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Archive for July, 2012

Sad Puppy Scrum Extentions

I know that I am not always the biggest advocate for Scrum. It isn’t that I don’t believe that using it and other Agile techniques doesn’t work. I do believe that there is considerable value in Scrum. But if you read over my other Scrum posts you will understand that I don’t think Scrum has moved with the times nor sufficiently answered the handling of production defects problem.

You can imagine my joy when earlier this year Scrum proposed a framework to allow extensions.  I gave it some time, watching from the sidelines. In May I had a look over the three proposals. Admittedly I was disappointed with the three that got through (one implies an incorrect application of feature teams, another is a renamed practice directly taken from XP), but rather than focus on the negative I remained in hope that more would come that would hit the mark.

So when Scrum.org announced recently that they were stopping the Scrum Extensions program I felt like a sad puppy. I wanted to see this work. What I did really love about David Starr’s post on the Scrum Yahoo group was the lessons learnt:

  1. We confirmed the need is there.
  2. The mechanism we tried to service the need was not the right one. People found it hard to consume.
  3. Quality of several submissions was not sufficient.
  4. People unfamiliar with Scrum found the name confusing.
  5. There are many existing and potentially competing options out there. Agile Atlas looks promising, Agile Alliance resources, etc.
So we learned some things. And we’ll do better in the future. It would be cool to collaborate on this stuff instead of spooling up a new instance of a reference.

David set aside much ego and took the Scrum ethos of inspect and adapt. Arguably it is more a Lean Start-up perspective of measure, learn and pivot, but regardless I hope that Scrum.org continues to try and make something work.

Note: I thought using the term ‘retired’ or ‘deprecated’ was quite odd in reference to the suspension of Scrum Extensions. To have retired it implies a life long lived. To be deprecated shouldn’t it have been replaced by something?

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Buyology (not Biology)

Recommended by Bob Marshall in a few tweets I took Martin Lindstrom’s second book on marketing with me to Austria to read predominantly because it was the most lightweight book in my backlog at 218 pages. In retrospect this was probably a bad idea – mostly because for one the hyped up quotes on the back of the book such as Newsweek’s “A page-turner” was very true. I couldn’t put this book down I found it that engaging and interesting. Read over just two nights, its stories were entertaining, informative and eye opening.

I have no understanding of marketing (so perhaps Lindstrom’s first book Brand Sense would be good for me to read) but I found this book incredibly approachable. It laid the foundation of common marketers and the importance of brand creation and recognition. Then it got into the interesting stuff – the fact that for several decades marketers have had it wrong on a number of fronts. Lindstrom makes extensive use of f MRI and SSTs to get into the brains of us and find out what really drives us to buy or not. Anti-smoking marketing is mythbusted along with interesting stories on the powerhouses of Coke, Pepsi and Nokia.

The parallels between what value people perceive marketing has verses reality and how such similar stories are heard of Agile was often on my mind whilst reading this book. Some in the software industry propose that Agile is pseudoscience that isn’t backed up by fact. The truth is – some are and some aren’t and in some ways we need to get better at measuring what is working or not. I do believe that Agile works but I am not convinced of which elements do versus don’t. I still feel some Agile teams spend too much time in upfront planning. I still feel that empowerment seems to only go so far and that timeboxing to avoid interruptions only works in some environments. But these are feelings that aren’t backed up.

The most interesting chapter was one title “I say a little prayer”. In this chapter Lindstrom compared marketing with the ten pillars of religion – belonging, a clear vision, power over enemies, sensory appeal, storytelling, grandeur, evangelism, symbols, mystery and rituals. Whilst Lindstrom was explaining how marketing similarly had the same foundations I again could see the parallels with Agile.

In jest many (including myself) have referred to Agile as a religion. But here was a clear comparison model and that scared me a little.

Belonging

It is easy to see how belonging fits into agile. We create teams that work together to share a similar mission. Additionally we also have a few communities that we can belong to in a wider group.

Clear vision

The whole point of release planning, creating a backlog, sharing our understanding of the work and how big it is enables the creation of a clear vision. We want to work in an adaptive way and we know that things can change but having a big picture view is also important – just don’t spend too much time on it.

