Excellent Product Teams Have These Five Daily Habits

These daily rituals prevent piles that slow the system.

There is nothing like the feeling of satisfaction after putting your all into a hard day’s work.

You start the day with a focused goal in mind, and you achieve it by the end of the day. You check items off your list as “Done.” That rush of dopamine is addictive and fuels your drive to continue tomorrow.

In addition to reaching your goal, you keep a clean ship. You tidy up any mess you create or find as you go. Everything is in its place when you end the day.

When you notice an obstacle, you remove it. Procrastination has no place. You know that moving it out of your way is critical to meet your goal. So you stop and fix the problem without pause.

“Ahhh,” you breathe out as you feel weightless. You left nothing undone. And you will sleep well tonight.

When you are part of a product team, such as a Scrum team, you can achieve this same feeling. You do this through daily habits that prevent a pileup of things that slow you down.

Practicing daily habits brings tremendous benefits. There are tremendous benefits to practicing daily habits. They keep your product delivery healthy. They ensure the smooth running of your team. And they keep value flowing. The result feels great.

Unfortunately, teams often fall into a trap of not performing healthy, daily rhythms. As a result, piles of deferred work start to accumulate. These piles slow down the team and impede the flow of value.

The team has to work around piles. Nobody wants to touch them, and they get bigger and more thorny to address the longer they stick around. In time, when you can no longer avoid the pile you have built, you must stop the flow of value to clean up the pile. This is not a happy activity for anyone — neither your team, your customers, nor your stakeholders.

I was once part of a team who had built up too many piles. We were always having to work around these obstacles. The proper disciplined, daily habits were not in place to prevent and address these piles.

One day, we participated in a hack-a-thon along with other teams. I am not sure why, but our behavior during the hack-a-thon went into overdrive. Rapid improvement, attention to quality, experimentation, adaptation, and collaboration emerged naturally. And it happened all at once. We felt like we were a different team.

How could we tap into this new behavior experience to improve our situation? Could we make it an everyday habit?

Let’s dive into the undesirable piles that can build up and hinder your product delivery. And then, we can investigate the daily habits your team can use to prevent pile build-up.

Pile Build-up

We sometimes start accumulating a pile for later by accident. We could do it on purpose to delay resolution in favor of a strategic decision. Or, while not desirable, we could be sweeping our problems under the rug.

Regardless of its reason for being, a pile degrades your delivery of value.

Here are some of the common piles of things that build up cruft in your product delivery and slow you down.

  • Defects
  • Big, predictive plans
  • Undone work (requirements, designs, and untested code)
  • Output without outcome assessment
  • Unnecessary features
  • Future features not needed today
  • Technical debt
  • Work-in-waiting (on another team, for approval, etc)
  • Untidy workspaces
  • Stale information radiators
  • Knowledge silos (individuals, teams)
  • Inspection without adaptation
  • Improvements not identified

Daily Habits for Smoother Flow

Much research exists on the formation of habits. And the most consistent finding for successful habit building is a daily practice.

“Success is the product of daily habits — not once-in-a-lifetime transformations.”

—James Clear, Atomic Habits¹

When you don’t practice a new behavior every day, you reinforce old habits on the days you don’t practice the new habit. In fact, most would say you are practicing the status quo behavior on your days off instead of the new habit.

If you don’t have daily habits as a team to keep your product delivery healthy, piles will form that will slow you down.

Below are five of my favorite daily team habits that promote product delivery health and keep piles away.

№1: Improving Daily

Improving is continuous. It is not something we do every once in a while. And the entire Scrum team is meant to do it.

In Scrum, improvement is not a once per Sprint activity. Every Sprint Event in Scrum is designed for inspection and adaptation.

Getting better requires practice. It requires daily investment in both inspection and adaptation to meet an improvement goal.

Inspection every day ensures you are not becoming complacent with the status quo. Inspecting for improvement each day keeps you from building piles of missed opportunities.

And Adaptation is the yang to the yin of Inspection. Adaptation daily ensures you are not stagnating in the status quo but moving away from it. It helps you avoid piles of improvements identified but not acted upon.

In today’s environment, if you are not improving, someone else will pass you by. And a daily improvement focus will allow you to get better in manageable increments. It will keep your behaviors well-tuned to your ever-changing context.

Read more about continuous improvement here:

№2: Getting to “Done” Daily

An effective goal for a Scrum team is to aim to be in a “Done” state at the end of every day.

The team starts the day by setting a team goal. And they work in collaboration to get a Product Backlog item to “Done” before the end of the workday.

