Signs of stagnation in Agile Teams

In this blog I am writing about some of the signs I have observed over years in teams that are kind of stagnant after some time. By that I mean signs which indicate that teams are no more focused on continuous improvement due to various reasons. Some of those signs and also some ways by which I have tried to help Scrum Masters and teams move forward are also discussed here.

Signs of stagnation

DSU is getting boring and has become like a routine task

Team members do not think there is much value in attending DSU as the task board is updated and they do not expect anything new in Daily Scrum. So some of them feel terribly bored and start sending updates through email and find an excuse not to attend.

One or more team members absent in every ceremony

Over a period of time team members tend to feel that they skip some ceremonies and get updates from others if needed. They somehow feel everything is going fine and they do not have any great challenges.

Not much variation in team metrics

Team metrics such as velocity or cycle time is more or less constant over few Sprints. So every one is happy and do not worry about it anymore.

A team that is continuously focused on improvements would be experimenting often and so it is not uncommon to find variations in their metrics.

A full-time Scrum Master thinking of taking additional responsibilities

Scrum Master feels that team has reached a steady state, and everything is going just fine. This leads to he/she taking up some other work to keep busy.

Changes in the team, environment, tools, project etc keep posing new challenges to any team and any team would need long time to become truly self-organized and self-managed. So Scrum Masters will always have enough work to focus the team on continuous improvement.

Trivial or no action items coming out of Retrospectives

This is highly visible in teams where members are at a loss to find anything meaningful to improve. General feeling in the team is that ‘all is well and let’s just move on’.

The above signs can also be due to other specific reasons and not necessarily stagnation. But these are some of the signs I have always observed in teams that do not know whether they have something to improve or may not have the motivation to find out. Such teams typically stagnate and if left in such state for a while, they lose the ability to think differently and improve.

I feel the journey of improvement never ends. There is so much scope for innovating and trying out alternative approaches that teams can forever be in ‘continuous improvement’ state. There could also be organizational factors, environmental factors etc which contribute to such situations. Organizations that are really focused on improving Agility should find out the reasons and address them.

Now, you may be wondering what is the use of simply knowing the signs. One needs solutions and not problems to be highlighted! Yes, my colleague pointed this to me too during the review and I thought it is good to share a bit on how I addressed one of them to start with and leave our readers to think of ways to address the rest. And, if they have already found ways to improve, share their experiences.

Ways to address stagnation

Improving Retrospectives

Retrospective is one of my favourite topics. During my discussions with several Scrum Masters I found that this is something they find very challenging, especially in teams together for a while. Teams either get bored of actively participating or think there is not much they can do to improve. In my experience even so called ‘mature’ teams struggle to identify really good process improvements. This is where Scrum Masters can help them. Some things I tried are:

1. Look at the burn down chart of the current Sprint

I can tell you most teams struggle with this one. It is never as expected. Reasons could be many – stories not small, no proper collaboration, stories not distributed during the sprint so as to maintain the flow, no WIP limits leading to clogging etc. If Scrum Masters lead the discussion to analyse these and find ways to improve it would greatly help the team. Even the discussions in this direction are very healthy and useful.

2. Look at the cycle time and other metrics

Again most teams may not even look at these during Retrospectives. Even if they do, they may not take additional efforts to improve upon them.

These are just some pointers. One of the things that Scrum Masters can do is to orient the improvements identified towards improvement in some of the above mentioned aspects and experiment. That way team can also observe definite improvements if their experiments are working else they get opportunities to think differently next time. These bring about great changes in teams. As I said earlier, the discussions towards these themselves are very beneficial to teams. They start thinking about different ways to make Retrospectives more effective.

Other ways could be to try out various formats of Retrospectives. They would induce new energy in the team and increase participation by making the ceremony itself more enjoyable.

I have also coached many Kanban teams in addition to Scrum teams. I find that Kanban teams need to be more Agile and they focus more on cycle time and throughput. So WIP limit can very effectively used in Kanban teams to bring in more Agility. Since Kanban teams also work towards SLAs (Service Level Agreements), they are more delivery focused for every single piece of work taken in. That has been my general observation in Kanban teams and it is a topic to be discussed in detail too. I would leave it for future blogs.

I have just shared some of my experiences and thoughts and welcome our readers to share their own experiences and also provide comments and suggestions on the blog.

AN

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