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How Not to be Agile – Daily Stand-Up/Scrum

IntroductionHello and welcome to this, the fifth article in the series ‘How Not to be Agile’‘How Not to be Agile’ may seem a strange title for blogs about how good Agile is.  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 when an organisation, or part of it, embark on an Agile Transformation.In this article, I will cover some of the misunderstandings and malpractices that I have come across to do with the daily stand-up event; all the Agile frameworks use the term ‘daily stand-up’ for the event except Scrum which calls it a ‘daily Scrum’.As I said before, it is the content and management of the daily stand-up that is important; call the event what you like.I will start with a description of the daily stand-up and then give examples of what can go wrong.Importance of Daily Stand-Up Meetings in ScrumThe concept of a daily stand-up was first introduced to the Agile community by the Scrum framework and has since been adopted by all other Agile frameworks.The idea behind a daily stand-up is to give the whole development team an opportunity to see what has been happening in the development timebox since the previous stand-up, what is planned to be done before the next stand-up and to state any problems that they may be having.The development team uses the daily Scrum stand-up to inspect progress toward meeting the development timebox goal and the likelihood that the development timebox MVP will be met.This is recommended to be done by each team member answering 3 questions:What have I been doing since the last stand-up?What do I plan to do before the next stand-up?What blocks/impediments/issues/problems am I having?Developments over time to the daily Scrum meeting process include:Carrying out the stand-up in front of the Team Board and updating it as necessaryUsing video-conferencing and a shared, electronic Team Board for distributed teamsAdding questions such as:Has anyone given me a requirement change request?Have I learned anything about this product development that I think everyone should know about?Do I have any worries about how the team is progressing?The Scrum Guide states that the daily stand-up should take no more than 15 minutes; the Agile Project Framework suggests that normally the daily Scrum stand-up should not last more than 15 minutes but also suggests that 2 minutes per participant + 2 minutes is a good guide; for a team of 9 members this would equate to 20 minutes.If there are any ‘matters arising’ from the daily stand-up, most teams will delay discussion until after the stand-up is finished and then only those that are needed for the discussion stay behind; the rest go back to work.What the Daily Scrum Meeting is Not?During early Agile transitions it is ‘tempting’ for the management to ‘watch’ the development team closely and the daily stand-up turns into a ‘reporting progress to management’ session.This is NOT what the daily stand-up is for and all attempts to turn it into one must be resisted.An Alternative to Daily Stand-Up processThe Kanban framework and other lean process practitioners realised that the ‘standard’ 3 questions above are not really relevant because people just need to take a look at the Scrum Board (kanban) to see what they did recently and what they will do the next; remember the use of a Team Board is not ‘mandatory’ in most of the Agile frameworks but it would be unusual for a team not to use one, whether a physical board or an electronic one.                                                                     Figure 1 - Physical Team Board Example                                                                                             Figure 2 - Electronic Team Board Example So, here are the questions that a Kanban user answers:What is impeding us?Assuming, that the meetings take place in front of the board, there isn't even a need to discuss what items are impeded (since this will be visible on the board).  Therefore, all there is to focus on, is the possible and the best solutions to the problematic items.What's the flow like?Because Kanban is all about the workflow, what should be discussed at this point are any possible changes that the team can make in order to make the flow even smoother and efficient.  Also, should there be any bottlenecks, the daily stand-up is the right time to work on their best resolution.What can we improve? (how to achieve Kaizen?)This is a question is the means by which the entire team is empowered to strive for constant improvement; by allowing for the change suggestions to come from anyone in the team, there is a big chance of success.Effectively, the Kanban Framework incorporates every day what other frameworks do in the Retrospective.Whatever Agile framework that you use, if you adopt a Kanban style Team Board, you may want to use the Kanban questions during your daily stand-ups.Who Should Attend the Daily Stand-Up?It is important that all of the development team, both full and part-time, and the Agile Project Manager/Scrum Master attend the daily stand-up:The whole development team needs to be there because all team members need to be aware of what is happening in the development timebox, state any problems that they may be having and potentially offer help to other team members who may have problems.The Agile Project Manager/Scrum Master needs to be there as the Risk and Issue Manager to listen to the problems that any team members may have.The daily stand-up should be run by the development team although, in some organisations, the Agile Project Manager/Scrum Master runs the event.Other people outside of the Development Team are ‘welcome’ to attend daily Scrum meeting but are not allowed to speak; they are only there to observe the process.When Should the Daily Stand-Up Take Place?One of the tenets of all Agile frameworks is to have a cadence or ‘heartbeat’; events should be scheduled on the same day, time, and place for the whole product development time.It is strongly recommended that the daily stand-up should be scheduled to take place in the same place at the same time every working day.Case Study 1:In several organisations that I have coached in, when I arrived, the daily stand-ups were taking upwards of 30 mins; this was because:There was a detailed discussion between 1 or 2 team members about some topic or otherOne or two members were overly verbose in their explanation of what they had done and what they were going to doIn all cases, the majority of other team members were not interested in the details of the conversations or another’s work; some used the ‘wasting my time’ reason to avoid attending the daily-stand-ups.In one organisation, I was teaching an Agile class and on day 2, 3 delegates turned up 1 hour late for a 9am start.  I asked, politely, if they had a problem attending on time and was told that they had to attend their team’s daily stand-up; a laudable reason.  When I asked what time their team’s daily stand-up started I was told 9am; the event had taken 50 minutes!What was worse was that one of the delegates was supposed to be the Scrum Master for the development!Lessons:Don’t start Agile product Development without the Agile PM/Scrum Master having had at least 2 days of training on the Agile framework that they should be usingWhoever is running the daily stand-up, do not allow:Detailed explanations of work done or planned to be doneDetailed discussions of points between 1 or 2 team membersMatters will arise during the daily stand-up but discussion of these must be held over until the daily stand-up has finishedIf a team member says they have an impediment and it can be solved in about 15 seconds, then that is OK; for example, a team member may say:“ I cannot get hold of person XYZ to get the information I need”Another team member may have had the same problem in the past and may say something like:“He/she never answers the phone during the morning; call him/her after 2 pm”Case Study 2:For one engagement that I was working on, the Development Team was dispersed in 5 locations in 3 different time zones.  I noticed that one team member in another location never attended the daily stand-up; the Scrum Master obtained the answer to the 3 questions later in the day over the phone.I asked the Scrum Master why this was so and he told me that the person was in a time zone 1 hour behind the main team and had travelling difficulties getting into work for the daily stand-up time.I asked when the team member could ‘guarantee’ getting into work and would there be any problem moving the daily stand-up time.  It transpired that the time of the daily stand-up could be moved to suit the team member without inconveniencing any of the other team members.LessonsThe time for the daily stand-up should be set when all development team members have a good chance of attending; this is important for geographically dispersed teams.The Scrum Master gathering daily stand-up information after the event wastes his/her time and the rest of the team miss the opportunity to have all the information that they needCase Study 3: There have been 3 occasions when time zones  played an important part in choosing when the daily stand-up should be held:The main team was in Tokyo, there was a sub-team in Beijing, the ‘customer’ was in San Diego and management was in Helsinki; this was the first Agile product development for this team although other teams in the organization had transitioned.Although it is not normal for the customer or management to attend the daily stand-up, in this case, both the customer and management wanted to attend to make sure that the team were ‘on the right track’; the fact that I had trained the main team hadn’t given the management sufficient confidence!But the time zone differences made it difficult to choose an appropriate team for all attendees.Because there were only 1 customer and 1 manager who wanted to join the stand-up, it was decided to hold the stand-up at 1pm Tokyo time to inconvenience the main and sub-teams the least; for the customer in San Diego it was 11pm and for the manager in Helsinki it was 5am.We ran like this for 1 week after which both the customer and manager decided that they were happy with the way the main team and sub-team were operating.The Development Team were in Cebu, Philippines, and the Product Owner was in Duluth, USA; the Product Owner wanted a daily update on how the requirements were being implemented.There was no overlap in the work times of the different time zones so it was decided that the Scrum Master would start work at 1pm Cebu time, the daily stand-up would be run at 2pm Cebu time and the Scrum Master would update the Product Owner at 9pm Cebu time, 8am Duluth time.The majority of the team were in Dundee, Scotland with a few team members in Hyderabad, India.In this case, there was a 3.5 hour overlap in the work times of the different time zones so it was decided to run the daily stand-up at 10am Dundee time and 3:30pm Hyderabad time.Lessons:Although this Case Study does not demonstrate anti-Agile behaviour, it is worth noting the following lessons:When deciding a time to run the daily stand-up, the time should be set to inconvenience the development team members as little as possible; other people must choose whether their attendance during ‘unsocial hours’ is worth it to themselves.The Agile PM/Scrum Master does not have to work the same hours as the rest of the development team in the same time zone; it does depend on whether the Agile PM/Scrum Master is prepared to work ‘unsocial hours’.Where work times overlap across time zones, ensure that the time to run the daily stand-up is within the work times of all time zones. Case Study 4:I was coaching a team that was in the early stages of an Agile transformation and the team members had picked up the basics well; the daily stand-ups were running well with some good banter and team member help being offered freely.During one stand-up, I noticed a marked lack of relaxation amongst the team members when speaking and their heads were down most of the time.I asked the Scrum Master if he knew the reason for the change of atmosphere and she said that she had expected something like it but not quite so marked.There had been a manager attending for the first time; this manager had a reputation for being a bit ‘old school’; “do as I say and no arguments”.After confirming with the team members that they had felt intimidated, I researched the manager and discovered that he headed a department that was just starting to try Agile; the manager had attended the stand-up just to see how it worked and had had no intention of ‘interfering’ or making any opinions about the team members.I asked if he would like me to coach ‘his’ team through their early Agile events; he accepted and I invited him to attend all the events as an observer.After each event, I mentored the manager about his opinion of what went on.  He had a few questions about ‘why this’ and ‘why that’ and I was able to answer his questions to his satisfaction.I asked ‘his’ team members what they thought of having the manager at their events and they said that they had had some trepidation at first but after they could see that he had been there to learn and had not lived up to his previous reputation, they became quite comfortable with the manager’s presence.I told the members of the original team of this apparent change to the manager’s ‘personality and asked if he could attend the next daily stand-up; they agreed and the next stand-up with the manager present went as ‘normal’.Lessons:If there is a change of demeanour of any individual or several team members, investigate the reason; it is most probably an impediment to smooth team running.The Scrum Master could have just asked the manager not to attend anymore but given the manager’s perceived reputation, that would have taxed the Scrum Master’s diplomacy skills.By engaging with the manager, it was possible to shift his ‘old school’ manner to one that understood Agile and could cooperatively support it.ConclusionThe ‘mechanics’ of the daily stand-up are relatively straightforward if the rules of the Daily Scrum are followed strictly in a daily routine. Collated below are the best practices while implementing daily Scrum:All development team members must attend, both full and part-time members.The time and place for the daily stand-up should be chosen to give the least inconvenience to the development team members.Geographically dispersed teams can run daily stand-ups using video-conferencing and shared desktop facilities.The questions to be answered by development team members should be adjusted to suit the type of Team Board being used.Non-development team members are welcome to attend daily stand-ups but are not allowed to speak.If the attendance at a daily stand-up of a non-development team member is considered to ‘intimidate’ one or more team members, this is an impediment and the resolution must be sought. 
How Not to be Agile – Daily Stand-Up/Scrum
Steve
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Steve Ash