Power over enemies

Waterfall vs Agile debates anyone? 281 comments in a week for this HBR Waterfall v Agile debate shows that there is still a war on. Even religions have factional wars to differentiate themselves – sounds like internal Scrum vs Kanban wars too doesn’t it? Taking another’s rituals and terms and using them as your own also has parallels in the Agile world.

Sensory appeal

This is one of the key benefits of using Agile over other approaches. Post-it notes and system cards overload our visual sensors along with many other information radiators. Business environments generally discourage the touching elements between people, but there is tactile touching of cards on the wall. Communication is heavily used utilising our speech and listening skills. Even our sixth sense is used to estimate cards. The only sensor not used is smell… I smell an Agile opportunity!

Storytelling

I don’t really have to explain this one do I? User stories, user story maps, focussing questions, empathy maps, personas…

Grandeur

Saying a story wall is grandiose might be a bit of a stretch. Agile conferences can certainly be grandiose. Oh well, failed on this one… next?

Evangelism

This is one trait that has been attributed to many an Agile Coach. Do we as a community appear to reach out and secure new acolytes? I fear this is the key reason many associate Agile with religious zealotry.

Symbols

Unless you count Japanese characters of Kaizen and Kanban as symbols Agile doesn’t have a strong focus on iconic symbology. That said, there are a lot of terms that are specific to the Agile community (and branch communities) that to outsiders could have the same associations and intent behind symbology – stories, product owner, scrum master, MoSCoW, poker planning… the list is extensive.

Mystery

I like to think of this as the science vs people debate. Which Agile practices and methods work? Why do they work? What about them doesn’t work? But there is mystery in a different way – mystery in that requirements are to some extent unknown until we have had a conversation, mystery in that what we might deliver in the next month doesn’t match a current plan (adaptive change), mystery in each and every day when we have a Stand-up and we find out what is really happening inside of our system.

Rituals

Even Scrum labels the commonly recurring activities such as Iteration Planning, Daily Stand-ups, Retrospectives, etc as rituals. Add in some wine, bread and absolution and we might just have a religion on hand.

 

Whether you can see the parallels or not, Buyology is a damn good book and I would highly recommend it to anyone. Now, let me find a SST and a stand-up and get started measuring.

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Conversations are HardWhen my team gets together as a group of coaches it is always an interesting few days. I say this in complete honesty. I find the conversations stimulating. I find the group passion contagious.

But I know that some don’t find it that way. Sensing the frustration I asked a colleague what in particular they disliked. I was expecting them to say that they found the conversations were too much an argument and less a constructive debate. What I did find instead is that they were frustrated by the lack of actions after large blocks of conversations.

I likened the scenario to facilitating a Daily Standup. Sometimes in Daily Standups the conversation will get off the standard three questions. Often this will end quickly, but occasionally the conversation extends. I find that the balancing act that a Scrum Master or Iteration Manager has to perform one of the most intriguing and difficult aspects of the role. You want to get the value out of the discussion but you don’t want the majority to be bored. Some Scrum Masters offline the conversation too quickly and don’t consequently get the value out of the activity because the real problems and solutions aren’t coming out. Some take too long to offline the conversation and the standup consequently fails to meet expectations which either leads to thirty minute standups or the practise getting dropped because it isn’t perceived as valuable.

For me, if the conversation in the Daily Standup moves slightly away I will let it go for a little while but keep a close eye on the body language of those not involved in the discussion. I will also be constantly assessing in my head whether the conversation is progressing or is stalled. If it is stalled I will re-direct, but if it is moving forward and language indicates an acceptance of the discussion then I won’t halt it. I will be conscious of time. I will be conscious of relevance. Do all conversations have actions? No. Should they? I don’t believe so.

Sometimes conversations are about understanding and not actions. But they need to be valuable. A valuable conversation may result in actions or decisions. But a valuable conversation can be about a common understanding. Take a look at the ladder of inference. These discussions are about aligning beliefs. Unless we align beliefs then we cannot progress into the actionable state. Conversations may align beliefs and create actions, but action doesn’t have to be an immediate outcome for the conversation to be valuable. An action can be a long term change in behaviour as a result of a belief change.

To have changed beliefs is the harder activity to do. It takes longer and can appear to be going nowhere. It is like the tightrope you walk when you facilitate a Daily Standup. But investing in it is the only way that a team will align with a common purpose and truly own the change.

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