What is the biggest problem that most teams face? That, at the high level (value) or the low level (details), they don’t understand what the customer wants well enough. In fact let me take this a little further. This phenomenon happens to the most teams & individuals not only when they are working on a project, but also in almost all activities they do. Even in their personal lives!!

Like for example, while I was planning a couples outing with one of my close friend, we thought that first we should identify the theme of the vacation. Whether we want mountains or beaches or adventure or relax in spa resort. Hearing spa and resort my friend immediately suggested a spa resort which he had recently heard of. He searched for it in google, found the web site, compared rates with other 5 similar resorts, looked at what all near-by places we can visit, how far the place is and how we would travel. He was on the bookings page when he looked at me and asked how to spell my wife’s name so that he can key in the name for bookings. I just kept looking at him and didn’t answer anything. That’s when he realized that something is wrong. Another few seconds and I heard a clink!!! He realized that we were at the task of identifying and finalizing theme, that consulting everyone on the trip’s theme is still pending. Though it is the best idea, it may be what’s needed!!

It has happened to me and may to most of you as well. As soon as we hear a idea or a vision we do a straight nose dive from 10000 KM in sky looking at forest to all the finer details like the ant on the tree within the forest!! In the process we forget why we were looking at the forest in the first place!! Sometimes it happens other way round. This happens mainly with leaders and managers. They are so engrossed and inspired by the vision that they tend to overlook and sometimes even ignore vital details completely!! They are so much focused on the forest that they forget about the tree and the trees which make a forest – “a forest”!!!

When I was working on my PREZI presentation on Risk Management to be presented at PMI Conclave organized by PMI Mumbai Chapter, I realized that some sort of prezi like “zooming mind technique” is required here. People, including me, should be made aware of this zooming in and zooming out mind technique. I like to visualize this technique with a forest. Imagine that you are 10,000 KM up in sky in a plane and looking at the lush thick green forest spread across miles below you. Then you, using some device like high end, super zoom camera, zoom in on a particular tree within the forest so much so that you are only able to see the tree’s huge bark from just couple of centimeters, the rough skin of the tree, ants exploring and busy transporting their stuff somewhere and a snail happily sleeping on the tree. Then you again zoom out to the 10,000 KM up in sky in a plane view from sky. The forest view!! As you practice this technique you will even be able to control the amount of zoom. Idea is to balance the focus on forest v/s tree. Look at the forest and tree regularly and not missing anyone of them. Focus on both “individually” are required. But while we are focused on tree we should not forget about the forest and vice versa.

Where do we apply this technique in real life? In day to day life? In our work? In Agile teams?

Well we apply this daily in Agile, in SCRUM. Everyday we pull ourselves out of the tasks or work we are doing (tree or couple of trees) and then focus on forest in our daily scrum!!! We again look at the bigger forest and may be forest(s) at the end of the sprint when we do sprint review and sprint retro. We then setup a sprint goal during sprint planning while looking at the forest(s) and then zoom in back on tree or tree(s). In old days we used to look at all constraints and risks when we used to hit a milestone and replan.

In my last post where I was talking about objective v/s means, it was a kind of zooming technique!!! With my question “Is that a means or objective” I was forcing you to zoom out to realize that may be it is a means after all and not an objective and zoom in back again on identifying objective.

The scenario mentioned in objective v/s means post is the classic example of a team member taking requirements as objective rather than thinking of requirements from client as a means!! Back to the first two sentences of this post.

“What is the biggest problem that most teams face? That, at the high level (value) or the low level (details), they don’t understand what the customer wants well enough.”

As a leader, manager, scrum master, team member, product owner, BA, tester, agile coach or a coach need to be aware and consciously practice control over zoom-in and zoom-out. In this case, team, PO & BA, according to me, should be practicing this technique. Focusing on the tree v/s forest. Its not that we are not doing it. We are doing it consciously or unconsciously. The point is to be “aware” of it and consciously + practice + “control” over it. Part of the control mechanism is to control when to zoom in and when to zoom out. At an individual level one can simply zoom in / zoom out everyday whenever he takes break. A bio break, water break, meetings, lunch, phone call…. any break. At a team level SCRUM as a framework facilitates this so sweetly and silently that hardly anyone even recognizes it!!

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