Friday, September 21, 2012

put the 'fun' in 'scrum'

We don't run agile here.  They tried it for a while and have kind of moved away from it.  I'm not entirely certain that they could or could not run it successfully but the fact that the development teams spend a lot of time working on support and maintenance issues mid-project has to be solved before a pure agile implementation could be useful.

What we do do, however, is have daily scrums.  But instead of being segregated agile team based they are functional team based.  So as QA Manager i actually go to 5 scrums every morning.  One for each of the two development groups, for the the CS group, one for the managers group and my own for the QA group.  I find that there is a lot of benefit to me in each of them, each being run a little differently, in learning what's going on in all these groups.  In the end, my group will end up involved in just about everything that they're working on.

My team's scrum is pretty much the standard.  Stand up, speak consecutively in a circle, each person indicating what they did the day before, what they'll do today and indicate any blockers that they have.  Chickens listen rather than speak and for the most part we speak with respect and listen intently.  the speaking order had been standardized long before my arrival and essentially starts with the person to the left of the manager and goes around back to the manager.

After a few weeks of that i decided it was boring and starting shaking the pillars of peoples belief structures and started reversing the order from my left.  I would do this on random days but most often do it on a friday.  it's amazing how easy and yet hard it was for people to accept this.   further shaking things up, i'd look at one person and say the name of another person to start.   For whatever reason, just this little bit of change would bring some joy and laughter into the morning as people wake up to deal with change.

then i stepped things up a level.  now i do a new thing, i set a criteria, set someone in charge of judging the criteria and determine the turn order for the scrum.  some of them are pretty easy and others are a little more complicated.  i have witnessed some pretty interesting times and the benefits of these little deviances have been really quite a bit larger than i'd expected.

I will talk about the benefits in a second but before i do that, i'm going to list off some of the exercises so you can get an idea of my twisted mind.  These are listed in roughly the order that they came out, ie they started gentler and are getting harder.   My team has decided that i throw this kind of exercise at them every friday but in actuality about a third of them are randomly through the week when i'm feeling like it's time.  Sometimes you're only allowed to ask once, sometimes you're not allowed to ask at all.

  1. Height - tallest to shortest.  (entire team judged this one)
  2. Hair length - longest to shortest (judge was necessary)
  3. Age - oldest first (female on team was judged youngest regardless of actuality)
  4. Longest commute
  5. Alphabetical by middle name - only get to ask once. 
  6. Difference in age between yourself and siblings added together. Largest to smallest
  7. Distance born from Greenwich England, shortest to longest. 
Here are some of the benefits:
  1. Team building. 
    1. Learning about each other's external to work-lives brings people together. 
    2. Helping each other problem solve
    3. Bringing them together to help defeat the evil criteria maker. 
    4. A lot of laughter happens in the stumbling around the criteria.  Laughing together always brings connections, especially when it's not cruel. 
  2. Problem solving
    1. Increasing their ability to jump in and solve a problem out of the blue.  You don't know if you're going to be the assignee that day and there's only 15 minutes for the scrum so you have to move fairly fast. 
    2. Thinking on your feet - the criteria do not cover all cases on purpose.  the assignee has to  made a judgement on such things as ties and move on.  you don't gain points for randomizing either, you have to state your criteria and stick to it.  (points aren't real, but laughter for criteria is)
    3. People are getting used to coming up with ways of achieving the knowledge to settle the criteria quickly. 
  3. Ability to react intelligently to weird requests
    1. A major skill to have when interviewing, reacting well to the unexpected challenge or question.
    2. Everyone is getting quite a bit better at this.  The ability to react quickly is possibly the best benefit i've seen.  
  4. Leadership
    1. by assigning people the lead in these cases they're all getting a little bit more experience in making decisions. it's really helped some come out of their shell. 
  5. Requirements Interpretation
    1. There's been a marked improvement in communicating some rather complex criteria.  People are getting better at listening, interpreting, asking questions and moving on. 

It's been an interesting experiment that i am definitely going to continue.  I never anticipated anywhere nearly this level of benefit from such a little exercise but there it is, providing good stuff in many different ways. If only it didn't make people look at me like the weird uncle they are always happy to see cause he's weird and funny.