INC. BEST WORKPLACES Q&A
The TGG team is excited to share that last month The Gunter Group was named to Inc. Magazine’s Best Workplaces list for 2022! This was the second year in a row that TGG was recognized with this national honor from Inc.
When announcing the 2022 winners Scott Omelianuk, Editor-in-Chief of Inc. Magazine stated:
“The competition this year was tough—thousands of best-in-class companies competed to make the Best Workplaces list, agreeing to employee surveys that determined which participants had the most satisfied teams. All winners have something special in common: a culture that encourages people in a way that allows teams to stay strong in the office or in one’s home office—even if the home office is at the kitchen table! That kind of leadership and the resilience it creates are worth celebrating!”
To highlight what the award means to TGGers everywhere, we visited with three team members located across the Western United States.
What does the Inc. Magazine Best Workplaces Award mean to you as a member of the TGG team?
Josh Eife (Denver): As a newer employee, I am not surprised by this recognition because it was evident during the interview process that TGG is a special place. I have not seen an organization as committed to their employees while serving clients in the right way, and this award validates that personal observation.
Tracy Bell (Seattle): It acknowledges how I feel as an engaged employee – I work for a company that cares about its employees and supports them to grow and learn. I feel this every day. An award is confirmation that others feel the same.
Jim Calko (Los Angeles): It’s exciting and validating for our organization to be recognized as one of the best places to work in the country. For me having been at TGG since the beginning of the journey, it’s really fulfilling to see as we all do our part to help build something special.
What makes TGG’s culture special and unique?
Jim: Authenticity and sincerity have been huge components since the beginning. Being able to show up, be your full self and be celebrated.
Tracy: TGG’s culture is special because it puts values at the center of what we do. They are foundational to how we hire and we show up for ourselves, our company, and our clients. Notably, values are an ongoing conversation at TGG which is a rare practice in and of itself.
Josh: Genuine relationships! TGG’s emphasis on hard work, doing the right thing, and making friends along the way is a rare dynamic in the working world. We are all on this journey together, and having value-based colleagues makes it a special place to work.
Interested in learning more about how our great culture comes to life? Click here and see what fuels our team, our relationships, and our work.
Ready to jump in? Our TGG team is growing and we are currently hiring! Click here to see our open positions and apply.
TGG RECOGNIZED ON NATIONAL BEST WORKPLACES LIST
For the second year in a row, The Gunter Group has been named to Inc. Magazine’s annual Best Workplaces list. Featured in the May/June 2022 issue, and prominently featured on Inc.com, the list is the result of a comprehensive measurement of American companies that have excelled in creating exceptional workplaces and company culture.
The Inc. recognition marks the thirteenth workplace award The Gunter Group has received since its inception in 2011. The honor comes as The Gunter Group successfully undertakes expansion efforts in Denver, CO, Salt Lake City, UT, and Southern California providing its management consulting services to public and private companies across a variety of industries.
Upon learning of the national recognition, Mike Gunter, founder of The Gunter Group commented:
“We are thrilled to receive this award for the second year in a row. It is a true testament to our team and the culture we have built together in our company, and continue to build as we grow our team across the country. Our goal has always been to put people first and being nationally recognized by Inc. is a great honor.”
After collecting data from thousands of submissions, Inc. selected 475 honorees this year. Each company that was nominated took part in an employee survey, conducted by Quantum Workplace, which included topics such as management effectiveness, perks, fostering employee growth, and overall company culture. The organization’s benefits were also audited to determine overall score and ranking.
About The Gunter Group
Founded in 2011, The Gunter Group features an experienced team of consultants serving clients throughout the Pacific Northwest and Western United States. The Gunter Group prides itself on providing consulting services to a broad range of organizations spanning Fortune 100 companies to locally-based businesses. The firm has been named one of the “Best Companies to Work For” in Oregon by Oregon Business Magazine for eight consecutive years and named one of the “Best Small Firms to Work For” by Consulting Magazine three years in a row. The Gunter Group currently has over 70 team members with operational hubs in Portland, Reno, Salt Lake City, and Denver.
