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Exploring a Scrum Team's Journey: The 5 Stages of Being Awesome

July 5, 2017

Are you ready to escape the average and become awesome? Do you want to overcome your fears and follow your dreams? 

We all want to escape the average and the humdrum. The essential step in achieving any great goal is to "START."  Inspired by author Jon Acuff's book, Start, I've come up with this article in which we will explore ways to overcome the fear that holds us back from living our dreams and start our journey to being awesome. If you’re a Scrum team that is tired of being like every other team and are ready to start being awesome, join me in this journey of exploration towards being awesome.

"Don't fear failure. Fear being in the exact same place next year as you are today." - Unknown

Punch Fear in the Face and Get Comfortable With the Tension

Fear prevents Scrum teams from chasing awesomeness by convincing them that it's impossible or unachievable. One simple way to overcome this obstacle is to do what you fear the most. Good Scrum teams know where they lack strength and take steps to get better at it using opportunities like Sprint retrospectives. Yet, many Scrum teams have no idea what "blind spots" derail their energy and enthusiasm. One of the great ways I've found to discover blind spots is reviewing key areas - this activity can be performed in Sprint retrospectives. For example, take a big flip chart and draw the famous golden circle "WHY, HOW, WHAT." In the innermost circle write your Values (as enumerated in the Agile Manifesto and Scrum Values), in the middle write Principles (Empiricism, Transparency, Inspection, Adaptation, Self-Organization, Cross Functionality, etc.), and toward the outside write complimentary Practices (Engineering practices, Burndown, estimation poker, etc.). Ask the entire team to post sticky notes on the Values, Principles, and Practices and pick 3 to 5 areas for development in each area and create a learning journey roadmap by having the team agree on which ones can be taken up in the upcoming Sprint and create tangible actionable improvements around these goals. And, of course, you'll need to inspect these goals in the next retrospective and continue the loop.

"Principles define practices that tools support."

So, now that you’re set to begin being awesome, it’s time to get familiar with the five stages of awesomeness.

1. Learning New Skills 

We are living in a world of complex systems development where more is unknown than known, so how can you know what works or not without experimenting with a bunch of different options?When a scientific experiment fails, the scientist isn’t considered a failure. We understand that even if the experiment didn’t succeed, something valuable is still learned. This continuous learning process is what enables people to become awesome. So, to start the learning process, in your next Sprint retrospective ask this question: if you knew that this next Sprint would be your last as a team, what would you do differently? Studies have shown that taking these kinds of small steps will prevent teams from getting exhausted and giving up.

"How much do you agree with the statement: 'I just love coming to work'? What would make you agree with that statement more?" - Retrospective Coaching Cards (Geoff Watts)

2. Editing Your Life to Find Your Passion

We saw that learning is all about trying many different, small things. In fact, learning is a way of gaining opportunities and choices. Unfortunately, we can’t be an expert in everything. So we need to start editing. Ask yourself: What gives me the most joy? It’s important to phrase the question exactly that way. Normally we start by asking result-based questions: What will give us more money?; Which businesses are growing?; etc. Although these are excellent questions, asking them isn’t the appropriate way to start. Being awesome means doing something that inspires you. And once you’ve discovered what it is, the ball starts rolling. For instance, let’s say that you’ve edited your life and realized that you absolutely love sharing ideas. You can apply this in many different ways: you could become a blogger, a writer, or a podcast host. Whatever it may be that you want to learn, just start acting on it. And if halfway through you realize that it’s not your way to awesomeness, simply edit it and move on to the next thing!

Now that you’ve figured out what you want to focus on, it’s time to take the next step to mastery.

"If money were suddenly to become obsolete and unnecessary, what would make you want to carry on working in this team? How can you get more of that?" - Retrospective Coaching Cards (Geoff Watts)

3. Mastery

Here's the trick, start simple. Volunteer to support other team members; i.e., trade your time for learning and expertise. You need to do this more and more in order to get better at whatever you’re passionate about. For instance, if you want to become an awesome Scrum Master, first step: create a list of people who are already modeling the behavior and actions you’d like to do model. How did they get where they are? What books did they read or what podcasts did they listen to the most? What is their daily routine? How can you start modeling those behaviors and begin your journey?

Next, prepare yourself for the inevitable critical feedback you’ll get as you continue your journey and passion. This is important, because of no matter who you are or what you’re working on, you’ll encounter antagonists. So, you need to recognize the difference between sheer hatred and constructive criticism. Constructive criticism helps you to improve. I started my career in the steel industry where we used to have a saying:

"The finest steel is made from the hottest fire."

4. Harvesting the Results

This is actually a difficult time, the closer you get to something, the more you realize how much is still left to do. People often lose the "drive" and thus hinder their progress. The loss of motivation can be dealt with by creating small finish lines that act as intermediate milestones. This way people and teams will always keep their momentum going. One great way to reach the Sprint goal(s) is by having smaller milestones throughout the Sprint and to leverage frequent inspection adaptations and just in time collaboration to validate what the Product Owner and team have learned. This can help to retain focus and refuel the impetus. 

Figure out what matters to you most now- FOCUS, (Remember the "YAGNI"principle).

5. Sharing the Love by Coaching Others

Now that you’ve discovered something you love, you can coach others to craft their path to mastery. As it turns out, helping other people is incredibly fulfilling.

How does this process work?

ICF defines coaching as partnering with a coachee and provoking a process that inspires them to maximize personal and professional potential. Coaching starts with a guided conversation, it’s not about you, the focus should always be on the coachee. The coaching process starts with being a genuine listener and asking powerful questions. When you are at this stage, you also need to reflect back on stage 1 – the learning stage – and start the journey to awesomeness all over again by choosing a different improvement area. That's the secret of being a life-long learner. 

"The  four laws of learning are explanation, demonstration, imitation, and repetition. To make sure this goal was achieved, I created eight  laws of learning - namely, explanation, demonstration, imitation, repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition, and repetition.” - John Wooden


You can stop being average and start being awesome, but first, you need to know where to start. It’s about overcoming your fear and following the five stages of awesomeness: learning new skills, editing to find your passion, mastery, harvesting the results, and then coaching others.

What are your biggest, wildest, craziest dreams! Have you written them somewhere yet? How are you making progress towards your crazy dreams?

Don’t hold back. If you’ve always wanted to be a great Scrum Master or Entrepreneurial Product Owner, write it down! Then, go back and write down the first step you could take that would allow you to accomplish the smallest possible goal. Then start! 

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