Stress Management – New Skill that a Scrum Master needs to learn and master

All of us experience stress to some degree regularly, but stress on a leader is comes from unique situations, limitations, demands of the system, environment, the behavior of the stakeholders, lack of control of the environment or just some personal insecurity.

Research has shown the Scrum Master experiences same level of stress from different sources e.g. Product Owner, Stakeholders, Development teams or other Scrum Masters, but reasons for the stress that they feel would differ, as this would typical depend on the source of the stress.

Why Scrum Master Role is full of Stress?

By definition, Scrum Master role requires you to be out in front of the people, rarely there would be a standard path or approach that one could follow. There are no readily available answers to the acute problems as faced by them. Scrum Masters often would be required to make critical decisions based on the limited information and just as often the customers, PO, Development team, sponsors or the management would hold them accountable for those decisions.

Lack of control – By definition the SM role does not have any authority or control on the people issues (meaning all the HR related matters). SM’s often have to negotiate with the stakeholders, directors or sponsors and try to use their own power of influence, all of these are recipes for stress.

Every good news or a achieved success is a source of stress, reason: expectations are set, Bar of performance has risen and the whole universe now expects day-in and day-out that you and your team would be delivering improved results every sprint – A new source for stress.

Building relationship, show the traits of Servant Leadership. Role of the SM requires them to coordinate and collaborate with different stakeholders, each of them brings unique challenges due to their individual characteristics. Managing conflicts takes different forms. No standard approach or technique can be applied. It again depends on the situation right personal disputes to political games (mind you organization have major politics) – All of these are sources of stress.

Scrum Masters must shoulder a high degree of expectations from various elements of the organization. Each of them expects results in the form of success since failure is not an Option (all of management forgets that Agile is all about FAIL FAST and INSPECT & ADAPT). Scrum Masters often feel the pressure of having to know all the answers and make all the right decisions and also be ready to face the consequences of the decisions that they make.


Scrum Master has to start recognizing that it is not important to define what is stress about, but to identify WHO is the source of stress? If you feel that your boss does not show his support to your decision or respect your authority, then this will contribute towards elevation of stress. So, BOSS could be a source of stress

One of most general source of stress is your peer community. A competitive environment and lack of cooperation from your peers is going to induce new levels of stress (quite different then ones you get from the Boss). Think about your relationships with your peers, do they:

  • Compete rather than collaborate?
  • Focus on their own individual outputs rather than the group’s achievements?
  • Act overly about who gets the credit for getting the job done?
  • Lack of inclusion and Trust

Your team would be the next in line. Think about your relationships with your team, do they:

  • Lack commitment?
  • Resist changes?
  • Expect you to solve all the problems / issues / impediments?
  • Fail to implement plans or complete their own tasks?

It may be worth noting that not all stress is bad. The problems associated with stress arise when demands put on you outweigh the resources and coping strategies you have to meet those demands. The key as Scrum Master is to know which stress is which, how to judge your reaction to situations and how to manage the negative type.

Handling the pressure in the job of Scrum Master is necessary. One needs to know what signs of stress to look for, and have a strategy for increasing your resources so that you can manage the leadership stress that comes your way.

Managing the stress is the new skill that Scrum Master would be required to acquire. Stress is now a part of everyday life, but consequences of stress can be serious. By understanding the nature of stress, once can find ways to adapt and thereby be more effective in their career. Things you can do to better manage your stress include knowing the signs / signals, taking breaks, setting boundaries between work and home, building a support system, organizing and streamlining your work, building in recovery time, exercising and creating positive eating habits.

Finally – Implementing Agile or Scrum or anything new, requires courage, that would require in turn learning to manage the “NEW STRESS”, that comes along with it.

Bye for now.



Influence – The only tool that a Scrum Team needs

Influence is an essential component in any project, organization or relationship. At times in Organization or in a project, your position in the system is not sufficient or adequate to motivate people to do what you need / ask or want. Influence is the key solution to this problem. Developing your influencing skills can help you gain commitment from people at all levels in the organization or a project.

