Agile QuickTip: Teach your Team to W.A.I.T

Teach your Team to W.A.I.T

If you’re the scrum master of an agile scrum team and you find that those daily scrum meetings are taking longer than you want, or your team members are getting too into the details, and you aren’t getting enough value from the scrum, here’s a tool that might help your team be a little more mindful in how they communicate and share information in meetings.

W.A.I.T.Why Am I Talking?

The acronym W.A.I.T is a quick strategy to help your team members ask and answer one simple question: Why Am I Talking? This is useful to help team members better communicate and collaborate – especially in meetings.  It helps people pause for a split-second to think about the message they intend to communicate and the best way to communicate it.

Just WAIT!

That thing I want to say, does it really need to be said? If it isn’t important – or if it has already been said – then just WAIT until something more relevant comes to mind.

That thing I want to say, does it really need to be said right now? If the timing isn’t right – just WAIT – a better time to put this idea forward might present itself.

That thing I want to say, are these the right people to say it to? Think about who would most value from this idea, feedback or thought. If the right people aren’t present – just WAIT.  Waiting for the right people to show up can limit repetition and make sure that the right people hear what your team members have to say.  

That thing I want to say, am I the best person to say it? Think about whether there might be someone more appropriate to communicate this idea – if so, just WAIT. Even if this thing needs to be said, it might not need to be vocalized by this particular member of the team.

That thing I want to say, have I figured out the best way to say it? Often times, we don’t stop to think about the best way to communicate an idea – typically when it enters the mind it then immediately enters the mouth.  If we haven’t determined the best way to share a thought – just WAIT – share it once you have figured out how to best communicate it.

This tool is an easy to remember device designed to help us pause for a split-second to think about how, when and to whom we’re communicating. It then helps to make that communication as effective and impactful as possible.  In the scrum, this helps keep the meeting much more focused and a lot more valuable.

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Agile QuickTip: Schedule Sync Time Before the Daily Scrum

Have you considered how ensuring you have some sync time scheduled before your daily scrum might make for an overall better stand up?

One of the constant challenges for agile or scrum teams is making sure that the daily stand up is concise, focused and valuable. Far more often it takes longer than we’d like — much more than the 10 or 15 minutes. This is sometimes because team members get lost in the details or find themselves too deep into the weeds.

This can be particularly problematic when it comes to teams that live and work across different time zones. The problem is exacerbated when the scrum meeting is scheduled for first thing in the day for some members of the team. While some team members have been sleeping, others have been working. Questions and queries have been piling up and the daily Scrum becomes the very first opportunity to reconnect and get answers. These are often individual, or 1-on-1 dialogues that don’t typically involve the entire team.

To combat this issue, try pushing back the daily scrum – just 15 or 30 minutes – and schedule some ‘sync-up’ time prior to the Scrum. This provides a time in which team members can individually sync up with other specific team members or get particular questions answered before the team Scrum begins. Once in the Scrum, the team can then focus on group updates, making the entire process much smoother, focused and more valuable for everyone.

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Agile QuickTip: Don’t Show Up At All

It may sound counter-intuitive, but if you’re a ScrumMaster, you might be able to improve your daily scrum or daily standup by not showing up at all.

If you’re the scrum master of an agile or scrum team and you feel your scrum isn’t as engaging or as interesting as it could be, you’ve probably considered what you could bring to the scrum to improve your daily meetings. Perhaps you’re worried that your team aren’t getting the most out of it, and you can’t work out what you could be doing differently to support them.  Many daily scrums even start to feel like team members are updating the ScrumMaster rather than each other.

One thing you can try as a ScrumMaster, is simply not to show up to the next Scrum.  Just skip one.  Don’t go.  Don’t telephone, don’t arrange for someone to cover for you, don’t even let the members of your team know that you won’t be there.  Just don’t go.

Afterwards, you can retroactively talk about what happened when you didn’t show up.  You can explore how your presence – or absence – changes the dynamic of the scrum.

Did the scrum meeting still happen as planned?
Did it start on time?
Did anyone capture the issues and relay them back to you, or communicate to you the most relevant points so you could follow up later?
Crucially, was the scrum more or less valuable without you present?

