When starting their DevOps journey, your team will discover it needs to develop some new skills. Most likely the team is good at typing code and solving issues, but what about the soft skills?
Many teams have to learn how to deal with issues themselves—as self-supporting teams, there is no longer a manager who will help them out and tell them what to do.
During the Phoenix Project DevOps business simulation, the majority of teams discover collaboration and communication are skills they lack. I am often surprised how few people can really facilitate standups, retrospectives, Andon-sessions and other communication methods.
Here are the five team skills that participants recognize as core skills they learn (or could learn) during the simulation.
The standup is a very powerful way to share knowledge about certain issues. The team will stand together for a short time and discuss an issue that blocks the flow, needs clarification or needs to be high priority. So, who should initiate this standup and who should lead it? I’ve noticed a lot of participants find it very difficult to manage this standup initally, but after a few times the team discovers the key elements of a successful standup:
- Chose a facilitator. Someone who is leading this session. It doesn’t matter who (it doesn’t have to be a manager).
- Share the focus: What are we going to talk about?
- Keep it short (time is ticking).
- Make sure we all understand the outcome.
- The importance of listening and engagement.
Facilitating a Retrospective Session
DevOps is also about continuous learning and experimenting. One of the important steps in this process is retrospective. This activity explores the past round of work and reviews what went OK and what needs to be improved. Again, during the simulations I discovered that not many participants know how to execute this activity. After being shown the right example, the team often can perform this activity themselves. This is what teams learned during the simulation:
- Someone from the team must facilitate this process.
- Make sure the improvement is supported and understood by the whole team.
- Test the improvement before to applying it.
- Record the discoveries—this becomes part of the visual management system and part of the team backlog of improvement needs.
- This team skill is one of the skills that more than one team member should be able to execute.
Managing the KanBan
During a project, teams sometimes will have standup moments to discuss the work visualized on their KanBan. Work will move from backlog to doing and done, and new priorities will change the order of work. During the simulation participants will take the lead in this process, but some don’t find this easy. After the sessions they discover:
- Use standups to discuss the changes on the KanBan, make sure the team is fully involved when moving notes around.
- Challenge participants to share their thoughts. Saying “yes” doesn’t always mean “yes.”
- Errors are made, but that doesn’t mean somebody has failed and should be punished. Keep the session safe and open.
- The KanBan is a form of visual management system (VMS). The VMS is not the goal—it is an instrument and must help the team to visualize flow, limit work in progress, drive productivity through an awareness of what people are working on and continuously improve the process.
- Make sure at the end of the session, all participants know what’s agreed.
Managing an ‘Andon’ Session
‘Andon’ is a very powerful instrument to explore a situation that stopped the flow. As soon as the flow stops, someone “pulls the rope” and the team “swarms around” to investigate the error and try to continue the flow as quickly as possible. This session should be led by a team member; it doesn’t matter who. During this session, the team discovers the following learning:
- Make sure the session is short and focused on fixing this blockage and restarting the flow.
- Make sure we are not blaming each other; it should be about exploring what stopped the flow, fixing it and agreeing how to prevent it from happening again.
- Make sure the whole teams swarms around and participates.
- Create a safe environment.
Doing the work is not always easy. Sometimes we don’t know what to do. Sometimes we need help, and sometimes we are not happy with the actions of a team member. This is what collaboration is all about.
One of the first aspects of collaboration is helping each other. But, this is not always effective. Sometimes it’s even disruptive or we just take some work from somebody else if we think he is too busy. Here’s what participants learned about collaboration during the simulation:
- We have to avoid “compensational behavior.” This is about taking other people’s work with the intention to help the other. Sometimes this person doesn’t know you took the work and he or she does it again, creating unnecessary double work.
- Collaboration is about shared goals and shared processes. We should all know what we are doing and how.
- It’s also about clear roles and responsibilities. If you know what your colleague is doing, you know what you have to do. And the other way around.
- You must have an open team culture in which it is also safe to say you don’t know and to ask for help.
- Collaboration is fun, and it gives energy if we as a team achieves something.
I have visited many global DevOps conferences in the previous years and have listened to numerous speakers declaring, “It’s all about people.” And they were right. Unfortunately, the audience often did not get many useful answers.
A high-performing collaborative team needs team players who know how to deal with the collaboration and communication issues themselves without needing management intervention.
Teams will have to go through the stages made famous by Bruce Wayne Tuckman (Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing and Adjourning) to become an effective, collaborative team.
Continuous learning is a key success factor and a critical competency for any DevOps team. Why not start this learning journey in a safe and challenging environment?
A simulation such as the Phoenix Project is a very powerful instrument to teach teams how to collaborate and become high-performing. The environment is safe and feels like the real work environment. Participating in this simulation with an actual team allows you to capture and agree on actions to takeaway. Outcomes can easily be transferred to day-to-day work.
I wish you a lot of soft skills.
About the Author / Jan Schilt
Jan Schilt is owner of GamingWorks. His background is Human Resource Development (MSc). Within GamingWorks he is responsible for Business Simulation design, Facilitation and Train the Trainer. He is also an expert in developing learning activities related to organizational change. He builds all the simulations and has delivered more than 300 workshops worldwide.