The Importance of Time Completed and Time Remaining in Estimations

importance-of-estimates-time-completed-time-remaining/One of the first things many team members on Agile projects lose sight of is the importance of tracking their time spent on their tasks identified in their Backlog Item. Whether it’s a User Story, Sub-Task, Enhancement, etc., logging hours spent is of absolute importance to make sure further Sprint burn-downs, velocity, and estimates will continue to reflect increasing accuracy. The tendency of some teams is to use their Backlog Items (in either of the forms mentioned above), as a scope tracker. However, time-tracking on a daily basis is of absolute importance.

How Your Hours Should Really be Logged

Once a backlog item has been completed, only then do team members log their hours, and it most likely ends up being the hours set in the original estimates. Not only is it best practice to log hours spent on your backlog items on a daily basis, but also to re-assess what the remaining hours are. Just because an item was estimated to take 16 hours, and you performed 8 hours so far, it does not mean 8 hours remain. Sure it would seem logical that it would come down to a simple mathematical equation, but it’s truly not what is meant by “Time Remaining!” So what should be put in Time Remaining? It’s really about what should be required to complete the task at the moment of logging your time mid-course. What that means in our previous example; if you logged 8 hours for a task that was originally estimated at 16 hours, you may come to realize, there’s only 4 hours left. It’s as if you are re-estimating or re-assessing what is left to do. A number that does not match what was originally estimated, is perfectly fine either from a downward estimate or an upward one (assuming it’s done correctly of course!). This is by far the best way to know if original estimates were done accurately, and gives team members a gauge on whether those estimates continue to be assessed correctly in later sprints. Better yet, if needed, the variance of estimation accuracy can be calculated as well.

When Time Remaining is Not Taken Seriously

The problem arises when developers mark down remaining estimates as a straight-line mathematical equation, since it would imply that all original estimates were done properly, and makes it impossible to weed out the estimation imperfections during Sprint Planning from Sprint to Sprint. The other issue that may happen is that there could be a skew in estimations since some developers will take their time to complete a task (if they see that they’ve completed it early), and then hurry their task, or worse, bust the estimates if the task was underestimated. From there, it may escalate to having only underestimated tasks as being incorrectly estimated. What that gives is a mix of underestimated, and on-time estimates. As you can see, when the hours are totaled up for that sprint, the skewed results give an impression that generally all tasks were underestimated, and the lack of transparency will make the team draw separate conclusions. This also affects your burn-down charts and interpretation of velocity, all the while the cycle of trust within the team is broken.

How This Helps Continuous Improvement

Seeing the above situation in a different light, if you were on a trip where the original travel time was supposed to be 10 hours, only to find out the ride is shorter than expected, you would probably want to know, right? The same would apply if it would be longer than expected. To make the point clearer, your expectations, and that of others depend on the transparency of what remains to be done on any development effort. This aids efforts for future estimations and weeds out any further potential to be disappointed.

The next time you may be faced with a seemingly obvious question “How much time is remaining?” it may need to be seen as “How much time is needed to complete the task?” It’s not just a simple math calculation. Remember that estimates are called “estimates” because there is a chance that they will not be “accurate.” Having those numbers accurately represent “time remaining” allows for the estimation process to get better and better, as the team looks back in retrospect and compares their estimations for future Sprint Planning sessions.


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Agile IS NOT Scrum!

agile-is-not-scrumThere are certainly many misconceptions that occur with having to implement agility within the organization. The issue becomes even more compounded when non-agile practitioners speculate about what Agile is or for that matter what their idea of what it should be. In our example, this kind of speculation can present a sort of revolving door phenomenon whereby those who are familiar with Scrum, use it to refer to Agile interchangeably. Admittedly, Scrum is a large part of Agile when referring to it holistically, but Agile is not Scrum. However, we can derive some values from Scrum and say that they are synonymous with Agile values. What tends to happen is that many people believe that if they are doing Scrum, then automatically they are Agile. There’s a very fine line to that supposition, but it’s not always entirely true.

Part Of The Whole Doesn’t Necessarily Mean You Are All Of The Whole

For the most part, implementing a part of the whole doesn’t necessarily mean you are all of the whole. As an example we can use the idea of electricity. If some parts of a car (i.e. radio, window system, pumps, battery) are electric, would you say that your car is an “electric” car? Not likely. Even when we do refer to electric cars that are motorized by electric power cells alone, the car isn’t entirely electric per se. This comparison although not an exact representation of the differences in Agile or Scrum, hopefully can give you the level of complexity in the assumption of either one for another.

Agile Is Not Just A Process

For further clarity, there are other mechanisms of Agile in perspective, there is also a mindset and value-driven aspects that should be accompanied with it, not just a process. There’s also other methodologies and processes that can be included or can be complimentary to Scrum (i.e. XP, Kanban, TDD, ATDD) that make a more solid Agile implementation possible. That is not to say that it’s an “all-or-nothing” situation. Further to this we have what is considered to be the Agile guidelines, also known as the Agile Manifesto consisting of 4 values and 12 principles. When speculation and discussion occurs about what Agile really is, very seldom does the conversation include what is mentioned in the manifesto. However, more often, the concept of implementing a Scrum process does. This is where the clarification about those assumptions or beliefs, is very important to distinguish before it’s too late, whereby the decision takes place and is built on a preconceived false notion of Agile.

Agile Expectation And Implementation

Getting the above points out in the open early is not only to assure successful Agile expectation and implementation, but also to bring a more positive light to what can sometimes bring “failures-as-fact.” By that we mean that there are many who have attempted implementing Agile in the workplace, and used a “not-so-complete” method or process into effect. That is to say, they thought they were putting an Agile methodology (or in certain cases what they thought was Agile) in place, then saw it fail, and then concluded “Agile doesn’t work” despite the other flaws.  There are certainly instances where Agile really doesn’t work, or perhaps it isn’t the best solution for your organization, politics and bureaucracy aside. Agile isn’t the cure-all solution to all your organizational woes but can definitely be more fun! Even when it’s not a good match for the organization, not implementing Agile is perfectly fine, it’s not a must, and further to that, it’s not a religion (although it sometimes is perceived as such).

Automation is Key to Agile Implementation

automation-key-agile-implementationWhile most of us in our day-to-day would typically adapt to change whenever possible, it is very likely that we mindlessly have too much to manage. This is why automation is key to agile implementation. With a mindset to find ways for automation we promote a rhythm to the workflow, the process, the communication, etc…

Agile Ceremonies and built-in automation

When we look at the agile ceremonies overall there’s a flow that we can say exists, for example: (a) scrum or standup calls should take place at the same time every day, (b) sprint planning, sprint reviews, and retrospectives all take place on days that everyone has already preset, or (c) sprints should usually keep the same duration of weeks from sprint to sprint. We may ask ourselves, are these times and dates just a random practice (or requirement) of agile? The answer is no, not necessarily. There’s a reason behind all of this.

Keeping it Simple

While you may look to adapt to change throughout all the times of the workday, it is best to make the repetition as consistent as possible. This is similar in concept to what Einstein or Steve Jobs wearing consistently same clothing every day. This is just an example to make the point, but somewhat of an interesting revelation for those who are looking to simplify their day. For some we may think this “clothing” example is a little extreme, or irrelevant. Fair enough, this would be extreme in most cases. But when we are looking at our work environment, this principle makes a lot of sense for those who want to just concentrate and make decisions on what matters most. Putting in place what doesn’t matter so much, leaves time to make decisions that do matter. This in itself makes a lot of sense.

Consistent and Regular Adaptation

With reference to automation in the workplace, we’re not referring so much to setting up your schedule or planning in advance, although this is definitely a good habit, and better than not having any at all. We are referring specifically to having meetings, code reviews, or testing done in a way so that the agile team doesn’t have to constantly think about when it needs to happen. As an example, think of this question: What do you foresee being a problem if scrum meetings change times every day? It’s obvious, the team members will most likely be late as they try to figure out what time the meeting is at, or they missed it, and therefore all that time is just wasted when it could have been used more wisely and effectively. Some may even think, that “this inconvenience is minor,” but if you add that time up over a few sprints, you may be shocked to find out the cumulative amount isn’t as minor as you may have thought. Others may think, “this is just the normal workday or workweek,” and that it’s expected. However consider the advantages of setting this automated “rhythm” so that all that is less important is already out-of-the-way, and all the more important ideas and decisions can take place without distraction or resistance.

Admittedly, finding ways to improve a process and simplifying it in a way that is conducive to automation can be tedious, but once it’s in place, it does save a lot of time in the long run. More important than time, is the quality of the decisions and thought process that will come out of it. Think of it like a slow blockage that is eventually unclogging and allowing for a release of free-flowing ideas and productivity. Look to your sprint retrospectives to point out where areas of automation can be of benefit. You may already have some in place, but that should not stop an agile team from finding others. Incrementally and over time you can automate processes infinitely, but certainly it’s best to prioritize them where the benefit is worth the effort.

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Why Choose Agile?

why-choose-agileIt’s becoming more and more obvious, Agile adoption is growing at an incredible rate, and it has been estimated at roughly 10% annually. Not many who have jumped into adopting Agile have asked the question “Why Choose Agile?” To answer that question we also need to look at already existing methodologies that exist, namely Waterfall. Is it to say that waterfall is bad? or inefficient? The answer is, not necessarily. Waterfall has it’s purposes, and when applied properly it provides all the benefits that are expected from a project that is using it…the key words here “applied properly.” The problem with Agile adoption is that it’s considered to be relatively new, and more often than not, applied incorrectly. So here are the key differences that can help understand and promote the transition from Waterfall to Agile.

1. Process Control

In Waterfall you have phase gates that are defined similar to milestones, and they occur at every stage of the process. For each of those stages there is a request to approve each gate before it is started, furthermore the scope is defined at the beginning and can’t be changed without major impacts. Sure, you can issue a change request, but that likely changes the entire balance of the budget, resources, and timeline. In Agile on the other hand, there is empirical process control where you are redefining the scope based on priority of the preset period of a sprint (2 – 4 weeks). In this way Agile allows the highest value, business needs, and ROI that are realigned regularly. Whereas in Waterfall, you cannot and there is little possibility to change the scope mid-course. Agile therefore allows a team or business to respond to the immediate business needs of their client, thus providing higher value consistently.

2. Triple Constraints and the Perception of Success

The main components to any project are Scope, Time (Budget), and Cost. With Waterfall the Scope is typically fixed, whereby Time and Cost are flexible. Problem though is that even with a Time and Cost change there really isn’t any easy way to determine a cutoff point, and stop teams in the middle of the project while waiting for a client to make a decision. This means that in order for a project to be successful in Waterfall, ideally all 3 constraints would typically need to stay fixed with the addition of change requests. Agile on the other hand provides a way to easily fix Time and Cost while making Scope flexible. Waterfall-minded people will right away spark the question “Will all the scope be completed though?” The answer of course is “not necessarily and that’s ok.” The reason for this is that it doesn’t matter, because in Agile you are already delivering the highest value from your Time and Cost that could ever be delivered from a Waterfall project. Hard to believe at first, but for those who have completed at lease one Agile project, they know this can be attained since the highest priority/value scope is being delivered.

