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Archive for the ‘Scrum’ Category

Why Scrum really works

magicThere are some great things about Scrum. Having a regular cadence for planning how to do work, working together to progress work and regularly reflecting and getting feedback both on how we work together and what was delivered are all great concepts.

But I have come to a somewhat scary hypothesis that it isn’t the practices, the roles and the artifacts that are actually making Scrum successful.

I think it is because you are taking your inefficient, over bloated process and replacing it with a very simple method. It works because you are taking something very heavyweight and replacing it with something lightweight.

You see, the trick to succeeding at Scrum, isn’t really the implementation of Scrum. It is whether you win the culture over process race.

As you get more used to Scrum you find weaknesses, areas where it isn’t dealing with organisational problems and you start to add in process to fill the gaps. Usually what you add in is something similar to what you used to do. At the same time, you are trying to transform the culture by changing hearts and minds towards Agile – to be agile rather than just doing Agile. This is the culture shift. When you have succeeded in this culture shift you would be less likely to introduce the additional process.  Basically you have to be faster at changing the culture to enable pushing back on process bloat over the injection of new process.

This is arguably why SAFe could be a little less effective in transformation and in significant improvements – because to an extent the process is probably more medium-weight and doesn’t do enough to push back on process waste.

So the next time you plan on changing a way a team or organisation works, think about why it may be working and focus on whether every additional step being added in after the change will really add value. I find that 80% of process is added in to handle less than 5% failure scenarios. There has to be a better way.

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Last week I revealed a little game/exercise that I have been running to demonstrate the difference between activities and behaviours in a non Agile environment versus an Agile environment and how the activities and behaviours shift to the team and the Scrum Master/Iteration Manager. I would like to now share the results of the game. I have run it twice, one with a strong group of Agilistas (Scrum Masters and Agile coaches) and a second time with a group of Project Managers. What surprised me is that despite the differences in the audience the result was pretty much the same. Maybe it was luck, but I am keen to hear of others running the exercise and if they get the same results (a few people have already shared with me that they have subsequently run it and got a similar outcome). The group of Project Managers that I did the activity with had a really good smattering of Agile practitioners in it which I believe helped to get a similar outcome. In this respect, I am concerned what the outcome would be like with a pure audience of Prince 2, never done Agile, Project Managers.

So what were the results for round 1?

When round 1 is conducted, almost all cards are voted to be best aligned with the role of the Project Manager. The following were the behaviours/activities there were not voted to be a Project Manager’s:

  • Deliver the work right
  • Deliver value
  • Quality focused
  • Is 100% allocated full time
  • Delivers the right work
  • Challenges the norm
  • Encourages learning culture
  • Mentors team

Which left the Project Manager with the following behaviours/activities:

  • Facilitates meetings
  • Primary stakeholder is Sponsor
  • Primary stakeholder is the team
  • Primary stakeholder is customer
  • Sustainable pace focussed
  • Coaches issues
  • Manages ability to deliver outcomes
  • Removes roadblocks
  • Trains approach
  • Resolves issues
  • Enables rather than controls
  • Makes decisions
  • Handles people issues
  • Directive, provides answers now
  • Has budgetary control
  • Ensures benefits realisation
  • Delivery focused
  • Supports approach

My thoughts on the round 1 results

The following were my thoughts on the results for round 1:

  • I thought it was interesting that it was the team and not the PM that was perceived to challenge the norm. Is this an admonition from PMs that they don’t push back on unrealistic timeframes or goals?
  • The PM’s primary stakeholder is considered the team, the customer and the sponsor… all at the same time. This question was deliberately worded to force a ‘x over y’ response and yet there was a strong drive for all three roles to be the primary focus for the PM. The conflict between these roles is inevitable and in my belief this is the key weakness of the non Agile environment model – one of these roles will win out over the other two and in my experience, it is unfortunately not the team nor the customer that wins.
  • I was somewhat surprised that PM’s felt that facilitating meetings was a core behaviour/activity. I normally would have thought this would have gone to the Business Analyst role but it could depend on how you interpret the question and what facilitation means.
  • I was very surprised on the sustainable pace response. I believe there is a gap here of what PMs believe to be true versus reality. When push comes to shove, most PMs I know would push the team to work extra hours/weekends to get a project over the line. I know that there are many of you who are good PMs that don’t do this, but the majority would.
  • Additionally I was very surprised that a PM would be coaching issues. Again this may come down to an interpretation of the term “coach” but I am using it in the purest sense that of ‘not providing answers, but instead asking questions to the team so that they themselves reflect to reach enlightenment on the issue’. I’m sorry, but I actually don’t think I have ever seen a PM do this.
  • Likewise I’ve never seen a PM train anyone.
  • Enables benefits realisation is a tricky one. I do believe that PM’s care for and look out for benefits realisation, certainly very much at the start of a project, but as the project progresses and trade offs begin to be made it is the better of the PMs out there that deliberately report and get validation to the trade off of benefits against time. That said, few PMs stick around long enough to see the actual benefits realised which I believe is sub-optimal as they are not receiving feedback on how well or not they hit the mark on delivery (to me delivery is more than just dates, cost and scope).

