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Posted on: October 06-2017 | By : Prasanna Sukuru | In: Agile,Project Management | 1 Comment

We are all aware that in Scrum teams, a great deal of importance is put on team collaboration, positive team dynamics, face-to-face communication, responsiveness to change, early feedback to customers and ROI – all in a fast paced setting.

 

That puts a great deal pressure on the teams, so it helps have an additional edge apart from the high technical competencies required. So, what kind of edge?

 

For starters, I believe one way to get that edge is to embrace mindfulness, a spiritual concept which is defined as paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.

 

There would seem to be no apparent connection between the two concepts, since Scrum is a hard-boiled project management methodology, while mindfulness may have stronger associations with a Yoga studio than a Scrum room.

 

However, mindfulness helps promote openness, reflection, discovery, flexibility, adaptability, focused evaluation, and pragmatic decision making. These in turn are closely linked to benefits like increased creativity, innovation, emotional intelligence, empathic interpersonal relationships and the flexibility to accept change — all of which are critical to success in Agile teams.

 

Below, I have illustrated the close connection between Agile philosophy and the principles of mindfulness.

 

Agile Philosophy Mindfulness Principles
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools Empathy Awareness
Working software over comprehensive documentation Focus Motivation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation Non-Judgement Empathy
Responding to change over following a plan Awareness Empathy

It would appear that there is some overlap between mindfulness and Agile, so let’s look at two such core principles that can contribute to higher productivity and greater success.

 

People:

 

Both Agile and mindfulness focus on the ability to listen, understand, and use skill to respond to the needs of others.

 

By strengthening and leveraging emotional intelligence through mindfulness techniques, Agile teams can learn to listen better and establish better connections with both the customer and within the team itself, which in turn boosts quality and productivity.

 

Simplicity:

 

One of the twelve principles outlined in the Agile manifesto is simplicity. The focus is on high value yet simple processes and solutions that reduce waste and increase quality.

 

Mindfulness helps people become aware of unnecessary mental clutter, and enhances the skill of making simple choices. Someone practising mindfulness can identify and let go of energy-draining thoughts like negativity and uncertainty before they become problematic.

 

Similarly, Agile focuses on simple designs, short meetings, and avoiding long discussions. Activities are organized based on priority and efficiency, which requires teams to be extremely focused and driven. Mindfulness techniques like emotional de-cluttering can help teams focus better.

 

How to Apply Mindfulness Techniques

 

There is more than one way to practice mindfulness, but the goal of any mindfulness technique is to achieve a state of alert, focused relaxation. This is achieved by deliberately paying attention to your thoughts and sensations without judgment, and steering the mind into the present moment.

 

There are many techniques that take very little effort and can be done practically anywhere, anytime, such as Meditation, Mindful Immersion, Mindful Observation, Mindful Appreciation, Mindful Breathing and others. Below are some pointers on two important techniques.

 

Meditation

 

Broadly speaking, all mindfulness techniques are a form of meditation. Meditation is about remaining calm and effortless in an uncertain world. The Agile/Scrum world is set-up to respond to unpredictability, whether it’s changing user requirements, deliverables, deadlines, or unforeseen glitches.

 

Meditation does the same. You go with the flow of your feelings, whether pleasant or unpleasant, and never push or force your mind or thoughts.

 

The benefits or meditation are well-recognized and quantifiable. In fact, one insurance company reported a decrease in healthcare costs and an increase in productivity among employees trained in mindfulness/meditation. Many Olympic athletes attribute their success to meditation practices, and Google even has a formal employee meditation program, whose motto is, "Greater complexity outside requires greater clarity inside.”

Mindful Breathing

 

Another important aspect is focus on the breath, which is closely linked to our emotions and sense of well-being. Breathing techniques, when practiced regularly, foster more positive emotions and help steer an anxious, angry or regretful mind back to the present moment.

 

In the Agile world, being in the present moment is essential, especially during a Sprint. It won’t help if the team is bogged down by thoughts of past Sprints or future Sprints. In the moment, the Sprint must become like your own breath, and one of the best ways the team can get back on track is to make the sprint commitment the clear focus of attention for everyone.

 

Still skeptical? The only way to prove me wrong is to try promoting mindfulness on your own team.

There’s literally nothing to lose, yet you stand to gain a more positive environment, happier Scrum teams, increased productivity, greater flexibility and adaptability, better focus, and clear-headed, pragmatic decision making.

 

Try it out and let me know how it works on your team. Or, comment below and share your own experience with mindfulness.

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Prasanna Sukuru
Prasanna Sukuru is a Principal Consultant and leads Syntel’s Agile Center of Excellence. She has...