The daily scrum isn’t about – or for — the ScrumMaster so it should be just as effective even if you weren’t there. And if it wasn’t? Then this is a great way to open the conversation so that you can talk about ways to improve it

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Agile QuickTip: Schedule Follow Up Times

Have you considered using scrum follow-ups to keep your scrum meetings on point? One problem that scrum or agile teams have to contend with is the long daily scrum. The most effective daily scrum meetings are between 10 and 15 minutes, keeping the content brief but relevant. Instead of hitting that target, we often see teams struggling with meetings that are consistently 30 or 40 minutes – much longer than you want it to be.

One of the reasons that this happens is team members getting into the weeds and details during the scrum – trying to solution problems or resolve issues during the scrum.

Having scheduled times dedicated to scrum follow-ups can help alleviate the need for these detailed discussions during the scrum itself.  This shouldn’t be a specific meeting but rather blocked-off time – perhaps 30 or 40 minutes – where people know they can follow up on issues raised in the scrum or get any further clarification they may need.

There are three keys to making this work:

  1. Schedule the scrum follow-ups at a consistent time – try to make sure it is the same each day.
  2. Ensure that you schedule the time in people’s calendars, otherwise you risk other meetings being scheduled over them.
  3. Have team agreement to always give priority to the follow-up. No matter what you are working on, if a team member seeks assistance during the follow-up time, helping that team member takes priority.

With these guidelines in mind, scheduled follow-up times can make your daily scrums more focused and effective.

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Agile QuickTip: Start Scrums at Off Times

One of the most common frustrations that teams have with their daily scrum meeting is getting everyone to show up on time. Could the answer be, start at off times?

The daily scrum – or standup – is intended to be no longer than 15 minutes, so when team members show up 5 minutes late, that’s a third of the scrum that they’ve missed. Teams wrestle with the whether to catch latecomers up on what’s been said — losing the momentum of the scrum team — or simply moving ahead with gaps in the updates.  Often times, team members find themselves simply waiting until everyone shows up before getting started.

One idea that could help encourage people to show up at the right time, is scheduling the scrum for “off times” rather than at the top or bottom of the hour. Instead of starting at 9.00am, or 9.30am, try scheduling it 9.04am, or 9.36am.

This gives team members a few extra minutes to finish up with a previous meeting making it more likely they will be on time to the scrum. Secondly, scheduling meetings at off times make participants more aware of the meeting time. They check their watches more often; are more nervous about missing the start; and therefore will be more likely to remember that it’s time to attend.

Test this idea out with your own teams, and see if it makes a difference, reducing your frustrating wait periods and getting your scrum participants through the door on time, every time.

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Agile QuickTip: Popcorn Scrums

The daily scrum is an integral part of any scrum team. Here you can discuss what you’ve been working on the previous day, bring up challenges that are standing in the way of progress, and set the context for the day’s work. But have you heard of the Popcorn scrum method?

One of the challenges that a lot of Agile teams have is figuring out the order of speakers. It’s complicated further by virtual or distributed teams dialing-in from disparate locations.

Traditionally, the order of speakers is usually decided by a facilitator – typically the ScrumMaster. The Popcorn method can help your team and your daily scrum to be more effective.

The idea is simple. The current speaker chooses the next person to give an update, the one who will speak next. Think about it like ‘passing the mic’. This has three main benefits:

  • Facilitation becomes simpler, without one person needing to be in charge of the scrum, and with a more natural running order based on the updates and the conversation at hand.
  • The process is the same each time, no matter who is attending the meeting. Teams are not reliant on one facilitator and everyone in the company knows what to expect.
  • This method promotes participation and attention. Team members will spend a bit more time thinking about what’s been said, who hasn’t spoken yet and who is important to include. As participants could be called on to engage at any point, it pushes all members of the team to pay closer attention.

Give it a try at your next daily scrum, and see how this one change can effortlessly make your team meetings more effective.

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Bridging the Gap from the Classroom to the Workplace – What’s the Secret?

The success of encouraging employees to train further and take courses is long recognized. In fact, companies that offer comprehensive training programs see a 24% improvement in their profit margins over those businesses that spend less on employee engagement and development. As well as this, 68% of workers claim that training and professional development is the most important company policy they look for when choosing a new job.

Unfortunately, not all training is created equally.

