I warned you that I’d be blogging about the “messiness” of ALM and DevOps consulting. And this is a long one so grab a cup of coffee, tea, or cocktail of your choice (whatever I won’t judge). It’s actually based on something I wrote for the QAI Quest Magazine. If you haven’t checked out the CQAA (Chicago Quality Assurance Association) community or their upcoming QUEST conference in Chicago this April, I highly recommend it!
Anyway, here is the article:
A large part of my job as a scrum master and agile coach is focusing on quality. Quality of process, quality of teams, and quality of software. While all of these can be challenging to improve, one of the hardest to tackle is quality of the team. I’m not talking about individual’s skillsets, although that is important. I’m talking about the ability of the team to work together as a WHOLE. In my experience, teams that cannot accomplish this cannot produce a quality product. Missed requirements, sloppy handoffs, miscommunication of what is “done”, and a host of other issues arise when the team just can’t seem to come together in a truly open and collaborative environment. Causes for this failure are complex and will vary from team to team. But one that I run into time and time again is fear. Yes, fear!
I’m not a psychologist and I don’t purport to know all the answers, but I can speak from experience - both in terms of myself and what I see in others. I have seen fear manifest itself in the following situations:
· Underestimating feature delivery times to hide a lack of confidence, often leading to painful sprint reviews when committed features aren’t delivered on time, or not at all.
· Code being integrated too soon to avoid being late, resulting in bugs “leaking” into production.
· Misunderstood requirements being implemented without question, and promptly being rejected by QA or a frustrated product owner.
· Resentment when team members feel someone is not pulling their weight, when in reality that person is silently struggling.
· Failure by team members to ask for clarification because everyone else surely must “get it”.
The fear of being seen as not good enough or smart enough by our peers is real and pervasive in IT. Ironically, the end result of hiding our struggles is often working extra hours and even cutting corners to make the unrealistic deadlines that we set for ourselves. This inevitably leads to doing the very thing we are fearful of … letting people down.
Tying this back to quality:
· Imagine if the team was afraid to admit that a requirement was vague, that it would be extremely complex to develop, or almost impossible to adequately test.
· Imagine if they assumed they’d figure it out as they go and plowed ahead.
· Imagine if someone on the team rushed to complete a feature and skimped on testing to prevent blowing their estimates because of fear of retribution for being wrong.
You probably don’t have to imagine it. It’s likely happening on your team right now but no one is talking about it! So, what can you do once you’ve realized that fear is holding you or your team back? What I have learned on my own journey is that it’s not enough to recognize when I am acting from a place of fear; I also have to recognize it in others. And much like quality, it is EVERYONE’S responsibility to create a collaborative and supportive environment.
As a Scrum Master, here are some of the things that I ask myself in order to help address fear on my teams.
· Is someone new to the team, or to their role, and clearly feeling overwhelmed or struggling to fit in?
· Is someone is hesitating to speak up when they clearly have a strong opinion or idea?
· Are people afraid of being judged harshly or told their idea is “crazy” or “dumb” in a team setting?
Now, that’s a lot of stuff to keep an eye on. (Hey…no one ever said that being the Scrum Master was an easy job.) So, let’s say that you notice something. What do you do about it? How do you head-off fear and/or actually do something about it?
Well, if someone on the team shares a concern or asks for help, be sure to thank them for bringing it up and offer them support, or try to connect them with someone who can. If people are hesitant to speak up in a large group setting, approach them after the meeting, and discuss it in a more casual environment. If they need some encouragement or support, find a way to share their ideas with the team in a less intimidating way. Find ways to bring new team members on-board and make them feel connected quickly. Make sure no one is discouraging open and honest conversation by dominating conversations or by openly criticizing ideas or opinions, even jokingly. Joking, while good natured, can be misconstrued as criticism, and simply telling a teammate that they “just can’t take a joke” is a great way to alienate them and ensure their participation in future activities is limited. Besides, some of the biggest discoveries in history started with an original premise that was totally out there!
I’ve given talks on fear at a number of conferences, and every time people have approached me afterwards saying “I feel that way too. It’s so good to know I am not alone!” Research shows that around 70% of people struggle with these kinds of fears, and based on my experience, it is higher in IT! That means that in any given meeting you attend, MOST of the people in the room are afraid to share their thoughts for fear of negative consequences. Imagine all of the great ideas being squandered and land mines we are failing to avoid.
Hopefully you’re already thinking of ways to improve the quality of your team, and ultimately of the products you are delivering. Strive to be more vigilant, more supportive, more honest, and you will be well on your way to creating a high-quality and high-performing team!
If you’re attending quest, I also have a few sessions there that you may want to check out if this article spoke to you.
Getting Your Agile Team Unstuck! Tips and Tricks for Avoiding Common Agile Setbacks: http://qaiquest.org/2017/sessions/half-day-tutorial-getting-your-agile-team-unstuck-tips-and-tricks-for-avoiding-common-agile-setbacks/
Fear and (Self) Loathing in IT: A Healthy Discussion on Imposter Syndrome: http://qaiquest.org/2017/sessions/fear-and-self-loathing-in-it-a-healthy-discussion-on-imposter-syndrome/
And if you’re not attending Quest feel free to send me a message via this blog or on Twitter!