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A Brief Guide to the Agile Frameworks List

What does it mean to ‘be agile’? We all want to be agile and nimble. Or in other words a state where we can change quickly, and adapt to the conditions in our environment. The same applies to organizations, where the ability to be agile can spell the difference between success and failure. So, what exactly does “being agile” mean? According to the Agile Manifesto—the holy bible for agile software development, being agile implies a mindset, where we value: Individuals and interactions over processes and tools Working software over comprehensive documentation Customer Collaboration over contract negotiation Responding to change over following a plan Values manifest themselves through the way we think and act in various scenarios. We design and implement certain activities with the mindset and associated values as the guiding light. Let’s say someone wishes to be healthy. In this context, being health conscious and the desire to be healthy is the mindset. What do you need to be healthy? Maybe sleep on time, exercise, have a balanced diet, meditate and more such activities. These are “practices” which align with the mindset.What is a framework?Different people may choose a different set of practices with varying degrees of commitment e.g. It may be ok for me if I sleep on time 6 days a week while someone may be ok with good sleep for just 4 days of the week; with varying order Again, I may prefer to exercise at 5 AM followed by a healthy breakfast while someone may prefer to exercise in the evening. Different routines, different activities, different ways of performing these activities-each one has something different that works for an individual. Now, imagine that I have tried the following way of staying healthy – Eating  3 meals a day with no fats along with 3 portions of fruit, cardio exercises for 30 minutes everyday, ensuring a minimum of 8 hours of sleep per day and 30 minutes of meditation in the evening. Also, I completely avoid eating out except on festivals and I give up on taking the elevator completely.Let’s say this has worked wonders for me. Now I share this successful template with others. What have I done? I have effectively created a framework. It is a set of activities, done in a specific way and order which might be helpful for others.Agile FrameworksIt is not very different when it comes to agility. We saw the agile mindset and values a little earlier. There are different ways of implementing the values and principles associated with the agile mindset.  Each of these “ways” has its own set of practices, patterns and personas and are classified as agile frameworks. Some of the most popular agile frameworks are Scrum, Scaled Agile Framework®, Nexus, Large Scale Scrum(LeSS). Now the question is which framework is the best? This is similar to asking which is the best way of being healthy? If the focus is on the mindset and values, one would easily figure out that there is no one or “best” way. Each individual is different and a different “way” of staying healthy may work for each individual. The guiding principles may still be the same- they would be some combination of eating well, getting good sleep, work-life balance, exercise and a relaxed mind.So, what are your options? Let’s start with Scrum, which is the most popular agile framework. Scrum is a simple framework which is very well suited for small teams which are trying to develop a new product or improve an existing product. Scrum is based on the principle of building incrementally with fast feedback loops, typically every 2 weeks- a period generally referred to as a sprint.There are three roles-Product Owner, who represents the customer to the team and hence helps them prioritize “user stories” or slices of value that the team intends to create. The Scrum Master is the facilitator and coach for the team and guides them to get better every day and every sprint. The team creates a product increment every sprint and demonstrates (a thin slice of) the working system that it developed in the sprint to the stakeholders. Based on the feedback they improve the existing slice or start implementing the next most valuable thing.Extreme Programming, also known as XP is another framework which focusses on technical practices. Very rarely does scrum succeed without the focus on technical excellence that XP champions. Extreme programming promotes techniques like pair programming, behavior driven development, test driven development, etc. Scrum and XP are powerful together. In fact, XP started the concept of User Stories which were later adopted by Scrum.If your work is more flow based and your intention is, to improve the lead time for your work items, then Kanban is a great choice. Kanban is suitable for teams who do not need to reset their work every two weeks through the mechanism of sprints. Kanban helps bring in the discipline of limiting work in progress. This helps us  “stop starting” and “start finishing” work.One of the typical challenges that organizations face is that agile manifesto values and principles as implemented by scrum are hard to apply in the context of large organizations where no one team delivers value to a customer directly. In such a scenario, one needs to think about personas, practices and patterns which can be applied in a scaled organization. It is here that scaling frameworks come into the picture. Some of the most popular scaling frameworks are Scaled Agile Framework(SAFe), Large Scale Scrum(LeSS) and Nexus.What is SAFe? An important thing to note is that a framework would work only if its underlying principles and values are well understood. Let us take a deeper look into Scaled Agile Framework®(SAFe®) in this context. SAFe is the most widely used framework when it comes to the topic of scaling. SAFe is a rich body of knowledge with proven practices, patterns and workflows for Business Agility. SAFe is in fact more than just a scaling framework and provides guidance on how enterprises can achieve business agility through lean agile portfolio management practices and agile practices at team and program levels.Image SourceSAFe can be thought of as an “operating system” for enterprise agility that works in parallel to the hierarchical organization but with a different objective. While the hierarchical structure of organizations is optimized for stability, the second operating system i.e. SAFe is optimized for customer centricity and innovation. SAFe is built heavily on principles of Lean in addition to Agile. The origin of Lean Manufacturing was the Toyota Production System developed by Taichi Ohno in the middle of the 20th century. Lean thinking relies heavily on concepts like working in small batches and applying work in progress limits.SAFe has refined the principles of the agile manifesto and by bringing in Lean thinking into the mix, it has developed its own Lean Agile Principles. These principles are powerful and applicable to every part of the organization including portfolio and programs. The guiding philosophy of SAFe is to orchestrate the organization along value streams- which is a sequence of steps describing customer journey. What is more powerful than a cross functional team that plans, develops and demonstrates value creation in short cycles? The answer is a team of teams. SAFe introduces the construct of an Agile Release Train(ART) which is a team of teams organized along a value stream.The Reasons behind SAFe’s successWhat makes SAFe so powerful? It is the acknowledgement of the problem that having agile teams is not sufficient. An agile enterprise needs to be lean and nimble in the way it strategises, hypothesizes, builds and learns from it. SAFe promotes an organization-wide lean agile and systems thinking with lean economics and flow built in. If you are looking for a way to transform an enterprise’s way of collaborating and organizing with customer centricity in mind, SAFe is an excellent choice.SAFe’s overarching guidance at the enterprise level makes it a great de facto choice for all enterprises. If you have prior experience with a framework like Scrum, SAFe makes the transition to business agility smoother. If you do not have any past experience with any agile framework, it helps you understand that every part of the organization needs to come together and collaborate in a fashion that customer success and centricity become our central focus. It is for this very reason that SAFe is the market leader when it comes to agility at scale. If you have tried SAFe and it doesn’t work, it is quite likely that the foundation is weak and its principles and values have not been well understood. This is true for any other framework as well. Do not fall into the trap of adopting the roles and ceremonies of a framework like SAFe without getting the basics right. For example, the starting point of SAFe is getting all leaders through a “Leading SAFe” course so that leaders can unlearn some of the traditional ways of organizational design, responsibilities and measures of success.Generally, no framework is a silver bullet for any problem. The first step is to identify the real problem and take inspiration from a framework or multiple frameworks to solve them. In most cases, a framework cannot be applied directly and in its entirety to an organization. The first step should always be to start with the guidance provided there and gradually evolve parts of it depending on your context. Just as we weigh the options of “build vs buy” when developing a solution, we need to take a similar pragmatic approach when it comes to frameworks. Building one’s own framework from scratch is likely to be costly and time consuming, Instead, buy or reuse an existing framework and improve it through principles of empiricism. This is the secret to succeeding with frameworks. 

