In my last SCRUM-tastic post, Manager Interruptus, I picked on managers a little and blamed them for hampering the teams momentum. As I mentioned, it was a little unfair but it served to illustrate something we all know is true... Despite "your" best efforts, constant interruptions can really destroy your ability to be productive. From time-to-time, no matter what you do, you'll find yourself; or your team; in danger or not meeting commitments. When this happens, you generally have four choices...
- Cancel the Sprint - If something has happened that is a complete game-changer, then you should approach your Product Owners and discuss canceling and re-planning the Sprint. In Scrum terms this is totally acceptable, although it should be done only when absolutely needed and should not become a regular occurrence
- Ask for more time - This may work, although it creates a slippery-slope and could have down-stream impacts that may not be obvious to the development team. Putting aside the issue of breaking the Scrum time-box rules, this could impact things like resource scheduling for other team, which is common in Scrum-of-Scrum scenario's often seen in larger organizations. This could impact business commitments to customers or suppliers, which could have costly legal implications. It could effect marketing campaigns which often have substantial investments and may be time sensitive such as holiday offerings. In some markets licensing restrictions may only give a company a small window of opportunity to get into a market, and delays could cause them to miss the window. In any case, since we burned the managers in the last post they probably won't be keen on this for a while
- Let it fail - I covered this in the last post, and this may be an option in some cases, but is generally frowned upon. Assuming it doesn't require super-human effort, striving for success is often better then outright failure
- Go Dark! - Given the title of this post, I'm sure you guessed we would end up here. This isn't the most ideal solution, but sometimes this is the only "reasonable" option. Lets explore this a little further
When individuals cut themselves off from the team, this could be an indication they're thrashing which is generally a bad thing. In this case, I'm talking about the larger team going dark together for part or all of the Sprint. The goal is to limit the number of interruptions to mitigate the risk of the team not meeting their commitments. Depending on how far the team is behind, you may only need to Go Dark for part of each day or for several days straight. Assuming you can see the danger coming, you should start with the former and only go fully dark if you absolutely need to. The techniques vary widely and really need to be adapted for your team but here are a few suggestions:
Level 1 - Nominate a stand-in
When people start to fall behind you'll often hear complaints about having to attend too many meetings. If this is your case, then you'll need to nominate someone else to attend these meetings and represent the team. The Scrum Master or Team Manager may be ideal candidates for this. Since they are likely aware of your predicament, they should be more then ready to step-up and support the team.
Level 2 - Drop your connections
Whether we like to admit it or not, there are a lot of ambient distractions that tend to draw our eyes away from what we should be focusing on. While it will pain most of us to admit it, our distractions are likely online in one form or another. A few examples include; but are not limited to; the following:
- Close the Browsers pointing to your favorite social networking site, news/sports cast, and/or blogs (except mine of course). At the risk of stating the obvious... you probably shouldn't be doing this at work anyway
- Shut down Instant Messengers... It's not enough to set "Away" or "Invisible". To avoid those attention getting beeps, bleeps and honks you'll need to say goodbye to your friends and loved one's, shutdown IM, and get to work
- Close Outlook, or whatever email client you're using. When you see or hear emails arrive there is a tendency to stop, read, and answer them. In most cases, they can wait a little while
- Disable Mobile device "Push" Notifications. In some ways, this feature should be an indication we've gone one step too far in being constantly connected. Let go of your Twitter, Stock Alerts, Facebook, and Weather updates for a few hours so you can get something accomplished
Level 3 - Keep the lines busy
If you work in one of those shops where people just love calling you, then you may need to unplug your desk line, close your VoIP client, and put your mobile phone in Airplane mode. If you're on-call or still need to be reached by your manager, make other arrangements by having them contact the team through a third-party and make sure these details aren't advertised to anyone else. This could be through the Scrum Master, receptionist, or someone else you can trust to hold-back the flood-gates of distraction.
Level 4 - Leave the building
This may seem a little over the top, but it may be necessary. We've all experienced those moments when noone was around and we got a tremendous amount of work accomplished. In this case, we're just trying to recreate that experience. One of my old teams liked going to the local coffee-shop for a few hours each day. They had fuel (e.g. coffee and scones), wireless internet (often free), most patrons treated it like a library (e.g. quiet), and most important they had no drive-by interruptions from colleague's. There are many variations to this technique. Assuming you trust your team, they could work from home from time-to-time. You could book a conference room for a long period of time and all work from laptops. In most cases, people will typically avoid bothering people who appear to be in a meeting. Your company may even have other facilities you can use.
At the moment, you might be trying to figure out what you can get away with where you work. Whatever your case, you'll need the support of your Scrum Master and Team Manager. Ideally, they'll run interference for the team to make success as achievable as possible. Even if you disagree with my specific examples, hopefully you can see how techniques like this can be useful in varying degree's. Although I implied this is needed to avoid interruptions from people, it is worth pointing out this can be useful for those high-value last-minute business "requests" that need quick solutions. In any case, give it a think, adapt to your team, and hopefully you'll make it over that hump...