One of the promises of almost any other agile framework is continuous improvement.
And indeed it is stated in the agile manifesto at principle number 12:

"At regular interval the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjust it's behavior accordingly."


However, does this guarantee improvement?
The short answer is no. For the longer answer please keep on reading.

 

The things is that more often then not this so called continuous improvement looks something like this:

  • Team performs a retrospective.
  • Team members raise ideas or opportunities (to keep\to change\to eat\to ignore eternally unless all hell breaks loose)
  • Few teams even take those ideas and generate action items.
  • Fewer teams perform the action items.
  • Even fewer teams actually checks the impact of those action items.
  • A small minority actually improves continuously.

Why? Let's start at the beginning:

Preconditions for continuous improvement

It might come as a surprise to you but in order for a team to improve, they actually need to want to improve. By "they" i mean the team, not the managers, not the scrum master, not the agile coach. The team.
But why would they want to improve, what would drive a group of intelligent human beings to strive for becoming better at what they are doing.

  • Caring - If you care about something you would like to see it improve. Makes sense i think.
  • Feeling powerful - Even if you care about something, in order to improvement it you think that you have the power to do something about it.
  • Knowledge - Caring and powerful is not sufficient in case you do not have the knowledge or access to it.
  • Priority,Time & Budget - I care about my house, i have the power and knowledge to do some renovating, Budgeting this is not in high priority right now, and i would rather spend time playing games than doing that.

That's a a lot of preconditions (There are more...) but i do believe that all of them need to be fulfilled in order to be able to start the journey towards perfection.

Here are some practical tips on how to meet the preconditions:

  • Caring - Caring goes hand in hand with ownership. For your team to care about something they need to own it, take the pride in their achievements. 
    How about taking a step back? How about defining one area (which you care about and requires improvement) which the team owns completely? 
  • Feeling powerful - Each team member to think "i've got the power\" (Ta ne ne ne). 
    How about letting the team make some of the decisions, they will make mistakes, that's fine - that's an opportunity for improvement.
  • Knowledge - Does the team really knows what is going on? What are the problems? What does management think of them? What is important to the organization?
    How about some transparency? Here are the latest talks at the management meeting concerning the team, here are our goal (The green poster on the wall), Here is the (real) project schedule agreed with the customer.
  • Priority, Time & Budget - Give them some! Since improvement doesn't just happen.
    How about allocating some time for it, or budget, or both. And not throw it out the window as soon as the next user story is behind schedule.

Any more ideas? Thoughts? would love to know what you think.

BTW - the feeling powerful part will be covered in Johanna Rothman's upcoming workshop named "Build your influence" in November 2014. 
Hope to see you there.