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How “Not” To Be Agile – Vision and Objectives

Introduction‘How Not to Be Agile’ may seem a strange title for blogs about how good Agile is. The benefits that can be obtained from adopting an Agile approach are well documented all over the web.  What I intend to do over this series of articles is to share with you the misinterpretations, omissions, and mistakes that people make that significantly reduce the potential benefits of Agile when an organisation, or part of it, embark on an Agile Transformation.The content of all my articles is based on my personal experience from my training and coaching practice; there will be no ‘third party’, apocryphal stories that I do not know the truth of.Agile Transformation is not easy!  Yes, the ‘mechanics’ of all the Agile frameworks are relatively straightforward to implement, given that people are trained adequately.However, the root cause of just about all the problems that I have come across is inadequate training and/or coaching of everybody involved with the Agile Transformation including the development people as well as the senior and middle management, both business and technical.Let’s start with the importance of the Vision and Objectives of whatever it is that we are trying to achieve.Vision and ObjectivesRight before the headlong plunge into the vision and objectives of an Agile team, you should first know whether your team and Agile are meant to be together.Simply put, do not adopt Agile just for the sake of being Agile. The following diagram will help you understand the situations wherein you need to have second thoughts before embracing Agile.Most of the popular Agile frameworks such as Scrum, eXtreme Programming (XP) and Lean Software development, start the process from ‘given a set of requirements, ordered by business value, this is what you should do’.The problem with such frameworks is that they give no advice about deciding whether the development initiative should even be started in the first place; they assume that an organisation that is adopting their framework, already has processes in place to create things like Business Cases and do ‘Portfolio Management’. But even if these, what I call, ‘governance processes’ are in place, they are usually based on the organisation’s current ‘waterfall’ approach to product development and are generally unsuitable forAgile development.Notable Agile frameworks that do include some, if not all, governance considerations are the Agile Project Framework, from the Agile Business Consortium; the Lean Startup and the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®).Vision StatementIdeally, a Vision Statement should be of one or two sentences mentioning the problem to be solved, who has the problem and the benefits of carrying out some development; it should be aspirational, i.e a target if the best-case scenario is realised. Eg:“To solve the problem of the Board not having ‘real-time’ financial information available in order to make better strategic and tactical business decisions”In this example, it is clear who has the problem- the Board. And also, what the problem is- no real-time financial information; the benefits are implied in this example, it is probably obvious that it is important for the Board to be able to make good strategic and tactical business decisions.ObjectivesClearly, it is not possible to scope a development at any level directly from a Vision statement such as the example above:What specific financial information do the Board members need?Which Board members need it?When do they need it?Which decisions are affected?When does this ‘improvement’ need to be in place?Questions such as these can be answered in a list of Objectives:1. Current, ‘real-time’ information about {x, y, and z} needs to be available2. The information needs to be available to Board Members {a, b, and c} by the 25th of each     month.3. An improved financial reporting system must be in place by the beginning of the next financial year with a minimum of information a (the Minimum Viable Product) and hopefully with information b; the best-case scenario is that c will be included as well.We can see that this list of objectives gives us clearer detail about who to focus our efforts with and what to focus our efforts on.  Objectives are not Agile requirements.We don’t measure Vision statements; we can measure Objectives.So what problems have I encountered with Vision?Case Study 1:I had been asked by a member of an organisation to conduct an ‘Agile Audit’ of a large development programme that was supposed to be a part of the organisation’s Agile Transformation. He had asked for the audit because he was finding it difficult to see the benefits that the ‘partner’ development company had promised.For those of you yet to acquaint yourselves with Agile Audit procedures, a standard audit template may look like the one shown below. Following a similar variant, not just for Sprint planning, but also for other ceremonies in Agile can help find and fix impediments.  