About Inc. Media
The world’s most trusted business-media brand, Inc. offers entrepreneurs the knowledge, tools, connections, and community to build great companies. Its award-winning multiplatform content reaches more than 50 million people each month across a variety of channels including websites, newsletters, social media, podcasts, and print. Its prestigious Inc. 5000 list, produced every year since 1982, analyzes company data to recognize the fastest-growing privately held businesses in the United States. The global recognition that comes with inclusion in the 5000 gives the founders of the best businesses an opportunity to engage with an exclusive community of their peers, and the credibility that helps them drive sales and recruit talent. The associated Inc. 5000 Conference is part of a highly acclaimed portfolio of bespoke events produced by Inc. For more information, visit www.inc.com.
About Quantum Workplace
Quantum Workplace, based in Omaha, Nebraska, is an HR technology company that serves organizations through employee-engagement surveys, action-planning tools, exit surveys, peer-to-peer recognition, performance evaluations, goal tracking, and leadership assessment. For more information, visit QuantumWorkplace.com.
WITH SCOTT THEENER
Every organization we work with was deeply impacted by the COVID pandemic. Care for people, economics, health and safety: every company and organization has had to adapt to a very different set of priorities.
In the thick of the pandemic lockdowns, leading up to certain businesses opening back up, a multi-campus community college came to TGG asking if we could help solve a problem that had no pre-fab solution.
New state and federal health and safety protocols required the Auditing Team team to quickly react, building new campus regulations resulting in an exponential increase in procedural tracking, documentation, and compliance reporting.
I worked with our client to track the ever-changing regulations in order to develop a method to integrate the changes into scalable processes. The engagement was successful, and engaging for the whole team because there was a vision for the future.
To begin, I had introductory sessions individually with all team members to learn what was going well and what they felt could be improved. This helped inform a prioritized list of opportunities that we could start working on. We identified opportunities to implement automation and create recurring collaboration sessions where the team drove their own solutions to group challenges, rather than deferring only to management guidance.
TGG then supported this process by performing a gap analysis of the state and federal regulation changes and creating easy to consume documents for interested parties. These analysis documents took hundreds of pages of regulation and distilled them into language that increased awareness and increased understanding of the changes. This allowed staff and faculty to quickly create health and safety plans for their colleges that ensure compliance with the regulations while also creating safer environments.
I also facilitated multiple sessions with the team to ensure new regulations were accounted for in the organization’s processes and the team felt confident the processes could continue the work.
By design, my primary function in these sessions was to ask questions to the team, usually without knowing the answer. The intention was to utilize “the wisdom of the crowd”. This philosophy states that the collection of wisdom from the people doing the work is the best way to improve and solve that team’s challenges.
Another goal we established for this engagement was to help the team become more “T-Shaped”. Each team member had a specialty and expertise they brought to the team (the vertical bar of the T) while the horizontal bar of the T represents the knowledge they gain by learning about and exercises the expertise of their teammates. While being an expert in a particular discipline or field ensures the team has a wide range of skills, a teammate who is interested in learning new skills from their colleagues, helps to expand the shared understanding of the team as a whole. For example, one result of this effort and focus was that everyone on the team expanded their data analysis and spreadsheet skills.
The final piece of the project was helping the client to level-up and automate their data collection and analysis tools. Helping the client improve their data maturity and strategic data use, helped deliver efficiencies and insights that allowed the team to focus on areas that needed more attention.
As I reflect back on this engagement, the most rewarding component of the work was knowing that the team’s investment in becoming self-organized and deeply collaborative truly helped keep staff, faculty, and students at the campuses safe and healthy. We delivered real, tangible outcomes.
The community college is now well-positioned to continue monitoring for regulation compliance, via data analysis and metrics, to help departments enable health and safety best practices. We helped deliver a safer learning and working environment for students and faculty throughout the institution. The Health & Safety team has new found confidence in their collaboration skills, preparing systems and processes, and the tools needed to successfully complete a health and safety project of this magnitude.
When I look ahead to supporting other clients in the future, I’ll be able to use this experience to advocate for the power and opportunities that data analysis and metrics provide teams, the unlocking of potential when a team sees each other as equals and values collaborations with each other, and that communicating with your partners and stakeholders with transparency and honesty is truly a non-negotiable of success.
