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Agile Anonymous: Hello, I’m a Recovering Release Train Engineer

Agile Anonymous: Hello, I’m a Recovering Release Train Engineer

Retrospective of 5 things to do to keep your Train on the tracks through values and principles

Agile values and principles have been one of the key drivers of a transformation and its ability to innovate, learn and adapt. Recently coming off of a consulting opportunity as a Release Train Engineer, I sat back and retrospected (practice what we preach!) on what I can do to improve my own practices as an Agile Transformation Coach and share what I have learned through the good ol' values and principles.

#1 – Keep the party going! Hold true to your agile events.

Principle: Working software “product” or “deliverables with value” is the primary measure of progress.

I have learned that consistency drives behaviors. Although, it can be tempting to cancel agile events because of poor attendance. I have found that instead of, for example,  canceling System Review/Demo because teams are not volunteering to demo, use that time wisely to review top priorities, get some value time from the Business Owner to speak to customer requests or priorities or upcoming freezes that make effect work. If you do, that train will not stay on the tracks.

I was filling in as an RTE and the Train had gone through some pretty signifigant structural changes including a tool change which started their Epics and Features from scratch essentially and the teams were restructured. had the opportunity

Principle: Working software “product” or “deliverables with value” is the primary measure of progress.

Not only at the team level to retrospective happen. Same with an Agile Release Train the Inspect & Adapt is a very important event. When that train comes rolling into the platform be prepared to reflect.

#2 – Embrace change, ‘cause shift happens.

Value: Responding to change over following a plan

We have all had a lot of change this year. People are very uncomfortable with change. Change means pain. Learning new things is change.

Establish a good cadence with your Epic Owners. Meaning, just because an Epic is “in progress” doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be reviewed or refined, or delays happen that Product Managers could not see happen (ex: freezes, order delays due to shipping etc.).

#3 – Learn a new language (ok, not really!)

Principle: Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.

Yes, we do and if you’re not “speaking their language” adapt yours to create a better more cohesive understanding. Or coach them to “learn new words” like moving from calling individuals “resources” to “team member.”

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard people referred to as “recourses.” The definition of a resource is a tool or something available to be used to support or help. Merriam-Webster defines resource as: “a source of supply or support : an available means —usually used in plural.”

If you were learning a new language you may ask, “Help me understand, when you say this ____, is this ____ what you mean? If not, help me translate.”

Change your language of, “You agile Folks,” to “as a Team” or changing the vernacular from using the word “project” to “product,” or “project manager” to “product manager.”

Listening to individuals and teams is very important. If they’re not able to meet commitments saying they’re over capacity, leaders need to hear that and reprioritize.

Subtle changes in our language can transform how people feel valued, they way to work together, communicate together and feel supported. Language is transformational! 

#4 – Be slow to speak, but communicate, communicate, communicate.

Principle: The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.

So, you think you’re a good communicator? I did! My top CliftonStrengths is communication. I do not struggle with communication, and never have. However, I have learned how to adapt and adjust my communication style, and I have learned so much from observing others in their delivery style, which goes beyond face-to-face communication.

In this virtual world we live in I can’t tell you now many people I have worked with over the course of the last year and have never seen their actual face. Or, when my virtual desktop doesn’t work and my camera is off how disengaged I become.

Cameras either give us to powerful feeling to talk too much, or not enough. I have learned when asking a question or a question is being asked instead of speaking right away, to sit back, take a sip of coffee and then speak.

Additionally, when asking questions, give a few moments of pause for the individual to come off mute or collect their thoughts. I’m makes communication a lot easier if people are not speaking over each other, “Are you on the call?” “Yes, yes, I was getting off mute, give me a second to collect my thoughts.”

I also found that over communication, while may seem like overkill, is crucial. If you’re ART Sync covers many topics like risks and dependencies, not only communicate it, document is in the tool for tracking and draft and email. Or document PI Planning agenda in a Wiki page in the calendar invite and an email.

#5 – Self-Care/Value Yourself

Value: Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

When we look at the Agile Manifesto we often thing the values relate to teams and other people. Don’t forget that means you too! Yes, I’ll admit it, I’ve questioned my experience and abilities as an agile coach a few times in the last year. I’ve come into an organization completely virtual, trying to built rapport through a screen, coached a teamless ART, been an RTE for an ART that “doesn’t need an RTE” and coached to mid-managers that don’t seems to see or hear me on a virtual screen (although they do see my very animated face when it’s conveniently contorted frozen from a bad VDI connection).

Partner with a trusted advisor, hopefully in the organization you work with to “have your back” or support you when needed, even if that means reiterating what you’ve already said a dozen times, or them saying it a different way that translates the message you have been trying to coach to.

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