Initially, I concentrated my audit efforts with the numerous development teams (12), finding many ‘horror stories’ that, if you stick with me in this series of articles, you will read about later.Having submitted my audit report, I was asked to stay on to help sort out the mess; I became part of the programme management team.It became clear to me, when interacting with the different teams, that there was no consistent view of why they were doing what they were doing or what the expected value of what they were doing was supposed to be; they were used to being told what to do and they did it like they had always done; some good, some bad. The teams were made up of some of the organisation’s internal people and people from the ‘partner’ development company.Core checklistsRecommended checklistsClearly defined POTeam has a sprint backlogDaily scrum happensDemo happens after every sprintDefinition of done availableRetrospective happens after every sprintPO has a product backlog(PBL)Have sprint planning meetingsTime Boxed iterationsTeam members sit togetherTeam has all skills to bring backlog item to done.Team members not locked into specific roles.Iterations doomed to fail are terminated early.PO has product vision that is in synch with PBL.PBL and product vision is highly visible.Everyone on the team is participating in estimating.Estimate relative size(points) rather than time.PO is available when team is estimating.Whole team knows the top 3 impediments.Team has  a scrum master.PBL items  are broken into task within a sprint.Velocity is measured.Team has a sprint burndown chartDaily scrum is everyday, same time&place.I asked the programme manager and some senior programme business people what the Vision and Objectives for the programme and the Vision and Objectives for the transformation were and was assured that they existed but nobody could tell me where; there were some attempts to tell me what the Visions were but, again, there was no consistency.One afternoon, the equivalent of the CEO had a space in her diary and decided to visit the development area. After some organisational ‘notices’ she asked if there were any questions; silence!This typically happens when right at the inception of the project, a clear product vision is not drafted in a discrete format as the one shown below-So I asked her if she knew where I could find the Vision statements and/or Objectives for the programme and/or the Agile Transformation. She assured me that they existed and dispatched one of her aides to my PC to find them on the intranet. Fifteen minutes later, the aide found a section of a document, on page 34 of that document, titled ‘Vision’; the section contained 3 paragraphs none of which described the problem that the programme was trying to solve nor the benefits that were being sought. He could not find an Agile Transformation Vision or Objectives of any description.I told the programme manager of my unease about a visible and adequate programme Vision and the fact that I was uncertain of the business value of some of the programme projects but had no ’yardstick’ to measure the value by. One project had been running for about 18 months, had spent £1.5 million, and had delivered nothing!There was an attempt to measure the value of the projects by the 3-paragraph Vision and it was decided that the project mentioned above was not even in the scope of the programme; the project was cancelled. Three other projects had their scope reduced but they had already developed parts of the original scope that were removed.Lessons:1) Without a visible and concise Vision statement and list of Objectives at programme and project levels, it is highly probable that the scope at both levels will end up being something like ‘that seems like a good idea – let’s do it’.2) Without a Visible and concise Vision statement and list of Objectives at programme and project levels it is highly likely that money will be wasted; anathema to Agile.3) Governance is not just about what is happening, ie progress, it is also about why it is happening; in the beginning, and the ‘why’ may be reasonable but times change and governance processes must investigate whether the ‘why’ is sustainable; initially, in no development reviews that I attended, nobody asked the question ‘is the business case still viable?Case Study 2:I had been asked to do some Agile coaching for some teams in a global organisation that was undertaking the Agile transformation of one of their divisions; the transformation had been running