What were the results for round 2?

When round 2 was completed, the Scrum Master was given:

  • Facilitates meetings
  • Coaches issues
  • Enables rather than controls
  • Primary stakeholder is the team
  • Removes roadblocks
  • Mentors team

The team were given:

  • Delivery focused
  • Sustainable pace focused
  • Deliver the right work
  • Deliver the work right
  • Is 100% allocated full-time
  • Delivers value
  • Quality focused
  • Supports approach
  • Challenges the norm

Split very evenly between both the Scrum Master and the team were:

  • Manages ability to deliver outcomes
  • Resolves issues
  • Trains approach
  • Makes decisions
  • Encourages learning culture

The Product Owner was given:

  • Primary stakeholder is customer
  • Ensure benefits realisation
  • Directive, provides answers now

The following were put into the category of “Other”:

  • Handles people issues

And lastly, the Project Manager had:

  • Has budgetary control

The following was questionable as to where it belonged (if anywhere):

  • Primary stakeholder is Sponsor

My thoughts on the round 2 results

The following were my thoughts on the results for round 2:

  • What is most clear in this transition are two things, firstly the Project Manager is left with only one responsibility and the rest have been quite evenly spread between three roles – the Scrum Master, the team and to a lesser extent the Product Owner.
  • Secondly, there is the separation of primary stakeholders against role. The Scrum Master has the team, the team has the Customer and no one is left looking after the Sponsor. I don’t think this is necessarily correct and would imagine that the Product Owner has the Sponsor’s back, but this would likely also have a conflict against the Customer’s needs. What do you think – in an Agile world, who has the Sponsor (the supplier of money) as their primary stakeholder? In an Agile world should a “Sponsor” exist and if not where does the money come from?
  • I love that in an Agile world it becomes everyone’s responsibility to guide others (trains approach), encourage learning, resolve issues and make decisions. Some may argue ‘what if the team disagrees between themselves on an approach’? This doesn’t mean that it goes to a vote for the decision, it means that the team works through the pro’s and con’s and becomes more aware of the depth and breadth of the issue. A leader will always step up for the decision, but it is only done after a more collective understanding is reached.
  • Sustainable pace is probably the hardest issue to balance in an Agile environment. There will always be a push from the Product Owner and management to go faster and harder, especially if there is the ‘frozen middle’, a layer of management that does not understanding the essence of Agile. Dates are commonly still unrealistic for many teams and this leads to the inevitable push to work longer hours. Now with the Scrum Master accountable to the team they will likely be the first to push back against this, but the pressure can be immense. For my two cents I have sometimes given in on having a short burst of extra hours, never longer than a month. But let me be clear, I do not believe it helps the team in the long run, nor do I believe it is a good idea due to the impact it has on the quality of the product. This has been proven many times in studies and I have seen the results of even a month of bursting and what it does. Just don’t do it.
  • It is interesting that the Product Owner is seen to be directive and provide answers now, but if you think about it, to some extent that is what we are asking them to do. We want them to give us a quick resolution on a question so that we can meet our goals.
  • Handles people issues was shifted out as it was now likely being handled by a Team Leader.
  • And lastly, the budget problem. If a PM is only left with handling the budget then is it really a role? There is a huge shift towards “Feature teams” – teams that do not form and disintegrate on a project by project basis. In essence work is broken to fit into them rather than teams being formed to fit the work. This results in teams that only go through the Forming-Norming-Storming phase once at their initial creation or subtle dynamic change. The individuals in the team know each others strengths and weaknesses and most importantly they have a fixed team cost. If all work in the organisation is broken down to features that are implementable by the product feature teams then the problem of funding for software development really just boils down to one fundamental question – “What is the most highest value work that this product feature team can be working on?” Then it becomes a somewhat simplified matter of watching the cycle time for the product backlog and seeing the lead time for features to determine if more feature teams are required for that product, or less. In essence, it takes the problem from being a project issue to being a operational issue.

Final thoughts

theory_x_y

For those Project Managers out there that are believers in “Theory Y” there is unlikely to be much of a negative impact on you when you shift into an Agile environment. You are already a supporter of empowered teams and consequently this transition should feel very natural and in a lot of respects will result in a better work life balance for yourself as your old duties get spread more when you take on either the Scrum Master or Product Owner role.

But for those Project Managers who align more strongly with “Theory X” then there are some tough choices for you ahead in your future. You can choose to find work in an alternative organisation that isn’t about to go down the Agile path anytime soon. There are still plenty such organisations out there, but be aware that over the next ten years the number of these will likely shrink.  You may not be able to run forever. You can try to hide. You may be lucky and not have a good number of Agile Coaches in the organisation who will spot you and elevate your “Theory X” ways to management. PMOs are great hiding grounds, until they are wiped clean.

