Warning! Parkingson’s Law in Agile Projects

One cannot avoid unseen forces in effect when agile in place. That said, when practicing Agile you must be aware of the “Laws” at work. We’re not necessarily talking about the ones that bring about the police, judge and jury if you break them. When looking at Parkinson’s Law, we’re talking about a law that you can’t avoid whether you like it or not. 

What Is Parkinson’s Law? And How it Works

Parkinson’s Law is all around us, and it’s part of our everyday lives, but since we find it to be a natural progression of what is constant in our day-to-day, we think nothing of it. So it’s time to wake up! What about Parkinson’s Law? Well it states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” That is to say, we usually think of estimating work (in whatever form you decide), to the extent that we know about the available resources. If you were asked to go fill a cup of coffee for someone, or yourself for that matter, would you be likely to fill it to the top, or just halfway. Sure we can think of the times we would fill it halfway, but more often than not, we fill it to the top. So we’re not saying Parkinson’s Law is an absolute or that it happens 100% of the time, but it does certainly happen often.

How Can You Spot Parkinson’s Law at Work?

avoiding-parkingsons-law-agileUsually when we estimate during planning sessions, we may be lead to fill up the time we have to do something, with the time we have available. So let’s think of this on 2 levels. In sprint planning we naturally fill in the Sprint with the story points based on our average velocities from previous sprints. Now that’s where Parkinson’s Law works well. And that’s actually why we use story points, to remove the concept of time, and falling into traps, not just Parkinson’s Law. But say for instance, someone asked you to estimate a Story (or Use Case) in real time, and imagine that you were somewhat influenced previously (or at that very session), where someone said in low-key that you had about 3 days to do it. It may very well take 2 days to complete the work, but are you being rational at that point? Or are you going to really take some time to figure out how long it may actually take? Any task, no matter how simple or compact, deserves a fresh set of thoughts and ideas to assess it’s level of complexity. Reason being, you wouldn’t want to over (or under) estimate a task if it truly wasn’t the time it could’ve actually taken.

What Are the Consequences?

Assume you estimated every task you had with what your colleagues told you is the “standard.” You could very well just go with the “standard” times, or better yet you may give yourself the excuse that you didn’t have the time to run through the actual requirement, or the task seems so simple, it shouldn’t take longer than the “standard.” Think about what this means with regard to the overall value of a project. The concept behind which sprint planning, depends on your flexing the metaphorical estimation muscles. The more you practice, the better you will become at being increasingly accurate. With unrealistic estimates, you may actually inflate budgets, and the perception of waste will be greatly increased, and the level of competitiveness drops. Many teams can fall victim with this Parkinson’s Law at work, when many tasks that shouldn’t take very long, end up being logged with double or triple the time it really took. You may be able to get away with it sometimes, but what if your client isn’t that naive?


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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).

Major Hurdles to Agile Adoption in Government Organizations

major-hurdles-agile-adoption-government-organizationsDespite what you’ve heard on the news about the federal debt, many federal, state, and local government agency budgets have been flat or declining for several years. Add in inflation and other cost increases, and these agencies are constantly being asked to do more with less. For the IT departments, this surely means they’ve made the transition to lean, mean, Agile teams, right? Well, no. But there are some good reasons for that.

Responsible Spending and Risk-Aversion

Government organizations usually have budgets that are determined by politicians and other actors outside the agency itself. Unlike companies that can expand budgets through increased revenue and profitability, government agencies need to justify budget requests by showing they have a responsible track record deploying their budget to meet their mission.

Tax payers don’t want the government making reckless decisions with their money. As a result, government organizations routinely make decisions that can be justified as responsible, risk-averse, or “safe” – even if those decisions are not the most efficient or cost-effective. I’ve heard it said that nobody has ever fired a government employee for using Microsoft Project on an IT initiative. In an environment like that,  a half-century old methodology like Waterfall – or a century old tool like Gantt charts – would be seen as preferable to newer methodologies that are not well understood to business or political stakeholders.

Delivery Dates vs. Sprint Cycles

Government IT solutions and systems are often the result of new laws or regulations, and have a defined time period in which they must be implemented after the new law is passed. Just like the adage, “requirements may be vague, but the software will be specific,” laws may be vague, but the regulations must be specific, and the software that implements them must be even more specific. Elements like complex business logic and multiple system interfaces cause managers and business stakeholders to ask for lots of documentation to prove that the system was built correctly.

When a new law mandates implementation by a specific date it creates an anchoring effect, that the system needs to be “done” by that date. Briefing senior government officials or even legislators on sprint velocity and burn rates is a much bigger challenge than providing dates and percentages. Even if, in the end, delivering the most valuable 80% of a solution on time should be preferable to delivering 100% of a system after a 1-2 year delay.

