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Is it Time for a Team Health Check?

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The human body performs at its peak when all organs are functioning at optimal levels. While we don’t always function at peak levels, our bodies have basic requirements it needs to operate. Many times, our bodies will give us signals that let us know when we are not functioning at our best. And although we can function daily and get things done, we know something just is not right. Nevertheless, we keep pushing through the pain to get things done, even when it hurts.

It is only when we see the doctor and have a battery of tests, we learn what has been keeping us from being our best.

An agile delivery team, like humans, is a living organism that can show signs to indicate when its ‘internal organs’ are functioning at optimal efficiency. And just like humans, the team should get a ‘health checkup’ periodically to uncover potential issues or ‘blockages’ so that it can work on its wellness and improve its chances of performing at peak levels again. Hence, the Team Agility Health Check.

What is a Team Agility Health Check?

A team agility health check is an exercise that measures the health and maturity of agile teams. The primary goal of the health check is to help the team improve its agile practices so that they can deliver more value with each iteration. It provides the team focused time to reflect on, and discuss, where they are in their use of agile values, principles, and practices as they work together daily.

Who Participates in the Health Checks?

Anyone who was actively involved in the design, development, and testing of the most recent product increment should be a part of the exercise. This would include developers, testers and product owners, as well as business analysts, experience designers, DevOps engineers and solutions architects. By including the extended team, everyone will have the opportunity to vote, listen, and provide feedback regarding the health and agile maturity of the team.

When and How Often Should the Team do a Health Check?

On average, a comprehensive health check should happen every 10–12 weeks. Depending on the framework used and the number of sprints, it could be every 3–6 sprints.

To encourage attendance, and to keep from adding another meeting on the team’s calendar, it is recommended that the exercise occurs during one, or more, of the team regularly scheduled retrospective sessions.

How is it Done?

In its simplest form, there are 5 basic steps to performing a team agility health check.

  1. Using red, yellow, and green physical cards (in person) or dots on a visual board (virtual), each team member votes on how they believe the team is trending (Almost Always = Red, Sometimes = Yellow, Rarely or Never = Red) on various agile attributes, including commitment, respect, velocity, client feedback, planning, accountability, and fun. For an example of what the board may look like before and after voting, see Figure 1.
  2. Once each team member has a chance to vote, a skilled Agile Team Facilitator guides the team through a candid discussion of the results, with the goal of identifying areas for improvements and gathering actionable items to improve the way they work together as an agile team.
  3. After the team talks through all items (this may take more than one session), the facilitator updates the team’s Continuous improvement (CI) log with the items that needs improvement based on the yellows and reds votes. In addition, the facilitator charts the results so that the team can compare to later results to chart. This will be a valuable tool to measure how the team is improving in its agility.
  4. Each sprint, the team selects 1–2 items from the log that it agrees to work on to improve the way it works together.
  5. During subsequent retrospectives, the team reviews the improvement items and discusses whether it is trending in the positive direction (from yellow to green or from red to yellow). As each item is confirmed to be trending positively, it is closed. The process (steps 4 and 5) is repeated each iteration until the team addresses all the improvement items that were identified.

Figure 1 — Health Check Voting

This board is a sample of what a team agility health check would look like, before and after the activity.
Health Check Voting Sample Board

What are The Benefits of Team Agility Health Checks?

When done properly, Team Agility Health Checks can:

  • Help the team to uncover problems in its agile delivery process and practices.
  • Provide the team with tangible metrics that it can use to gauge how it is improving over time in its use of agile principles and values.
  • Produce actionable items that the team can incorporate into upcoming iterations to make the adjustments needed to deliver more value.

How are Team Health Checks Different from Sprint Retrospectives?

Team health checks are closely related to sprint retrospectives in that they both expose similar surface level issues. Where they differ is that retrospectives look more at what went well and what didn’t go well in the last sprint cycle, and how to improve in the upcoming sprint.

Team Agility Health Checks, when facilitated properly, delve into the deeper, more emotional factors of working together as a team and what can be done to improve the overall team agility and happiness, thereby improving the value that the team delivers to its clients. The focus is not on just one sprint, but on the team and its use of agile practices, principles, and values as it works together daily.

In conclusion, here are a few things to remember when performing a team agility health check.

This list is based my experience of facilitating dozens of this exercise. As you conduct your sessions, you will also be able to begin to glean some lessons and create your team’s continuous improvement log to improve its outcome with each iteration.

If you have any questions regarding how to conduct a Team Agility Health Check for your teams, or would like to augment this article with any lessons you have learned from your experiences, please contact me at [email protected]. Let’s work together to get our teams healthy and happy.


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