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Sitting In A Teamroom Makes You As Agile As Sitting In A Garage Makes You A Chevy

July 8, 2013

You have a task board in your teamroom that you use to track the status of your users stories and tasks. But do you have any idea what is a reasonable number of tasks to have in work at any one time? The burndown chart that your tooling or your scrummaster makes is posted – isn’t it? Do you use it to understand the likelihood that your work for this sprint will be completed as planned? In every planning session you dutifully use Planning Poker for estimation. However, do you understand why using it is important and why this type of estimation actually works?

A professional mechanic understands more than just how to use the tools that are in the garage. The professional mechanic also understands how the tools work and why. It’s great that your team has learned many of the various agile techniques. But if you haven’t learned why those techniques work, you risk using them improperly, putting your success in jeopardy.

There is an old story about a young woman who is preparing her first holiday feast for the whole family, which included making a delicious glazed ham. She remembered, as a young girl, watching her mother cook. She called her mother to ask her why, when she cooked ham, she cut off the end of the ham before cooking. Her mother answered “Because my mother did it that way.” Now more curious, they called the grandmother and asked why she cut of the end of the ham before cooking. Grandmother told them it was because her mother did it that way. They were very fortunate that their Great-Grandmother was still around, so they called her and asked why she cut of the end of the ham before cooking. Great-Grandmother’s answer was simple…her roasting pan was too small.

Do you know “the whys” behind the agile techniques you do?
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What Are You Sprinting Toward?

May 7, 2013

They knew all eyes would be watching them. They knew huge crowds would be in attendance. And they knew some of those attending were there to cause trouble. Facing this, the Tampa police had an interesting objective for the week of the Republican National Convention. You might expect an objective like “Keep the peace.” Or “Do what it takes to control the crowds.” Or some other stereotypical statement. But no. Their stated objective was that they did not want to see the police on the nightly news.

Quite an unusual objective than would be expected. It did restrict the police in some ways, but still allowed them to carry out their mission while keeping the department’s overall objective in mind. The results: The convention was peaceful, protesters had their say without violent crowds rampaging in the streets, and you didn’t see the police cast in a bad light on the nightly news, if you saw them at all.

Do your sprints have meaningful objectives? Or do you think that is not important?

Objectives keep the team focused on what is important; what you want to achieve overall vs. just delivering the stories in the sprint. They also help eliminate the unwanted results (e.g. seeing film of police in riot gear hosing down the crowds with water cannons).

Unfortunately, instead of thinking through a good objective for their sprints, many teams just work bottom up. They pick their sprint stories and just use a summary of those as the sprint objective(s). This approach is not effective. It boils down to “Do your job” as an objective. It provides no guidance at all as to “how” or with what considerations the work is to be done. For example, the police could have showed up in full riot gear, with water cannons in visible locations, lined up in high numbers around the protestors, with paddy wagons at the ready. But that would likely have guaranteed high visibility news footage, and not in a good light.

There is also a psychological side to having objectives. To reframe a well-known motivational story, what is more satisfying: “I laid ten rows of brick today” or “I finished a cathedral today”? Just finishing your task list for today is good but it rarely gets you energized for tomorrow. But finishing a customer objective (i.e. the cathedral)…now that is something else.

If you are doing sprints or releases without having meaningful objective(s) you are depriving yourself of a simple technique to keep the team focused on the outcome desired and cheating your team out of well-earned celebration of their achievements.

(Read More at https://www.ProjectPragmatics.com)

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Coin-Operated Agile Coaches

August 14, 2012

You must have seen one.  At a carnival, county fair, or maybe an amusement park. Sitting inside a glass enclosed box.  Bright clothing.  One hand held above a fan of sun-faded playing cards.  A customer approaches the box and drops in a coin.  In the box, the glass encased guru’s arm moves left and right.  Then out drops a slip of paper with a definitive answer to the customer’s most critical question.

You may have also seen this behavior in an agile teamroom.  Teams…are you underutilizing your coaches this way.  Coaches…do you recognize yourself?  This isn’t a question of coaching style.  This is a question of who is driving the change that the customer ostensibly wants to happen. Why else was an agile coach engaged in the first place?

Of course, coaches typically have some limits places on them by the “front office”.  Even great sports coaches like Wooden, Noll, Madden or Cowher had to work within directives from their team’s management.  But you would never see the likes of them sitting on the sidelines waiting for the players to ask them questions.

The best coaches are proactively engaged.  They are leaders.  They guide, they make changes, and they help the players get more from themselves than they realized they had.

Agile team members, don’t put your coach in a box if you want to be effective.  You were provided a coach to help you improve.  Let it happen.  And coaches, you can’t “cower” (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun) under resistance from the team members nor pressure from management.  Ultimately, it’s really up to you coaches.  If you don’t actively engage and lead your teams, you won’t need a coin-operated fortune teller to know your future.

Visit www.projectpragmatics.com .

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ScrumMaster as Shepherd

April 22, 2012

The concept of servant leadership seems to be difficult for some new ScrumMasters (and others) to fully comprehend.  It is so contrary to many corporate cultures.  So let’s take a look at another role that combines both serving and leadership behaviors: the Shepherd.

 

Some herd animals, such as sheep, have a better chance to thrive if they have a shepherd.  In order to help them thrive, a shepherd must understand the flock, just as a ScrumMaster must understand the team he/she is working with.  For example, there are many types of sheep just as there are different people with different skills and different behaviors on an agile team.  They are NOT interchangeable “resources”.