Software and Tools

Another reason no one in government ever got in trouble for managing an IT project with Microsoft Project is because it is already on the list of pre-approved software for use that nearly every agency maintains, in one form or another. Hardware and infrastructure requirements are a common consideration, as are licensing costs. But security concerns are an increasingly big reason why software on pre-approved lists keeps getting used instead of newer or better products being adopted.

Getting software tools approved for use at a federal agency means completing a thick stack of paperwork. It also requires a champion to spearhead the process, work with Help Desks on administration and conducting training. This means longer-term commitments to tools than in the private sector, and that larger companies with established products get used more often.

End User vs. Customer

Until recently, most end users of government IT systems were employees of that agency, so there was little conflict in seeing the end-user as an internal customer. As the internet has proliferated, more businesses and individuals are interacting directly with government IT systems: submitting applications and appeals, self-registering or updating information, or just searching for general information on a government website or portal. These external end users, or government customers, present a unique tension when designing systems for them.

While “the customer is always right” is a great motto for many private businesses, government agencies need to walk a fine line with that approach. They run the risk being too accommodating or “too cozy” with the people and businesses they regulate, and can erode trust that the government agency can regulate or monitor effectively.

Tight budgets, pre-defined timelines, and the need for some agencies to keep end users at arm’s length make it easy to de-emphasize agile principles like personas, end user demos, and usability sessions.


Contributing Author

David Pradko is a project manager and certified business analyst, who has worked with over a dozen government agencies to design and implement IT solutions. He as also appeared at the IIBADC’s Business Analysis Development Day and on Federal Tech Talk radio to discuss Agile in the federal government.

You can follow David on Twitter at @DPradko


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Agile Antipatterns: The Dangers of Groupthink

agile-antipatterns-dangers-groupthinkAs agile practitioners we are always looking out for the best interest of all stakeholders. We understand that the team is self-managing, self-organizing, self-(fill-in-the-blank…). Apart from being aware of the values and principles that make up the agile manifesto, we are also concerned that as human beings we have an unlimited propensity toward certain truths and abilities, but our ability to engage in antipatterns is somewhat limitless. Enter the antagonizing concept Groupthink. Notice it’s not spelled in 2 separate words or no hyphen to merit their joining. At first we may think there’s nothing to be concerned about this term, but with further investigation we realize that it’s not something you’d want for your agile team.

What is Groupthink?

Groupthink is defined as the consensus or directions that a group of people take when faced with a decision. It stems from anything on the fear spectrum such as intimidation, or even just plain indifference. When stemmed from intimidation, the minority members may feel like they would need to agree with the majority so they could “fit in” or avoid being reprimanded. The proponent of such actions don’t appear to be so much about “ego building” but rather about “saving face.”

What Are the Dangers of Groupthink?

Therein lies the dangers of antipatterns what we have on a day-to-day. The old adage “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” rings in. How this happens to some extent is not necessarily with that one decision made on a particular day or particular week, but actually many decisions over many weeks, months, or even years. According to the Psychologists for Social Responsibility, Groupthink brings about the following inherent symptoms:

  1. Illusion of invulnerability –Creates excessive optimism that encourages taking extreme risks.
  2. Collective rationalization – Members discount warnings and do not reconsider their assumptions.
  3. Belief in inherent morality – Members believe in the rightness of their cause and therefore ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions.
  4. Stereotyped views of out-groups – Negative views of “enemy” make effective responses to conflict seem unnecessary.
  5. Direct pressure on dissenters – Members are under pressure not to express arguments against any of the group’s views.
  6. Self-censorship – Doubts and deviations from the perceived group consensus are not expressed.
  7. Illusion of unanimity – The majority view and judgments are assumed to be unanimous.
  8. Self-appointed ‘mindguards’ – Members protect the group and the leader from information that is problematic or contradictory to the group’s cohesiveness, view, and/or decisions.

Does an Agile Mindset Prevent Groupthink?

Does removing a wrong statement from research make it right? This is the type of question we need to ask ourselves when we are on the path of continuous improvement. If we remove what is wrong in any environment, we could forget that it was identified later on. It is sort of like removing pages history from our past. We may likely repeat this behavior. Verbalizing would definitely be a start, either through a work-session, or by documenting it at some point. When something is verbalized by either an individual alone, or by a group of people, there is a process of recognition that builds concensus and buy-in. This is a very important of component of practicing with an agile mindset along with the concept of transparency. We need to be cognizant that we all know what we are agreeing to, or better yet we are not tricking ourselves to fit the ideals of our own personal agendas, principles or motives. We are looking at the bigger picture and are aware that we all collectively are deciding, committing, and taking the responsibility of those decisions. 

