Category Archives: Scrum

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Scrum a Smart Travel Companion – Verheyen

In the last 20 years Scrum has proven itself to be the market standard framework for organizations working Agile. Despite this tremendous success many organizations still find themselves in the middle of an Agile transition. The Scrum beginner and professional both have an ongoing need for a short descriptive overview of the framework. For both target audiences the book “SCRUM a pocket guide – A Smart Travel Companion” is a useful tool in the world of Scrum.

The first version of this book appeared in 2013. Now, six years later the second edition has arrived. It has been polished a little bit and the cover also has had a makeover. The overall appearance is a bit larger in the second edition, but this makes the reading easier and holding the book handier. Verheyen is still affiliated with scrum.org and very active in the Scrum field. He is a well-known trainer, author and consultant.In roughly 90 pages he directs the reader in four distinct chapters from the root of scrum to the rules of the game itself, followed by the application of the latter. The book concludes with a short consideration on the future state of scrum.

Chapters:
1. The Agile paradigm
2. Scrum
3. Tactics for a purpose
4. The future state of Scrum

The need of leaving behind the old way of working is combined with the start of Agile thinking in chapter one. Without rambling Verheyen paints a clear picture of the biggest challenges and problems when transitioning into an Agile way of working. Especially the firm statements on Agility not being an end-state are refreshing.

In chapter 2 the author positions Scrum as a game with the intent to maintain control over the software delivery process in complex environments. As with other games, ground rules are in place to be followed by all participants. Whilst the rules aren’t many, it requires a great deal of discipline of the players to adhere to them. The reward of the rules and discipline is an unleashed flow of motivation, self-steering and problem-solving capabilities within Scrum teams.

Practical – and for many readers possible an eyeopener – are the examples in chapter 3 covering mandatory rules versus possible usage of good practices. The team’s freedom to choose and experiment with these practices provides insights in the power and adaptability of Scrum. Even the more seasoned Scrum professionals sometimes assumes that certain topics are prescribed and must be followed. Just because they have seen these in other teams or organizations. Verheyen meticulously explains the placement of the boundaries of the rules next to the fields of options and practices in the game.

At the end of chapter 3 a few paragraphs are dedicated to the scaling of Scrum in larger setups, like for multiple teams or products. Surprisingly common scaling frameworks like DAD, SAFe and LeSS are absent. Even Nexus Scrum.org’s own initiative to join the scaling frameworks is still not mentioned. Although the ideas and patterns described are almost identical to that of Nexus. Perhaps this was a conscious decision. A choice that does keep the focus solely on Scrum.

In the final chapter he provides a short perspective on the evolution of Scrum in organizations in the – near – future. Upstream, as he describes, Scrum has the potential to rise above development teams and come in use within management, product development and eventually in entire organizations.

Conclusion

The book is a swift read and on occasion touches other Agile frameworks. The true value of the book is its strong focus on the rules of Scrum. Due to the concise writing it is very suited for both the beginning Scrum enthusiast as well as the more experienced professional or manager who is looking to refresh the knowledge at his fingertips. The book has been around a few years already, yet it is still one of the first books I would recommend for people diving into Scrum! You can finish it easily on a slow night and provides enough thoughts to bring to the job the next day.

Filled Under: agile,book review,scrum,software development Posted on: 27 March 2019

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Het SCRUM Modellenboek

‘Het SCRUM modellenboek’ levert datgene wat de titel uitdraagt. Een verzameling modellen die goed toepasbaar zijn in omgevingen waarin Scrum gebruikt wordt. Rik van der Wardt heeft 41 meer en minder bekende modellen verzameld, beschreven en gebundeld in deze uitgave. Zijn doelgroep bestaat naast Scrum Masters in principe uit iedereen die met Scrum of een andere Agile organisatievorm in aanraking komt, zowel binnen als buiten de IT.

