I was recently introduced to an entrepreneur of another digital agency. His customer base is very concentrated and has a headcount that has plenty of room for growth. He’s even in the process of getting a swanky new office for his folks. When he found out what I did, and who I did it for, one question leaped out of his mouth:
“How do you do your thing, while letting creatives doing theirs?”
I could see the frustration in his eyes because we’ve all been there. Creatives aren’t really the problem in his office, he was just having a problem that particular day with one. Whether we are talking about art directors, developers, testers, and project managers, there is always a misunderstanding about something. We just don’t always see eye to eye. A more honest way of asking his question would have been:
“How in the world can I get better visibility into my team’s problems on a daily basis?”
Without knowing how deep he wanted to get, I simply gave him what any certified Scrum professional would answer with: increase transparency. We talked about the concept at a high level and how it could be an amazing tool.
Transparency is an easy thing to talk about at a high level, but very difficult to maintain. It takes courage, discipline, and support. Nowhere in that description, however, is the word “impossible”. Here’s some simple things to try tomorrow to increase the amount of transparency on your teams, and celebrate the shipping of a few items on your board.
Put it on the board.
We sit together as a team to enable communication. Inspiration happens when we throw ideas out there and discuss how we could implement. Personally, my favorite teams are the ones that take headphones off and have a little lively conversation throughout the day. While all that comes as the result of emphasizing verbal interaction, we can’t actually act upon ideas until they are documented and put on the board.
There is a section of my team walls always designated for art review. This is where creatives can put wireframes and comps for everyone to peruse whenever they have a free second. Sometimes a group will form, and the conversation takes place. This is a good thing.
The problem with this scenario is if that conversation (and any of the decisions that arise from said conversation) don’t get documented, something will get missed. Testers will go off an outdated set of requirements, developers will end up writing their own business rules, and artists will miss a button that just came up. You have to write it down.
Create corporate understanding.
If the conversations around the art wall are happening organically, chances are not all of the necessary personnel are involved. This is the beauty of the framework. If executed properly, Scrum ceremonies are set up to reinforce the concept of transparency.
You just can’t halfway do it.
This means during your stand-ups, you make sure everyone is caught up. Grooming sessions have to include up-to-date requirements or it will be a waste of time. We all have to be nodding our heads when someone asks, “does everyone understand what’s expected of them today?”
Push the limits of every interaction you have with each other. Call out on the board what the goal is and ask how they plan on achieving it today. Surprise them with donuts or brownies as a thank you for the hard work. For sure look for every opportunity to praise and exhort where needed.
Make things actionable.
This is the perfect extension of people reacting to circumstances. Simply listen to your team. Oscar Berg posits that the “ability to act on information is what often separates successful companies from those less successful.”
As he says in his post, you aren’t going to trust the facts or quotes in this piece if I’m not willing to share where I got it from. I certainly don’t include links because I love copying and pasting. The same goes for your work.
If our app needs a row of tab icons at the bottom of the UI, be willing to share with the client as to your reasons why. If the code snipped is not sufficient for proper troubleshooting, provide an example of what you actually need. Proposing changes in your team’s process without pointing to the retrospective will make them think you just made it up.
That means documenting, checking, and double-checking. Today’s version of showing up to a gunfight with a knife is not being ready to back up your solution with questions arise.
Do risk and safety checks.
One of my earliest mistakes leading teams had to do with “assuming the best” about every circumstance. If the team was behind, I assumed they would catch up near the end of a sprint. If a third-party vendor was delayed, I assumed they would still deliver in time to meet the client’s demands. You get the idea.
If you aren’t willing to speak up when things start to go sideways, you put your team in a bind. As Bob Galen puts it:
“If you’re transparent, you resist the lack of character & courage to tell the truth about project state for fear of ramification. Instead you routinely tell it ‘like it is’, and look to make healthy adjustments from ‘where you are’.”
Same thing goes for safety. If the team feels unsafe in the team setting, there’s a reason. You just have to care about them feeling safe more than they do if things are going to improve. Ask questions, dig deeper, and the problem will arise.
Invite outsiders to observe.
Nothing makes your team sit up straight than when “chickens” come to sit in on your team ceremonies. It doesn’t have to be anyone’s boss, it could just be one of your co-workers running a meeting for you or another dev lead assisting in grooming/planning. The change of pace either gets people to open up or offer a new idea.
What better way to see things in a new light.
We get comfortable with each other, which isn’t really a bad thing. As time marches on, however, complacency sets in and you get bored with each other. Believe me, there’s definitely the equivalent of a “seven-year itch” when it comes to Agile teams. Just recognize it before they do and switch something up.
There are countless other ways to increase the transparency of your project. If none of these do the trick, you can always start with the Five Whys and go from there. Keep asking why things are happening, and transparency will appear.