Leaders are often challenged in learning this skill on how to influence different & diverse set of stakeholders. One cannot apply a single standard approach or technique, even with the same stakeholder, with different situations the techniques would be required to be changed or modified. Knowledge alone is insufficient, but it reminds leaders that positive results often depend on variety of different influence tactics.

By considering whom you want to influence, one can settle for a tactic that is likely to produce the best results. Reviewing the outcome of those events creates an opportunity to learn from experiences and to become a more influential leader and a more powerful contributor to your organization’s / projects on-going success.

People forget that Influence has more power than formal position in an organization or a project.

Speaking about Scrum teams and the 3 roles it has. Each of the role is a leader in their own rights and approaches, each role brings different flavors to the table, each of them requires to possess this skill of influencing to have the work completed.

For example, Product Owner would be required to influence the stakeholders, business users on which PBI’s to be prioritized, what business value it would bring as compared to the other items on the backlog, On the other hand the PO would also be required to influence the development team on adopting his / her strategy or agree on the order of development. In the entire contrast the development team would have to influence the PO why a particular item should not be prioritized for the current sprint (could be due to technical issues or dependencies with other PBI’s or dependencies with other Scrum teams), development team should also exercise the idea of influencing the Scrum Master to help understand which impediments requires more urgent attention of theirs as compared to the others or how a process should be adopted based on their teams requirements. Development team needs this tool most during estimations of various PBI’s (when the entire team is supposed to estimate and come to a consensus to a common ground or a bare minimum agreement that all of us can live with or atleast nobody is opposing it, though it may not be their 1st choice).

Coming to the last character of this play i.e. Scrum Master, well this one must influence the PO, the team, stakeholders, sponsors, business owners (where and when required), the strategy of influence would change depending on the role that needs to be influenced. SM should and must influence the PO to emphasis the idea on how to maximize the ROI from the development team, or Influence the development team on an approach, idea or a new concept to be experimented.

At times, due to business exigencies PO may be required in the middle of the current sprint to change a PBI item (yes, this goes against the Agile principles and values), this is a place where logical discussions (with the development team) take place and discussions have to be more of influencing (in nature) and selling the concept of why a particular PBI is more important and how would it hurt the business if not done now.

Sometimes during sprint planning meeting, when the development team has a little bit of spare capacity, it needs to influence the PO to not push for more PBIs but allow them to focus on technical excellence or reduction of technical debt or refactoring the code / design or spending a few available hours to learn a new feature or experiment something that can be of larger use to the system / project later.

What power cannot achieve, influence can. It is a tool that should be used instead of power, it also shows the influencer’s ability to motivate people / resources to act according to a given situation or the respond to an issue in desired manner (which otherwise would not be the case).

We all influence the other party (or a person) to act in your favor or bring them to the alignment of your thought process

There is no dearth of ideas / situations where this influence as a theory can be applied to get the desired results for the success of the project.

Influence as a strategy to be successful requires, the influencer to understand the psychology, social psychology and dynamics of human politics, Technical competency are no longer enough to succeed. It is important to note that you cannot influence what you do not understand.

Influencing as a strategy would work, when you start to identify your own personal values and that of others. Each situation of influence one faces is circumstantial and this is a dynamic process and which would require to judge the factors (on ground and as per situation).

The following are the recommended steps to be followed:

  • Preparation (Intelligence gathering, mental preparation)
  • Pleasantries (rapport building and management of impressions)
  • Position (reaching a common understanding of the current situation)
  • Problems (Coming to an agreement about the issues associated and build a case around it)
  • Possibilities (Not locking yourself to a single approach / solution, but negotiating around a range of possibilities, create a sense of joint decision-making process)
  • Preference (By explaining your thoughts and ideas, you seek you get agreement on specific action that should be taken)
  • Proposals (Skills of persuasion required, appealing to both logic and emotions, showing at times assertiveness in stating what you want and to build the proposal collaboratively)
  • Proactivity (leading the other person / party to take action and getting commitment to proactive positive action)

Finally; a word of caution: Influencing comes with a theory of adaptability.

As we say in Agile … Inspect and Adapt …

Scrum Master motivates the team, but who motivates Scrum Master?

