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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

5043
  • 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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Having an open mind will help the Scrum Master to not look at every team with the same lens and treat each team differently. Solutions that work for one team may not work for other teams or situations. Having an open mind will help you realise this and tweak your decisions based on teams and situations.   Transparency:  Transparency and open communication are the pillars of Scrum. As a Scrum Master your intentions should be open and transparent to everyone including your team and the product owner. The team must at all times know your reasons for doing certain things or taking certain decisions. Being upfront with the team members will help in trust building and lead to better work ethics.   Metrics to Map Progress:There are several tools available to track a team’s progress and the Scrum Master must ensure that these metrics showing the team’s progress be made available to the entire team. This will help the team better plan sprints, work collaboratively and improve working practices in order to ensure better output and value.   Motivation for Team Members: Keeping your team members happy and motivated is a Scrum Master’s main job. This includes removing obstacles that may impede the team from performing and helping them work according to Scrum values and techniques. The development team develops the product, and a happy team means a well-built product and satisfied customers. Assistance to the Product Owner:  As a Scrum Master, aiding the Product Owner is a major part of your responsibility. The Product Owner is a major stakeholder in the Scrum team and the Scrum Master aids the product owner in backlog management and by facilitating Scrum events, product planning and by helping the team to identify backlog items. Aiding the Product Owner in issues that they may face with regards to the project, stakeholders or the team will create a positive environment and will make things between the team and the product owner smoother.   Focus on the Challenges: Every Scrum project comes with its set of issues. But an effective Scrum Master will be aware of every challenge or impediment that comes in the way of the development team and takes these problems head on. Focusing on these challenges early on and resolving them is paramount to the success and progress of the team and the project. Appreciation for Achievements:  The focus of daily sprints and retrospectives is often to celebrate achievements and give the development team proper appreciation. A Scrum Master encourages and motivates and this they also do by respective current achievements. While giving advise on how things should be done is necessary, appreciating the team on its achievements is equally important.   Respect for Others: Your team members all have different personalities and each brings their own uniqueness and expertise to the team. No one team member is less or more important than the other. An effective and efficient Scrum Master will recognise this early on and treat every team member with the same amount of respect.  Understanding of Situations in the Right Context:  Not all things are as what they appear. The sooner a scrum master understands this, the better. Situations in context to teams, individuals and even the organization are not always black and white and the Scrum Master must consider the baggage of organizational culture, current systems, internal politics, etc before coming to a conclusion about a team or a team members. Instead, one must attempt to form close relationships with the team and understand the workings of the team and the organizations before passing judgement. Ability to Have Tough Conversations :  You as a Scrum Master are often seen as a problem solver, friend and mentor. But don’t let this image of yours come in the way of making tough decisions or having tough conversations. As a Scrum Master you must have the courage to do the right thing and if this means having difficult but necessary conversations with either the team members, the product owner or the stakeholders, then you must do it.    Courage to Protect the Team:  More often than not, there are unreasonable demands made on the development team. The Scrum Master should have the courage to protect the team and say an emphatic ‘no’ to the Product Owner or the stakeholders.  Accountability: You are accountable for your team’s success as you are for its failures. If as a Scrum Master you want your team to be accountable then the best way to get them to do that is to be accountable yourself. You can do this by being more invested in the day-to-day activities of the team and considering yourself to be a part of the team as well.  Support for Team Members: As a Scrum Master you are not just invested in the project but also in the growth of individual team members. You should motivate, encourage and support your team members to grow and reach heights in their careers.   Deep Commitment: If the team feels that the Scrum Master is committed to the project, committed to the team and committed to the team members, then they are more likely to be open and transparent with the Scrum Master. This trust with the team has to be built so that team members can be open about the challenges they face. The Scrum Master is the voice of the team and must support them at all stages.   Focus on Improvement:  Scrum is all about continuous improvement and the success of the Scrum Master is also tied to the continuous improvement of the Scrum team. If your team is getting better with time then you are doing well as a Scrum Master. From daily sprints to retrospectives, the Scrum Master provides avenues for the team to improve itself, identify problems and suggest solutions to work better.  Conclusion Scrum is the most used Agile framework, yet there are several lessons that organizations need to learn about Scrum before they embark on a transformation journey. This lightweight and easy to use framework can turn around the fortunes of companies if implemented in the right way. It’s important for an organization’s culture to be ready to accept and implement Scrum for project and organizational success.  
