Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Too Many Rules

A battle among homeowners is a lesson for studio leaders.

We live in a neighborhood in Colorado that borders a vast national forest.  We have lots of dirt roads, utilities, a lake, and dense forest, which require a great deal of work to maintain.  Volunteer neighbors have done much of this work, but over the past few years, volunteerism has declined.

This community also has a Home Owner Association (HOA) that likes to pass many rules.  For instance, you need to fill out a form to move a rock in the common area. If you don't wear non-flammable clothes while using an outside fire-pit, you are subject to a fine.

I see a connection between the declining volunteerism and the rising number of governing rules. This connection crystallized during a recent mountain bike ride.

I was riding on a world-famous trail network called "Phil's World" in Cortez, Colorado. Phil's contains dozens of miles of amazing trails. It is continually being expanded and maintained by a group of local volunteers that donate days of their time each month.  These volunteers will not only move rocks to clear paths, but build impressive cairns with them.

This effort inspires me to stop my bike and move rocks or pick up any litter I find. Although Phil's is an hour drive away, I feel part of this community.  I feel it more than the one where I live.

Intrinsic Motivation

Dan Pink's book "Drive" explains a lot about why we can work so hard at things we don't get paid for and so little when we are. He describes three factors of intrinsic motivation, backed up by decades of research, to prove it:

  • Autonomy — Our desire to be self-directed. It increases engagement over compliance.
  • Mastery — The urge to get better skills.
  • Purpose — The desire to do something that has meaning and is important.

When leaders or governing bodies define a broad set of rules and penalties for non-compliance, it undermines a sense of autonomy.  Such compliance is a poor substitute for purpose.

Rules and penalties often exist to force behavior that you're not trusted to do on your own. When someone tells me that they'll fine me when I wear the wrong clothes by my fire-pit, I'm less motivated to help them cut a tree down.

Excessive rule-making happens in studios, and the same lack of motivation occurs. The prevailing  attitude becomes "I did my tasks, if the game is broken its someone else's problem." Leaders subsequently get frustrated with the lack of accountability and generate more rules.

A certain number of rules are necessary, but a good practice is to engage those you are making rules for. "Working agreements" are often better. Find ways where purpose can drive behavior instead. Sprint Goals and a definition of done are useful tools for this.  Collaboratively crafted, they drive behavior better than assigning work and creating rules about how disciplines should interface and test.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Sprint Commitment?

I recently finished the first draft of the new edition of "Agile Game Development." One of my reviewers commented that I still use the phrase "Sprint Commitment" after its removal from the Scrum Guide, but I left it in there.

One of the reasons that the phrase is no longer in the Sprint Guide is because it has often been weaponized to force teams to complete everything they'd estimated in Sprint Planning regardless of what problems emerge during the Sprint. This has resulted in teams compromising quality to get every feature in the game "done" by the end of the Sprint.

The Sprint Guide now uses the word "forecast" instead of commitment for Sprints, even though "commitment" is still a core value. I agree that forecast is an accurate way to express what the plan is, but I think we've lost something by dumping the word commitment.

It comes down to what we mean by commitment. Often forecast means "we'll get done what we get done," or better yet, "we'll do our best to get everything done, but we might have to drop some less important features." To me, commitment goes a step beyond that, but not so far to mean "we must do everything."

Commitment means doing our best to achieve a goal, but also being accountable as a team, when things don't go according to plan.

A good example is when you commit to picking up your child at daycare. You'll obviously do your best to be there on time, but sometimes things go wrong. Let's say your car breaks down a few miles away from daycare. Do you just say, "oh well, I tried my best"? No! You call your spouse, friend, and/or the daycare to let them know. You do this because you hold yourself accountable to pick your child up.

Similarly, if a team runs into problems with a feature in their Sprint goal, they need to hold themselves accountable. They need to raise the issue. They grab the Product Owner and discuss ways to address it. If they can't solve the problem themselves, they recruit the Scrum Master to help out. It still might mean the feature gets dropped, but the accountability results in risk being managed better.

Commitment is a core value for Scrum Masters to grow with a team. Sometimes the first step is to stop solving problems for the team and start asking them, "what should you do about it?"