What would be an example of a poorly performing team and why?
If you look at a lot of textbooks or articles written for the Internet, you’ll often come across ‘velocity’ as a measure of performance. I want you to completely ignore that.
Velocity is not a measure of a team’s success nor is it an indicator of high-performance in a team environment.
Regardless of whether a team is getting through 10 points a sprint or 100 points a sprint, it tells you nothing about the team performance. If you compare the current burnup chart with previous burn up charts, it might give you an indication of whether the team is improving or not but it isn’t a reliable measure of performance.
The reason for this is because a team might be working hard and figuring out complex problems but not actually delivering stuff.
The team might be working on creating a product that is incredibly difficult to produce and despite their best efforts, they may not be able to deliver that product in a sprint despite making incredible progress in each sprint.
So, outside of capacity planning, velocity isn’t a great measure of a team’s performance, and I would advise you to ignore it when considering how your team is performing and how they can improve.
Team Action and Interaction
What we need to instead consider is how a team acts and interacts with one another.
Are they taking data into sprint planning, giving it the respect it deserves, and acting on the information and insights they extract from the data?
You’ll notice the empirical pillars of transparency, inspection and adaptation coming into play here.
Is the information available to the team? Do they understand the data? Are they paying attention to it? Are they developing hypotheses based on the data and are they actively learning in each sprint based on how the data informs their decision-making?
If they are doing these things, you have an indication that your team is invested in getting better and actively working toward continuous improvement in each sprint. If they aren’t doing these things, you have a red flag that needs to be addressed.
As a scrum master, you may find that your team have simply become complacent and believe that they have all the answers, or you may find that this is a signal that they aren’t achieving their full potential because they aren’t focusing on getting the basics of scrum right.
Teams that don’t talk.
A big red flag for me is teams that don’t talk.
In an environment where the team don’t take the time to discuss and understand the problems they face, you’re likely to encounter poor performance. Often, they are simply fed more work in each sprint and do their best to get through that work as quickly and efficiently as they can.
They aren’t, however, working on the best solutions nor are they attempting to work as effectively as they can. Choosing efficiency over effectiveness is a sign of an unhealthy team environment.
Teams should be discussing the design of the product, the latest research and feedback on the product, what the most compelling problems are, and how they can improve on the product.
These conversations should be interesting, engaging, and ultimately inform how the team proceed in their next sprint.
Not having these conversations is a sure sign that the team are complacent or simply getting on with things as a group of individuals that happen to work together rather than a cohesive and collaborative team.
As a scrum master, it is your role to discover and understand why the team isn’t talking and to facilitate events and interventions that get the team to actively engage and talk again.
Take the time to surface these issues and get a firm grasp on what is preventing the team from talking regularly. Maybe start with one-on-one conversations and progress to team discussions.
In an environment where psychological safety isn’t the norm, you are going to experience poor performance from your team.
Psychological safety occurs when people know that they have an equal voice and that their opinion, ideas, and recommendations are considered and respected by the team and organisation.
When someone can respectfully disagree with another person, regardless of how senior they are in the team or organisation and put forward their own line of reasoning and recommendations to be considered as an alternative approach, then you have psychological safety.
A team need to interrogate data, ideas, and proposals rather than simply accept them.
Interrogating that data, idea or proposal is a great sign that you have a healthy team that are taking the time to discuss all of the options available to them and actively seeking the best solution or optimum path forward.
Psychological safety within the team environment ensures that you’re getting the best ideas, the highest levels of engagement, and creating an environment where people feel safe to collaborate and put their most creative ideas forward for consideration and inspection.
A team without psychological safety is almost certainly going to suffer from poor performance because nobody in the team believes that their contribution matters or even worse, believes that their will be consequences and retribution if they do make a contribution or voice their opinion.
As a scrum master, you need to be having one-to-one conversations to uncover whether there are psychological safety concerns and later, team discussions where these issues can surface and be addressed.
Not paying attention to data.
As teams produce work, data is a natural byproduct of that work.
High-performing teams interrogate the data and use it to inform future decisions. The data helps them understand whether they are achieving their sprint goals and objectives and if not, informs what changes need to happen for them to get back on track.
Poor performing teams don’t pay attention to data at all.
They simply get on with things and go through the motions.
Continuous improvement should be the goal of every scrum team and data is critical in helping the team understand how they are performing, where they need to focus, and what elements are delivering the highest returns on the team investment.
A team that doesn’t consider continuous improvement as a priority and ignores data is a team that is going to produce poor results, consistently, and fail to achieve the organisations goals and objectives.
As a scrum master, you want to be having discussions around the data and helping the team discuss how that data impacts their decisions and focus. You need to make sure that the team understand the data and how it is relevant in their specific context as well as the broader organisational context.
A scrum master should be using the data in sprint reviews and sprint retrospectives to help the team reflect on where they can improve and what data will inform or support that improvement.
A culture of excellence
In the 21st century, knowledge economy, standing still is the same as moving backward.
If you aren’t continuously learning and improving, there are simply too many variables at play that will ensure that your team move from high-performance to poor performance over time.
Your team may have been a strong, high-performing, cohesive unit in the past but because they took their finger off the excellence pulse, the bad habits and hallmarks of poor performing teams crept back into play and now you have a problem on your hands.
Customer may no longer care about the work you are creating, and product sales suffer as a result.
If the team aren’t actively evaluating their work and creating a culture of excellence with the objective of creating products, features, and services that truly delight customers, things can go south very quickly.
As a scrum master, it is one of your core responsibilities to ensure that the team are creating and nurturing a culture of excellence.
In dynamic, volatile, uncertain and ambiguous environments like the ones we live in today, inaction can be just as damaging as the wrong action. Nokia is a prime example of that.
Nokia didn’t create poor products. Their productivity didn’t just go off a cliff.
Instead, a competitor created a product that customers loved, and Nokia failed to respond to the shift in consumer values and behaviour. They believed that their product was fine as it was and that everything else was just a passing fad.
They simply carried on doing what they had always done before and paid the ultimate price for their inaction.
A culture of excellence means that the teams and organisation care deeply about high-performing products and services that truly delight customers. They care about producing the best work they are capable of and keep a finger on the market pulse to make sure that what they are creating resonates with customers.
Even if their product is the best in the market, they still actively seek ways to improve and delight customers with each new product, feature, or service they release.
Fostering a culture of excellence will ensure that your team are focused, committed and capable of delivering the highest standard of work.
A poorly performing team don’t focus on excellence and are often victims of disruption by competitors in the marketplace. They simply can’t respond to the rapid shifts nor are they able to raise their game to meet the new standards that customers now expect.
So, make sure that your team embrace excellence and actively work toward nurturing that culture of excellence in both your team and the broader organisation.
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