One of the most important elements in agile processes, commonly held in the Retrospectives, is that it helps promote the feedback loop and putting all cards on the table about the direction the team is taking. That is not to say that feedback does not occur in a daily standup, sprint demo, or sprint planning as well. The empirical processes of transparency should prevent Groupthink only to the extent that the team is willing to admit they are heading in the right direction, i.e. the team members could still all willingly pave the road to detriment if they so choose. But only difference would be that at least everyone knows they all agreed to it. When we have Groupthink, there is some obscurity about the true direction the team may be taking, in most cases transparency is intentionally hidden so that the issues and concerns will not likely come to light.

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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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5 Guidelines From Agile Modeling for Agile Best Practices

agile-modeling-guide-agile-best-practicesThroughout the life of project there are many potential pitfalls to implementing and practicing agile. As the agile principles and values are put into practice it’s important to take steps that keep the path of agile best practices for which you are looking to benefit from. The use of Agile Modeling is an excellent way to integrate agile principles and values that can complement almost any other agile methodology (i.e. Scrum, XP, etc.).

Agile Modeling components don’t all need to be implemented to make your project agile, however the more you can put in place with thought and importance in each project situation, can provide solid benefits over time. Most importantly, they provide a good framework to building an agile mindset, and integrate seamlessly in an ongoing agile project. The following is a short list of some components:

1 – Active Stakeholder Participation

As with any agile project, the best way to guarantee success is to make sure your stakeholders are involved at all times. The Product Owner usually is the voice of the stakeholders, and we would all hope that it is always that one person that could speak for many. The importance of “Active” is the key to success. There can be times where stakeholders come out from hiding and suddenly become a decisive voice (make or break) in the success of a project. Late stakeholders that become active at the end of a project open big risks as it is the most costly point at which to make changes to accommodate their expectations.

2 – Document Continuously and/or Document Late

Notice here that we mentioned “and/or,” as an approach to documenting your deliverables. It likely will depend on the type of solution and dependencies of functionalities between features as deliverables. That is to say, it’s always best to document continuously so that you don’t have to wait until the last-minute to remember which features were implemented in your solution. As expected in an agile iterative nature, you are looking to deliver a potentially shippable solution at the end of each sprint. This would require regular documentation revisions if the features were to change and evolve drastically over the course of numerous sprints.

Admittedly it sounds contradictory, but this is where it would be best to document late, since it would be less wasteful if you were to document your deliverable once all features were integrated as much as possible. Particular attention needs to be placed on the nature of the product and development. As in the case of software development, releases occur frequently, some major and some minor. Some consideration as to what will be major and minor can allow for less waste when it comes to documenting.

3 – Iteration Modeling

As the initial part of any iteration, we expect take some time for planning. Usually that time will vary from a half day to an entire day depending on the duration of your iteration/sprint. Iteration Modeling outlines the features and design of what is expected to be delivered by the end of the sprint. Some features may end up being developed in sub-parts over a number of sprints, as well as entire parts. The importance here, is to outline how modular some features may be to the rest of them. With that in place, it becomes much easier to prioritize a sprint backlog, which brings us to the next point.

4 – Prioritized Requirements

There are many factors that go into prioritizing requirements, but the one starting point to attaining this is to actually have a backlog (or list of work items) in the first place. In most cases this Sprint Backlog will come from a much larger list called the Product Backlog. As many practitioners soon find out, prioritizing is a key activity that requires identification of numerous factors such as: ROI, risks, stakeholder needs, functional dependencies, available resources, etc.

5 – Single Source Information

If there is one thing that can cause duplication is a highly bureaucratic and disorganized framework from which an organization is set up. Although seemingly simple, having one single source of information is a major challenge for an organization. Many will point to 1 wiki page as a source of information, whereas other departments try to set their own identities and create their own versions of information that gives them a sense of purpose. From an agile project approach, it is extremely important that all parties learn to use one source of information so that it is updated in 1 location to reduce redundancy and waste.

Many companies today, still strive to revise documents of the same content, but in different locations every time there’s update. Beyond just the internal operations, the complexity of multiple sources increases when working on a project where the client looks to use their own sources of project information in conjunction with that of the vendor’s information. In this scenario, duplication is not efficient and is highly wasteful throughout all organizations, as everyone struggles to find out which is the latest version of the code, documentation, template, etc.

More Agile Modeling Guidelines

From an Agile Modeling perspective there are many more components that make up the framework of agile best practices. The important factor to consider is that it will not be an overnight implementation, nor will it be an overnight success. It takes a considerable amount of time and resources to make an agile system work, but unfortunately, not many want to invest, and expect instant gratification. As history will show, even the concept of instant plug-and-play came with a series of bugs and fixes.

[Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]


 

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.