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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.
 

Posts by Steve Ash

How Not to be Agile – Daily Stand-Up/Scrum

IntroductionHello and welcome to this, the fifth article in the series ‘How Not to be Agile’‘How Not to be Agile’ may seem a strange title for blogs about how good Agile is.  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 when an organisation, or part of it, embark on an Agile Transformation.In this article, I will cover some of the misunderstandings and malpractices that I have come across to do with the daily stand-up event; all the Agile frameworks use the term ‘daily stand-up’ for the event except Scrum which calls it a ‘daily Scrum’.As I said before, it is the content and management of the daily stand-up that is important; call the event what you like.I will start with a description of the daily stand-up and then give examples of what can go wrong.Importance of Daily Stand-Up Meetings in ScrumThe concept of a daily stand-up was first introduced to the Agile community by the Scrum framework and has since been adopted by all other Agile frameworks.The idea behind a daily stand-up is to give the whole development team an opportunity to see what has been happening in the development timebox since the previous stand-up, what is planned to be done before the next stand-up and to state any problems that they may be having.The development team uses the daily Scrum stand-up to inspect progress toward meeting the development timebox goal and the likelihood that the development timebox MVP will be met.This is recommended to be done by each team member answering 3 questions:What have I been doing since the last stand-up?What do I plan to do before the next stand-up?What blocks/impediments/issues/problems am I having?Developments over time to the daily Scrum meeting process include:Carrying out the stand-up in front of the Team Board and updating it as necessaryUsing video-conferencing and a shared, electronic Team Board for distributed teamsAdding questions such as:Has anyone given me a requirement change request?Have I learned anything about this product development that I think everyone should know about?Do I have any worries about how the team is progressing?The Scrum Guide states that the daily stand-up should take no more than 15 minutes; the Agile Project Framework suggests that normally the daily Scrum stand-up should not last more than 15 minutes but also suggests that 2 minutes per participant + 2 minutes is a good guide; for a team of 9 members this would equate to 20 minutes.If there are any ‘matters arising’ from the daily stand-up, most teams will delay discussion until after the stand-up is finished and then only those that are needed for the discussion stay behind; the rest go back to work.What the Daily Scrum Meeting is Not?During early Agile transitions it is ‘tempting’ for the management to ‘watch’ the development team closely and the daily stand-up turns into a ‘reporting progress to management’ session.This is NOT what the daily stand-up is for and all attempts to turn it into one must be resisted.An Alternative to Daily Stand-Up processThe Kanban framework and other lean process practitioners realised that the ‘standard’ 3 questions above are not really relevant because people just need to take a look at the Scrum Board (kanban) to see what they did recently and what they will do the next; remember the use of a Team Board is not ‘mandatory’ in most of the Agile frameworks but it would be unusual for a team not to use one, whether a physical board or an electronic one.                                                                     Figure 1 - Physical Team Board Example                                                                                             Figure 2 - Electronic Team Board Example So, here are the questions that a Kanban user answers:What is impeding us?Assuming, that the meetings take place in front of the board, there isn't even a need to discuss what items are impeded (since this will be visible on the board).  Therefore, all there is to focus on, is the possible and the best solutions to the problematic items.What's the flow like?Because Kanban is all about the workflow, what should be discussed at this point are any possible changes that the team can make in order to make the flow even smoother and efficient.  Also, should there be any bottlenecks, the daily stand-up is the right time to work on their best resolution.What can we improve? (how to achieve Kaizen?)This is a question is the means by which the entire team is empowered to strive for constant improvement; by allowing for the change suggestions to come from anyone in the team, there is a big chance of success.Effectively, the Kanban Framework incorporates every day what other frameworks do in the Retrospective.Whatever Agile framework that you use, if you adopt a Kanban style Team Board, you may want to use the Kanban questions during your daily stand-ups.Who Should Attend the Daily Stand-Up?It is important that all of the development team, both full and part-time, and the Agile Project Manager/Scrum Master attend the daily stand-up:The whole development team needs to be there because all team members need to be aware of what is happening in the development timebox, state any problems that they may be having and potentially offer help to other team members who may have problems.The Agile Project Manager/Scrum Master needs to be there as the Risk and Issue Manager to listen to the problems that any team members may have.The daily stand-up should be run by the development team although, in some organisations, the Agile Project Manager/Scrum Master runs the event.Other people outside of the Development Team are ‘welcome’ to attend daily Scrum meeting but are not allowed to speak; they are only there to observe the process.When Should the Daily Stand-Up Take Place?One of the tenets of all Agile frameworks is to have a cadence or ‘heartbeat’; events should be scheduled on the same day, time, and place for the whole product development time.It is strongly recommended that the daily stand-up should be scheduled to take place in the same place at the same time every working day.Case Study 1:In several organisations that I have coached in, when I arrived, the daily stand-ups were taking upwards of 30 mins; this was because:There was a detailed discussion between 1 or 2 team members about some topic or otherOne or two members were overly verbose in their explanation of what they had done and what they were going to doIn all cases, the majority of other team members were not interested in the details of the conversations or another’s work; some used the ‘wasting my time’ reason to avoid attending the daily-stand-ups.In one organisation, I was teaching an Agile class and on day 2, 3 delegates turned up 1 hour late for a 9am start.  I asked, politely, if they had a problem attending on time and was told that they had to attend their team’s daily stand-up; a laudable reason.  When I asked what time their team’s daily stand-up started I was told 9am; the event had taken 50 minutes!What was worse was that one of the delegates was supposed to be the Scrum Master for the development!Lessons:Don’t start Agile product Development without the Agile PM/Scrum Master having had at least 2 days of training on the Agile framework that they should be usingWhoever is running the daily stand-up, do not allow:Detailed explanations of work done or planned to be doneDetailed discussions of points between 1 or 2 team membersMatters will arise during the daily stand-up but discussion of these must be held over until the daily stand-up has finishedIf a team member says they have an impediment and it can be solved in about 15 seconds, then that is OK; for example, a team member may say:“ I cannot get hold of person XYZ to get the information I need”Another team member may have had the same problem in the past and may say something like:“He/she never answers the phone during the morning; call him/her after 2 pm”Case Study 2:For one engagement that I was working on, the Development Team was dispersed in 5 locations in 3 different time zones.  I noticed that one team member in another location never attended the daily stand-up; the Scrum Master obtained the answer to the 3 questions later in the day over the phone.I asked the Scrum Master why this was so and he told me that the person was in a time zone 1 hour behind the main team and had travelling difficulties getting into work for the daily stand-up time.I asked when the team member could ‘guarantee’ getting into work and would there be any problem moving the daily stand-up time.  It transpired that the time of the daily stand-up could be moved to suit the team member without inconveniencing any of the other team members.LessonsThe time for the daily stand-up should be set when all development team members have a good chance of attending; this is important for geographically dispersed teams.The Scrum Master gathering daily stand-up information after the event wastes his/her time and the rest of the team miss the opportunity to have all the information that they needCase Study 3: There have been 3 occasions when time zones  played an important part in choosing when the daily stand-up should be held:The main team was in Tokyo, there was a sub-team in Beijing, the ‘customer’ was in San Diego and management was in Helsinki; this was the first Agile product development for this team although other teams in the organization had transitioned.Although it is not normal for the customer or management to attend the daily stand-up, in this case, both the customer and management wanted to attend to make sure that the team were ‘on the right track’; the fact that I had trained the main team hadn’t given the management sufficient confidence!But the time zone differences made it difficult to choose an appropriate team for all attendees.Because there were only 1 customer and 1 manager who wanted to join the stand-up, it was decided to hold the stand-up at 1pm Tokyo time to inconvenience the main and sub-teams the least; for the customer in San Diego it was 11pm and for the manager in Helsinki it was 5am.We ran like this for 1 week after which both the customer and manager decided that they were happy with the way the main team and sub-team were operating.The Development Team were in Cebu, Philippines, and the Product Owner was in Duluth, USA; the Product Owner wanted a daily update on how the requirements were being implemented.There was no overlap in the work times of the different time zones so it was decided that the Scrum Master would start work at 1pm Cebu time, the daily stand-up would be run at 2pm Cebu time and the Scrum Master would update the Product Owner at 9pm Cebu time, 8am Duluth time.The majority of the team were in Dundee, Scotland with a few team members in Hyderabad, India.In this case, there was a 3.5 hour overlap in the work times of the different time zones so it was decided to run the daily stand-up at 10am Dundee time and 3:30pm Hyderabad time.Lessons:Although this Case Study does not demonstrate anti-Agile behaviour, it is worth noting the following lessons:When deciding a time to run the daily stand-up, the time should be set to inconvenience the development team members as little as possible; other people must choose whether their attendance during ‘unsocial hours’ is worth it to themselves.The Agile PM/Scrum Master does not have to work the same hours as the rest of the development team in the same time zone; it does depend on whether the Agile PM/Scrum Master is prepared to work ‘unsocial hours’.Where work times overlap across time zones, ensure that the time to run the daily stand-up is within the work times of all time zones. Case Study 4:I was coaching a team that was in the early stages of an Agile transformation and the team members had picked up the basics well; the daily stand-ups were running well with some good banter and team member help being offered freely.During one stand-up, I noticed a marked lack of relaxation amongst the team members when speaking and their heads were down most of the time.I asked the Scrum Master if he knew the reason for the change of atmosphere and she said that she had expected something like it but not quite so marked.There had been a manager attending for the first time; this manager had a reputation for being a bit ‘old school’; “do as I say and no arguments”.After confirming with the team members that they had felt intimidated, I researched the manager and discovered that he headed a department that was just starting to try Agile; the manager had attended the stand-up just to see how it worked and had had no intention of ‘interfering’ or making any opinions about the team members.I asked if he would like me to coach ‘his’ team through their early Agile events; he accepted and I invited him to attend all the events as an observer.After each event, I mentored the manager about his opinion of what went on.  He had a few questions about ‘why this’ and ‘why that’ and I was able to answer his questions to his satisfaction.I asked ‘his’ team members what they thought of having the manager at their events and they said that they had had some trepidation at first but after they could see that he had been there to learn and had not lived up to his previous reputation, they became quite comfortable with the manager’s presence.I told the members of the original team of this apparent change to the manager’s ‘personality and asked if he could attend the next daily stand-up; they agreed and the next stand-up with the manager present went as ‘normal’.Lessons:If there is a change of demeanour of any individual or several team members, investigate the reason; it is most probably an impediment to smooth team running.The Scrum Master could have just asked the manager not to attend anymore but given the manager’s perceived reputation, that would have taxed the Scrum Master’s diplomacy skills.By engaging with the manager, it was possible to shift his ‘old school’ manner to one that understood Agile and could cooperatively support it.ConclusionThe ‘mechanics’ of the daily stand-up are relatively straightforward if the rules of the Daily Scrum are followed strictly in a daily routine. Collated below are the best practices while implementing daily Scrum:All development team members must attend, both full and part-time members.The time and place for the daily stand-up should be chosen to give the least inconvenience to the development team members.Geographically dispersed teams can run daily stand-ups using video-conferencing and shared desktop facilities.The questions to be answered by development team members should be adjusted to suit the type of Team Board being used.Non-development team members are welcome to attend daily stand-ups but are not allowed to speak.If the attendance at a daily stand-up of a non-development team member is considered to ‘intimidate’ one or more team members, this is an impediment and the resolution must be sought. 
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How Not to be Agile – Daily Stand-Up/Scrum

