Posts Tagged SCRUM

Agile is verge of productive conflict: controlling gap between demand and offer

Before everything else, getting ready is the secret of success.
Henry Ford.

Many of us doing Agile do not understand that it is primarily business mindset, rather than just another methodology to deliver software. Balance and sustainability of constructive conflict (key driver of any prosperous business) is the secret sauce to implement Agile successfully.
Let me explain it from practical business perspective. I will drift away from IT and software now…

Imagine you’re running business delivering…. car repair services to your customers.

It is your interest to deliver services fast and having quality in, so that you retain your customers and attract more (as it’s known that satisfied customer may bring 1 or 2 others, while dissatisfied one may stop other 8 coming to you). On one hand the more services you deliver, the more money you get, so you will push for more. But if you start pushing harder than your team is capable of, your service quality will start to suffer and this will obviously cause problems with your customers.

So you will try to get as much as possible given your conditions, while keeping quality in.

Now let us look at it from your customers perspective…

They want to have their car repaired cheap, fast with quality in. When you say your’re busy this week and cannot take their car, they will consider someone else’s services, rather then agree waiting that log (reality of market competition);

So, there is conflict of interests and mismatch between demand and offer.

It drives 2 things:

  • Your business development (we need to improve our service to deliver faster/more/cheaper);
  • Your customer’s expectations (maybe these repairs are not doable that fast/that much/that cheap);

Two consequences out of that:

  • When there is no demand, why should you care to do more/faster/cheaper?
  • When there is no chance to change your customers expectations either you’re doing poor job or your customer won’t likely get any better services with reasonable price anywhere else (task for your client managers to drive customer’s expectations).

So mismatch of those two creates conflict of interests that drives change.

The art is to understand to what extent you’re capable to improve things at your business given your current circumstances, while managing your customers expectations in the way to have control over gap between your offer and your customer’s demand.

Controlling this implies another important thing: ability to recognize challenge that you will fail taking (you should constructively resist) and challenge you’re able to overcome (and should take) to improve and continue managing “the gap”.

If you do not understand this you will end up bad. Either you will not be able to deliver quality in to your customers or you will be “beaten” by your competitors. In both cases you will end up being out of business :(.

Now let’s come back from cars to software and Agile

Customer is Product Owner (PO), while your business is your development team. The more you think business-wise and consider your team a business the better your team will be satisfying your PO.

So it is as easy as managing just 2 things:

  • Your PO’s expectations;
  • You development (quality and predictability);

Agile is just business common-sense mindset, nothing else! So to implement it right start from considering that you run a business in a highly competitive market with goal to satisfy your customer.

And mind that there is difference between pleasing and satisfying your customer, so argue, stand for your point, do not let compromise quality, do never over-commit, protect your ability to deliver, manage expectations, and … satisfy. If you do not follow these simple business rules and will focus on just pleasing your customer (or PO) just as in business you will end up not being able to manage what you’re responsible for – QUALITY.

Good Luck 🙂

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10 Tips to undermine Agile team ability to deliver

Many Agile coaches have their own list of top failure modes. My favorite one is Mike Cohn’s: “How To Fail With Agile: Twenty Tips to Help You Avoid Success“.

But I also want to publish my winning list of things that impact teams and undermine their trust in business and Agile  (combined from experience gained observing different teams at different times, so no particular team is meant here 🙂 ).

So tips are written from the Product Owner perspective:

1. Argue in front of team at Sprint Planning. Let them see you were not capable to decide what you want to build them. Moreover, involve them into arguing. This will demonstrate how your (PO) team misses integrity;

2. Demonstrate that being on time does not matter: interrupt meetings with calls, side talks and questions. Leave the room occasionally and be late regularly. Doing this will make it almost impossible to demand on-time delivery from the team;

3. Continuously fail to deliver INVEST stories and integrity in sprint goal/product backlog. Let stories w/o details thought through, so that team feels you had not invest enough time to prepare them. This will also make it easier for team to fail delivering outcome of that stories to you, will make things more ambiguous, so that no one will understand where is failure or what was wrong and will never learn from it, so that improvement will not be feasible;

