Agile Chartering – a summary of key activities teams can use from LiftOff

There is much written about the importance of Vision and Mission for teams and projects. Just searching on the internet will reveal many articles on the subject and many great quotes such as Dee Hock’s:

“I believe that purpose and principle, clearly understood and articulated, and commonly shared, are the genetic code of any healthy organization. To the degree that you hold purpose and principles in common among you, you can dispense with command and control. People will know how to behave in accordance with them, and they’ll do it in thousands of unimaginable, creative ways. The organization will become a vital, living set of beliefs.”

There are also several ways out there to guide people and teams through the process of creating a Vision and Mission Statement and the items that flow from this like Mission Tests or Goals, Values and Principles and Working Agreements.

One such resource is a book called Liftoff: Launching Agile Projects and Teams by Diana Larsen and Ainsley Nies.

They describe the creation of these as starting with management and bringing in the people to execute (the teams) to validate (perhaps with multiple loops between management and workers), augment and take ownership of them. This is important to create the overall vision first and something for teams to rally around. Otherwise they are risking creating something in a vacuum. Creating a vision from the bottom up could be right as is described in Reinventing Organizations but it could also be risky, especially for a traditional management structure.

That said teams (with mgmt. representation preferably) can still use the method to create their vision and mission where it is otherwise lacking. It could potentially expose gaps that need addressing – this is normal and not to be considered a failure because you could be saving a lot of time and effort. I encourage anyone to use this or any group based techniques to drive towards creating this.

These will take 6-12 hours to produce. Doing it together in a day allows continuity to flow. It can be broken down into multiple sessions over several days, allowing some think time between them. If you leave it too long between sessions, you risk losing flow.

Vision

This also relates to purpose, in that what is the new and better future state (vision) we’d like to see from our efforts (purpose). There is a causal link. It’s good (or important) to have a representative of management describe the aims from the point of view of management answering questions like the how and what the team does will affect the business.

The steps here are for this session with management, but they can still be used by a team.

  • Start with an example vision (see below) and relate this to what the team is doing. Asking everyone how the world/business is better for their service or product.
  • Use stickies or an online board (e.g. ideaboardz.com) and write one idea per sticky for:
    • How does the service or product change the user’s world
    • Qualities that are differentiators
    • Business benefits
  • Seek quantity over quality and do this individually for 7-10 minutes
  • After this time period collect the notes and ask the team to group like ideas into clusters
  • Give the clusters a name
  • The cluster names and items provide guidance for a vision statement. Group edit to create the statement.
  • Keep in mind we are looking for GEFN (Good Enough For Now). We expect evolution to occur over time as we learn new information.
  • Optionally you could create a tangible version of the vision on a poster, product box or some other creative form

Mission

A mission is different from a vision. It describes the team’s unique contribution towards the vision. It includes a customer description and the actions the team takes, the service it provides, and something compelling for the customer or whoever you serve.

The process is similar to Vision but done in three rounds of brainstorming in pairs lasting 5 minutes each, again seeking quantity over quality firstly and then editing thereafter.

  • Round 1 – Identify all the Customers for your product or service
  • Round 2 – Identify the value they get from your product or service
  • Round 3 – Identify any known qualities or characteristics of the product or service
  • Group the stickies into the three groups and affinity sort them into clusters
  • Use action verbs and names of clusters to develop the mission statement – looking for GEFN

How do we know we have reached the objectives? This is what mission tests do.

  • Again do paired brainstorming and identify the effects like results, consequences, impacts, repercussions, forces, influences
  • As a group cluster the ideas looking for duplicates, same or similar items. Give each cluster a name
  • As a group discuss how will you know each cluster has been reached
  • Pair up with someone else and choose a cluster to work on. Write a proposal for a mission test (including time limits and other success measures). Use SMART (Specific, Measureable, Attainable/Achievable, Relevant, Timebound) as a guide.
  • As a group check that each proposal is in harmony with the Vision and Mission.
  • Use dot voting to decide the five or fewer tests to take forward

One thing that isn’t mentioned explicitly in the book and will perhaps come out in a new edition is to visualize your goals. Doing this will on an information radiator like a Visual Task Board will assist the team in understanding how they are progressing toward a goal, what blockers may exist, and how long it taking to get there. It will enable the team and their management to inspect and adapt from learnings they discover along the way. Everyone else will be able to see how they are doing, they could even congratulate them on their progress or offer some help if they get stuck.