 

Flocks of sheep have certain dynamic behaviors.  Sheep tend to congregate and behave as a group once their group reaches a certain number.  A successful team needs to reach “critical mass” regarding the competencies needed to be a successful agile team.  A ScrumMaster must understand this and promote the proper composition of a team, by working to have the right sheep in the flock (e.g. motivated, highly skilled).  The ScrumMaster must also be understanding as the team goes through the well-known form/storm/perform cycle.

 

Sheep are prey animals.  In toxic corporate cultures, development teams may become prey for overzealous Project Managers or other corporate creatures.  Just as team members are not really “sheep” or “pigs” (even though we use those terms affectionately), a ScrumMaster is not a “sheep dog”.  Sheep dog is a weak analogy.  A ScrumMaster can’t just “bark” back at people in the typical corporate hierarchy – at least not for long, without being sent “out to pasture”.  The ScrumMaster needs to be a shepherd and intelligently navigate the political minefields while not letting the flock fall prey to predators of time or energy.

 

Sheep congregate often (a daily standup?) and do it well.  Sheep are gregarious when congregated.  However, the Shepherd must still work to draw out the quiet people during stand-ups or planning poker sessions.  When you lose a sheep or a team member disengages from the team or otherwise gets lost on the agile journey, the ScrumMaster must seek them out and bring them back to the flock.

 

Even these simple and cursory understandings can help the new ScrumMaster serve and lead their teams.  Serve them well shepherds and you will be on your way to servant leadership, leading your flock to those greener agile pastures.  

(See more at www.ProjectPragmatics.com .)

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Agile Heresy

January 2, 2012

 Those who do the work are the best people to estimate what it takes to perform the work.  Makes sense.  Sounds reasonable.  The problem with such a definitive statement is the subjective word “best”.  Most of us read “best qualified” into that statement.  But what if the “best” person to do the estimation, won’t?  Have you ever worked with people on an agile team who don’t want to contribute to the backlog item estimation activity?  Sometimes a rigid corporate culture causes people who are, or perceive themselves to be “lower on the food chain” to say little and thereby avoid perceived conflict or anger of a more senior person.  Sometimes it’s a cultural behavior.  Sometimes fear.  Sometimes shyness.

 One successful team that I coached found a workable solution.  They selected a small sub-team from the more senior people on the team.  This sub-team did the estimation for the whole team.  It worked well and they have been very successful.

 But do you think this is agile heresy?  If so, how would you otherwise fix such a situation?

 Paraphrasing that old adage: You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him estimate.

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Burndown Bingo – An Agile Anti-Pattern

November 6, 2011

Your newly minted global agile team is dutifully performing the rituals typical of agile development.  They do their morning scrum, they update their remaining task hours, review their burndown chart, and so forth every day.  The end of the sprint comes, they deliver successfully, and during the retrospective the business praises them highly for how their actual burndown tracks closely with the ideal trend line on the burndown chart.  The team is happy.

The next sprint is going along well but mid-sprint the business looks at the burndown and notices the actuals are not tracking so closely anymore (not wildly off course, just noticeably more than the last sprint).  At the next standup the business raises mild alarm at the deviation and wants to know why, why?  Now the team is not so happy.  One of the distributed teams appears very concerned about the displeasure expressed by the customer.

As the next sprint is planned, the product backlog item estimates from the distributed team seem unusually uniform and unrealistically high.  The hours estimated for their sprint tasks are “healthy” also.  Amazingly, during the sprint the actuals now track EXACTLY with the ideal trend line.  Not close – exact.

Hmmmm.  Could just be random luck and serendipity.  Could be an error in the burndown calculations.  Or could it be that the worried, distributed team (who are the last chronologically to update their hours) has enough “padding” in their estimates that after the other teams update their hours, the worried team updates their remaining hours so precisely that – BINGO! – the actuals precisely match the projection,  every day.  Naaah!  Couldn’t be. …………. Could it?

Ever seen such an anomaly on your projects?

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Psyching Out Agile Teams

July 13, 2011

I recently read a study[1] on the psychological needs of agile teams. Various factors thought to affect software practitioners’ acceptance of agile orientation were studied. One of the interesting characteristics was the team’s perceived support of their supervisors and coworkers. The study findings show that if team members perceive a high level of support from their supervisors and coworkers, this will lead to a high level of agile orientation in the team, especially for junior team members.

But what about the inverse? What about a senior manager or member of the team who is overtly negative about the agile changes? The study does not discuss this, but I don’t think we need a study to understand what happens when someone, especially someone in a supervisory roll, disparages a change. In the agile teams I have coached, when a negative influence is injected, the team members often “freeze up”. They’ll still do their jobs, but enthusiastically participating, engaging with other members, and doing whatever it takes, fades. You can’t blame them. After all, if they don’t perceive any support, or perceive opposition, why would they work all out for the change? If senior management is not committed why should the team be? This is anathema for a team trying to go agile.

So what to do? I witnessed the solution on a team that had one strong negative voice. But her manager was always very positive on agile. When this negative person’s manager entered the room, as the study’s results would predict, her overall negative behavior stopped and her uncooperative, challenging behaviors disappeared. She became cordial, cooperative, understanding. In a word, professional. In his absence, her behavior relapsed. Over time, with enough exposures and project successes, her negative behaviors began to moderate.

So if you are in this situation (i.e. a negative person is dragging your team down) and you can’t replace this person and you have access to a senior person who is positive, try to get them involved supporting the team, to mitigate the negative behaviors.

This study is another indicator of how important team composition is. Have you encountered individuals whose presence strongly impacted (for good or bad) the behaviors of their team mates?

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1 – Agile Orientation and Psychological Needs, Self-Efficacy, and Perceived Support: A Two Job-Level Comparison; Seger, Hazzan, and Bar-Nahor

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