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

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Getting a Team to a High Ratio with Local Disturbances
Everything is fine when a team embraces work and its plotted course of action runs smoothly towards a low distance and high correlation. The odds are that you are about to face a sudden ratio deterioration, sometimes preceded by a regular over-commitment. However, you are likely to be safe unless you miss the core points in your definition of “done.”

Let us assume, though, that your progress on achieving a high commitment-to-progress ratio is rough. One of your most important tasks will be to discover the reasons that impede progress and how to resolve them. You can use retrospective meetings in order to facilitate the team members’ understanding of what is happening behind the scenes. And, yes, facilitation and fostering is what you should focus on. Do not succumb to the temptation of telling your team what they are supposed to do. Each team, technical environment, and business is different, and your team’s ultimate goal is to learn how to adapt to many different circumstances and quickly get back on track if a significant disturbance takes place. If, from the beginning, you tell the team members what they should do, they will expect to be led every time and the next time might be more challenging for you.

Additionally, you should support team members by striking a balance between tackling too many or too few improvements at once. Working on too many can lead to chaotic actions and a lack of focus. On the other hand, doing only one thing at a time will only spark local improvements that result from highlighting just one side of a story and thus will hamper progress. Imagine coaching a team on automated testing without making them aware of the code modularity and loose-coupling principle. The task of maintaining the tests would be much more complicated due to the tests’ deep sensitivity to code changes. There is no golden rule about the proper balance, because it varies between teams, environments, and technical domains. Your role is to discover the balance with your team. It may take a while to achieve a high commitment-to-progress ratio for the first time, but once you succeed, your team will be ready for the next steps.

Moving the Team to the Next Level
Let’s assume that your team obtained a short distance and high correlation between commitment and real progress and is maintaining it at a steady level. As the team’s coach, you should introduce more challenging goals, including:

  • Raising the creativity bar high above 0.6 by doing such tasks like building architecture from scratch, working with a legacy code and refactoring it, dealing with complex algorithms, maintaining a higher flexibility of requirements coming to iteration, etc.
  • Conducting velocity improvements—accomplished by coaching the team to produce more out of each iteration—on more stable parts and not in the sprints focused on setting up an architectural scaffolding.
  • Setting higher targets, like 85 to 90 percent with a 10 percent maximal fluctuation. This could be a superfluous option if you have succeeded reaching the previous points. (In my experience, it’s easier to gradually raise the bar higher in terms of how many items a team can deliver per iteration then to tell a team to always be 90 percent accurate when making estimates)

The more your team works on challenging work items, the more it will tackle such topics like refactoring, architecture styles, advanced quality management, and effective work process. There is no such thing as absolute perfection, so your team’s ultimate goal should be constant improvements and expanding its knowledge.

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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