for 6 months.Imagine my surprise, when starting the assignment, to find that none of the teams were involved in product development but were supporting existing systems; this support did not involve ‘coding’ of any sort, just manipulating the data; the team members had a role of ‘Analyst’.I was further surprised to find that some of the teams were organised into SAFe® Agile Release Trains (ARTs) and using Scrum.The clear majority of product development in the organisation was done by another division and Agile was not being used. However, when the product development teams needed analyst support, they co-opted members of the support teams thereby reducing the capacity of the support teams.As in Case Study 1 above, there were many anti-Agile practices in place which I shall cover in later articles.Firstly, I asked the division’s senior management why they were undertaking the Agile transformation. The answer was that the previous practice of some analysts being permanently with the development teams and the others permanently doing support, was not liked by the analysts and they were ‘mixing and matching’ within analyst teams. A worthy ambition, but I was not sure how they expected Agile to solve the problem.So I asked why the ART teams were using Scrum when Kanban was probably a better fit for the work that the teams were doing; SAFe® allows for the ART teams to use Scrum or Kanban.  I was told that it had been decided that all ART teams were to use Scrum for consistency; the answer to my next question informed that decision.Then I asked why they had chosen SAFe® given that SAFe® is designed mainly for product development; SAFe® does allow for product support teams in the ART; such teams usually use Kanban.  I was told that the product development division had experimented with SAFe® for a product development and it was considered very successful. Based on that success, the division that I was working with had decided to implement SAFe® ‘en-masse’.None of this information was written in a transformation Vision Statement nor were there any transformation Objectives with which to measure how the transformation would be measured.I am not dogmatic about Agile practices, even the ‘strange’ ones being employed by this division.  I decided to help the teams where I could.With many team members, I encountered a reluctance to follow some of the basics of Scrum which was slowing their work.My anecdotal issues about the team members’ reluctance and lethargy that I raised with the division senior management were all met with ‘show us proof’.After 3 months, it was decided to run a ‘team health check’ exercise with all the teams globally.  It was further decided that this health check would use the Spotify Squad Health Check Model by which team members are asked various questions about their team and respond via ‘traffic lights’; red, amber or green.The diagram below outlines the popular health check metrics followed by highly functional Agile teams.One of the questions asked was about ‘Suitable Process’ with ‘Our way of working fits us perfectly’ as green and ‘Our way of working sucks!’ being red.I ran the health check with the teams that I was directly responsible for and some that I wasn’t.  The answer they gave to the Suitable Process question was overwhelmingly red with a few ambers; there were no greens. I sat in on a couple of the health checks run by the senior coach; he did not use the ‘Suitable Process’ question and avoided any discussion about the process; I realised that there were politics in play that I hadn’t previously been aware of.Lessons:1) The division clearly understood the problem that they were trying to solve and who had the problem but the solution was inappropriate. Without a transformation Vision Statement and suitable Objectives List, it is likely that an inappropriate solution to the problem may be selected.2) Without a suitable list of Agile Transformation Objectives, it is impossible to measure how the transformation is progressing and to find impediments to the process that need to be addressed.ConclusionOne of the tenets of Agile is to ‘Fail Fast’. If you set out on an Agile Transformation, a product development programme or a project without everybody involved knowing:What is the problem that we are trying to solve?Who has the problem?What benefits the initiative is expected to bring?you will probably:Waste moneyChoose the wrong solutionAlienate staffIf you do not have a list of measurable objectives for the initiative:You cannot check the initiative progressYou will not identify initiative issues that must be resolvedYou cannot ‘fail fast’ and pivot your solutionBasic speculations and uncertainty aside, if you strongly intend to run a healthy Agile team, this is how your Agile journey should look like.