IntroductionHello and welcome to this, the fifth a... Read More

How Not To Be Agile -An Effective Product Backlog

IntroductionHello and welcome to this, the third article in the series ‘How Not to be Agile’.‘How Not to be Agile’ may seem a strange title for blogs about how good Agile is!  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 when an organisation, or a part of it, embark on an Agile Transformation.Last time, I discussed the potential pitfalls of not having a suitable Business Case for whatever it is that we are trying to achieve, be it a new product, a major change to an existing product or the Agile transition itself.This time, I will cover some of the misunderstandings and malpractices that I have come across with respect to the next major item to consider in any Agile framework, the requirements.  The most often used term for the requirements list is the Product Backlog from Scrum; I will use this and other Scrum terminology in this article but you can use whatever names you like; it is the content and management of the requirements list that is important.I will start with a description of the Product Backlog process and then give examples of what has and could go wrong if not follows the Product Backlog tips.The Definition of Scrum Product Backlog Having achieved an agreed Vision and Objectives and decided that the Business Case for the product development is viable, the business stakeholders and development team need to discover a list of ‘business requirements’, at the same level of detail, so that the development team can develop the product in a series of short development timeboxes.These ‘requirements’ become Product Backlog Items (PBI). What is a ‘Requirement’?Functional Requirements:There are 3 commonly used ‘structures’ used to express ‘Agile functional requirements’:Elementary Business Processes (EBP) – the names of EBP, usually extracted from the results of the Business Process Modelling exercise concerned with the area of the business that the product is for; for example:                                                                                              ‘Capture Customer Details’Use Cases – from the Unified Modelling Language (UML).  Only the names of the Use Cases, again, usually extracted from the results of Business Process Modelling exercise and the example is the same as for the EBP aboveUser Stories – a technique from eXtreme Programming which states the user of a business process, the name of the process and why the  process is needed; for example:                                                                                                    ‘As a sales person                                                                                  I need to Capture the Customer Details                                                                                        So that payment can be taken’For all the 3 ‘requirements’ types, it is only the names of the business process that are needed (with the addition of the other 2 clauses in User Stories); there should be no lower level details in the PBI.The level of detail for all of the above can be summarised as:                                            ‘The name of one job, being performed by one person, at one time’Non-Functional ‘Requirements’:In addition to the Functional Requirements, the ‘What’, the business will also express the needs of ‘How’ the product will perform such as:All screens must refresh within 5 secondsThe system must be available 24/7/365The system must conform to the company marketing graphic languageand so on and so forth.These Non-Functional ‘requirements’ can be added to the Product Backlog in a separate section from the Functional Requirements or in a separate ‘document’.What A PBI Is NotThere was a fashion, that still exists in some places, to have ‘Technical User Stories’; ‘User Stories’ those name technical activities that need to be done; for example:As a database designer                                                                         I need to create data access scripts                                                     So that the product can store and retrieve the data that it needs to useSuch User Stories would just be stating elements of a team member’s work and do not add anything to the understanding of the business needs which the Product Backlog is meant to represent.It is my strong recommendation that so-called ‘Technical User Stories’ are NOT used because the Product Backlog becomes large, unwieldy, almost impossible to order by business value and prioritisation; the estimated effort for these technical needs are included in the estimation of the ‘business’ PBI; more of which later.It is true that there may be a need for some activities to set-up the technical environment before the development team can start developing the product, some of which are out of the control of the development team; these activities should take place in parallel with creating the initial Product Backlog.Creating a Product BacklogOrdering the Product BacklogThe whole point of Agile is to deliver a product incrementally so that the business can accrue the best value in the shortest possible time.It, therefore, follows that the product needs to be developed by developing the PBI in the business value order; the highest business value PBI first.Therefore, the PBI needs to be ordered by business value. I will not go into the techniques for ordering PBI, they are well documented elsewhere but I will give an example, later, of what happened when one team did not use Product Backlog ordering.Estimating the PBIWe create the initial Product Backlog just after agreeing on the Vision and Objectives and ensuring development viability via the Business CASE  but before development begins; it needs to be estimated in some way to determine how long it may take to develop the product and consequently how much it may cost to develop.It is a tenet of all Agile frameworks that only the development team is allowed to estimate the PBI.  Once done, these estimates will ‘inform’ the Business Case and analysis can be made to see if the original ‘high-level’ estimates in the initial Business Case are of the same order; a decision can be made as to whether the development is still viable.Types of PBI estimatingThere are 2 generally used types of PBI estimating:1. Absolute Estimating:  Whereby each PBI is estimated by how much time it would take go from just its name to ‘potentially shippable’ functionality.  Of course, the tasks include analysis, design, construction and testing and what normally happens is that each ‘skill’ will estimate the time it would take for their part in the process and the times summed to get the overall estimate.2. Relative Estimating:  Whereby the team chooses the PBI which is likely to be ‘the smallest’.“The smallest in what respect?”  you ask.  The ‘smallest’ does not directly consider time; the PBI criteria that are considered are size and complexity.However, opinions of size and complexity will vary amongst all team members depending on their skill and experience; what may seem ‘simple’ to an experienced developer may seem complex to the less experienced person.  Similarly, although the analysis and construction may seem simple, the testing may be complex.For these reasons, it is highly recommended that Relative Estimating is done using ‘Planning Poker’ which is well described elsewhere (see ‘Planning Poker: An Agile Estimating and Planning Technique’); suffice to say here, that once the team have decided which is the ‘smallest’ PBI, they give it a ‘Story Point’ of 1 and all other PBI are estimated with respect to their individual relative size and complexity compared to the ‘smallest’.So which estimating technique to use?1. Absolute Estimating can take a long time; it is akin to the traditional way of estimating for the Project Plan.  Also, it has been established that, generally, we are not very good at estimating in time; the larger the thing we are trying to estimate, the worse our estimates get.  However, the technique is familiar to most people and does not require a change of mindset to produce estimates.2. Relative Estimating requires a totally different mindset amongst the development team members because, initially, not only are they using unfamiliar criteria to estimate the PBI but also, they are estimating in collaboration with other team members with different skill sets and experience.Despite there being ample evidence that Relative Estimating takes less time overall and allows the stakeholders and development team to focus on business benefit being delivered, because of the ‘difficulties’ of introducing Relative Estimating, many teams revert to time estimation and tracking time.  Also, as we will see in one of the Case Studies below, an organisation’s choice of requirements management tool can make the use of Relative Estimating seem a waste of time for team members.Another Potential Problem with Relative EstimatingSo, having carried out ‘Planning Poker’, the development team now know the total number of ‘Story Points’ that the development represents; not much good to the business stakeholders who want to know how long it is going to take and how much it is going to cost.On completion of the initial Product Backlog and before development begins, we need to ‘translate’ this total ‘Story Points’ into time.An Agile Team’s progress is measured by the number of ‘Story Points’ that they deliver in one Sprint; known as the team’s ‘Velocity’.So we need a knowledge of the team’s Velocity in order to establish an estimate of how long the development is likely to take; for example, if the total number of ‘Story Points’ is 200 and the team’s velocity for a 2-week Sprints is 10, then the estimated time to complete all the PBI is:         200 ‘Story Points’ / 10 ‘Story Points per Sprint  x 2 (the number of weeks per Sprint) = 40 weeksHowever, at the start of an Agile transition, we do not know what the team’s Velocity is or will be.  There are 2 methods to determine what the Velocity may be:1. The team takes one of the ‘smallest’ PBI (with a Story Point of 1) and does a traditional break down to the tasks involved and estimate those tasks in time;  1 ‘Story Point’ is equivalent to the time represented by the sum of the times estimated for all the tasksThe team’s Velocity may be estimated by:                                      ‘The number of working days in the Sprint / the estimated days for 1 Story Point’For example, if the ‘time estimate’ for a PBI of 1 ‘Story Point’  is 1 day:                                             10 working days in 2-week Sprint / 1 day = Velocity of 10This velocity can then be used in the formula above to determine the estimate for the potential total time for the development.2. The development team is allowed to start development for 2 or 3 Sprints taking PBI from the top of the Product Backlog.  At the end of the ‘experiment’ period, the total number of ‘Story Points’ for the completed PBI divided by the number of Sprints completed becomes the Velocity to use in the formula above to determine the estimate for the potential total time for the development.The potential problem with this method is that management have to release funds for this experimental period without knowing the values to feed into the Business Case to determine whether the product development is viable before development begins.Once teams have completed 1 product development, we recommend that the team members are kept together for other product developments even though the business area or technology may be different.  Having a team that works well together is more important than creating teams in an ad-hoc manner.  A team’s Velocity varies insignificantly over different product developments and so can be used directly in the formula above to determine the estimate for the potential total time for the development.