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food for thought, General, Guest Post, life

Sometimes the same thing seems to pop up again and again within a short period of time. It might be coincidence, or it could be that I am just particular aware of that thing.

At the moment that thing is about help – especially help in connection with mental challenges.

Two weeks ago, it was #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek in England, and a lot of tweets appeared concerning this.

This is an area that matters a lot to me. A lot of people living with mental health problems including me, and in many cases, it is a taboo; we don’t talk about it as if it disappears when we don’t talk about it.

It won’t. 

In fact, it might get stronger.

By talking about it and being aware of it, we can start addressing the problems and taking care of the people, who suffer from problems. And equally important, we can start working on good mental health.

I talk about taking care of others, and I believe, we can all help each other. We also need to take care of ourselves, but boy can that be hard. It is so much easier to take care of others; to see how others can help themselves and care for themselves.

I am getting better at it; I have not worked much this year as I was getting exhausted last year doing too many things; awesome things, but never the less too many.

I am not that good at saying no to awesome things 🙂

So, this year I mostly rested, try to eat healthier, drink more water; I might even start this exercise thing.

Still, I have fluctuated a lot and have felt quite down at times. Doubting myself, and my abilities as an agile coach and as a person. Feeling lost, feeling exhausted despite sleep, and I am struggling to find my energy and my joy.

And then I ask for help. Sometimes the help I need is that someone listens to me, sometimes I need something active I can do, some advice. Like when I asked on Twitter about how other people find energy.

Mostly I need someone to care enough to listen. I am in the lucky position to have a bunch of good friends who help me. Who encourages without judging and who cares for me.

One of my friends sends me pictures 2-3 times a week; pictures of his two cats sleeping to encourage me to rest 🙂

Another place where mental health popped up was in conversations with friends. At the moment I have a few friends, who are in a fragile mental state and who have been wise enough to reach out.

So, I also help people. Since I suffer from depressions, struggle with self-worth and imposter syndrome, not to mention had two burnouts myself, I know a lot about what not to do, and what to do to prevent it. Or at least I know what works for me, and some tips & tricks besides that. Some need me to listen, some need encouragement, and some need advice.

Not only because they are stressed, but also because they may have had a shitty day at work, a lot of things on their mind, lack of confidence, etc.

We all need emotional support once in a while <3

A specific tool I use is something I call “Getting permission from someone else.”

As mentioned earlier we often know how to take care of other and not ourselves. And part of that for me is to allow myself to do the thing that would help me right now. Often that means saying no to someone or something, and I have problems doing that as I begin to feel I am being a bad person.

For example, when I am really stressed, I do see the signals, but I am not yet able to stop. And luckily, I have a friend, I can call and say “please give me permission to cancel x.” Like in late 2014, where I had to cancel a talk at a conference. It was almost two months before, so the conference had plenty of time to find a new speaker, and still, it felt like I was letting the conference down.  So, I got his permission to cancel.

I don’t really need his permission, as I am a grown woman – but it helps, and that is what matters.

At the moment, I am one of my friend’s “permission slip.” We talked about her taking breaks and taking care of herself. Saying no to meetings, and pulling a bit back at work. She knows it is necessary and yet it feels hard. 

I so know that feeling; it feels like you are not doing enough, almost like you are cheating.

So, when she feels bad, I am her safety line. She calls me and gets permission to care for herself.

Most of us know we need to take care of ourselves; when we fly, the staff say, “remember to secure your own oxygen mask before aiding others.” Yet we find it hard to do.

We need to take care of ourselves, and sometimes asking for help is the best way of doing that.

When was the last time, you asked for help to take care of yourself?

You are worth it.


This is a guest post by Gitte Klitgaard. Gitte is an agile coach, hugger, friend, and much more. She lives and loves agile. She took the oath of non-allegiance. Why fight over methods when we can use that energy to help people? Gitte wants to change the world by helping people make the right product, doing it right and very important: have fun doing it. She has a great interest in how people function, how the brain works, what motivates us, how we can feel better about ourselves, how to be perfect in all our imperfections. She is a geek and passionate about a lot. 🙂 You can learn more about Gitte on nativewired.com

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Agile, Basic Scrum, Scrum
In my experience, the Daily Scrum is one of the most misunderstood  Scrum meetings. Here are my favorite ideas, to improve your Daily Scrum

Get rid of the Scrum Master and Product Owner

One of the biggest issues with Daily Scrums is that they are executed like reporting meetings. People feel the need to prove, that they have been working the last 24 hours, especially if the Product Owner or Scrum Master is around. But that’s not the point of the Daily. The Daily Scrum is a meeting for the team to plan their day. It’s like a mini Planning meeting. So, kick the PO and SM out of the Daily and start focusing on what to accomplish on the new working day. 

