I work with a lot of executives as part of Agile transformations. At the early stages of work when teams are just being formed, most executives and senior managers are excited and want to be part of this new the way of working.

I am often get asked “what should I do?” or “When can I come and have a look to see how things are going?”. If you’re one of those enthusiastic executives, and I know you are, this post will help you to be more involved, and still have your teams empowered to do what they are asked to do

Practicing these points, can also make you a good observer!

So let’s begin! Agile has four ceremonies: Sprint planning, stand-up, sprint review (showcase / demo) and retrospective. These are your opportunities:

Opportunity 1 – Being Involved in Sprint planning

This is a rather heavy and critical meeting for the team, so instead of attending this meeting, I’d suggest that you ask for a link to the user stories that are ready to go into sprint planning for team to work on. If your organization uses Jira, or Rally, or any other product delivery software, you can actually have access to team’s lists of user stories; you can set it in a simple dashboard and bookmark it so you can always see what’s happening there. The good thing about user stories is that they are written in a language that anyone can understand.

Opportunity 2 – Being involved in the Standup

This is the most visible ceremony that everyone wants to join to see what’s happening.

I’d recommend a few good practices if you are planning to attend:

  1. Arrive a few minutes before the stand-up, so you are not interrupting the flow.
  2. Always ask for permission to join the team circle. Remember – at the end, you are not part of that team, so it’s only polite to ask for permission before you join their meeting.
  3. Remain an observer! You are not there to solve the team’s problems or ask questions. You are just there to observe.
  4. At the end of the stand-up, thank the team and leave the stand-up.
  5. If they ask you a question, as in how to do things, AVOID answering! Guide the team instead to finish the stand-up and after the stand-up, ask them to discuss the options and make a decision amongst themselves.

I learnt this from the COO of a Video Digital platform company when I was a Senior Scrum Master. She was also Product Owner of one of our critical products. Some mornings, she came a couple of minutes before the stand-up and asked if it was okay for her to join us. She was quiet, yet present and listening to every single one of us. Her presence was of a kind that did not worry me in the sense that she was watching me or the team to see if we’re doing a good job or not. And at the end of the stand-up, she used to thank us all and quietly walk back to her desk. The last thing you would want as an executive is for your presence to make the team uncomfortable; or as you approach, you can feel the team thinking “Oh, here he comes again!”

Opportunity 3 – Sprint review (Showcase / Demo)

That’s definitely a ceremony you can ask to be invited to and it is highly recommended you have all Sprint reviews booked in your calendar in advance.That is where, a team actually gets to show executives and senior stakeholders the good work they’ve done. It is indeed very encouraging to the team for you to attend. Again, when you join demo, make sure that your presence is not intimidating to the team, particularly if you are in a company that is very hierarchical. Give the team the comfort that you are not here to judge. You are here to see how they’rgoing. If it turns out the team is not doing great, make sure you comfort them, especially after sprints where they might not have anything to showcase.

Opportunity 4 – Retrospective

I recommend that you do NOT attend a team retrospective! It is the team’s personal time, it is kinda private to them. You see, what happens in a team, stays in the team and if there is an issue that needs to be escalated, it needs to come to you or your leadership team via the right channels, meaning the Scrum Masters or Agile Coaches.

It’s never a good idea to participate in teams retro because you don’t know what’s been happening during the sprint and you don’t know the team dynamic; even if you do, your guidance or interference, diminishes the power of team. This implicitly says that the team is not capable of solving their problems themselves, which defeats the purpose of having a retro.

Bring it all together: There is an art in executives being involved in team ceremonies, the art of being present without being a participant!

MINI ACTIONS:

1- Ask one of the team members to kindly provide you with a link to a dashboard that filters their user stories. Bookmark it and spend 5 mins to cast an eye on what the team’s focus is.

2- Join the team stand-ups, be an observer, and make sure your presence is not impacting team dynamic. Do your very best to stay away from exercising your power to make decisions.

3- Be an active participant in Sprint reviews. Book them in advance in your calendar.

4- Ask the team to share a link to their retro feedback, or just a simple photo of their board, instead of attending the retro.

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