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Creating a "Culture of Progress"

I realize that making and seeing progress on product development can help a lot while working with teams as a Scrum Master/Agile Coach. Read on to learn more.

· Agile Zone

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I read a great book, The Lean Mindset: Ask the Right Questions, by Mary & Tom Poppendiecks, a couple of weeks ago (click here for a preview of the book). Read the following quote from a chapter concerning research done by Amabile & Kramer*:

"the biggest motivator for knowledge workers on a day-to-day basis is making progress in meaningful work"

It sounded so simple yet powerful for me at the time. I realized that making and seeing progress on product development can help a lot while working with teams as a Scrum Master/Agile Coach. I was wondering what I would need to do to have this magical approach "making progress in meaningful work" applied in a team?

Now, I can say there are no specific answers... no steps that you can to follow to guarantee your success. Still, what I would like to share with you now is a way in which I supported this paradigm in one team. I started with...

Introducing Information Radiator

Agile Alliance defines Information Radiator as follows:

"Information radiator" is the generic term for any of a number of handwritten, drawn, printed or electronic displays which a team places in a highly visible location, so that all team members as well as passers-by can see the latest information at a glance: count of automated tests, velocity, incident reports, continuous integration status, and so on.

In my case, I used this technique to visualize task movement between different stages of a project's implementation. After a couple of days, the team was able to see how much work was achieved so far by looking at the board. And, it helped to create a positive feeling amongst team members.

As your Minimum Viable Product, you could start with a physical board with tasks/stories. Let it be as simple as possible–only three columns (To DoIn ProgressDone). If your team is distributed/more mature you can think about having it in an electronic version and continuously display it on a TV set. There are many tools that you might use like TrelloJIRA, etc.

The next step was to…

Have Stories as Small as Possible

This was an obvious problem from the beginning. Stories were too big so almost every time they stayed in the "In Progress" state for the whole sprint or even worse, two sprints. We made a decision as a team to split such items in smaller ones. The first sign of "needing a split" for us was a number of acceptance criteria.

Now, I would say that a story with more than 4-5 acceptance criteria is a good candidate to be broken into more items. There are many articles about how you might split stories–as a starting point, I'd recommend checking out this read. I have used those steps a few times while working with a Product Owner. Keep in mind that there is a trap with this activity as well–you should remember to slice a store vertically (to focus on a feature and provide end user value) rather than horizontally (to split by technical layers, ie. backend, frontend, database, etc.).

Coming back to my story… at that point, our board was in place and the backlog contained reasonably small items. The team was able to see how fast the last column was fulfilled with Done items during the sprint! So now, let’s...

Celebrate Our Achievement

The team was delivering around 15 items each sprint after the changes mentioned above. It was a good improvement compared to the 2-3 stories we had accomplished at the beginning. It was high time to boast this during sprint review in front of our stakeholders to get a positive impression. As part of this ceremony, I decided to include a backlog burn-up update too. The idea behind was to show progress on the whole product, clearly stating how much work was done and how much was left. After the review, we had a sprint retrospective where I often underlined size of delivered work to get a progressive feeling. Finally, we'd close our sprints with a common toast during team lunch.


All of these activities help me to enable a "culture of progress". Even though this success was small at the beginning, it helped support me with building team morale and energizing team members.

* Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work (Harvard Business Review Press, 2011)

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Published at DZone with permission of Tomek Dabrowski. See the original article here.

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