[Image courtesy of ratch0013 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]


 

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]


 

Adopting Agile – Breaking the Cycle of Insanity

adopting-agile-breaking-the-cycle-of-insanityMany personal and work-life goals run on the basis that there will be one expected result from our habits and behaviors. This assumes everyone is doing what they are supposed to be doing and that the track they are on is executed without error. The problem arises when we try to force expected results without actually knowing how to get there. Have you ever tried to get to a destination faster without ever changing your route? This relates strongly to our day-to-day activity. We can assume we do the same thing every time but get different results, and if not we get upset or blame others for it.

There’s a reason why Albert Einstein said “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Now put that perspective into your work’s daily, weekly, monthly and yearly routine. What you may realize is by definition, we all experience some level of insanity and we are making everyone in our lives share in those expectations while not changing a thing about ourselves. What does adopting Agile offer that could break that cycle of insanity?

Step 1 – Acknowledge Change is Necessary

First we must acknowledge that the first step in breaking away from insanity is to change at least one thing in your routine. That could be anything from when you get up in the morning to when you go to sleep. Perhaps it could be waking up to music, or reading a page out of an inspiring book rather than reading your work emails.

Step 2 – Commit to the Change

Second we need to make sure we consciously commit to the changes we’ve identified for a specific period of time. We need to be sure that nothing or nobody gets in our way to that change and be sure that it’s ingrained in new behavior. Sometimes it may feel like a heavy sacrifice, but just remember that the mind is bound to give up before the body or behavior does.

Step 3 – Observe the Changes and Repeat the Cycle

Once you’ve reached the end of the specific period of time. Sit and write down what were some positive results you’ve noticed over that period. Then do the same to notice the negative ones. Finally think of ways that you would like to have changed in a positive direction. Be reasonable with your expectations, as this should not be a wish list that you would expect results that would take years to achieve. However, it wouldn’t hurt to have a few long-term goals that you hope to achieve in the accumulation of time of progressive periods with positive results. But just be sure you go back to Step 1 and repeat the cycle, and don’t forget to reward yourself for your positive results.

The result of these steps is already a concrete step to eliminating personal insanity. What to do about insanity coming from your peers in the form of complaints and excuses as to why their job, life, or results is a different story. Perhaps let them read this article. If you take on the steps above, you may come to realize is you’ve made Agile a part of your personal accomplishments not just something being used at the office on a project.

Putting Agile Processes to Work For You

To those who are new to Agile, you may ask, what do the steps above have anything to do with it? It’s important to consider that adopting agile is mainly a mindset change. Why not start with yourself. Above we’ve incorporated the agile ceremonies in a subtle way, but you can be assured there are elements of Sprint Planning (Step 1), Daily Scrum (Step 2), Sprint Review (Step 3) and Sprint Retrospectives (Step 3). 

Once you’ve taken these steps and noticed changes, keep in mind that as long as your goals change, so should your behaviors and habits. Goals are progressive and probably don’t always stay the same. If they are, you should probably consider being specific. i.e. if your goal is to gain more knowledge, make sure you specify which domain of knowledge, so that you don’t sit back and become complacent.

[Image courtesy of stockimages 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]


 

7 Reasons Why Some Corporations Hate Agile Methodologies

7-reasons-why-some-corporations-hate-agile-methodologiesConventional business wisdom will tell us that we should tell our shareholders what they want to hear so that the price of company stock will rise. This displaces the value that corporations will aim for toward the shareholder and not necessarily toward the customer. This is where Agile methodologies conflict as the goals of a conventional vs. agile mindset are not the same.

Below we will outline how conventional corporate mindset thinking conflicts with that of an agile mindset:

1- Focus on customers over shareholders

As a company you would likely be trying to appeal to both the shareholders and customers, however it’s usually shareholders that will come first and customers second. Based on agile principles and agile mindsets, the priority undeniably reverts to customers first! Everything in the agile value mindset reflects a goal toward delighting the customer and the accepted agile methodologies and processes show much evidence to conclude this is always the case.

2- Perceived Loss of control

The thought that there could be teams that are self-organized and self-managed leaves a sense of control loss by management at any level. Management may argue that if the teams are self-managing, then what is the use for management in the first place. Unfortunately this is a false perception, since management would likely still be needed for areas of business operations that are not covered by the day-to-day of agile processes. 

3- Perceived loss of authoritative rank and power

Most conventional businesses will follow the militaristic approach as the known command-and-control approach to business structure and organization. Companies with a highly vertical (hierarchical) structure being at one extreme and the more flat (horizontal) type of organization at the other end. Those with a heavy emphasis on a vertical structure tend to harbor many of the anti-patterns of an agile approach. Be it either from lack of trust or lack of willingness to let go of authoritative power, many companies that have a top-heavy structure will not be easily capable of converting or adopting agile.