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Why Scrum Is Lightweight; Simple To Understand; Di...

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Scrum Master – The Scrum Team’s Servant-Leader!

The term servant leader is synonymous with a Scrum Master. But what does it mean? The Scrum Master is a servant leader in Agile projects, but servant leadership goes far beyond Agile, and Scrum Masters serve more than just the team.In this blog we attempt to look at the Scrum Master’s role as a servant leader, what the role entails and the responsibilities of the Scrum Master beyond the team, in context to the organization. What is servant-leadership?The term servant leadership was first coined by Robert Greenleaf in his article “The Servant as Leader”, in which he defined a servant leader as: The Servant-Leader is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That leader significantly differs from one who is leader first, may be due to the need to acquire power, material belonging, control and authority within the organization. Servant leadership is something very different from traditional leadership, which places the leader at the top of the hierarchy and the employees in the lower rung. Servant leadership, in a sense, is the opposite of traditional leadership, as it places the leader at the bottom of the hierarchy while employees are on the higher rungs. The leaders, in this case, are serving the people above them. Servant leadership refers to leaders who believe in serving people and the community that they are a part of, rather than accumulating power for themselves. This style of leadership emphasizes on helping subordinates better themselves, empowering employees and helping others perform to the best of their abilities.Servant leadership does not prescribe telling employees what to do, instead it helps the workforce find their sense of ownership and unlock their potential to reach their goals. Servant leadership is all about empowering others, which when consistently done can raise morale, enhance productivity and reduce employee attrition.Servant Leadership and ScrumScrum, in a way, is the very essence of servant leadership. Unlike traditional project management methodologies, it does not follow a top-down, hierarchical approach. Instead, decisions are lateral and happen with the involvement of the whole team. Scrum is the perfect approach in which to practice the concept of servant leadership. The 5 Scrum values of Openness, Respect, Commitment, Courage, and Focus, adhere to the philosophy of Servant Leadership. The Scrum Master plays a key role in the development of the product, the team and the organization. The Scrum Guide defines the servant leadership a Scrum Master’s role has to perform in context to the roles mentioned above. The Scrum Values that a Scrum Master practices have a ripple effect throughout the organization. The Scrum Master is seen as an evangelist for practicing and promoting Scrum in the enterprise.The Agile Manifesto and servant-leadershipThe Agile Manifesto states that one must value: Individuals and interactions over Process and tools Working software over Comprehensive documentation Customer collaboration over Contract negotiation Responding to change over Following a plan These again align with the values of servant leadership, which is all about putting people or employees first. The Agile Manifesto describes focusing on building projects around motivated individuals and giving them an environment of support, trust and collaboration—all characteristics of servant leadership.Who Are These Servant Leaders?The Scrum Guide defines the service provided by the Scrum Master as servant leadership. The Scrum Master selflessly provides servant leadership to the development team, product owner and the whole organization. By serving these entities, the Scrum Master can create a high performing team, a valuable product and an efficient organization that is able to meet business objectives and keep customers happy.  Though the term Scrum Master may be deceptive, the Scrum Master is not a master of the team but in fact serves the team in order to ensure smooth functioning and productivity.Servant Leadership and Scrum Master Roles of Servant LeadershipServant leadership:The day-to-day activity of a Scrum Master involves servant leadership. Servant leadership in a scrum team involves performance planning, coaching, helping the team self- organize, resolving conflicts through conflict management, removing obstacles that hinder progress and serving the team. The Scrum Master, while practicing servant leadership, helps the team grow and mature and become independent enough to make their own decisions. Servant leadership in Scrum is all about making the team self-reliant, so they can cope with the pressures of the role. As a servant leader the Scrum Master creates a high performing team, helps them become collaborative and high performing in order to achieve goals and meet the requirements of the customer.  