4. Ignore team signals on complex stories (the ones that are above ~13 story-points, the ones that are risky, big, and usually need to be analyzed and split into smaller chunks in advance). Just let big stories that have big doubts, leading to easier underestimations, over-commitments, sprint failures, causing less team confidence, further under-commitments and wastes of all kinds;

5. Present deadlines ignoring reality “I do not care how you do it, it MUST be done”. With this “masculine” management style you can always push things forward as Agile teams just delivery chain, so they must obey and no matter what they think and capable of;

6. Never share the Product Vision and mid-long term roadmap with the team (just keep it secret);

7. Ignore technical debt (just concentrate on #5);

8. Bombard team with in-sprint questions and “Can you do it now please?” tasks. Explain them that SCRUM is good but now we need to be more “FLEXIBLE”. Moreover, assign tasks to team members without talking to entire team. Demonstrate that you were not been able to plan things for an iteration, this will ruin team trust that they are working on most valuable things and completely undermine their ability to deliver;

9. Never groom your backlog just leave it to the sprint planning meeting when it is already too late. This will lead to long and stressful discussions as you will have to do it mid-planning,will drain team energy, lead further to fatigue, wrong estimations, poor planning and sprint failure;

10. Always try to find something that team did wrong to pin point and focus on blaming. This is proper way to avoid Kaizen and let team protect themself by “storytelling”;

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When self-organization does NOT work: teamwork hints

Scrum is based on “Empower the Team” Lean principle that prescribes self-organization. This means that regardless of age and experience team members are equal and serve as managers to one another. There is strong rationale behind: people that do the work are the best to manage it as they own responsibility of results and know best how to handle it.

Daily stand-up or daily SCRUM is a team tool to reflect on changing reality and adapt accordingly.

I’d like to point out some cases when self-organization does not work as should and help those teams out to boost their productivity.

Let us discover some sick stand-up/self-organization symptoms first…

1. Refraining from exposing problems (ignorance of reality):

  • Task takes longer than planned and reasons are not clear to everyone (or something holds back people from raising problems);
  • Task is blocked and impediment is not exposed/raised (this also may indicate some other problem with task that is not comfortable to raise);
  • It’s just a way it is (yes we all know that we’ve planned 4 hours for that task, but as usual it takes us 2,3,5,… times longer or this guy always messes things up, we can do nothing, etc…);
  • Team does not reflect during a day on changing reality (just in stand-ups), leading to impediments piling up and being addressed late, so that they mask something else;
  • Etc…;

2. Intolerance to critical feedback:

  • Team member pushes back heavily when someone tries to rise a problem related to his/her task;
  • Raising problems considered as de-motivating and team silently prefer to hide them until it’s too late;
  • Team members prefer to stay “nice” to each other rather than constructively criticize their plan in order to adapt it daily;
  • Etc…;

Those two are inter-related. As a team member one will hold back from giving critical feedback if receives push back from his/her peer leading to confrontation and poor->no self-organization…

Scrum Masters, look around. Don’t you observe those symptoms during your stand-ups and/or during daily work?

If yes then…

Try out following cures ….

  • Talk to push-backers one on one, try to understand what makes them do so? It could be personal issues with team members, lack of positive feedback or self-esteem, or other personal or inter-personal problem(s). It also could be absence of trust (readiness to look vulnerable to the team).
  • Explain that feedback is not oriented towards person, rather towards team (exposes problem) as there are no personal problems in a team, since problem causes wastes, further slowness, incompleteness and later sprint failure of entire team.
  • Focus person on constructiveness rather de-structiveness when exposing problem and coach on asking why 5 times, usually it helps to come up with adequate counter measures to remove root cause of the problem;
  • Educate other team members that raising questions is crucial and needed, but highlight issues and offer them to try out different ways to do so (there may be personal barriers for push-backers, so more “gentle” way may be less stressful while lead to the same result, e.g. instead of asking “Why you did not finish this task so far”?, try “What holds you back from completing this task”?
  • Cultivate more solution oriented then problem stating approach (as solution is vector, while problem is scalar);
  • Talk to entire team that problems are normal and ignoring them just postpones failure. So they require courage to face and team spirit to overcome, that makes difference between team and group of people. Exposing problem does not mean it shall become energy-drainer and de-motivator, rather it’s in-time red flag that shall re-focus team on next right thing to do;
  • If conflict is unavoidable and your peers do not go with “exposing problems approach”, steer it, but not let pile it up (nice article on conflict avoidance here);
  • Launch team storming to “shorten the distance” between team members, so that exposing problems is more constructive and easy (see: “Teamleads, “Storming”, Self-organization and Entropy”)
  • Propose and drive team branding activity to help them find out shared values and motivators (see: “Team DNA: how to Brand up your team”);