4- Focus on delivering immediate customer value over immediate revenue

As many have noticed the periodic reporting of large businesses, especially those whose stocks are on the market exchange, the revenues that were forecasted must hold up in the later quarters or else face the consequences of lost share prices and market share overall. This places emphasis on how soon work can be done and made billable rather than concentrating on the actual scope and process of work to be done. The best interest of the customer is left behind as resources are stuffed into the work processes, rather than allowing agile methodologies to take their course.

5- Too much learning and too much change

Most who have reached a respectable level within their company whether it be in management or non-management (technical) levels, may tend to sit on their laurels all too often. Although we seem to hope that society is a meritocracy, let’s face it, some people just get to the higher positions based on years of experience rather than actual willingness to continue learning and changing. To this point, there are some who live up to their titles, but others who don’t and wouldn’t care to collaborate with their fellow colleagues either because they have underdeveloped people skills, lack of extensive knowledge, or because it’s seen as too much work to learn and share.

6- Customer value is cumulative while overall benefits only come if done properly in the long run

If there is anything we can’t promise is what will happen in the future. It is highly unlikely that an executive management team will wait to see if there will be continued commitment and support from their existing customers. Since much of what builds up customer satisfaction retention accumulates over time, most companies do not factor that in and will take the shortest path to generating revenue. Building quick untested solutions for the sake of having something billable does not look after the best interest of the client. This extends further to the disappointment of employees who are being told what to do, without buy-in. Some companies would rather sacrifice growth of their existing team synergies to result in high turnovers from unmotivated employees, rather than keep them on-board. This is why at the first sign of lost profits, most companies will take the immediate route of terminating their employees. The reason? It’s the quickest and easiest way to lower costs. However in the long-term it proves detrimental, and usually leads to further “voluntary” fallout where employees lose sense of purpose from the previous setback of layoffs. This affects customer relationships as the level of expertise and direct customer engagement from employees diminish.

7- Increased level of transparency perceived as very risky

Most companies do not share at many levels for fear that the truth may  reveal too much for many to be comfortable with. High levels of transparency bring about a sense of fear that the information provided can be way too sensitive or used against the company. Although transparency may reveal positive and negative aspects of a company and its operations, most companies tend to err on the side of non-transparency to avoid the risk at all costs. This approach of course lowers the level of trust and therefore the level of engagement from customers as they find out from latent communications throughout the project life-cycle.

[Image courtesy of cooldesign 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]


10 Negative Sounding Terms Used in Agile Working Settings (But are not!)

10-negative-terms-in-agile-working-settingsSome level of confusion may occur with the use of certain terminologies, likely when a relatively new-to-agile member joins an agile working team. Let’s face it, we are living in a society that requires us to know expressions, abbreviations, or acronyms on what everyone is talking about as common knowledge. It’s certainly always best to ask the question up front, but for those worried about terms that typically come up in the context of agile projects, we’ve outlined some below.

Those joining an agile project will naturally learn quickly about every day agile terms that are not usually used in any other project context such as: scrum, sprint, retrospective, standup, etc., but what about the mention of some less familiar terms? Some might come up only a few times within a sprint or throughout the entire agile project.

Here’s a few examples of terms, that could raise some eyebrows upon first hearing them. You can rest assured most have a positive context despite their seemingly negative sounding words:

Burn-Down

The instance from which we use the term Burn-Down is with the Burn-Down Chart. This term has very little to do with burning anything down, at least not from the context of lighting something up with a flame or fire. The Burn-Down Chart, as an agile tool, gives a graphical representation of how much work is left to do in the sprint. The main component that is being represented is the amount of scope or story points completed, while giving a visual cue of agile team velocity.

Peer Pressure

Many of us started to hear the term Peer Pressure in our high school days. This brought about times of being pressured to fit in with the crowd by doing acts of stupidity, substance use, or criminal activity. Performing any of the acts would reassure acceptance for that member, but if not they would face possible rejection, bullying or humiliation. Peer pressure in agile working environments comes about more from the high level of transparency and visibility, than actual pressure from the agile team. The occurrence of peer pressure comes about when the individual reports their own performance and realizes that they may be stalling or slowing the rest of the team down. This could be a result of over committing, or just simply under-performing within the group. This typically would require the individual review with the agile business coach or scrum master role to see where or why they may not be a fit for the current team.

Burn-Up

Similar to Burn-Down, this term is also used when referring to an agile information radiator called the Burn-Up Chart. This chart can viewed side-by-side with the Burn-Down chart, but today most software applications can show them both superimposed for better understanding of progress. While the Burn-Down Chart will show how much scope or points being completed. the Burn-Up Chart shows how many hours are being used to complete the tasks. Both charts together will confirm whether or not estimates that we set in the sprint planning are on track or not.