\Scoping the Product BacklogGenerally, Agile product developments have strict deadlines so that the major benefits can be accrued; benefits such as competitive advantage, meeting marketing needs, meeting customer expectations or complying with regulations.Also, Agile teams comprise all the skills necessary to take the PBI from ‘names’ to a potentially shippable product; not all team members are full-time but the team is fixed.Therefore, generally, the costs for a fixed time product development are also fixed.Given the classic ‘Iron Triangle’ of development variables:If we fix time and cost, then the only thing that can vary is the Requirements that are delivered in the fixed time for the fixed cost.It is quite probable that the initial Product Backlog will contain more PBI than could reasonably be developed in the fixed time available; because the stakeholders/Product Owner has ordered the Backlog by business value, it is relatively straightforward to ‘draw a line’ underneath the lowest PBI in the list that will probably be developed.  We do not remove the lower value PBI because it has been often found during development that a high-value PBI is actually dependant on one of the lower value ones and the ordering has to be amended.Stakeholders need to understand that even though some requirements (PBI) have been requested, it is probable that they will not be delivered.But the Product Backlog scoping does not stop there.  The ‘story Points’ for the PBI are estimates and, by definition, they are not accurate.  In the past, to account for ‘inaccurate’ estimates, organisations have added contingency in time and costs to the estimates.However, in Agile environments where the time and costs are effectively fixed, the development needs some ‘wriggle room’ for when estimates are proved significantly wrong and when requirements change during the development. For an effective Product Backlog, you need to follow Scrum Product Backlog tips.The Minimum Viable Product (MVP)The development team must agree with the Product Owner/Stakeholders which PBI represent the Minimum Viable Product, ie what is the minimum to be delivered in the fixed time in order to accrue the minimum benefit required.There are ‘rules’ how big this MVP can be.  It has been found, from hard-won experience that for a ‘comfortable’ working environment:1. When a team first starts an Agile transformation they should accept PBI in the MVP which represent around 50% to 55% of the estimated effort; ie if there are 200 ‘Story Points’ in the probable PBI, then the MVP should only contain the highest value PBI whose ‘Story Points add up to between 100 and 110.2.When the team and the organisation are reasonably Agile-mature, between 9 months and a year of transformation, the team can accept PBI representing up to 65% of the total estimated effort in the MVP.3.When the team and organisation are fully Agile-mature, PBI representing up to 70% by estimated effort may be accepted in the MVP.  It has been found that no matter how good the teams and organisation are, the variables that come along with all product development make promising more than 70% by estimated effort fraught with problems; the teams must strive not to give stakeholders over-expectations.  The MoSCoW RulesSome Agile Frameworks recommend using a technique called MoSCoW to ‘categorise’ the PBI.  The acronym stands for:Must Haves: Those PBI that is essential to the product; equivalent to the MVP above.Should Haves: Those PBI that is important but there is a workaround for them if they not completed in the fixed timeCould Haves: Those PBI that might be developed if all the Musts and Shoulds have been completed before the end of the fixed timeWon’t Haves:  Those PBI that was initially discovered but was not likely to be completed based on the estimates for the more valuable PBI“The ‘o’s are just for fun”!Using the MoSCoW rules allows the Business Case to be prepared with 3 scenarios:The ‘Best Case’ scenario where all the probable PBI are completed; giving the best benefit in the fixed timeThe ‘Expected Case’ scenario where all the Musts and Shoulds are completed giving the majority of the expected benefits in the fixed timeThe ‘Worst Case’ scenario where only the Musts are delivered giving only the essential expected benefits in the fixed time.Case Study 1:I was working as a business analyst and ‘just-in-time’ Agile trainer/coach for an outsourced team building a replacement system.  The team had 6 full-time business representatives to specify the Agile Requirements (UML Use Cases in this instance).Creation of the Product Backlog went smoothly; a good ‘To-Be’ Business Process Model was created and Use Cases to be included in the new system were identified; there were 92.Unfortunately, I was due to go on 3 weeks holiday, so I briefed the team on how to order the Product Backlog and we ran through some Planning Poker with a few of the Use Cases.When I came back from holiday, I discovered that the team business representatives had had problems in ordering the Product Backlog and had abandoned the attempt because they considered that all the PBI were essential.  Also, the whole team had had problems with Planning Poker because they didn’t know enough about the low-level details.It had been decided to prototype all the Use Cases before estimation and the developers were split into 3 sub-teams for prototyping and the business representatives split into 3 pairs.I had taught the team that the prototyping of any PBI should only go through 3 cycles:1. Investigation where a very rough ‘first draft’ is specified, built and reviewed to make sure that the developers are ‘on the right lines’2.Refinement where the majority of the functionality is specified, built and reviewed3.Consolidation where any ‘tidying-up’ was specified, completed and the complete prototype demonstrated to the wider stakeholder communityIf it takes more than the 3 cycles, then something is wrong with the detailed process being followed.The time taken to produce a prototype should be no more than 2 days but it can be as short as 2 to 3 hours if done in a workshop.Unfortunately, it was decided to pick Use Cases to prototype based on their perceived ‘easiness’ and ‘rotate’ the business representative pairs around the prototype builders such that one pair specified the Investigation, another pair reviewed the Investigation and specified the Refinement and the third pair reviewed the Refinement and specified the Consolidation. At the ‘final’ review, with all 6 business representatives present, the ‘final’ prototypes were significantly different from what was originally specified for the Investigation and ‘recriminations’ took place.  So the prototype developers started again.It had taken 3 weeks to develop the prototypes for 6 PBI!I asked the project manager what his estimate was for completing the prototypes for all the PBI; he calculated that the time that would be necessary was 1 month longer than the specified length of the project.Suffice to say that I worked with the customer representatives to convince them that it would be improbable to complete all the PBI in the fixed time/fixed cost development contract and helped them order the Product Backlog and decide on an MVP. It is worth noting this product development had a Vision, there were no stated objectives nor a visible Business Case.I worked with the developers and business representatives (who were full team members) to ‘play’ Planning Poker.Actual development work started one week later; PBI were completed in the fixed time that equated to approximately 70% of the expected business benefit; a further short project was commissioned to bring the expected business benefit up to 90%.Lessons:1. Do not go on holiday at a crucial time during the product development lifecycle!2. If the Product Backlog is not ordered by business value, significant time will be wasted prototyping PBI of low business value3. If prototyping is to be used, then the whole team should do it together in a workshop; all views will be accessible to all team members and a consensus reached in the minimal amount of time4. If you are an Agile Project Manager/Scrum Master it is your responsibility to keep the team ‘on track’ and to question decisions that may cause a risk to the projectCase 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 to use SAFe®/Scrum; the transformation had been running for 6 months.  There were 4 teams distributed around the globe doing support work to enable 24-hour coverage for this global organisation.The reasons for SAFe®/Scrum for this transition I covered in my first article.When I arrived Product Backlog requests were arriving daily to the team members from systems users and the individual team member decided whether the requests were important enough to interrupt the work that they were already doing; the Product Owners were not involved in the decision-making process at all.  As a consequence, there were many requests that had been started and abandoned in favour of ‘questionable’ higher priorities and I discovered that some requests had been sent to inappropriate team members, the work would have been better carried out by members of the other global teams.Furthermore, although the teams were doing some Relative Estimating at Sprint Planning (not before), they were focusing on time estimates because that was what the requirements management tool required and what management was tracking progress by.  I shall cover the pitfalls of Sprint Planning in my next article.I started resolving the Product Backlog issues by speaking to all the Product Owners, mostly via video-conferencing, to see if they understood the problems that the current Product Backlog processes were causing.  They did have some understanding but explained that that was the way they worked before the Agile transition and believed that changes to the process were out of their control.I helped them devise a workable process whereby all requests would be sent to  the Product Owners  at a collective address.  They would take turns during a 24-hour period to determine, with Product Managers, the relative priority of new requests against those already on the Backlog.  In addition, once a week, they would ‘get together’ to decide which team would handle any unassigned requests; ‘show-stopper’ requests would be handled as a matter of urgency and handled by whichever team was immediately available and could resolve the issue before their end-of-day.By this process, the Product Owners would gain control of the Product Backlog, there would be less questionable priority decisions and there would be fewer ‘disgruntled’ customers.The process was approved by the Product Managers and all team members apprised of the reasons for the new process and their responsibilities within it.It quickly became obvious at daily Scrums that not all team members were passing all requests that came to them directly from customers to the Product Owners; the process was reiterated to these team members but then the productivity of some of these members decreased significantly.  The cause was that they were still working on their ‘favourite’ customers requests but not reporting it to the rest of the team.The Product Owners then had to analyse the central Change Request system for items that had been completed by their teams but had not appeared on the Product Backlog; the Change Request system was not integrated with the Product Backlogs.Eventually, the ‘lesson’ was learned by ‘miscreant’ team members.Lessons1. Without control of the Product Backlog by the relevant authority (Product Owners), it is impossible to police work to give the best business value to the organisation2. Without control of the Product Backlog, the resolution to some requests may be started and then abandoned in favour of other later requests leaving the customer frustrated3.Estimating by time at the task level wastes a great deal of time; more of which in my next article.ConclusionThe Product Backlog is arguably the most important artifact for product development:The PBI must be ordered by business valueThe PBI must be estimated, preferably by using Planning PokerIts content over time must be controlled by the Product Owner or equivalentTeam members must be closely coached and mentored during the early instigation of process change to ensure their understanding of the need for the change and their compliance
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How Not To Be Agile -An Effective Product Backlog