A Brief Guide to the Agile Frameworks List

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A Brief Guide to the Agile Frameworks List

What does it mean to ‘be agile’? 

We all want to be agile and nimble. Or in other words a state where we can change quickly, and adapt to the conditions in our environment. The same applies to organizations, where the ability to be agile can spell the difference between success and failure. So, what exactly does “being agile” mean? According to the Agile Manifesto—the holy bible for agile software development, being agile implies a mindset, where we value: 

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools 
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation 
  • Customer Collaboration over contract negotiation 
  • Responding to change over following a plan 

Values manifest themselves through the way we think and act in various scenarios. We design and implement certain activities with the mindset and associated values as the guiding light. Let’s say someone wishes to be healthy. In this context, being health conscious and the desire to be healthy is the mindset. What do you need to be healthy? Maybe sleep on time, exercise, have a balanced diet, meditate and more such activities. These are “practices” which align with the mindset.

What is a framework?

Different people may choose a different set of practices with varying degrees of commitment e.g. It may be ok for me if I sleep on time 6 days a week while someone may be ok with good sleep for just 4 days of the week; with varying order Again, may prefer to exercise at 5 AM followed by a healthy breakfast while someone may prefer to exercise in the evening. Different routines, different activities, different ways of performing these activities-each one has something different that works for an individual. Now, imagine that I have tried the following way of staying healthy – Eating  3 meals a day with no fats along with 3 portions of fruit, cardio exercises for 30 minutes everyday, ensuring a minimum of 8 hours of sleep per day and 30 minutes of meditation in the evening. Also, I completely avoid eating out except on festivals and I give up on taking the elevator completely.

Let’s say this has worked wonders for me. Now I share this successful template with others. What have I done? I have effectively created a frameworkIt is a set of activities, done in a specific way and order which might be helpful for others.

Agile Frameworks

It is not very different when it comes to agility. We saw the agile mindset and values a little earlier. There are different ways of implementing the values and principles associated with the agile mindset.  Each of these “ways” has its own set of practices, patterns and personas and are classified as agile frameworks. Some of the most popular agile frameworks are Scrum, Scaled Agile Framework®, Nexus, Large Scale Scrum(LeSS). 

Now the question is which framework is the best? This is similar to asking which is the best way of being healthy? If the focus is on the mindset and values, one would easily figure out that there is no one or “best” way. Each individual is different and a different “way” of staying healthy may work for each individual. The guiding principles may still be the same- they would be some combination of eating well, getting good sleep, work-life balance, exercise and a relaxed mind.

