Throughout our day, we experience an inordinate amount of noise. Whether it’s the garbage truck barreling down our road at 5 am, the dog that excitedly greets every passerby or the co-worker’s emphatic phone conversations on the other side of the paper-thin cubicle wall, noise is everywhere. While some noise may be enjoyable, like a baby’s giggle or the Keurig doling out that first cup of coffee, most noise is just that, noise. And it’s annoying.

In Organizations, noise takes on several different forms that bring with them a result that is more devastating than it is annoying. Frequent unproductive meetings, numerous priority shifts, active rumor mills, politics, etc. all fall into the category of organizational noise. Regardless of the source, Organizational Noise[1] is distraction at its worst, affecting effort by disrupting focus, taking a Team’s eyes away from the prize and, worse yet, destroying Team morale. While all Organizations will experience some level of noise at all times, we know that many Well-Formed Teams™ are able to minimize it. Much of the responsibility of minimizing Organizational Noise falls on the PO and the ScrumMaster. Each plays an integral part in quieting things down.

1. Protect the Team From Outside Interference.

Quiet Organizational Noise - ProtectWe all know that Stakeholder[2] who feels like the rules don’t apply to him or her. They’re the ones who invite themselves into the Team Member’s work area to discuss concerns or drop in uninvited to Dev Team[3] meetings. While plastering a “Keep Out” sign may truly express how the Team is feeling, it’s probably not the best tactic. What’s a better one? Tag team the ScrumMaster[4] and PO.[5] Let the ScrumMaster play the role of Mama Bear by protecting the Team and redirecting the Stakeholder to take their ideas and concerns to the PO instead. The PO, in turn, makes sure the Stakeholder’s needs are being met on their turf, not the Team’s. Without that outside interference, the Team is more united in effort and better equipped to focus on the task at hand. And get it done.

2. Fight the Good Fight.

Quiet Organizational Noise - FightBy the good fight, we mean fighting to make sure the Team focuses on one thing at a time and is not pulled in all directions. While many Team Members may want to throw their hats in the ring for this fight, the PO needs to don the boxing gloves and make this happen. It’s on the PO to prioritize and force-rank the work for the Team so that only one item can genuinely be number one. This may mean the PO must lead some difficult conversations and negotiations with Stakeholders and Business Owners,[6] but for high-quality work to occur, a singular focus is non-negotiable.

3. Find Your Team’s Rhythm. And Stick to it.

Quiet Organizational Noise - RhythmScrum is all about rhythm,[7] exploring and establishing repeatable patterns that lead toward high-quality outcomes. One of the quickest ways to increase noise within your Organization is for the Team to lose their rhythm. Lack of Team rhythm breeds distraction and ineffectiveness. Take, for example, an inconsistent Daily Standup ritual. If Daily Standups have variable meeting times and length, unpredictable attendance or are skipped entirely, the Team will lose their rhythm. Without that regular check-in to inspect and adapt, that pesky organizational noise creeps in, causing the Team’s focus to go rapidly down the drain. It’s up to the ScrumMaster to help the Team find their rhythm and make sure the beat is strong enough that it becomes second nature.

4. Seeing is Believing.

Quiet Organizational Noise - SeeingA good ScrumMaster spends time organizing the noise that is heard by the Team. A great ScrumMaster spends time making sure the Team only hears what they need to hear at the right time. Increasing the methods of Team communication masterfully aids this endeavor. A well-placed Information Radiator, one that is large, easily visible, understood at a glance and kept up to date, means readers see the information they care about without having to ask anyone a question. This translates more communication with fewer interruptions. And less noise. Not to mention a heightened motivation as Team Members actually see progress towards a goal. Seeing truly is believing.

5. Remember the “Art of the Possible.”

Organization Noise - Art of PossibleSometimes in Scrum, we need to return to our roots to reduce noise. A fundamental principle of Scrum is “the art of the possible;” guiding Teams to think about what can be done, not what can’t. Rather than succumbing to the noise surrounding the problem and what can’t be done, the Team’s energy would be better exerted toward solving the problem with the available resources and what can be done. The result is a Team that is better equipped to produce something that is good enough and moves on instead of being driven into complete paralysis by a quest for perfection.

Did you hear that? It sounds like we’ve got a quiet Organization in our midst.

Is the Organizational Noise making it hard for your Team to hear?
We’ve got training for that.

As Always. Stay Agile.


Notes and Sources

1-7 “Organizational Noise,” “Stakeholder,” “Dev Team,” “ScrumMaster,” “PO,” “Business Owners,” “Rhythm.” Accessed January 11, 2018. https://scrumdictionary.com.

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