…In fact, a McKinsey study found that historically, only a quarter of respondents have found training to be helpful in improving employee performance. The bottom line is that training must come with an understanding of how to bridge the gap from the classroom to the workplace. Without this, you will never achieve true knowledge retention, as there’s no way to put what you learn into practice. McKinsey show this in reality, where trainees can forget as much as 70% of what they’ve learned within an hour!

Forbes give their own insight to the research from McKinsey, and highlight a few key areas to focus on if you want to see the potential benefits come into fruition for your own company.

  • Plan first – People aren’t starting with nothing, they are not a blank slate. It’s important to know exactly what your specific teams want to get out of training before you start.
  • Sprints, not marathons – small bursts of productive learning are proven to be better than trying to teach staff everything about one topic.
  • Real-world environments are far more complex than the classroom. Application is essential – individuals need to be able to see how to apply what they are learning to their own workplace and reality, or it will never stick.
  • Look for both interesting and useful – the combination of these two factors helps trainees to remember what’s being taught, and put it into action.

From having a clear idea of what you want to get out of your training, what we call the tactical opportunities you’re looking to gain, to planning short bursts of training that can be readily applied to your teams, these are goals that are built for real-world results. Following these guidelines can make the difference between innovative and successful training, and wasting valuable resources on a training program built for failure.

Creating a contextual element to your program

This advice is invaluable in choosing the right program for your business needs. Before you can even begin with a training solution, precision coaching can help you work out what you need, identifying your real-world placement and providing guidance and tools on how achieve specific things in your own environment. Look for coaches who have mastered the balance of engaging and immersive training sessions that employees of all stages enjoy participating in, at the same time as providing practical value that enhances engagement and results.

You coaching choice cannot be ‘one size fits all’, because in reality this doesn’t exist. The strongest solution for Agile training offers a highly facilitated experience that helps your company reach targeted objectives in your exact real-world setting.

This should start by understanding your workplace, its culture and challenges, and what you want to get out of the training you’re having. Without this element incorporated, your business will suffer from what is known as interference, where information is not learned deeply, and as much as 75% of the knowledge could be forgotten within as little as six days.

Each business is different, and no two teams are exactly alike.

When the coaching and training techniques are both part of an ongoing process, you know that you can follow up as much as you need, working with key stakeholders to get the most out of this journey. This enables you to walk away with the tangible deliverables and improvements you need for your own business objectives and to enhance employee engagement. Understanding the road map for your training, you can revisit your goals at any stage of the process.

Cognitive science has proven that in order for training to be successful it needs to build on existing knowledge, in a cyclical way. Trainees need to then use the information enough for the brain to recognise how important it is, and the benefits it can provide.

With a clear Agile roadmap which can be revisited at the relevant junctures, teams are given the autonomy to own their own development. Rather than give over responsibility to a third party, effectively outsourcing their own success, managers and staff are invited to control the maturity of their projects in their own hands, creating useable, interesting skills that have true value, and bridging the gap between the classroom and the workplace once and for all.

7 Things You Got Wrong About Agile

Agile is a powerful business tool, with the 2018 State of Agile report showing that the majority of organizations that adopt Agile see increased business value. Despite the widespread adoption, there are still many myths and misconceptions about Agile. We look at some of the biggest.

1. Agile is Just for IT and Software

Agile originated in software but it has since been applied in almost every industry and environment – HR, recruiting, marketing, manufacturing and fighter plane cockpit design. There is even a pretty famous Ted Talk by Bruce Feiler about how he and his family applied Agile in the home Agile’s versatility is its greatest strength. It provides capabilities to iterate and discover solutions to complex problems in any industry – whether it’s helping government define better policies or auto manufacturers seeking ways to reduce emissions.

2. Agile Uses Little or No Planning

The emphasis in Agile is on ‘Planning’ – not ‘The Plan’. There is extensive planning in Agile at every level – from Product Visioning, Roadmapping, Release Planning, Sprint Planning, even the daily Scrum and stand up focuses on the detailed daily planning. One of the fundamental values of Agile is responding to change, learning and feedback. Change is not only expected, it’s valued – we create opportunities to continuously discover better ways to do things and better areas to invest in. Agile teams hope to discover and learn new things that they can take advantage of to deliver ever-increasing value to their organizations and customers. Since plans are expected to change, we invest heavily in planning – not the plan. The plan will likely change and even be discarded but the things we learn while planning are leveraged in generating the new plan.