So, what are your options? Let’s start with Scrum, which is the most popular agile framework. Scrum is a simple framework which is very well suited for small teams which are trying to develop a new product or improve an existing product. Scrum is based on the principle of building incrementally with fast feedback loops, typically every 2 weeks- a period generally referred to as a sprint.Scrum FrameworkThere are three roles-Product Owner, who represents the customer to the team and hence helps them prioritize “user stories” or slices of value that the team intends to create. The Scrum Master is the facilitator and coach for the team and guides them to get better every day and every sprint. The team creates a product increment every sprint and demonstrates (a thin slice of) the working system that it developed in the sprint to the stakeholders. Based on the feedback they improve the existing slice or start implementing the next most valuable thing.

Extreme Programming, also known as XP is another framework which focusses on technical practices. Very rarely does scrum succeed without the focus on technical excellence that XP champions. Extreme programming promotes techniques like pair programming, behavior driven development, test driven development, etc. Scrum and XP are powerful together. In fact, XP started the concept of User Stories which were later adopted by Scrum.

If your work is more flow based and your intention is, to improve the lead time for your work items, then Kanban is a great choice. Kanban is suitable for teams who do not need to reset their work every two weeks through the mechanism of sprints. Kanban helps bring in the discipline of limiting work in progress. This helps us  “stop starting” and “start finishing” work.

One of the typical challenges that organizations face is that agile manifesto values and principles as implemented by scrum are hard to apply in the context of large organizations where no one team delivers value to a customer directly. In such a scenario, one needs to think about personas, practices and patterns which can be applied in a scaled organization. It is here that scaling frameworks come into the picture. Some of the most popular scaling frameworks are Scaled Agile Framework(SAFe), Large Scale Scrum(LeSS) and Nexus.

What is SAFe?

 An important thing to note is that a framework would work only if its underlying principles and values are well understood. Let us take a deeper look into Scaled Agile Framework®(SAFe®) in this context. SAFe is the most widely used framework when it comes to the topic of scaling. SAFe is a rich body of knowledge with proven practices, patterns and workflows for Business Agility. SAFe is in fact more than just a scaling framework and provides guidance on how enterprises can achieve business agility through lean agile portfolio management practices and agile practices at team and program levels.

Safe for lean enterprises

Image Source

SAFe can be thought of as an “operating system” for enterprise agility that works in parallel to the hierarchical organization but with a different objective. While the hierarchical structure of organizations is optimized for stability, the second operating system i.e. SAFe is optimized for customer centricity and innovation. SAFe is built heavily on principles of Lean in addition to Agile. The origin of Lean Manufacturing was the Toyota Production System developed by Taichi Ohno in the middle of the 20th century. Lean thinking relies heavily on concepts like working in small batches and applying work in progress limits.

SAFe has refined the principles of the agile manifesto and by bringing in Lean thinking into the mix, it has developed its own Lean Agile Principles. These principles are powerful and applicable to every part of the organization including portfolio and programs. The guiding philosophy of SAFe is to orchestrate the organization along value streams- which is a sequence of steps describing customer journey. What is more powerful than a cross functional team that plans, develops and demonstrates value creation in short cycles? The answer is a team of teamsSAFe introduces the construct of an Agile Release Train(ART) which is a team of teams organized along a value stream.

The Reasons behind SAFe’s success

What makes SAFe so powerful? It is the acknowledgement of the problem that having agile teams is not sufficient. An agile enterprise needs to be lean and nimble in the way it strategises, hypothesizes, builds and learns from it. SAFe promotes an organization-wide lean agile and systems thinking with lean economics and flow built in. If you are looking for a way to transform an enterprise’s way of collaborating and organizing with customer centricity in mind, SAFe is an excellent choice.

SAFe’s overarching guidance at the enterprise level makes it a great de facto choice for all enterprises. If you have prior experience with a framework like Scrum, SAFe makes the transition to business agility smoother. If you do not have any past experience with any agile framework, it helps you understand that every part of the organization needs to come together and collaborate in a fashion that customer success and centricity become our central focusIt is for this very reason that SAFe is the market leader when it comes to agility at scale. 

If you have tried SAFe and it doesn’t work, it is quite likely that the foundation is weak and its principles and values have not been well understood. This is true for any other framework as well. Do not fall into the trap of adopting the roles and ceremonies of a framework like SAFe without getting the basics right. For example, the starting point of SAFe is getting all leaders through a “Leading SAFe” course so that leaders can unlearn some of the traditional ways of organizational design, responsibilities and measures of success.

Generally, no framework is a silver bullet for any problem. The first step is to identify the real problem and take inspiration from a framework or multiple frameworks to solve them. In most cases, a framework cannot be applied directly and in its entirety to an organization. The first step should always be to start with the guidance provided there and gradually evolve parts of it depending on your context. Just as we weigh the options of “build vs buy” when developing a solution, we need to take a similar pragmatic approach when it comes to frameworks. Building one’s own framework from scratch is likely to be costly and time consuming, Instead, buy or reuse an existing framework and improve it through principles of empiricism. This is the secret to succeeding with frameworks. 