Very recently while attending, or should I say observing a CST deliver a CSM workshop, I was watching and listening to a video shown by the instructor to the class. It was all about that “Everyone needs a coach”, right from the top to the bottom. All of us have our own weak moments of career where we are confused, feel let down, not sure of which path to adopt and so on… this is precisely the place where a coach can help.

In the same vein, this led me to think, about the Scrum Master, the “Go to person” in Agile-Scrum. Scrum Master should educate, train, coach, mentor the Scrum team, the sponsors, the customers and all the other stakeholders. But then I wonder who educates, coaches and mentors the Scrum Master? Who takes care of their needs in their own low times? How does one motivate the Scrum Master, what are the tricks of the game? Can the same principles apply to the Scrum Master as he/she applies to the Scrum Team?

While writing this blog, I happened to search the web, the search criteria “How to Motivate Scrum Master”, all the responses were on motivation, but whose? It is all about the team. Nothing wrong with this, but we have missed the bus that Scrum Master is also a human. He / she has feelings, they can have a bad day in office. At times, Agile / Scrum falls short on expectations and does not cover all the basic ingredients that are required to execute the a great agile-scrum project (we have too much emphasis on development team, but very little focus on Scrum Master).

All Agile Gurus have maintained the idea, that Scrum Master is not supposed to be involved in the HR related matters of the team. He or She has no control over the team, not sure, if they are allowed to choose their own team. Scrum Master is basically a NON-PLAYING CAPTAIN of the team, who sits outsides, cannot interfere in the estimation or the commitment as made by the team, cannot be a guide on the technical front and so on … but is still accountable for the success of the team, success of the sprint / iteration. No doubt this is not an easy task.

Here, presenting a few ideas and thoughts of what can be done or how it can be done? I have tried and tested these ideas and they worked with a fair degree of success.

Lack of motivation can lead to Scrum Master’s own inefficiencies and low productivity. Scrum Master would also have a reporting line and a line manager.

Managers who motivate people with the usage of incentives, money, promotion have limited amount of success in long run, the short-term results are fantastic. According to Nigel Nicholson, you cannot motivate an Individual. Individual has to self-motivate themselves. The best the management or a manager can do is to create the right environment, tools, process and more importantly VISION for the individual to succeed.

Scrum Masters are not made to order, they are created internally, you do not hire them, you groom them from your own organization. They would be better placed to understand and embed the culture of the company and its value system.

It would be wrong and incorrect to assume that a CSM workshop can produce great Scrum Masters. Most of the candidates in the workshop are looking for a certification, rather than knowledge as this would boost the profile and improve career growth chances, but they fail to understand that well written CV does not provide knowledge and experience, nothing can substitute the experience part of the game, which I find appalling in our industry.

Motivating a Scrum Master is like motivating the CEO of the organization. CEO is at the highest level of the system, decision maker of the game, how does one motivate the CEO? What would make the CEO ineffective or demotivated? The same reasons and rules apply to a Scrum Master.

Everyone knows the value of a good inspiring vision. Great managers motivate the team with the power of vision, the passion of their delivery and compelling logic of their reasoning and people will march off in the right direction. Each manager thinks “If I can only get this person to listen, he’ll see the logic of my position”. This approach of something I can “tell and sell” is based on the profound fallacy many of us buy into: Others also have thought processes that we do. This frequency mismatch of perceptions leads to a common problem with managers attempting to motivate.

Instead of pushing solutions on people with force of your argument, pull solutions out of them. Certainly, not all people are going to feel the same passion for their work that do for their hobbies or other interest, it is a huge mistake to write-off a problematic employee as demotivated. Most of us (employees) have the potential to engage with their work in a way that augments achievement of team goals and organization vision.

A variety of factors and reasons can block the Scrum Master’s natural motivation. For example, an urgent decision is to be taken for which the management approval would be required, the best part the required manager is not available or is out of office or simply not accessible due to busy schedule. This would have an impact on the Scrum teams’ delivery and there by de-motivate the Scrum Master (as the team would feel that SM is not doing the job) or team would doubt the effectiveness of ceremonies like Retrospectives since these will not yield results due to lack to adequate sponsors commitment to improve / providing adequate funds / budgets and the only focus of the product owner is to deliver, without even understanding the challenges and issues of the Development team.

