November 18, 2015

Harness the Power of Done (And Be Free!)

  —Use retrospective to continually improve the Definition of Done.

I'm going through an exercise to define a Definition of Done with the software team I work with. We have an informal definition implied through our working agreements.  A good definition is formally defined, well understood and applied consistently by all team members for all deliverables.

If you want apply something consistently you need buy-in.

To enable buy-in I started with the Scrum Guide, the definition of the Retrospective, a champion, and guidance. I stayed out of the decision making and limited input to questions and clarifications on objectives.  I was fortunate. The team wanted to do Retrospectives and had a champion to help develop this capability.

The Retrospective is an activity providing a team with the opportunity to reflect. Its focus is on people, processes, relationships and tools. Its intent is to provide a mechanism for capturing learning and identifying actions for improvement.

Built into the Retrospective is the requirement that the Definition of Done be improved. It is an explicit manifestation of continual improvement for a Scrum team.

People can bristle at the suggestion they can improve. They equate improvement with deficiency instead of excellence. Athletes intuitively understand that improvement results in better performance.

A champion is key to achieving buy-in.

With support a champion can engage, educate and identify impediments. I deal with impediments by helping frame questions. The lack of decision making other than objectives means the champion owns the solution. The lack of decision making is critical to developing a self-organizing team.

Successful champions are self-aware.

The self-aware champion has a pragmatic understanding of their abilities and values differences of opinion. They recognize that like-minded individuals are easy to work with but that they can fail to challenge assumptions.

A champion works in small groups.

A small group is important during the initial stages. During the initial stages the champion needs to clarify their ideas, approach and issues. A small group provides the champion a way to work though these issues with people who see the problem space differently. It is this small group that helps frame the objectives for the rest of the team.

The critical success factors are a champion and helping them create a work group that provides the diversity needed to do a deep dive on the issues.

It took a self-aware colleague to crystallize the importance of finding people to complement a champion. This colleague improved my understanding on how to improve the chances for successful organizational change.

Examples enforcing the value of differences in opinion include concerns expressed around the need to formalize the Retrospective and the need to continual improve.

Scrum defines the Retrospective as a meeting. Its value lies in capturing and executing opportunities for continual improvement. Challenging whether a separate meeting is valuable because there may be other ways to conduct effective Retrospectives.

Can Retrospectives be effective without a formal meeting, especially if the team already has other avenues to conduct conversations? I don't know. We conduct a Lean Coffee each week so this line of enquiry is valuable.

Tying the Definition of Done to continually improvement may not be obvious to the causal reader of the Scrum Guide. The implications require thought. As does the question of how much to improve.

Upon hearing this, I suggested this linkage might make an excellent agenda item for the work group. Will they discuss it? I may never know. The fact that it's on people's minds is valuable because it seeds a conversation on how the team can grow.

It's too early to tell if the team will succeed. The fact that there is desire, a champion and supportive management implies we are well on our way to getting a Definition of Done and valuable Retrospectives. I look forward to the outcome.
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