Prateek

Prateek Verma

Author

Prateek is an Agile and DevOps Enthusiast, Coach and Trainer. He is passionate about Continuous Value delivery and focuses on mindset shift towards agility at every level of an Enterprise including and beyond software development. Prateek has been a part of Transformation journeys at leading Fortune 100 Companies. He has consulted and coached teams and leaders on principles of business agility. A passionate speaker and blogger, Prateek has spoken at multiple conferences and has trained over a thousand people across the globe on Lean Agile Thinking and associated practices.

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What Best Describes a Scrum Team?

We are living in an age where speed is the secret to success, and the one who gets the product out first is the winner. In this digital transformation world, organizations that have adopted Agile will succeed; as Agile is all about adaptability, quick delivery and customer focus.  Scrum, the most used Agile framework is all about addressing complex problems through adaptation and value creation. Scrum teams are at the core of a Scrum project. What best describes a Scrum team? Let’s attempt to answer this question.What is Scrum?A term borrowed from rugby; Scrum actually means ‘to huddle’. It signifies how rugby payers huddle together and work as a team in order to gain possession of the ball. Like its namesake in the sport of rugby, Scrum in Agile software development also signifies a process that brings together a team of individuals who work together under complex circumstances to create a product. The term was first used by researchers Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka in their 1986 research paper, "The New Product Development Game."“Scrum is a framework that encourages teams to learn through experiences, self-organize while working on a problem, and reflect on their wins and losses to continuously improve”—Atlassian Agile coachWhat is the Scrum Methodology?Scrum is a framework under the umbrella of agile development methodologies, along with Kanban, Extreme Programming, Feature-Driven Development, Crystal, and Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM).The Scrum methodology focuses on delivering products of the highest quality through effective collaboration between teams involved.  Scrum is based on the three pillars of empirical process control, which are transparency, inspection, & adaptationThe Scrum FrameworkScrum is an Agile methodology framework that follows an iterative and incremental approach for project management, and breaks down large projects into small chunks called epics and sprints.  Each sprint results in the creation of a product and the cumulative effort of all the sprints adds to the improvement of the overall end product. The Scrum framework encourages high level collaboration among team members which comes in handy in tough project situationsWhat is a Scrum Team?Scrum.org is what best describes a Scrum Team by defining it as ‘a framework within which people can address complex adaptive problems, while productively and creatively delivering products of the highest possible value.’ So, in essence Scrum teams are self-organized and highly productive teams that deliver quality products in a highly collaborative environment.  A Scrum team’s success is based on the Scrum values that they share. These are:Commitment:  Commitment is one of the hallmarks of Agile teams. Teams collaborate and work on a common goal through a high degree of communication and trust between them.Courage: Scrum teams must have the courage to fail. Fail fast is a benefit in Agile and Scrum as this helps them discover hidden faults and recover quickly. Scrum teams must have the courage to try new things, innovate, fail and then learn from their failures to ultimately achieve success.  Focus: Having focus is a mandatory requirement of Scrum teams which ultimately helps them limit the work in progress.  Openness: Transparency and openness is also one of the empirical processes on which Scrum is based. Teams that are open and transparent with one another trust each other more and work better towards reaching a successful end point.Respect: Respect between team members is a must, irrespective of the methodology or framework they use. Respect between Scrum Masters, Product Owners and Development team members will help foster trust and enhance collaboration and co-operation between teammates.What describes a Scrum team?A Scrum team consists of three main roles. These are:Development TeamScrum MasterScrum Product OwnerThe development team consists of five to eleven people including developers, testers, architects and others. The Scrum team has a shared goal and through their collaboration and skills of self-organization and motivation, they reach this goal.What is a Scrum Master?The Scrum Master, also known as the servant leader, helps empower the team and guides them on the use of the Scrum framework. Their main responsibility is to ensure that the development team can perform to the best of its abilities, and they do this by removing obstacles or impediments that may hinder the progress of the development team. The Scrum Master is the agile coach and mentor who helps team members understand