Category Archives: Scrum ceremonies

3 Pillars of Scrum – Core but easily forgotten

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What are the 3 pillars of Scrum? This is a one question I love to ask leaders, Scrum Masters, Product Owners and members of development teams as I engage with them, trying to help with their agile adoption. The statement “our team is already agile” is commonly heard but what is being referred to is the fact that the teams are conducting Scrum events (sprint, sprint planning, daily scrum, sprint review and sprint retrospective), connecting these events to agility and keeping the ideas of transparency, inspection and adaptation on the side.

Limiting the idea of agile adoption to just events and practices is a clear indication of the missing understanding of the core mindset of agile and Scrum and instead, the use of Scrum as a process control method.

The simplistic design of Scrum framework and the embedded practices are the heart of creating a agile culture for software development. Every event in Scrum is conducted to constantly put the 3 pillars of Scrum in practice to not only ensure adherence to the framework and its practices but also to have agility embedded to the people and process aspects of product development.

Most common examples of situations when transparency, inspection and adaptation are overshadowed by other “not” important decisions are:

– What is the buffer we should account for during the sprint to account for unplanned work? This is a step in the wrong direction from a transparency perspective. Team should rather allow for unplanned work to impact work so that delays become visible and the team can assess the reason behind unplanned work and adapt by working with the Product Owner to make the right decision.

–  Our/Your burn down does not look good. This is commonly bought up as an issue by the Scrum Master or the management and can take the focus of the team from getting the sprint forecast accomplished to making the burn down look good. It is important to understand that the burn down was not created to paint a good picture of the team but to transparently surface delays so that the team can collaborate and plan for the work to be done to possibly meet the forecast.

– Get the stories to “done” by moving the undone tasks to a new story. The “Definition of Done” is sacred to the team and is created with an intent of ensuring that the story accomplished is in a state to be released into production. However; creation of new stories with an intention of claiming browny points for work done or delaying defects for later is a common cause of delays and reduced quality.

There are many such behaviors and conversations that you will observe in your teams and the easiest way to make the right decision is to go back to the 3 pillars and make a decision keeping them in perspective. This is what I do while coaching team and it is what teams should do to create a culture of agility.

Remember, Scrum does not solve problems, it exposes them

Agile transformation – Working with shared services along the way

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The concept of shared services is prevalent in most large organizations. A centralized user experience or architecture group or services group can be commonly spotted. A lot of times, component team setups are given a flavor of shared services.

No matter how much dysfunction it causes, shared services continue to live for many reasons including:

  • Organization’s inability or hesitation to make structural changes
  • Fear of being exposed in getting outside of their comfort zone
  • Fear of change in general
  • Focus on local optimization
  • Others…

The fact remains that shared services are generally not economically viable due to associated communication overheads and increased cycle time to get work done, however; the idea of shared services will not go away anytime soon. So what are some of the ways to work with shared services setup in an agile organization? Saying that organizations need to completely change from a shared services structure to feature teams capable of delivering end to end functionality will sound lame and unrealistic. Below are some techniques that can help organizations work with shared services, trying to transform to the agile way of working:

  • Vision – The environment in a shared services setup is generally chaotic as consumers always have a high priority need. At this time, it pretty much becomes a bidding game. The person or team that shouts the loudest or the person with the highest level of influence is able to get their work prioritized to the top. This is followed by the lengthy process of knowledge sharing where the member of the shared services team spends time in understanding what to build and why. This causes the shared services team member to take a very narrow approach to quickly build what is being asked without understanding the vision and move out to the next ask. This sounds pretty much like a robot in a manufacturing environment that just gets its work done without caring about the end result.

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For agile teams, having a common understanding of the vision of the overall product or just a single release is of paramount importance to ensure that every single activity is focussed on achieving the vision. When working on large product backlogs, it is recommended that teams (I mean the whole team and all the teams) get together to create a common understanding of the functionality targeted in the next release. All teams involved should participate and help in sequencing the work to be done to be able to assess when the consumer will need something. This generally calls for investment of time from all teams but the outcome overshadow the cost.

Where there exists a clear vision and a clear understanding of what is needed from the teams, team members remain excited about what is being developed and look forward to their contribution and stay engaged

  • Alignment“Change is the only constant”. A sequenced backlog should not be treated as a project plan. Once a vision has been established and the backlog has been sequenced, all involved teams should come together on a regular basis to inspect the progress and resequenced their backlog as needed. Four-Dimensional-Goal-Alignment

This will specially help the shared services    teams to reprioritize their work to make sure that the next highest priority deliverable goes out quickly.