This means the team satisfies all Definition of “Done” items. The team tests code in a comprehensive manner. They fix all defects. No further work is necessary to meet the day’s goal. The Product Backlog item is potentially shippable at the end of each day. Continuous Delivery mechanisms might even push it into production.

And a “Done” state also reflects the work environment. At the end of the day, the work area is tidy, and all visual boards are up to date. Everything is in its proper place. It is ready for the next day when the team arrives in the morning.

Leaving work in a “Done” state daily prevents piles of undone work. It keeps the flow of value moving. And it creates a feeling of satisfaction in the team when they accomplish their goal.

Often teams couple this pattern with other patterns that promote a hyper-productive state. The post below illustrates these other patterns:

№3: Innovation & Learning Daily

Many teams can get stuck delivering the next feature on the backlog or doing what someone tells them to do without context. In this case, only a select few outside the team have the privilege of crafting ideas. Innovation does not involve the team. This creates a pile of untapped innovation potential.

A better approach engages the entire team in experimentation. The goal is to build a problem-solving culture. This embraces the force-multiplier of the team. It ensures unsolved needs do not pile up waiting on a select few to solution for them. All minds engage in the solution.

Daily practice helps you build toward a problem-solving culture within your Scrum team. It will keep innovation flowing instead of piling up. Your team gravitates to rapid experiments and high customer engagement. They gain customer empathy. This will shift their focus to minimize output and maximize outcomes.

A progression of stages can help you build up to a problem-solving culture. The following post series describes these stages:

№4: Planning Daily

Big planning upfront creates a pile of unproven plan details. And it stales soon after creation. Piles of big plans hold us hostage and stifle our response to the reality on the ground. And they waste time that is better spent trying out our ideas.

A more effective approach is to build a daily habit of continual refinement of our future plans. This allows us to adjust our path one small bite at a time. And we won’t get too tied to a big, beautiful plan illusion.

The post below provides details on an approach for the daily plan and backlog refinement:

№5: Collaborating Daily

Daily collaboration is a critical component of teamwork. Collaboration is non-negotiable. Without it, you are only a collection of individuals.

Collaboration allows you to swarm on work to get it to done. Work does not pile up waiting on another team member. And you remove obstacles as they appear, keeping obstacle piles at bay.

It allows you to work with other teams to break dependencies. When you can better own your work end-to-end, you prevent work from piling up while it waits on another team.

You cross-skill more when you collaborate. Knowledge does not pile up in a silo. Rather, it is cross-pollinated between team members. You avoid bottlenecks. And you build a better shared understanding of the work and how to do it.

Collaboration is a daily habit your team cannot do without. When you work as a team and collaborate together, practicing all of the other daily habits is easier.

Read more about keeping collaboration high, even in a lockdown, here:

It Won’t Happen Overnight

If you stayed with me this long, you may be starting to think I am crazy. Are there even enough hours in a day to perform all these habits? If you read this post and try all habits at once, the change chaos you generate will limit your success.

But if you set a challenge and put in place only one of the daily habits, you will achieve striking results. Then, you can move on to building the other habits in the same incremental fashion.

If you are struggling to imagine what it looks like to put these habits into practice, listen to the video below.

Video A — What Daily Habits Look Like

As you build these habits, you will experience higher engagement in your team and all teams in a mulit-team environment. Higher engagement will lead to happier teams, customers, and stakeholders.

But it will not all be roses and rainbows as you build your habits. You will run into obstacles that prevent a daily practice. Put these into a backlog of improvements and start tackling them. It takes effort to remove these obstacles before you can get into your daily rhythm. But your persistence will pay off.

As with any habit, it takes time, consistency, and patience to develop these daily rhythms. Don’t give up when you feel the initial pain and resistance. I sometimes compare forming new habits to practicing Yoga. You have to let go of your disbelief and keep at it to see results.

Last but not least, to make all of this possible, you need your managers to show Agile Leadership. They need to support these habits. Teams need Agile Leaders to remove organizational obstacles. This will help make your daily rhythms a reality. You cannot succeed without Agile Leader support.

This road to excellence is not easy. But the journey is a blast. As soon as you build a daily habit around one item, you will feel the rush. Each success will motivate the next target condition on your journey. The absence of piles will set you free.

How about trying out one of these habits today?

References

  1. Atomic Habits, James Clear, 2018

A special thanks goes to Maarten Dalmijn and David Pereira for their thoughtful contributions to this post.

Do you want to write for Serious Scrum or seriously discuss Scrum?

Todd is an Executive and Enterprise Agile Coach with 25 years in consulting. His coaching is focused on making Agile simple again.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store