Scott has 10 years of dedicated experience as an Agile practitioner, Scrum Master, and Product Manager coaching teams, mentoring new Agilists, and leading successful projects. With his high attention to detail and a passion for independent research and translating findings into compelling visual presentations, Scott excels at change management, team facilitation, and emotional intelligence. He is known for being a natural detective and storyteller who is committed, organized, and a responsible teammate that prioritizes consensus and transparency in all situations. Scott holds a B.A. in Mass Communication/Journalism from Boise State University. He is also a Certified SAFe 5 Agilist, Advanced Scrum Master, Scrum Master, and Product Owner. Outside of work, Scott loves exploring Oregon’s great outdoors and is an avid college football fan who loves rooting for his Boise State Broncos. He also loves Portland’s independent theaters such as Laurelhurst Theater, Hollywood Theater, and Cinema 21.
NEW TEAMMATE ROUNDTABLE
A highlight throughout the year is welcoming new teammates to the TGG family! In the last 12 months we’ve had a great group of talented professionals come onboard, add to our culture, and help clients maximize their potential.
We recently sat down with three teammates who joined us in the last six months to discuss their transition to, and time with, The Gunter Group. We invite you to read the questions and answers below ranging from first impressions, to client work, and TGG’s infamous swag!
Thank you for taking the time to visit today. To get us started, can you share when you joined The Gunter Group and briefly tell us about your professional background?
Josh: I joined The Gunter Group in early February of this year (2022). Before TGG, I worked as a Client Executive for a behavioral health SaaS company, as a Regional Operations Manager for an online delivery company, and as a Management Consultant. I also was an officer in the Army for six years.
Liz: I came on board at the very end of January (2022) and my background is that I spent nine years as an officer in the Navy. First on ships, managing different divisions on board and from there I moved into a Naval Human Resources role where I worked on pay and personnel transactions.
Brandon: I joined TGG on December 1st of last year (2021). My background is in the semiconductor industry. I was in the semiconductor industry for over 10 years in manufacturing, process control, quality engineering, equipment engineering, really a wide variety of things. If you ever have any questions on chips, I can help answer them!
What prior knowledge, skill, or trait from your background has been the most beneficial in your transition to The Gunter Group?
Josh: I would say managing teams. So much of what we do here is leadership, people, and managing initiatives. Being able to go in and work with a group of people you don’t know and successfully build a team dynamic.
Liz: For me I would say, adaptability. In the Navy you often get put in new positions or are assigned random collateral duties. You’re forced to learn fast and figure out the entire story in order to effectively lead a project. I think these concepts apply to consulting projects as well. The ability to absorb and process large amounts of information and do something valuable with it.
Brandon: The most beneficial thing for me has been my background in Lean Six Sigma, particularly in the scope of data transformations. I’ve been able to work on data transformations via a Lean Six Sigma project management perspective.
What are three words you would use to describe your time at TGG so far?
Josh: Genuine. Empathetic. Hard working.
Liz: Refreshing. Organized. Innovative.
Brandon: Authenticity. Transparency. Warm.
What were your first impressions of TGG?
Josh: During the interview process something I was looking for was genuine care for coworkers and the people you’re working with. Through a variety of conversations it was apparent people were genuine at TGG. When I started it also became clear that the team was motivated, worked hard at their jobs, and collectively wanted success for the company.
Liz: If I go all the way back to the interview phase through when I was offered a position, I felt it was smooth, organized, and thorough. Getting out of the Navy there is a lot of admin and logistics with that transition and the TGG team was really understanding with all of those dynamics. Additionally, people have been very accessible if I’ve needed any help, and the culture as a whole has been really refreshing.
Brandon: The true conversations and natural back and forth style of communication has been a really pleasant experience. The other thing that stood out to me right away was clearly understanding how I could have an impact at the company. It was clear and tangible and exciting for me as I started working with the team.
How are you currently supporting a client organization?
Josh: I’m in a Product Manager role for a client and supporting different geographic regions and business users for the client’s omnichannel platform. We’re working to make the user experience smooth and efficient, as well as make the internal processes for the platform streamlined for the client team.
Liz: I’m currently working with a client on how to streamline their funding process. Their funding can come from different sources, so instead of having five different processes for managing funding, there can be one system in place. The single system helps ensure the organization is receiving the most funding possible, regardless of the source. Developing this system will not only help with efficiency but also with maximizing total funding and using it in the most pertinent areas.