Agile and its processes and aids in enterprise-wide agile transformations.The Product OwnerThe Product Owner is the bridge connecting the stakeholders and the development team. They define the product vision and through their skills and intelligence drive the project with help from the Scrum Master and the development team. The product owner maintains the perfect balance between the stakeholder and the development team, helping each understand the other’s point of view. They are also well-versed in agile and scrum values and principles and guide the team and well as the stakeholders on the agile ways of working. Creating stakeholder satisfaction is an important responsibility of the product owner and they do this by ensuring that requirements are met, and the product created meets quality standards expected by the customer.The Development TeamThe development team is the driving force of the Scrum project. This team is empowered by the Scrum Master and the Product Owner to take decisions and be as autonomous and independent as possible. At the same time there is a high level of collaboration and transparency among the team members and between the dev team and the Product Owner. The dev team is balanced and helps the product owner manage the backlog and deliver an acceptable product at the end of every sprint.Why is the Scrum team required for organizations?Any organization that wants to go agile and implement projects using the scrum framework has to do so by getting together an efficient scrum team. Scrum has proven to be extremely successful at team levels and it is the Scrum team that drives the project to success. Scrum teams with their collaboration, self-organization, innovation and collocation are able to drive success and business value.A table that summarizes the Scrum Team’s responsibilities in the various Scrum processesScrum PhaseScrum processScrum Master responsibilityProduct Owner responsibilityDevelopment team responsibilityInitiate1. Create Project Vision------2. Identify Scrum Master and Stakeholder(s)--Identifies Scrum Master--3. Form Scrum TeamAlong with the PO decides dev teamAlong with the SM decides dev team--4. Develop Epic(s)Helps PO in developing epicsDevelops epics and arranges user group meetingsHelps PO in developing epics5. Create Prioritized Product BacklogHelps PO in epic refinementRefines epicsHelps PO in epic refinement6. Conduct Release PlanningHelps PO and dev team with backlog prioritization and determining sprint lengthReviews the backlog and develops release planning scheduleHelps PO with backlog prioritization and determining sprint lengthPlan and Estimate7. Create User StoriesHelps dev team and PO write user storiesWrites user stories and incorporates them into the Prioritized Product BacklogWrites user stories8. Approve, Estimate, and Commit User StoriesEstimates the effort required to deliver the product defined in each user storyApproves user stories for the sprintAlong with the SM estimates the effort for each sprint and9. Create TasksHelps dev team break down the stories into tasksHelps dev team break down the stories into tasksBreaks down the approved stories into tasks and create a task list10. Estimate TasksHelps the dev team create the effort estimated task listHelps the dev team create the effort estimated task listCreates the effort estimated task list11. Create Sprint BacklogHelps the PO create sprint backlogCreates the sprint backlog and lists the tasks that need to be completed in the sprintHelps the PO create sprint backlogImplement12. Create DeliverablesGuides the dev teamHelps dev team if neededWorks on creating sprint deliverables13. Conduct Daily Stand-upArranges and conducts the meetingsMay or may not attend the meetingsAttends the meetings and defines any problems or issues faced14. Groom Prioritized Product Backlog Helps PO to groom the backlogUpdates and maintains the backlog continuouslyHelps PO to groom the backlogReview and Retrospect15. Convene Scrum of ScrumsHelps teams collaborate and notes any impediments that may be hindering work--Mentions their progress or any issues they may be facing16. Demonstrate and Validate Sprint Helps dev team in displaying what it has createdApproves or rejects what the dev team demonstratesDemonstrates deliverables to PO and stakeholders17. Retrospect SprintMeets with dev team to ponder on lessons learnt during the sprint. Documents the recommendations--With scrum master retrospect's on sprint and uses the recommendations for the next sprint18. Ship DeliverablesAlong with other team members ships acceptable deliverablesAlong with other team members ships acceptable deliverablesAlong with other team members ships acceptable deliverables19. Retrospect ProjectGets together with other team members and identifies the lessons learntGets together with other team members and identifies the lessons learntGets together with other team members and identifies the lessons learntSo, what best describes a Scrum team? There are many facets to a Scrum team, but the most relatable description would be a highly interconnected and cohesive unit that works together to solve issues. A well-organized Scrum team can raise the ROI of an organization and ensure long term stakeholder commitment.
What Best Describes a Scrum Team?