Or you can change. It won’t be easy, in fact, it will be months and months of hard work, but you may find an enjoyment and peace that you never experienced before when you make this leap of faith.

For the “Theory X” managers, let me leave you with this parting quote and good luck on your journey.

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it. Upton Sinclair’s Dictum

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At a recent Project Manager meetup group in Sydney, I wanted to spend some time covering the difference between the Scrum Master versus the Project Manager role. I figured what better way to do this than to have the group themselves collaborate in an Agile way to guide the answers?Scrum Master vs Project Manager

So I created the Behaviours And Responsiblities Game, or BARG for short.

Let’s go into how it works:

  1. Setup enough voting cards for everyone in the room. There are four voting cards for each person: Team, Other, Scrum Master and Project Manager
  2. Round 1 kicks off with only using the Team, Other and Project Manager voting cards. Headers match these cards on a wall. Preset cards are read out of behaviours and responsibilities that are commonly encountered in project teams and the voters are encouraged to nominate which role predominantly performs the role or exhibits the behaviour. Round 1′s key context is that of an environment that is not Agile. It could be waterfall, it could be RUP, it could be pure common sense.
  3. As each behaviour/responsibility is called out the card is placed against the role with the highest number of votes. If you have more than 40 minutes than feel free to use additional time to discuss variances where they are quite opposed. Cards can sit between two roles to show the varying opinion.
  4. Round 2 is kicked off with exactly the same set of behaviours and responsibilities. New headers are placed for all four roles which now includes the Scrum Master. It is also recommended to include a Product Owner role. Round 2′s key context is that of an environment that is Agile.
  5. Step 3 is repeated again.
  6. Take time now to compare the results between the non Agile environment and the Agile environment. Walk through any placements you disagree with but take care not to move any placements.

The cards that I included:

  • Facilitates meetings
  • Primary stakeholder is Sponsor
  • Sustainable pace focussed
  • Coaches issues
  • Manages ability to deliver outcomes
  • Primary stakeholder is the team
  • Removes roadblocks
  • Trains approach
  • Resolves issues
  • Enables rather than controls
  • Makes decisions
  • Handles people issues
  • Directive, provides answers now
  • Has budgetary control
  • Primary stakeholder is customer
  • Ensures benefits realisation
  • Delivery focussed
  • Is 100% allocated (full time role)
  • Deliver the right work
  • Challenges the norm
  • Quality focussed
  • Deliver the work right
  • Delivers value
  • Mentors team
  • Encourages learning culture
  • Supports approach

Bring along a few blank cards and feel free before starting round 2 to ask if any key behaviours or responsiblities for the Project Manager have been missed. I found that I had missed in retrospect two:

  • Plans timeline
  • Reports to steering committee

So what were the results? Stay tuned, I will post in a week or so. But in the meantime, predict what you think occurred – what shifted where? What didn’t have anyone accountable for it? What was no longer needed?

 

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Scrum, the most used Agile framework/method in the world, has been responsible for many successful and some less than stellar Agile transformations.

Created prior to the establishment of the Agile Manifesto, but its influences heavily intertwined into the Agile Manifesto, the difficulty I have had after using it for over ten years is that I do not believe that it is adequately adapting to an evolving commercial reality. In essence, I do not believe that it fully supports the Agile Manifesto statement “Responding to change over following a plan.”

The commercial pace is getting faster,  ever increasing demands are being placed on Information Technology. Ten years ago, to deliver into production every month would have been considered unthinkable for most IT shops.  Now days, if you deliver once a month, especially for internet deliveries, you would be considered archaic.

Continuous delivery has helped us to overcome a number of frequent delivery barriers but it seems that it is never enough.

To keep in front of the pack, delivery of software solutions needs to potentially evolving so rapidly that what you are delivering changes on a day to day, hour by hour basis.

If you find yourself in this situation, and this will not be every delivery commercial situation, then the key purpose of a timebox within Scrum is broken.

The intent of the Scrum timebox was to have a period of no change. That at the start of the timebox, given what you were historically capable of producing within the timebox, you would pull in a similar amount of work that was highest priority in the Product Owner’s opinion.  Once the planning was completed then change within the timebox was highly frowned upon – how else could you meet the initial goal without a tight control on holding external factors at bay?

But if your commercial reality is that you have to be adaptable to change within that timebox, that you cannot hold the external factors at bay, then you risk breaking the purpose the timebox.

Some would say that if you try Scrum under these conditions, but without an intention to deliver the contents decided at the start of Sprint Planning that you aren’t doing Scrum, or that you are doing Scrumbut. However, in today’s current commercial climate is this really acceptable?  Is it okay that many are advocating a method that doesn’t easily support the growing needs of us as a software development profession?

Sure you can follow other method. You could have daily Sprints. Alternatively you can rework the timebox to be a regular cadence period where you always conduct a demo and retrospective, but is this still Scrum? And if it is not, then is Scrum ‘Agile’ enough for our future?