One of the approaches I have seen work in Agile-Scrum teams is by allowing them to follow the approach as they seem fit or desire, but within the boundaries of Agile Manifesto and Principles. I have also at times advocated to change / tweak the process a little bit here and there to uphold the dharma of Agile principles.

It is important for us to understand that there are no defined practices in Agile, It only has Manifesto and principles.

Recipe of any success is TRUST, the most important Scrum value, which is missing in each organization. Should TRUST be existing, all other elements would be secondary and would be automatically be taken care of. Giving the required confidence to the Scrum Master, that he or she enjoys Management TRUST is a very critical element. If we all can practice the concept of “Fail Fast”, this should also apply to the Scrum Master and related functions.

Along with TRUST, provide a liberty to challenge the status quo of the system, allow them question the system, without hurting anybody’s pride or ego (easier said than done)

Managers and Management would do well to understand and appreciate the difference between Micro and Macro type of management. I have attended several leadership workshops where this idea / concept is discussed, but have not seen it in practice yet in the manner as required.

Scrum Master would also need a channel to vent this frustration, validate their thoughts, get a second opinion on their innovative ideas or just talk about their feelings, needs and requirements. This is one place where the management / reporting line managers can play a decent role, by providing them a space, lend an ear to listen to their woes and issues, provide required guidance or exchange a few notes, share their own experience and explore options to resolve an issue.

All said and done, a fundamental rule of management is that you can’t change people’s character; you can’t even control their actions most of the time. Change comes from within or not at all.


Dispersed Team – Boon or a Bane – The How’s of the world?

A team that has members across different locations, time zones, geographies is typically a dispersed team. The members of dispersed team come from different cultures and can bring with them radically different approaches, perspectives and challenges.

Dispersed team brings together of the phenomena of human- technology interactions, team work, communications among people separated by time, culture and distance. Such elements give rise to challenging the current methods of effective team management, product and project management and inter-personal relationships among the team members

Since last decade the concept of dispersed teams have gained a lot of prominence in the IT industry and now-a-days, it a basic norm to have teams spread across locations and time-zones.

Is there an ROI on having a dispersed team? What are the management cost overheads? Is there a cost-benefit analysis performed before the decision of dispersed team creation is taken? Not sure if the current set of management folks in IT industry are taking this into account. The worst case scenario, we find these days, the Agile teams (which were supposed to be in a single location, co-located) are also getting into the dispersed mode, negating all the values and benefits of adopting agile in the system, we have started performing Waterfall approach in the disguise of Agile / Scrum (rather creating a concept of ScrumFall)

The way organizations conduct business is changing, the landscape of doing business is changing, the world is moving away from regional to global elements. Information is the new currency is the current fast paced world that we operate in. The way technology is moving, it is making the leadership take note and move from relocation to dispersed teams

Again accepting the business realities and the way IT industry is currently operating, May I take the liberty to present a few ideas and thoughts on how to create & manage a product / project using a dispersed team.

How Part of the system?

Before launching the dispersed team, it is important for the organization to gauge its own readiness and the team’s readiness to operate in a dispersed mode. Is the organization ready to support it or its merely a current need so we need to do it.

To succeed, a dispersed team needs thorough planning and adequate support in terms of logistics, budgets, infrastructure, facilities, HW and SW. It should have a defined purpose, a vision, clear and measurable goals and objectives. Roles and authority must be defined carefully, too much of centralized decision making would kill the team, where complete de-centralization of authority would create a wrong environment to deal with (future). The team must have right people with the right size.

If we determine that our organization is ready to launch the dispersed team, the next step is to carefully plan its first meeting, a minimum requirement should be face to face interaction and meeting (which a lot of organization feel is a non-value added costly affair, I always recommend the management the evaluate the cost of doing this activity vs. cost of not doing (see the data and impact in the long run), whichever comes to be cheaper, let’s do that approach) giving an opportunity to the team members to meet each other, develop personal rapport and create a shared understanding of elements, this adequately set the stage of better collaboration & coordination finally help build the TRUST factor (which so much missing in the current way of our working).