 
Posted on: October 04-2017 | By : Guninder Bhatia | In: Agile,Artificial Intelligence,Project Management | 2 Comments
With the recent trend towards automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), it appears that the application of AI can not only transform enterprise computing, but now has the power to change project management as well.   For a while now I have been exploring AI, and how developments in AI can benefit project management – be it traditional or Agile.  

A Quick Background on Bots and AI

  The most common definition of AI is intelligent behavior exhibited by machines, and a Bot is simply software that performs a task on the user’s behalf. (Wikipedia gives a good general definition of AI and Bots)   AI is already being used in many areas like speech recognition systems, search engines, personal digital assistants like Siri, self-driving cars and many more. One of most prevalent examples of an AI application is a chatbot — a computer program that mimics conversations with people via audio or text, using simple command line-like interfaces or natural language processing.   With the increased use of messaging apps like Slack, chatbots are becoming the interface of choice for executing repetitive tasks.  

The Role of Bots and AI in Agile Project Management

  As a Project Manager, I spend a great deal of time manually tracking projects and creating reports and charts to share the status of a project. This undertaking can deliver accurate and useful information, but often, highly talented (and highly paid people) end up burdened with tedious administrative tasks. Instead, they should be doing things more suited to their talents — like prioritizing the roadmap, working with a customer or managing a key stakeholder’s expectations.   According to Gartner, they estimate that “by 2030, as much as 80% of routine work— which represents the bulk of human hours expended across today’s PPM disciplines — could be eliminated as a result of collaboration between humans and smart machines.”   With respect to Project Management (especially Agile Project Management, where automation is an essential part of the continuous delivery journey), AI has a significant role to play.  
Bots and AI can be an excellent option to automate regular project management tasks, enabling skilled staff to focus on other high-value intellectual activities instead. It can not only automate simple tasks, but also uncover insights on project performance and perform more complex tasks and make recommendations — something that only Project Managers are capable of today.  
PM Bots Currently in the Market
  • Stratejos — Assists with estimates, budget, and sprint management
  • Memo — Assists with team knowledge management
  • Hugo — Manages team learning and knowledge management
  • HipChat — Quickly checks the status of a JIRA task (not an AI Bot)
Agile Project Management bots can drive ALM tools to trigger events or user requests. Agile Bots can automate tasks based on predefined rules or via sophisticated algorithms, which may involve AI.   Simple Bots can be used for a variety of tasks, including automated report generation, adding tasks to the to-do list, or sending out task reminders. However, adding AI into the mix can provide a level of service that rises above many of the bots available today. Some of these use cases could include:  
  • Facilitating Daily Standups :At the end of the work day, an intelligent Bot can connect with team members and ask for the status of an assigned task. Each team member will respond with an update on what is completed, what is in progress, and any roadblocks.
  • Publishing Daily Status Reports :Before the daily scrum, the Bot can create a report with a breakdown of all tasks the team members are working on, or any major roadblocks they are facing.
  • Task Assignment :AI-powered Bots can automatically assign tasks to the most qualified team member for upcoming sprints, based on the team member’s expertise.
  • Sprint Planning: A Bot can generate an alert if a sprint has too many or too few tasks for the team. Likewise, it can identify team members that are overloaded or have too few tasks on their plate.
  • Bug Tracking and Assignment: Bots enabled with AI can track and identify updates made to source code, and link those changes to the team members who made them. This enables real, actionable tracking of team performance, and makes it easy to assign follow-up tasks to the right team member.
  • Risk Alerts : With the use of advanced analytics, Bots can proactively generate alerts if there is a risk of over budgeting and estimation, and drill down to understand where things are going wrong.
  • Recommending Best Practices :Bots can also show which best practices need to be followed and which ones are not creating any business value. It can also link the impact back to project metrics, to better understand the rationale for a particular practice.
 

Where Do We Go From Here?

  Ultimately, an AI system or AI Bots will improve outcomes while saving time and manual effort. However, there are some challenges, as these early AI tools for Agile Project Management rely on capturing and maintaining data correctly, which itself requires human intervention.   Thus the question: Can a machine or Bot eventually imitate the intellect of project managers and replace them?   In my opinion, there is currently no threat of this. Perhaps in the future they may begin to approach our level of intellect and decision making, but for now they are simply useful tools we can employ to take our team performance and productivity to the next level.   What are your thoughts? Will the Bots replace us eventually, or are they just a means to an end? Comment below!   For a while now I have been exploring AI, and how developments in AI can benefit project management – be it traditional or Agile.
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Guninder Bhatia
Guninder Bhatia works as a Business Analyst, Healthcare Practice with Syntel. She has over five...

 
 

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