In “Het SCRUM Modellenboek” schotelt auteur Rik van der Wardt de lezer een bord vol nuttige modellen voor die gebruikt kunnen worden bij het werken in Agile teams. Laat je niet misleiden door de titel die wellicht het zwaartepunt legt op Scrum. Verreweg de meeste van de modellen zijn in algemeenheid geschikt voor het werken met teams en zeker in een Agile omgeving. De auteur komt zelf overigens niet direct uit de IT maar is werkzaam voor met name niet-IT-organisaties.
Waarom is dit boek handig? De theoretische basis van Scrum, gecodificeerd in de 19 pagina’s tellende Scrum guide, is zeer beperkt. Dit kan de indruk wekken dat het toepassen van Scrum eenvoudig is. Niets is minder waar. Juist het invullen van de ruimte die dit framework biedt is een van de meest uitdagende zaken bij het inzetten van Scrum. Bij het tackelen van die uitdaging kan dit werk gebruikt worden. Of het nu de rituelen, het teamspel of de interactie met management betreft, er is een model voor handen om je te helpen.

Dan de indeling van het boek. In de korte inleiding wijdt de auteur een aantal alinea’s aan de oorsprong en kracht van Scrum. Hierna volgt een schematische weergave van de modellen op Scrum-rollen en -rituelen zodat de lezer gericht op onderwerp of interesse door kan bladeren naar een bepaald hoofdstuk. De opbouw van de hoofdstukken en dus modellen volgt een vast patroon. Eerst wordt het doel van het model geformuleerd gevolgd door gebruiksvoorbeelden. Deze gebruiksvoorbeelden zijn geschreven in het format: Als een Wil ik Zodat ik . Een leuke knipoog naar de wijze waarop User Stories vaak worden opgesteld. Hierna wordt het model in meer detail toegelicht, in totaal trekt de auteur 4 pagina’s uit per model. Dit maakt dat je als lezer snel een idee hebt over de toepassing en inzetbaarheid. Wil je meer weten dan word je op weg geholpen door een aantal referenties ter afsluiting.
Een persoonlijke greep uit de modellen om een indruk te geven. Voor alle Scrum rituelen is er in ieder geval één model beschikbaar in de vorm van een checklist. Zo zijn de meest voorkomende valkuilen afgedekt en de mechaniek van de rituelen geborgd. Natuurlijk zijn bekende teammodellen aanwezig zoals: de teamrollen volgens Belbin, het Johari-venster van Ingman & Lyft en de pyramide van Lencioni. Erg handig als je op zoek bent naar invalshoeken om de samenwerking in teamverband te versterken.

Er is ook plaats voor Nederlandse inbreng in het boek, met name op het snijvlak met management. Zo is model 3 gewijd aan het Scrummen van je Strategie. Hierbij zet de auteur de feedback loop in van Sjors van Leeuwen om management in staat te stellen een wendbare strategie voor het bedrijf op te stellen. In model 19 wordt Management 3.0 van Jurgen Appelo, ingezet om een toepasselijke managementstijl te ontwikkelen. Hierbij worden tevens dwarsverbanden gelegd met andere modellen in het boek.
Een tweetal modellen die voor mijzelf nieuw waren zijn GROW-coaching (model 13) en SOAR (model 32). De eerstgenoemde kan ingezet worden voor doelgerichte coachinggesprekken op individuele- of teambasis. Wanneer je het acroniem uitschrijft krijg je zicht op de verschillende stappen en zie je direct de focus op het behalen van een resultaat (Goal, Reality, Options, Way forward). Het heeft vooral naamsbekendheid gekregen door het boek van Whitmore in 1992 Coaching for Performance. Ook SOAR betreft een acroniem, Strenghts, Opportunities, Aspirations en Results. Dit model is prima geschikt als kapstok voor een retrospective. De nadruk wordt gelegd op de sterke punten van een team en het uitbouwen van deze punten door ze te koppelen aan concrete acties.

Conclusie

Het Modellenboek leent zich prima als inspiratie voor de beginnende Scrum enthousiasteling. Maar ook voor de ervaren Scrum-professional zullen er voldoende interessante modellen inzitten die direct toepasbaar zijn in het dagelijkse werk. Natuurlijk zijn niet alle modellen nieuw en toegegeven, sommige modellen (checklists) zijn wellicht wat ‘licht’ om echt als model geclassificeerd te worden. De kracht en toegevoegde waarde van het boek zit hem echter in deze enigszins bonte verzameling en het feit dat de meeste modellen breder kunnen worden toegepast dan alleen bij Scrum!

