The Conversation Conversation
For the final cross-cutting theme in “Rethinking the Agile Enterprise”… Dennis and I are going to talk about talking.
In other words we are going to explore how organizations talk to each other when delivering work. We plan to integrate the idea that adopting agile in the enterprise involves a series of conversations around how we are going to deliver value back to the business. Within small teams many of these conversations just happen. At scale… there are conversations that we have to make explicit… conversations that we have to plan to have so we can effectively execute.
This post is going to address 10 conversation types that organizations have to address at each of the 5 levels of our adoption and scaling process:
Purpose… conversations about why we are doing the work we are doing. Think about things like visioning… setting the mission… and setting goals. At the team level… this is abstracted behind the Product Owner as a prioritized product backlog.
Understanding… conversations about learning what we are going to do. Think about those conversations we have with the Product Owner before we agree to pull a backlog item into the sprint. These conversations are about getting the entire team all on the same page.
Creative Solutions... conversations about how we might build a particular user story. Think about those times when the team gets together to decide how they are actually going to implement a backlog item. This conversation is about problem solving.
Competing Concerns… conversations about how to make tradeoffs. At the team level we might have to negotiate technical tradeoffs or balance what the Product Owner is asking for with the team’s ability to implement. This conversation is about balancing tradeoffs.
Enrollment… conversations about being part of the team. Does the team have the skills necessary to deliver? Are we committed to delivering the sprint objectives? Are we committed to working together and getting better over time? Here we are learning about who is on board and who is not.
Flow… conversations about how we are going to move work through the team. Do we plan to manage this ad-hoc by swarming around backlog items or are we going to use a Kanban and set work in process limits? This conversation is about how we are going to execute the work.
Planning… conversations about how we are going to schedule the work. When are we going to estimate the backlog? Will we track velocity or cycle time? Do we plan to do release planning or only sprint planning? These conversations are about where we need to be and when so we can manage the business’ expectations.
Promising… conversations where we say what we are going to actually do. Think about the end of the sprint planning meeting where the team commits to the Product Owner to deliver a specific outcome by the end of the iteration. These conversations are about stating our intentions.
Completion… conversations where we state that the work is completed. In Scrum this happens throughout the sprint as the team works with the Product Owner to accept the backlog items. It also happens at the end of the sprint during the formal sprint review. These conversations are about being done-done.
Status… conversations where we track progress. Here you can think about project burndowns, sprint burndowns, card walls, and daily stand-up meetings. These conversations help our stakeholders know where we are and the chances we are going to be where we need to be.
These conversations happen pretty naturally within a small agile team. They get dicey when you have to conduct these conversations across multiple teams… across projects or programs… across portfolios. Figuring out how to make these conversations happen at scale is part of what we have to address when learning how to adopt and scale agile in larger enterprises.