3. Profitability and Customer Retention

Most Waterfall-minded companies will measure their margins from project to project with the intent that each project will need to be profitable. But what happens when a project slips through the cracks and goes into the negative? Going Agile will allow for higher customer retention, after all when you provide higher value through implementing current trends in innovation, accurate and faster delivery dates, customers are more likely to stay with you for the long run. The positive side-effect to this is higher motivation within your teams. This is an added benefit to both supplier and customer since learning curves (performance states) stay intact and will very likely improve when the same team members work together for longer periods of time.

4. Delivery Schedules

Waterfall depends on the entire project to be completed before it can be delivered. This certainly gives the impression to both the development team and the client that the project is going on without end. This of course applies to projects that last longer than a few months. But with Agile, you already built in the expectation that delivery is possible at the end of each Sprint, even though in some cases you may choose not to. The main issue that has never been resolved but almost always happens in Waterfall, is the moment there’s a change request, the client asks for more scope and although they would be willing to pay more for it, they want the delivery date to stay the same. Why not just deliver in increments the way that Agile already requires you to?

There are many more reasons why you may want to choose Agile over Waterfall, but most need to be shown rather than be told what those benefits are. The key point to consider is that Agile adoption should be concrete, and should come with a fully committed paradigm shift in management and teams that are looking to implement all the necessary mindsets and tools that are needed. The most likely and best approach to adopting Agile however, is to jump into it completely and use Agile in itself to inspect and adapt. Taking on a half waterfall and half agile approach will certainly lead to adoption failure.

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6 Main Reasons Why You Must Identify Backlog Item Dependencies

6-main-reasons-must-identify-backlog-item-dependenciesWhen creating and grooming a backlog in an agile project, it may come as no surprise that there is a constant need to manage it throughout the product’s lifetime. Common expectations from those who come from the waterfall mindset, is that you would just set up a backlog and the rest should take care of itself. But as you will eventually find out, you must identify backlog item dependencies.

The reality is that the moment you create the first backlog item, metaphorically it becomes a living organism. Many may think that the most challenging part of the backlog item, would be to fully define and estimate it. It certainly is one the earliest challenges in the backlog definition phase. However, it is important to consider, that with each additional backlog item that is created, there is an increasing need to consider inter-dependencies between all items. Not a daunting task if your list is limited to 10 or 20 items, but what about a typical project where there are over 50, 100, or more items.

Without putting the carriage before the horse, it is important to consider those backlog item dependencies initially with a backlog roadmap. Then it is also necessary to make it an absolutely regular activity to take on when backlog grooming. Below we identify the many reasons why backlog item dependencies need to be identified and linked to their co-dependent items.

1. Reduced Overall Project Risk

One of the main reasons why projects fail, is that there is no planning or overview of a roadmap before starting. Certainly, an agile project will prevent most of that with the regular sprint iterations and planning that happens before each is ready to start. However, what we are referring to here is more about consideration of what needs to be built, the moving parts, before all pieces of software or product can be put together. As an example, you can work on the roof of a house long before the house is actually built, but you eventually need to know that you need to build the foundation and structure before you will get to the roof installation. Further to that, you would need to identify the structural specifications (dependencies) to know that the roof will fit when the time comes to finalizing the house.

2. Value-added Efficiencies in Process Workflow

When your project is in mid flight, the last thing you want to get stuck with is realizing you just randomly selected some backlog items that don’t make sense to be in the current sprint. In the worst of cases, you would likely just leave it out as part of the grooming process. But on the other end, you would want to avoid idle time mid-sprint realizing that there were a lot of items that could’ve, should’ve, or shouldn’t have been there to begin with.

3. Facilitation of Priorities

As you identify dependencies early on in the project, the priority of all backlog items naturally present themselves. Like a seemless puzzle being put together from top to bottom, relating backlog items to see if there are or aren’t dependencies is tedious at first, but it becomes easier to balance as the software or product is being built.

4. Early Elimination of Blockers and Time Wasted

On a day-to-day process, through scrums and standups, a well groomed backlog allows for all team members to avoid getting stuck on blockers. Some blockers are inevitable based on the circumstances of the development process. But there can easily be blockers present on some aspect that could have easily been prevented, i.e. environment availability for a developer who would like to commit their code. Some blockers can have workarounds, but inevitably, the longer it is blocked, the more likely there will be time waste later on.

5. Proactive Conflict Resolution within Teams

When the teams gets to see the benefits of dependency identification, they will go on to assure there is regular backlog grooming almost intuitively. Each member’s best interests will gear toward pro-activity so that there is the least amount of conflict. Further to this, the team will be better prepared to resolve conflict should there be at any point. This is mainly a result of “lessened” levels of conflict. 

6. Increased Morale within Teams

As a direct result of lessened conflict, there will be heightened synergy among teams. They will have a higher tendency to gel together and get along. Effectively, this will prevent turnover and burnout with members of the team. Low turnover means that the team stays intact over long periods of time, and they benefit from not only being at the performing stage of team synergy, but also from the experience of working together for long periods of time. This benefit is irreplaceable and highly valuable.

Keeping an up-to-date backlog certainly has it’s benefits, but as we can see, keeping specifications up to date is not necessarily all about updating scope or tasks, but also continuously identifying how they are all tied together.

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An Agile Hybrid Approach – What to Consider

an-agile-hybrid-approach-what-to-considerMany practitioners and project managers look toward creating an agile hybrid approach by doing a mish-mash of waterfall with agile methodologies. However, what we are going to look at are the different agile methodologies and the ones that are actually compatible with each other. It must be said, that for any team about to proceed with tailoring different agile components, it is something that should be done with expert practitioners who understand the pros and cons of adding more than one methodology into practice. It is advisable that a solid team of expert agile coaches and scrum masters are present on such a team so that the evolution and benefits can be implemented effectively and safely for the entire team.

Agile Frameworks Compatible in Creating a Hybrid Framework

1- Scrum

Most members of an agile team know agile by way of the Scrum framework, but what most have yet to see is that although it presents a solid framework for complex projects, it could use the help of other methodologies. What we can take from Scrum however, is the concept of building backlogs with work items that get listed in priority. The second automatic component is the importance of a Product Owner who actually owns that list and ensures that they represent what the stakeholders will expect. This is done through prioritization of the backlog for the rest of the team so that a potentially deliverable product is completed and accepted by the stakeholders by the end of each sprint.

2- Extreme Programming (XP)

From this methodology we can gather the best practices for the development team including Refactoring, Test Driven Development (TDD), continuous integration (CI) and collective ownership. What we tend to see in these practices are the concept of work process that is conducive to the flow and efficiency of the work being done.

3- Agile Modeling (AM)

This methodology is usually considered an effective addition to most of the other agile methodologies. It has mainly two components: Modeling and Documentation. The Modeling component encourages best practices such as Just Barely Good Enough (JBGE), Architecture Envisioning, Lookahead modeling, Active Stakeholder participation, and Model Storming among others. The Documentation aspect covers the necessity of documenting continuously (not to be understood as documenting excessively), document late, executable specifications, and single-source information.

4- Unified Process (UP)

Over the years the Unified Process has taken on many forms, mainly the Rational Unified Process (RUP) from which it derived directly and sometimes is mentioned interchangeably. However, other examples include OpenUP, and Agile Unified Process (AUP). What needs to be considered is that UP is not just a process but an actual framework. What makes it useful is that it’s highly customizable with characteristics covering an iterative and incremental development process, architecture centricity and risk focus. From this framework we get 4 phases that are used for creating a project, namely in the following order: Inception, Elaboration, Construction, and Transition. Much of what is used in the Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) framework has adopted this but DAD has also added to this.

5- Kanban

From the realm of Lean practices, we get Kanban. This method framework builds on the concept of Just-In-Time (JIT) at its base, but it has many tools that derive from it, one of them being the Kanban Board. The Lean aspect comes with the concept of limiting work in progress to prevent waste. Along with that comes the concept of visualization of progress. With the use of Kanban, the level of product quality becomes optimal since all areas of waste (Transport, Inventory, Motion, Waiting, Over production, Over processing, Defects, Skills) are removed. Along with that, the high level of visibility of progress that the development team is something that is of utmost importance. As most who have practiced Agile will see, the aspect of visibility is a very important characteristic to creating and maintaining team synergy.

There are certainly other methodologies that can be put in the mix, but it must be considered that tailoring an agile hybrid approach is an art, not a science. That is to say, if key components are added from one project to the next, it will likely not create the same results for every project. There are many other factors that come into play, and would not simply be a matter of methodologies used, but also the variation of players involved, that is certain to change the project landscape at any moment’s notice.

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How an Agile Approach Boosts the Value Cycle

how-agile-approach-boosts-value-cycleWhen it comes to team and company performance, many old-school thinkers and business-people look to how they can cut costs. Not their fault, but to some this is the only way they can leverage their stagnant knowledge, instead of taking on an agile approach and promote increased learning. This is likely where some are labeled as “the banker” or “the accountant.” There is recent evidence that shows if we perform on both sides of the finance and marketing fence, there is a higher level of progress and efficiency overall on spending, innovation, and revenue.

Conflicting Views: Cost Cutting vs. Value Creating

There are two strategic views that play within this spectrum; either cutting costs or creating value. Cutting costs creates the concept that there is a finite source of value or income that must be compensated for. Creating value on the other hand, breaks the barrier of thinking there is a cap on source of wealth and ideas. Certainly anything to be created requires that costs be incurred, but that is not to say we must limit investment if all the signs say GO!

Cause and Effect of the Value Cycle Explained

This brings us to the traditional vs agile project standard. When you look at a traditional project, the premise is set at the beginning of the project that it will have a finite timeline and budget. In an agile project you typically don’t have these restraints because the primary concern is about product and how to build value into it. All else if done properly will generate an infinite level of return. Why? Because a product being developed in an agile environment has the implicit expectation that with time there will be more to learn about the market, product composition, and technology that will allow for improvement. Reduced cost is a byproduct of the value cycle, since there’s usually a way to produce something with higher durability making it less prone to defects and complaints. This in turn satisfies the market and creates more demand and increased prices. Volume will also increase, and as we know that also drives down the maintenance or per unit costs.

Value Cycles Are Not Meant to be Broken

The value cycle never ends, hence why typically we look at an agile project as infinite as well. Actually the term “project” can be seen as a sort of oxymoron statement when putting words “agile” and “project” together. But that is for you and your peers to debate. When we look at the constituents of the value cycle right from the beginning where we determine requirements all the way to market release, maintenance and feedback, we can see very clearly that the market isn’t picky about how a product with unique features will look like at first sight. If someone claimed that a time-machine would take up the space of a city block, many would not be concerned. They would still look to use the product and would probably line up along a few city blocks to be the first to use it. This example may be a little far-fetched, but it is used to drive the previous point into context.

Why re-iterate?

As you can see value cycles and agile are very closely tied. They are based on an iterative process. If you believe you understand a concept upon the first try, there is a very high likelihood you missed a few points. If you take the first attempt, you may be successful, or you may not. However you took the first step, and there should be no reason to stop there. There can always be better, there is never any reason to stop improving.

