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teams getting aligned - people & culture

People & Culture: Refine, Commit, Align, and We’re Off!

by Jessica Jagoditsh | January 28, 2021 | Blog

There is something inherently motivating about the start of a new year. It’s a time when we want to do more than just accept change and seek improvement, we fully embrace both. We look to learn, to share, to grow.  

And in that spirit, I’d like to welcome you to our new People & Culture Team column - aka The P.A.C.T.

A place where we’ll share some of our experiments in fostering an inclusive culture, innovations in people operations, and team spotlights from our awesome community of Scrum Inc-ers.

Photo of Jess JagoditshSo who am I? 

Around the virtual halls of Scrum Inc. I’m known as JessJag, the Scrum of Scrums Master of our Transformation Business Unit. I love my job because my passion is culture. Scaling culture is difficult for any company - especially one that is growing. I have done a LOT of thinking about People and Culture Operations in a Scrum workplace, and now Scaled Scrum environment! 

It is my goal to help create the best place to work in the world. I’ve had success, and failures. I’ve learned from both which is why I’m eager to share these learnings with you. 

This People & Culture column will become place where you can come to find inspiration and experiments around fostering an inclusive, innovative and impactful work culture.

And I’m just as eager to hear what you’ve learned and hope to spotlight experiments and innovations from others in our broader community!

In keeping with this month’s theme of alignment, I wanted my inaugural blog (January 20th reference intended) to talk about how we at Scrum Inc. build our strategic alignment each quarter and some recent iterations we have made to our quarterly planning process.  

Problem: We are a fully distributed organization with 45 team members collaborating remotely from 16 states, across 4 times zones, and in three lines of business. Plus we have partners on every continent except Antarctica. 

Amidst all of our hustle and bustle, and within the confines of our home offices, there inevitably come points throughout the year when our field of vision can narrow to the work at hand; And rightly so, since our day-to-day work is so critically important.

The whole beautiful forest blurs as we tread deeper down the dirt passage to plant our saplings and pick up broken branches. At those moments, we might step back and ask ourselves “Wait - where is this forest path supposed to be taking us again??”

Where indeed.

Since the dawn of Scrum Inc, we have prioritized coming together for what I’ll call a quarterly huddle. We all get together, virtually these days, to review what we have learned, think about possible improvements and decide on the next steps toward achieving our mission. I’m sure you will not be surprised to find out that we use the Scrum Framework to do this! 

Three Key Scrum Events: Review, Retro, and Planning

We model our quarterly huddle after three key Scrum events: Review, Retro, and Planning. We start with a Sprint Review which, in this case, reviews the entire quarter. Then we break our whole organization into randomized breakout rooms to have a Retrospective. Finally, planning - where the Chief Product Owners share their vision for the coming quarter.  

Great!  We are off and running!  Except there is a catch!  

Over the years, we noticed folks leaving that huddle and still coming back with uncertainty about what the latest goals are and how their daily activities link to our strategic mission. 

Our teams were headed in the right directions, but there was a disconnect for individuals within those teams.

So we continued to ask ourselves every time -  How do we strengthen the link that threads from individual to goal to mission? How do we reinforce each individual’s contribution to our strategy and make it lasting and inspiring?

Goal:  Every Scrum Inc. team member understands how their contributions support our strategic objectives and our quarterly goals. At the end of each sprint, every team member sees how their work helped deliver a slice of our mission. 

We crafted an experiment to drive more individual engagement in our strategic planning and goal setting process. 

Experiment: Commit to the Sprint Goal!  

Commitment is one of the 5 Scrum Values - it binds us together and creates a supportive and driven team.  You may have noticed in the most recent version of the Scrum Guide that there are new Commitments highlighted which are connected to each artifact in order to drive team success.  

One of these commitments is to the Sprint Goal. When a team commits to the Sprint Goal in a meaningful way, it indicates a higher level of understanding and comfort that the team can crush that goal. 

stay on the path

Photo by Mark Duffel on Unsplash

In our Fall Q4 2020 quarterly huddle last October, we decided to implement two changes to our planning sessions.  

First, we created more space for deeper refinement. Instead of a traditional “presenting” of goals, we sat together to refine. More refinement time gives team members an opportunity to interact with the goals, to talk through them, bounce ideas off each other, and ask questions. We rewrite them together, which results in unification and clarity.

Seems like basic stuff, but how often do we get into that habit of creating quarterly or annual goals and distributing them, then leaving the meeting and venturing back into the forest, only to lose sight of the path the very next day?  

Commitment To The Sprint Goal

Second, we added time for the deliberate act of committing to the Sprint Goal.  

Committing means that each individual has confidence that the team can win. So, when we got to a good place with refinement, we sent a basic survey to all with a fist-to-five rating to answer the question “Do you commit?” and an optional “Why?”  

Fist-to-five is one way of scoring, on a scale of 1-5, your comfort level with the team’s ability to complete the goal. If anyone gives a 1 or a 2 in this activity, that shows discomfort with the commitment and we need further refinement. In this context, we look for 4’s and 5’s from all as an agreement that the team feels good about our ability to succeed. With those anonymous, unanchored survey results, we could see how the team really felt! That gave the group some great feedback to refine a bit further. 

Result: Each team shared out these refined and committed-to goals to all of Scrum Inc. And do you know what happened?  We really did have clarity of direction and a stronger, more visible commitment to our quarterly goals last quarter. Teams put on those hiking boots and ventured forth. Exploration and fun ensued, except this time, instead of encountering those feelings of  “Wait - where is this road supposed to be taking us again?”, we heard - “How does this connect to what we planned at the quarterly huddle?” A big step in the right direction. Alignment through commitment.  

Key Learnings: We had our Q1 huddle just last week and implemented 2 tweaks from the Fall version. First, the conversations were so valuable that we didn’t want them to be rushed so we added more time for refining and committing to the sprint goal. Second, leading up to the planning, the Product Owners took a more active role in socializing and sharing their initial drafts ahead of time. I’d like to do even more of that for the next huddle. Stay tuned for next quarter! I’m excited to see what else we can improve upon! 

In short, not every organization is willing - or even able - to host a quarterly huddle. But the huddle itself is not the point. The big takeaway here is the process involved. The conversations about the goals and the resulting alignment when those conversations evolve into commitment - that has been the real win for us.

Alignment and understanding go hand-in-hand. No matter the scale. So the next time you want to ensure your teams are aligned, invite them to take part in the process. You’ll be amazed at the great ideas and excitement that come out of it.

And now - I’d love to hear from you!  

Have you tried refinement and “committing to the sprint goal” in your big organizational strategy sessions?  How do you do it?  What are your struggles? What other things do you do to kick off the quarter or year with alignment and connectedness?

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