In the previous entry devoted to team engagement I’ve described the progress principle by Teresa Amabile (could you please go read it before continuing here? Thank you!). I assume that you already made sure both preconditions are checked:
- that people are busy with some meaningful work,
- and that they have a work environment that facilitates making progress.
But instead of congratulating ourselves on the great success that is inevitable to follow, I drop the bomb saying that
this is not enough!
The problem is the perception. Maybe your teams truly progress in meaningful work regularly & often – but how to make them see it?
Before we tackle this question, let us have a look at what progress at software development teams looks like.
The Invisible Progress
Your world might look different than mine, but I bet some patterns are common. What I observe for the development teams is that significant milestones are achieved rarely. Not because the teams do not deliver – on the contrary! – but because of the continuous type of work.
For example, let us talk about team X. They deploy continuously so that a production deployment is a no-event (as it should be!). And since they deploy everyday, then our clients (colleagues from the business team) got used to this, and aren’t that much excited about each new functionality. The sprint review meetings (that we keep on doing even if we don’t have sprints per se) aren’t so exciting either. Continuous deployment makes our partners well aware of the features presented. Most of them were already discussed a few days ago on our common slack channel.
On top of that, the team moved from Scrum to Scrumban, thus eliminating the iteration-based cadence of achievements. There is no sprint that would define a clear deadline of chunks of work they committed to deliver. And this means one less opportunity to celebrate at the finish.
All this taken together means that:
days go by with many small features delivered, but aren’t necessarily accompanied by the feeling of progress.
Making Progress Visible
My point is then, that to get a high team engagement your should also help your team see the progress. Now, how could you do that?
I will share few ideas that hopefully will inspire you.
Some of them could be used quite often while some make sense only from time to time. But combined together they would allow you to show your team how they progress – in different aspects of their work and development – almost everyday. And I bet that it would help to get higher morale and team engagement!
As a Team Manager
- I’m active on the slack channel where new deployments are being announced and discussed with clients. From time to time I add my comments, but often it is simply a “thumb up”, “heart” or some other way of expressing my gratitude for the progress made.
- I also join the daily scrum once in a while (yes, it is OK to show up, when you nurture a sound relation with the team). Always great to see the team in action, and also a good place to try to bring a higher-level perspective (I mean, I’m rarely attending, so it is simpler to notice and discuss the progress made from this perspective).
- Sprint Review is a good place to witness and appreciate progress.
- Another thing that I’m doing is I prepare (with help of my leaders & product managers) a monthly newsletter which – among other stuff – also summarizes what the teams delivered in the past month.
Product Managers To the Rescue!
Product Managers are probably the best suited to see the progress and give a business context to whatever team achieved.
- One of my Product Managers provides a regular summary of work done in the last quarter. This helps to see the forest (significant changes & business value) and not only isolated trees (single features).
- Another team, while working on bigger features, provides one slide which clearly shows the amount of work and progress done. It is pretty simple. Let’s assume that this big chunk of work requires integration with X, development of some admin tools, implementation of new Y algorithm and some other stuff. Now put these building blocks on a slide, preferably in a graphical manner (so it is not only numbers and task titles taken from JIRA but also some mockups etc.). If a specific part is done, it is marked with green check, if in progress then it is surrounded with an orange dotted line. What matters is that it is clear what each symbol means. In our case the sprint review happens every two weeks, which is usually enough time to see something moving between meetings. And that makes the team feel the progress.
- My teams prepare tools that are later used by our colleagues from business teams to deliver business results. Our Product Managers are constantly nagging them to present what business results were they able to achieve thanks to code changes introduced by the dev team. This is very important, because the nature of the business domain (e.g. SEO) makes some results visible after weeks or months, so it easy to overlook the results.
- A different type of progress is related to development of people. What I could suggest here, is a very motivating practice is the celebration of “firsts”. Being on-call for the first time, first finished task in a new domain (be it business or technology), first deploy to production, first time taking care of team meetings etc. – all of them are worthy noticing and celebration. Depending on your team’s culture it could be a simple “kudos” or a gift or … ? I’m pretty sure you will find the right way to celebrate such achievements and I bet it will help to boost team team engagement.
Praises – Big and Small
There are many ways you can help your teams see their progress – some of them mentioned above. The important thing is, that it doesn’t have to be anything grandiose. Sometimes a single word at the right time is absolutely enough! The key is to be present in the life of your teams and catch opportunities as they appear.
So, what will you do to make the progress of your teams visible?