When creating / launching a dispersed team, care should be taken to at an individual and team level for how they combine to form a team, see value of certain attributes such as: competence, desire to work in a team, skills sets, working environment and more importantly culture.

I recommend doing a DISC profiling of individual for critical high visibility project, where it can make or break the organization or move the organization in the next sphere of doing business

Once the dispersed team is launched, to make it a success, a few elements would be required to be in place. Three attributed would be required (consider them as pre-requisite): Communication and Information Sharing, decision making and conflict management.

Since good communication is so important to success of the dispersed team, that each team member should understand the capabilities of the various tools and technologies used. Facilitating effective decision making is an equal amount of challenge and leadership should define what decisions can be done and taken at the local level and what would require centralized decision making (Economy of scale is an important consideration in this front). Team must also formalize how decisions would be made, how are we going to internally communicate, how the external world would be engaged, what is method of engagement along with frequency. And finally, since dispersed teams would invariably experience some inter-personal issues and conflict, an agreeable conflict management approach should be adopted (not trying to generalize the idea), the Leader should guide the team in planning a process to manage conflicts as and when they occur and reaching a solution for the same.

Dispersed teams require more direct and careful maintenance than the local teams to reach their full potential. Such teams can be a source of rich innovation than the local teams. A larger and wider perspective helps the team solve the problem much more quickly. Insights from colleagues around the globe bring new dimensions to the work, Members can draw on cultural differences to access and understand different viewpoints and opinions of others.

Project management is also a difficult challenge for leadership of the dispersed team. As the distance grows between the teams it becomes much more difficult to schedule joint meetings and discussions, this element can be mitigated by providing adequate infrastructure and support to the teams.

Take time-zones into account when scheduling a meeting, one location is always going to be at a receiving end of the system, better approach and plan would be to rotate this concept where is the pain of sitting late in offices or coming early is shared across locations, let not one team feel victimized. We need to be honest to ourselves. How many times have our clients sat late in their own offices across the Atlantic or have reached early to have that required meeting or to clarify a few things, from a outsourcing standpoint, the vendor is always the one to take the pain. We have all forgotten a basic principle that projects are successful when customer and the supplier side of the business both collaborate and work towards the achieving the desired vision.

Usage of common tools, having common vocabulary is a minimum requirement, where possible and when possible invest in WebEx / online video meetings (audio based meetings is a thing of past), beware of not investing in the necessary item, could have a larger impact in the system, one should always take decisions in terms of understanding the un-intended consequences (short term) and the intended consequences (long term). Choose simple tools and technology, do remember the purpose of tools and technology is to assist the human’s and not to dominate them. Define a process and the identify a tool, rather than invest in a tool and then because we have purchased it, one would go ahead and define a process to meet the needs of the tool.

Final a few words of wisdom: Dispersed teams would present unique challenges. Organizations need to prepare for and support them properly to realize their full potential.

In the next series of my blogs, would present checklist that can be used as a ready reckoner to launch and support dispersed teams.

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Leadership Learning: Return on Experience

Off late, I am fascinated, with the idea of writing a Job Description for a CEO in an agile organization. What is expected from a CEO of an Agile adopting organization? This led me to think on what can CEO do differently using his / her experience, How can experience be better channelized. Can it help him and the company grow?

A central question that has captured the minds of all researches and educators over the world: What are the processes by which the senior leadership or executives learn, grow and develop themselves of the course of their careers

This blog attempts to provide a guide or some ideas for a framework to understand how Leadership is developed through experience and suggest how leaders can assess and enhance work experience for the future development.

Nothing teaches Leadership like experience, but the benefits of on the job learning are not guaranteed. To maximum the learning and development potential that lies within the work experience, one would need a good plan. One always needs to understand what is one getting out of the experience, what is missing and then how to fill those gaps.

May I introduce a new concept of Return-On-Experience framework. Using the ROE framework, one would actively seek to learn from experience to develop Mastery, Versatility, and Impact. When you apply ROE approach in your work and organization everyday experiences can be transformed into an engine for Leadership development and Organizational impact.