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I have been probably one of the longer running candidates for being a Scrumbut user. scrumbutBack when I started Agile 11 years ago, the rulebook was slightly different – retrospectives were part of XP and not Scrum and many blended XP and Scrum effortlessly without issues. This time could be described better as doing ScrumAnd. However I also spent a lot of time experimenting, even whilst myself and my teams were in the “shu” phase.

I was an early breaker of the “must be four week Sprints” rule, trying three, two and one weekly Sprints. I eventually settled on two weekly Sprints for large (ten person) teams and weekly for smaller teams.

In smaller teams of 2-3 people I experimented with part time Product Owners – people who co-located with the team for a few hours, but were otherwise contactable at any point in time by phone.

I played with having taskcards, removing Sprint Burndowns and replacing it with stronger visual observation as a marker for Sprint goal failure risk.

Release Burn Downs became Release Burn Ups. The relative worth of a Scrum Master full time versus part time was played with.

I did all this because in those early adoption days guidelines, blogs and books were very limited. I did this because the manifesto said “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”. I saw Scrum as a process but it did not govern or supercede the manifesto and so I played with the rules hoping to test under what conditions ‘Individuals and interactions’ was better realised and what size of Sprint lengths allowed more effective delivery of working software.

If Lean Startup had been around in those days, not only me, but many of us would have been seen to be setting hypotheses, building, measuring the effectiveness of the change in process because we certainly needed to learn what worked and what didn’t.

I believe, to an extent, that Shu-Ha-Ri is applicable, but there is no clear point to me, nor do I think there should ever be a point when experimentation is not allowed. What early adopters have learnt are the conditions and root causes why certain elements should and should not be done. I only think it appropriate that Ri experimenters delve into the unknown with their eyes wide open to the risks that the previous experimenters have found. This is where the learning can be daunting because this is where the rulebook changes into guidelines and there is a lot of information out there to sift through.

I have seen a team successfully deliver a project with no product owner using a combination of Scrum and Lean Startup. By a strict classification this would be considered Scrumbut, however it was a very successful project (probably more than many others I know because we could prove benefits realisation rapidly and the customer was ever present in the data).

I have seen successful teams have a board of Product Owners. In fact, I am a member of such a board right now. It isn’t detrimental. Prior to the beginning of each Daily Scrum, as a board of Product Owners we collectively decide on priority. The card colour denotes the Product Owner and if the team has queries they know easily who to go to for immediate feedback. Problems with process are only problems if you let them be.

I see teams follow Scrum by the letter and fail – the wrong person was the product owner, cards weren’t broken down enough, the list could be quite exhaustive.

There is always risk in experimenting, but in saying “shu” learners should only go by the rulebook, without encouraging any critical thinking, is only further encouraging the lack of movement into “ha”. When we (as trainers) teach “shu” I believe we should have a responsibility to seed “ha”. It isn’t just about “do x, y, z”, it is “x works best when …”, “x is hard to do when …”, “you may want to consider to also do w when you do x”, in essence, it is the:

  • what (approach)
  • why (purpose/intent)
  • who (is involved and to what extent, RACI is a good model for this)
  • when (how often, how does the time impact other elements) and
  • how (does it feel when it is working right versus working poorly)

We need to teach people how to think, learn and critically assess, not just give solutions. We need to stop telling them off for experimenting. If that had happened in the early days of Scrum we may have never learned of the value of shorter Sprints and of the hundreds of useful tips, techniques and tricks that we apply each day.

Scrumbut is and has always been a terrible name for deviating from the standard definition. You might argue that what I do is Scrumbut. I would say I do Agile -

For my team and my organisation, I endeavor to improve the cost-effective delivery of value to customers through the establishment of a collaborative, safe, supportive and ever positively evolving environment.

Shouldn’t that be the intent of Scrum too?

Note: This blog is a reply to the great conversation and blog by Bernd Schiffer. This is by no means a statement that I agree or disagree with Bernd, I just wanted to offer my perspective. 

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In a recent tweet,

If you must do some pre-project prep, so be it. Please don’t name it “Sprint 0″ that makes it seem valuable. It isn’t.

Delving further into the tweet I learned that “many use Sprint 0 to enable bad habits” (don’t disagree), that it maybe should be called “project chartering” instead and that a more common definition of a Sprint is “a time-box for delivering a Product Increment”.

So what is the common goal of a Sprint 0?

Starting-Line-300x200The Sprint goal (by my definition) behind a Sprint 0 is “being ready and able to deliver business value that is usable and potentially releasable”. If you are ready to deliver business value then Sprint 0 is officially done.

Do all projects need a Sprint 0?

I say projects here quite deliberately as a team that is already functioning and already delivering are highly unlikely to need a Sprint 0 unless a specific set of features coming up dramatically impacts the ability to deliver business value inside of the Sprint.

If your organisation is onboard the DevOps train and XP practices are well established then you may not need a Sprint 0. If environments can be created and built upon in a day, if standards and frameworks are well understood then you may be ready to start delivery business value straight away.