Service to the Scrum Team: As a servant leader, the primary responsibility of the Scrum Master is to help the development team perform. They help the team perform to the best of their abilities by giving them an environment that is conducive to work in, encouraging them, guiding them and removing obstacles that may hinder progress. As a coach, the Scrum Master will guide the team on scrum processes and help them adhere to Agile values during the development of the product. The Scrum Master is responsible for the scrum team’s effectiveness, and they work tirelessly to ensure that the team is motivated, encouraged, creative and innovative. The Scrum Master through servant leadership helps the team improve Scrum practices which helps them become more productive and generate value. The Scrum Team’s role in motivating and helping the team comes through in the daily stand-up meetings that are arranged as part of the sprint. The Scrum Master encourages team members to share their grievances and progress made through the sprint. Team members can talk about obstacles that may be hindering their work and due cognizance will be taken up by the Scrum master to ensure that these obstacles are removed.  According to the Scrum Guide, the Scrum Master helps the Development Team by: Coaching the team in becoming self-organized and cross-functional Helping the Scrum Team focus on creating high-value increments by removing impediments Helping the team deliver within the timeframe of the sprint Service to the Product Owner: The Scrum Master is a servant leader not just for the development team but also the Product Owner. While the Product Owner is primarily responsible for the product backlog, they cannot do this alone. The Scrum Master aids the development team and the Product Owner with effective product backlog management.The Scrum Master is involved at every stage of the product backlog grooming, helping the product owner with Scrum events, product planning and to identify backlog items along with the development team. The Scrum Master helps the Product Owner define the product vision to the team.   According to the Scrum Guide, the Scrum Master helps the Product Owner by: Helping in Product Goal definition and Product Backlog management Helping the Scrum Team understand manage the Product Backlog items Setting up empirical product planning in complex environments and, Managing and facilitating stakeholder collaboration.Service to the Organization: The Scrum Master is a coach and motivator not just for the development team but goes beyond the team to spread the awareness of Scrum in the entire organization. Scrum Masters coach and help teams and departments understand Scrum and develop an Agile mind-set. Besides servant leadership to the team a Scrum Master is also involved in promoting the ideas and values of Scrum. An organization can get an agile mind-set only if the entire organization adopts Scrum and not just a few teams. This is where the Scrum Master comes in, helping other teams not involved with Scum to gain the Agile mind-set, through training and coaching. The Scrum Master is an Agile evangelist and promotes Scrum enterprise-wide.According to Scrum.org the Scrum Master serves the organization by: Leading, training, and coaching the organization in adopting Scrum Planning and advising Scrum implementations within the organization Coaching employees and stakeholders in the way Scrum works Helping stakeholders work with Scrum TeamsSome Servant-Leader Behaviours for every Scrum MasterBeing empathetic: This is the foremost personality trait required for anyone wanting to become a Scrum Master. Your empathy will shine through in your interactions with the team members and your dealings with the stakeholders. You should be able to see problems from the point of view of each party and work towards solving these problems. Caring: As a caring and empathetic Scrum Master, your team will feel free to approach you and share their concerns. Providing a listening ear will make you more approachable. You will be able to more clearly understand the impediments that are stopping project progress and work towards providing a solution.  Managing Conflicts: Not all team members will get along with each other and this can cause disruptions and problems within the team, lowering their productivity. As a Scrum Master you need to be great at conflict management, help others solve their problems, work with each other and create a high performing and harmonious team. Building relationships: You need to build a rapport with your team, the product owner and the stakeholders. This will help you communicate freely and help others approach you with their problems and issues. You need to build that relationship of trust and take everyone along on the journey of success.  Being ethical: Ethics play an important role in software development, especially since software now controls every aspect of our lives. The product created should be free of malice and fraud. The Scrum Master should guide the team in delivering the product at a value and standard that is expected and agreed upon with the stakeholder. There should not be any shortcuts or concessions made on the quality of the product delivered as this will affect not just the Scrum Master and the team’s reputation but will cause a dent in the reputation of the organization.   Conclusion  Servant leadership and the Scrum Master’s role is the backbone of Scrum. The Scrum Master as a servant leader re-emphasizes the values of Scrum and helps to enhance teamwork, collaboration, motivation and value. Under the able servant leadership of the Scrum Master, individual members and the team will grow, become more confident and help in delivering value.  
