location_city Washington schedule Sep 23rd 11:00 - 11:45 AM place Room 5 people 4 Interested

Change is inevitable – let’s exploit it. For Agile/team-based engagements, people learn about their preferred ways of working through a variety of changes: time, team structure, aptitude, experience, and introspection. Many teams use a social contract as an artifact to document a desired set of values, behaviors, and social norms at a project kickoff; but often forget to refine and modernize their social contract through time. Join me to discuss the elements of creating, revisiting, and revising social contracts and the value they provide individuals on a team.


Outline/Structure of the Experience Report

An Agile culture demands a high degree of collaboration, trust between individuals, and an electric focus on business objectives. Building this culture, unlike adopting a process or a tool, requires social engineering between people with unique experiences and interests. Teams can begin to carve out a team’s desired and agreed-upon characteristics, everything from meeting expectations to methods of communication, through their social contract. But what happens when things begin to change? During this session, we will discuss the relevance of a social contract to an Agile team, why to make this artifact a living document, and how to exploit it as a platform for continuous innovation and improvement.

I selected this presentation topic based on the research conducted and lessons learned on two of my government contract teams. The teams and contract frameworks were similar: both had one teaming partner, COTS integration and IT support services, same development environments, similar mission areas, good relationships with end customer. However; one of these teams experienced a level of attrition that was 6x higher than the other.

I investigated this churn by interviewing offboarded personnel on the high turnover team and using the five whys technique to arrive at a few root causes: belongingness, growth, and recognition. Interestingly enough, the team who experienced the high turnover was the same team who didn’t use a social contract. It had been created in 2017 and sat untouched since. Team members who joined later than the onset on the project didn’t know about its existence or contents.

Had there been enough time remaining before the period of performance end, I would have implemented the following set of changes: conduct a team building exercise for the current team to step outside of their roles and engage in a group challenge, construct a social contract after the team building exercise, revisit the social contract during retrospective sessions, and revise the social contract as needed through the duration of the contract. Putting the social contract at the foundation and forefront of the team enables a team to course correct through changes, discuss taboo elements of the engagement, and document their best practices and lessons learned regarding the team’s social inner-workings.

Although I was unable to implement these changes, I want to share my findings and perspective with the group. A social contract is a valuable and important tool to build and maintain team relationships. More importantly, it creates an intentional time for people to talk about what is and isn’t working on a team level. While this greatly impacts the delivery, it can go unnoticed when the attention is on the project and not the people executing the project.

Introduction and Background – 5 minutes

  • Who am I, what is a social contract, why social contracts are important (theory in brief)

My Experience – 5 minutes

  • The experience I have had on two Agile teams has left me advocating for social contracts
  • Explained in depth in the description/abstract
    • What I observed/found and what I would have done given the opportunity to implement

Constructing – 10 minutes

  • Key elements of a social contract (communication, meetings, processes, expectations, norms) what makes a good social contract, when to make one, how to prepare the participants, identifying the antipatterns of a social contract during construction, where to store one

Revisiting – 10 minutes

  • What role a social contract plays in a team through time, how to incorporate it into your existing ceremonies, identify the antipatterns of revisiting a social contract (blaming, complaining, and draining others)

Revising – 10 minutes

  • Discuss the events that lead to a social contract needing to be updated (change in time, team structure, aptitude, experience, introspection, etc), how a team goes about updating the social contract, what types of updates can be made (add, remove, modify), how to manage divided parties (i.e. when half of the people want to adhere to something and the others want something else)

Wrap-up and Questions – 5 minutes

  • What it takes to implement a social contract and what it costs, reinforcing the impact and the reasoning (big picture - social contract is very cheap; attrition is very expensive), answering questions, receiving feedback on the presentation (especially on the New Voices track)

Learning Outcome

  1. Learn what a social contract is, why it is used, techniques to create one, components of healthy and unhealthy social contracts
  2. Learn why it is valuable to revisit the social contract through time, how revisiting can be incorporated into already existing ceremonies (retrospective, project post mortem, onboarding/offboarding personnel, post implementation review, feature demonstrations)
  3. Learn what events can cause the social contract to need updating, what types of updates can be made, managing conflict

Target Audience

Scrum Masters, Agile Coaches, Product Owners, Executives


schedule Submitted 2 years ago

  • James Porter

    James Porter - Scaling Agile - How to Screw It Up

    James Porter
    James Porter
    Agile / Devops Consultant
    schedule 2 years ago
    Sold Out!
    45 Mins
    Experience Report

    SAFe and other frameworks offers significant benefits for the teams that can make the change. But there are also many pitfalls, most of which come from the organization's past behaviors. Based on my experience in transformational efforts in large organizations, we explore why scaling frameworks are useful, ways that an organization can screw up their transformation, and how to avoid those problems.