[Image courtesy of Idea go at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]


 

5 Important Agile Interview Questions

5-important-agile-interview-questionsIf you are looking to recruit someone new in your company whether it’s for a new Agile implementation, or to replace someone who left, it’s important to get specific Agile interview questions asked up front during the recruitment and selection process.

Below we’ve outlined some basic yet relevant questions that you can ask a potential candidate, and gauge whether or not they are going to be a good fit for your department, team, or organization. That is not to say that your candidate should answer all of them correctly to be considered the perfect member to add to your team, but they should be within some level of understanding on why these questions are being asked.

1 – What does Agile mean to you?

For this question,  you should be looking for closely related Agile principles and values. It’s important to see how close your candidate can get to mentioning and explaining those values of:

A. Check whether your candidate is referring to how they like to interact in groups, looking to share ideas and solutions while promoting team building and servant leadership. If they tend to emphasize the processes and tools, this might not be such a bad thing but you should try to steer them into more group dynamic and group transparency based topics. If they don’t respond or get sidetracked to following orders and making sure everyone in their surrounding work environment must conform to process, this might be a less suitable candidate. However this is not the only basis on which to make your decision.

B. Many who try to impress in an interview, tend to throw ideas out of which documentation they would create and use throughout an agile project. It’s important to see if your candidate sees the value of delivering a working product. If they are the type of person that is trying to make sure everything works around the product except for the actual delivery of the product as necessary, it’s important to see if they are making this distinction.

C. If your candidate is more concerned about how many contracts they can get out of the customer, they might not understand the importance of the other aspect of Agile values which is to try to gain as much customer collaboration as possible. You wouldn’t want interactions with the client to be about how to draft a new contract every step of the way. Remember it’s the soft stuff (people skills) that’s the hard stuff, so your candidate should be able to demonstrate how they are able to engage the customer into problem solving discussions and come to mutually beneficial agreements.

D. If your candidate seems to be more concerned about project plans and gantt charts, they may be stuck in a waterfall mindset. These plans in an Agile setting are a distraction to actually executing the process of developing actual product. For this you should be trying to see if your candidate is looking solely to write-up a plan and make sure everyone follows it (command-and-control) vs. being able to point out the inherent importance of having a team self-manage and create a product based on prioritized features that a market is ruling as important for ROI.

2 – What types of Agile processes have you implemented before?

With this question, you should be able to get the candidate to point out if they’ve actually implemented Agile methodologies whether they are Scrum, XP, Lean, etc.. Key words that you can look for are those found from the beginning to end of the cycles. Words like Sprint Planning, Kanban Board, Burndown Charts, Retrospectives, etc.. You should be able to check and see whether they have an understanding of the ceremonies and events that occur through iterative cycles. More importantly, they should be able to point out why those processes exist and how they fit together to make a fully Agile environment possible.

3 – What is your idea of an Agile mindset?

The character and personality of your candidate fundamentally must be a good match to the agile mindset if they are to practice Agile. Common sense, right? however you might come across some who think they know what it means to be Agile but portray a completely different mindset. You may want to have a look at our other related articles that shed some light on what qualities an Agile Mindset has (or does not):

4 – How often must Agile be practiced during a project?

The answer to this one is simple: at ALL times! If your candidate starts to mention which aspects of agile should or shouldn’t be implemented, as if to compare switching it on or off like a light switch, this person may not actually understand the importance of synergies built over time through agile principles. This question is best answered in a holistic overall “outside the box” sense. Agility is not to be pulled apart and peeled only for certain parts and principles. This leads us to our next question.

5 – Can Agile be tailored?

This is a very important question as the candidate should be able to read between the lines. In practice it’s well-known that you should not be tailoring Agile right from the start unless you have many years of Agile experience. Many of the reasons why Agile fails, is because it is tailored to fit another mold, i.e. trying to fit Agile into Waterfall, and this is where false beliefs about the effectiveness of agile come in to play. Your candidate should be able to respond with a “yes, but…” type of answer. From there they should be able to point out that tailoring is not ideal, and that it would take place perhaps after multiple iterations and sprints, where the agile team notices certain events or processes that aren’t working well for them. This would usually be coming from the Sprint Retrospectives and observed in each successive retrospective to see whether they’re continuously improving or not. This makes the tailoring process more safe and tuned to the team’s needs.

[Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]


 

5 Healthy Workplace Habits by Using The Scrum Process Model

5-healthy-workplace-habits-by-using-the-scrum-process-modelThere are many ways to do work, and to be honest, not many people are taught how to create good or optimal workplace habits. That being the case, workplace dynamics can range from being a cesspool of toxic behavior and habits, to one that has an environment of the utmost respect for one another. The environment created in most workplaces is a cumulative result of individual behaviors happening at a given time, much like society, but only much more concentrated since we’re left to interact daily from morning until afternoon with our work colleagues.

The following factors, as part of the scrum process model, are found to reduce stress, anxiety and in turn increase workplace  motivation and productivity:

1- Intermediate Deadlines (The Sprint)

It has been shown that when work has no confinements and there is “no light at the end of the tunnel,” the level motivation steadily declines over time. Further to this, the likelihood of burnout and employee turnaround starts to become more and more apparent. The Sprint as a 2 to 4 week timebox that is meant to happen iteratively, gives a mini-project sense to accomplishing each round that expectedly gives a delivery of product. Intermediate deadlines in this case, tend to occur frequently and regularly give a sense of accomplishment and cyclical motivation.

2- Sense of Purpose (Sprint Planning, Sprint Goal)

When Sprint Planning takes place, there’s a chance for everyone on the team to set their sights on how much work can be estimated for the upcoming sprint timebox. As part of the Sprint Planning activity, a Sprint Goal is set by the Product Owner that enables all involved, the focus and vision as to what they will all being working toward by the end of the Sprint. Consequently if there is proper buy-in at the start with all sights on the sprint goal, it will give that sense of purpose that everyone can focus on and relate to for achievement.

3- Doing Things Better Every Time (Sprint Retrospective)

As most workplaces allow their employees to become complacent, and resulting in lack of performance feedback, the Sprint Retrospective allows for that time where everyone as a group can look at what were the great and no-so-great behaviors of the previous sprint. This sets the course for getting better on an iterative basis as this is done in each sprint. What some people don’t realize is the advantage of thinking of what to “stop doing” and what to “start doing” is already a two-fold way of taking on good habits. This is a bi-directional thought process, since most people typically think of improvement in one direction such as “just do things better” and leave out “what bad habits should I leave out of my routine.”

4- Great Support Network (Daily Scrum/Standup)

Everyone knows that an ongoing support network is a great positive factor. The daily scrum/standup allows for everyone to confirm what they were working on the previous day, and what they will accomplish for the remainder of the current day. The key part of team support for that day is when impediments and blockers are reported. This is a chance for everyone to chip in and see if there’s a way to resolve the blocker. This isn’t just the job for the Scrum Master, but also for the rest of the team. So the blocker announcement starts at the scrum meeting, but gets resolved outside of the meeting with the relevant members of the team, most likely those that are knowledgeable in the area of the impediment. Everyone else continues on their existing tasks to make sure productivity is not impeded.

5- Being Able to See Results  (Daily Scrum/Standup, Sprint Review, Sprint Retrospective, Sprint/Kanban Board)

The structure from which we have a sprint allows everyone to see results on a regular basis. Whether it’s on a daily basis (Scrum/Standup) or by sprint duration (Sprint Review, Sprint Retrospective). We are able to see and experience results on a very constant basis. Along with tools such as the sprint/kanban board that are high-touch/high-visibility in nature, allows for everyone to see progress and status as it happens.

On a Final Note…

It must be said, getting everyone aligned to proper workplace habits can come naturally to those who adopt the scrum process model. It’s not necessarily about having a process, but actually  having a positive attitude and confidence that it will work. Creating that momentum in your day-to-day, will likely come with resistance at all stages of development, but those who are on board, will quickly become visible to the organization and will certainly become the agile champions and leaders.

[Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]


 

Why Apply Agile Project Management Principles (part 2 of 2)

The following is Part 2 of the previous post regarding agile’s 12 guiding principles, and why they are important for agile project management. For Part 1, << click here >>.

7- Working software is the primary measure of progress.

why-apply-agile-project-management-principles-2-of-2Since we can’t use what isn’t finished, there should be no reason to consider it as “done” until it really is complete. In other project methodologies, specifically waterfall, we measure progress as an overall percentage and consider that percentage as a measure of completion. Working software is the only measure from which we are considering progress since what does not work, has no way of receiving ROI. It’s like giving someone credit for climbing a mountain at 90%, but they never reached the peak. Further to this principle, it also confirms that if something doesn’t work, why would you consider it complete in any way, when there is no real guarantee that it will ever work.

8- Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

This principle calls out to respecting the human aspect of agile team work. To maintain and motivate an agile working team we need to consider balancing the cost of development to the cost of human quality of life. It therefore promotes a work-life balance as being the main consideration to sustainability of the long-term “constant pace.” We’ve all heard of burnouts and the detrimental effects they cause to sustainability. When considering sustainability, it’s not just about what can be profitable over time, but also considering people-conscious limits. Some companies don’t set limits or are afraid of telling their customers that they have limits on how long developers will do the work. They see it as a competitive advantage to have developers work long hours during the week or over the weekend. While it may seem advantageous in the short-run, it is not sustainable in the long run, as it will cause the team to burnout, get sick, or leave.

9- Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.

While it may be tempting to develop code, or product just once and give it a thumbs-up, it may not necessarily mean that it is optimal. This principle covers the need to always look into best practices before, during, and after the code or product has been developed. Even when reaching completion, there’s room to improve and update as necessary, and the iterative process or attempt to gain workflow automation in agile, allows for this to happen if and when needed. In software we can refactor the code so that it runs smoothly, however it doesn’t imply that the original code should have been done to the standard of “just enough” to get by. While developing an element of code or product, you need to design it with intent of how it will provide value for the end-user, since poor quality in the end will cause higher costs and time wasted throughout the product life cycle.

10- Simplicity (the art of maximizing the amount of work not done) is essential.

When developing products, we tend to get bogged down by how many features the end product will have. Knowing which features will be needed as a minimum viable product can be tougher than it seems. However this principle also looks at “amount of work not done.” It promotes the concept of working smarter not harder, since working harder doesn’t mean there will be any efficiency built into the agile solution. Being able to prioritize features is the key element to maximizing simplicity, as most customers fall for the illusion that a product with many features is a product with built-in value. However, what gets lost in that perception is that there is no value if 70% of the features won’t even be used by the end-user once it’s released. Being able to prioritize is certainly a hard-to-acquire skill and activity, but it is one of the essential pieces to building simplicity.

11- The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.

This principle leads straight to the agile team roles, and their ability to be “self-organizing.” This drives the idea that the best can come out of a team that is highly motivated, and has a high level of buy-in. When the architectures, requirements and designs come from the team closest to the product, you will likely get a better result than if they were imposed on the team from an external or top-down approach. It therefore leads to more a pull type approach from the team rather than a push type approach from upper management. The dynamics and results from a self-organizing team allows for the team to take ownership and pride in the product they will produce.

