Bad attitude!

Bad attitude!

The daily stand-up meeting is an easy Agile practice to adopt and an easy process to get wrong.  When stand-up meetings go wrong the problems are either a people or a process problem.  Each category can be broken down into a number of more specific problems, each with different symptoms and solutions. Today we’ll talk about people problems.

People problems are really team problems. Teams are made up of the interactions between people pursuing a common goal.  Each person has his or her own motivations, goals and biases.  Because teams are made up of people, they are complex and chaotic.  Stand-up meetings can be a window into structure and health of any team.  Some typical symptoms seen in stand-up meeting with engagement problems are passive aggressive behavior, poor stand-up attendance, tasking personnel and controlling behavior.

Passive aggressive behavior between individual members  This indirect hostility is sometimes seen as members exchange information during the meeting.  The scrum master/coach should work with the individuals to identify and rectify the behavior.  I generally feel that this type of behavior is difficult to address as a team or in a retrospective because there is often too much personal defensiveness.  If the problem cannot be solved at the team level get a line/HR manager involved, but do this only as a last resort.

Poor attendance  Assuming that there isn’t a scheduling problem, poor attendance reflects how much the team values the stand-up meeting.  If this is a problem, the scrum master/coach should schedule a retrospective to help the team uncover the root cause for the attendance problem.  Attendance problems are generally a reflection of how team members value each other.

Tasking meeting  Stand-ups in which a leader hands out tasks to the team show that the team (or a manager) has not embraced the core Agile principles of self-organized and self-managed teams. In this situation the team either can’t or won’t engage in managing the work.  Start addressing the problem with training and coaching, both at the IT management level and the team level, to drive home how the Agile principles should be practiced.  If an organization or team can’t stop tasking team members, longer-term organizational change is needed. Until that can be accomplished the primary value of Agile is out of reach.

Controlling behavior  Behavior in stand-up meetings often reflects behavior outside the meeting.  Teams generally have a leader; however when a person crosses over the line and becomes dominating, teams can lose the potential advantages of diverse voices. This type of behavior is most common when parts of team are at a power disadvantage. For example, contractors are often placed in subservient position if someone on the team controls their contract renewal.  When this issue is discovered, the scrum master/coach should begin with one-on-coaching change the behavior. Beginning with the specific team members in a problem makes sure no one feels blindsided (this is rarely a conscious behavior). Secondly, I find that after the team members are aware of the problem, it is helpful for the team to address the issue using retrospectives.

A good scrum master/coach needs to look for coachable moments to recognize and confront the problems. Where the issue is more systemic, techniques like retrospectives and training can be brought to bear. In the end everyone involved have to recognize the symptoms, but treat the problems.