Brandon: Right now I’m supporting a client on a large scale transformation project as part of the tech and data team. We’re working to create and deliver a data pipeline that can help the client better manage their data in a dynamic, sophisticated way for long-term strategy use and efficiency gains.
What would you say is the best advice you’ve received from a fellow TGGer so far?
Josh: Probably, to remain open and transparent with clients even in the hard times.
Liz: To be gracious because sometimes it can be hard to ask for help and let an outside team see behind the scenes, especially if things aren’t working as well as they could.
Brandon: That it’s okay to ask a lot of questions to seek more information about a situation. This approach can help you present new ideas and solutions, even if they sometimes go against traditional thinking.
We’ll wrap up with this: what is your favorite piece of TGG swag you’ve received so far?
Josh: The backpack. No doubt about it. It’s easily the best backpack I’ve ever had.
Liz: I have to say the TGG blanket. It’s been a great addition to our new couch and our dog loves to lay on it!
Brandon: Liz, you took mine! I love the blanket. It’s a permanent fixture in my living room and guests love it.
Interested in learning more about how our great culture comes to life? Click here and see what fuels our team, our relationships, and our work.
Ready to jump in? Our TGG team is growing and we are currently hiring! Click here to see our open positions and apply.
REAL WORK. REAL RESULTS.
PRAGMATIC AGILE IN PRACTICE
We recently published a series of articles on the topic of pragmatic Agile and how its approach and methods can impact organizations of all sizes. As a way to highlight pragmatic Agile in real life practice, we wanted to provide an example of how one of our consultants utilized pragmatic Agile while supporting a client.
Senior Consultant Rob Anteau, has been working with Agile and waterfall teams for decades. Even before joining TGG, he developed a similar perspective to the implementation of Agile. Below is a recent example of an impactful Agile adoption Rob oversaw at one of our clients.
Rob was a project manager leading an effort to modernize a software platform used by the client. The project was sponsored by “traditional IT” and many leaders dismissed Agile concepts in their initial plans, nor was that even part of their culture. Rob challenged this.
First, Rob left the Agile vocab and dogma at the door. The company culture wasn’t hospitable to the new terminology, so he didn’t push it. Rob started with a two week time-box with a planning session. The team got on board, finding freedom in the admission that they didn’t know everything at the beginning of the project.
Next, Rob introduced a retrospective, tailored specifically to his team. He framed it as a chance for the team to learn from their mistakes and to capitalize on strengths. He led by example, demonstrating what active engagement looked like.
This all required some heavy lifting on Rob’s part. He still had to create the 650 line project plan, and constantly translated the iterative work of his team into a report for leadership. He served as a lead blocker, allowing his team to iterate while he kept management informed. In the end, all parties were happy with the new setup.
Rob knew that elements of Agile would be helpful for his team, and understood he didn’t need to get there in one day. He took his time, gradually introducing elements and demonstrating their value. He didn’t need to act like the smartest guy in the room; rather, through servant leadership he demonstrated and cultivated the Agile mindset. As a result, his team experienced a mindset-shift, finding comfort in the idea that their work didn’t need to be perfect to be valuable. They came to see “good enough for now” as, well… good.
This was pragmatic Agile in practice. Whether our clients need support for a wholesale digital Agile transformation or just a little help along the way, we’re excited to partner with them to meet their goals.
More about Rob Anteau:
Rob is a technical program leader who is adept at developing and executing programs utilizing agile and waterfall methodologies across multiple industries, from healthcare to the public sector. With a background in IT infrastructure, cloud migrations, network operations, and cyber security projects, Rob uses his technical expertise and business acumen to bring stakeholders together to ensure quality and timely delivery. He places importance on communication and being adaptable to a variety of environments. Understanding that there is no one-size-fits-all solution in technology, Rob is committed to delivering a final product that is aligned with client objectives. Rob holds a B.A. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from Vrije Universiteit as well as the following certifications; SAFe 5 Agilist, Scrum Master, ITIL, ISTQB, Prince2, Six Sigma Green Belt, and TMap. Rob is a fan of the maker movement and in particular enjoys electronics projects. His other passion is anything VW related; he owns a 1978 Westfalia.
