Chapter 76. Safety First!

Lisa van Gelder

My top team-debugging tip: if a team is acting in a way that you don’t understand, there’s probably something making them feel unsafe.

A couple of years ago, I was brought in to debug a team that was going slower and slower. Velocity was going down sprint over sprint, engineers were coming in late, leaving early, and there were times when nobody knew where any of the engineers were, and they weren’t answering Slack or email. I was asked if there was something wrong with the engineers; they didn’t seem to care about the work. The CEO asked me to evaluate the team and decide whether we should replace them with a more committed team.

I started to debug the team. I paired with the engineers, I went to their ceremonies like sprint planning, standup, retrospectives, and I did one-on-ones with all of the engineers.

I realized something interesting was happening at sprint planning. The Scrum master told me that previously engineers hadn’t been finishing their work at the end of the sprint, so he had decided to hold them accountable for getting their work done. He decided to track individual engineer velocity, not team velocity. At sprint planning, each engineer was asked to commit to the stories they would personally complete by the end of the sprint. If they didn’t complete any of their stories by the end of the sprint, they had to justify ...

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