Over deze recensie
Deze boekrecensie is tevens verschenen op www.managementboek.nl.

Filled Under: agile,book review,scrum,software development Posted on: 12 February 2019

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Dilbert still struggles working Agile

In my previous blog featuring Dilbert in 2016 – Dilbert saves the Agile day – we elaborated on a few of the challenges he encountered. Now 2,5 years later, new ones have arrived. That is why I have made a short selection of observations I had in the area of Agile team management. Let’s continue our journey and see how DevOps and Agile are working out for our friends…

‘One Dilbert still says more than a thousand words.’

1. Not my job
Dilbert_not_my_job

Two of the pillars in the Agile universe are autonomy and ownership of teams. With great power comes great responsibility. So, when you are part of a DevOps team and you have the responsibility for a production environment, you should know its health. Good teams will take the necessary steps to get the information needed and act upon it. However, this philosophy is not only applicable for teams. It is also true for Scrum Masters, Product Owners, Team Manager or any other role. For example:
– Scrum Masters should know when the team is feeling down or is experiencing difficulties in its delivery process.
– Product Owners should know, which features are being used and how the accumulated technical debt will impact future development.
– Team Managers should know the top three impediments their teams are facing and where they need help.
The fact that sometimes you simply don’t know, is not bad in itself. As long as you perceive this as an indication to get informed. “I did not know” is not an excuse, it is your job to know.

2. Who actually need good engineers?
Dilbert_worthless_employees
Although the percentages are perhaps steep, bottom line is that I have seen this a few times in practice. It requires strong leadership and vision on skill and people development to keep your employees in shape. This responsibility works both ways. In my opinion, employees should be equally accountable for their personal development. As part of a good feedback cycle from peers and managers, people should develop a fair insight in their own capabilities. Companies and departments are in trouble when management attention is lacking or is too weak. In that case you are at risk of employing workers with deteriorating skill sets that have less and less value. Developing a continuous learning culture is vital in software companies who are rapidly moving from Scrum to DevOps and beyond. I would like to see teams, Scrum Masters and managers team up for this challenge!

3. That’s just not Agile
Dilbert_That_is_not_Agile
At times you find yourself being part of a discussion that doesn’t seem to make sense while the people surrounding you seem to think otherwise. A topic I find particularly intriguing is the popular phrase “That is not Agile”. It is like you can silence all questions or discussions with that one line. I am a strong believer in the Agile way of working. However, at times you need to understand that change – especially cultural change – does not happen overnight but requires small steps. It is not a terrible thing if some stuff does not feel a 100% Agile, yet. For example, it can be very fruitful to have that extra check or coordination in place when lots of teams are involved in releasing a new software version. I favor the idea of experimenting and enlarging team’s autonomy. Especially when team basics are in place and embedded in the right organizational conditions (that last part is not meant as rigid as it may sound). Remember, being Agile is not a goal in itself, it remains a means to an end.

4. Please don’t use that language here
Dilbert_twizzle_the_flurm
“My manager has absolutely no idea what I am doing all day” it is not the first time that I have heard that sentence. It is part of a recurring discussion I have with Scrum Masters, engineers and my fellow managers. How much knowledge, insight and hands-on experience does a manager need in order to lead a group of well-trained engineers? I don’t dare to think that there is only one truth, as always it probably depends. Without speaking too much to the choir, I can only elaborate on my own experiences as a manager and Scrum Master. It has helped me a great deal that I have a technical background. On the other side I have seen some talented colleagues without any technical background, working outstanding without any problems. Technical background or not, teams have their own responsibility in transparent communication; they have to be able to explain what they are doing and why it is important. And not only in bits, bites and flurm but also in a comprehensive manner so Product Owners, customers, users, business colleagues and managers are well informed.

