Go Agile for the bigger picture: Act 1

Explore Assurity 1 July 2013 Adam Howard

This was one of the unexpected lessons I learned at Assurity’s Annual Conference in March when each team of 10 was tasked with creating a film communicating the company’s core values in just four hours.

Armed with little more than our smart phone cameras, some free video editing software, a motley collection of assorted props and little natural wit, we randomly selected a genre and set to work.

Given the constraints, I think it’s fair to say I wasn’t alone in expecting limited quality to emerge from our endeavour and enthusiasm.

However, when the curtain fell on our Oscar night screening, I was blown away by what we had achieved… and felt very deserving of the Best Screenplay statuette that graced our table.

So how did 10 novice filmmakers devise and create a ‘mockumentary’ masterpiece in less than four hours? Roll the film…

Getting the right cast and crew

Our initial advantage was the team number. While 10 people is a little above the optimum Scrum team size of seven (plus or minus two), it was still small enough for everyone to pitch in and be fully involved. Very quickly, everyone knew what we were doing and what we wanted to achieve.

As the randomly elected team lead, I quickly realised that my role would, at least initially, require me to step beyond my assumed role of psyching out our opposition with trash talk and overblown bravado.

However, once I’d assembled the troops and outlined the vague plot that I’d scribbled down at 2am, our small team leapt into action. We assigned everyone a role as required, although these were largely ignored as people took the initiative and worked together to meet our goals.

Actors were writing dialogue, the screenwriter was directing, the cinematographer was editing, the location scouts were acting and our make-up artist was making up props. Truly we were a cross-functional unit.

At the same time though, no one neglected their primary duty. And therein lies the key to small cross-functional teams making Scrum a success. A truly efficient team will heed the saying that man can be “Jack of all trades but master of none”.

While a Scrum team should be encouraged to work together and engage beyond their normal roles, it’s important to remember that Scrum doesn’t eliminate the specialist. It simply enhances co-operation between them to increase the overall effectiveness of a collaborative group.

To put it more clearly, what makes a Scrum team especially effective is an enhanced ability of each team member to contribute to any given task. But that does not obliterate the need for specialists who can guide and coach the other team members as required.

This also enables the team to engage in what’s known as ‘swarming’ – the act of coming together to solve a problem or get something done quickly. In a team of distinct specialists, each individual may become a bottleneck, but by assembling a cross-functional team where everyone can pitch in, you can more effectively pool your efforts to get things done.

So, we had assembled the right people to make some movie magic happen: a small cross-functional unit comprised of individuals with a broad range of skills, ready to work as one.

Truth be told though, we were not alone. You could have drawn any 10 individuals from Assurity’s ranks and had the same magic formula. This is because, as a company, we look for well-rounded people who are always keen to pick up new skill sets and work together to deliver great outcomes.

To find out how we built on this promising chemistry that was bubbling away among our cast and crew, check back in for Act 2 next week to find out how agile techniques enabled us to write an award-winning screenplay…