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Scrum Software for the Ultimate Project Management

Technology has made our lives easier. The number of tools and devices we have at our disposal has made our lives more productive and our work more efficient. The Agile software development methodology has been adopted by several organizations to improve their adaptability, responsiveness, and productivity.  How can we improve the way we incorporate Agile Scrum into our projects? Scrum tools can be the answer. Just like the other gadgets in our lives, Scrum software and tools help improve the productivity of our teams, keep stakeholders happy and help us deliver better products. Before we jump into the use and needs of Scrum software and tools let us understand more about Scrum roles and how they work.Three essential roles for Scrum successThe Scrum Guide defines three pillars of a Scrum team, which include:The Scrum MasterThe Product OwnerThe Development TeamThe Scrum team is a small unit which is self-organised and works towards achieving the same goal; that is, the development and deployment of the product and customer satisfaction.Three essential roles in a Scrum TeamThe Scrum Product OwnerThe Scrum Product Owner is among the most essential roles in the Scrum team and acts as a bridge between the stakeholders and the development team. 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There are plenty of Scrum tools available that fit the bill and provide interfaces that help teams seamlessly follow Scrum processes and reap its benefits. These tools help:Increase productivityIn task management, daily scrum management  Increase team collaborationIn progress tracking and risk managementScrum Software for the Ultimate ProjectThere are several Scrum software tools that aid in project development using Scrum; not just in technical environments, but in non-technical sectors as well. Software like JIRA, Infinity, TargetProcess, QuickScrum, Wrike etc provide:User friendly GUICompetitive pricingProduct backlog managementTime tracking and calendar tools for schedulingScrum metrics and chartsSprint planning toolsThird party tools for integrationUser story mappingBurnup and Burndown chartsand many more features that will help Agile teams serve their customers better, improve return on investment, reduce costs, enhance collaboration and ensure stakeholder satisfaction. These tools help team uphold the values of Agile and make implementing the Scrum framework easier.Best Scrum ToolsHere are some of the best Scrum tools available in the market:1. JIRAJira is a popular tool used by large organizations to manage their Scrum projects. It has numerous features including customizable scrum boards, reporting features and more. Here’s how teams benefit from this toolCustomizable Scrum and Kanban boardsRoadmaps to communicate with team and with stakeholdersAccess to tools for Agile reportingView of code and deployment statusEnd to end DevOps visibilityEasy scalabilitySecure deploymentDeveloper tool integrationRich APIs to automate processes2. TargetProcessThis tool has been especially designed for teams that want to scale agile. It offers a number of customizable features that make it easy to work with scrum and agile.  Here’s how teams benefit from this tool(Source: Targetprocess Agile Portfolio and Work Management Tool)IdeationBuilt in reports to analyse data and uncover trendsGather ideas across sourcesCloud hosting and on-premise hostingEnterprise grade securityCollaborate across the enterprise  Collaborate with DevOps tools including GitLab, Azure DevOps, GitHub etc3. VivifyScrumThis tool is marketed as an all-in-one solution to manage projects, collaborate and track. Here’s how teams benefit from this tool (Source: Agile Project Management Software - VivifyScrum)Tools to manage agile projects—organize, manage, track and deliverCollaboration boards to effectively collaborate with team and stakeholdersCreate invoices to track and manage business and clientsManage teams and track tasks4. InfinityThis tool is among the most popular in Agile and Scrum organizations due to the many customizations and features it provides. Its various tools help reduce time to market, ensure better quality, improve collaboration and enable customer satisfaction.Here’s how teams benefit from this tool Source: Infinity | Customizable Work Management Platform (startinfinity.com)How Can Scrum Apps Benefit Your Team?The number of Scrum apps and software available in the market for Scrum projects is mind boggling. Which one you choose depends on the requirements of your team and project, and each comes with its own benefits. Some of these benefits include:They help teams, organizations and the product being createdThey ensure better quality by providing the right framework, support mechanism and the right processesAllow for continual improvement by putting in place a feedback loop and sprint reviews by stakeholdersHelp solve impediments and daily issues by incorporating daily testing and product owner feedback into the development processEnsure upfront documentation and help prioritise high value items in the product backlog, thus decreasing time to market.  Quick feedback also helps improve the product and thus helps in continuous improvement.The faster marketing of products increases return on investment, helps tap the market demand and ensures long term benefits for the customer and thus earns their trust for the organizationThe primary tenet of Agile is team collaboration. Scrum software tools help in high level collaboration between the Scrum Master, Product Owner and the development team. Teams can organise, review, plan and discuss everyday tasks, meetings, impediments and more.How to Pick the Best Tool for Your Team?With so many options available, choosing the right Scrum tool for your team can be a tricky task. What you need to do is go through the features of the best tools and see which one best fits your requirements. While the number of features you get will be directly proportional to the money you are ready to pay for the tool, there are some basic requirements your tool must satisfy.Backlog creation:  The very basic format of a Scrum project lies in the creation of a product backlog which sets the pace for the entire project. The backlog is primarily created by the Product Owner with assistance from the Scrum Master and the development team. The tool you choose should help you create the product backlog so that you can prioritise items, define the sprints and identify sprint goals.Implement feedback:  Scrum projects are based on the Agile values of continuous feedback. Your scrum tool should have features which will make your customer’s feedback and requirements easily accessible to you. This will help you implement these changes at the earliest. This continuous feedback loop will help keep customers happy.Sprint creation:  Scrum is iterative and adaptive and works by breaking down projects into small sized sprints. Your tool must aid you in the creation of sprints and burndown charts. These help you keep track of your progress on the project and are essential components of a Scrum project.The other things your tool should be able to do include:Plan and trackCustomise process templatesCustomise dashboards and reportsHelp in time managementHelp create epics and storiesProvide collab and reporting toolsProvide review toolsAnd just like you will create a product that is user friendly, the tool you use also needs to be user friendly for the team. If your team is happy using it, and it makes your life easier and your projects better, then you have the right tool!
Scrum Software for the Ultimate Project Management

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Safe Agile Ceremonies - Expert Guide