To summarize, work both ways with ones who raise (also including you if you are in SM role) and with ones who push back to make raising problems comfortable and easy.

Good Luck!

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Getting them on it right: focus, energy, commitment and motivation

“Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.” Albert Einstein.

Less Vicious Circle

I was about to write another one in the scope of “Getting them…” targeted for Product Owners (PO), however thought that before getting them (stories) out of the sprints it is crucial for sprint success how to get them (team members) on it right…

So story going to be about how PO influences team focus and instills feeling of urgency and what happens if he/she’s not…

To understand this we would need to get back to Sprint Planning meeting (SPM). When PO makes final accords, accepts team commitment and sends team out to the sprint it is very important for everyone to stay focused on the Goals PO presented.

If PO jumps in mid-sprint, having unplanned acceptance criteria, special circumstances, etc… this sends a message: goal is void, direction is being changed, things that had been agreed at SPM are not valid anymore.

Scrum is tense way of delivering software. Constructive tension comes from high commitment and builds up high velocity (aka deliver fast lean principle) that is impossible to achieve without addressing limited and fixed number of issues within timebox.

Let’s understand how this works…

Higher velocity is achieved by staying focused on what is most important. As soon as this vector changes, something that had been important yesterday, becomes less important today, or something else emerges focus drifts away.

But velocity is not single thing this impacts…

More drastic effect this has on team morale, since besides team has to conduct context-switch (that has it’s own impact: see another related post here), but also it throws team into “Less” vicious circle that is:

  • Less focus that eats up energy and leads to …
  • Less energy that impacts productivity and leads to …
  • Less commitment that impacts desire to work and leads to…
  • Less motivation that drain attention and lead to …
  • Less focus …
  • Etc …

Understanding this will help PO to plan sprints in the way to avoid de-focus, protect sprints from interference (and team members from de-focus) and minimize impact of unplanned issues.

Of course fire-fights happen, of course they are important, but it makes sense to dive in root causes and build real quality in rather than fight consequences… and eventually turn circle back into “More..” :).

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Getting them READY: user story life cycle and “Epic Box” principle

I’d thinking to cover this topic long ago. This would be the start for the series of posts on PO work to “Get Them…” (user stories) ready, in and out of sprints…

I would like to start with describing what cycle user story goes through before it becomes READY for sprint planning meeting and how PO handles this cycle.

For sure there are many best practices to get stories READY and write proper stories. Instead of focusing on story-writing itself, here I will cover PO workflow to them ready.

So, here are my 5 cents…

Assumption: user stories are part of shaped big wish (called epic), that is part of Agile release/roadmap and takes place on “storymap” that had been presented to development team some time ago.

What does this means?

This would mean that:

  • Value brought by an epic (and future user stories) is clear to everyone;
  • Possible big “underwater” problems it may cause surfaced (reworks, performance, missing data, uncertainty, etc.);
  • High level estimates are given to an epic;
  • Big questions are addressed;

As next step PO prepares epic further, splits into particular stories, sizes each of them and “hones” acceptance criteria (aka satisfaction criteria). To proceed we need to know what does INVEST mean.

What is INVEST?

