The Agile Alphabet, Part 2

In my last article, I started an agile alphabet of terms commonly used when working with agile teams. This article finishes the alphabet.

N is for neuroscience

Neuroscience seeks to understand the human brain and how it functions, including how we learn. If we can better understand how humans learn, we can adapt our approaches to training, communicating, providing feedback, and all sorts of other interactions, which can help us more effectively deliver new concepts, build high-performing teams, and develop more empathy for one another.

O is for OpenSpace

OpenSpace Agility is a meeting format that invites participants to gather for a discussion, create agendas, and choose what topics to spend their time and energy discussing. It encourages emergence and self-organization of ideas, and it’s often used at agile conferences.

P is for personal care

How often do you put others’ needs before your own? How often do you feel burned out and continue to behave in a way that adds fuel to the fire, leading to more burnout? Personal care is the idea that in order to help and support others, you must help and support yourself first.

Q is for quality

Quality is often overlooked and undervalued on agile teams. We trade short-term “wins” for long-term instability. We take shortcuts to hit a deadline and end up having a codebase that is fragile, unmanageable, and fraught with technical debt. We need to change the conversation to focus on quality and the idea that sometimes, we need to go slow in order to go fast.

R is for Radical Candor

Radical Candor is a framework for giving feedback based on a graph with “Care personally” and “Challenge directly” as its axes. This creates the quadrants of Ruinous Empathy, when you care but don’t challenge, giving praise or criticism that isn’t constructive; Manipulative Insincerity, when you neither care nor challenge, giving unclear praise or criticism; Obnoxious Aggression, when you challenge but don’t care, giving praise or criticism unkindly; and, finally, the ideal Radical Candor: saying what you think while still caring about the person receiving the feedback. We should seek to provide Radical Candor in order to communicate effectively.

S is for Scrum

I have always been a proponent of Scrum, but over the past couple of years I have seen teams overlook the basics of Scrum and believe they are more mature than they actually are. I often hear people provide excuses for why the manager needs to tell the team what to do, or why the ScrumMaster should be an enforcer for hitting the deadline, or why we only need to do retrospectives once per quarter because “everything is fine.” It can be really hard to practice Scrum because of ingrained behaviors or organizational constraints, but Scrum has been proven to be very effective, so if we can focus on overcoming those challenges, we will be able to increase the delivery of customer value.

T is for Training from the Back of the Room

This is a training technique where participants learn using the four C’s: connections, where participants try to connect with the topic based on what they think they know; concepts, where participants receive direct instruction from the presenter about the topic; concrete practice, where participants do exercises or discuss topics to get a more thorough understanding of the material; and conclusions, where participants summarize what they have learned and how they will put the learnings into action, proving that they have absorbed the material.

U is for users

Too often teams and organizations get caught up in the details about process or the constraints of software tools and forget about the users. Users are who we build products for, so let’s try to get as close to them as possible, shorten feedback loops, and understand what would delight them.

V is for value

I’ve had a lot of different work streams lately that have made it difficult to focus, so I’ve been thinking a lot about being lean and eliminating waste. When you’re short on time and have a lot of competing priorities, making sure to focus on items that are adding value is crucial. If it’s not adding value, should we be doing it?

W is for WAIT

I learned about this acronym at an Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching class. It stands for Why Am I Talking? It’s great for those of us—like me—who could improve their listening skills. If I truly want to hear what another person is saying so that I can be fully present and understand, instead of just thinking about what I’m going to say next, I need to WAIT.

X is for XP

X is for XP, because what else starts with X? But seriously, more agile teams should focus on Extreme Programming and bringing more technical practices back into the agile world. I believe that more teams could benefit from pair programming, coding standards, continuous integration, and test-driven development.

Y is for “Yes, and …”

Years ago in an improv class with the famed Second City group, I learned the “Yes, and” communication technique. Simply saying “no” is a great way to kill an idea or shut someone down. A close second to that is “Yes, but.” Even if you disagree with something, you can use “Yes, and” to object but keep the conversation going. It’s a helpful tool in keeping discussions alive and building on ideas.