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Scrum Master – The Scrum Team’s Servan...

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A Guide to Scaling Scrum

Scrum has been proven to work well for small teams. But the true benefits of Agile can only be reaped if Agile and Scrum are scaled at the enterprise level. However, this is easier said than done. According to statistics, 47% of Agile transformations are not successful. While this is a worrying trend, there are still hundreds of organizations who have got it right and are able to survive the competition by innovating faster, delivering value and adapting to changing markets. How are they doing it? By using scaled Scrum.There are several tools and frameworks available for scaling Scrum at the enterprise level. In this blog, we attempt to look at a few of these.  Scaling Scrum with NexusNexus is among the most popular frameworks for scaling Scrum. According to the Nexus Guide, “Nexus is a framework for developing and sustaining scaled product delivery initiatives. It builds upon Scrum, extending it only where absolutely necessary to minimize and manage dependencies between multiple Scrum Teams while promoting empiricism and the Scrum Values.” How is Nexus different from Scrum? Scrum defines three primary roles: The Product Owner, the Scrum Master and the development team. These three roles work together in one team.The Nexus framework consists of several Scrum teams that work together toward a common product goal and defines the Nexus Integration Team as an additional accountability.  Nexus helps to build on the values of Scrum and also solves the collaboration and dependency challenges that tend to occur between teams in Scrum.Benefits of using Nexus Nexus extends Scrum in the following ways:  Accountabilities: Nexus introduces the Nexus Integration Team, which consists of the Scrum Master, Product Owner, and members. This team is accountable for delivering a workable product at the end of each sprint.  Events: Nexus events aim to add to or supplement Scrum events and serve not just individual teams but also the Nexus Integration Team. The objective of a sprint is to achieve the Nexus sprint goal. Artifacts: Although the teams are different, within the Nexus framework they all work towards a single goal and follow a single product backlog. There’s a high amount of transparency and work is allocated to each team. The Nexus Integration TeamAccording to the Nexus Guide, “the Nexus Integration Team exists to coordinate, coach, and supervise the application of Nexus and the operation of Scrum so the best outcomes are derived.” The Nexus Integration Team or NIT comprises of the Scrum Master, the Product Owner and Nexus integration team members. There are generally three to nine Scrum teams working together in Nexus. All of them follow a single product backlog and work towards delivering a single product. The Nexus Integration Team forms an essential role within Nexus and is tasked with providing transparent accountability among the teams in Nexus.Product OwnerThe Product Owner is accountable for maximizing the product value and the work carried out in Nexus. Their primary task is to order and refine the product backlog. Being a member of the Nexus Integration Team, the product owner will work with all the Scrum teams in the Nexus Integration team. The product owner and the teams work towards better defining and refining the product backlog.Scrum MasterJust like in regular Scrum, the Scrum Master in the Nexus Integration Team is also responsible for ensuring that the Nexus framework is understood by everyone on the team as prescribed by the Nexus Guide.   MembersThe members of the Nexus Integration Team are the Scrum team members who aid the Scrum teams in adoption of tools and practices that will help the team and members deliver value at the end of each sprint that meets the definition of done. Nexus Integration Team membership should be considered more important than the individual Scrum Team membership and members should work towards first fulfilling their Nexus team responsibilities.What are the Events in Nexus?Nexus adds or augments the events as defined by Scrum. The Nexus event durations are like Scrum event durations and are guided by the Scrum Guide.  Nexus events consist of: Sprint- A Nexus sprint is the same as in Scrum, at the end of which a single increment is delivered.  Cross team refinement- The aim of Nexus is to enhance collaboration and reduce cross team dependencies. Cross team refinement helps to make dependencies and responsibilities more transparent. This makes it easier for Scrum teams within the Nexus to clearly identify and deliver their allocated tasks.  Nexus Sprint Planning- Nexus sprint planning will involve the participation of the Product Owner and concerned teams' members from each team. The purpose of the Nexus Sprint Planning is to assign and co-ordinate activities for a single sprint.  