📬 The Backlog

📬 The Backlog is Thomas van Zuijlen's weekly newsletter on practical agility, with annotated articles on Scrum, facilitation, collaboration, and (product) development.

07 June 2022

📬 The Backlog #181

Stimulating behavioural change using positive information, adapting work processes using experimentation, and keeping track of agility’s purpose using an old John Cutler post.

  1. I’m thinking a lot about how to foster ownership in product teams, and how to establish positive feedback loops. I have a client who wants their crew to move from ‘completing tasks’ to ‘creating value’. Not a unique challenge but an amazing one to get to sink your teeth into. Anyway -

    My thinking comes with considerations of various habits that hinder or facilitate ‘taking ownership’. I found Tali Sharot’s 16-minute TEDx talk How to motivate yourself to change your behavior to be super useful as a broad guiding principle.

    Sharot explains that to try and alter how people behave, it’s best not to use threats or warnings. Her laboratory’s research shows that people are motivated most by three types of positive information: social incentives (highlighting what others are doing), immediate rewards and progress monitoring.

    That last type is interesting to me, because it’s often tough for teams to make sense of their data - especially when trying to quantify something qualitative. (How do we feel about the Sprint, and is that better, and what’s then next?)

    The final minutes of Sharot’s video give a cool example of how simple it is to set up progress monitoring in conjunction with the other two types of positive information she advocates for.

  2. Getting teams to adopt certain practices can be a tall order. No sense in, say, mandating a set of meetings because you say so. I would not soon think of opening up the basic elements of a coherent framework, to experimentation and possible discarding.

    But Lars Douwe Schuitema did that with the Scrum events at Dutch real estate marketplace Funda. In Game changer: how experiments improved our team’s processes, he tells how he actively involved his team in trying out (Scrum) events and then deciding on whether or not to keep those.

    There’s a possibility for that to come off as disingenuous as a Scrum Master, but as Schuitema tells the story, it’s just what his teams needed in order to take a step forward in changing and owning their process.

    It’s commendable to do that, I think, especially given how it helps the team come to terms with the practice and value of experimentation.

  3. Jon Cutler’s oldie-but-goldie Why Isn’t Agile Working? rounds out this week’s haul of behavioural agility topics. Cutler’s 2017 article popped up in my feed last week. It has a couple of neat observations and drawings, but for me, the best part of the post is the final paragraph, entitled ‘Agile’.

    In it, Cutler states something that’s often overlooked (as is the point of his whole post): “Agile is worthless unless it serves as a catalyst for continuous improvement. Scrum and SAFe are worthless unless they serve as a catalyst for continuous improvement.”

    This is the kind of stuff that you need to hammer home to any client or colleague looking to “become more agile” - if that’s what they want, as VakantieDiscounter CTO Sjors Grijpink would emphatically say, consider the bigger picture and look beyond the nuts and bolts of backlogs and meetings. Change your management culture, invest in automation, and so forth. Cutler has some crystal clear examples af the end of his article.

Have a week that fits within your bigger picture and Scrum on,
Thomas van Zuijlen

PS –

This week I’m hosting Agile Day Kaunas for the association Agile Lietuva: a single-day event for agile practitioners from all walks of life. It’s going to be open space-y, talk-y, do-y fun. Hope too see you in Kaunas on Thursday!

(It’ll look like this, 👆 but with close to a hundred people instead of chairs.)