Maria Matarelli Blogs

Friday, July 27, 2012

Collaboration – Go on now, collaborate

When we move toward a more agile environment rather than a traditional approach, we want to encourage a more cross functional, collaborative team environment. However, just changing our approach in methodologies doesn’t mean that our teams will just begin collaborating more. It may require a greater shift in the culture or people’s habits. We may encourage teams to work together and may even put them in the same room to collaborate more but how can we tell if its happening?

Finding a way to make patterns visible can help a team to see how they are working together. These approaches are intended for the team members to determine what area they want to focus on how they work together and reflect upon how that is working after an iteration. Its important to note that this approach is intended for use within the team and for the team, not for evaluation by someone outside of the team.

Fellow coach, Dan Neumann and I prepared a presentation for Agile 2012, Break down silos: Collaboration techniques for teams. We have facilitated this collaborative development workshop with several teams to share techniques that can be used on project teams to encourage more collaboration and cross team communication. Some of the techniques include ways for teams to make things visible regarding limiting work in progress, collaborative design, pairing and expanding T-shaped skills.

See the presentation live at the Agile 2012 Conference, August 13-17 in Dallas, TX. Enclosed is a link to the full slide deck.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Acceleration Through Trust

Trust. It’s the basis of so much, yet it can be absent in many of our interactions without us even realizing it.

Stephen Covey talks about the “Speed of trust” and how trust affects speed and cost; as trust decreases, speed decreases and cost increases (and vice versa). This makes alot of sense when you stop and think about it. However, when trust is present and things are going smoothly, not a lot of thought may be given to it, while on the other hand, when things aren’t going well, even though the root cause can be traced back to the absence of trust, it doesn't always raise to the surface.

When trust isn't present, think about how much longer it takes to get things done. What’s at the source of distrust – is it fear? What are we afraid of? Imagine if you stopped the cycle by demonstrating vulnerability and trust toward others, even when you haven’t gotten it back. Imagine the acceleration you would see.

Lets take a look at the behavior of leaders in organizations and the idea of encouraging a more masterly management style than a directive approach. It can be hard to let go sometimes; difficult to fight the urge to micromanage. It essentially comes down to ‘do you trust your people’. Setting guidelines and providing space can allow people to be more innovative and can remove bottlenecks while allowing the opportunity for them to think creatively and utilize their expertise.

Lets look at teams next. Imagine how much more effectively a team could work together if they really trust each other and if when problems arise, the environment were safe enough that they feel they can speak up and they trust that their feedback will not be met with defensiveness and other team members trust that the feedback is coming from a good place with the intent to better the team.

Aligned values and clear expectations can set a base for trust, but we need to demonstrate trust in how we interact with others. Then we can really begin to accelerate. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Retrospectives - Dig Deeper

How often do you reflect upon how things are going and when you do, how often do you really analyze how things are working and incorporate specific changes for the future?
Retrospectives. If you don’t get honest, then what’s the point? Retrospectives are an opportunity to reflect on how things have been going and identify changes that can be incorporated moving forward. Taking the time to reflect throughout a project rather than waiting until the very end allows the team to leverage this reflection to make ongoing im…See moreRetrospectives. If you don’t get honest, then what’s the point? Taking the time to reflect throughout a project rather than waiting until the very end allows the team to leverage this reflection to make ongoing improvements. Don’t just go through the motions. Watch the dynamics of your team. Is everyone involved and given an opportunity to contribute? Are you getting to the root of the issues presented or staying on the surface level? Is action being taken?

When setting the stage for discussion, the environment needs to be safe. Getting honest usually starts with someone being brave enough to mention the nitty-gritty topics that others may be hesitant to bring up. Once you dig deep into real topics, others will usually chime in or feel safe contributing honestly as well. Go deeper than surface level discussion. Talk about how to really improve. Here are some ideas for facilitating effective retrospectives.

Level the playing field - Techniques such as silent writing allow for everyone to have a voice. Give everyone post-it notes and a marker and ask them to individually write down their ideas on what went well and ideas for improvement. Then have them put their ideas up on the wall and briefly discuss each item and affinity group similar items together. This ensures everyone has a voice as all ideas are acknowledged from each person. The team can then vote on which items they would like to address first.

Keep the format fresh - Don’t do the same thing every time. The format could get stale and participation levels or interest could drop. Introduce new retrospective approaches and ask questions in different ways to get the team thinking differently and actively engaged.

Follow up & check in - Don’t let the conversation end on the flip chart or whiteboard. Identify specific actionable items and keep them in front of the team throughout the next iteration. Check in and reflect upon how the team did on their last retrospective action items. Carrying forward specific items for the team to focus on is key for continuous improvement. Make these items visible and pick one thing to focus on at a time.

Anyone on the team can make suggestions for improving retrospectives and keeping the format fresh. Find the real areas for improvement and keep the discussions valuable. Select one thing to improve and foster real change one step at a time.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Motivating People in a Team Environment

How do you handle performance reviews and set goals for people on teams while a company is still focused on rewarding individuals?

There may be a delay from when a company moves to using an Agile approach and the time for their HR department to catch up and adjust their practices accordingly with a new work environment.

Imagine a work culture where employees take responsibility for soliciting feedback on their own performance and development. Tom Coens and Mary Jenkins discuss Abolishing Performance Appraisals, Why They Backfire and What to Do Instead. As outlined in the book summary: "Coens and Jenkins argue instead that appraisals do not accomplish what they are supposed to and that, in fact, they are counterproductive. They offer compelling evidence to demonstrate that appraisals backfire as they examine the five functions (coaching, feedback, setting pay, determining promotions, and documentation) for which appraisals are designed." 
Ian Cook provides an overview of this approach:!abolishing.html

The challenge lies in that managers are expected to set goals for individuals in an Agile environment where the person is working on a team where priorities are set by the Product Owner and the team is guided by the Scrum Master while HR is mandating that goals be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time Based)

In the following article (, Alan Atlas breaks down performance management for agile people while focusing on the following primary management concerns:
  • How do I evaluate individual performance so I can give the right pay and bonuses to the right people?
  • How do I identify star performers and keep them from leaving?
  • How do I identify poor performers so I can “manage” them (usually implying “manage them out”)?
  • How can I support/reward team performance in my company’s individual-oriented performance management system?
These are the primary areas of focus, however while still on that middle ground during a transition to Agile, HR is still expecting that goals be set for individuals the same as in a traditional environment.

An approach of identifying some desired behaviors as well as a some specific goals may be a reasonable middle ground. Looking at what the individual does to improve the performance of the team, the level of quality consistently achieved and incorporating feedback from other team members may be incorporated into an approach. Differentiators may include how they assist other team members, active contribution and maintaining quality while striving for continuous improvement as a team. Another approach may be in setting the same goals for individuals on a team. Some goals may be a balance of both specific goals and general goals. Some people will get feedback and set benchmarks for improvement and while team goals are tied to producing product, look at how are team members are contributing to achieving those goals and tie in individual goals or setting the same goals for each of the team members. What have you found that works in your environment?