Servant

For those who have taken on the Scrum Master role, they may learn eventually that their preferred form of leadership is that of “servant-leadership.” This in no way means being a servant in the traditional sense, but rather one of the most effective ways to lead by example. So the idea that a servant as a slave is very far from the intent. Servant-Leadership in principle is meant to serve others so that others can grow and become self-organized, rather than the opposite “command-and-control” approach to leadership that creates drone-like behavior from others.

Playing Games

Much of agile training and learning can come about from playing agile games. Typically when you think of playing games, it is thought that people are just horsing around, not being productive or wasting time. In the context of agile teams, it is very much encouraged to play games to get familiar with agile workflows, planning, iterative development, and team building activities. There are numerous and still new and innovative ways that agile practitioners play games to learn while adopting an agile mindset and principles.

Disruptive

When we think of the term disruptive on a day-to-day context, we tend to think of disturbance or distraction. In an agile context and mainly technological circles, disruptive commonly refers to innovation. To be part of an agile team that has created a disruptive technology or invention means that there has been a major advancement, so much so, that it actually brings the previous function, or use of the previously existing technology to obsoletion.

Pigs and Chickens

While working on an agile project, you may come across some farm animal terminology, specifically Pigs and/or Chickens. These terms are perhaps used less and less recently, but they came about from an anecdote that demonstrates the level of commitment of certain members of the team. The story refers to a chicken asking a pig to start a restaurant together called “Ham and Eggs.” The Pig answers “no thanks” since the Pig would need to be committed (since Pig has to be killed to make Ham), whereas the chicken would only be involved. This basically gives an idea of the different levels that certain stakeholders and agile team roles have in a project and how they should participate in sprint events such as the daily standup.

Pirate Metrics

For what is now being used as a part of agile metrics, you might think this has something to do with piracy. The term pirate metrics comes from the mnemonic term AARRR (the pirate rant) to remember the 5 key metrics to measure increasing revenue: Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Referral, and Revenue.

Fail-Fast

This concept about failing fast may confuse early agile practitioners since most people are told early and for most of their lives that failure is the opposite of success. Certainly this term can raise a sense of fear of failure and cause some resistance at first. The concept of Fail-Fast is a principal agile concept coming from inspecting and adapting. It is an approach to encourage early detection of failure, to be able to learn or fix quickly before sunk costs are incurred. In principle you would want to know if a project or product feature would fail at the beginning instead of reaching the end to find out it is a failure.

Empiricism

We’re not referring to empires and conquests with this term, although we can certainly get carried away and think that the project may take on that type of personality. Empiricism is mainly a scientific approach that requires a process to be observed and tested so that it can be considered universally effective.

Learning and Understanding Terms for Better Communication

There are certainly more of these types of terms that are used in Agile, but note that the best way to start learning, to keep learning, and to contribute to the discussions that come up in an agile project is by communicating with same type of vocabulary. There are already many factors that increase the risk of breakdown in the communication process, so we may as well get on the same page and know up front what common terms everyone may use use in the project.

[Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]


 

Agile Coaching and Mentoring – Wisdom Explained

If you’ve heard of situations where the “student becomes the master” and “the student becomes the teacher,” you might be asking yourself exactly what does that mean. Most think there is a distinct difference between the role of a teacher or master to that of a student. If there is one thing to consider is that they certainly cannot exist without each other. The main distinction behind how a student becomes the master is usually by the amount of practice the student had, and how he or she may then stand when compared to their own master when it comes to wisdom. This is also what happens in agile coaching and mentoring toward the agile team relationship.

Coaching and Mentoring – What is the difference?

agile-coaching-and-mentoring-wisdom-explainedMany consider the role of a business coach to be a mentor, and vice versa. A coach’s role is diverse and really depends on the background of the individual. Some might have specialized industry knowledge and experience in which they are taking part, but others might have process and/or procedural experience from a more diverse or general industry background. There’s no better or worse when it comes to those differences, however where there is a more distinct ability in question as to how much that individual analyzes, learns and gives back to those they interact with. That being said, an agile coach can be a mentor, and an agile mentor can be a coach. The difference there is how much time, dedication, and direction that takes place between the mentor and mentee, or coach and coachee. The mentor role might be better suited when the role is specific, i.e. a mentor for a developer is usually best suited when the mentee is also a developer. In agile circles, those lines are somewhat blurred and most of the agile coach role is taken on by the Scrum Master role. The agile business coach however, can be a separate role and is just as important as any other role.

When is the Coach a Student?