3. Agile is About Cost Reduction

If someone is telling you that you’re going to reduce costs by adopting Agile, they’re likely trying to sell you something. Agile is a different mindset and approach to tackling problems and enabling customer opportunities. It’s about maximizing value by maximizing the return on investment. The goal is not to cut costs. Agile helps organizations innovate and focus on highest value opportunities and will probably help you avoid working on unnecessary things, reducing waste and risk.

4. Agile Means No Documentation

This myth usually comes from an incorrect reading of the Agile manifesto, which states that we value ‘working software over comprehensive documentation’. An important word here is ‘comprehensive’ which means documenting everything. Not all documents are worth creating just like not all product features are worth implementing. Some documents are more valuable than others. I usually advise that teams take a similar approach to documentation as they do with any product feature: Does the document have a well-defined and important user with a well-defined and important purpose? If so, let’s create it. If not, lets create something else.

5. You Don’t know What You’re Going to Get

Many people believe that Agile teams cannot predict what they’re going to be delivering and when. You might sometimes hear “you get what you get when you get it!” This is not exactly true. In reality there is a lot of transparency, visibility and planning on Agile teams. By always working on the most important items, and by always focusing to complete them as quickly as possible, Agile teams have potentially releasable features at the end of every iteration or sprint. The most valuable things are easy to guarantee. Attempting to predict the completion of lower priority items will likely be far less accurate. After all, we hope the lesser valuable part of the backlog will change – in fact we expect it will. Those new ideas, learning and feedback that we haven’t got yet, it’s true we cannot predict those, but those items at the top of our priority list we can certainly predict their completion. The highest priority items — the most valuable things are not just predictable, but they are likely to be worked on next, or they may even be completed already.

6. Agile is Project Methodology

Anyone who has used Agile can testify to how wide-reaching the effects are. Most organizations typically begin their Agile adoption to improve the speed and performance of their software and technology teams and soon realize that adopting Agile often means changing how we structure teams; how we recruit; how we hire; how we measure success; how we fund initiatives; how we manage risk etc. The implications are far broader than any team or project. Organizations often realize that the Agile values and principles that make these technology teams successful will allow other areas of the organization to be successful too

7. There is One Perfect Way to Implement Agile

There is no absolute best way – or the one right way — to do Agile. It really depends on your business, your team, the problems you’re trying to solve, and the environment you operate in. There are very few things that you would always do. There are very few things that you would never do. You might find that 99% of the time you never do something, but then you come across the that one team, trying to solve that one customer problem in that one situation where it is the exact right thing to do.

The more you taste and try different ideas; test things through trial and error; and empower people to take ownership over their process, the more you’ll learn the best way for you. Even then, as your teams mature and your needs and environment changes, the best way will likely change too. There is no one right way, you have to figure out what is the right way for you.

Every Ounce of Value

Understanding the concept of ‘Every Ounce of Value’ means recognising a core truth. Value is created by the people at the bottom. As the value creators, the people in the trenches and on the ground are who create the products, speak to the consumers and are best placed to make quick decisions.

The goals of any Agile business need to empower this group, becoming enablers of their value. In this way, you’ll see two clear groups emerge. Those who create the value and those who are there to support and empower. While companies are often inundated with staff who do not fit these categories, meant for compliance or process or keeping others in line – we believe that anyone outside of the two value definitions simply has no value in an Agile organization.

In order for this system to work, traditional hierarchies and business environments need to be revisited, and in some cases burned to the ground. Historically, systems and processes were put into place to feed the very top. The reporting and transparency in an old-fashioned business ecosystem was all upwards facing. This was intended so that the people at the top of the food chain could understand and consume, and then enforce top down decision making. The people at the very bottom simply followed the process, and so found themselves stuck if their situation in practice deviated in any way.

This now has to change. Turning the traditional hierarchy on its head, an Agile organization looks to push decision making further and further down the business chain. When successful, value creators feel empowered to make smart choices and quick changes, eliminating the levels of process and bureaucracy to get answers and put movement into place. With this structure, they not only get involved in tactical planning, but can focus on individual interactions, and get away from the stifling nature of top-down process altogether.

All Agile businesses should be investing in environments to optimize for the people at the very bottom, trusting and empowering every ounce of value at its source.