How to Create Balance in Your Team with the Help of SCRUM and Taylor Swift

I recently found myself at a Taylor Swift concert.

Yes, that’s what happens when you have teenage children.

But while listening to her song “Shake It Off,” I couldn’t help but be reminded of the importance of making sure that we shake up our product development environment and culture every once in a while.

As I have talked about for the last 6 months, we have been adopting SCRUM at Constant Contact. In my experience, SCRUM implementations take time to get right, and because we work with real people, we need to find ways to continually provide energy, optimism, and encouragement.

In a perfect world, Agile SCRUM implementations create teams that work in complete harmony.

We get teams to the High Performing state (Tuchman model) and there is complete balance and harmony between PO, Scrum master, and Team. The PO maintains a well-balanced backlog of stories that encompass feature work, technical debt, defects, usability and any number of other inputs for the team.

The realities of SCRUM adoptions tend to be a bit messier, particularly at scale. When dealing with organizations of 10+ teams, business driven feature deliver deadlines, older infrastructure, hundreds of thousands or more lines of code, multiple micro services, and any number of other priorities, it can be hard for the PO to get the perfect balance maintained all of the time.

Additionally, teams are complex. They are made up of talented engineers who have their own ideas, needs, and personalities. As we work to get our teams to work towards being high performance, there are any number of challenges from collaboration, communication, build environments, innovation ideas, and updated technology.

How can you maintain balance in the organization when things feel a little out of whack?

The simple answer is to Shake It Off.

We have found that there are two mechanisms that we use to keep going strong and create balance within our product delivery organization. We have Hackathons and Innovation Jams. Both of these concepts happen at the Product Delivery level and allow our product organization to get a bit of a break from the regularity of two week sprints, prioritized backlogs, and story points.

Between two and three times a year, we sponsor Innovation Jams. The purpose of these 2-day sessions is to give product teams a chance to break up and work on new ideas. We encourage individuals to form teams with different folks than they usually work with and try out new ideas.

There are pitch sessions before the Jam starts to pitch ideas and attract folks to your team and a Science Fair at the end where new ideas are demonstrated with awards being given out for the best new ideas.

On top of our Innovation Jams, we recently introduced Hackathons.

The reality of large-scale SCRUM organizations is that there are always things that bother individuals on a team. Our internal Hackathons are an opportunity for every individual to take the time to focus on that specific problem and “scratch an itch”.

For a given engineer, maybe it’s a particular defect, maybe it’s a bothersome build script, maybe it’s a code refactor — it could be anything, but every engineer has something that they know they want to do but can’t get prioritized on the backlog.

Our Hackathons are a chance for the engineer to deal with that thing without having to build consensus on the team or get it prioritized on a backlog.

How can you apply these concepts to your team?

I have found that by giving teams opportunities to Shake It Off, our adherence to strong SCRUM and teamwork practices actually goes up. Creating opportunities to capture Innovation and freedom to take care of the those low priority but annoying tasks really helps everyone feel good about the work they do on their teams and the role they play in making Constant Contact successful.

My personal advice is to look to schedule these opportunities at times when you might not have perfect sprint scheduling, just after a string of tough sprints, maybe after a big release, or in and around 3 and 4 day weekends. Always schedule them in-between Sprints so you aren’t interrupting a sprint if at all possible. Otherwise you may find sprint work getting done during the time that you are particularly trying to operate outside of the backlog.

Oh, one other thought. As much as Taylor Swift may have given me the idea to “Shake It Off,” being at a concert with 65,000 preteen and teenagers wasn’t exactly my idea of a fun night. But I do have to give her credit for the effort and quality of the performance and show she delivered.

Hopefully this blog and reference doesn’t — to allude to another one of her songs — cause any “Bad Blood” between us.

Are there other things that you have seen help SCRUM/Agile organizations? Use the comment section below to leave your ideas.

Are you an engineer or engineering leader who is looking to work and learn in an Agile culture that works on leading edge technology and is focused on delivering customer value for our small business customers? Check us out at jobs.constantcontact.com.

Comments

  1. tushar says:

    Hi, thank you for this post I agree with you that The realities of SCRUM adoptions tend to be a bit messier, particularly at scale. When dealing with organizations of 10+ teams, business driven feature deliver deadlines, older infrastructure, hundreds of thousands or more lines of code, multiple micro services. very useful information

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