How “Not” To Be Agile – Vision and Objectives

5019
  • by Steve Ash
  • 02nd Aug, 2018
  • Last updated on 11th Mar, 2021
  • 5 mins read
How “Not” To Be Agile – Vision and Objectives

Introduction

‘How Not to Be Agile’ may seem a strange title for blogs about how good Agile is. The benefits that can be obtained from adopting an Agile approach are well documented all over the web.  What I intend to do over this series of articles is to share with you the misinterpretations, omissions, and mistakes that people make that significantly reduce the potential benefits of Agile when an organisation, or part of it, embark on an Agile Transformation.

The content of all my articles is based on my personal experience from my training and coaching practice; there will be no ‘third party’, apocryphal stories that I do not know the truth of.

Agile Transformation is not easy!  Yes, the ‘mechanics’ of all the Agile frameworks are relatively straightforward to implement, given that people are trained adequately.

However, the root cause of just about all the problems that I have come across is inadequate training and/or coaching of everybody involved with the Agile Transformation including the development people as well as the senior and middle management, both business and technical.

Let’s start with the importance of the Vision and Objectives of whatever it is that we are trying to achieve.

Vision and Objectives

Right before the headlong plunge into the vision and objectives of an Agile team, you should first know whether your team and Agile are meant to be together.

Simply put, do not adopt Agile just for the sake of being Agile. The following diagram will help you understand the situations wherein you need to have second thoughts before embracing Agile.

When Not To Use Agile
Most of the popular Agile frameworks such as Scrum, eXtreme Programming (XP) and Lean Software development, start the process from ‘given a set of requirements, ordered by business value, this is what you should do’.

The problem with such frameworks is that they give no advice about deciding whether the development initiative should even be started in the first place; they assume that an organisation that is adopting their framework, already has processes in place to create things like Business Cases and do ‘Portfolio Management’. But even if these, what I call, ‘governance processes’ are in place, they are usually based on the organisation’s current ‘waterfall’ approach to product development and are generally unsuitable for
Agile development.

Notable Agile frameworks that do include some, if not all, governance considerations are the Agile Project Framework, from the Agile Business Consortium; the Lean Startup and the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®).

Vision Statement

Ideally, a Vision Statement should be of one or two sentences mentioning the problem to be solved, who has the problem and the benefits of carrying out some development; it should be aspirational, i.e a target if the best-case scenario is realised. Eg:


“To solve the problem of the Board not having ‘real-time’ financial information available in order to make better strategic and tactical business decisions”

In this example, it is clear who has the problem- the Board. And also, what the problem is- no real-time financial information; the benefits are implied in this example, it is probably obvious that it is important for the Board to be able to make good strategic and tactical business decisions.

Objectives
Clearly, it is not possible to scope a development at any level directly from a Vision statement such as the example above:

  • What specific financial information do the Board members need?
  • Which Board members need it?
  • When do they need it?
  • Which decisions are affected?
  • When does this ‘improvement’ need to be in place?

Questions such as these can be answered in a list of Objectives:

1. Current, ‘real-time’ information about {x, y, and z} needs to be available
2. The information needs to be available to Board Members {a, b, and c} by the 25th of each     month.
3. An improved financial reporting system must be in place by the beginning of the next financial year with a minimum of information a (the Minimum Viable Product) and hopefully with information b; the best-case scenario is that c will be included as well.

Difference between Agile look like & should not look like
We can see that this list of objectives gives us clearer detail about who to focus our efforts with and what to focus our efforts on.  

Objectives are not Agile requirements.

We don’t measure Vision statements; we can measure Objectives.
So what problems have I encountered with Vision?

Case Study 1:

I had been asked by a member of an organisation to conduct an ‘Agile Audit’ of a large development programme that was supposed to be a part of the organisation’s Agile Transformation. He had asked for the audit because he was finding it difficult to see the benefits that the ‘partner’ development company had promised.

For those of you yet to acquaint yourselves with Agile Audit procedures, a standard audit template may look like the one shown below. Following a similar variant, not just for Sprint planning, but also for other ceremonies in Agile can help find and fix impediments.  

Sprint Planning
Initially, I concentrated my audit efforts with the numerous development teams (12), finding many ‘horror stories’ that, if you stick with me in this series of articles, you will read about later.Having submitted my audit report, I was asked to stay on to help sort out the mess; I became part of the programme management team.

It became clear to me, when interacting with the different teams, that there was no consistent view of why they were doing what they were doing or what the expected value of what they were doing was supposed to be; they were used to being told what to do and they did it like they had always done; some good, some bad. The teams were made up of some of the organisation’s internal people and people from the ‘partner’ development company.