Remember when you were a student in class back in school, college or university? You were always thinking about how the teacher, separated by many years of knowledge, would always be the prime source of information, direction, authority, etc., on the class subject. We had the distinct notion that the teacher had taken on the role of the “all-knowing” in the classroom. But what we need to realize is that the teacher was also in an environment where they too were learning, and looking for answers themselves. Certainly many teachers had many styles, some better than others. Do you remember what made the great ones great? and the not-so-great ones not so great? What you may have realized is the level of involvement but also the level of in-depth conversation with the students. You may notice that the teacher although being a source of information and specialization expertise, was immersed in getting to know why their students thought the way they thought. They were learning too! This is very much the same way an agile coach and mentor would be with the agile working team and its members. The coach, just like the teacher, is also being a student to some extent. Why? Because they are in a state of constant learning, despite their high level of knowledge.

How Does Knowledge Transfer into Wisdom?

While in the student vs. teacher scenario, we can see that the student is the one always looking to prove their knowledge to their peers and teacher in a classroom. Many students might be motivated to attain a certain grade and use their knowledge to show everyone just how much they know. Wisdom comes when there’s a higher sense self-motivation, self-control and knowing when to use the knowledge, not just to get the grade, but also when to use the knowledge in and outside of the classroom. This also goes hand-in-hand with knowing that despite having increased levels of knowledge, nobody can ever know enough. This is the true turning point on wisdom. Much like power, it’s not about using power at all times, but when to use it that brings a better sense of refinement to any situation.

Creating Genuine Purpose to an Agile Coaching Philosophy

For those who become ambitious in their line of work, whether in agile team roles or not, there has to be purpose and thought to the “why” in their role. When ambition is driven by getting to the top of the ladder for popularity or for a sense of superiority, there is true lack of wisdom. The difference happens, as an agile mindset will show, when one’s purpose is to share with others. Much like a coach or mentor, they should not aim to become one just for the title, as someone in a highly regarded role that gains a lot of attention from all stakeholders in an agile organization.

[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]


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]


 

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]


7 Virtues of an Agile Mindset

7-virtues-of-an-agile-mindsetThere are certain virtues to getting your lifestyle tuned into an agile mindset. For those who actually practice being agile in and outside of their work environment, there’s a lot more to gain on a day-to-day basis. We’re not necessarily referring to just yourself getting to be a better person with the use of agile tools, we’re also talking about getting others around you mindful and self-conscious as well.

Here is a list of virtues that for all those who live and breathe agile, would come naturally. For those who would like to gain an agile mindset, it is an essential set to practice:

1 – Truth

When we have nothing to hide, it makes it easier to be truthful. When we are providing high levels of transparency through the practices of agile time-boxed sessions (planning, scrums, retrospectives, etc.), we are given the chance to keep everyone up to date on our own progress and that of others. Being able to tell and ask others about our progress, issues, blockages, allows others to provide the input they need to keep an agile practices moving toward expected goals.

2 – Acceptance

Every member of an agile team works together to transcend judgement. The team accepts its differences and looks to build products for their engaged stakeholders. This does not guarantee that the product will always be exactly what the stakeholders are looking for. When the product increments are being reviewed, some features might be rejected despite the best intentions of all parties. This means failure has occurred, but not in the conventional sense. Failure that can not be learned from is true failure. But with an agile mindset, we find out why it failed, accept that it happened, but we do not give up on the sole fact that failure occurred. In that sense, we accept failure as knowledge of what does not work, to then build something that does.

3 – Commitment

To be part of an agile team that consistently never gives up, we need be committed to that team on a regular basis. This means we are engaged to the team, and we are learning on a regular basis. Being committed to finding new ways to implement better product features, better processes, better approaches in general. If we leave a team at the first sign of disagreement or disappointment, we are not truly committed.

4 – Respect

Gaining respect is very hard to come by these days unfortunately. This is mainly because some people think that respect comes with their work titles and experience. When you join an agile team, you all are meant to regard each other at the same level. The level of respect moves up as everyone learns to communicate with humility. This means using regular respectful terms like “please,” “thank you,” and “you’re welcome.” Surprisingly, many have forgotten to use these fundamental words when working as a team, but we can observe that teams who have incorporated them into their regular communications, have the utmost level of respect for each other.

5 – Self-Discipline

To obtain a high level self-discipline, one must be able to act on their own initiative. It is part of self-learning and can be enabled by being surrounded by supportive team members. Having self-discipline can help in determining when is the right time to act. We might be tempted to tell others what their flaws are, even in the attempt to help them improve. We may even be tempted to compulsively straighten out someone who is out of line. Having good self-discipline implies that one can hold back in disputes, we see this especially when we can observe others who don’t get carried away with lesser cases of intimidation.