Forget about the past

Talking about the past for hours is easy. You don’t have to make things up, as they have already happened. But 90% of what you have experienced the day before is just boring stuff nobody is interested in. Try to get rid of the part in the Daily where you talk about the last working day. Instead, plan the day ahead. Who needs help? Who will pair with whom? What are today’s challenges? How can we make sure, that we finish some tasks by the end of the day? etc. 

Walk the board

Use you task board aka Sprint Backlog during the Daily. Only talk about things that are on the board. Add something, if it is missing. Use the tasks on the board to guide the Daily, instead of taking turns. Whoever has to contribute something, chimes in. That way, you start planning your day. As already mentioned: Ignore tasks, that are in the “Done” column. Only talk about things in the past, if they are important to all team members.

Start with appreciations

We tend to forget to say “thank you” to our teammates. Why not begin the day with appreciating, what others have done for you or the team the day before? That’s an excellent way to start the day with a smile. 

Show what you are working on

If you really cannot resist talking about what you have achieved the day before, why not showing it instead of just talking about it? This way, your work gets way more tangible. Maybe, you’ll even get some nice feedback, which helps you to improve your work even more. And yes, it’s possible within 15 minutes. 

What other tips do you know to improve the Daily? Don’t hesitate to add a nice comment. Thank you 🙂
1

Agile, Agile Coaching, Business, Scrum, tips & tricks
After many years of consulting large enterprises, building the right product I found, that there is one theme that keeps coming up again and again: Garbage in, garbage out. Those teams are trying to build the wrong thing righter, and the result is often disappointing. If the input of the team is crap, so will be the output. There are various reasons for that:

PO not empowered

Most companies implementing Scrum just grab their existing development teams and transform them into Scrum teams. The old project manager (PM) is now the Product Owner (PO), and some developer is playing the Scrum Master (SM) role additionally. The rest of the organization stays the same.  Usually, there is some marketing or product management department, that defines, what has to be built, which results in requirement documents that are handed over to the new PO. The newly appointed is then entering each of the requirements into Jira, VersionOne or any other “agile tool” and the Product Backlog is done. If he tries to order the backlog by asking what is the most important, he gets the answer that everything is important. In the end, this pseudo PO cuts the product backlog into Sprints and the only things that change for the team, are the bi-weekly Sprint Plannings. A few month later, everybody states, that Scrum didn’t bring any improvements. Does this sound familiar? Some companies call that “Proxy PO,” which isn’t simply more than an anti-pattern.

Stop doing this! Empower your PO! Get somebody in your Scrum teams, who can take product related decisions. Only then, you have a chance to build the right product.

No Vision

It’s still scary for me, how many development teams don’t have any vision. I just had a team building a product for the last 5(!) years without knowing why they were doing this. Even the Pseudo PO had no clue, what the purpose of the product is and what problem it solves for the future customer/user. They even build a second version completely from scratch. Millions of Euros have been burned, without earning a fair amount of money. How can you create something without knowing, what the problems are you are solving? How can you take decisions on a daily basis, if you don’t know where you are heading to?

Before you start developing your product, make sure that you know WHY you want to build it. There are various tools out there, that can help. Try to start with the Product Vision Board (Roman Pichler) or even simpler: a Lean Canvas.

Swiss Army Knife

You don’t know exactly, what are the most important use cases for your product? Ok, then let’s build a Swiss Army Knife! Not! It will just make you slower. You won’t benefit from a shorter TTM (Time To Market), even when using Scrum if you are trying to cover all possible use cases. This is a so-called CYA (Cover Your A**) tactic. Usually, this happens, if nobody in the company has a clue, what the most important use cases are. This leads to long development times, and when you hit the market, you only have a mediocre product.

Talk to your customer! If they are working on confidential products, where your product is only one part (e.g. a sensor for a new upcoming smartphone), sign an NDA. Convince your customers, that you can only build the perfect product if you know their future use cases. Stop being mediocre and start being outstanding solving your customer’s problems.

Conclusion

You can’t deliver excellent products if your team’s input is average. If you put garbage on the team, the outcome will be garbage, too. It’s not enough to transform your development teams into Scrum teams, you have to work on their environment, too. And you have to make sure, that you transform your input to your development teams into something meaningful.
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Agile, Retrospective, Scrum Games

Do you want to pimp your retrospectives in 2017? Here are some quick and simple ideas to improve your them.

1 – Bring food

It is always a great idea to bring food to your retrospectives. It can be such simple things like some salt sticks or cookies. You will see: This simple trick will set a great tone for the rest of the retrospective. You can read more about it here.

