Tag Archives: Agile

My podcast interview about Agile, Scrum and the Scrum Master role

podcast-istock

Image courtesy: cbc.ca

I am excited to share my latest podcast interview with Vasco Duarte where we discuss about agile and Scrum and get into details about the Scrum Master role all through this week. This podcast was recorded for the site http://scrum-master-toolbox.com/ to discuss various topics around challenges related to the Scrum Master role, some anti patterns to Scrum, change leadership, measurements of success for Scrum Masters and agile culture and mindset.

First 2 episodes are live now. Don’t forget to watch the upcoming 3 episodes (Wednesday through Friday) this week.

Please provide your feedback on the podcast, leave comments and like. Also reach out for any questions or if you would like to record a podcast for your site.

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Scrum, the solution to all problems

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If you are someone who has had limited or no success with Scrum and the title of this post forced you this way, well, I have met my first objective.

Last couple of years I have had an opportunity to connect with multiple teams that have been doing Scrum but have had very limited or no success with it. What I hear most frequently is “this does not work for us”. Further analyzing the data talking to these teams, some very specific reasons surfaced and I am listing them below:

1. Too much focus on Scrum “process” – The biggest reason why teams are unable to derive any benefits from Scrum is because they look at it strictly as a process. Scrum is a methodology but every single aspect of Scrum has very specific objectives. However; most teams are seen going through the motions without necessarily fully understanding the objectives and benefits of all Scrum artifacts and ceremonies.

2. Not doing Scrum right – Scrum is intended to be done in a specific way. Talking about the “Shu-ha-ri” approach to Scrum, the teams are initially expected to follow the rules of Scrum, however; teams start to make changes to it to often to suit their environments and projects which for obvious reasons reduces the effectiveness. Changing the frequency of ceremonies, micromanaging the team, forcing teams to deliver defined velocity and to dates instead of value etc.. are most common anti patterns that have been observed.

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3. Fear of being exposed – Scrum is not designed to solve any problems, however; Scrum is designed to expose problems as early as possible with the belief that teams will be able to address them. Inability to produce incremental value for business, inability to measure business value, not having a well defined backlog, carrying work over from sprint to sprint, and many more of these data points expose teams ability to plan, execute and deviating their focus from the three pillars of Scrum (transparency, inspection and adaptation).

4. No slack time – There have been very specific areas where teams enjoyed huge slack periods due to the phased approach to software development. Teams would develop code and then sit back for defects to be identified or environments to be refreshed thus giving teams slack periods. In enforcing the need to deliver value continuously, Scrum and other agile methods have forced the team to be on their toes all the time. This obviously makes people uncomfortable and increases the risk of them getting exposed.

5. Resistance to change – Analyzing the previous points, it all boils down to the fact that the failure of Scrum can be attributed to the resistance to change. Companies, teams and individuals are not willing to change even if their current processes are not working. The possibility of getting exposed or the pressure to get out of their comfort zone brings the resistance to agile and Scrum.

The mindset

As you might have heard before, agile/scrum is not a process but a mindset and needs a completely fresh approach to how problems are identified and solutions are arrived.

I read an interesting analogy about Scrum and the impact of not doing right. Trying to make your grandmother’s recipe of Carrot cake, if you make your own decisions instead of following the exact recipe, you cannot expect your cake to taste like your grandmother’s. In the same way, Scrum needs to be done as prescribed before teams can start experimenting with it.

Having spoken to hundreds of team and maybe thousands of individuals, the observation is that companies are not doing Scrum. At best they were doing waterfall with iterations. The idea of continuous improvement does not seem to exist and this is a serious problem.

I love how Philip Grove, CEO at Confluex puts it:

  • Scrum is like whitewater rafting. The rafting team members each have a job, they know how to perform it, and they know the team’s short term goals very well – “get beyond the first rapids.” They vaguely understand the approximate long term goal – “Get to the end of the river.” And, they know they have to work together, and help each other succeed. Finally, they know that everything else is pretty much going to change. The rocks aren’t always in the same plae, the rapids are moving faster, a log is floating alongside the boat. The team has to pull their strengths to get through, and make collective changes along the way.
  • Waterfall project teams are military ships with a crew, a captain, a detailed set of orders, and an admiral relaying changes from command.
  • Scrummerfall is taking that rafting team, with a captain, the orders, and the admiral relaying changes. This is a recipe for failure.

