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  • Writer's pictureDiana Webster

Being a Hulk & Balancing Competing Priorities

Last month the world of Marvel brought us a new character streaming on Disney. SHE is amazing. The actress is perfect. She appeared years ago on a Canadian series that I love called Heartland. She was spunky then and now well, she is just SHE-HULK. If you’ve watched the first two episodes, perhaps you will understand how my mind relates the She-Hulk character (Jen) to Agile teams.

My personal opinion is that Corporate America works like the Managing Partner on the show and just tries to Hulk Agile team members to get a project through. They think they can inject us with positivity (usually phrased as “opportunity”) and deadlines that will motivate us to transform all kinds of mayhem into a workable solution within a month. I’ve fallen for this rhetoric more times than I can count, and I’ve actually delivered. To be clear, I am not a Hulk and I don’t like it.

Follow along with me here. (Spoiler Alert) Jen is Bruce Banners cousin. She gets in the middle of some Avenger stuff and via an accident, takes on Hulk qualities. It’s not a replay of the struggles that Bruce endured because she can control it within days. She flips back and forth between normal Jen and She-Hulk Jen effortlessly. When the story begins, she is a young attorney, hungry to seek justice using her brain, not brawn via the DA’s office.

Of course, hulking isn’t politically correct, and she is fired. Plan B surfaces in episode 2 when a defense attorney firm wants her to head a new department aimed at Super Humans. Except they want her in hulk form during working hours. Do you see the competing priorities here? …So… many ….competing….priorities ……

Our work as Scrum Masters (and Product Owners) has similar competing priorities. And in today’s “hybrid” world, well, it’s a gargantuan effort of a pull off. Without dedicated teams, it’s a huge pull off for every team member. The hybrid gets lost and it’s business as usual of stuffing 10 pounds of potatoes in a 5 pound bag. Except we are on roller skates, racing to meet an impossible target date. The daily stand ups are taken over by stakeholders who have a burning issue to discuss. The teams are pulled in as SME’s to put out this fire today. Work is slid in and reprioritized. Give a listen to one of the more recent podcasts to hear more about Issue driven designs challenges.

Let me pause. When working on regulatory mandates, the values of the Agile Manifesto face greater challenges. Reputation and financial risks are deemed greater and values are put on the back-burner. There is little interaction between the Product Owner, Scrum Master and the government stakeholders. While a product owner is like a lawyer, actual attorneys protect company interests. There is no collaboration or negotiation. There are only interpretations of documentation and our processes to rely upon.

The principles remain important (Individuals, interactions, working software/products & services and responding to change) to a mandated change. Part of the beauty of Agile is learn as you go, adding items to the backlog as discoveries are made. Be ridiculously sharp with promises. Manage the sprints like your livelihood depends on it. Because, in a sense, it does. Resist the temptation to introduce more. If the team says they can 1, 2 and 3 story points in sprint A – protect that. The US government does not care what you overlooked in your sprints. They only care about the result of compliance with lots of documentation- period, the end. Give the product owner confidence that sprints A, B and C will be delivered as an epic in X month.

The importance of retrospectives grows in achieving the North Star /end goals of organizations. It plans time to apply lessons learned and adjust to current needs. AgileDAD has seen this. When you do a quick search of the Daily Podcasts, you will find 15 podcasts dedicated to retrospectives.

How do Agile practitioners combat these challenges?

It has been said that we don’t have timeline or resource issues, we only have priority issues. I’ve seen that to be true. Every issue can be traced back to the lack of appropriate priority. Life is full of choices. Every project is full of choices. The choice of priority flows downhill every time.

Dedicated Teams

Your first tool to success is having dedicated teams. If you have a dedicated team, keeping the project on track is going to a breeze after managing a hybrid environment. Follow the process.

If you are in a hybrid environment, this is going to be an added layer of complexity and work. Know this and know that you will need to hulk thru backlog grooming, communication and competing priorities. Plan for it. List it as a risk at the outset. You will have extra discussions with people who do not understand what a product owner is supposed to do but they have that role anyway. You will have to report to multiple committees and stakeholders about what you are working to achieve – repeatedly. You will have to coerce your technologists, analysts and data engineers into meeting earlier sprints and chunking the deliverables differently. And you, dear scrum master / product owner will likely have to act as both. Get your hat ready because you will have to change it and represent that perspective multiples times in a day. You will need to transform into hulk or just stay hulk all day. The reasonable, intelligent hulk coupled with the resilience and strength in green.

Backlog Grooming

If you aren’t sure what I’m referring to, may I encourage you to research the information on AgileDad (for free!) and take the Product Owner certification course (CSPO). You will never forget the importance of velocity again. You will also learn about MoSCOW, grooming a product backlog and roadmap planning. Most importantly you will see how: (Future topic alert!) “It’s all about Perspective and the Relationships” of the Agile team with each other, ScrumMaster, Product Owner and in turn with executive management. Enough cannot be said about having high quality communication between all of the roles in the Agile Landscape (PO FA TA BA SM + More! Listen to the POBAFATA podcast to learn more)

Speaking of Communication…

If you are a Product Owner (PO), you likely have a team of Product Owners (BAFATA), focused on various products. PO to PO communications are deeply important. Transparent, clear Definitions are important in keeping communication channels open both down to the SCRUM teams and up the chain to Executive leadership. As an organization transforms into using Agile methodologies more fully, the annual planning will move from being a “head down, hair on fire” time to an annually planned collaborative session or two, complete with reports of what features are being planned on being delivered when over the course of the next year.

If you are a Scrum Master, a huge part of your job is facilitating communication. Be a Jedi Questioner. Seriously. Know what to ask to get to the point. In your daily stand up, you can’t let team members slide by with 1- not attending, 2- giving non-updates 3- not being accountable and responsible for their tasks.

Communicating Up

Whether you are a Scrum Master or a Product Owner, you are a pivotal and essential voice to success. Many executive management members use Agile as a buzzword. They may not understand the intricacies. Our communications need to be clear, concise and include an educational facet. You may feel like a certified translator. In fact, you are. When you do your job well, you will obtain clear Priority Decisions from Management. This may take multiple escalations through middle managers – possibly all the way to the top. Hint: Be sure that your project sponsor has the correct level of seniority to support you.

Remember our Agile Manifesto It is concise, yet broad. It is a concept, yet actionable. Keep it top of mind as you wade thru the Agile Way.

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

· Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

· Working software over comprehensive documentation

· Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

· Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

If you want to learn more about Agile, there are many spectacular private and public classes offered by AgileDad.

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