Z is for Zen

In the past couple of years, I have been much more focused on meditation and inner calmness as a way to focus. It helps block out distractions, and I become more in tune with my goals and priorities, take my mind off my hectic schedule, and recenter.

What words would you use in your agile alphabet?

The Agile Alphabet, Part 1

I have a young daughter, so the alphabet is a big part of my life. I thought it would be fun to create an alphabet with some agile terms that have been on my mind lately. Here is the agile alphabet from A to M.

A is for agile mindset

Agile is not something you buy and install. It’s a mindset: a way of thinking, a way of being, and, usually, a pretty big cultural shift. Holding a daily scrum and transitioning project managers to ScrumMasters does not “make you agile.” You have to live the agile values and principles.

B is for business agility

It seems like a buzzword these days, but business agility is important and can lead to high-performing organizations. Spreading the agile mindset throughout the entire organization can help different departments work better together. Agility enables the organization to adapt to change, become more innovative, and better satisfy customers.

C is for clean language

Clean language is a way of communicating based on not making assumptions; you respond to what was actually said by using the same words to eliminate bias or misinterpretation, instead of going on what you interpreted. It’s an interesting and useful way to frame conversations.

D is for define

When I think of the word define, I think of clarity. Defining what “ready” and “done” mean provide teams with clarity around what should be built. Defining a vision provides clarity for where a company is headed or gives a team an understanding of what the long-term goal is. Defining roles adds clarity about expectations and responsibilities.

E is for emergence

Emergence is allowing ideas to come naturally instead of forcing things. This is something I struggle with at times because I like to plan and can become impatient. But when ideas or solutions do emerge, it can harvest long-lasting results because people tend to be more connected and buy into them more, as opposed to when they are simply told to do something. Emergence requires high levels of trust in individuals, the system, and the team.

F is for feedback

Giving and receiving feedback is critical to improving ourselves, our teams, and our organizations and products. Yet, so often, we become defensive and don’t enter conversations with an open mind. How can we put bias and judgment aside and welcome feedback as a gift? And how can we provide feedback in a way that is constructive, not harmful?

G is for gemba walk

Gemba is a Japanese term meaning “the real place,” so a gemba walk refers to going to where the real work happens and observing it firsthand. If we are trying to optimize the system, we would not make assumptions about how the system flows. We would go to the various places where the work happens, observe, and talk to those doing the work.

H is for healing

I have seen far too much division and divisiveness in the agile community—friendships destroyed, manipulation, untruths, and egos gone wild. It’s unfortunate, and hopefully through communication and understanding, we can bring some much-needed healing to the community.

I is for intent

Piggybacking on healing is intent—specifically, positive intent. Wouldn’t it be great if we could have a mindset where we assume positive intent during interactions with others? How could that change the conversation, or the way we interact in that conversation? How would it change the direction and outcome of that conversation?

J is for Jerry and jamming

This refers to Jerry Weinberg and David Hussman (of DevJam), two industry giants who recently passed away. Both had a huge impact on the agile world. I did not know either of them personally, but I have studied their works, learned a lot from them, and heard many stories from people who knew them. To me, this is a reminder to have interesting conversations, learn from people in as many ways as you can, and be curious about life.

K is for kaizen

Kaizen is a Japanese term for improvement. Focusing on continuous improvement is one of the most important things teams can do. Within Scrum, there are events that provide opportunities to inspect and adapt at different levels. I have worked with colleagues to create a continuous improvement board and kaizen meetings at the organizational level, and as an individual, I have a backlog of items to help myself grow as a coach and trainer.

L is for liberating structures

Liberating structures are a group of immersive, collaborative activities and exercises that can be used as alternative ways to facilitate meetings and conversations. They break away from the typical styles such as presentations, status reports, or brainstorming in order to decentralize control and be more inclusive toward empowering those involved.

M is for “Maybe I’m the problem”

When having a conflict or disagreement, I try to take a strong look at whether I’m the problem. It’s easy to jump to conclusions and assume that we are right and the other person is wrong and that they need to change their position. But when we take a step back and consider that the problem may lie within, it helps us see another point of view and builds empathy for those we engage with. Try to consider that you may be the problem before you dig your heels in too far.

The second half of the alphabet is coming in the next article. What agile terms resonate with you and your journey?