Agile teams find a lot of benefit from external coaching. Especially teams who, for whatever reasons, have not been focusing on continuous improvement. In my experience as an Agile coach, I've come across many situations where I could add value as an external coach. Here is a discussion of courage as a value.
Implementing courage as a value
This has been a tough thing for teams. Though everyone learns about this value in the classroom and gets an immediate feeling that now they belong to an Agile team and hence do exhibit courage, in reality teams often work at their level only, and they're not able to influence the layers above.
Product owners need courage
Product owners often say, "I leave the estimate to you," "Commit to only whatever you are confident of achieving," and so on. This happens during planning but doesn't seem to last through the end of the sprint.
Product owners are not absolute owners in the sense that there are others involved in decisions on priorities. Though in a sprint planning meeting they assume all powers, they face pressures from different people during the sprint. That's when they need to exhibit courage, but not many are able to. The team doesn't get to meet the people who make decisions at some levels; Agile is implemented just in the bottom couple of layers. Often the team gets the blame in such situations. Many times they realize this is happening, but they're not able to voice it. Even ScrumMasters are aware of such impediments and become helpless and get carried along with the tide. A coach has to make this visible to all and help them find ways to overcome such impediments.
ScrumMasters need courage
ScrumMasters say things such as, "Now that you're an Agile team, you should make your own decisions," "OK, the team doesn't have any impediments — great, let's disperse and focus on the work," and so on. Many times it's too late by the time ScrumMasters and the team realize that everything is not fine.
Teams find it hard to notice when they need to replan. ScrumMasters also find it hard to tell the team, whether at the end of the daily Scrum or at any other time, that they need to replan because things aren't going fine. They need to guide the team to see progress daily. If they don't see progress, they should be able to see impediments. If they see neither, either they aren't seeing what is clear or they don't have the courage to make it clear. If team members spend nine hours in office, one of these should be made clear:
- Completion of work
- Change in estimates
- New tasks getting added and worked on
- Unplanned activities, including idle time
If none of these are made clear, the team is not focused. For ScrumMasters to alert the team to replan requires courage, especially toward the end of a sprint.
Team members need courage
I've seen team members come to a daily Scrum and say, "I took on this task and am done. I will take that one on today," "I worked on Task A yesterday but couldn't complete it as I had to conduct some interviews, but today I will complete it," and so on. Team members leave the meeting having said their pieces, but they fail to see the impediments clearly.
Team members often get carried away by work allocated to them casually by others outside the Scrum team. They often forget that any work has to come through the product owner, and that it needs to be as planned as possible. Changes need to be explained to the product owner and other team members when they happen. Everyone should focus on avoiding unplanned activities that aren't in line with their goals. In order to do that, first they have to identify and make their goals clear. Unplanned activities prevent teams from meeting deadlines, knowing their true velocity, and being productive. One certain way of improving deliveries over sprints is to identify and manage unplanned activities. Teams need this to focus on real improvement as a second step. Hence when they reflect on daily progress and impediments, they also need to see the layer of blocks around them that aren't clear.
Product owners need courage in order to:
- Make decisions and stand by them
- Involve everyone concerned in making decisions on priorities before coming to sprint planning
- Give the right feedback to the team during the sprint review
ScrumMasters need courage in order to:
- Prevent external interference from disrupting the team
- Allow the team to replan as often as needed
- Help the team manage unplanned activities
- Help the team clarify the impediments
Team members need courage in order to:
- Identify and make visible unplanned daily activities
- Identify the need to replan and express it
- Identify changes to the estimation and make it visible
- Boldly make impediments clear
Coaches need to educate management, product owners, managers, ScrumMasters, and team members, often on specific aspects of Agile. They need to talk to everyone concerned and help them all realize the value of making things clear and bringing in a culture that values courage.