Things PO should keep in mind when doing story-writing and story-splitting is “INVEST” rule. It stands for:

  • Immediately Actionable – so that team can start working on it immediately;
  • Negotiable – so that can be quickly made smaller/bigger by removing/adding scope of acceptance criteria (AC);
  • Valuable – so that everyone understands what value it brings to an end user;
  • Estimable – so that it can be estimated with user story points or ideal hours;
  • Sized to Fit In – so that estimates fit in established iteration length;
  • Testable – so that has understandable and achievable acceptance criteria;

Splitting an epic

Then it comes to the split itself. I suggest doing the following way:

1. Have a pencil and paper talk  with your PO peer(s) on the epic before splitting:

  • define overall description (As a WHO I want WHAT so that WHY);
  • agree on the way to reach WHAT (draft acceptance criteria, aka AC);
  • write AC down. You will end up having many AC, e.g. 30 or more;

2. Request, get and provide stories with everything that makes them immediately actionable (e.g. designs, data, clarifications, everything that has to do with 3rd parties, etc.);

3. Define story split logic, so that they all can be worked on quite independently and placed in a sequence that satisfy following criteria:

  • upper stories do not require functionality of lower stories (and lower stories do not impede implementation of upper stories);
  • functionality is split logically, trying to keep stories ~same size (remember, best sizing of stories is 3-8 user story points);
  • upper stories allow user to see maximum valued functionality first;

4. Define each story description and split overall AC accordingly. Keep in mind that at this point new stories will pop up (I call them “conjunction stories”).  The rule is easy to understand.

Epic Box Principle: “As soon as you start emptying  virtual box of epic functionality, removing and shaping story after story out of it, you will find out something that is still there and was not your initial plan”.

If your plan was to split epic into 4-5 stories, you may end up with 7-8 or so. That is one of the reasons that explains why usually epic level estimates are smaller than sum of estimates of all corresponding stories.

Important hint: do not hesitate to split as combining is way easier. Splitting is good exercise because enforces to think through value->solution again and discovers potentially hidden problems, functionality etc. Another effect of splitting bigger stories into smaller is reducing doubt (and therefore risks) team will have associated with big story. It turns afterwards into saving user-story-points…
Therefore, it’s way better to have detailed backlog rather then let team estimate their doubt wasting story points on your inability to think through solution and side functionality that may popup during implementation of bigger chunks.
Remember: as PO you are in charge of what team does next and need to have stories prepared accordingly.

5. Peer review all stories with your colleagues after you consider them as READY to see what is missing, question how each AC may be interpreted, best guess on possible estimation;

6. Re-do steps 2-5 until stories are INVEST and  READY for sprint planning meeting (SPM);

To be continued … (“Getting them through sprint planning….”)

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Teamleads, “Storming”, Self-organization and Entropy

“To shape it, destroy it” Lao Tzu.

Recently I had a Scrum introduction for a small team of developers at my friend’s office. There were huge amount of questions I dealt with.  However one looked more challenging to handle: “How team of developers can work without team lead? How group of 5-7 people can be equally responsible for success?” Followed by “It simply will not work. You suggest to destroy everything. One needs to tell them what to do” statement.

Well  my immediate answer was: “Team needs to be formed and as soon as “one boat in ” unavoidable  storming starts that makes team glue and self-manage in most natural way, so that no specific role needed to tell them what to do”.

Afterwards this question lead to insights on how it would be easier to explain  self-organization and steps to get there to Agile newbies…

Old style symptoms

  • What if group of people that just starts to work together does not want to glue, or it takes much time for them to form and come to storm?
  • How to make them storm earlier and faster?
  • What if you observe stand-ups when no one interested in what others did/up to and everyone report to Scrum Master?
  • Silent (or 100% happy) retrospectives?
  • People avoiding conflicts?
  • Or you see how people with old-style mindset wait that someone will tell them what to do?
  • Poor or no peer-management?

All these are the symptoms of no teamwork. These teams will unlikely deliver on time, having quality in.

As Ester Derby states: “Groups that avoid conflict won’t be able to face tough issues or handle the creative conflict that generates new ideas”.

Well, self-organization requires definite mind-shift, time and efforts. If that does not happen, team facilitators (coaches, scrum-masters) need to make them storm. Sometimes “throwing” team into storming helps here. Here is how.