Using the example from the book that is included later in the article, a team could use a tool like ScrumDo to visualize their Mission Tests as we can see here:

ScrumDo board

Values & Principles

With these we know what matters to us when we do our work. They inform our choices and go beyond abstract terms like ‘honesty’.

  • Offer example values and principles from other projects (see example below)
  • Brainstorm for 5-10 minutes using any techniques you like (Round Robin, Silent Writing, Shout Out)
    • Try to think beyond first thoughts to try and get to the less obvious
  • Ask for clarification for each value to remove ambiguity
  • Decide on the top 4-6 values that will most impact the work
  • Use the values to generate principles
    • Not a one to one usually. A principle may relate to multiple values and a value may spring forward more than one principle.

Working Agreements

It’s a short list of operational guidelines, and sets up professional standards and brings out what is implicit to be known and shared by all.
Create a list of items that you all think will aid collaboration, be it behaviors or standards or something particular to your context.
Get them all out and avoid editing until later. When you are ready to edit you can group like items together and refine the list into a core set of working agreements.
Some teams can go with as little as 5 items. Some feel they need more.
Just like the Vision and Mission, you should like to revisit and update the norms on a recurring cadence.
In close relation to working agreements are protocols and Jim and Michele McCarthy have done extensive research into what makes teams great. You can find more details in their book – Software for your Head.  Richard Kasperowski summarized it in Core Protocols.  Richard Kasperowski has some great Youtube videos (Agile New England, Agile Camp Silicon Valley) where he talks about the Core Protocols.

Example from LiftOff

Here’s an example from the book. It includes some other outputs in addition to the ones summarized above. They could be useful to you as well.  I’d note that for this team the working agreement is quite short and probably suits them. There are other examples with up to 15 or 20 items.

Team Hermes Charter

Vision

To serve organization, our customers, shareholders and employees by:

  • producing timely clear and accurate data
  • communicating organization products and services
  • maintaining regulatory compliance
  • protecting organization cash flow

Mission

We leverage technology, employee development, and work process to produce accurate, timely, and reliable customer data. We ensure information is delivered properly to the organization, our customers, shareholders, and employees through appropriate communication channels. We ensure the data we deliver supports our customers’ changing needs.

Mission Tests

  • Achieve 100% accuracy related to accounts payable and billing processes and procedures by Q3 2011.
  • Average fewer than two at fault complaints a month about accounts payable or billing errors, over the next year.
  • Our organization sponsors and product owners report 90% satisfaction with our communication.

Values & Principles

  • Communication
    Expect open, honest communication within the team and with all stakeholders.
  • Trust
    Do the right thing, individually and as a team
  • Accountability
    Meet team commitments and communicate promptly when something gets in your way.
  • Team Ownership
    Pitch in. Help team members meet their commitments when they can’t in their own.
  • Customer Satisfaction
    Meet or exceed customer expectations.
  • Continuous Learning and Improvement – Expect and support every team member to become a specialized generalist.

Core Team

Previous bill processing group.

Working Agreements

  • We define “Done” for our stories as: The acceptance criteria are fully met and the product owner signs off.
  • For each sprint, the team will identify an area for practicing pair programming.
  • All team members participate in story-writing sessions and support our product owner in creating and grooming the backlog.

Boundaries & Interactions

boundaries-and-interactions-diagram

When Management has created these Already

When these already exist by management using the above steps or by some other method, then it’s important to have validation (looping until agreement) from everyone executing the work.

Here are the steps:

  • Conduct a formal Welcome and Introductions
    • Introduce everyone
    • Thank everyone
    • Walk through the agenda
  • Review the Vision
    • This should be the most solid part. It’s probably less likely to undergo change
    • Explain your thinking and check everyone’s understanding of it
  • Review the Mission
    • Could be more open to amendment
    • Introduce and solicit feedback
      • Expect input because the people doing it are validating the mission
    • Includes mission from the team itself
      • Ask pairs or groups to write their mission statements
      • Report back to the whole group (including sponsor) looking for feedback
        • Everyone should be in support
    • If there are disagreements try for alternatives and vote to agree on one
    • Keep alert – you may reveal something that has a material effect or a game changer
  • Review Mission Tests
    • Ask pairs/groups with mixed perspectives (developer/ux, developer/tester) to review a test each
      • Is it a measure of success?
      • Could it be improved?
  • Groups present new versions and roman vote. Continue to amend until agreement is reached
  • Ask for Commitment
    • Everyone should sign to signify commitment