IntroductionHello and welcome to this, the third a... Read More

How Not to be Agile – Ultimate Guide to Sprint Planning

IntroductionHello and welcome to this, the fourth article in the series ‘How Not to be Agile’‘How Not to be Agile’ may seem a strange title for blogs about how good Agile is!  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 when an organisation, or part of it, embark on an Agile Transformation.Last time, I discussed the potential pitfalls with respect to the Product Backlog; this time, I will cover some of the misunderstandings and malpractices that I have come across to do with the ‘development timebox’ planning.  The most often used term for the ‘development timebox’ is the Sprint from Scrum; I will use this and other Scrum terminologies in this article but you can use whatever names you like; I shall put single quotes around Scrum role names to indicate that other names may be used.It is the planning, content and management of the Sprints that is important.I will start with a description of how product development is split into different time periods and then focus on the Sprint Planning ceremony.Product Development TimeboxesFigure 1 represents how an Agile product development is split into different timebox levels:The ‘complete’ product development is a timebox; it has a fixed end date; there may be maintenance periods after the product development is ‘complete’.The features of the product ‘go-live’ in a series of Release timeboxes, the content of each release contributing to the business benefits expected; usually, between 2 and 3 months.The content of each Release is developed in a series of Sprints, more of which below.The production of the artifacts produced in each Sprint may be timeboxed as well if appropriate.There are other ‘models’ that are used; some teams release at the end of each Sprint; Google is set to release new or modified functionality about every minute!Suffice to note here:The ‘High-Level Requirements Analysis’ in the Product Development line represents the activities that I covered in the first articles of this series.The Release timeboxes need to be decided before the development work starts.  It is useful if all Release timeboxes are of the same length but in practice, the first is usually longer than the rest and the last, shorter than rest; it depends on the product and organisation.What is a Sprint?For those who have heard the term ‘Sprint’ but not quite sure what it means, a Sprint is a fixed period of time in which ‘requirements’ are developed from the name to a fully working part of the final product, all done by a fixed size team (see ‘How not to be Agile 3. Product Backlog’ {Insert link to published article} for discussion about ‘The Iron Triangle’)’Having achieved an agreed, prioritised and estimated Product Backlog, the Development Team need to decide how long their Sprints will be; usually 2 to 3 weeks but can be as short a one week or as long as 4 weeks depending on the organisation’s circumstances and the nature of the product to be developed.  If it is thought necessary to have Sprint lengths greater than 4 weeks, then an in-depth analysis of the reasons for this must be made and changes, probably to the organisation, must be implemented so that the Sprint lengths can be reduced; more than 4 weeks between wider stakeholder reviews are too long and can lead to a lot of wasted work.It is worth noting here that once the Development Team has chosen their Sprint length, it remains the same for the whole product development unless something major happens which requires a change to release plans. Let’s see the purpose and steps for an effective Agile Sprint Planning.Sprint Planning DefinitionThere is a popular myth that Agile requires no planning; the ‘Nike’ approach –  ‘Just Do It’.Nothing is further than the truth; there are more planning ‘events’ in any Agile framework than any waterfall method that I have come across; we just plan at different levels.The first ‘ceremony’ of any Sprint is Sprint Planning  whereby the Development Team agree with the ‘Product Owner’ what the Sprint Goal is and which Product Backlog Items (PBI), that will contribute to that goal, will be attempted during the Sprint.Sprint Planning AttendeesIt is important that all of the Development Team, both full and part-time, the ‘Scrum Master’ and the ‘Product Owner’ attend the Sprint Planning as a minimum:The ‘Product Owner’ needs to be there to set the Sprint Goal, agree the PBI to be attempted in business order and agree on the Sprint MVP.The whole Development Team needs to be there because all team members have to agree on the Sprint Plan; if any team member is absent, he/she may feel that the work has been ‘foisted’ upon them and will have reduced motivation to do it.The ‘Scrum Master’ needs to be there to listen to the conversations so that they can keep a ‘fly on the wall’ view of the team during the Sprint and remind any team member that may be straying from the plan.Sprint GoalThis is a widely misunderstood part of Agile; there are many organisations that think that the Sprint Goal is to complete all the chosen PBI; it is not.A Sprint Goal helps the Development Team focus on a narrow aspect of the overall product, for example:“The Sprint Goal is to complete as many of the payment methods as possible”For a ‘retail’ website, there may be many possible payment methods such as credit/debit cards, PayPal, WorldPay etc.  There will no doubt be some ‘common’ aspects to all payment methods that will need to be developed and each method will have its own ‘specialised’ aspects; it is unlikely that all payment methods could be developed in oneSprint unless there was a great deal of reuse from other products.  Therefore, the customers’ most preferred payment methods may be in the Sprint’s MVP; others that cannot be completed in the Sprint go back into the Product Backlog in their respective business value order for consideration in later Sprints.You can think of a Sprint Goal as the Sprint Vision similar to the Product Development Vision that I discussed in the first article in this series. {Insert link to published article}Case Study 1:In one organisation that I coached in, when I arrived, they did not have ‘Sprint Goals’.  The teams worked out their capacity and ‘filled’ the Sprint with PBI estimated to fit that capacity.  The ‘Sprint Goal’ as far as management was concerned was to complete all the PBI in Sprint that was chosen during Sprint Planning.What you have in this situation is fixed time, fixed team and fixed requirements; recognise that? It’s a Waterfall.Because, like all of us, the team members were not that good at estimating, were reliant on external resources that it had no control over and did not know all the SprintBacklog Items (SBI) at Sprint Planning , the teams consistently ‘failed’ to complete all the Sprint Planning chosen PBI  in the Sprint.The immediate consequence of this was management ‘getting on the teams’ backs’ for not working hard enough.  Morale sank and the team members blamed Agile!The teams learned to ‘game’ the PBI estimating by increasing estimates so that less PBI were chosen at Sprint Planning.  One team even marked unfinished PBI as complete at the end of the Sprint and then ‘resurrected’ them for the next Sprint.Lessons:By not having a Sprint Goal, the ‘Product Owners’ lost the chance to focus Sprint development incoherent areasBy expecting Development Teams to complete all published SBI within the Sprint, team morale dropped, the team members blamed Agile and they focused on making themselves look better in the eyes of management rather than producing the best business value.Sprint Planning Inputs1) The Product Backlog:  The initial estimation of the next most important PBI to contribute to the Spring Goal was probably done sometime before Sprint Planning; the Development Team will have learned a lot from previous Sprints so those initial estimates may be way off.Most teams carry out Backlog Refinement during a Sprint to make sure that the next most important PBI are ready to be considered for the next Sprint; I will discuss Backlog Refinement in a later article.If Backlog Refinement is not done separately, it must be done as part of the Sprint Planning.2) Review Comments from the previous Sprint:  There may have been comments of the development to date from the previous Sprint Review session that may affect what needs to be done in the current Sprint.  These may include:High-priority changes required to previously developed PBI; unlikely but not unheard of.Changes to organisation strategy or tactics that mean necessary changes to Product Backlog ordering.Additional PBI that need to be added to the Product Backlog.3) ‘Inspect and Adapt’ Improvements:  The last ceremony of any Sprint is the Retrospective where the team discusses possible improvements to the process they are following and make prioritised plans to implement the improvements.The process improvement items must be considered when the team decides on what is possible in the Sprint; new processes sometimes slow production until they ‘bed-in’.4) The Risk List/Register: One Sprint Planning input that is mostly overlooked is the Development Risk List/Register.  Without going into the detail of Risk Analysis, one of its aspects is to determine when a particular risk may become an issueProbable risks need to be considered during Sprint Planning because any mitigation work that needs to be done will reduce the number of PBI that may be attempted.Sprint Planning Process1) Establish Probable Sprint2) Velocity Sprint Planning starts with the team deciding what their Sprint Velocity is expected to be from the following:Team Sprint Capacity: For most Agile teams, their Sprint capacity is based on the team’s Velocity; the average number of Story Points completed over the last 3 or 4 Sprints.  