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News Bringing the best parts of Agile/Scrum to non-engineering teams

The Implementation Team watches Steve do his scrum master thing.

photo of the author Steve Yerby

At Inntopia, we build our software and organize our engineering efforts according to the Agile methodology, including the use of scrum masters.

Scrum masters are servant leaders and coaches for an agile team. We help remove impediments and foster an environment for high-performing team dynamics, continuous flow, and relentless improvement. In a lot of ways, our role boils down to helping people understand how to communicate more effectively with each other, and recently I had an opportunity to bring some of that magic to a different part of our organization.

Bringing Scrum Principles to a New Team

The Inntopia Implementation Team restructured six months ago, with a mix of team members who work in different offices and remotely. This spring, they all got together for a two-day workshop to bring the team together and I was honored to come along as an outsider to facilitate and help them make as much progress as possible.

The Implementation Team watches Steve do his scrum master thing.

The Implementation Team works hard to get new clients up and running on Inntopia Marketing CloudInntopia Commerce, and Inntopia DestiMetrics. They had some goals going into the meeting, including:

  • Cross training team members on Inntopia products
  • Developing consistent training methods for new team members
  • Better documentation for clients

It would have been easy for them to jump right in and start discussing and working on these and their other agenda items. But when you do that, especially with a new group of people, subtle and unspoken differences in how each person on the team sees things can lead to misunderstandings, disagreements, and unproductive digressions from the topics at hand.

Instead, I had them start with an exercise to establish a Mission Statement and Vision Statement for the team. To some, this can seem like a waste of time, but it is an amazing tool. The process of developing and establishing consensus on these ideas gets everyone aligned – truly on the same page – which makes the rest of the workshop and future discussions more enjoyable and more productive.

Creating Mission and Vision Statements

I opened up the meeting by asking Implementation Team lead John Spencer to give an intro that described what they do and who they are. The rest of the team members were asked to write down key words that he used.

I then guided them through creating a working agreement to set team member expectations for the 2-day meeting. Again, this is something that can seem unnecessary to some, but it proves incredibly helpful to say these things out loud and write them down.

Can we agree poster

I then asked everyone to fill in the blank on two open-ended sentences:

  1. I am optimistic that….
  2. The meeting will be a success if…..

post it notes on poster

This set the tone for group participation and everyone bringing their best selves to the meeting.

Although the team had regular interactions and felt like they knew each other pretty well, we played a get-to-know-you exercise called Journey Lines. As usual when doing something like this, “I didn’t know you did that!” was the common refrain.

With creative juices flowing and everyone warmed up to participate and communicate, we dove into the Mission and Vision Statements.

I like to think of a Mission Statement as describing where the team is now, and a Vision Statement as describing where they want to go moving forward. I shared a few examples of these kinds of statements and then we started on the Mission Statement. A few tips for helping this process:

  • Split up the group to come up with drafts separately and then discuss similarities and differences and come to a consensus on a final version
  • Make each group at least two people, as individuals are more likely to suffer from writers block and stage fright
  • Provide a list of “buzz words” that can be helpful in getting started, e.g., stakeholders, create, deliver, customers, users, etc.
  • Suggest that an ideal Mission Statement is like a haiku – short, concise, and deliberate

Within ten minutes of the groups sharing their Mission Statement drafts, the team had come to a consensus on their final version:

Implementation Team Mission Statement

The Vision Statement, however, took a little longer.

After quite a bit of discussion, the groups could not come to a consensus on combining the drafts they’d created. They were stuck approaching it from different angles and couldn’t be pulled out of their mental ruts.

Which leads me to my final tip: when all else fails, break for lunch.

After eating and letting themselves talk about other things for an hour, it took almost no time to agree on a final Vision Statement:

Implementation Team Vision Statement

Team Building Takeaways

So that was the first half of the first day of the Implementation Team workshop. The remaining day and a half was spent tackling the challenges and agenda items outlined above. I stuck around to facilitate and move conversations along when needed, and to provide the occasional outsider’s perspective that can be so useful to get your thinking outside the box. The team worked really well together, and it seemed clear that the work we did that morning paid off.

As a scrum master, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to help people communicate. Usually that involves technical requirements and project management, but some of my favorite techniques apply to any teamwork scenario:

  • Don’t wait until disagreements come up or progress stalls to get on the same page. Front load consensus and the rest of your work will go more smoothly.
  • Whether you typically buy into things like Mission Statements, they are incredible tools for getting teams aligned and building consensus. Whatever you call it, unanimous agreement on “Who we are”, “What we do”, and “Why we do it” is worth finding.
  • No matter how well your team knows each other, getting-to-know-you games will always bring surprises.
  • Large groups have trouble cooperating and individuals have trouble participating, so split into groups of 2-3 if possible.
  • When in doubt, eat.

A big thanks to Ashley, Kyle, Marina, Patty and John for their enthusiasm, participation and making the workshop fun.

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