Core checklistsRecommended checklists
  • Clearly defined PO
  • Team has a sprint backlog
  • Daily scrum happens
  • Demo happens after every sprint
  • Definition of done available
  • Retrospective happens after every sprint
  • PO has a product backlog(PBL)
  • Have sprint planning meetings
  • Time Boxed iterations
  • Team members sit together
  • Team has all skills to bring backlog item to done.
  • Team members not locked into specific roles.
  • Iterations doomed to fail are terminated early.
  • PO has product vision that is in synch with PBL.
  • PBL and product vision is highly visible.
  • Everyone on the team is participating in estimating.
  • Estimate relative size(points) rather than time.
  • PO is available when team is estimating.
  • Whole team knows the top 3 impediments.
  • Team has  a scrum master.
  • PBL items  are broken into task within a sprint.
  • Velocity is measured.
  • Team has a sprint burndown chart
  • Daily scrum is everyday, same time&place.


I asked the programme manager and some senior programme business people what the Vision and Objectives for the programme and the Vision and Objectives for the transformation were and was assured that they existed but nobody could tell me where; there were some attempts to tell me what the Visions were but, again, there was no consistency.

One afternoon, the equivalent of the CEO had a space in her diary and decided to visit the development area. After some organisational ‘notices’ she asked if there were any questions; silence!

This typically happens when right at the inception of the project, a clear product vision is not drafted in a discrete format as the one shown below-
FORMAT of Clear product vision
So I asked her if she knew where I could find the Vision statements and/or Objectives for the programme and/or the Agile Transformation. She assured me that they existed and dispatched one of her aides to my PC to find them on the intranet. Fifteen minutes later, the aide found a section of a document, on page 34 of that document, titled ‘Vision’; the section contained 3 paragraphs none of which described the problem that the programme was trying to solve nor the benefits that were being sought. He could not find an Agile Transformation Vision or Objectives of any description.

I told the programme manager of my unease about a visible and adequate programme Vision and the fact that I was uncertain of the business value of some of the programme projects but had no ’yardstick’ to measure the value by. One project had been running for about 18 months, had spent £1.5 million, and had delivered nothing!


There was an attempt to measure the value of the projects by the 3-paragraph Vision and it was decided that the project mentioned above was not even in the scope of the programme; the project was cancelled. Three other projects had their scope reduced but they had already developed parts of the original scope that were removed.

Lessons:

1) Without a visible and concise Vision statement and list of Objectives at programme and project levels, it is highly probable that the scope at both levels will end up being something like ‘that seems like a good idea – let’s do it’.
2) Without a Visible and concise Vision statement and list of Objectives at programme and project levels it is highly likely that money will be wasted; anathema to Agile.
3) Governance is not just about what is happening, ie progress, it is also about why it is happening; in the beginning, and the ‘why’ may be reasonable but times change and governance processes must investigate whether the ‘why’ is sustainable; initially, in no development reviews that I attended, nobody asked the question ‘is the business case still viable?

Case Study 2:

I had been asked to do some Agile coaching for some teams in a global organisation that was undertaking the Agile transformation of one of their divisions; the transformation had been running for 6 months.

Imagine my surprise, when starting the assignment, to find that none of the teams were involved in product development but were supporting existing systems; this support did not involve ‘coding’ of any sort, just manipulating the data; the team members had a role of ‘Analyst’.

I was further surprised to find that some of the teams were organised into SAFe® Agile Release Trains (ARTs) and using Scrum.

The clear majority of product development in the organisation was done by another division and Agile was not being used. However, when the product development teams needed analyst support, they co-opted members of the support teams thereby reducing the capacity of the support teams.

As in Case Study 1 above, there were many anti-Agile practices in place which I shall cover in later articles.

Firstly, I asked the division’s senior management why they were undertaking the Agile transformation. The answer was that the previous practice of some analysts being permanently with the development teams and the others permanently doing support, was not liked by the analysts and they were ‘mixing and matching’ within analyst teams. A worthy ambition, but I was not sure how they expected Agile to solve the problem.