  • Collaborate – Coming together frequently to align is part of collaboration. Additionally, having someone from the shared services team attend the consumer team’s daily Scrum and other Scrum events and vice versa will help both the shared services team and the consumer team to stay informed about the progress being made and plan their work appropriately.
  • Service Level Agreements (SLAs) – Achieving discipline through working agreements is important when it comes to collaboration between teams. To use a metaphor, car manufacturers rely on multiple suppliers to provide various parts of the car to be able to assemble the end product. Each of the suppliers have to agree to certain processes and protocols to make sure that the assembly line does not come to a halt due to shortage of parts. Each part has a assigned reorder inventory level at which point the order system automatically places order for the next shipment. 3771.PPP_PRD_165_3D_people-Binding_Agreement_1FA08461Not only is the vision of the system clear to each supplier, the suppliers ensure delivery of products on time and are also liable to penalty if the agreements are not adhered to.

The key focus agreements is to build the environment of collective ownership, collaboration and focus to ensure quality and timely deliverable while maintaining a flow.

  • Use a tool – Tools can come in handy when it comes to collaboration and keeping shared services teams informed about their commitments. While I am a huge proponent of physical boards for Scrum teams, I do have to acknowledge that physical boards become a limitation when trying to keep shared services teams informed about the needs or the change in needs of the consumer.

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Additionally, tools can be used by teams to generate metrics to assess their performance in being able to meet their SLAs, get notified about key milestones and provide data specifically targeted towards continuous improvement.

 

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While I truly believe that structural changes are a critical part of a successful agile transformation, it is not always possible  right from the word go. Organizations are generally resistant to radical changes fearing impact on running the business. While baby steps are taken to impact structural transformation, the above mentioned steps will help in the interim to help the organization get started on the journey of agile transformation.

If you have other ideas/techniques that you have used in your engagements, I would love to hear from you.

 

 

 

 

Scrum events are NOT working for you if…

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Image courtesy: agiletrick.com

Rarely does a agile coach get to transform a completely waterfall team/organization into agile these days. Majority of the organizations are already on the agile band wagon and claim to be doing some sort of agile, however; it is quite obvious that all is not working for them.

The start of an engagement for an agile coach is all about observation. Watching teams participate in Scrum events gives a good sense of the maturity of the individuals, team and organization. Here are things to look out for to know that Scrum events are not working:

  • There is a leader – We need leaders but we also believe that everyone in a Scrum team is a leader. Often, there is an individual or a couple of team members that are the “experts” and end up taking control of Scrum events. So if these “leaders” are calling the shots and driving all decisions, Scrum events are not working for you.
  • There is silence – Scrum teams are all about collaboration and communication. One of the key agile values is “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”. So if your Scrum events are all about forced communication where team members are not motivated or do not feel safe to share their point of view, Scrum events are not working for you.
  • Something important keeps coming up – The occurrence of Scrum events have been designed to bring the team together frequently to be able to put the idea of inspection and adaptation in practice. However; often team members are absent from the Scrum events with the most common excuse being that there is an important issue to address. When doing Scrum, nothing is more important than the Scrum events. So if your team has something important to address when they should be collaborating, communicating, inspecting and adapting during a Scrum event, Scrum events are not working for you.
  • Design a solution – Every Scrum event had a recommended time box. For example, a daily Scrum should not be more than 15 minutes long or a sprint planning event should be 8 hours or less for a 4 week sprint. These time box recommendations work only when teams a disciplined in keeping a focused agenda for a event. However;  teams spend 30 to 45 minutes on a daily Scrum or a sprint planning session spans multiple days. This usually happens when team members get into a “design the solution” mode leading to significant waste. So if your Scrum events are turning into design and problem solving meetings, Scrum events are not working for you.
  • Team members are checked out – Knowing the significance and reasoning behind each Scrum event is crucial. Each Scrum event is specifically designed to achieve specific objectives in alignment with the agile values and principles. However, it is observed that team members do not focus on the value of the event but rather go through the motions. If you observe that team members are either checked out or focused on their individual goals, Scrum events are not working for you.
  • External decision makers – What the team can get done and how a business problem should be addressed are decisions that a Scrum team owns. A self managing Scrum team is one that makes decisions that are in the best interest of the project knowing their capabilities to deliver. If you Scrum team is under pressure from external forces and are unable to self manage and organize, you Scrum events are not working.
  • There is inconsistency – Having Scrum events occur consistently at the same time and as per a defined cadence is important to reduce complexity and build team discipline. For example; it is recommended the team has a daily Scrum in the morning to be able to create a plan for the day, however; if this is moved to afternoon on a give day and moved again the next day, it effects the consistency and causes unnecessary adjustments. If the occurrence of Scrum events is not consistent, Scrum events are not working for you.
  • Can’t we just – A phrase that is heard quite consistently when working with Scrum teams is “Can’t we just…”. This might be said when the Product Owner is trying to sneak in that extra story into the sprint backlog or when the team members are pushing to fix a bug in the next sprint and call the not done story done. If team members are constantly trying to find ways to step outside the Scrum boundaries, Scrum events are not working for you.

