Taking the Bus – a Metaphor for Teamwork

Teamwork and Management

I want to introduce a hopefully helpful metaphor to show the differences between working in a team and trying to control the team from the outside.

Let’s take the bus

Imagine somebody invites you to take a trip with them. They own a bus and want to travel a rather long distance to somewhere in the south. They have a vision and a rough plan. But they do not know whether or where there will be traffic jams, blocked roads or bad weather.

This is how it might feel working in a team.

Sometimes people leave the bus; sometimes new people enter, sometimes people return. From time to time the driver will pass the steering wheel over to another driver. Every now and then you have to repair some parts of the bus.

…feel free to imagine…

I want to know when the bus will arrive

Now imagine local transport: There are strict plans for stops, routes and times. This expands even to long distance buses. These plans are great if you want to take a trip within well-known environments; yet even there delays may happen…

This is the manager’s view. He looks at the bus from the outside and loses contact immediately after departure. The only information of the travel is the plan or second hand information (telephone, gps …)

By this outside view from a controller’s cockpit you get different information. Maybe you learn about a blocked road and you can inform the bus driver to change the route long before she approaches the blockage. You can also see how far it is from the expected destination if you have suitable information.

So why should I care about that?

Often we find ourselves to have rather hostile attitudes towards the other group. No matter if you personally feel more like a member of the team or rather the manager. Neither of these groups is superior to the other. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses.

Reflect – think about it

It’s up to you and your mates to generate a massive impact of this. The impact can be really positively pushing or massively destructive.

If you are aware of your position’s strength and weakness, help the other side grow awareness, too.


Bye, I’ll catch the bus now…

How a Railway Strike Improved Our Retrospective

“After the Sprint Review and prior to the next Sprint Planning meeting, the Scrum Team has a Sprint Retrospective meeting.” (scrum.org, The Scrum Guide, page 14).

This sounds completely sensible. So people all around the globe conduct these meetings in this order.

It does not have to be that way!

In our team we have 2-week iterations. So the standard meetings can be held all on the same day: Review in the morning followed by Retrospective and finally closed by Planning in the afternoon. We did that for a few iterations. Our last meeting day was hit by a railway strike. One team member could not come. She is working off-site and definitely wanted to attend the retrospective. She said conducting the review and planning without her is ok. We left out the retrospective and moved it by a week.

The effect was marvelous! We experienced a very focused retrospective. Observations:

  • People were less tired
  • No distraction by the product; people did not get distracted by features or bugs
  • Review and planning were completely focused on the product
  • If required, meeting schedules can easily be extended ad hoc

I think we will do this more often. Having two days of meetings of course has the drawback that off-site team members need to travel twice. Nonetheless, for us it worked great and the results outweighed this annoyance by far!