12- At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

Continuous improvement is something that resonates throughout an agile project. This agile project management principle calls out to the necessity of improving constantly and frequently with the mention of “regular intervals.” This of course implies that there is an iterative aspect to the tuning of becoming more effective, however it is not limited to just one period of time. The use of agile retrospective events is certainly the highlight of reflecting over ways to improve what happened in the previous sprint, but this principle also doesn’t limit it to just that. We could almost say that this principle should be carried on a daily basis, and with the agile team looking to find ways to “tune” themselves regularly. When looking at it from a waterfall vs agile perspective, we must consider that most waterfall projects only do this once in the project management life cycle and likely at the very end, when it’s already too late to do anything about it. Regular intervals for tuning and adjusting behavior makes it more pertinent and effective since it will be addressed throughout multiple sprints and it will allow a chance for the improved adjustment to be implemented.

[Source for Agile Manifesto Principles: Manifesto for Agile Software Development]
[Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]


 

Why Apply Agile Project Management Principles (part 1 of 2)

why-apply-agile-project-management-principles-1-of-2Many new projects seem to fail at the beginning, especially in hindsight, when looking back after months of development and product delivery progress. There have been many cases where agile projects did not even go over the Agile Manifesto which as most would should have been the first step. Beyond the 4 value statements from the manifesto, are the 12 principles that help guide the agile practitioner in keeping up with the 4 value statements. As we will see, all 12 were very cleverly worded and cover all angles that the agile mind would live by.

As part 1 of a 2-part series we will give further insight as to what those 12 principles are and why they are important for up-keeping in the context of agile project management principles:

1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software (in non-software projects this would refer to product).

When we look at this first principle we see that customer satisfaction is the first thing that comes up, but that is not to say we need to do everything the customer wants outside of reason. This is why the second part of the principle mentions early and continuous delivery of valuable software/product. In all instances the customer relationship starts where ultimately there is a product to be delivered. If you note, the “early” part is also deliberate since it is essential to building the quick ROI for the client. The “continuous” part represents the iterative part about agile methods that allows for features to be built in with the value requested by the customer.

2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.

The requirements of an agile project are reflected by the Backlog (Product and Sprint). The backlog is the crux of the agile project methodology and workflow process, and is the basis of the work that needs to be done by the agile team. This principle of welcoming changing requirements in the format of a backlog allows for prioritization and re-prioritization at any moment within the sprint for the Sprint Backlog, and the Product Backlog throughout the agile project. Typically, the high level of transparency through daily scrums, and kanban boards, etc., allows for the agile working team to change requirements to reflect the ROI, resulting “customer’s competitive advantage” as needed and without the resistance that a project would have in a traditional waterfall setting.

3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.

The only way to gain return on a product is by confirming the results. Therefore the need to deliver “frequently” is tied to getting the most out of continuous delivery. This is part of the reason for preference to the shorter timescale, since that would provide more delivery cycles (iterations or sprints) and all resulting feedback loops from the customer and business. The other reason for preference to the shorter timescale is that it mitigates risks by allowing for developing time-sensitive competitive advantages (quicker time to market) of the software or product. When using lean tools the work-in-progress (WIP) becomes evident and quicker cycles prevent any wastes (so-called “muda”), and locks in the value of the delivered product.

4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.

When referring to working together daily this primarily refers to all agile team roles in the same room, face-to-face communications, and not so much on texting and emailing. Gaps in the daily interactions leaves room for unconfirmed value, and possible waste once business people and developers fall out-of-the-loop. The other key phrase is “throughout the project.” Some business roles, and developers may tend to fade in and out of the project if they are assigned to more than one project, and are spread thin throughout the course of the project. This leaves gaps in expectations and confirmation of progress when it is needed most.

5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.

When a project gets started and is ongoing, we need to make sure we don’t get in the way of agile team members that are experts in their domain. This is where we build in the element of “trust” and leave them to do what they do best. Giving them the environment and support relies on the scrum master role where there is a need to protect the agile team from outside distractions, and help remove blockages when they appear.

6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.

The key here is that people are to engage in “people-friendly” situations that promote easy communication with the least amount of “out-of-context” risk as possible. Body language makes up about 55% of communication, and therefore represents the most powerful component when compared to 7% verbal and 38% tone of voice. Since email messages can take on a tone the reader chooses to interpret them by, a message may be interpreted as malicious where in fact it could have been completely benign. The other advantage of the face-to-face communication is that everyone benefits from osmotic communication whereby knowledge and information is gained from background discussions from fellow agile team members. This presents an overall advantage since it effortlessly keeps everyone on the same page.

For the second part of this section  << click here >>

[Source for Agile Manifesto Principles: Manifesto for Agile Software Development]
[Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]


5 Signs Your Agile Team Roles Might Be Falling Behind

After a couple of weeks, your team has undergone a couple of sprints. As an agile coach, scrum master, or team member you start to wonder if there are any signs that the agile team roles are performing up to par, or better yet, if there are tell-tale signs that your team is likely to under-perform in the long run.

Below are some distinct signs that you need to look out for:

1 – Velocity is fluctuating and unpredictable

The point behind tracking and managing velocity is to expect that eventually the velocity will stabilize at some point. This will go hand-in-hand with being able to make decisions on how many remaining sprints can be used to eventually complete the prioritized items in the product backlog, or how many points will be used for planning the subsequent sprints. If the team members are being pulled in and out of external assignments or multitasking on multiple projects, it would be expected that velocity is not going to stabilize any time soon. This type of issue can be rectified if the scrum master role or agile business coach point out to team members that they should remain exclusive to the one project being measured.

2 – Scrum and standup durations go off topic and outside timebox period

In many circumstances, we tend to go off topic on meetings where the members involved lose sight of the purpose or agenda of the call. If everyone is stuck on trying to resolve an issue on the scrum or standup, there needs to be a clear signal to all, “make a note of the issue,” and the respective members close to the issue can work together to help resolve it after the meeting. As a self-organizing team, all members should eventually realize that the scrum/standup meeting is not about problem solving, nor is it entirely about status. Some agile practitioners do not realize that the meeting ultimately is about commitment to the team. The update comes when saying what was done yesterday, but what will be done today, given there are no blockers, is the commitment. Beyond that, there should not be any reason why a scrum/standup would take so long.

3 – Overly dependent on fill-in roles

5-signs-agile-team-roles-might-be-falling-behindThis issue comes with improper planning, lack of agile training, or missing skills assessments. It becomes a very awkward situation when large gaps in skill sets occur in the project. This may also be a result of disengaged stakeholders that may have misrepresented their requirements early on. The main idea behind having a self-organizing team is to be sure they can cover each other’s skill gaps in a general sense, but if there are huge gaps, i.e. there’s nobody with agile business analyst capabilities, and project requires one, there certainly needs to be a discussion around why that position isn’t filled right from the start. Other issues start when agile team members are partially assigned to another project at some point mid-flight in the project. As an example, if a Product Owner is not fully engaged, the backlog ordering and prioritization will suffer. This may put a strain on the entire team to fill in for. Since the Product Owner is the one who knows the business values of the features to be ordered in priority, it’s not necessarily an easy gap to fill. Someone needs to step in and take over that role on a full-time basis so that the backlog is groomed effectively and with the expectations of the stakeholders.

4 – Loss of transparency and hidden agendas

There may be instances when some members are no longer motivated, perhaps because of personality incompatibilities, or superiority complexes. Obtaining an agile mindset is not easily achieved by everyone, but there are some that fall back into command-and-control mode, or don’t feel  the need to attend agile courses. In doing so, this may bring about the sense that some team members are trying to “one-up” the other by keeping information hidden from others until the last possible minute, and catching everyone by surprise. Nobody would want to find out toward the end of the sprint that a particular feature can not be implemented, if that information was actually known at the beginning.

5 – Repeated anti-patterns that were identified in Retrospectives

As you come to the end of a sprint, the team’s opportunity to provide continuous improvement feedback is driven in most part by the retrospective session. This allows everyone to identify what they did that went well, and didn’t go so well. Further to this, there are categories of instances that should be identified as what to “continue doing,” “stop doing,” and “start doing.” As you might guess, the hardest part to do out of those three instances is the “stop doing.” We can see even in our present lives, that habits are hard to break, and in most cases we like to keep the good ones, but really try hard to get rid of the bad ones. Over time it may be normal to see that certain bad habits within the agile team continue through multiple sprints, however if you’ve reached past your third or fourth sprint with the same habits continuing forward, there may need to be some further process analysis to zoom into why these ineffective workflow processes or habits have not been extinguished. A simple and fast way to get to the root of most issues, is through activities such as asking the “5 Whys” or drawing (and populating) a Fishbone Diagram.

What to Expect From the Team

The agile working team is one that learns and innovates over time. If everyone is there only to keep up with the status quo, the team will inevitably under-perform, too many negative issues will be left unresolved while leaving no time to address value-added tasks. The team should be engaged right from the start, with ample opportunity for buy-in from each member. If there are doubts being raised early in the game, that might be normal, but keeping those doubts on the radar, and perhaps even asking the product owner to add them to a risk-adjusted backlog (no matter how ridiculous they may seem) can provide some great benefits over time.

[Image courtesy of iosphere at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]


10 Ways an Agile Mind Uses World Class Thinking

10-ways-agile-mind-reflects-world-class-thinkingWhen we discover what an agile mind can bring to its surrounding environment, it would very much resemble that of World Class thinking. Steve Siebold points out the many ways that Middle Class thinkers differ from those of the World Class thinkers. But what we noticed, is how similar World Class thinkers are to Agile thinkers. Many are very close to what you would expect as characteristics and personalities of an Agile team member.

Below are some extractions from Steve’s list of differences between the Middle Class vs the World Class. We’ve explained how World Class thinkers relate to that of an Agile Mind:

1. The Middle Class avoids risk . . . the World Class manages risk

Agile team members use tools and operate with a series of ceremonies and events that allow them to manage risk. They don’t avoid risk since they know that risk is unavoidable. They understand that having daily scrums, sprint planning, sprint reviews, sprint retrospectives, etc., will allow them to reduce risk and minimize (not eliminate) it as much as possible.

2. The Middle Class focuses on having . . . the World Class focuses on being

The difference being agile is actually “being” agile through practice and experience, not just “having” knowledge by reading a couple of books or attending agile training courses. An agile team mindset focuses on “being” because they are aware and conscious about their agile working environment. This means that it’s not just about switching their agile hats on and off. This is much like being an athlete, you don’t stop being a swimmer when you are not in the water. Also, it’s very likely your mindset reflects everything toward being the best swimmer you can be, in and out of the water.

3. The Middle Class sees themselves as victims . . . the World Class sees themselves as responsible

A self-organizing, self-managing agile working team knows that they are going to be responsible for the end result of their agile solutions. While they may have chosen not to become victims, the confidence they’ve built through team synergies allow them to meet their individual and group objectives without doubt.

4. The Middle Class is frustrated . . . the World Class is grateful

When faced with hardships and issues, the agile team knows that it’s sometimes part of their work. They depend on each other at all times and look to help each other out. Each member in turn, is grateful to be working side-by-side with each other and know that getting frustrated is wasteful energy. Part of this is through the scrum master role, or agile business coach, being able to protect and showing appreciation for each other as the team works through those issues.