Part of the ROE is a concept of “BUILD, BROADEN, BENEFIT”.

One can create a new learning habit that uses experience to build, broaden and benefit.

Build an Experience based learning can enhance mastery. The development goals to increase your capability by sharpening your existing skills and ability to lead.

Broaden an Experience based learning can enhance versatility. The development goals to increase your repertoire of skills and abilities.

Benefit an Experience based learning can enhance impact. The true measure of learning is your ability to apply it. To have value, learning must be transferable to different situation and to other people.

The build-broaden-benefit concept would allow to view the work through new lens. Often career and development strategies focus on either a higher level of experience or cross-functional learning. ROE concepts connect the two of them. Mastery prepares the leadership for existing and identified challenges. Versatility helps the leadership develop for new and potential unknown challenges – Situation which may be different from ones they have already experienced.

The combination of Mastery and Versatility produces “T-shaped Leader” – someone who possesses high capabilities in a core function /area with board capacities in diverse areas.

When going through an experience, one should always ask these questions:

  • What skills am I building?
  • How can I broaden my perspective or extend by capability?
  • How can my experience and my increased Mastery and Versatility benefit my organization or the project?

If your experiences fall short on developing Mastery, Versatility or impact, the message is clear: It is time to change.

Needs of the Organization

Align your learning experiences with the needs of the organization. What are the strategic challenges and priorities the organization faces? What Leadership skills does it need to meet those challenges?

When your development experiences are aligned to the priorities of the organization, the skills that you develop from the experience go towards building leadership mastery in the ways that have direct relevance to your career and benefits to the organization in the long term.

Your Own Needs

Match development experiences to your needs. Customize your learning agenda based on your own strengths and development needs. An experience that may be developmental for you may not be useful or have the same effect on others. The process of developing Mastery differs by individuals and the context of their work.

Strategies for Building Mastery

  • Strategic assignments
  • Job rotations
  • Action learning projects

Strategies for Building Versatility

  • Go vertical
  • Reach across
  • Engage with outsiders
  • Cross geographic boundaries
  • Discover new demographics
  • Seek cross-cultural experiences
  • Cultivate diverse relationships

Benefit: Enhance your Impact

The true measure of learning is your ability to apply it. To value, learning must be transferable to different situations and to other people. Experience based learning can enhance impact. The transfer of learning from experience involves a manager’s application of the lessons learned and transmission of new knowledge to other people in the organization.

At individual level, the lessons learnt are transferred to the context of other work required of the manager. This happens when the leader can apply the lessons learned from an experience to a variety of contexts from one role to another, or to other project, or to new department / function. Impact is enhanced when learner abstracts the leadership principle underlying the knowledge being learned

At the group level, the lessons learnt from experience can be transferred to others through conversations in which a group reflects collectively on an experience or when individual shares the lessons learned from experience with group members. By sharing and practicing new behaviors and skills, managers can transfer the learning they have acquired from experience to other members of the group

At organizational level, the transfer of learnings from experience occurs when learning is codified and used to transform general practice. While difficult to achieve, this is the most powerful benefit of experiential learnings. As leaders transfer their learnings across the organization, they create shortcuts for other leaders to learn the same skills

Create your ROE

  • How do you make your learnings visible?
  • How do you recognize it for yourself?
  • How do you evaluate learning to a relevant discussion with others?
  • How do you use lessons learned from experience as a point of differentiation between yourself and others

Common mistakes that Scrum Masters make when giving feedback to Scrum Team Members

How many of us give good and consistent feedback to the people / teams that we work with? There would a handful a people who put their hands up for the question above. Why so few? The reasons are varied: It is hard to do; I am afraid I will say something I will regret; People get emotional when they hear things they do not like; It will mess up with my relationships. All of these concerns are valid; but the all stem from the common mistakes that people make when giving feedback:

The feedback judge’s individuals, not actions.

