Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Absolute Teamwork

I've been interviewing a number of candidates for our team recently. Almost every CV contains some pseudo-mandatory clause about great teamwork skills. I was wondering what teamwork meant for these people. So I asked. Too often, it doesn't sound much like a team.

My reference for the concept "teamwork" in the past year and a half is a team called "the Smurfs".  I was fortunate to have served as their scrum master for a few months when the team was forming after joining two teams together, and held a management role throughout the long project.

Things I love about Smurfs


The team has a distinct culture of asking each other for help and being immediately available to provide help. It's essential for doing peer code reviews, for getting new team members on board and for knowledge sharing. A special role of an "on duty smurf", a fire fighter dealing with customer issues and test failures for a whole sprint, allowing the rest more focus, is  unlikely to have been possible without this helpful spirit. 


The team continuously demonstrated respect for each other. One aspect of it is that being passionate about the work led to passionate discussions. These were not ego driven, "my idea is better than yours" type of discussions, but rather real exchange that actually included listening. I could see it in technical design discussions, and in retrospectives alike.

Experimental Approach

A few examples:

  • When I stepped down from being a scrum master, the team tried to distribute the SM role between team members despite the consistently ominous warnings by non other than Jim "Cope" Coplein. It was a grand failure, many lessons learned, and a quick and successful recovery by identifying their next SM
  • The team kept trying out different new tools to support it's work - dashboards, testing techniques, clever code coverage measurements, experimental debugging techniques 
  • Being in the context of an enterprise level R&D, other teams benefited from the team's knack for improving tooling - many improvements to the main issue tracking system were made based on their feedback, and a whole new tool was introduced that supports code reviews, especially for distributed teams
  • A rich physical task-board (see prezi!) with many cool and useful ideas  
  • Convinced the office management to bring down a wall for us, to have proper space for a daily standaup
  • An evolutionary approach to discover how to deal with different types of work, specifically customer defects (described in my talk I gave at the Agile Practitioners 2013 conference)
  • Acceptance Test Driven Development (ATDD) - the whole way we define our stories was modified based on ideas a few team members brought from an Agile-Testing workshop 
  • Working together - swarming on work, by priority, was yet another experiment early on, that turned into a habit

It all boils down to safety and trust. Without a sense of being trusted, people are less likely to help or ask for help, and to experiment individually and as a team.

Last, but not least: fantastic results!

Besides the dramatic improvement in the response time to customer issues, the improved test coverage (quantity and quality increased), and quality - a new and exciting set of features, nicely balancing highly sophisticated capabilities with a rather straight forward user experience.


I'd like to acknowledge and thank the individuals who demonstrated to me what's teamwork.
The Smurfs team in this project are (in alphabetical order):
Dganit Keidar, Gad Salner, Ichai Luzon, Idan Zohar, Marwan Jaber, Michael Adada, Oded Nehama, Ofir Laviad, Ortal Balter, Rosalind Eidelheit and Yaniv Mualem.

Strongly affiliated and supportive of this team, locally: Assaf Appel who served as the Product Owner, Gadi Benedek, Asaf Broide and Lior Yaffe, together with a good number of people from the administrative staff. From Germany, we enjoyed the further support and collaboration with Andreas Goermer and Oguzhan Oezkut. And speaking of safety and trust, there's a big doubt if things would look the same without Christian Gengenbach, our VP.

The Smurfs continue to their next project in a different format. I'm certain they won't settle for anything less.


  1. As the lazy smurf avatar holder, I would like to thank you guy for being such a good scrum coach, the mentality you have and the team shares is the main reason of success.
    The vision of the management and their understanding of the responsibility process made it easy for us to work our way.

    1. Thanks!
      I'm glad you mention Responsibility - you know, besides Ashley, there was another consultant we had less contact with who mainly worked with our management on this topic - Amr Elssamadisy. He just blogger last week about the need of safety and the bad outcomes of not having this kind of support - and I'm proud to say he pointed to this blog :)
      Here it is: http://www.industriallogic.com/blog/why-are-most-agile-adoptions-failing/