5. The Middle Class is ego-driven . . . the World Class is spirit driven

The optimal agile team is aware that they are not a combined result of their egos. An ego is not what drives results, whereas spirit does. Although spirit can be broken, it can be set to greater sustainability over time. An ego is not immune to being broken either, and what we can learn is that it usually grows when it is given the wrong type of attention. Spirit overcomes negativity and is not fed by it. Growth comes with the combined spirit of all team members with results and authenticity of leadership that are much greater than those of an ego driven team.

6. The Middle Class is problem oriented . . . the World Class is solution oriented

When looking at building and creating agile solutions, the agile team knows there’s a problem to be solved. But they are not primarily oriented toward problems and how to fix them, rather, they are concerned with providing solutions. A successful product is not one that was made with problems to be fixed, but rather it is set on providing an optimal set of solution that are free of problems. The agile team working on a series of solutions is a lot more productive, since bringing attention to solutions increasingly expands into more solutions. In much the same way, bringing attention to problems creates more problems.

7. The Middle Class thinks they know enough . . . the World Class is eager to learn

Part of continuous improvement is knowing that we don’t know enough. This is where the agile team invests heavily in the use of sprints to not only develop a product, but also get to the point of retrospectives to learn what didn’t work, and finding new ways to work. The other way the agile team is eager to learn is by not resting on their laurels, and reaching new heights through practice and use of agile tools and agile games.

8. The Middle Class is boastful . . . the World Class is humble

When faced with praise, an agile team is humble and not boastful about their achievements. This is fueled by knowing that what was achieved was a result of the combined efforts of each individual within the group, and as a separate entity they are only a smaller part of the whole. The agile team also knows that being humble is a virtue and a strength that brings attracts others wanting to join that team.

9. The Middle Class denies their intuition . . . the World Class embraces their intuition

An agile team knows that they should embrace their intuition since it is a result of their synergies and attainment of high performance. The important aspect of attaining intuition is that it needs to be fed like a never-ending belief. The moment you deny or question the intuitive process, it switches back into over thinking mode. Over thinking will undo the intuitive process.

10. The Middle Class coaches through logic . . . the World Class coaches through emotion

Much like the world-class, an agile coaching philosophy will do so through emotion. An agile business coach knows that emotion is “energy in motion.” That relates to sensing where the agile team’s energies are and finding ways to bring them to balance. This is not just by trying to be a separate and logical member, but rather by being active part of the team and promoting the agile mindset. That would be the best way to know how each member is contributing to the overall performance of the individual and team.

[Image courtesy of Idea go at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]
[Source: Steve Siebold (177 Mental Toughness Secrets Of The World Class)]


 

5 Ways to Recondition a Waterfall Mindset to an Agile Mindset

5-ways-to-recondition-a-waterfall-mindset-to-an-agile-mindsetThe hardest part about attaining an agile mindset is undoing the beliefs and experiences of the past, especially if they were set over years and years of performing under a waterfall project methodology. Many would agree they had would have rather just started off with agile right from the start, instead of now realizing that experience must be undone. But like the expression says “better late than never.” Those who now have their eyes open to the benefits of adopting an agile mindset know there is no turning back. Or maybe that’s not as easy as it may seem. Undeniably, we are always influenced by our past experience and reprogramming our mindset to challenge our waterfall vs agile beliefs can come into play at any time.

Here are 5 ways you can recondition or progress toward an agile mindset:

1 – Keeping your priorities in check

If there is one thing that a waterfall methodology makes us lousy at is practicing our priorities. Since in waterfall we rely on a project plan with features set at the very beginning while expecting few changes later on, we lose the sense of why we are developing features later on that we no longer need. You may still see this in certain instances in agile project whereby the client still asks that all the original scope be delivered by the end of the timeline even when they may realize there no longer is any value to having some of those features. With an agile mindset all stakeholders would better understand that the project is a success as long as the prioritized features (not necessarily the entire product backlog) were developed within the agreed timeline.

2 – Knowing the difference between variable and fixed timeline

Referring to the previous point, in waterfall we agree on a timeline that we then may need to extend if there were any delays or unforeseen gaps that occurred. In agile we can fix the timeline if all stakeholders agree to priority of the features that they would like to have implemented. If all the top priority features are implemented by the end of previously determined set of sprints, it very likely will not need to have the timeline extended. That would also allow everyone to walk away with confidence knowing that the most important features were implemented. This basically means you need to adopt the concept of a fixed timeline and variable scope from an agile mindset, vs the fixed scope and variable timeline concept from a waterfall mindset.

3 – Avoid mixing project Gantt charts with Sprint and Kanban boards

Some of us might be tempted to report to many stakeholders and provide multiple types of reports in general. This could be internal auditors, PMO, upper management, etc. What you need everyone to realize is that there is no need to report in so many ways. In waterfall methodologies we tend to use “unlean” processes that give rise to the tendency to send a different report to each stakeholder in the hopes that everyone is reading them thoroughly. The truth is, some of these reports may be so complex, that most will look at them without a critical eye, only to be surprised that the report had raised many risks that surfaced. This is where having an agile mindset would come in handy. Mostly all stakeholders including the agile team are concerned about progress and the rate of progress. Keeping it simple with the use of Kanban or Sprint boards, and providing easy to read information radiators like Burndown, Burnup, or Cumulative flow diagrams will give a quick and informative idea on where it all stands.

4 – Dedicate yourself to agile training in all forms

We should not just learn about agile methodologies and claim we know all there is to know. Agile working tools evolve over time and it’s important to keep your ear to the ground on what the latest developments and ideas are from the industry experts and peers. Simply having a discussion with colleagues that have similar interests in agile implementation is a start. But as you would notice there are many other means to sharpening your agile mindset and agile tools. Participating in regular industry forums, conferences, agile training courses and annual tours can be highly beneficial and open your eyes to some concepts that were not previously discovered. Also picking up some books on agile, and reading a few from time to time will make sure you are feeding your way to improving your day-to-day ideas on how to promote and implement agile in your immediate work environments. Finally the scrum master role should be well instated, at some times with the help of agile business coach on board with your team. The agile coach in particular can gauge and see what can help improve what may already be in place, and furthermore stimulate ideas and get everyone elevated to an agile mindset.

5 – Keep asking yourself why certain processes and values have been adopted into the agile methodology

There are some in the industry that have a skewed idea of agile. Mainly because it’s something they may have heard someone else talk about and it just may seem to be a common buzzword. Those with a waterfall mindset may just think agile is a process, and will treat it as such. This will give rise to even more issues, as they may try to put sprints into place, and not really knowing why they are used in the first place. For instance, they might not actually believe in delivering anything beginning with the first sprint, although technically that should be possible. Also the duration of the sprint should be determined on how risky or how much change in the priority of the backlog items you expect to have. The main point here is to always be asking why certain processes exist and why they would be beneficial to the overall methodology. The other side of the coin is that some will implement agile in an environment where it isn’t even necessary, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Bringing these tips into consideration will help alleviate the built-in or innate experience that many of us have, especially if coming from a waterfall mindset. Also to be considered, is that nobody can switch on to an agile mindset overnight by reading an agile book or attending an agile conference. However, continuous learning, coaching and mentoring agility will certainly build on it.

[Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]


Bringing Continuous Improvement to Project Methodologies

To those who have never seen agile at work, it would seem a bit odd to think of implementing it at first. Most people would see the vast levels of acceptance while bringing continuous improvement to project methodologies and think it was literally impossible to put into practice. But that is exactly what Agile is, practice. We live in an imperfect world, but we also have come to the belief that “practice makes perfect.” We’re not sure if that expression became so popular because it rolled off the tongue so well, or because practice really does make things perfect.

Perfection is unattainable, but reaching perfection is attainable. Typically when we’re practicing anything whether it be a sport, hobby, or process, we come to realize that we have a tendency to do it better and better every time we do it. Upon completion we use expressions like “note to self” in order to be sure we don’t make the same mistake again the next time. Or vice versa, we make sure we try another approach that is slightly different. It is exactly this line of thinking that fuels innovation. Much in the same way, this is how Agile project methodologies became what they are, bringing speed, synergy, and continuous improvement through regular practice.

Why Tailoring Agile Impulsively is Not Recommended

bringing-continuous-improvement-to-project-methodologiesAs some will find out eventually, we will not likely have a truly perfect product by the end of the first sprint, and there probably will be some revisiting or refactoring later on. However, with the use of multiple sprints, the team is aware that there will be goals to practice constant improvement of the existing processes along with a learning curve with each iteration. Whether it be the result of bug-fixing, improved design, or better material for a longer lasting product, it is that very system of agile project methodologies that allows increments to be built upon with regular feedback. As an example we can refer to the much ignored and under-practiced Sprint Retrospective. As there might be a sense of time limitations, to get things closed off and ready for delivery at the end of a sprint, some teams and stakeholders will make the sacrifice of skipping the retrospective to do what is thought to be more productive completion work. This is in fact a huge sacrifice, since the habit of skipping the retrospective in itself will wipe out the need or perceived need to do one for any future sprint.

An instated workflow process that does not leave time for a feedback loop, will likely leave one out for all future workflows. When this happens, danger presides and can only be undone when someone with a persistent agile mindset (likely an agile business coach or scrum master role) attempts to inform everyone that it needs to be added in. As you will likely notice, the “swimming against the stream” effect will come into play. It will be met with much resistance to change as we know most groups are prone to. It also will be met with much discouragement and heartfelt and time-wasting debate since there will be many who will be on both sides of the fence.

Setting the Record Straight

This makes the point, agile project methodologies, principles, and mindset are in place to function like an entire working organism, the events that are meant to take place are much more effective when they are all in plugged in. If they are removed or tailored, there has to be a highly experienced agile working team with an experienced agile coach that could pin point the possible downfalls of removing any aspect. Further to this, the highly experienced team would need to come to the agreement that if the foreseeable pitfalls were to occur, the missing pieces will be added back in, and with certainty of knowing that the pitfalls are being caused by the tailoring process itself, much like “trial and error” in experimentation. If the agile team roles are made up of fully inexperienced members, therein will be the ultimate risk and error just waiting to happen at which point there is no easy return even with agile training courses. This is where the self-fulfilling prophecy will come into place whereby naysayers will state that agile doesn’t work in the form of the much dreaded “we told you so.” Continuous improvement has a lot to do with accepting change. When sprints are completed and done properly over time and with additional coaching and mentoring, it becomes much more effective and seamlessly risk-free so that changes become more acceptable.

[Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]


 

Agile vs Waterfall – How an Agile Lean Approach Reduces Time to Market

When creating a product that we are excited about, we might already start to think about how to get it out to the market as soon as possible. When taking a lean approach if we were looking at it in terms of project methodology (agile vs waterfall), it is certainly quicker than waterfall. This however raises the question about what the primary features of your product will be. If you or your team have already wandered off into the abyss of creativity, and started to think of every possible feature, it’s fine to do so (without wasting too much time). But ultimately to get started, it’s important to get back to thinking about the core.

agile-vs-waterfall-how-an-agile-lean-approach-reduces-time-to-market

The first step to accomplishing this is to think of scaling your product with a list or series of MMFs (Minimally Marketable Features) to create your MVP (Minimum Viable Product). This could be more difficult to do than you might think. If your team has already gone really far in the amount of features your product will have, you’ll have to take a few steps back, and do some agile release planning with the intent of categorizing them (or backlog items) in the following order:

1 – Is this feature adding to necessary working functionality?