2 – Set a goal for the two month

Most retrospectives start on a clean greenfield without taking the results from the last retrospectives into account. Instead, set a goal for the next two or three month, e.g. improve code quality and focus on this goal in the upcoming retrospectives. This way, your retrospectives have a clear purpose, and you only discuss topic related issues. Additionally, you can build on the outcomes from the last retrospectives instead of starting from a clean greenfield. You can read more about if here.

3 – Experiment

We all work in a complex adaptive system, which means, that it is unpredictable. You’ll never know if the tasks you defined in your last retrospective will have the expected outcome. That’s why I prefer to talk about experiments instead of tasks. When you start an experiment, you want to proof that your hypothesis (our expected outcome) is true. If not, you just try another experiment, until the issue is solved. Additionally, it invites the team to be bold and try something new. 

4 – Discuss your improvements in the planning

One of the biggest problems with retrospectives is that the defined experiments are not executed because the team forgot about them or just didn’t have the time. To avoid this problem, put your experiment into the backlog for the next planning and handle it like any other backlog item, including the task breakdown in planning two. Now your experiment is part of the sprint backlog and can be easily tracked and won’t be forgotten.

5 – Focus on ONE thing

Another mistake that is made quite often is that the team wants to execute more experiments than they are able to. Instead, focus on exactly one experiment. This helps you to ensure, that there is enough capacity to execute the experiment. Nothing is more annoying than a list of experiments that nobody worked on. Pro tip: Don’t throw away your other brilliant experiment ideas, but put them in an experiment backlog. If there is some capacity left, you might start one of these, too. Furthermore, you can shorten your next retrospective by just selecting the next experiment with the highest probability of success from that backlog.

I hope you like these little improvements. I’d like to hear from you if you tried them out. Happy retrospecting 😉

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Agile, Retrospective, Scrum

In the normal case, every retrospective starts with gathering the data from the last sprint. Often enough it happens, that the team discusses the same topics again and again and it feels like not moving anywhere. But still, we insist on starting every retrospective from scratch.

Instead, it could make sense to focus on one and only one topic for a predefined time frame and make this topic the central theme for the upcoming retrospectives. Just imagine, that the team has quality issues with their current product already for quite some time and everything they tried so far, was only a drop in the ocean. Now, the team decides to define the topic of improving the product quality as their main theme for the next three month. This means that every retrospective in the next month will explicitly care for getting rid of these issues.

It makes sense, to do a short rating of the theme at the beginning of such a timeframe to get a feeling where the team is currently at (e.g. between 1 and 10). Based on this rating, the team defines a goal they want to reach in the next month. Only after that goal has been reached, the team will focus on another topic. It’s a bit like a task force approach.

At the beginning of a themed retrospective, the experiments of the last one are validated. The team checks, if the defined experiments were successful and the initial hypothesis was true. If yes, they can focus on the next issues. If no, they can define the next experiments to tackle it, by considering the potential root causes for the fail (Generate Insights).

The advantages of such an approach are the clear focus on a certain topic and the prevention to talk about the same things again and again. At the same time, you get the purpose back into your retrospectives, because everybody knows, what goal you want to reach by doing them.

What do you think? Could this be a helpful approach for you and your team? Please, leave a comment.

2

Business, Leadership
You are a manager and hate remote teamwork? Here are three ways to sabotage it:

Put teams in time zone as far away from each other as possible

If teams work in close time zones, they can use their working time to collaborate. But that is exactly, what you like to avoid. Therefore, make sure that the difference in time between all your teams is as big as possible. The best is to have a twelve-hour time difference so that one team is going to bed, while the other teams are starting to work. That way it always takes a day to get an answer to your emails which slows down communication. Scheduling a meeting, that fits for all parties is nearly impossible. Isn’t that great?

Don’t allow modern communication tools

Give your team the worst communication tools. If possible, even prohibit emails (while telling your teams, that they should make use of face to face conversations). If you already have some tools in place, make sure to limit them to audio only. Video or screen sharing is only allowed for higher management (yourself) or needs a complicated application process (signed on real paper by managers around the world). You know, because of security. Somebody could walk by a meeting room and see some confidential information. Scary…

Don’t let them meet in person

The worst thing that can happen is that the whole team meets in person from time to time. This would lead to a better understanding between all the team members and eventual to a better (remote) team performance. You don’t have any budget for that, have you? That was exactly the reason, why you created that remote team: to save some money. So you cannot afford any travel expenses for those cheap workforces (That’s at least what you tell them).

Do you have any other ideas to sabotage remote teamwork? Put your ideas into your comments.

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