6 – Patience

We are living in a time when we want to see fast results. With agile practices, principles and processes in place we know that we are adaptively adjusting to attaining our goals, at times with the help of agile coaching and mentoring. However, this learning and adaptation also requires patience along with the other virtue of acceptance. When we are confident in the benefits of agile practices, principles and processes, we can afford to be patient since we know that everyone is heading toward the achievement of a common goal. This also helps while taking the time to ramp up on a sprint by sprint basis, or possibly with learning to put into practice, what is learned from agile training courses.

7 – Humility

Much like respect, humility adds to the ability of not only being conscious and aware of others’ contributions, but also showing that we are all part of the same system. When all members take on their agile team roles, there is no sense of judgement if one makes a mistake. The self-organizing team works together to transcend arrogance and sense of superiority, much like the equal importance of vital organs in a living being. One can not say the brain is more important than the heart and so on. With this analogy, we can say that all roles in an agile working team are vital, and no sub-part should be considered more important than the other, as there is no hierarchy.

Solidifying the Agile Team

As we can see these virtues are all interlinked and compliment each other. When adopted by all team members of an agile team, it solidifies the team and makes it incorruptible, stable, and strong. If we look at it from an individual perspective, this solidification still stands, and as we each are sub-parts of the team, we need to work on these virtues ourselves first. When we strengthen those virtues for ourselves, we are better able to contribute to strengthening the team and developing those agile solutions. This is common-sense is often overlooked, since we tend to expect those virtues more from others, and less from ourselves.

[Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]


5 Ways an Agile Coaching Philosophy Enables Agile Teams

5 Ways an Agile Coaching Philosophy Enables Teams to BE AgileAdopting an agile coaching and mentoring philosophy for your team can be very beneficial. Most believe that all that is needed to keep the agile team in good shape, is with the scrum master role. This may be the case sometimes, however the agile coach brings about much more than what the scrum master can do. This also applies more to larger scale teams where there are many scrum teams, and their respective scrum masters. The agile coach can take on the role of scrum master of scrum masters, but generally they can represent the organizational coach and mentor with the agile mindset. The title in most cases is not important, but the role itself is relevant to take on the following ways to inspire their teams.

1 – Showing the team how to be open

Many teams whether in their beginning forming or norming stage will need to build on their openness throughout their communication process. The agile coach would be there to explain and show the benefits of being truthful and communicating openly, without hidden agendas. Also they can help build on agile team roles that might be lacking direction or depth. Occasionally some roles haven been taken on without necessarily knowing the full extent that role may need to contribute. The agile coach can provide this additional support to getting those particular team members to acquire communication skills, and the benefits thereof, to their fullest potential.

2 – Modelling what it means give and earn respect

There is an old saying that “respect can not be bought, it must be earned.” This is saying rings true in all levels of an organization. The agile coach knows that they can’t go around asking that everyone respect each other, but they know that with proper demonstration of leadership, others within the team will get to see from the agile coach how the proper use of communication and demeanor truly benefits everyone through the interactions with the teams. By earning respect from their peers, not just by title, but actual use of meetings and personal interaction.

3 – Bringing out special talents of each team member

It is very likely that peers within a team will compliment each other on the great achievements they’ve accomplished. The agile coach however, can make note of skills and talents that each individual will have. Being able to reach out to those looking for continuous development, the agile coach can provide mentoring sessions and guidance. The agile coach may also be able to set up agile games that promote deeper learning for the team, as well as agile training courses specific to each role or situation.

4 – Optimizing team performance

When the team has reached its top performance and velocity is steady, the agile coach can look to make sure the dynamics of the teams are protected. By that, it means that despite any change within the teams, the agile coach can identify if there is a good fit for the current team if someone leaves or joins. Also, where there is concern for self-organizing capabilities, the agile coach can explain how everyone can take on challenges and decisions on their own. This can be done by story-telling or giving real examples of how top performing teams have accomplished similar accomplishments.

5 – Keeping a positive outlook in the face of failure

Inevitably with all new developments and innovations that team attains, there is a likelihood of failure and disappointment. In those instances, the agile coach should be able to reach out to the agile working team and explain that it is normal and acceptable. The other important aspect that the coach will do is keep the team’s spirits up despite that. True team building comes with being able to show that everyone can get back up and do better the next time. Regardless of the number of times failure may occur in their agile solutions, the team can learn that it will be able to accomplish a lot more by not complaining or worrying about the past.

As we can see, the adoption of an agile coaching philosophy can facilitate many of the organizational aspects that we take for granted. Some of the points raised above may happen on their own, or may even be forced. Having an agile coach on your side is a choice, but when it comes to company values to keep their teams in top shape, wouldn’t you rather have someone there to give proper encouragement that teams need when looking for guidance?

[Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici 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]


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]