This is the number one mistake people make in giving feedback is putting it in judgmental terms. If the Scrum Master says to someone “You were to abrasive” or “You need to a better tea, player”. This is judgmental feedback, by the time these words are received by the feedback recipient, He is already thinking “Who do you think you are calling me abrasive”. The energy spent in defending themselves from your attach defeats any chance of having a meaningful conversation

The Feedback is exaggerated with generalities

Another key mistake is using language like “always” or “never”. Hearing these words people naturally get defensive as they can remember plenty of times when they did not do what you claim they did.

The Feedback contains implied threat

Telling someone her job is in jeopardy (“Do you want to be successful in the organization or the team?”) does not reinforce good behavior or illustrate bad behavior. It only creates animosity

The Feedback uses inappropriate humor

If giving feedback is uncomfortable to you, or if you sometimes speak before thinking, you might use sarcasm as a substitute for feedback, But saying “Good Afternoon” to a colleague who is ten minutes late for a morning meeting doesn’t tell that person how that behavior affected you or provide reasons to change that behavior

The Feedback is question, not a statement

Phrasing feedback as a question (“Do you think you can pay closer attention during our next meeting?”) is too indirect to be effective. It may be also be a interpreted as sarcastic, or rhetorical, to which the recipient may respond with indifference

One can avoid common feedback mistakes by learning how to communicate important information about the performance to colleagues, peers or superiors in a way what you are saying and helps them identify ways in which they can improve. During the course, of giving feedback to various people and system, have developed a new technique called as “SBI – Situation Behavior Impact”.

Using this concept of giving the feedback, the recipient can more easily see that action he or she can take to continue and improve performance or to change behavior that is ineffective or even an obstacle to performance.

SBI technique is effective because it is simple and one while giving feedback, they describe the behavior you observed and explain the impact that the behavior had on the system or the team or the project.

Be Simple, Direct and Effective – Learn these 3 step and practice them regularly.

Remember capturing the situation is only the start of the feedback session. Here are some examples to start with:

  • “Yesterday during the Daily Scrum, while the team was discussing the status of XYZ user story ….”
  • During the Retrospective, while the team was speaking on a ABC issue ….”
  • This past Friday during the Release celebration cocktail party ….”

Specificity is important when recalling the situation. The more specifics and details you can use in bringing the situation to mind, the clearer you message would be.

Describing the behavior is next step to providing effective feedback. It’s also the most critical step and is often omitted, It is also the most difficult one to describe. The most common mistake is giving the feedback happens when judgments are communicated using adjectives that describe a person and the person’s action.

Consider the phrases below:

  • You were rude during the meeting
  • She seemed to be bored at the sprint review
  • He seemed pleased with the report as presented to management

These phrases describe an observer’s impression or interpretation of a behavior. Now let’s have a look at some other list of actions as observer might witness that would lead to those impressions and interpretations:

  • He spoke at the same time another person was speaking (Rude)
  • She yawned, rolled her eyes and looked out the window (Bored)
  • He smiled and nodded his head (Pleased)

The list of phrases as given above actual describe a person’s action. The focus is on the actual behavior not on a judgement as to what the behavior might mean. By focusing on the action, not the impression, Scrum Master can communicate clear facts that person can understand and act upon.

So when giving feedback using SBI, it is not only important to capture what is said or done but how it is said and done. You can capture the how by paying attention to three things: Body Language, tone of voice and speaking manner and word choice.

Body language is non-verbal communication can include facial expression, eye movement, body posture and hand gestures.

The final step in giving feedback is to relay the impact that the other person’s behavior had on the team, project or anything else.

By communicating the impact a behavior has had on the you (personally) or on the team or the project, you are sharing a point of view from your perspective. This would help build trust, which in turn can lead to even more effective communication.

To develop your effectiveness in carrying out the impact stage of giving feedback, practice putting your feedback in form of “When you did (behavior), I felt (Impact)” or “When you said (behavior), I was (impacted)”.

Putting it all together

Review the situation, behavior and impact steps that build effective feedback and practice those steps at every opportunity. Take time to reflect on your feedback efforts. Ask yourself “Why did I pay attention to this particular behavior?”, What does this say about me?

Reflection also gives you time to understand the true impact the behavior had on you.

