Wednesday 28 September 2016

Tips For Working With Distributed Agile Teams

One of the major drivers for the need for organisations to be more agile, is globalisation meaning that, from a personal point of view, I have the luxury of scouring the internet for the cheapest place to purchase my favourite brand of whey protein, or where my next holiday destination may be. From a the perspective of McKenna Consultants, this increasing pace of change means that we are now competing with computer programmers and agile consultants from around the world, bringing it's own advantages and disadvantages.

One of the bi-products of having a more competitive global market place is the increasing number of teams that I work with who are either:

  • Working with at least 1 distributed team member
  • Are a distributed team member themselves
  • Working with a team not location in the same country or region
Even at McKenna Consultants we are working on software development projects as part of a distributed team with our clients and with our own distributed team member!

Making good use of our monitors at McKenna Consultants to manage distributed teams!
Some of the challenges with distributed teams that myself and the teams that I coach and train identify are:
  • Cultural differences
  • Dealing with Time zones
  • Language barriers
  • Easy to blame
  • Lack of trust
  • Misunderstanding of requirements
  • Lack of visibility
Teams that I have worked and still work with have come up with many ideas to overcome some of these challenges, including:

  • Travel - Travel to the office to meet, work and socialise with your distributed team members. If you have a personal friendship with them, you will be more likely to go the extra mile for them, and less likely to blame them! The benefits from building and maintaining these relationships far outweigh the cost of a flight and a few nights in a hotel! If working in a different country, you will also get the opportunity to learn a little about the culture and immerse yourself in it. This works both ways, set up a schedule of when you will make the trip across to see each other.
  • Make Them Part Of The Team - Rather than setting up an entire team elsewhere, that you would be collaborating daily with,  one of my clients had great success by extending the team via an offshore distributed team. The offshore team had 6 members, with each offshore member extending the size of a different UK team.
  • Get In Sync - One client that I worked with had an offshore team and agreed to have them working UK hours. This may seem unreasonable, but so long as you're clear from the outset, this could help to resolve time barrier issues. Other teams have dealt with this by altering their working hours to start and finish earlier or later, whilst another team that I worked with held 2 stand ups a day - one in the morning and one in the afternoon to help with the handover.
  • Use Technology - There are so many cool products out there now to make working remotely so much more easier - JIRA, Trello, VersionOne, Skype, Slack, Google Hangouts, I could go on and on. Use these to share information, progress and encourage communication. I once worked with a team who created their own version of a "Sheldon Bot" to wheel around the office into team meetings as and when required! On an agile training course that I recently ran in London, one attendee described how he worked at a start up where they had a continuous live 2-way feed so that the two locations where always just loud noise away!
  • Retrospect Regularly - Point 12 in the Principle of the Agile Manifesto - At regular intervals the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts it's behaviour accordingly. In order to continue to be/aspire to be a high performing team, it is essential that you continue to retrospect regularly and experiment with new ideas. And guess what? Involve the distributed team members too!
This is a common discussion that I have on training courses and with teams that I am coaching, so I would love to hear your challenges and how you got around them!

Tuesday 27 September 2016

Build Your Own Manifesto In Action!

A few months ago I published a blog called Build Your Own Manifesto, describing a game that I used to help teams understand the Agile Manifesto and also to help myself as a trainer understand what the group whom I am working with are at in terms of knowledge and experience.

I have run this game over 20 times now this year as part of "An Introduction to Agile", a flagship course for McKenna Consultants, and continue to receive great feedback!

Here are some photos of the latest group, 4Com plc, a telecommunications company based in Bournemouth, getting hands on playing Build Your Own Manifesto!

Feel free to download the pack, customise it, try it and let me know what you and your participants think!

Team Building With Build Your Own Manifesto

Build Your Own Manifesto

Build Your Own Agile Manifesto In Action!

Tuesday 6 September 2016

How To Be A Better Leader - Management 3.0

In August, myself and my brother and fellow McKenna Consultants director Nick McKenna, travelled to Stockholm to attend a two day Management 3.0 training course.

