imperfection, though we always try to get better.
- We strive for teamwork, communication, quality, bullet-proof automated unit tests and high throughput.
- We are strict in holding intra-team commitments including continuous integration and collective code ownership.
And within all of that, we look for ways to encourage creativity. We allow room for self-expression and we find ways to tap into sources of intrinsic motivation that will result in the best outcomes for everyone.
If the customer/product owner and coach/scrum master can hold, refine and communicate the vision for the product and the development effort, there is room to coach almost any team into a state of positive momentum as long as we hold to fundamentals and leave room for team learning.