As part of scaling back your product to be a minimum viable product, you have to think about the basic features and functions. In today’s technology enhanced world, we may feel blinded to the extreme amount of features that we get when buying something like an electronic device. Some may come with a user guide that, let’s admit, only 10% or less of buyers will actually read. Many just need 5% of features that the product can provide. That is not to say that the other features aren’t useful, but you can easily appeal to the larger part of the market that is looking to use the product for the majority of uses. For example, think of a product like the smart-phone and think about how many people actually use it just for talking or dialing numbers to call people. Most consumed the majority of the device’s use by texting and emailing, and reading. Imagine if you spent 90% of product development time (or project management life cycle) on a feature that is only used 5% of the time. You wouldn’t be attracting much of the market. But we have to admit, if you bought a smart-phone, it’s very basic function would be to make or receive calls. Using iterative deliveries such as what we find in sprints, can allow for those quicker more frequent releases.

2 – Is this feature marketable once implemented, and what is the perceived ROI?

There should be some considerable market research for the product you are willing to produce. More importantly, the research should also be able to provide the level of market demand. With that level of market research, the Product Owner and Agile Business Analyst should be able to determine the short to long-term benefits of that product once begin it is released to the market. This could be listed out as ROI for each of the features being planned to include in each iterative release of the product. For example, Feature 1 = $10,000 returns, Feature 2 = $5,000, Feature 3 = $100. By looking at the list you will immediately know that developing Features 1 and 2 will give you a return of $15,000. Especially if you knew that your project could only budget for development of 2 features.

3 – How soon can it be completed? implemented?

The time to develop and release a new product will ultimately determine how fast you can get your product out to the market. The key will be to take the features that would provide the highest level of return for the lowest amount of development time or cost. This might not be a simple exercise, but with proper analysis and calculations, your agile team, should be able to decide which those features give the highest result. This reduces risks in multiple forms. Primarily the risk of waste is reduced, such that the possibility that the product feature becomes obsolete before it is ever released is diminished being sold and in the hands of your consumers.

4 – Is there a foreseeable or complimentary enhancement release that can easily be added to this feature?

If you are working on Version 1 of your product, you may already realize that a few more plug-in features can be added to the product with minimal effort in future releases. Your competition may already be looking at those added features before you get them out to the market, so it would be important to consider carefully before you develop your first version. Having a well laid out agile release plan, would allow you to see if the market will be looking for an update to your product relatively quickly. This would also depend on the nature of your product, since software is relatively more easy and less costly to update and distribute than a piece of hardware.

5 – Can the product be easily adopted or used?

With reference to point 1 above, if you are developing a product that the market can use right away, that is certainly a plus. The other side of the coin is, whether or not the consumer-base is able to use your product right away and would it fill an immediate need. The intent to having your product out to the market quickly, is to be the first product that the market will adopt and hold on to for future updates. If there are many competitors out there producing similar featured products, you have to compete on the level where you are releasing the most amount of updates or upgrades in the form of additional features so that the perceived benefit of your product is the highest among your competitors. If you keep in mind, the higher the perceived benefit, the market value will go up. With a higher perceived value, there is an automatic willingness for the market to pay more for your product, and that gives higher ROI.

Taking all points into consideration with an agile mindset and lean tools can more easily facilitate the team’s ability to get your product out to market. Since after all, the best way to consider simplifying all product options and how to simplify them further, is more easily attained by engaging the experts themselves.

[Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]


How to Manage Epics as an Agile Tool in Planning

how-to-manage-epics-as-an-agile-tool-in-planningAs part of a large project, you may have a complex product to develop. Whether for intangible (software, games) or tangible (hardware, electronics), there is a need to structure your backlog by level of complexity and size. Although we typically do not go so far as creating Epics in all agile instances, they can prove to be a handy agile tool if created and used in an organized fashion.

The idea behind Epics are to create a sense of commonality between multiple user stories. It is important at this stage to be sure your agile team members are not using the terms for Epics interchangeably with other terms that could drive confusion in day-to-day communication. But along with this defined approach, all team roles (product owners, business analysts, scrum masters, developers, etc) should think of Epics structures and how they will be used going forward. Here we look at Epic examples in hierarchies for Features, Themes or Requirements.

Features in Epic Hierarchies

One way to look at an Epic is to identify it as the high-level feature. As an example we are referring to the physical features of a landing page on a website. It would have a header, footer, content, images, media, etc. With that you can further breakdown the characteristics with user stories, and then tasks to look like the following:

Epic(Feature) —> User Story —> Task(s)
Example: Header —> As user, I would be able to use a search bar to search the site content… —> Investigate Search Bar functionality

Themes in Epic Hierarchies

Epic —> Theme —> User Story —> Task(s)
Example: Landing Page —> Page Structure —-> As a user, I would see 3 columns… —> Create left column, Create right column, Create center column

Requirements in Epic Hierarchies

If you were developing a series of websites for instance, you would need to repeat a set of requirements for each website. In this case you would likely re-use the requirements as you start each website, and then vary those features. The following example would facilitate re-use of the requirements from one website to the next.

Epic(Requirement) —> Feature —> User Story —> Task(s)
Example: Website Landing Page —> Website Page Navigation —> As a user, I will be able to navigate to all site pages from the landing page… —> Create Navigation Bar

There is no definite way to use Epics, these are simply examples. The variations can be infinite and can vary from team to team, project to project, or product to product. But as we know that Epics are typically large user stories, and represent a level above the user story. One thing that needs to remain stable is that the agile team must agree to structure that makes sense for them.

Using Epics to Stay Organized

Using Epics as an agile tool to organize the stories, can enable easier overview of the different product components (features/requirements/themes). As the sprint backlog can list tasks to be developed by multiple agile working teams on different features at the same time, the overview of each Epic can help the Product Owner prioritize stories and interlinking dependencies with each other.

Another useful setup that helps in the structuring of swimlanes for your Sprint/Kankan boards is to have them created according to your Epics. This makes the horizontal divisions clear on the common groupings. It also adds another dimension to manage on your board, but it certainly would be helpful in larger sized projects.

The most important part in creating structures, is to keep it simple. If there is too much team discussion and confusion where everyone is lost in managing the structure, it means that it’s not simple or clear enough. Of course, if all else fails, keep in mind that Epics are not essential. If your team doesn’t see a need for them to exist in your agile product management scheme, just leave them out, as they might not be required due to your project not being as large or complex as originally thought.

[Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]


10 Signs of Unsound Agile Individuals

Top 10 Signs of Unsound Agile IndividualsYou may not always notice at first, but you may come across certain individuals within agile product management circles who although they may consider themselves practicing agile principles, may in fact not be.

Here are a couple of tell-tale signs on how to identify unsound agile individuals, or get some indication that someone isn’t grasping agile as it is meant to be:

1 – They use the term agile to refer to a process

You may see this one as the most common. Where the fact that their development cycles involve the use of sprints, they interpret this as being agile. This is one of the most common reasons why misinformed management see agile as ineffective. Most software development managers and their teams will take certain aspects of agile, mainly in the form of an agile tool, and then try to explain to management that they are doing things in an agile project methodology. Due to the lack of overall understanding of what agile is, this inevitably leads to failure, and the creates the misconception.

2 – They say agile for Kanban/Scrum/XP/Lean Interchangeably

Rather than referring to the synthesis of methods, processes, practices, principles and ideologies of agile solutions, some individuals seem to identify with only one agile practice, i.e. being knowledgeable in Scrum, they speak in terms of Scrum in itself as what it means to be agile. Certainly practicing scrum would be a step in the right direction, but it’s not all there is.

3 – They have a command-and-control approach to management

When someone uses their work title as the only form of authorization and direction to make decisions, you will inevitably see lack of innovation and creativity from the teams they were meant to lead. Micromanaging is counter-intuitive to the servant-leadership approach that agile promotes.

4 – They would rather work alone

You may notice those that like to just do things on their own, and see it at the most effective way to get things done. Agile is not accomplished in a bubble and it requires the full spectrum of agile team roles and the synergy that it provides.

5 – They prefer low-effective forms of communication

If the person you are speaking to prefers regular use of emails, texts, and IMs as their principle forms of communication it will short change the entire chain of communication. The reason for this is that most of those messages lose the original intent they are meant to convey. When we consider that 7% of all communication is words, 55% visual, and 38% vocal, we can see that there are some serious limitations to just communicating in a written form.

6 – They think that agile alone guarantees project success

This comes from many misconceptions, but mainly it principally comes from limited depth in understanding how to become agile. Some people like to throw around agile as a plan for success because they read about it in an article, when in fact they do not realize that using it as a “buzzword” for a solution does not mean there would be the proper steps taken to succeed.

7 – They expect others to “do-as-they-say”, not “do-as-they-do”

This is similar to command and control, but goes beyond structure. We are referring principally to when you have someone who likes to do things contrary to what they’ve recommended or said. Also where they tend to see a sense of impunity, bullying and envy among teammates is along the same lines of where someone has lost the grasp of what it means to be a part of an agile working team.

8 – They do a lot of talking and not enough listening

When you see that someone is regularly the only one talking or interrupting in a conversation, this means they are likely unable or unwilling to be active listeners. This likely could be interpreted to mean that they don’t value your opinion and would rather be in a position of influence rather than compromise or collaboration. This is not to be confused with active participation. If someone is asking relevant questions they are likely listening very closely and want to hear more about what others have to offer in the conversation.

9 – They judge unsparingly

We’ve all heard of tough love, but when you have someone who persistently rants and gives negative, unconstructive criticism it puts a halt on all team synergy. Nobody wants to contribute in an environment where they will be judged.

10 – They have low EI (Emotional Intelligence)

Many people are stuck on having the most knowledge, the most expertise, the most qualifications. All of that means nothing if you do not have a personable way to approach those you interact with. For someone having a low EI means that there’s a lack in ability to distinguish between their own emotions and those of others. This makes communication and trust (among other things), very hard to accomplish. In the presence of someone with low EI, most will interpret that person’s actions as being negligent, narcissistic, arrogant, or unsympathetic.

Giving these examples will hopefully shed some light on the types of signs where others who would likely present themselves as agile mindset individuals. This is not to be used as a means to single out those types of individuals to be banned from such teams, however we do encourage regular agile coaching, training, and courses to help educate them about the impact they take on their overall environment. It is difficult to find people knowledgeable in all areas of agile, as most pick their area of comfort and become highly skilled practitioners in their specific area of expertise.