There are many more smells that are seen detrimental to the effectiveness of Scrum. Some of these include Scrum Master assigning work to team members, daily Scrum being a means for management reporting etc… I am sure you have observed many more smells that expose the ineffectiveness of a Scrum event. Please share in the comments below.

It’s getting boring here…. how to keep scrum ceremonies interesting?

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As I walked into the backlog refinement session for this team that I had been coaching for about a month, I felt a low in energy. Team members were busy doing their own “stuff”. While some were busy texting, others were on their laptops and since a backlog refinement meeting is typically linked to the Product Owner role, she was the one doing all the talking. It reminded me of the economics lecture in college where the professor was the only one talking while the class was busy thinking about the college annual festival.

Humans cannot survive any kind of repetitive event for too long. Scrum ceremonies are no exceptions. Sustaining interest in scrum ceremonies becomes difficult and they say “it is getting boring”. Their minds are always in search for the next exciting thing happening around them and the ceremonies are all about going through the motions without understanding the intent and outcome of the same.

Every scrum ceremony has a desired intent and outcome which is to be built on the core principle if team work driven by communication, conversations and collaboration. However, most Scrum teams lack the kind of chemistry to make these possible.

So what can one do to keep things interesting. Well, here are some pointers:

1. Location – As much as my kids love to eat at home watching their favorite TV show, every once in a while we go out for a meal. Change in surroundings  brings in interesting changes in people’s view point like sharing their dishes to get a sense of other’s taste, time for some family conversations and more.

So try to experiment with the locations for your ceremonies and observe the different it makes. An informal retrospective at a local restaurant or over a bowling session goes a long way in bringing in a positive change and  creative thinking.

2. Activities and games – Playing games with my kids is the best way to get some leanings across to them which otherwise is a big ask. As kids make their moves, I ask a question to help them select the best option. Other times they correct me if I  made a wrong choice.

Leverage games and activities to help create a collaborative environment between team members. tastycupcakes.org, innovationgames.com are some great resources for such creative and fun filled games. In fact there is a whole book written about how to conduct retrospectives. Check it out here.

3. Rotate – As much as I love to get a nicely cooked meal from my wife, I like to try my hands at cooking and trying new recipes from the internet or of my own. While the intent in doing so is to stick to have a plate of food that is healthy and also tastes good, a different approach to cooking can bring in unique flavor and taste.

So when it comes to facilitating a backlog refinement session or a sprint retrospective, allow other members of the team to get into the shoes of the Product Owner or the Scrum Master. Not only will this introduce them to the challenges associated with the role and ceremonies, it will also help to bring in some fresh ideas to the table on running the ceremonies and solving problems.

4. Reward – Rewarding the right behaviors and penalizing the wrong ones is something that everyone can relate to. This something that happens with is right from our childhood to when we grow up as adults.  Right or wrong, this has worked in majority cases.

When dealing with mature teams, this might not even apply, however; when starting with new teams and going with the “Shu-ha-ri” approach, following the rules becomes critical. Having followed the rules for a period of time, it becomes second nature. According to a research, for any action to become a habit, it takes an average of 30 days of focused effort. So while you would want to reward right behaviors, penalizing wrong ones will help sustain a balance. So discuss with your team to decide what rewards or penalties will work in your unique environment.

5. Don’t wait – I was never good at maths. I would avoid solving math problems as much as possible till the time my father would catch me just before the exams and make me solve a few. No marks for guessing that I would struggle. This would repeat each year and my father would tell me to share my challenges with him all through the year so he could work with me right then and address my issues.

Solving problems and raising issues as they occur is extremely important. If the team has to wait for the next ceremony to happen before they can bring up a problem, chances are they might forget it or not have a productive conversation given that the issue happened in the past.

Post Script – I wonder why scrum ceremonies would become monotonous and boring when the team has complete control of the “how”. Is it because the ceremonies do not achieve the desired objectives or because the team is still under some kind of control where they cannot exercise their decision making powers? It is quite obvious that these complaints sound exaggerated but these are common too.

So what is your view on this subject? What are some techniques you have tried with your teams? Leave a comment…