You will in turn will benefit from developing a useful skill that not only helps to raise productivity of all people around you, but also bolsters your personal Leadership skills.

Improving people engagement and Retention – In an Agile World

One factor that impacts our ability as organization / project to have a consistent and predictable velocity is in-stability of our team members, we are in the industry, where employee stability is a major issue. This bring to my mind a bigger question, as to why organizations are not able to retain their best employees. It is important to remember that your best employee is the person who desires to leave, under performers do not leave.

Employee retention refers to the ability of an organization to retain its employees. Employee retention can be represented by a simple statistic (for example, a retention rate of 80% usually indicates that an organization kept 80% of its employees in a given period).

In addition to performing exit interviews to learn why employees are leaving, consider asking longer-tenured employees why they stay. Ask questions such as: Why did you come to work here? Why have you stayed? What would make you leave? And what are your non-negotiable issues? What about your team members, your scrum master? What would you change or improve? Then use that information to strengthen your employee-retention strategies.

Communicate your business’s mission and the current project vision. Feeling connected to the organization’s goals is one way to keep employees mentally and emotionally tied to your company.

In a recent research / survey done, it was identified that …

More than half (59%) of respondents believe that chief executive officers (CEOs) are focused on the numbers, rather than their employees, according to research by Coleman Parkes and the Workforce Institute at Kronos. The ‘The £60bn question report’, interviewed 500 people including business/operations managers, HR professionals, and employees amongst a cross section of UK-based organisations

An organisation that engages its employees will be more successful and profitable than one that does not. Organisations of today need employees who are psychologically connected to their work, especially in an economy of service and information industries

Engagement is not the same as motivation. Engagement is when employees are experiencing job satisfaction from a shared understanding of organisational goals that results in enhanced productivity or service levels. Motivation sits on a solid foundation of engagement. It is about firing up employees to achieve specific goals such as sales targets or meeting the defined and agreed service levels.

Employee engagement is not a tick box exercise. It demands a holistic approach to create the conditions that foster engagement. In some cases, that may mean driving a sea change in corporate culture. In an ideal world employee should be presented with a balance between the demands made of them and the resources they can access to meet those demands. Resources may be physical, such as having a laptop for mobile working, but just as often resources may be social or even emotional, in the form of support from colleagues and management. This type of support may look like a ‘nice to have’ but actually organisations derive much of their performance from it.

Just as importantly, engagement cannot be imposed on employees. There needs to be commitment to employee engagement at a senior level, and organisations need to recognise that Scrum Masters and Product Owners that provide support also need to be supported themselves.

Achieving engagement can have a dramatic motivational effect, resulting in low levels of cynicism and excellent performance. Employees demonstrate the best job performance in challenging, yet resourceful work environments. With engagement, a high workload can in fact be a positive motivator rather than a negative issue.

Low engagement can be seen through factors such as high absenteeism and staff turnover, as well as poor staff satisfaction levels as expressed in anonymous qualitative surveys. A Gallup poll found that engagement levels could be predictors of sickness absence, with more highly engaged employees taking an average of 2.7 days per year off sick, compared with disengaged employees taking an average of 6.2 days per year.

Conduct “stay” interviews. In addition to performing exit interviews to learn why employees are leaving, consider asking longer-tenured employees why they stay. Ask questions such as: Why did you come to work here? Why have you stayed? What would make you leave? And what are your non negotiable issues? What about your managers? What would you change or improve? Then use that information to strengthen your employee-retention strategies.

On a very honest side, I would have to say, that in my large expanded career, not a single organization has ever conducted with me or with others (that I know), a STAY interview, is this unheard of? Is that so difficult? Why do we react and try to retain an employee when they put in their papers, all of a sudden we wake up. Can’t we have a type of alarm done to spot these elements and be pro-active … We have also failed to apply the basic principle.

Risk Mitigation is always cheaper than Issue resolution … or put it in simpler approach. Prevention is better than Cure …

I am not sure if in my life time of career … I would see this change coming in … we are heavily engaged in target meetings …. Without understanding the basics, that it is the people who would help us meet the target.