Who has your back?

A few days ago, Anneke Sinnema tweeted:

Today marks the first day I’ve stood up for myself in a meeting and (basically) demanded more respect for the work I do (HTML & CSS) instead of thinking that people with backend experience can estimate my work because it’s “not that hard”. \o/

The conversation resulting from that tweet is long, but worth a read.

I’m not going to flog the full-stack vs front-end vs back-end horse here, but it did get me thinking about inclusivity and fairness.

In this case, Anneke plucked up the confidence to speak up about the team’s estimation practices. As she makes clear in later replies, the lack of respect she experienced mostly came from one person.

In a team situation, it should never really come to the point where this can even happen. And when it does happen, it needs to be put to an end quickly.

Coincidentally, I saw Kevin Goldsmith’s wonderful talk Agile Techniques for Lead Developers at the Lead Developer conference in London last week.

Kevin spoke about making meetings more inclusive, and specifically, how you can assign someone to the role of meeting ‘observer’. Their job is to watch for:

  • people interrupting each other
  • people repeating ideas without credit
  • certain people speaking too much
  • exclusionary language

The observer then either calls out the behaviour immediately, or distributes a ‘report’ (LOL) at the end of the meeting.

There’s nothing to say that you couldn’t assign a similar role during sprint planning and estimation, to ensure:

  • everybody’s viewpoint is heard
  • relevant expertise is not disenfranchised
  • consensus or consent is reached on technical approach and estimations

In my experience, this role has been taken on by the scrum master. But as we’ve seen in previous emails, that role is not a given, so it’s worth being explicit about who should take it on for any given meeting. An observer should not take part in the meeting themselves.

I’m also reminded here of the Modern Agile meeting agreements poster, which aims to make everyone aware of their duty to foster psychological safety within a team. The poster reads:

Can we agree to:

Encourage everyone to contribute

Listen to one another

Repeat and review people’s points

Avoid dominating or interrupting

Be curious, caring and open-minded

(It also goes on to note that these are just starting points and you should feel free to adapt them.)

I can’t help feeling that if that team had something like this in place that it wouldn’t have been left up to Anneke to defend her own position by herself.

All the best,

– Jim

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