Am I The Only One With This Problem?

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison

Whether you are a team of one, or one hundred, we are presented with the daily opportunity to introduce positive change into our work environments. Asking tough questions is a challenge, to say the least, but it is also imperative to foster growth in today’s climate. With teams somewhere in between those two numbers, my biggest challenge and thrill comes from championing this effort every day.

Lately, I’ve had the opportunity to widen my scope a bit from team-oriented change to company-wide. In an effort that has taken a few months to get going, I would like to share about my experience.

At your place of business, some of you have large projects. Having spent a few years consulting in the telecommunications industry, I can sympathize with gigantic road maps involving hours of work in the thousands. Product teams have work that seemingly never ends because the product is always out there being improved. To introduce change, you simply take your steady team and perform regular retrospectives. Gather information, assess the cause of what ails, hypothesize change, and prioritize the most important at the top of your next backlog.

It doesn’t happen this way where I work.

Our projects have a short life. Some apps are shipped in as little as two months, and the average time a team has together is five to seven months. The project I currently run is tracking to last about 12 months, but we have staffed up and down to meet the client’s needs several times.

We don’t get to stay together for very long.

Are we learning as we go?

My call is to still lead with transparency and ask the team to inspect and adapt regularly. Regardless of the timeline, agile leaders can still demonstrate the principles we learned long ago. The question I kept getting asked was, what happens to all that change we shepherd on projects?

Once the project is over, the team is broken up and moved in several directions depending on the sales pipeline. The PM picks up a new client and a new team. Most likely, they aren’t the same as their previous project. Often, we have to start over from scratch. To boot, when a colleague has an issue on their team, a recurring question is asked:

“Am I the only one with this problem?”

From the CEO of our company, all the way down to the newest employee, we all ask that question. The problem to solve was how retrospectives are run. Project leads are given a tremendous amount of freedom in running our teams, including retrospectives. We are just asked to do them, regardless of the method.

As a result, mine looks different than all the others. Tough to compare apples to apples in that sense.

You can measure growth.

With the help of our analytics expert, I tackled this problem and am now pilot testing a unified method of inspecting and adapting. The call on me was straightforward:

  1. Gather the same information company wide.
  2. Keep it anonymous.
  3. Give teams the freedom in executing their retros.
  4. Move the ceremony to be more solution-based instead of focusing on the problem.
  5. Organize information into a concise repository to allow full transparency to the company.

I’m not the first agile coach to suggest a survey in advance of the ceremony, nor am I the first to acknowledge that retros are sometimes glorified “gripe sessions”. What I did try to do, though, was carefully curate what kind of information would help my company gain insight and incorporate a rating with each question (value-stream mapping style). The questions may evolve over time, but I wanted to share the first iteration of the survey to get your feedback:

  1. How satisfied were you with this sprint?
  2. How productive was the team during this sprint?
  3. How effective was the communication among the team?
  4. Rate the quality of the deliverable/brand experience the team created during this sprint.
  5. How effective were you in fulfilling your role on the project?
  6. What recommendations do you have for future sprints or projects?

What do we get out of this?

The first five questions have a rating of 1-10 associated, as well as a follow-up question of why the responder felt that way. It allows for some metrics to be gathered as well as help people identify their feelings better and assess the team’s progress.

Looking forward to getting some results and get feedback from the pilot teams. Thanks to my fellow PMs for allowing me to execute the desires of many and get smarter information towards improvement. The point isn’t to be more organized, although that can be a benefit. The point isn’t to insert “one more thing” for our teams to do as part of our process. It isn’t even to more closely watch from above what’s going on.

The point is to measure better to grow stronger.

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