“Secrets of Agile Teams” in Retrosective

I had the great privilege of attending Esther Derby and Diana Larsen’s workshop Secrets of Agile Teams this past week. Although I planned to blog my experiences journal-style throughout the event, the lack of stable internet connectivity at the Kennedy School made that difficult. In addition to being a great workshop, I made some new friends and gained insights that I’ll carry with me for a long time.

Let me start by saying that while I had reservations and high expectations coming into the workshop, I felt that my expectations were exceed at the conclusion because I was previously so blind to these concepts. In fact, I wish I could have taken my entire crew as the benefits I gained first-hand would have had multiplicative effects had they been concentrated throughout the company. Without a doubt, it is very clear to me now that soft skills, people skills, are generally lacking in the software world. I believe that more than half of all problems faced on software teams can be corrected by the understanding and application of the ideas and techniques taught by Esther and Diana in the workshop.

So why aren’t more software managers and developers focused on improving communication channels, feedback quantity/quality, conflict resolution, and shared leadership? One of the leading concerns aired at the workshop was how to apply our newly learned tools back home in the workplace. There was a general feeling that without the comprehensive experience of the workshop to lay a foundation, our colleagues back home may dismiss the ideas and concepts as “fluffy”. It’s a shame that this is the state of IT organizations, especially “Agile” teams.

In Agile teams we are asked to very closely with each other on a daily basis over extended project durations. We are pairing on problems sometimes for six hours each day. It is natural that we misunderstand each other and that conflicts arise. It is illogical, however, that we ignore these problems and fail to apply the tenacity we reserve for solving technical and process problems.

I strongly encourage software managers and developers to attend future workshops held by Esther and Diana. The experience has exposed a new dimension in my work–interpersonal issues–that requires constant attention and improvement.

I’ve posted some pictures from the workshop, too. The Kennedy School was a very interesting venue, appropriately cozy and comfortable.

Victor Szalvay

Victor Szalvay currently leads product development for CollabNet’s ScrumWorks® product suite. In that capacity, he works closely with customers, stakeholders, and the development teams to deliver high business value each release cycle. With more than 150,000 active users worldwide, ScrumWorks is used by more than half of the Fortune 100 and boasts the largest market share of any Agile management tool.

Posted in Agile
6 comments on ““Secrets of Agile Teams” in Retrosective
  1. Phlip says:

    why aren’t more software managers and developers focused on impr Because they perceive their position to depend on having disputes to mediate.

  2. Ken Schwaber says:

    Congratulations. I’m glad that this course more than fulfilled expectations. I expect this to be part of our “core curricula” in the near future.

  3. DeborahH, CSM says:

    Thanks for posting, Victor. I hope to attend one of these, in future. I really believe it is essential to making Scrum contagious, by example.

  4. Chris Beams says:

    I believe this is often because folks don’t have a clear vision of what they’d like to acheive with communication. ‘Better communication’ might sound like the right thing to do, but for many there’s not really any access to it. Oftentimes, it doesn’t even look possible. Like you said, it looks like any conversation about it will be ‘fluffy’ or insubstantive. This is perhaps often due to lack of direct personal experience with effective communication, and more to the core of it, lack of effective language to discuss communication itself. Without a common language and set of distinctions about communication, attempting to talk about it and ‘go to work on it’ ends up being abstract (read: ‘fluffy’) and ultimately makes no difference. What’s so great about this kind of workshop (I imagine, as I wasn’t there) is that it leaves the attendees crystal clear about what’s possible with communication, and most importantly with new distinctions, language, and practices to think about and discuss and use communication. Once the members of a team have a common language around communication itself, it becomes concrete, accessible, malleable. The team can then begin to wield and use it skillfully. I’m with you, Victor – and I love your enthusiasm for the topic – this kind of education and training is invaluable to the success and well-being of a team.

  5. Deb Bacon says:

    David looks very closed, defensive, and somewhat uncomfortable – whereas the others in the picture look more open and relaxed. Do you remember the topic of conversation at that time and what his opinion was?

  6. Victor Szalvay says:

    Deb,
    I don’t remember the exact conversation but you’re right that he does look closed/defensive. If you got to know Dave you’d see that his normal mode of communication is to be very passionate and expressive. Maybe I just caught him disagreeing with someone across the room. You’re quite an astute observer!

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