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Ever since I started working in Agile, I have been observing my wife’s way of working and how she manages our kids’ dynamic expectations. I keep seeing ways to correlate her methods to Agile. I thought of mapping my observations to some of the Agile principles — as a metaphor. I know that in other households, the various roles may be handled differently and by different people. Based on my observations, however, I’ll put it this way: Why can’t Scrum teams be inspired by a mother? Here are my thoughts.
Mother works steadily
In order to prepare the kids for school, she completes activities such as cooking food for them, helping them get their clothes ready, etc. She does these activities almost every day and she has limited time. If on any day she gets delayed in any of these activities, that day kids might be delayed in getting to school.
This highlights Agile Principle #1: Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
The Scrum teams should be inspired by mothers to deliver working software at the end of every sprint by continuously managing their work effectively and with the expected quality. For this, they need to work collaboratively, with good planning, having a proper Definition of Done in place. Their objective should be to achieve the sprint goal always by managing unpredictability through collaboration and teamwork.
Mother handles changes well and is proactive
Very often I observe my kids go to the kitchen in the morning while my wife is busy cooking, and they ask for some changes in the menu. Most of the time she will not get upset but will negotiate with them about which changes can fit within the available time frame.
This highlights Agile Principle #2: Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
Similarly, Scrum teams also have to change their mind-set and understand that the product owner has flexibility in managing the scope as per the product vision and ROI of the product. This will increase product success. Of course, they need to remember what the Scrum framework recommends about the changes, and accordingly they need to respond. So the changes have to be discussed with an intention of how they can be adapted without deviating too much from the sprint goal. This is possible through face-to-face conversation with the product owner.
Based on what needs to be prepared for the day’s lunch and snacks for the kids, most of the time I observe my wife preparing things ahead — cutting the vegetables, checking what the kids like/need for lunch, making snacks, purchasing items the day before they are needed. This will make her job easier the next day and the work can be done more smoothly.
So this highlights Agile Principle #4: Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
Principle #6: The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
Scrum teams should care and give importance to product backlog grooming so that their sprints will not have turbulence. They also need to work closely with their product owner and give importance to face-to-face conversation instead of emails.
Mother plans and executes effectively
If you observe the way Mother plans and executes her work, it’s amazing. She knows the priorities well, she knows which task takes more time and which tasks take less time, and she allots time to them accordingly. She also identifies the tools that help her complete work with her expected quality and within the given time. Even though she does similar work every day, she does not take it lightly and aims for continuous improvement.
She cares about the work that is required to meet the timeboxed duration by pushing the “unwanted” work back. This can be done by proper prioritization and assessing the need of the work.
This highlights Agile Principle #8: Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
Principle #10: Simplicity — the art of maximizing the amount of work not done — is essential.
Scrum teams also should know which is the highest-value story and which is of lowest value, and accordingly they need to deliver them to make sure working software is delivered at the end of the sprint. They also have to give equal importance to engineering practices such as continuous integration and test-driven development, collective code ownership, refactoring, etc. They always have to strive to deliver rapid value in terms of working software with technical excellence.
Scrum teams also have to understand what is required and what is not, and accordingly they need to push back the things that are not required. They need to know the requirements that deliver the majority of the revenue from the product (80-20 rule, or Pareto principle). This needs constant communication and collaboration among the product owner, team, and the stakeholders.
Mother is innovative
Many times, I observe that my wife creates new recipes by following sources such as YouTube, Google, etc. This makes the kids (stakeholders) happy. Also, she is a continuous learner, even though she has already gathered great experience and expertise in her area of work.
Agile principle #9: Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
Agile principle #11: The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
Scrum teams should spare some bandwidth to enhance their cross-functional skills and sharpen their technical caliber on an ongoing basis. It is good to come up with a team-level learning plan by identifying current primary skills and secondary skills the team wants to achieve and planning to mentor each other. The key thing is to make it timeboxed and set a target date, with periodic tracking of progress.
The team can get support from the ScrumMaster to receive external training in case no team member has the required skill to train the others.
Mother takes regular feedback
Even though she does similar kinds of work every day, Mother asks the kids about the food and whether they liked it or not. This helps her improve wherever required. This highlights the Agile principle #12: At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.
So it is essential for Scrum teams to have regular retrospective meetings to check where they are good and what needs to be improved so that they can become high-performance teams over a period of time. It should not be just like any other meeting; they have to gather the sprint data, generate insights from the data, and then come up with action items and prioritize those actions for implementation in upcoming sprints.
One thing the ScrumMaster has to follow here is the trends of the retrospective outcomes. Things that are working fine should continue to work fine, and things that are not working well should change so they can start working fine. This will help the Scrum teams become high-performing teams. Maintaining the details of the retrospectives, watching the trend analysis, coming up with suitable solutions, and mentoring the teams in those areas will be the responsibility of the ScrumMaster.
Mother does not get paid
Whatever great work Mother does, she does not get directly paid for it. However, she takes care of the family regardless.
I know this is hard to digest, but I feel that Scrum teams have to focus on their delivery without worrying much about salary hikes, promotions, etc., so that their work will show what they are capable of as a team. Becoming high-performance teams will bring them success in their work lives.