For organisations ‘wedded’ to time estimation, the team’s Sprint capacity is the number of team members multiplied by the number of working hours in the day multiplied by the number of working days in the Sprint.For teams using Velocity to estimate their capacity, any team member absence during the Sprint must be used to reduce the Velocity with which to plan the Sprint.Risk Analysis:  The Risk List/Register must be reviewed to see if any of the risks may become issues during the Sprint.  If so, then decisions must be made whether to:A) Implement any risk mitigation work in order to prevent the issue.B) Plan what to do if the risk does create an issue.C) ‘Ignore’ the risk if the probability of it causing an issue is low.Again, if the team consider that significant work must be done for managing any risks, then the team Velocity must be reduced to account for the risk management work.Review Comments:  The team must inspect the Review Comments from the previous Sprint Review to see if any remedial work is needed.  If so, the work must be estimated and, again, the team velocity must be reduced.Ideally, Review Comments that necessitate remedial work should become PBI and ordered by the Product Owner before Sprint Planning; if this is the case, there is no need to reduce the team’s Velocity.Inspect and Adapt:  If the team has decided that they will attempt process improvements during the Sprint, it needs to consider if any of these improvements will cause extra work and if so, what effect the extra work may have on the team Velocity.You may think that process improvements should result in a higher Velocity; however, if the process improvement is to do with getting better quality, then the Velocity may go down.Case Study 2:For one engagement, I was working as an analyst/designer and I raised a concern with the ‘Agile PM’ that I could not find the Risk List/Register so that I could add risks as they came up.  He was wary about adding risks because he believed that people would perceive that the more risks there were, the less he was capable of doing his job!After persuading him to let me see the Risk List, I found it to be wholly inadequate; the risks in the List were few, they weren’t ordered and there was no indication of impact severity, probability of becoming issues or when they may occur; there was no mitigation in place for any of them.I persuaded the ‘Product Owner’ that we should have a Risk Workshop with the Development Team and stakeholders.  At the end of the half-day workshop, we had a pretty good Risk List.BUT – the ‘Agile PM’ insisted that he, as the Risk and Issue Manager, would have sole control of it; he would not let anyone see it except himself!As time went on, not being able to see the Risk List, we in the Development Team could not take potential risks into our planning and when risks did turn into issues, we couldn’t see the agreed mitigation.  Progress slowed.LessonsAlways take time before development starts to get a good Risk List/Register not just including the ‘normal’ risks but also including the risks of being Agile in an organisation just beginning to transform.By all means, have the Agile PM/’Scrum Master’ being the sole ‘controller’ of the Risk List; all new risks and changes to existing risks must be passed through the Agile PM/’Scrum Master’ just like the ‘Product Owner’ controls the Product Backlog.The Risk List/Register must be available to the Development Team at Sprint Planning to adequately estimate its Sprint Velocity.2) Establish the Sprint GoalSee above.3) Choose Probable Sprint PBIThe Product Owner should initially choose the next most important PBI that will satisfy the Sprint Goal.The Development Team compare the revised Sprint Velocity with the total Story Points for the initial chosen PBI.The Development Team negotiate with the Product Owner to get the agreed SBI and the Sprint MVP; I discussed the MVP for the Product Backlog in my previous article, ‘How Not to Be Agile 3. Sprint Backlog’; the process to determine the Sprint MVP is the same as for the Product Backlog MVP.Create and publish the Sprint Plan.The team members decide who will do what and when and create the Team/Sprint Board (kanban).4) How Long Should Sprint Planning Take?There is no definitive answer to this question; it depends on the team, the product and the environment.  However, empirical observation of ‘successful’ teams indicates that for a 2-week Sprint, Sprint Planning should take between 2 and 4 hours.Case Study 3:The worst example of ‘non-Agile’ Sprint Planning that I have come across is with the same organisation that I spoke about in Case Study 1 aboveThe Product Backlog was filled in a ‘first come, first served’ order unless a ‘show-stopper’ turned up.There was no Risk Register.There was no Sprint Review Comments because there was no business representation at the Sprint Reviews.There was no ‘Inspect and Adapt’ plans because the teams didn’t really know what Retrospectives were supposed to be for; they held them because they were told to but they used it as a ‘team meeting’ chat.Each team’s Sprint Planning process consisted of:Looking at the next PBI and breaking them down into tasksEstimating the tasks in timeSelecting the PBI whose total estimated time added up to the team’s Sprint time capacity; senior management had ‘allowed’ a ‘contingency’ in that the Sprint time capacity was 80% of the total team time capacity.However, the team member’s task estimation was not done with any enthusiasm because they knew that ‘requirements’ would be arriving in the Sprint that represented between approximately 10% and 50% of the their capacity; there was no pattern to this extra work that could be used to modify the team’s Sprint capacity.What was worse was that senior management measured teams by the number of Sprint Backlog Items (SBI) that had been published in the Sprint Plan; the published list was never completed because of the ‘break-ins’.Each team was taking between 6 and 8 hours to complete Sprint Planning; producing a Sprint Plan that they knew would not work!I asked the teams if they thought their Sprint Planning was ‘reasonable’.  The answer worried me greatly.  The culture of the organisation was ‘what the management wants, the management gets’ and the teams had been used to criticism for years.  The Agile transformation, instigated by the senior management, was an attempt to change this situation but all of the management had probably had less training than the teams.Lessons:When finding ‘bad’ practices in teams, find out the root cause of the ‘bad’ practicesIf, as a ‘Product Owner’, ‘Scrum Master’ or Agile Coach, you do not have access to senior management, introduce a ‘disruptive experiment’; devise an effective Sprint Planning process for one team and when the management ask why things are so different, you will get the access to the management that you need to explain why their ‘edicts’ were probably less than optimal and possibly misinterpreted by the teams.Sprint Planning Output – The Sprint PlanThe Sprint Plan shows:A list of ordered PBI that will be attempted during the Sprint (the SBI) along with the Sprint MVP.A list of workshops that need to involve people outside of the Development Team with the people needed; the list includes dates, times and places for the workshops.A reminder of the Sprint Review date, time and place.The Sprint Plan is published to ALL stakeholders including those who will be required to help during the Sprint.What the Sprint Plan is NotThe Sprint Plan is not:A detailed, day-by-day Gantt Chart of tasks:  What the team does in the way of tasks is for the team onlyThe Team Board – Whether it is ‘Sticky Notes’ on the wall or an electronic representation of that, the Team Board is updated at least daily;  unless something major happens, the Sprint Plan is not changed after publication.Case Study 3:Unfortunately, there is one Agile ‘standards’ organisation that occasionally has a question in its certification exams:Q.  “How often can the Sprint Plan be amended?”A.  “Every day”Rationale.  “The Team Board is updated at least every day during the Daily Stand-up”I guess the organisation has the right to equate a Sprint Plan with the Team/Sprint Board but this has the effect that management and stakeholders need to look at the Board to see what the ‘current’ plan is; they cannot help but interpret the Board with some aspect of Sprint progress and if they do not like what they see, there is a temptation to intervene with the team.Lessons:Progress within a Sprint should be solely the responsibility of the Development Team facilitated by the ‘Scrum Master’.Remember – the sole measure of Sprint success is that the SBI representing the MVP have been completed.ConclusionEffectively preparing for Sprint Planning, following the best practices of Sprint Planning is essential for Sprint success:The ‘Product Owner’ must set the Sprint Goal.All factors influencing the expected team Sprint Velocity must be considered.Initial estimates of PBI done when creating the Product Backlog must be verified in the light of experience gained so far.The Development Team must agree with the ‘Product Owner’ which PBI to take into the Sprint Plan and agree on the Sprint MVP.The Sprint Plan is for the management and stakeholders.The Team/Sprint Board is for the Development Team.
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How Not to be Agile – Ultimate Guide to Sprint P...

