Balanced Team Ann Arbor Has Kicked Off!

A brand new chapter of Balanced Team just got started in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Our first meeting took place on March 30, 2016 at the recently renovated ITHAKA/JSTOR offices in downtown Ann Arbor.

We had a small but engaged and very diverse group, which was the perfect way to kick off the chapter. There was a mix of people who had been to BT events before and those brand new to the idea, people involved in product development and people who are not. There were developers, product owners, UXers, QA engineers, a scrum master, and a project manager. There were people involved in product development and people who are not.  A big benefit to the mix of backgrounds and skills was the many great experiences and perspectives that were brought to the table.

The 2.5 hour event started with chatting, snacking, and name tag making.  After a presentation of Balanced Team’s history and values from Beth LaPensee, we moved into open space discussions.

Voting for open space topics.

Voting for open space topics.

The following topics were voted on and discussed throughout the evening. These were all really of the same flavor and blended together nicely:

  • Challenges with becoming lean within an organization
  • Dealing with pre-established designs/ideas as you transition to lean methods
  • Kicking off cross-team partnerships within organizations
  • What are some strategies one can implement to enhance collaboration between people with different roles?
  • Techniques for engaging stakeholders and customers into the design and development process
  • What are some strategies for striking the “right” balance of skills on a team?
Balanced teamers sharing their thoughts.

Balanced teamers sharing their thoughts.

Two recurring themes were evident throughout the discussion:

  1. The importance of good communication and the entire team having a shared vision of the “why”. Some suggestions of tactics to try:
    • Spend time explaining something to someone who doesn’t “speak your language” – try different techniques like sketching or pairing (see below)
    • Use tools/techniques with your team that get everyone engaged in discussions about goals and vision. Try impact mapping or story mapping.
    • Be open with your team about what your personal development goals are.
  2. Pairing as one of the fastest and most effective ways to develop empathy for your colleagues AND to further your own skill development. Things to try:
    • Developers can pair with a Product Owner, for example. This can be helpful because abstracting the technical concepts for a broader audience can also help the developer think about their work differently, more holistically.
    • Pair to develop empathy with your team members or others at your organization. You will learn what you can do to make things better for them.
    • Pairing can also be good for skills development, whether you want a deep dive into a known area or get an introduction to something new.

And there were some leftover topics that we didn’t get to.  There are surely some great discussions in here, so we’ll hold on to these for next time.

  • Balanced team with remote members… can it work? If so, how?
  • How to overcome parts of the team not being in the same location
  • Great tools for team communication
  • How can we advocate for QA having more time with UX team in hopes of better balance?
  • Roles of “project manager” or someone overseeing a project
  • How to combine lightweight discovery (UX) with TDD?
  • Balanced “team” as an individual?
  • Co-locating with team and with others
  • I have a great idea – how do I test it out?
  • Give developers empathy around what drives the business.
BT A2 members

BT A2 members (the ones who stayed to the very end, anyway!)

Everyone is looking forward to the next BT A2 gathering! Watch the MeetUp group for future events.

Thank you to ITHAKA/JSTOR for generously providing the location, snacks, and supplies!

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