Post Script

Companies need to create a culture where failures are not necessarily looked as a sin but what you learn from your failures if of paramount importance. This will help create an environment where the three pillars of Scrum (transparency, inspection and adaptation) will help create a very strong foundation for continuous success.

Agile and software rewrite

Talk about software rewrite and one comes across varied opinions. With the advent of cutting edge engineering practices that facilitate opportunities to build things right the first time, many look at the need to rewrite software as a sin. When coming across developers and architects who want to rewrite software systems, you hear them saying things like the software is way too complex or the system was probably written by a dumb developer etc..

As you investigate the need for a rewrite, some of the more common reasons include:

  • System is not performant
  • System is too complex to understand
  • Technical debt
  • Unfamiliarity with domain and legacy code
  • Use of old technologies
  • Business feels the system is out dated
  • More..

So what is the right strategy for a rewrite?

Most business want to take a “like per like” approach, which means that the software be re-written to implement improvements without introducing any change from a customer experience view point since selling a change to a customer can be challenging. This mentality results in under estimating the complexity of the system and ignoring the opportunities for improvement.

A real world example that one can relate to is a new version of an existing car model that gets offered every couple of years. Would the car sell more if the company was to build a new version in the same exact way as the existing one? Well, not really. Customers look for improvements across the board, from improvement engine performance, latest features, more mileage and a refreshing look. So why should software be treated any different?

Is a complete rewrite acceptable?

The second is the most dangerous system that a man ever designs” Fred Brooks, 1975 & 1995

Complete rewrites will make sense if one can stop the world from changing but unfortunately that is not an option. So the first approach should be to refactor your way out of the problems. Most issues can be resolved by addressing the issues in a prioritized fashion. Systems when rewritten are mostly NOT written very differently from when they were written originally. There are still requirement gaps, architecture does not resolve all of the problems and teams still build a lot of technical debt.

Refactoring your way out turns out to be the most efficient both in terms of effort, cost and risk. Engineering practices like Test Driven Development (TDD), pairing through the issues and refactoring code can go a long way in making an existing system performant, allow teams to familiarize themselves with the domain and inside of the system and cut the effort of rebuilding features that never get used.

How can an Agile approach help?

Does Agile make sense for software rewrite? It absolutely does. Agile is all about continuous improvement and systems are rewritten to make them better in many ways including emerging improved architecture and value driven development. One huge benefit rewrites potentially provide is to get away from features not providing business value resulting in eliminating waste for development and maintenance activities.

In general, there is no reason to treat rewrites any different from a green field project. Agile approach if followed in a organized way should help building the right system maintaining a view of expected benefits. Lets assess one area at a time.

  • Requirements – Business and market situations change by the day. Rebuilding what you have today is not an option. Requirements should be captured and backlog created from scratch. While breaking requirements and creating stories, right amount of focus needs to be on the value each requirement offers. Systems with legacy code built over several years always carries a certain amount of risk. With churn in resources and changing business landscape, it is hard if not impossible to be aware of all legacy business rules. Hence, there is significant risk involved in assuming a complete familiarity of existing systems.
  • Small shippable increments and feedback loops – with focus on key improvements provide an opportunity to compare smaller increments with existing systems and adapt to missing pieces. This will also result in the need to understand only the part that is being recreated. Small shippable increments facilitate continuous feedback loops for faster validation and confirmation.
  • Speed to market – Continuous improvements in existing systems made in small shippable increments can be made available to customers frequently. This can go a long way in meeting customer satisfaction.
  • Customer collaboration – What better than engaging existing customers in making the product better. Most customers will be open to provide feedback about the system. Agile development principles encourage active ‘user’ involvement throughout the product’s development and a very cooperative collaborative approach. This provides excellent visibility for key stakeholders, both of the project’s progress and of the product itself, which in turn helps to ensure that expectations are effectively managed.
  • Team collaboration and knowledge building – Giving the team the space to understand existing system and propose what the new system should look like brings out the creativity to resolve business problem in more innovative ways and facilitates domain knowledge creation.
  • Engineering practices – are the key facilitators towards building software right the first time. Rebuilding is no different. These practices encourage refactoring to address issues with existing code and help in building quality with rewrites.