Nexus Daily Scrum- This is like the daily stand up in Scrum. Nexus daily scrum is used to identify any issues and track progress. Any issues are immediately prioritized and solved so that they do not hinder the work of the developers.  Nexus Sprint Review- This event is held at the end of sprints to provide feedback on the increment that has been built and on any future updates that have to be made. Nexus Sprint Retrospective- Like in Scrum, Nexus retrospectives are an important part of the project and are used to reflect on how quality and consistency can be improved.  Some Nexus ArtifactsNexus artifacts are the same as Scrum artifacts and when implemented correctly ensure transparency and value maximization. Every artifact is designed to give a commitment. For example, the product backlog is the artifact and its commitment is the product goal. Other artifacts and their commitments include: Nexus Sprint Backlog-Nexus Sprint Goal Integrated Increment-Definition of Done Along with Nexus, LeSS is another popular framework for scaling agile.  Scaling Scrum with LeSS The Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS) framework is an offering from Atlassian and is a framework for scaling Scrum to multiple teams that are working on the same product. The idea behind LeSS is to start with a single Scrum team as defined in the Scrum Guide and then replicate it to multiple teams who are working on a single product. LeSS has earned the label of being “barely sufficient” as it is a simple framework to apply and uses the basic concepts of Scrum to scale.  How do Sprint Planning meetings in LeSS work?  LeSS generally carries out sprint planning in two stages. Sprint Planning One focuses on selecting items that are of topmost priority, solving unanswered issues and defining the sprint goal. The Sprint Planning Two is like the sprint plan of regular Scrum and focuses on creating a plan of action for getting things done.  Daily meeting  The daily Scrum meeting in LeSS is similar to how it is done in normal single Scrum teams and involves team members discussing the work accomplished and the work to be done during the day. It is a time-boxed meeting and helps teams address any issues that may be hindering work.   Sprint Delivery Meeting (Review) The sprint review meeting is an essential part of LeSS and helps teams and stakeholders review the product built during the sprint and suggest changes and new ideas.   Retrospective The retrospective for LeSS is similar to one team Scrum. These retrospectives held at the end of the sprint will help teams to reflect on the progress of tasks, and identify the obstacles that may hinder or impede the overall project.  Let’s take a look at some of the other frameworks that are used for scaling agile. Scaling Scrum with SAFe®The Scaled Agile Framework, SAFe in short, follows the principles of lean and agile and helps in scaling Scrum to the enterprise. It helps to manage alignment, collaboration, and delivery from multiple agile teams to ensure enterprise success. It systematically focuses on applying Scrum at each level of the enterprise, to maximize value and ensure a successful agile transformation.A successful SAFe adoption ensures end-to-end business agility with significant improvements in strategy, delivery, execution and business competencies. It helps organizations overcome competition and ensure innovative business solutions to gain customer trust and partnership. The SAFe framework is continuously improvised in order to help organizations cope with the digital age and ensure that business outcomes are delivered.Scaling Scrum with the Scrum@Scale frameworkAnother framework that allows organizations to implement Scrum at scale is the Scrum@Scale framework. This framework expands on the core principles of Scrum and helps to scale Scrum over a wide range of industries and sectors, ensuring customer satisfaction and creation of successful products. It promotes communication across all teams and departments, and optimizes resources, removes roadblocks and ensures creation of innovative products.A Final Word By driving Agile at the organizational level, companies can gain all the benefits of team-level Scrum at scale. More often than not the principles of team level Scrum are not sustainable at the enterprise level and the transformation fails. Tested and proven Agile scaling frameworks are now able to turn this around, and help organizations scale up the principles and practices of Scrum to become more adaptable, flexible and responsive. Professionals can master these frameworks and help their organization adopt the culture, mind-set and principles of Scrum and agile.  
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A Guide to Scaling Scrum

Scrum has been proven to work well for small tea... Read More

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