Protective Collaboration

I was recently asked my opinion about collaboration within an organization.  Being I just completed an organizational assessment for a client, I have a fresh perspective of the topic. I was specifically asked:

"Is it healthy for Scrum teams to work in a bubble protected from the business around them? Should collaboration go beyond the team?"

There are two common threads that I see time and time again. One, what is the goal? Two, is that goal communicated?  Until these two threads are tied together, you can't have good collaboration.  I don't see this being unique to the world of Scrum.  To help illustrate my point, I'll try to use terms people outside the Scrum community can understand.

Strategic Mission (Goals)

Executive Leadership, in order to lead, needs to communicate the strategic vision of the organization.  Strategic vision translates into strategic mission or long-term goals. Strategic mission should be understood by the entire organization.  If you don't know the mission, how will you be able to help the organization reach its goals?  From there, the leadership needs to empower people tasked to do the work to figure out how they will accomplish the goals.

Tactical Mission (Goals)

This is where you keep lines of communication open but insert a protective buffer.  If you're leveraging Scrum, that first buffer is called a Product Owner.  This person understands the strategic mission of the organization and is able to translate it into tactical mission.  You could also refer to this person as an organizational liaison.  This person or group of people don't need to know all of the answers.  But, they do need to be readily available to answer questions from the team and to reach out to the appropriation organizational subject matter expert(s) when necessary.  The second buffer, when leveraging Scrum, is called the ScrumMaster.  If not leveraging Scrum, they could also be known as a process manager.  This person understands organizational process on a team level and is there to ensure the team consistently follows that process.  They also work to keep those who do not aid in tactical execution from derailing the team from getting work down.

Collaborative Team

It's time for me to answer the first direct question. Is it healthy for Scrum teams to work in a bubble protected from the business around them?  Though I do believe the team should be protected from the business directly trying to change their tactical priorities, you should never operate in a vacuum. If people from within the organization do try to change team short-term priorities, the process manager (ScrumMaster) should be right there to impress upon them the needs of the organization and to respect the agreed upon processes.

Collaborative Organization

The second question was, should collaboration go beyond the team? My short answer is, yes.  Communications is different from collaboration and it needs to flow up and down the organization.  With information flowing freely, I've seen good (strategic) ideas become bad ideas overnight.  All it might take is one executive standing in the back of the room during a daily (stand-up) meeting.  Once the appropriate information is presented to the appropriate people, real collaboration can take place.  The entire organization, which includes all cost and profit centers, needs to collaborate to discover the best solutions and work toward common goals.

What do you think?

Did I miss anything?

SWOT Analysis

I'm finding myself working through a strategic planning process. I've known executives who would just use gut instincts when doing their strategic planning.  But when you're dealing with someone else and their money, don't be so gutsy.  Just do a SWOT analysis.  What does SWOT even mean!? During strategic planning, upper level managers, directors, or executives ask a series of questions.  That's known as a SWOT analysis because they're trying to identify a organizations's strengths (S), weaknesses (W), opportunities (O), and threats (T).  Because I think a picture is worth a thousand words, please see the Pictofigo enhance grid below.


  • What are your major strengths? These are internal. How can you capitalize on them in the future?
  • What are your major weaknesses? These are also internal. How can you overcome them?
  • What are your major opportunities? These are external to your organization. How can you take full advantage of them?
  • What are your major threats? These are also external to your organization. Is there anything you can do about them?

Lead By Example

I usually roll my eyes when I see those bumper stickers "My child is an Honor Student at BlaBla School".  I get it.  This parent is proud of the academic achievements of their child.  So, forgive me as I'm going to jump on the bandwagon. I'm not excited that my son got an award at school, stating he passed an academic test that his teacher gave him.  I'm excited because I know he passed (what I believe is) a more important test.  My son got an award because he was an example of outstanding character and displayed the trait of kindness.

I sometimes think we as individuals and organizations have our visions and our missions missaligned.  Strategically (our vision) we have a long term goal.  Tactically (our mission) we have a short term plan.  One of my goals in life is to not screw up my son and help him become a good person.  I hope I can help ensure that by leading by example.

If he chooses to lead others someday, will those who follow him think he's really smart or are they going to say he inspires them; that he's empathetic and kind?

Regardless if you see yourself as project manager or a project leader, think about your core values.  Think about how your actions will impact those around you.  Lead by example and see just how contagious it can be.

Best April Fools Day Ever

On April 1, 1988, I graduated from Marine Corps boot camp.  To this day, the sights and sounds of MCRD San Diego are still vividly fresh in my head.  I joined the Marines on November 24, 1987.  One month into training, I broke my foot and was sequentially diagnosed with pneumonia (nobody said boot camp was easy).  I found myself with the decision of being discharged from the Marines or continue training after my injuries had healed.  It wasn't an easy decision. After being discharged from the hospital, I could go back to my old life (leave the Marines).  The other choice was to be sent to a medical rehabilitation platoon (MRP).  MRP is a kind of Purgatory for Marine Corps recruits.  In boot camp, your world revolves around a 12-week countdown calendar.  Every day you'd look to your fellow recruits and say "n days to a wake up".  That meant waking up from the living hell of boot camp.  If you go to MRP, you don't get any closer to day 0, until you're back in a training platoon.  I chose to go to MRP.  There I waited for almost 2 months.

I cycled back to a training platoon and my countdown restarted.  My new day 0 was set for April 1.  The day April 1 arrived, I actually thought graduating was going to be a big April Fools joke on me.  There were so many psychological games, anything was possible.   I thought for certain the Drill Instructors were going to swarm me, while in formation, and send me back to "the classroom" (a place of figurative mental and physical torture).  OK, maybe a little physical torture but that's the way the Marines were back then.  Well, they didn't swarm on me.  I graduated from Boot Camp.  I entered the Fleet as a "boot" private.

So, what's the moral of this story?  Sometime in your life, you may reach a fork in the road.  The easier path, though very attractive tactically, may not be your best decision strategically.  This critical event in my life made me the pain-in-the-ass person I am today.  Nothing, and I mean nothing, has come remotely close to the physical and psychological challenges of Marine Corps Boot Camp.  It doesn't matter if you're a project manager, an entrepreneur, or just trying to reach a personal goal.  Anything is possible if you're focused enough on the outcome.  Anything is possible if you have passion, commitment, and skill.

Graphic courtesy of Leatherneck