IntroductionHello and welcome to this, the fourth ... Read More

How Not to be Agile –The Business Case

Is Agile Everything?‘How Not to be Agile’ may seem a strange title for the blogs mentioning about how good Agile is!‘How Not to be Agile’ may seem a strange title for a series of articles about how good Agile is!  However, 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 reduces the potential benefits for an organisation, or part of it, when it embarks on an Agile Transformation.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.Last time, I discussed the potential pitfalls of not having a suitable and visible Vision and Objectives for whatever it is that we are trying to achieve, be it a new product, a major change to an existing product or the Agile transition itself.This time, I will cover some of the omissions, misunderstandings and malpractices that I have come across with respect to the Business Case; an overall product development ‘document’ with which we can track whether the ongoing development is likely to meet the business value outlined or specifically stated in the development Objectives for a reasonable cost; it is no use developing a product for $1 million dollars if it will take 10 years of product use before it pays for itself.I will start with a description of an Agile Business Case and then give examples of what has and could go wrong.What is the Business Case?Having achieved an agreed Vision and Objectives, the business stakeholders and development team need to quantify the business value that is expected from the product, in what timescale, and the estimates of how much it will cost to develop so that that the business stakeholders can determine whether the development is justified from a business point of view.These estimates are recorded in the Business Case; a cost-benefit analysis. In the past, in an effort to reduce development business risk as much as possible, some companies produced a detailed, task level, project plan with all the ‘who will do what and when’, factoring in known team member holidays etc.  By this means, they hoped to establish the probable costs of the development with a high degree of accuracy.  However, I have never seen the expected business benefits undergo such a rigorous analysis.Also, I have never seen the Business Case updated periodically during the development so that it can be determined whether the development is still justifiable.This way of producing a Business Plan usually involves a ‘development expert’ to do the technical estimations and takes a significant amount of time during which no business benefit is being accrued.What is an Agile Business Case?“Therefore, ‘experts’ are asked for their opinion about probable or possible costs for different ways of solving the problem:Develop the product from ‘scratch’ – usually the most expensive optionUse an existing product as a ’base’ and modify/configure it – the next most expensive optionOutsource the development – ‘passing risks to some other company’ – the costs can vary significantly depending on the contract type.From these ‘guesstimates’, the development Sponsor can take a decision as to which development option to take.  I will discuss Agile Roles in a later article.There is always another option for the Sponsor to take – ‘Do Nothing’; especially if the probable cost-benefit analysis indicates little Return-on-Investment.If the initial, ‘guesstimate’, Business Case cost-benefit analysis indicates that it may be worthwhile continuing with development,we can start gathering requirements.What is Agile Business Case Lifecycle?Once the initial Agile Business Case has been created it is not ‘set in stone’; like most other things in an Agile environment, it is subject to change as we learn during the development. Indeed, I use a set of development ‘document’ templates, which includes an Agile Business Case, that all have ‘This is Subject to Change’ printed in red at the top and bottom of each page.Post Product Backlog CreationThe Product Backlog, which I shall discuss in my next article, is a list of ‘requirements’ that have been ordered by business value and estimated.These estimates, that have been done by the development team, can replace the costs section of the initial Business Case. The initial Business Case expected benefits can be assessed by a wider stakeholder population and either confirmed or modified.The cost-benefit analysis for the modified Business Case values can be used to, again, assess whether it is advisable to continue the development, modify the Vision and Objectives to obtain a viable Business Case or cancel the development.The time taken from establishing the Vision to achieving this first modified Agile Business Case should be no longer than 2 to 3 weeks; usually, a lot shorter time than is usually taken in a traditional product development environment.At the End of Development TimeboxesA Development Timebox is the short, 2 to 3 week period during which the development team completely develop a subset of the ‘requirements’ and what has been developed demonstrated to the relevant stakeholders.  Most of you will recognise this as the definition of a Sprint from Scrum; other Agile Frameworks use different names; I will use the term Sprint during the rest of this article because it is quicker to type!It is recommended that the Agile Business Case be ‘reviewed’ at the end of each Sprint, during the Sprint Review, for the first few Sprints; it is during these first Sprints that the learning curve is steepest. The estimated costs against the actual costs can be assessed and the Agile Business Case updated if necessary.  Obviously, assessing the actual benefits accrued at this early stage in development is almost impossible.  However, a view can be taken on the new cost-benefit analysis as to whether to continue development.Remember:                                                                                                   ‘Fail Fast’Once the initial learning has been done, most organisations revert to reviewing the Agile Business Case during the Increment Reviews, done just before a group of functionalities is placed ‘live’; probably every 2 or 3 months.Case Study 1:Many years ago, I was asked to help a team who were building a financial products sales system to replace a company’s current system.  The ‘need’ that prompted this development was regulatory in that there had been ‘mis-selling’ of some of the financial products and the government had told the whole sector that they had 6 months ‘to clean up their act’.The company’s current system was based on an ageing mainframe and it was decided that as well as trying to incorporate new regulatory business rules into the sales system, the whole process would be ‘transferred’ to a system using ‘modern’ technology so that additional sales processes could be incorporated, taking advantage of the capabilities of the new technology.The company mitigated some of the huge risks that they were taking on by outsourcing the development on a fixed price basis; the outsource company decided that ‘Managed RAD’ (the precursor of Agile) was the way to go; I was helping the outsource supplier company team.The ‘Vision’ was clear:“To develop a financial products sales system that complies with Government regulation in 6 months so that the company can continue to sell financial products”There was an onsite, senior salesman from the client company to give the requirements for the new system; the equivalent of a Scrum Product Owner.Unfortunately, no one had taken the time to produce a Business Case; it was obvious wasn’t it? ‘New system in 6 months or die’!The prevailing culture within clients and business management at the time was the ‘WISKY’ mentality; “Why Isn’t Someone ‘Koding’ Yet”.That and the 6-month deadline led the team to cut corners on the preparation.  Some rudimentary ‘As-Is’ business process modeling had been done to identify where the sales process needed to be modified to include the regulatory requirements as well as where the new parts of the sales process needed to be inserted.The product Owner insisted that as much of the ‘As-Is’ had to be in the new system as well as the new parts.The team decided to go for the ‘low-hanging fruit’ approach, developing the easy and quick parts first; unfortunately, these did not include the regulatory requirements nor the new sales processes.After 2 months of development, the team released the first prototype to the client company to get feedback.  