So I asked why the ART teams were using Scrum when Kanban was probably a better fit for the work that the teams were doing; SAFe® allows for the ART teams to use Scrum or Kanban.  I was told that it had been decided that all ART teams were to use Scrum for consistency; the answer to my next question informed that decision.

Then I asked why they had chosen SAFe® given that SAFe® is designed mainly for product development; SAFe® does allow for product support teams in the ART; such teams usually use Kanban.  I was told that the product development division had experimented with SAFe® for a product development and it was considered very successful. Based on that success, the division that I was working with had decided to implement SAFe® ‘en-masse’.

None of this information was written in a transformation Vision Statement nor were there any transformation Objectives with which to measure how the transformation would be measured.I am not dogmatic about Agile practices, even the ‘strange’ ones being employed by this division.  I decided to help the teams where I could.

With many team members, I encountered a reluctance to follow some of the basics of Scrum which was slowing their work.

My anecdotal issues about the team members’ reluctance and lethargy that I raised with the division senior management were all met with ‘show us proof’.

After 3 months, it was decided to run a ‘team health check’ exercise with all the teams globally.  It was further decided that this health check would use the Spotify Squad Health Check Model by which team members are asked various questions about their team and respond via ‘traffic lights’; red, amber or green.

The diagram below outlines the popular health check metrics followed by highly functional Agile teams.
One of the questions asked was about ‘Suitable Process’ with ‘Our way of working fits us perfectly’ as green and ‘Our way of working sucks!’ being red.

I ran the health check with the teams that I was directly responsible for and some that I wasn’t.  The answer they gave to the Suitable Process question was overwhelmingly red with a few ambers; there were no greens. I sat in on a couple of the health checks run by the senior coach; he did not use the ‘Suitable Process’ question and avoided any discussion about the process; I realised that there were politics in play that I hadn’t previously been aware of.

Lessons:

1) The division clearly understood the problem that they were trying to solve and who had the problem but the solution was inappropriate. Without a transformation Vision Statement and suitable Objectives List, it is likely that an inappropriate solution to the problem may be selected.

2) Without a suitable list of Agile Transformation Objectives, it is impossible to measure how the transformation is progressing and to find impediments to the process that need to be addressed.

Conclusion
One of the tenets of Agile is to ‘Fail Fast’. If you set out on an Agile Transformation, a product development programme or a project without everybody involved knowing:

  • What is the problem that we are trying to solve?
  • Who has the problem?
  • What benefits the initiative is expected to bring?

you will probably:

  • Waste money
  • Choose the wrong solution
  • Alienate staff

If you do not have a list of measurable objectives for the initiative:

  • You cannot check the initiative progress
  • You will not identify initiative issues that must be resolved
  • You cannot ‘fail fast’ and pivot your solution

Basic speculations and uncertainty aside, if you strongly intend to run a healthy Agile team, this is how your Agile journey should look like.

Steve

Steve Ash

Blog Author

Steve Ash has been working with ‘Agile’ since 1993 when it was known as ‘Managed RAD’.  He was an early adopter of the DSDM Framework in 1995 becoming a DSDM Board Member in 2002 and was a DSDM examiner.  He is a DSDM Advanced Practitioner and Accredited Trainer/Coach. Steve has since embraced Scrum, Kanban, the techniques advocated by XP, Lean Software Development and Lean Startup. He joined the Agile Alliance in 2002 and is a Certified Scrum Master (CSM), Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO), SAFe® Certified Consultant (SPC4) and certified by APMG International to teach Agile Project Management and Agile Business Analysis courses. Since 1996, Steve has trained, mentored and coached hundreds of people in many public and commercial organisations in 11 countries from the USA, through Europe and India to Asia/PAC.
 

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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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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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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

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