There are enough benefits to leverage agile principles and practices for software rewrite. Writing the software the way it exists today does not provide any benefits but results in significant waste and limits focus on improvements. I can say that Agile can be as effective for rewrite as it if for greenfield projects.

So, evaluate the opportunities through refactoring before you walk the road to rewrite from scratch. And if rewrite is the only choice, going with an Agile approach will provide the right tool towards building the next version.

Have you used Agile for a rewrite? If yes, do share your thoughts.

Actions for retrospectives | Innovation games

Wanted to share my experience facilitating a retrospective for my team using the “Action for retrospectives” from innovation games. This is a excellent technique/game that allows the team to think about a retrospectives from multiple angles.

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The “appreciation” angle came as a big surprise. Appreciations came in from everyone, both at personal and team level and setup the right environment for the more difficult discussions to follow. It was a very clear indicator of the fact that the team members appreciate each other but never had an opportunity to bring that in the open. In fact the appreciations clearly out numbered the other angles mentioned below.

The “puzzle” angle was about raising issues that existed without any member of the team having any knowledge about any possible resolutions. However; it turned out to be slightly different. A key finding being that a puzzle for one team member was not necessarily a puzzle for others. It remained a puzzle for one due to lack of conversation and collaboration between team members. As soon as it was bought out, potential solutions were discussed and actions items identified.

The “risk” angle highlighted issues that team members were experiencing as individuals but rarely had an opportunity to bring it in front of the whole team. There were issues that belonged to more than one buckets, in which case we allowed the team to have duplicates across multiple angles.

The “wish” angle was all about inviting innovative ideas from the team to focus towards continuous improvement. The team thought outside the box and came up with great ideas.

What makes this tool effective is that it brings out the high priority issues that might have not have been noticed by the team. If the same issues exists multiple time as a problem under puzzle or risk and there are ideas to address it under the wish angle, the issue just emerges as the highest priority. The team can then choose to identify the top issues and define action items to address those issues.

Click here to see a detailed description of the technique and access the online version to use this tool with distributed teams.

 

Is release planning becoming redundant?

Talking about Agile projects, release planning used to be discussed about just as frequently as sprint planning or sprint review, however; lately I have observed teams not really emphasizing much on release planning to make it feel like something non critical.

For starters, release planning was looked at a formal release at the end of x number of sprints where x could be anything between 2 to 6 sprints. However today, teams that are trying to derive classic benefits of Agile release their code more frequently than ever before. I have known of teams releasing code every sprint to teams that release code multiple times during the sprint. I came across a talk about continuous delivery at Etsy where the code is released in production 35+ times each day. This equates to a release less than every 15 minutes.

Speaking about teams that deliver that often, its quite certain that not much time is being spent planning for what needs to be delivered 2 to 3 sprints down the line. Planning happens in a “just in time” manner knowing the immediate needs of the customer.

Thinking through, it probably is time to redefine the term “release planning” itself to refer it as a method that allows customers to realize  value on a continuous basis allowing for full customer involvement and speedy issue resolution or is it time to say “Goodbye release planning”?

 

Kanban and “On Hold” status

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Time and again I see Kanban boards with a “On hold” status. The justification for maintaining this status defeats the purpose of Agile completely. The most common ones include:

1. QA suggests that the story cannot be “In QA” status if defects have been found and the developer is fixing the same. Keeping the story in QA will paint a wrong picture around the time to get the story tested.

2. Developers have a issue keeping the story “in development” since the work was completed and the issue identified may not a defect but a change in requirement or maybe a corner case.

The reasons mentioned above are examples of lacking collaboration and team ownership. These concerns can be attributed to how metrics (lead time and cycle time) are calculated in a Kanban setup. Individuals get into a defensive when assessing cycle time as they think it is reflective of their individual performance and not about the team as a whole.