The client was very concerned that there was no sign of the regulatory requirements or new sales process and that the team had developed ‘As-Is’ processes that had been in the old system that were there because of the limitations of the old technology, such as overnight batch processing of data.It was at this point that the client was considering cancelling the development contract but they were 2 months closer to the important deadline so it was decided to bring someone in that could turn the ‘mess’ around; that someone was me.I started by investigating the Vision and establishing what was the minimum that was needed in the remaining 4 months.  It was decided that a system to support the end-to-end sales process of just one of the financial products, incorporating the regulatory requirements, without any of the new ‘bells and whistles’ would satisfy the regulators and the client company could continue trading.The ‘Product Owner’ was replaced with a less experienced salesman who was not as ‘wedded’ to the old sales process as the previous Product Owner.We established and prioritised the development objectives and put together a Business Plan that was used every week as a means to assess development progress toward the highest priority objective of getting the new regulatory requirements incorporated into the sales process.The new system was ‘finished’ one month early and was demonstrated to the regulators who had high praise and used the new system as a benchmark with which to assess the new systems of other companies in the same sector.During the month left before the deadline other high priority financial products were added to the system; the client deciding that they would suspend sales of the less important products until they too could be added to the new system.Lessons:1.The apparent lack of time always drives people to ‘cut corners’, especially in the preparation.  How many window and door frames have you seen that look ‘rough’ because the surfaces were not prepared adequately before applying the top coat of paint?  In this case study, some of the people were almost paranoid about the ‘New system in 6 months or die’ so that they focused entirely on the time aspect with little consideration about what the original Product Owner was asking them to do.As a consequence, the team produced a less than satisfactory first prototype.2. Don’t leave the requirements set to one person however experienced they are; the question of ‘do we really need to develop the whole of the new system in 6 months?’ would probably have been asked in the early stages if the requirements setting had been done by a group of people including some developers.3.The lack of prioritised development objectives and a Business Case to assess development progress toward the highest priority objective(s) aided the ‘low hanging fruit’ approach adopted by the outsource company enabling them to effectively waste most of the 2 months work in producing the first prototype.4.On a positive note, however, the incremental delivery nature of Agile had allowed the team to ‘fail fast’.  If the team had continued development without customer feedback for all of the 6 months, who knows what sort of system that they may have produced.Case Study 2:I was asked to do an Agile audit in an organisation because one of the senior managers was concerned that he was not seeing the benefits of ‘being’ Agile that were ‘sold’ to him by a chosen ‘partner’ development agency.The development was a programme of work to integrate 12 disparate systems, ‘inherited’ by the organisation by the acquisition of other organisations; the overall aim was to ensure consistency of data across the organisation and allow the use of a data warehouse for decision making.The programme was using an in-house Agile framework based on the DSDM framework. The anti-Agile practices across the programme that I discovered during the audit could make the definitive guide on how not to be Agile.However, I will confine my comments to the consequences of the lack of knowledge on building the Agile Business Case for just one of the projects.The project ‘Vision’ was to automate many business processes that were currently being done manually.  When I arrived, the project had been running, on and off, for about 18 months and had not delivered anything.  I asked what the project costs to date were and was told that they were in the order of £1 million but this could not be verified because cost accounting in the organisation and for the programme was very ad-hoc.The team was struggling with defining the details of some of the User Stories; several attempts had been made during several workshops to finalise these details before development in one or more Sprints.I decided to sit in on one of these workshops to see what was happening.A ‘Systems Analyst’ was sat in front of her laptop, not shared with the rest of the workshop, and asked questions of the business representatives.  They discussed their answers to the questions which mostly were preceded by ‘It depends’.  I asked if any prototypes had been attempted for the User Story under consideration and was told ‘we don’t do prototypes because we do not have any prototypers’.  I then asked the stupid question ‘What is a prototyper?’.  The obvious answer – someone who prototypes!  It became obvious that the organisation believed that prototypes had to be produced in code, rapidly.I went to the whiteboard, drew a large rectangle and asked the business representative what they expected to see on a screen, focusing on the most used path through the User Story.  In 20 minutes we established the ‘core’ data and business rules for the User Story; it had taken 3 months of sporadic workshops not to get that far.This workshop anecdote led me to ask how this ‘analysis paralysis’ situation had come about.  The answer was that the team had ignored one of the basic Agile framework ‘rules’ that development takes place in short, 2 to 3 week, Sprints; the aim of a Sprint is to develop, as fully as possible, a group of User Stories so that they are potentially shippable.  As part of the Sprint or Increment Reviews, the business should assess the Business Case to see if it remained viable.Apart from not running Sprints as recommended, the team had a less than adequate Vision and no Objectives on which to base a Business Case.  For some reason, which I was never able to fathom out, nobody in the programme or the rest of the organisation was questioning the lack of development progress for this project or the amount of money they were spending for no visible benefit.To cut a very long story short, when an adequate Vision and Objectives were created and a Business Case put together, the business realised that what they were trying to achieve was fundamentally flawed and the project was cancelled.Lessons1.Despite the poor workshop processes and abandonment of key Agile development practices, the fundamental problem with this project was a lack of adequate Vision and Objectives with which to construct a Business Case by which assessment could be made of development progress toward realising the expected benefits at a reasonable cost.2. When Vision, Objectives and Business Case were in place, the business realised the futility of the efforts so far and therefore had allowed a waste of £1 million by not having them earlier.ConclusionThese 2 case studies illustrate the worst cases of no Business Case that I have experienced; there are many others.Having tight deadlines or even no apparent deadline does not excuse the lack of sufficient and proper preparation.I discussed the Vision and Objectives issues in the first of this series of articles but these should be used to build a Business Case that can be used to assess development progress toward meeting the expected Objectives for a reasonable cost; developing User Stories is not the aim of Agile; the aim is to develop the right User Stories in the right order.
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How Not to be Agile –The Business Case

Is Agile Everything?‘How Not to be Agile’ may ... Read More

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.
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How “Not” To Be Agile – Vision and Objective...

Introduction‘How Not to Be Agile’ may seem a s... Read More