Does anybody remember the Cool and the Gang song Celebrate?
I sure hope so.
I want to write a short post about celebrations. For some reason I've encountered quite a few teams lately who are struggling. They're completing sprints and releases without getting much in the way done or meeting expectations.
In other words, they're ending their efforts: sad, depressed, without a sense of accomplishment. In a word, they’ve got no reason to – Celebrate.
Of course there are many reasons for it and I can't possibly explore all of them here. But the examples have made me reflect back on some of my best experiences with teams delivering “the goods”, and I wanted to share an example.
Perhaps it will help you, other teams, and organizations to achieve better results?
There was Geena
I worked with Geena Buxton during my tenure at ChannelAdvisor from 2007-2009. Geena was the Scrum Master of the agile teams in our remote Atlanta office. We had acquired a company there and worked hard to integrate them into our "agile ways". As I recall, Geena wasn't exhaustively trained or certified as a Scrum Master - at least initially. However, she displayed a remarkable aptitude for servant leadership and is in the "Top 10" of Scrum Masters I've ever worked with.
It also turned out that Geena was an artist, or perhaps better put, a cartoonist.
Release Planning, Themes, and Goals
One of the things we focused on at ChannelAdvisor was release planning. Remember, this was a relatively long time ago, so the practice was somewhat ill defined at the time. I don’t know of many organizations that were doing it. We were also actively using the terminology of a “Release Train” and I believe it was relatively new then as well.
As part of our release planning, we would name our releases. We chose Warner Bros. cartoon characters as the themes. For example, we had a Bugs release, a Taz release, and a Daffy release. It kept our planning somewhat fun and light. It also gave us on overarching theme for each release that made it easy to talk about and focus on.
You see, as we planned each sprint within the release, we always came back to our release theme and goals. We would examine our progress to goals and how we were tracking relative to our release goals. If we needed to make adjustments, we would always first look to the goal and consider how we could make the adjustment(s) and still “hold the goal”.
How did we measure release success?
We measured each release not by story points, or stories, or velocity any other arbitrary metrics, but by goal attainment. And we realized early on that there were usually many ways for us to achieve our goals as we explored and executed each release.
We discovered that by continuously collaborating with our stakeholders and customers that we could create a shared view towards emergent release scope. Scope that, while not what we envisioned in the beginning of each release, nonetheless achieved our and our client’s goals.
Back to Geena
As a Scrum Master for our Atlanta team, one of the things that Geena did that was unique was establish a very specific celebration at the close of each release.
You see, our Atlanta team became very mature from an agile perspective and continuously amazed themselves and us by over-achieving in release goal delivery. One of the ways that Geena inspired teamwork and celebration was to buy a rugby ball at the end of each release.
She would then decorate it with the releases’ cartoon representation and the entire Atlanta Scrum team would sign the ball in celebration of the release. By the way, this wasn’t the only thing they did to celebrate ;-) but it was unique.
She would keep these balls in a case in the team’s work area as a memento representing their teamwork and achievements.
I was fondly thinking of Geena the other day and remembering this unique way she created of focusing on a release, having fun, and celebrating the results with her team.
It turned out to be simple, but incredibly effective. It also had another effect.
Do any of you remember Stephen Covey and his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People? The second habit was: Begin with the End in Mind.
This is the reason I highly recommend Agile Release Planning. Not to tie a specific number of stories to a specific date. No, that never works. But to create a shared vision on the team where everyone has a focused and compelling goal in mind. They have a shared mission. And they are, as a team, unified towards achieving that goal.
This is one of the things that Geena's artwork did. It focused her team each release with the – End in Mind. And each day they revisited how they were “tracking towards their goals”. This sort of absolute focus is the real value of release planning.
And of course…having a CELEBRATION at the end!
Stay agile my friends!
BTW: here’s a link for my Release Planning – Redux post. It’s good reading on this important topic.