This ultimately is highly dependent on your organisational capabilities.

Where does story elaboration fit in with respect to Sprint 0?

Teams quite commonly use the time whilst in Sprint 0 to also elaborate further the User Stories for the first value delivering Sprint.

You don’t have to have elaboration one Sprint ahead, but it can potentially help reduce carry overs, reduce time spent in Sprint Planning and ensure that task cards (if you use them) are well defined.

In an ideal world User Stories would be small enough and complexity low enough that carry overs are minimal and elaboration can occur within the Sprint.

What cadence activities should occur in Sprint 0?

Sprint 0 should be, from a process perspective, exactly the same as any other Sprint. It should be planned upfront through Sprint Planning, work should be broken down into items that are achievable within (ideally) 1-3 days, it should be slapped up onto a story wall/task board and tracked, Daily Scrums should talk about what everyone is doing and enable collaboration and sharing. At the end of the Sprint you should demonstrate what you have achieved within the Sprint Review, “Hey take a look at this box, this is the box that builds our code and automatically deploys it. Here look at it compiling and this is the result (good and bad) that it generates”. The Product Owner may not care but I can assure you the rest of the team will. Additionally it is a great opportunity to start reflecting about how you have worked together as a team and see what can be improved.

Just as per other Sprints the work that is done in Sprint 0 should be prioritised. If it doesn’t enable you to deliver software in a Sprint then it probably isn’t high in priority.

So in essence, all the standard, normal Sprint activities that occur when business value is delivered should also occur in Sprint 0.

How long should Sprint 0 be?

Just like value delivering Sprints, Sprint 0 should be timeboxed. The ideal value to set this timebox to is the same duration of your value delivering Sprints. When you do this it is a great test to see if the Sprint length works for you and also a great test of your planning process – were you able to achieve what you had planned?

The trouble with this is that in almost all cases the team’s velocity has not been established and consequently the likelihood of not delivering to expectations is high. If you are going to fail on estimation versus delivery (which I can safely say you will) then this is the time that it first shows itself. This then sets the team on a slippery slope as already from the first Sprint you are behind expectations. How will management react to this message? How long will it take for pressure to be pushed onto the team?

For low DevOp maturity organisations it is entirely possible that the time it takes to get ready to deliver value is longer than a Sprint. This is where the concept of “Sprint 0″ as a term fails and you see people then try to fix it through using “Sprint -1″, etc. This slippery slope further erodes management trust.

I fail to see a magic bullet for this particular problem other than having good planning upfront and always asking “do we really need to do this to begin delivering value?”

What if the team is able to deliver value earlier than then when the Sprint will end?

Then start delivering value. If it is a week earlier, you might want to re-organise the Sprint start and end dates. If it is a few days then it is probably a good idea just to let the Sprint run its course and ignore the velocity for the Sprint.

What if the team is unable to deliver value by the end of the Sprint?

If there are just a few outstanding items then start the first business value delivering Sprint, being cogniscent that it will impact your velocity a little. If there are considerable outstanding items then this should be discussed in detail at your retrospective. Why did this happen? Was it because impediments were not removed? Should an additional Sprint be added? If another Sprint is added then does it affect the ROI of the project? Should we just call it quits now?

How long after Sprint 0 is finished should you wait to start doing Sprints?

Don’t wait. Get started delivering that value!

Where does team onboarding fit in?

The day you start Sprint 0 is the day all the team should be onboard. Arguably they should have been onboarded earlier when you initially created a Product Backlog through Inception workshops.

What are the common pitfalls of Sprint 0?

The obvious one is that teams never get started delivering business value. They stay in this mode of never being ready and there is no drive or motivation to move out of it. Sometimes this is for very valid reasons, for example, developers don’t have PCs or an environment to work in; but often it can be just rats and mice outstanding.

This is why it is important to have Sprint 0 considered a Sprint because the Scrum Master should be driving the team to the goal of delivering value in a predictable manner.

So what is the Scrum Guide definition of a Sprint?

The Scrum Guide defines a Sprint as:

The heart of Scrum is a Sprint, a time-box of one month or less during which a “Done”, useable,
and potentially releasable product Increment is created. Sprints have consistent durations
throughout a development effort. A new Sprint starts immediately after the conclusion of the
previous Sprint.

So by the above definition it is wrong to call everything that I have said above a “Sprint” because it doesn’t result in a potentially releasable product.

But the Scrum Guide goes on to say:

Sprints contain and consist of the Sprint Planning Meeting, Daily Scrums, the development work,
the Sprint Review, and the Sprint Retrospective.

which aligns with the above activities that should occur as you prepare to deliver business value. Not surprisingly the Scrum Guide does not say anything about Sprint 0, mostly because anything that is before Sprints fails to exist as a process step or activity (the initial backlog creation being a great example).

What’s in a term?

