Building Highly Productive Teams: Factors that Influence Commitment-to-Progress Ratio

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Continuous Improvement
Team members should endlessly work on improving their skills. Take, for example, Deming’s circle and its central idea of extending the team’s knowledge by reviewing previous experiments. Due to this never-ending process of planning, doing, checking, and acting, a team adapts more quickly to new circumstances, eventually overcoming local disturbances (e.g., a new product to work on or new technology) with speed.

Planning and Collaboration
Working in a group is complex. For instance, you might plan tasks with other members only to have to re-do the planning because of unforeseen circumstances occurring, like a sudden technical constraint or a team member getting sick. As a ScrumMaster, I have mostly come across new teams that revert to a user-story-per-person scenario.

Real team collaboration does not take place without overlapping or interwoven tasks but items do interrelate with each other in many ways. For example, there are technical tasks that might depend on each other, like setting up a database space before a schema in order to create an application. Additionally, there might be outside dependencies that affect the team, like an unexpected a flu epidemic breaking out.

You should take into account all of these factors during the planning process. It might be best for the team member 1 to work on one user story, the team member 2 to work on another, and the team member 3 to work on the rest. On the other hand, the team member 1 could work with the team member 2 on the most important user story to maximize the chance that the story will be done inside the iteration. If they need to wait for each other to finish, then one can temporarily switch to help team member 3. The team can then say that the most important user story and the first story taken by team member 3 will be done, while the other stories might be skipped depending on the team’s progress.

The ability to create efficient collaborating scenarios stems from good planning skills and a comprehensive understanding of work-process management. Moreover, it is not only planning that affects your collaboration to carry out a task but also your work results, which affect planning options you may consider. For example, having a tightly coupled architecture but a lack of clear contract between the modules, in which case the contract specifies what data in what format must be delivered to an API and what result in what form should be expected in return, implies that work scenarios are harder to execute in parallel because you do not know how to clearly integrate with the other parts. A team with good planning skills is able to plan its work consciously, which leads to better estimates and, eventually, a higher ratio between the commitment and progress.

About the author

Aleksander Brancewicz's picture Aleksander Brancewicz

Aleksander Brancewicz helps agile teams achieve outstanding results. In his career he has coached teams comprising of agile newbies as well as very experienced agile team members. Besides agile team building his areas of interest are new media product management and software architecture. He lives together with his wife and daughter in Amstelveen in the Netherlands.

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