WITH ERIC DUEA
Recently, I had the opportunity to partner with a regional-sized financial institution focused on a “future of work” project. The project was centered on the organization’s plan to permanently transition to a hybrid work environment. The client had navigated 2020 and the associated pandemic-related challenges well by intently listening to their employees and customers. Operational teams were adapting quickly to new standards, technologies, and expectations. The company was confident in their people and they felt ready to be one of the first companies to make such a transition.
As I began my work with the client, it was easy to see how much leadership valued their people and how much employees valued their place of work. Additionally, leadership also recognized the significance of the change impacts that accompanied this decision. Their highest priority was to maintain a thriving company culture.
Many of the anticipated change impacts were universal to the employee experience. For example, all employees knew that video conferencing was simply now a part of their everyday experience. For the most part, all employees working onsite could anticipate similar changes. Sharing desks, equipment, meeting rooms, and flexible common areas would be the new normal.
However, there were also different implications company-wide depending on department, team, and role. It was widely understood that not every role would allow for flexible work arrangements. The nature of communication to certain employees that their position does not enable the same flexible work arrangements as their peers, was a critical element of the overall work effort. This process, if not properly navigated, presented a potential threat to company culture.
We kicked off the engagement through employee surveys, focus groups, interviews, and all-employee communications. We knew that detailed data on employee experiences would be key in informing how we structure work sessions, but it was also pivotal to the expansion of our awareness and empathy as facilitators. Most importantly, all employees were invited to participate in the process, offer input, express concerns, and share what was most important to them regarding this upcoming change. For example: How important is it to employees to have the option to work from home? What resources do they need to work from home? What are their top concerns?
We formed multiple working groups comprising a balanced cross-section of the organization to ensure sufficient representation existed during these difficult conversations. The working groups collaborated over a 3-month period to co-design a hybrid work program that they believed would enable the company and its employees to succeed in this new semi-virtual workplace arena.
The most rewarding aspect of this engagement was the privilege to be a part of a group of people defining how they wanted to show up for one another on a daily basis. It was truly delightful to observe how naturally teammates gravitated towards themes of collaboration, responsibility, and doing right by one another.
In hindsight, it shouldn’t have been surprising. After all, leadership had given up control and trusted employees of the organization to work through these difficult conversations. Naturally, the employees reciprocated by centering discussions on what was best for the company. This is not to say that some of the conversations didn’t involve contentious debate. For example: Is it an expectation that everyone’s camera is on all the time? And, if someone elects to work from the office every day, can they opt out of desk sharing and reserve their own desk?
Fortunately, the leadership team did not expect the working groups to design the perfect hybrid work experience on the first attempt. Leaders understood that the transition to a new way of working together and serving customers would be a learning journey for everyone. They emphasized the importance of embracing adaptability and a spirit of continuous improvement.
Throughout this engagement, I was reminded that high collaboration, inclusivity, and consensus building are as time intensive as they are worthwhile. The decision to allocate several team members to a change process such as this is always difficult. There is always opportunity cost for where resources could be spending time instead, but it’s an investment.
The result of this investment was an organization of employees that felt included and valued in a change process that was very important to them. The returns on this investment will be realized over the years ahead. While these returns may not be measured and calculated in direct association with the investment made, they will be nested within employee retention rates, employee satisfaction, cross-departmental collaboration, company culture, and of course the experience employees provide to customers. They learned a lot about one another, and I saw the multi-level value of doing change well.
Eric applies a systems thinking approach to problem-solving. He is highly collaborative and genuinely passionate about helping others succeed. Eric’s experience spans across multiple industries including resorts and hospitality, international non profit, sustainable business/social enterprises, and events management space. His areas of expertise are sales and marketing, sustainable business, project management, business development, business process management, and business planning and analysis. Eric holds an M.B.A in Sustainable Systems from Presidio Graduate School as well as a B.S. in Business Administration from Methodist University; he is also a Certified Scrum Master and PGA Golf Professional. Eric is an avid golfer. Outside of work, he can be found strolling the fairways of Central Oregon and Southeast Washington.
FIRST STEPS AND HELPFUL FRAMEWORKS
(Agile Series Part 6)
In this series, we discussed different ways to apply an Agile mindset and common Agile practices in pragmatic ways that make sense for your organization and your culture. A pragmatic approach to Agile can work not only for development teams, but many other teams and departments across an organization.