If you should have for Sprint 0 a Sprint Planning Meeting, Daily Scrums, dev work, Sprint Review and Sprint Retrospective why would you not have a term for this special case that does reflect the word “Sprint” in it, after all, three of the cadence activities in them have the word “Sprint” in them.

If you want to use a different term, lets say “Project Chartering” then you are still having a Sprint Planning, Sprint Review and Sprint Retrospective… but not in a “Sprint”. This seems a little odd and misleading to me.

I feel that the messaging to people starting Agile should be clear and simple and removing the word “Sprint” does not align logically with that. I feel that the word “Sprint” is incredibly applicable and that the definition of “Sprint” in the Scrum Guide needs some common sense flexing of interpretation. I don’t expect the Scrum Guide to change, but do expect some guidance somewhere about how this pre-Sprint is a special exclusion from the delivering of value component in the guideline.

You could always just change the name of all the cadence activities but I think that goes back to not having a simple message.

So what would I call it? I agree that the ’0′ in ‘Sprint 0′ is misleading. I would call it something like ‘Delivery Enabling Sprint’. Make the implicit explicit.

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purposeSometimes there are moment in life when like a bolt out of the sky you have a major self realisation. I had one of those moments recently when I realised that for a majority of my coaching life I have been pushed and prodded by my leaders/managers to behave as a Purpose Driven Agile Coach.

What is a Purpose Driven Agile Coach?

It is a coach that is asked/told that when they implement Agile that there needs to be a plan to improve capability. Targets are set and tracked weekly. An example could be, “Improve stand-ups within the month”, it is still very open ended but the practice it is linked to and the time frame is set.

I would imagine that this is quite common in organisations with low Agile maturity and very strong old school management mentality. In these cases, organisations want to predict and understand the value that Agile Coaching provides. Often this is linked to definable metrics, before and after of Agile capability in teams, but I often felt that this capability was shallow. I would be pulled and moved onto another team before I had a chance to really embed the change and ensure that behaviours didn’t regress. I was often only given the time to teach the ‘shu’ basics and never the time to allow for trancendence to ‘ha’ (and certainly not ‘ri’).

But lately I have been less pressure bound from a coaching perspective (I still have pressure, it is just different). This release of pressure to not plan has resulted in me using a different model – Opportunistic Agile Coaching.

What is an Opportunistic Agile Coach? 

It is a coach that only course corrects or teaches based upon the moment, taking into account both team and individuals mental model readiness, change value and change fatigue. Let’s break this statement down some more.

Mental model readiness is about whether the team or individual is in an intellectual state of readiness to receive the coaching advise/support/inception reflection idea. For example, I might personally believe that the benefits of estimation are limited, but the team may have given the concept little thought. Mental model readiness is about whether they have been asking the same questions themselves or whether I have introduced the inception reflection idea. I say ‘inception reflection idea’ because it really is like the movie Inception – you want to seed the idea or consideration in the team as to whether the practice is worthwhile or not and give them time to reflect on it.

Change fatigue should be fairly simple – how much change is the team or individual currently dealing with? If they are completely new to Agile or are mentally still coming to grips with some concepts of Agile then I am less inclined to make drastic changes. For example, if they are familiar with Scrum terms such as PBI and Sprints, where as I am more comfortable with saying Stories and Iterations, I will just go with their flow and not introduce name conflicts for the sake of it.

Change value is about whether the team or individual will get much (if any) improvements from the change. By improvements I mean faster client feedback, improved customer value, improved personal engagement, etc.

Regardless of which Agile Coaching method, I have always started by mentally creating my own backlog. It is easy for me to see what practices need to be improved and where. Sometimes if there are a lot of issues or the complexity is significant I will write it down as a real backlog and estimate it. To some extent, I have always done coaching with opportunistic elements – ie I gauge priority by change value and do take into account mental model readiness, but when there is no set plan, then it is really very liberating.

As a problem or situation crops up I can assess it against where the item fits in my mental backlog. If it was bubbling up closer to the top then I will use the opportunity there and then to address it. I might let certain opportunities pass as they are still very low on the list, but what might have been tackled four weeks later in a planned approach is addressed on the spot, with immediate context and relevance.

Relevance to revolution vs evolution in Agile models

My realisation of the existance of two Agile Coaching approaches, purpose vs opportunistic, made me then immediately think of the revolution versus evolutionary debate in the Agile community. A purpose based approach is more closely aligned with a revolutionary approach where mass transformation is expected/desired and cookie cutter conformance is achievable due to standardised but complicated teams. A opportunistic approach is more closely aligned with a evolutionary approach where incremental change is made based on team readiness and self-realisation – there is no cookie cutter conformance and there is a realisation that there is no such thing as standard teams, or that teams that are dealing with complex problems.

Conclusion

I know we would all like to think of ourselves as opportunistic coaches, but how many of you are really doing purpose based Agile Coaching and is there a right/wrong way?