“Throwing” team into storming

Here is simple, fast (and a bit harsh) way of doing it. Usually applicable when there is not much time to hit the deadline:

  1. Take (or invent) the deadline. A bit less than realistic is fine. Needs to be challenging. That is easy, ‘cos business usually has them.
  2. Make it clear when achievement considered as success and when it’s considered as failure, based on outcome.
  3. Communicate the deadline and cultivate sense of urgency within team. Tell the team that business needs predictability;
  4. Point out that all this matters if the outcome (product) is releasable;
  5. Bind team objective with result  (and eventually a paycheck);

Observe hawk-eyed

Look what happens with forming stage team when it goes under pressure like this. It immediately starts storming.  It simply has to storm, otherwise it will be unable to realize their potential as a team and eventually will be closed down (I intentionally worsen things here).

This is pretty much like in physics. You increase “pressure” and the measure of disorder of the closed system, called entropy increases as well. Storming is kind of  disorder. The outcome of it however is the order.

That’s just beginning. Observe what happens further. Some people will start to manage peers. Some will invent norms. Others will start to call for those. Some will start to follow. Not all. Some. Some may become “Mavericks”. Others, resisting  “bad guys”.

Team starts storming. It’s hard, harsh, emotional, but normal and needed. It’s unavoidable step for team to really glue together, fit best way and become a TEAM. It’s the price to pay to get team on their path towards being truly self-organized and hyper productive.

As an Agile leader (or Scrum master) you need to observe this stage very closely and take care of conflicts to resolve them in the way to lessen distressing impact on team members. In short, – take care of people!

After a while you will figure out that storming goes down (although it never ends, just becomes more “constructive” and less hard to do) as your team starts to balance each other and  having some “roles”. It depends on individuals managerial skills, characters and combination of people in the team.

The end” of Storming

I’ve seen team that ended up storming phase having several “team leads” (almost entire team) that managed each other. But compared to one formal team lead, they’re deserved and recognized leaders rather than formal authorities. Therefore, such a team is way stronger as managerial unit than a team having single and given team lead.

Let me explain that differently….

Several managerial roles in such a team are mutually complementing, since everyone manages some parts/aspects, focuses on different areas, sees picture from different angles that fits together naturally and keeps right balance between chaos and “autocracy”. Among other benefits of working together, self-organized team has an ability to compensate each other’s negative sides that allows them to become way better.  Rare person can compete with such a “balanced mix”.

That makes self-managed team stronger.

And my answer to the question in the beginning would be “YES”. At some point you need to destroy things to re-shape them.

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Dynamic Story Board: KANBANizing story map

“Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions”. Albert Einstein

An interesting thought came to me while thinking on how to bring in dynamics in story map to make it a tool that will help PO both in day-to-day work/tracking and overall release management.

Key benefits that will serve this are:

  • A full picture of upcoming product being built (within scopes of upcoming releases);
  • Transparency about features are being worked on now/coming soon;
  • Highlighting what features are READY and DONE;
To get the complete idea one needs to know the concept of story maps.
Combining this idea with KANBAN flow management framework makes a nice tool for PO:

Dynamic Story Board

So, let me explain what rows of it mean:
  • Done row indicates stories that correspond to the functional areas of the product and are accepted by product owner in sprint review meeting(s), having story definition of DONE met.
  • Areas row indicates key functional areas of the product as any story map has.
  • Wip row indicates work-in-progress, e.g. stories that are part of the running sprint (that team committed upon);
  • Ready row indicates stories that are ready to be presented to team according to definition of ready. PO moves stories in this row only if those compliant with INVEST rule;
  • Pipeline row indicates all the stuff that is planned for the future. As you can see some stories are non-READY here for whatever reasons (not yet completed, or even bigger items (epics) that are not yet prepared for sprint planning and thus cannot be taken by development team);

NOTE: pipeline row can be splitted itself into several rows to indicate scope planned for releases.

This simple board will serve as Kanban-style board turned by 90 degrees CCW. You can always add rows that indicate whatever states your PO team will find beneficial. Such a board can be easily used by PO daily in managing both day-to-day focus on getting READY for upcoming sprint, while keeping an eye on overall priorities and backlog.

Here’s real-live example implemented:

Dynamic StoryMap LIVE

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