“Winners take time to relish their work, knowing that scaling the mountain is what makes the view from the top so exhilarating.” ― Denis WaitleyWhat are SAFe agile events (or) ceremonies? – a brief overview:Before we jump into the topic, could I just take you a step back and remind you what SAFe is all about? SAFe is a way of taking any iterative Agile way of working (normally restricted to a team or few teams) and scaling it up at various levels of the organization, whilst applying a mindset of Lean manufacturing. It also deals with scalability at various levels. Beginning from Essential SAFe right up to Full SAFe, the framework caters to all organizational levels of scaling agility. As part of this, it broadens the core idea of agility mindset beyond just projects/development teams right up to executives/CXOs, who must prepare for enterprise level uncertainties. In a sense, it provides valuable enterprise level scaling insights helpful for the executives to tackle any uncertainties/risks associated with a project.As you start applying SAFe in your organisation, it is important for you to understand how each level works in conjunction with the other, depending on how mature your SAFe enterprise is. The key link between these levels is the SAFe specific events which help with smooth value delivery facilitation. The events help with alignment across teams, ARTs etc thus helping in managing risk by providing a level based cadence and synchronization.Essential SAFe - Your First Level of Scaling Using an Agile Release Train (ART). Courtesy © Scaled Agile, Inc. Source: Scaled AgileWhy do we need level-based ceremonies?While it is important to go through your team level events (like the 4 sprint events if you are doing scrum etc.) it is important to have the scaling events that help with bridging gaps and unblocking dependency between teams. The most important part of these SAFe specific events is for ‘Business Stakeholders’ to get a look (demo) at a proper incremental product and thus the value arising out of it. Makes sense? It did for me and let me tell you why.I was once associated with 3 feature teams, who were working towards a common product goal. They all had the same business stakeholders but were working on individual features. Team A was working on developing a Login page, Team B was working on a landing dashboard while Team C was hopping along, trying to provide a search functionality for the user. All of them were applying the Scrum framework and were running their own events. Sprint demos were happening individually and were being represented by the Product owner separately along with his business analysts. All seemed fine but there was a nagging problem. The product owner was worried, because he couldn’t bring any business stakeholder to view the demos, as they were being run in silos and there was no visibility on the incremental product. Well technically there was, but they would have to sit through three or four-hour events individually to get bits and pieces of the product demo. In the real world, it's not a possibility simply because your business stakeholders will not have that much time to spend on multiple demos. It is not a good use of their time either. So, what’s the solution? Simple, it’s SAFe to the rescue! Let’s try and understand how the SAFe specific events help with this.Prescribed PI Cadence for Various Levels of Scaling. Courtesy © Scaled Agile, Inc. Source: Scaled AgileHow do the events (or) ceremonies help to scale up according to the levels in SAFe:SAFe is very relevant and designed to thrive in situations where there are significant cross functional dependencies between agile teams and support / functional teams (infrastructure teams, architect community etc).  Essential Level:   As you start to scale up one level up, you will be working with anywhere between 5-12 agile teams who will all be collectively working towards a common goal which is the program increment or PI. The anchoring catalyst that brings them all together is your ART (Agile release train). Before getting into the events, lets understand the various roles involved at this level because this is the common denominator across all levels of SAFe and across organizations. This is where you need to get it right without which there is not much use in scaling higher. Key Roles involved: Release Train Engineer (RTE) System Architect/Engineer Product Management   Business OwnersPrescribed events on a typical Agile release train (ART). Courtesy © Scaled Agile, Inc. Source: Scaled AgilePI PlanningAccording to me, PI planning (hands down) is THE most significant aspect of executing this framework. This is where all the magic happens. It is sometimes referred to as the heart of the framework as it offers a clear vision of what the program increment needs to be, what the cross-team dependencies are and how they bring together the cultural sustainability much needed within the release trains. It is so important, that if carried out incorrectly it could lead to several ambiguities, development challenges and mostly a disastrous product increment. However, when it works well, the iterative cycle serves to flesh out the crucial elements of the plan and the processes ensure buy in from the stakeholders.Duration: A normal PI planning is a 2-day activity, which is a face to face cultural get together of the various ART teams. However, a new 3-day distributed PI planning has been introduced to help with geographically distributed teams (across various time zones), very apt for the current pandemic situation.“There is no magic in SAFe® except maybe for PI Planning”. – The authors of the SAFe framework.In big organizations with multiple distributed teams across multiple vendors, work streams etc. it is almost impossible to run these teams independently, whilst still having to deliver an incremental program. SAFe via the PI planning exercise mentioned above, helps with sorting out these issues by recognising cross team dependencies upfront, constantly negotiating & visualising them. This doesn’t just stop with the PI planning but the framework also proposes a cadenced way of continuing this via the scrum of scrums. The Program Board is an ideal way to showcase the cross-team dependencies.A sample SAFe Program board. Courtesy © Scaled Agile, Inc. Source: Scaled Agile1. Inspect and Adapt (I&A)An inspect and adapt event is scheduled after every PI. This event is dedicated to aligning to the principles of Kaizen, which simply means to change for the better. The events contain self induced thought processes to revalidate your assumptions that everything is working OK. The I&A event consists of three sub-parts as below:  PI System DemoQuantitative and qualitative measurementRetrospective and problem-solving workshop2. ART Sync Agile release trains tend to apply a cadenced synchronization process to help manage the ability to focus on continuous value delivery. An ART sync will typically comprise of the below sub-events.  