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monkey

Version One have released their annual State of Agile Development Survey for 2012. Co-inciding with this they also released a blog titled the ‘Top 10 Things the State of Agile Development Survey Won’t Tell You’ which I excitedly opened only to find it was a joke blog post. This was slightly disappointing as I love the effort and professionalism that Version One goes through to produce their survey and felt the blog cheapened it. I had hoped that the blog would outline the known deficiencies in the survey, but alas no. So I decided to write what I felt the  blog post may have covered if it took the topic seriously, so here it is – the Top 10 (okay maybe 13) Things the State of Agile Development Survey REALLY Won’t Tell You:

  1.  What the co-relation between those with Agile Development Practice Experience and their role as an Agile Practitioner. I suspect that the 19% of Agile Coaches/Consultants/Trainers would make up a high portion of the 25% group that have 5+ years experience (It would be very scary if it wasn’t true). 
  2. Why is it that 60% of respondents were managers/leaders or consultants – are these the only people that have time to fill in surveys?
  3. Who knows what about Agile? Asking the ‘most knowledgeable’ is a good question, but it only tells a portion of the tale. What we really need to know is the extent of knowledge that each role has in general. Whilst the Product Owner might be considered the most knowledgeable in 1% of teams, overall what is their Agile knowledge – poor, sound, good, excellent? How do we know as a community where we might need to focus improvement without knowing each role’s understanding?
  4. What is the business’s role in all this? A lot of the questions are focused at an IT layer and don’t allow answering and splitting responses based upon business versus IT – for example, are any of the Agile Champions actually from the business?
  5. Where does Lean Startup fit into the Agile Methodology used? I know of a number of teams going down this path and whilst you could argue it isn’t a methodology (nor are most of the options officially), it would be worthwhile having this approach added in.
  6. Where is ‘name your technique’ in the list of those employed? I still have no idea what ‘Integrated Dev/QA’ means – I am guessing it is eluding to a cross-functional team, but why not have the BA’s too? I don’t get Agile Games either. There is no practice or technique called Agile Games, games are a way we learn, it is a learning technique and has no direct relationship with Agile. Then we have the missing techniques – two fundamental ones beings skipped: Product Demonstrations/Showcase as part of Sprint Reviews and Backlog Refinement (formally known as Backlog Grooming). I wouldn’t put Burndown and Team-Based Estimation together either as they are two different things to me. It would be lovely to see Release vs Sprint Burndown split too.
  7. Where is ‘Cost:Benefit ratio no longer being acceptable’ as the major cause of Agile Project failures? Most Agile projects that I know get canned do so because the assumptions that were made at the start of the project no longer stack up and consequently it is no longer worthwhile to continue the project resulting in the project being cancelled. It seems to me that the ‘Leading causes of failed agile projects’ is actually talking about ‘Leading causes of failed Agile Transformations’.
  8. Where are the Kanban practices/techniques? Cycle time is there, what about limiting work in progress, pulling work, visualise and  manage flow, making policies explicit?
  9. Where are distributed teams as an organisational issue? I see this commonly as one of the biggest issues – is ‘failure to integrate people’ the same thing?
  10. How many Scrum Masters also have a ‘Project Manager’ title or responsibilities?  How many Scrum Masters also actually help the team to deliver? I would love to know the answers to these questions.
  11. How effective is the role of the Product Owner? There don’t seem to be any questions around this and I am curious as to whether Product Owners out there are answering questions in a timely manner, with the right information and how many are proxies?
  12. What is the difference in people’s minds between a Bug Tracker, a Taskboard and a Kanban board? To me they have always been one and the same. Where do portfolio management tools fit? What about retrospective tools? How many people are using a physical board vs a virtual (or both)?
  13. How many people are doing Agile versus being Agile? This is the question that I would love answered dearest of all.

So what would you like the State of Agile Development Survey tell you that it currently doesn’t?

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Firstly I do apologise for the long absence on the blogging scene. This was in part due to my shift from Brisbane to Sydney, lack of internet, lack of technology, but also due to illness. So for my first blog back for the year I would like to implore you – PLEASE if as an adult you haven’t had any form of immunisation then go see a doctor and get some shots!

I was under the mistaken belief that I was fully immunised and didn’t need anything further in my adulthood and have been surprised to find that I was not covered when I got hit with Whooping Cough. Having been out of the country when the big Australian hoopla happened about Whooping Cough I was terribly ignorant of it and didn’t realise just how bad a bacterial infection it was. I am now six weeks into a three month problem and every day is very hard. 

micro

Thankfully I didn’t share it with anyone (but sadly my kids did give it to me as carriers). Anyway, onto the blog at hand.