We had both read books around this and wanted to find out more, with the aim of becoming Management 3.0 Licensed Facilitators (which I am pleased to say that we did!). We work with a number of clients who we have successfully helped to implement many agile methodologies from the team level (Scrum, Kanban, Lean etc) to running and scaling the entire software development process (SAFe is a popular framework for many of our scaling clients), yet may of the leaders, managers and executives are left wanting more, asking us how they can "be more agile" in their day to day and ultimately become a more effective, better manager of people.

Stockholm Looking Beautiful In The Morning.
 This is where Management 3.0 comes in. After reading some of the work by Jurgen Appelo, including Management 3.0 and How To Change the World), we had an appetite for more and felt that this could be something that our clients could truly benefit from.

So what is Management 3.0?

Management 3.0 is a modern approach to managing people, blending together ideas from complexity thinking, change management and agile methodologies to give leaders, managers and executives a practical toolkit of knowledge and techniques to enable them to become more effective leaders and managers.

The focus of the course is around the following main topics:
  • Energize People
  • Empower Teams
  • Align Constraints
  • Develop Competence
  • Grow Structure
  • Improve Everything
And within each of these topics is not only the why, but gives you some practical tools, techniques and activities to allow you to explore these concepts with your teams, colleagues and organisations. Some of my favourite tools from the course were:
  • Moving Motivators - A great tool to encourage discussions around what are the intrinsic motivators of individuals. Believe me - this tells you a great deal about yourself and your team!
  • Kudo Box - Everyone loves to get praise, whether it is a well done, high 5 or a slice of cake. This is a cool way to make it easy for people to say thanks to each other.
  • Delegation Poker - Not all decisions have to be made by the managers and leaders. This game is a great way to collaboratively agree on how the responsibility of decision making can be shared, and also, which decisions cannot be shared.
Moving Motivators Card Deck.
We have already used these at McKenna Consultants, and we are using them with our agile clients right now!

Since the course, we have started to experiment with some of these tools and way of thinking to great effect. So much so that we have decided to run the two day Management 3.0 training course in Leeds, UK (the only one in England outside of London) on Thursday 24th and Friday 25th November 2016. You can visit our dedicated training website to find out more about this.

For a quick summary of Management 3.0, here is Jurgen himself presenting these topics at a recent TED Talk.

In summary, the trip to Sweden was well worth the effort and we are excited to contribute to Management 3.0 community and help our agile clients become better leaders!

Monday 13 June 2016

Build Your Own Manifesto!

I have been teaching agile courses for the last few years, and coaching teams for even longer. When I start my training courses, I like to gauge the experience in the room, firstly, to help myself as a trainer so that I know how much to focus on "the basics" and secondly to demonstrate to the room that more often than not, we are all in the same boat, with the same level of experience! At McKenna Consultants, our most popular course is our Introduction to Agile training course, where the game that I am about to introduce is particularly useful.

I have tried to do this different ways, such as explaining your agile experience, rating your agile experience from 1 to 10 and also with human affinity maps. With all these ways however, I find that some attendees like to "think that they know it all" whilst others are too polite to be truly honest that they know quite a bit.

I spent a while thinking about how I could improve this experience for myself and my students, and, inspired by Build Your Own Scrum (a tool which I also use when coaching and teaching), I came up with Build Your Own Manifesto.

The rules are simple:

  1. Divide the group into small groups of no more than 3
  2. Give them the Build Your Own Manifesto handout - explain that 4 of the phrases are actually not needed.
  3. Give the groups 15-20 mins to construct what they believe to be the agile manifesto
  4. One group at a time, present back to the room
I find that this exercise is really useful for a number of reasons:
  • It gets everyone in the room talking and importantly - collaborating!
  • When I facilitate and walk the room, you hear some great discussion like "I thought agile was about not having a plan" or "There is no documentation in the agile world". I note all of these comments down to tackle throughout the session
  • It clearly demonstrates to me people's knowledge of agile
  • Helps people to feel in a safe environment when everyone presents back and not a single group has it word for word perfect.
You can download the Build Your Own Manifesto template that I use here.

It is basically the 4 values from the agile manifesto mixed up, with some additional red herrings in there - Instead of is included! This is a bit of fun and tends to provoke some healthy discussion and groans when the teams realise!

Please download and use this idea and let me know what you think, I would love to hear it!