Scrum of Scrums: This event is for representatives from all the teams on a release train to come together in a regular cadenced manner, especially on large ARTs. This is normally facilitated by the release train engineer (RTE) and will involve scrum masters of the individual teams and a few selected team members (authorised by the team). The sole purpose of the SoS calls are to understand progress towards the common goal, validate cross team dependencies and unblock impediments that may arise out of them. Duration: The length and frequency of the meeting will depend on a few factors like the size of the ART, the release frequency, type of features being worked on, ability to decouple releases etc. For e.g an ART which releases features into production every 4 weeks might want to have an SoS call every 2 weeks for about an hour. Again, if this doesn’t work for you, just inspect and adapt to what works well for your organizational needs. Just make sure that the SoS is utilised for its sole purpose and not just status updates as depicted in the below comic representation.Scrum of Scrums PO SyncThis event is represented by the Product Owner, business analysts and the product management group. This is used mainly to level up the product backlog refinement and for clarifying PI (Program Increment) scope, reviewing roadmaps and grooming for the upcoming PIs.Duration: Very similar in concept to the SoS, so just follow what works for the group. 3. System DemoAs part of a common understanding towards delivering incremental software, shortly after each iteration in the PI, there is a system demo scheduled. Work completed across all teams from the release train are compiled in a stable environment before it is reviewed by the business stakeholders and other important sponsors who may have a keen interest in the product. This is on top of the individual team level demos that happen after each iteration.Duration: Anywhere between 2-3 hours that will allow time for a demonstration of the program increment in a collative manner, on top of what has been delivered from the previous PIs as well.In case your ART is pretty small, then you may want to have just have some of the events combined into a more generic ART sync, where all roles come together to collaborate towards the program increment. This can sometimes occur if the ART is focusing on a particular value stream, confined to limited business functionality, rather than elaborate features.Solution/Portfolio LevelsAs you scale higher, the processes and events become much less prescriptive. There is a good reason for this because the focus at this level is not just on having repetitive demos that have already happened before but on building thought leadership around business outcomes and enhancing business agility. Which is why we will not be diving deep into that in this blog. But let us look at the events that occur at the macro level.Lean Budget Review  Idea Sharing via Communities of Practice (not a formal event but a collaborative group)Solution DemoPortfolio SyncRoadshowWhat are the benefits of SAFe Agile ceremonies?:The Magic of PI planningWell, the more I talk about this, the more excited I am. A PI planning event when carried out to its truest purpose, gets half the job done. Here is where most of the brainstorming occurs and business value gets determined and, in some cases, gets assigned in a quantifiable manner to user stories and helps with the prioritisation.PI Planning Synchronisation towards a common goalThe events are a constant reminder that all teams are working towards delivering incremental value either on a particular value stream, or feature or program. An RTE and Product Management will help reiterating the need to focus on the larger goal whilst helping sorting out inter team dependencies.Less prescriptiveAs is the framework itself, SAFe events/ceremonies are less prescriptive. An SPC would recommend, apply the principles but inspect and adapt as to what works for your organization. As per the example I provided earlier w.r.t to the duration of the SAFe events, start with something reasonable and then validate its effectiveness. Then leave Kaizen to do the rest.Visualization of incremental value deliveryOpportunity for Business stakeholders and sponsors to have a look at the overall program increment every iteration, thus helping them evaluate the progress and provide timely feedback on market trends. What are the common mistakes?Lack of a shared product visionThings can go wrong if there is not enough representation in the product management group, say for e.g at the PO Sync event. This can lead to a blurred product vision with each team working out of sync. This may ultimately get detected too late, probably at the time of the system demo, and lead to a whole lot of unwanted rework.SoS as a status updateThe Scrum Of Scrum event should be used as an event to unblock cross team impediments or dependencies and not to just update what each team has been doing or is doing in its current sprint. TimeboxingGiven the scale at which these events will be conducted, it is critical that the associated events are facilitated in a timeboxed manner or else the participants could end up sitting and talking for hours. Roles like RTE, SPC Coaches etc will be critical in addressing this issue.Remote facilitationLack of effective collaboration tools could lead to some disastrous situations whilst facilitating the SAFe events. Given that most teams are running virtual ceremonies/events at the moment, its crucial to establish a working distributed model. This will then ensure that the platform is set up for the most effective collaboration and cross-functional work to take place.While you try to scale, as per the implementation roadmap, its essential that you solidify the process around which your ARTs will be functioning. It’s like setting the railway tracks with the correct track gauge matching the configurations of the wheelsets of the trains that will run on them. If not, they will just derail. As your ARTs pass through your set process, they will only benefit by sustaining focus and pace while moving towards a successful incremental product delivery.Thanks for your patience and wish you all the very best in your Agile journey. In case you want me to write about any specific topic, please feel free to comment below and I’ll be more than happy to add them to my ‘Blog Backlog’. If you liked the article, please do share it among your agile community to help spread the word.  Hope to see you soon, with more such interesting topics.
Safe Agile Ceremonies - Expert Guide

“Winners take time to relish their work, knowing... Read More