Imagine this happening in a car assembly line, no car would ever make it to the exit or best case we might have a car with certain key features missing as there seems to be no way of reversing the assembly. The key to the success of Kanban is about maintaining a manageable flow and as teams hop between stories and tasks, it is bound to impact the throughput of the team.

To summarize, it is imperative that teams look at tasks and stories as team goals instead of individual performance indicators. If a story cannot move forward, it needs to be taken off the line. There is no pit stops or reverse gear.

 

Agile Coaching, purpose and impact

Courtsey www.thecoachbusiness.com

You have been told about your next assignment as an Agile Coach. Your first reaction, check out the client website, you go to Glassdoor to get some employee feedback to assess the mood, get some company history and you are all set to hit the ground running.

The Agile Coach role comes up with its set of unknowns and that is what makes it fun, exciting and challenging. If you are a developer, you and your client know you are going to be writing code or if you are a Business Analyst, you and your client know that you are going to be gathering requirements. But if you are an Agile Coach, more often than not, your client knows very little about the end state where you want your teams to be before you sign off. So what are some of the things that an Agile Coach should be doing as you land into an alien world and what are some of the things that can potentially help create a solid foundation for an Agile adoption/transformation and make Agility the way of life. Here are some tips for :

  1. Investigate– ask direct questions to help you understand why management wants to embark on the Agile journey and surface any perceptions that the client might have about Agile methods, approach and end state. Informing the management on how Agile will impact them today and tomorrow will help setup a strong foundation for a sustainable Agile journey.
  1. Assess – Assessment drives decision-making and strategy. Every project and associated business is unique. The uniqueness can be driven by the market position, competition, volatility of business or simply maturity at the top. Coming into a project with a preset mindset of how Agility will be achieved is a recipe for disaster. An initial assessment should bring out details of key challenges that development or stakeholder or marketing is facing which in turn will help in selecting the right methodology to achieve Agility and derive its benefits. Remember, Agile is not one methodology; it is flexibility that facilitates adaptability.
  1. Observe – is the key characteristic of a great Agile coach. This includes observing management, teams and individuals. Quite often, start of an Agile transformation is a result of an individuals opinion which happens to be a ‘C’ level executive and is a decision imposed on everyone else in the organization.Since the success of Agile revolves around organizing, collaboration, teamwork and collective ownership, this is where the coach needs to bring in Agility for the management before taking it to the next level.  Looking for opportunities to coach, learn, and improve by observing the landscape is important for a successful adoption.
  1. Plan – Success of Agile depends on how individuals and teams are able to bring in the change in mindset and thought process. Experience suggests that implementing big changes tends to scare teams away. Also it impacts productivity since the focus shifts from task in hand to process change.Early assessment of teams in terms of their knowledge and maturity of Agile practices helps in defining a strategy for the change. In most cases I like to focus on process changes before jumping into the intricacies of the process including Agile engineering practices.The “Shu-Ha-Ri” approach is a great way to engage teams and individuals in effective and planned Agile adoption.

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  1. Connect – The effectiveness of a coach is driven by how it connects with the person he/she is coaching. In sport, a player or an athlete follows the instructions from the coaching based on the trust that the end goal is to achieve the best possible result. A lot of times the player might not believe in what the coach suggests but just follows instructions believing in the experience and knowledge the coach carries.  At the same time the coach understands the strengths and weakness of the student. This is where the connection between the two becomes critical. The coach explains the rationale behind each action that he wants the student to perform and constantly shares results that confirm improvement and progress that would result in motivation to persist.
  1. Inspire – Having worked with large IT services companies, I remember the time when duration of the assignment would decide the rating and potential salary hike one would get at the end of the year. The longer you hang on, the better it gets. Talking about a Agile Coach role, its the opposite. A coach’s effectiveness is gauged by how it manages the to inspire the teams embrace agility and get to the point when members of the team start coaching one another and produce value as a well oiled machine and becomes a habit.

Coaching is a great opportunity to be the impact. While the methodologies and techniques for process adoption are critical, the human skills play a much bigger role as you embark on this journey to help people see what they can be instead of where they are.

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