The idea of adopting Agile methodologies into your organization may seem daunting. However, our experienced team has helped businesses of all sizes accomplish this exact goal, and we are confident that Agile principles can deliver meaningful results to your organization. In this article, the final entry in our series, we boil down the first steps leadership teams can take to build their Agile muscle and the frameworks to utilize along the way.
Leadership is critical for Agile to be successful, particularly for an organization trying to drive forward a large digital transformation. Leaders need to set the right culture so that iteration, transparency, and collaboration can happen without fear of failure. Leaders need to empower teams, so that they have a degree of autonomy (on how they work and what the solution is), help teams remove their impediments, and prioritize dependencies when there is an impasse.
Agile leadership is synonymous with servant leadership, but it doesn’t mean mob rule and “anything goes”. When leaders are supportive of the outcomes and the value Agile teams are delivering, as opposed to managing features or the project, leaders help cultivate an Agile organizational culture. When leaders accept the degree of uncertainty and give the teams the space to figure “it” out, this allows leaders to be less involved as managers and more focused on the strategy, identifying recurring pain points and themes to be addressed. It is important for teams and leaders to establish a cadence and process, in order to provide the right level of transparency and iterations for leaders to see what’s going on and for teams to collect feedback.
Notice that to this point there hasn’t been a reference to scrum, kanban, SAFe or any other framework. This is intentional because an organization can be successful by being Agile and not just doing Agile, which is the common reason why many Agile programs fail. A leader or organization doesn’t need to sign up for a particular framework, although they certainly can if it makes sense. There can be meaningful value in those frameworks, but a pragmatic approach to agile is a great way to start adopting those Agile values and benefiting from them.
Often the most lightweight process, with clearly defined objectives is the best approach to set up an organic, iterative approach. The Agile Manifesto, which is shorter than a paragraph, simply calls out the importance of ‘People over Process’, ‘working software over documentation’, ‘customer collaboration over negotiation’, and ‘responding to change over following a plan’. This allows for an inherently pragmatic approach for teams to iteratively work.
Agile frameworks do provide some tools and concepts that can be leveraged to help improve a process and team collaboration. This blog series called out three specific concepts that can be leveraged for an organization of any size, regardless of formal organizational “agility”. The first of these tools is the Retrospective.
Retrospectives, or retros, are powerful moments for people and teams to take a step back and reflect on things that work well that should be continued upon, but to also identify what are those opportunities where the team can do something differently. Some organizations also call these a post-mortem or in the military they are referred to as an After Action Review (AAR). The retro is a facilitated conversation so the team can be free to think and participate and is intended to be a simple tool for the team to learn.
Big Room Planning is another concept typically associated with Agile planning, but can be used universally. In a Big Room Planning session, leaders will talk about business goals for the iteration (typically a quarter, but could be a Program Increment, a PI). This is a great opportunity for leaders to inform teams how their work directly impacts the business. In addition to aligning on shared goals, the other added benefit is Big Room Planning brings teams together to plan out the work within a certain time boxed iteration.
Some leaders may question the value of pulling everyone from the teams together to stop working on what they’re currently doing, just to plan the next iteration. They may see this as an incredibly expensive meeting and push back on the value. Although there is an upfront investment for preparation, Big Room Planning can actually save meeting time, as well as reduce risk by making sure teams are clear on what work is coming up and giving them space to talk through complex problems earlier in the planning process. Regardless of whether a team is waterfall, Agile or somewhere in between, it’s an extremely valuable exercise to bring teams together to align on shared objectives and honestly talk through dependencies to plan the work through the next iteration.
As part of Big Room Planning, teams should have an understanding of how long it will take to complete certain tasks. One of the benefits of Agile is understanding flow and Velocity of a team. Velocity at its core is the simple measurement of the rate at which a team consistently delivers business value to an organization’s customers. Teams that understand their Velocity can more predictably and sustainably deliver value, which can protect teams from burnout, as well as give leadership more confidence in estimated delivery targets.
All of these concepts and techniques are ways to apply Agile concepts to your organization, regardless of if you’re “Agile” or not. Each organization is different and therefore “Agile” will show up differently, which is perfectly fine. The changes required for Agile to thrive can be hard and take time.
Our team at TGG can help you experience the benefits of Agile work streams without the stress of doing it alone. Click below to connect and explore how Agile in action can impact your organization.
