Friday, January 10, 2014

Unexpected Consequences of Agile: The Business Cares about People

In the late spring, early summer of 2012, I became the Scrum Master for a team that had already been Scrumming for about 2-3 months. They had a business customer from an area that did not have an historically good relationship with IT, and she was fully dedicated to the team. Over the next several months I helped the team overcome some of the largest obstacles that first-time teams typically face; as a result, the team got much closer to each other than they ever would have expected.

Then the time came to start another team. A couple of the members of the team were technically "on loan" and knew from the beginning that they'd eventually move off to this new team when the time came. So the "Resource" Managers let the Project Manager and developers know; the Project Manager let me know and went to the "appropriate" "Resource" Manager for the existing Scrum team to back-fill the developers. This was nothing new to them - it's how we always worked. The only real difference was that all of the developers who were being put on Scrum teams were only allocated to that one team, a concept that was totally new to our "Resource" Managers. All in all, we were pretty proud of ourselves.

What we didn't count on was the relationship that our Business Owner had developed with the development team. It used to be the business would hand the work off and we would do whatever we felt was necessary to get the work done. Moving people on and off of projects was status quo. Business Owners didn't know and didn't care who was working on their request.

About a Sprint before the change was to take place, we went disc golfing as a Scrum team building. We split into 2 groups (limited WIP) to keep from holding up traffic, and I ended up on the team with the Business Owner -- but NOT the PM. About 75% into the team building, I rather unfortunately made a passing remark that alluded to the two developers leaving the team soon. I was pressed for an explanation which, when given, completely deflated the mood of the activity. As if I wasn't bad enough at disc golf, I now had to throw through the now palpable tension.

The fallout of that experience taught us all that we can't ask for our business owners to get more involved and still treat them as if they weren't. I'm grateful that the failure was not only fast but relatively small, giving us a lesson that benefited us greatly later on when we had more teams and the stakes were higher. We're still learning about the new dynamic between IT and their business counterparts, but this one was particularly meaningful and memorable.

What lessons have you learned as Agile has reshaped your team dynamics? What cautionary tale would you share? I'd love to hear!

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