[Image courtesy of iosphere at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]


Why Agile Planning is Time Well Invested

When looking at the cumulative amount of time invested in agile planning, you may be surprised to find out there’s a lot more used than a waterfall project. How many times have you made a purchase only to find out that you could have spared some funds if you would have taken a few more minutes or hours of research to get the best deal. If only you would have taken some time to plan in advance. Sure you can just return it for that 30-day money back guarantee, but why waste the time and effort after the fact? The reason here, is lack of planning. Like all things we are interested in, we tend to reduce the amount of time between something that we want so that our brains can register that point of fulfillment. But what if you really got what you wanted and without remorse? Wouldn’t your fulfillment be much greater? The answer is YES. Instant gratification is not always the best route especially if it means that you will have issues to resolve right after.

How is it that projects get into trouble toward the end and not at the beginning? The answer might raise memories of regular finger-pointing that took place in more than one of many likely scenarios. Anywhere from blaming the customer, vendor, unforeseen events, or employee incompetency. This creates an awkward situation and all egos get the best of everyone, so that eventually it becomes a race to prove who is the least guilty in the whole process. If you’ve reached that point, it’s already too late to fix the problem, and the situation is probably already highly toxic.

Cone of Uncertainty
Cone of Uncertainty

Understanding Risk and Uncertainty

In order to undo our regular mind programming to get to the end of a project to guess if it was set for success, we need to implement processes that give us the best use of our time and will give long-lasting motivation, satisfaction and gratification. In a typical project management life cycle, we might think of uncertainty as a steady plateau of risks and issues, but in fact risk is highly concentrated at the beginning and much less at the end of the timeline. Visually, this is represented by the cone of uncertainty.

The representation of the cone indicates that you know significantly more as time goes by. But what does this mean for everyone on a project? Toward your client, you need to be sure no promises are made, especially not at the very beginning. For your client, it means that they are risking time and budget without knowing what product they are getting until the near end of the project.

One-time Planning vs Iterative Planning

Now imagine this is a one year project, and everyone suspects they are up for some big surprises at the end. Now we figure, “let’s plan everything at the beginning and everything will be fine.” To be honest, most projects aren’t even that fortunate. It would be a step in the right direction. But what if changes occur throughout our project, as almost all do? We figure, sure let’s create that “change request” and do it. That’s alright, but what happens to the rest of what we planned? We still have to do it, and therefore our efforts get crunched if we try to keep the same timeline.

In the agile project methodology we have events such as release planning and sprint planning, so we’ve already taken care of change as part of the process. As part of the iterative process the agile team is able to adjust as they go along. While we are building-in the planning at the beginning of each sprint (agile games such as planning poker included), we know more and more as we go along and as a result we are allowing ourselves to take on the benefit of progressive elaboration. What this means over time is that as we know more and more about everything in the project (literally), we can plan accordingly so that as we get to the end, the product we set out to develop is as close as possible to what is expected.

In the end, there’s a lot more planning in agile that both you and your client must do (if comparing waterfall vs agile), but it is a lot more of what you want, and a lot less time-wasting will result. It can be seen as a good investment since you will have more time at the end of your project giving and receiving praise. You will have also avoided all that time trying to justify to your customer why certain features that were identified at the very beginning of the project, were not included. Certainly there are other factors to make the end-result a success, such as considerable backlog management and necessary stakeholder involvement, but this is just a part of what you can expect.


How to Define Your Kanban Workflow Management

Whether or not your workflow management tools include a kanban board with a workflow process via an actual (low-tech) office wall or having a (high-tech) virtual agile software board, you want to avoid having too much WIP (work in progress). If there is too much WIP, you may create too much waste or risk in the form of lagging partially completed work, or excessive waiting. Furthermore, excessive WIP will also cause blockages to be obscured and hidden.

Here’s an example of a comprehensive status workflow automation from beginning to end:

New –> Open –> In Progress –> Code Review –> Code Committed –> QA Ready –> QA In Progress –> QA Passed [or] QA Failed –> UAT Ready –> UAT In Progress –> UAT Passed [or] UAT Failed –> Closed/Done

A more simplified (and recommended) view of this workflow process would look like this:

To Do –> In Progress –> Done

how-to-define-your-kanban-workflow-management/In either workflow solution, it is in everyone’s best interest to place WIP limits. Before your sprint would start, you should be able to determine based on the story points and team size what the typical limits should be as per the agile team roles and team members. These can then be calculated and factored to represent the overall WIP limits for your board to prevent too much clutter. However as you can guess, the comprehensive example above or any type similar to it, would be the most difficult one to set limits to, since the stories would be scattered everywhere across multiple statuses.

Like any complex procedure, it is best to break it down into smaller parts. A simplified board should be used as your dashboard view to get a consistently general view of progress.  Once you’ve scaled down your board as much as possible the WIP limits will become easier to manage. A notable mention is the status “Blocked” which can be shown with a more specific indication of which workflow the block occurrence came from, i.e. Blocked in Dev, Blocked in QA, or Blocked in UAT. This will further allow for a quick response to the blockages.

The example given above assumes workflow management processes are happening simultaneously, but it would certainly be more appropriate to create some workflows in later sprints or specific milestone date if you knew, for example, that UAT was coming at a much later time. The key is to keep it simple.

[Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]


Top 5 Ways Agile Mitigates Risk

Top 5 Ways Agile Mitigates RiskIf you’ve ever been on the project from hell, you may be able to relate to the resulting extra costs, lost time, excess waste and lost customer satisfaction. Implementing agile properly can help reduce the occurrence of such shortcomings. The beauty of agile is that it is already tailored to reduce risk and therefore increase the value of the product being developed whether in a manufacturing or software environment.

Parts of an agile framework that promote risk mitigation

1 – Sprint Durations: We all know that the agile framework is founded on sprints and multiple iterations. We can tailor those sprint durations from 2 to 4 weeks once we complete the agile release planning. Is your project likely to be high in risk? Try reducing the duration of your sprint to the lower end of the range. The reason for this is that you are building in more frequent cycles for each of your deliverable features. Further to this, you get to revisit your planning cycle more frequently and determine the accuracy of your agile team velocity in less time, making it more predictable and therefore reducing risk over time.

2 – Retrospectives: At the end of each sprint you are meant to go over all the events and processes that went well and not so well. You then carry these results forward in to your next sprint as your “lessons learned.” Since you will be doing this for each sprint, the frequency of those retrospectives gives everyone on your team the opportunity to tackle ineffective processes, and the chance to implement more effective ones. This reduces your risk of being wide open to possible wasted initiatives.

3 – Backlog Grooming: The ongoing process of backlog grooming for your Product and Sprint backlog allows the possibility of revising and reviewing the priority and importance of the features your team will build into each iteration. This is primarily the Product Owner’s responsibility, but it is supposed to be done in conjunction with the inputs from the rest of the agile team roles and stakeholders. The more frequent the backlog grooming takes place, the more you are able to reduce the risk of ROI loss by not implementing lesser valued features, and implementing immediate returns from your agile solution.

4 – Promoting Transparency: When all stakeholders are engaged in a project, and being at the utmost expression of their intents and expectations, there is less risk for all team members to go off track and building an unwanted set of deliverables. Much of the transparency comes from what is gathered through the accumulation of the events that take place during the sprint such as: Sprint Planning, Standups, Sprint Reviews and Retrospectives. Each of them allows everyone in the agile team to know exactly what is going on and the risk of delivering anything less than what all stakeholders expected is lowered.

5 – Frequent Deliveries and Sprint Reviews: When we get to the end of each sprint it typically represents a similar implementation as one project management life cycle at a smaller scale. The development team is expected to deliver all backlog items that have reached their definition of “done.” Since all backlog items that were completed and demonstrated are added on to the existing product, there is no underlying wondering on how or what the finished product will look like. It is delivered at the end of each sprint, whether as the initial product deliverable or the increment of that initial product with additional features. Since we do this frequently on agile projects, the risk of wasted features is reduced once the product is delivered. Customers get instant gratification since they will get to use the product immediately.

Most risks can be avoided, as much as the agile framework will help prevent them from manifesting. The points to consider then making sure that the risks remain at bay, are to make sure that stakeholders are engaged to the greatest extent possible. It is imperative that the stakeholders involved are genuine and without hidden agendas. This would allow for quick turnaround to address risks and issues presented.

[Image courtesy of jscreationzs at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]


 

How Servant Leadership Increases Agile Team Productivity

Did you ever give a very clean concise explanation to someone who was as asking very general question? You did this with the best of intentions so that you could share your knowledge and hope that the answer to the question was helpful. It probably was, but what you realized then, the only definition of the topic that the person will use at all times was the one you just gave them – without discovering for themselves what the many areas that topic may hold.

It’s not always about what to say, but mainly what not to say

how-servant-leadership-increases-agile-team-productivityAs servant leaders in agile teams, regardless of our the project methodology as waterfall vs agile, we need to identify where there is that fine line between giving finite information vs opening up the level of discovery on that topic by giving just enough to get interests elevated so that your team or individual members will continue to learn about that topic. No doubt, there are many modes of discovery for people in agile team roles. It’s human nature to stop learning when we think that we know all there is to know. Sometimes we feel as though, whatever our leaders or agile business coaches tell us, is all there is to know. This is where there are fine lines that servant leaders might cross. If you appear to be the only source of information in the eyes of your agile working team, you will always be that source and you will not be doing your team members any service. This will prevent your team from becoming self-organized.

Leaving the mindset of absolute control and absolute direction

It is important to realize that there are ways to keep someone on the path to staying innovative and productive. Mainly as servant leaders you need to keep your answers short but provide enough indication that there are multiple relevant sources of information. Certainly this comes with time, you need to somehow be a subject matter expert, or at least have access to some. But the main idea is how to keep the communication clear and give just enough to fuel the need to know more and more, and on a regular basis. The other side to this is to make sure there is no judgement when failure is imminent. We need to see failure as one of the ways we learn. The important part about seeing where the current path is leading to, is not to give too much information where you become the point of reference to each step. It’s easy to follow steps and that is where you may stagnate the innovative mind to just want to follow instead of taking the initiative.

Inspiring has a greater impact than informing

Whether providing agile consulting as agile servant leaders or as agile business coaches, there is greater benefit to being increasingly aware of what some of the side effects of our leadership and communication style may be. It’s fun to give information and know that it’s appreciated. However, if responding usually in the form of a question (i.e. what do you think would resolve this issue? or what issues do you notice come up frequently and why?), you may get your team to think self-sufficiently and get thinking on how to progress with much more impacting results. This will promote the need to attend more agile courses, or better yet create a system of agile games that enables issue resolution. Do not limit the amount of information you can provide, but give just enough and think along lines of quality, not quantity of the information. See it as planting a seed. The growing of the plant grows best on its own while giving it right amounts of soil, sun and water at different times. This is the best way to ensure its growth. It will grow without the expectation that you will need to pull on the stem to expect quicker and faster growth.

[Image courtesy of ratch0013 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]


Top 5 Agile Myths and Misconceptions

If you are planning on becoming agile at your workplace, you’ll most definitely come across some colleagues that have a negative outlook about what’s coming. The thing to consider is that everyone wants the benefits of being agile but they are not likely to be committed to actually making the changes to become fully agile. This is where myths and misconceptions come into play to justify potential failure down the road. Keep in mind this failure would not be from implementing agile itself, but rather the lack of actually implementing agile to its fullest potential.