VELOCITY: DRIVING TOWARDS CONSISTENT VALUE DELIVERY
(Agile Series Part 5)
When working with organizations or teams new to Agile, one observation we have noticed time and time again is the misunderstanding of velocity as an Agile metric. Many teams view velocity as something that denotes efficiency and can be controlled or improved if, “done right.” Other teams think velocity will provide exact timelines for delivery of a piece of code similar to how work is assigned. While velocity does provide insight into how much work can be completed during a given iteration, its true value lies in empowering teams to prioritize and right size their work to create an achievable roadmap with consistent value delivery to customers.
This article is a simplified overview for teams outside of software delivery to creatively apply velocity to their work.
Velocity as an Agile Metric
Velocity, at its core, is the simple measurement of the rate at which a team consistently delivers business value to an organization’s customers. For most Agile teams, value delivery can be broken down into small units of functionality called user stories, which is a replacement for traditional team member role requirements. During each timeboxed sprint, teams will typically work to complete a number of “stories” from a product backlog that, once completed, will be released to the customer.
To ensure the team is not committing to more work than they can realistically deliver during a timeboxed sprint (also called increments), the team will estimate each story, giving it a number of “points” that represent relative complexity (not Level of Effort) needed to complete that story. The total number of story points that can be included in a given sprint is determined by the team’s velocity. For newly formed teams, there are formulas and best practices that can be followed to set an “initial” velocity, but determining a team’s actual velocity is best calculated over a set period, typically 2-4 sprints.
While calculating a raw velocity number is straightforward, and a quick activity, utilizing it as a metric to empower Agile teams and drive consistent value delivery is not a one-size-fits-all approach and takes dedication, trust, and time to build. To facilitate that unique growth, here is a list of nuances about velocity that consistently come up in retrospectives:
- A Team’s Metric – A team’s velocity is based on the relative sizing of the stories they are working on through the duration of the time-boxed period. As such, their calculated velocity is unique to their team and any direct comparisons of velocity across a program will be meaningless. Said bluntly: do not compare raw velocity numbers across teams; it’s comparing apples to oranges. If you are looking for a way to compare teams, consider looking at a team’s consistency of velocity against the success of meeting their commitments. A team with an inconsistent velocity may be on track to over- or underestimate their capacity to deliver on their commitments.
- Variance in Velocity – While some level of variance is anticipated, especially with immature teams, the drive should be for a consistent velocity iteration over iteration. Consistency in velocity enables teams to confidently size work and create product roadmaps that reliably release value to customers. An inconsistent velocity (increasing, decreasing, or waffling) is a sign that the team needs to reflect on their process and determine areas for improvement. This could be as simple as ensuring users’ scores are clear and simple to understand, or more complicated, such as eliminating external dependencies that can delay work.
- Team Visibility – Velocity is a team metric and should be a visible and active part of all planning meetings and especially the retrospective. This allows the team to be introspective and honest regarding their capacity and capabilities. It also provides the opportunity to identify whether anything has changed that impacts the team’s capacity to continue delivering against their historic velocity.
- Capacity / Capability – When teams have an established, consistent velocity, but are continuously under delivering against business objectives, it can mean that there are not enough people allocated to complete the work and/or existing people are not adequately trained against new technologies employed by the organization.
In a software setting, story points and velocity can be seen as a science, but in utilizing a pragmatic lens, these concepts can be effectively applied in all categories of work. A pragmatic approach to determining velocity creates healthy team dynamics, a collaborative culture, and more engaged employees.
Do you have questions about how an Agile approach can help your organization meet its strategic goals? Our highly skilled consultants can help you turn a mountain-sized project into an attainable endeavor that will propel your organization in the year ahead. Click below to connect with our talented team!
THE RETROSPECTIVE AND KEYS TO SUCCESS
(Agile Series Part 4)
Lesson Learned events provide a wealth of valuable information that can be applied from one project to the next. For example, on a past project our team assisted a client build and launch a new initiative. Upon completion of the project we attended the project post-mortem (also called retrospective, retro or after action review). We reviewed the project stages, explored processes that were used, and examined team dynamics. There was a lively conversation about communication and process breakdowns, and an encouraging discussion highlighting wins along the way.
We developed a comprehensive list of recommendations with the client team which were reviewed by the organization’s PMO and adopted into the day-to-day management of other projects. For our TGG team that Lessons Learned meeting was yet another example of the value and importance of retrospectives.