My preference over the years has always been to work with User Stories as my lowest level of work. I have never really felt like I needed to break stories further down into tasks in the manner in which Scrum does. The reason for this is fourfold:

  1. I like my stories to be no bigger than four days. Ideally they are around the 2-3 day mark to deliver end to end. If they are this small then individuals can still be held accountable for progress on the story.
  2. I have rarely seen teams care about how a Story is being delivered whilst it is in progress. The fact that a team member is working on the unit tests now and then will be going onto the database changes has little consequence to the functioning of the other team members. The ‘aha’ and roadblock moments I see coming out of the Daily Standups very rarely arise from technical implementation at a task layer.
  3. The time it takes to break the user story down could be considered waste. For me the value in estimation is not the number you get, but the conversation of assumptions, dependencies and constraints that you have on the way to get an estimate. You can still have these conversations when planning the iteration.
  4. The extra time that it takes to generate a Burn Down chart. I would rather have a look at the where the stories sit within the flow against the current day of the iteration and see if the team is behind/ahead from that. It isn’t a science like the Burn Down chart, but if you really think two to four hours is going to make a big difference you are probably looking at the wrong things. I find that teams that focus solely on hours being Burned Down only tend to have a lot of carry overs due to a lack of focus on getting the story wholly to done.

So recently I started working with a team that, when I joined them, were already using tasks and hours to track.  I made a conscious decision to not change or influence their desire to use tasks and consequently through myself with gusto into ensuring that all stories within the current iteration were fully broken down into tasks, estimated and tracked via a Burn Up chart (at the time there was too much volatility in the iteration from a change perspective to use a Burn Down).

What I found didn’t really change my dislike for tasks or burning down hours in the iteration but it occurred to me that when I focussed on work at an hour by hour basis rather than a day by day basis that I was becoming a scrum micro-manager. I instantly cringed at the realisation and wondered how empowered or autonomous the team felt from when they were being tracked at this layer.

So I asked them whether they felt that being tracked at a task layer, hour by hour felt like they were being micro-managed – the results? 71% of the team felt that it wasn’t micro-management, leaving 29% to feel the opposite. It would be interesting to see how this co-relates to performance, but I don’t think I will go into that on a personal blog.

Two of the team members did say they didn’t feel it was micro-management but expressed concern at the sheer visual weight of the number of cards on the wall. To put this into context at the moment we are mid iteration and have fourteen stories (consequently rows) in scope and around one hundred task cards flooding through the wall. This is ignoring the cards that are being fleshed out an iteration in advance (let’s ignore this slight scrumfall-ish behaviour), the product owner decision cards and the eighty story cards in the event horizon backlog. I do try to clean up the done work every day so that it looks a little less scary visually but at the start of Iterations I can definitely see it being a concern.

So what do you think – is it micro-management to track to the hour using tasks in Scrum?

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Seven years ago I was involved in an open debate at an IIBA meet up on the role of Business Analysts within an Agile environment. At the time my opponent contested that Business Analysts were defunct under Agile and were no longer required. I debated that they were still needed but that their role changed somewhat.

My main argument was that they were no longer the provider of lengthy requirements documents written in advance with little to no collaboration in the team. This didn’t mean that Business Analysts were no longer required to write any form of documentation, just the amount of documentation, the collaboration involved to reach a common understanding and the timing of when the documentation is done changed. With this reduced amount of time directly spent writing ‘War and Peace’ requirements they would instead use their time in a new skill set – as facilitators. I saw the role of the Business Analyst as being very compatible with the Scrum Master role, where the Business Analyst could encourage an environment of collaboration and ensure that the ‘promise for a conversation’ occurred. Business Analysts would still need to have skills drilling into the root cause of problems, to understand and analyse and question the business process, but in a good Agile team everyone would also have this skill.

Time has moved on and most of what I predicted for the Business Analyst role has come to pass within Agile environments. But I believe that it is time to make a new prediction.

We have come a long way towards mastering the art of building the product right, our next journey is to build the right product. After all, according to Lean principles, the biggest waste is the waste of overproduction and this can take the form of producing an unneeded or incorrectly targeted product.

Thus, in today’s ever shifting environment, I see the role of the Business Analyst as that of being at the heart of data. I see the role transforming to focus more on data analytics and the understanding of data associated with the product. Some may say that this is the role of the product owner, to which I probably wouldn’t disagree with and as such I see the Product Owner and the Business Analyst roles merging even closer together but with an incredibly strong focus on data.

So what is all the data that is being analysed about? Four things:

  1. Are we improving the number of customers seeking our product?
  2. Are we retaining our existing customers?
  3. Are customers getting value out of our product?
  4. Is our product revenue model generating net profit?

If the answer is yes to the above questions, founded soundly on data then your product is in a great place. If you cannot answer these questions then you really should start working on it (before you go out of business). For those of you familiar with the Lean Startup model then the above discussion should be something very familiar to you, for I believe the Business Analyst role should be centered around enabling the data gathering to support a Lean Startup approach.

You don’t have to be a start up to gather this data. You don’t have to measure once every three months. You can start measuring your existing product and incrementally improving on the four questions right now and everyday from this point onwards. Armed with this data  you can know whether a change you made today will make a difference to your business tomorrow.

Maybe the role shouldn’t be called “Business Analyst” anymore . Maybe we should start to create “Product Analyst” roles instead?

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