Here are the top myths and misconceptions that must be dispelled or at least brought up in situations leading to disappointing results:

1 – Agile is Chaotic – It certainly isn’t easy, but when implemented properly and with many trained and experienced practitioners, agile can be very organized and structured. There is a lot more planning that goes into agile projects when compared to waterfall. In fact planning is done at the beginning of every sprint, but it doesn’t stop there.

2 – Agile is just a recent trend – Believe it or not agile has been around for many years, and it has taken on many forms over time. The term “Agile” is perhaps more recent in terms of use, but the methodologies that were around previous to what are now encompassed by what we’ve deemed as agile, have been around for many years, and still continue to be used.

3 – Agile needs a lot of training – You need to start somewhere, but experience is valued more than training. Being on an agile project while being open to learning about it, can give you all the training you need. Certainly that comes with asking questions, reading a few books or attending a couple of seminars of agile courses along the way, but there’s no more training than any other process in today’s workplace.

4 – Agile is for small teams – Many people who have worked on large projects might see that agile and sticking only to the basic agile team roles is unattainable, at least in the strictest sense. However, an agile working team can be scaled and works very well with the proper structure put in place. Beyond that, keep in mind agile isn’t purely about the processes it imposes, but also relies heavily on the people and collective emotional intelligence of the agile team adopting it.

5 – Agile doesn’t require testing – For those accustomed to waterfall vs agile projects, most would be expecting to find or look for the QA testing schedule. The one that typically comes at the end of every waterfall structured project. With agile the testing takes place simultaneously throughout the project and is done in a more seamless process, usually facilitated by tools like jira. The testing (inspection) goes on from beginning to end and is part of every sprint.

[Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]


Sharing is Caring – Why Transparency is Necessary in Agile Teams

In agile consulting there is much emphasis on having all parts of the agile team working together in the same direction, that even when there is conflict, it is mainly constructive. With that we tend to give rise to quick failure only to give a quicker solution so that progress continues. When all parts don’t communicate and hold back, the system falls apart. An agile working team is based on the principle of being transparent – no secrets!

The Agile Team Dynamics Working Toward Transparency

When we think of the primary agile team roles (Scrum master, Product Owner, and Team), we might be easily swayed to think that they are a distinct and separate part of the whole. In some ways yes that is true, but in every other way, they are a very synchronous part of the agile system. That is to say, they always communicate much in the same way that the human brain works with the other parts of the 5 human senses. When one part hears a sound, the entire brain works together to analyse the situation so that when there is a sense of danger or harmony, the reaction is acted upon without judgement and without resistance. All parts work together to give a common result.

sharing-is-caring-transparency-in-agile-teamsThe other benefit of all senses working together in one’s brain, is that new and more intuitive senses come into creation. When you see that everyone thinks about something right before someone else is about to say the same thing, you know that there’s much more at work than the regular senses can provide.

What Breaks Transparency

If there is one thing that breaks all forms of constructive progress is fear. Much like Roosevelt’s saying “Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself’,” that is a very true statement. Much like every other team, there are causes to what might keep others from sharing and communicating information effectively, and therefore reducing transparency.

Here are a few of such causes of fear:

1 – Failure – Someone can have a great idea, but as a result of fear of failure will hold back from sharing with the rest of the team. Think of all the ideas we had that we thought were ridiculous, but when someone else acted upon it, we found out it was a great and highly popular or profitable invention.

2 – Lack of Trust – When we get over the fear of failure we may traverse another realm of fear, the lack of trust. We might actually get to the point where there is self-confidence in what we might be able to contribute to the team, but only to be taken down by the possibility that someone might steal your idea or even worse, take all credit for it.

3 – Past Experience – This is a big one. Due to societal anxieties and situations that cause many to try to avoid the past, many try to undo or avoid what may have happened in the past. What most might not realize is that every team is different, even more so, is that there are many more situations out there that might seem the same as previous one, but are in fact not the same due to even slightly different variables.

4 – Success – You might ask, how can this be??? Well many people think that success is going to change their life so in many ways this is the fear of the unknown. What this might mean to a further extent is that many are afraid of the attention gained by success because they don’t know how they will react to it.

How do we get past fears?

Agile processes and methodologies strive for bringing out intuition to the team members and groups that adopt them. With that comes about the need for many angles toward increased knowledge and practice. The ways in which to accomplish agile solutions, and perhaps break the habit of fearful thinking is by attending online agile courses, agile training sessions, agile games, agile consulting, or better yet just get an agile coach on your team.

A business coach would be able to analyse and review an agile project methodology, and pick out what areas of fear that could be holding a team down. Getting to the bottom of what is preventing the team to move forward will get team members to gain speed and velocity much more quickly and build on team synergy that is remarkable if set in the right direction with the right ideas.

[Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]


How to Prioritize Backlogs with Agile Teams

When we look at a long list of tasks to complete, we sometimes lose focus on deciding which ones really matter with regard to any specific criteria that would give us the intended outcome. The simple answer is to say that everything on the list is urgent and important, but it isn’t always true. Sometimes level of importance changes with time and it is for that reason (or at least one them), that we have separate backlogs for each sprint in an Agile project. There’s a list of tools that we can use in Agile that would allow us to sort it out, however we need to change our mindset first before we go there.

How do we know what needs to get done first?

When we look at all features we would like to build into our product, we tend to get an indefinite sense of their importance. Common thinking will naturally lead everyone to say that everything in that backlog will need to be done. It may be true, but as we know there are factors to consider before giving all items in a list a high priority. The other issue is that most of us think we know what we want, but then are influenced by factors that are not necessarily our own. From a business stance, we may be acting on behalf of another group of stakeholders, so outside influence might be a consideration to some extent. In certain cases, where there is very little known about a product we are about to develop, an event called an Agile Spike used to elaborate and analyze the feasibility of a suggested product.

Can We Determine the Difference Between Urgent and Important?

prioritize-backlogs-agile-teamsThe first, but often skipped step in prioritizing agile solutions, is to create backlogs with an order based on a fixed set of criteria. Even then, we tend to group items that are urgent and important into the same batch. If we look at the list during agile planning and think in terms of reducing risk, we may be able to get a clearer idea of which items we need to address first. Also keep in mind that risk and value have an inverse relationship, wherein if we reduce risk, we are also increasing value. To think of this in other terms, if we had a usable product that was absolutely risk-free after purchase, we would certainly value it more than it’s risk-prone alternatives.

The second way to look at prioritizing our feature list of items is by looking at potential return on investment (ROI) especially as part of agile release planning. When we get a feature that resolves the majority of risk, but also gives us a monetary return, it should be included as part of a strategic agile product management plan that increases potential for profitability and long-term sustainability. Hence by prioritizing we give ourselves the benefit of continued growth to the business.

Lastly, we can look at what to prioritize from the current market outlook. This would either be in regard to latest or upcoming technologies, purchasing trends, expert insight, demographics, etc. If we anticipate that there are certain events that will take place in the near future, we can give priority to our backlog items.

Recommended Tools:

MoSCoW method, High-Medium-Low, 1-2-3-4-5, Priority-Impact Matrix, Action-Priority Matrix, NPV.

How do we narrow it down?

As always, agile processes are constantly evolving and this is where regular agile courses and agile consulting can add value to your entire organization. There are numerous ways we can prioritize a backlog and structure the thought process. The main point to consider is that we should not base it on a random set of criteria, but rather a more decisive one in which an agile working team can have a fixed set that is used throughout prioritization activities. Your criteria should resonate with overall business goals and targets. The key is to avoid making it overly tedious try to establish the activity as an agile games session (i.e. planning poker), and establish a set of 3 to 4 criteria that everyone agrees on that would facilitate prioritization and make your efforts worthwhile.

[Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]


How to Recognize Team Synergy in Agile Teams

Ok, so you’re about to start your project and you look toward your resourcing department to get new team members to join the group. You realize quickly, that you want to be sure you can foresee whether or not your colleagues will allow for creating something great and interesting. As you proceed with introductions and discussions, you start to wonder how soon your agile team will reach its fullest potential regarding synergy and the related benefits of reaching that high point.

Team Synergy is NOT instantaneous

recognize-team-synergy-agile-teamsWe must consider that everyone can learn to get along and get the project from start to finish with a deliverable that all stakeholders expected, like a well oiled agile supply chain. Office politics aside, there will be those that have their own hidden agendas, clique mentality and those who will want to do things their “own way.” This of course means they are not team players, but I’m speaking to those who like what they’re doing and prefer to do things as a team. Fundamentally I’m referring those who are professional-minded.

What does this mean for an agile team even with a good set of skills and capacity to deliver? Stages that all teams must undergo over time, regardless of each member’s level of maturity or project methodology you use, it will happen in the same order as the following:

1. Forming: This is the initial stage, and it’s the easy stage. It simply represents the team members getting together, being formally introduced, and everyone getting to know one another.

2. Storming: This next stage is where everyone starts to flex and see what their colleagues are capable of, but also where boundaries are set, whether implicit or explicit. It’s where everyone identifies with their strengths and makes sure everyone knows what their area of expertise is. This evidently, is the stage where most conflict will occur, and as you might guess, is where everyone’s level of maturity will show up. So there will be resistance, and possibly group dynamics that will bend and stretch. A good recommendation at this stage is to get some good agile consulting, agile training courses, or participate in agile games sessions.

3. Norming: This is the stage where the “dust settles from the storm.” Everyone recognizes their differences, and moves to agreement whether pleasant or not, but they work to understand and trust each other’s area of expertise, despite disagreements in certain areas, they take on their roles within the group.

4. Performing: This is typically the final stage, and it’s where the team dynamics and synergy are at their optimal level. In comparison to all stages before it, this would be the fun stage, and it’s typically where you want to keep the agile team intact, motivated, and contributing. Soon after this stage, we would typically adjourn as the project ends. For the best interest of your customers, you likely would want to keep that team intact from one project to another, unless you’re willing to expect a period of disruption. Depending on how many members of the agile team you switch in or out, the impact and time to get back to performing will vary. The potential results gained from a fully functional agile working team reaching this stage is a considerable asset.

Getting There is a Challenge, Staying There is an Even Bigger One

Consider that all these stages are in constant flux, especially when new members are introduced to the team and it’s regardless of whether or not you following waterfall vs agile principles. Another important factor is the size of the team, the larger the team, the more channels of communication there will be and that increased complexity will extend the duration of those stages. Learning to identify each stage as an agile team progresses will help everyone to understand what types of agile solutions and outcomes to expect.

Another point we should not ignore, is the impression that we are in a later stage, when everyone has not entirely transitioned. That is to say, even if the team appears to be “performing” (something I like to call “pseudo-performing”), they may not have actually gotten past “norming,” possibly from the effects of a few bad apples, or members that just can’t agree to anything.

On a final note, these stages cannot be forced on a fixed or expected timeline regardless of whether or not you are considering waterfall vs agile, but they can be facilitated by an agile business coach, an essential part of an agile team. It wouldn’t necessarily be a formal note to the team saying “hey everyone, we’re in the ‘norming’ stage so let’s move on to the next stage.” Rather it would be along the lines of a statement such as “I can see our tasks are progressing well and there’s no major disruptions, everyone is in constructive agreement, we reached the ‘performing’ stage.”

[Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]


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