The Impact of the Retrospective
The result of asking this question in an agile setting is a regular review of the team’s activity, called a retrospective.
The retrospective is an event in agile frameworks, a chance to “look back” while still in the middle of the work. It is a chance to review not only the team’s performance, but the systems, processes, and working culture that lead to performance. The goal is continuous improvement, to review and adjust the way that the team works in order to constantly improve delivery of day-to-day work and digital transformation efforts.
The main theme of the retrospective is accountability. The team looks back at the past few weeks in order to hold themselves accountable to promises that were made. If the team falls short on promises, they make adjustments. If the team has been successful, they try to understand the reasons for that success with the goal of repeating it in the future.
Regardless of the format, a retro should be a judgment-free space, where the team can openly discuss failure and successes in the spirit of learning. A retrospective is one of the most important ceremonies in an Agile system. There are plenty of books and blogs on different facilitation approaches to retrospectives, each depends on the team and its culture.
Our take: simpler is often better and can yield a richer conversation, which is why we prefer to focus on two roles and four questions. We’ll explain:
- Role: Facilitator – This is the only defined role in a retrospective. This is usually someone on the team, possibly a scrum master. The first goal is to create an atmosphere of trust, where the whole team feels comfortable engaging. Pay attention to setting, personalities, and culture. The facilitator is always thinking ahead to the retrospective; for example, when the team encounters a roadblock this person records the experience and suggests to the team, “This would be a good topic for our retrospective.” The facilitator is accountable for the success of the retrospective.
- Tip: Facilitators, make sure you know your team. Temper the talkers, and engage the less vocal, introspective members by gathering written feedback in advance of the meeting. Work with the personalities you have on the team, ensuring that everyone has the chance to engage.
- Role: Participants – This is the team closest to the work. In the interest of maintaining an atmosphere of open and honest communication to glean the most meaningful feedback, be thoughtful as to who, specifically, to include in the conversation. It’s best to limit participants to people who know the work and can make changes that would benefit the team.
- Tip: Tell the participants, and make them aware, that their candid feedback is the most essential ingredient for an effective retrospective.
- Question: What did we promise to do vs. what did we actually accomplish? This question provides a baseline for the conversation and aligns the participants around a shared understanding of the exercise’s objective. This question promotes accountability by considering the promises made vs. the promises that were kept. If you’re looking for metrics, some helpful ones include burndown charts or say:do ratios.
- Tip: Don’t spend too much time on this question; it’s simply intended to be a foundation for the following questions.
- Question: What worked well? – Beyond providing a morale boost by celebrating success, this question serves to identify strengths with the intention of converting strengths into habits. Turning positive results into rules for operation is the “machine learning” mechanism for the team. Silence here is an indicator of siloed work, a lack of confidence or cohesion, or even burnout.
- Tip: If participants are struggling to think of things to contribute, bring back recent kudos or recognitions as a primer for conversation.
- Question: What didn’t work well? – This is your chance to learn from mistakes or identify ways to improve. This question promotes accountability for shortcomings, with an eye toward actionable improvement. The keyword is actionable–this isn’t a chance to complain, it’s a chance to change. Keep things constructive: rather than searching for blame, search for improvements.
- Tip: It would be rare for a team to be silent here. If your team is struggling to name areas for improvement, be ready with a couple coaching questions to help the team unpack the potential reasons why. You might discover they need more challenging work or perhaps there could be conflict within the team. Silence can mean there is still a perspective waiting to be heard and understood. It’s rare for a team to be silent here.
- Question: How will we adapt? – Every strength and weakness identified in the previous questions should have an action assigned to it in this question. This is a chance for your team to hold itself accountable by making an agreement. This question only has power if the team can keep its word. In the next retrospective, circle back to the agreements that were made in this question.
- Tip: Write these answers down, and make them visible. Once the team agrees on how to adapt, post those agreements on a board, in a chat, or anywhere else people will be sure to see them.
The beauty of the retrospective is its simplicity. It’s not limited to software development, or even IT. Any team can adopt this ceremony on an iterative basis, adapting it to their needs and situation. The power of the retrospective is in its effects: know your goals, and iteratively improve the way you pursue them. That’s pragmatic; that’s agile.
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