5. Agile strategy in place, check
Dilbert_Agile_strategy
As all companies seem to be going Agile it is normal that employees need information on the actual changes in their company. Whether you are introducing Scrum or trying to move to DevOps, people will want to know what the impact is going to be. What does it mean for my role, my team or my career path? The people – or team – in charge of the change should be able to explain the new expectations towards the teams and individuals. What are the responsibilities, tasks and accompanying authorizations? Even more interesting, how is the balancing act envisioned of team freedom & mandates on one hand and organizational governance on the other. The expressed desire to make teams more autonomous often contrasts with un underlying basic lack of trust. As a result, in practice teams are not being allowed to act autonomously. It all comes down to breaking free from previously existing structures and organizational boundaries. A major shift has to be made in the managerial aspects of leading teams and delegating decision making to teams.

Many companies are well under way in their Agile journey. At times it proves to be difficult and challenging. Thank God Dilbert is here to make us laugh along the way…

Copyright:
[1] DILBERT © 2019 Scott Adams. Used By permission of ANDREWS MCMEEL SYNDICATION. All rights reserved.
[2] DILBERT © 2018 Scott Adams. Used By permission of ANDREWS MCMEEL SYNDICATION. All rights reserved.

Filled Under: agile,interim management,scrum,software development Posted on: 8 February 2019

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Agile – Rini van Solingen

“Agile” is de eenvoudige maar heldere titel van het nieuwste boek van Rini van Solingen. In deze bewerkte verzameling van eerder verschenen artikelen laat Van Solingen zijn licht schijnen op veel voorkomende Agile-uitdagingen waar organisaties voor staan. Vanuit verschillende perspectieven benadert hij de vraagstukken en dat maakt de doelgroep van het boek dan ook breed.
Managers, Agile trekkers en veranderaars kunnen dit boek als overzichtswerk zien en de handreikingen gebruiken als inspiratie of startpunt voor vervolgonderzoek.

Rini van Solingen is geen onbekende auteur in het Agile werkveld. Eerdere publicaties van hem zijn – naast zijn verschenen artikelen – onder andere: “De kracht van SCRUM” en “De Bijenherder”. In zijn nieuwste werk “Agile” verbindt hij eerder verschenen artikelen met elkaar tot één geheel. In twintig hoofdstukken neemt hij de lezer mee in zijn praktijkervaringen en observaties die hij in de laatste 9 jaar heeft opgedaan. De inzichten die hij biedt tonen geen utopisch beeld waarin de sky-de-limit is. Zo nu en dan zelfs het tegenovergestelde. De voorbeelden van moeizame of tot stilstand gekomen transities spreken meer tot de verbeelding dan een bloemlezing over de potentie en de best geslaagde voorbeelden uit de praktijk.

Agile_recensie

De hoofdstukken zijn kort, bondig en mooi vormgegeven met passende illustraties. Het boek leest prettig, met name omdat de schrijver scherp formuleert. In grofweg een halve dag ben je het boek van voor tot achter door.

Inhoudsopgave:
1. Het waarom, wat, wanneer en hoe van agile
2. Gaat het de juiste kant op?
3. Wendbaar door afmaken
4. Gevaren van agile
5. Scrum of agile?
6 Is agile haastwerk?
7. Agile transformaties
8. Valkuilen van agile transformaties
9. Agile cultuur
10. Agile leiderschap
11. Agile besturing en structuur
12. Product Owner valkuilen
13. Kwaliteit door autonomie
14. Hyperproductieve agile teams
15. Agile op grote schaal
16. Agile PI Planning
17. Agile opdrachtgeverschap
18. Agile en fixed-price
19. Automatiseren van herhalend werk
20. Agile schatten met Planning Poker

Een volledige beschrijving van de hoofstukken gaat deze recensie te buiten. Ik noem enkele opvallende aspecten.
De introductie en uitleg van het Ralph Stacey model in hoofdstuk 1. Hierin wordt uitgelegd voor welke type werkzaamheden, Simpel, Gecompliceerd, Complex tot Chaotisch, Agile werken een goede aanpak is. De schrijver laat zien dat Agile het beste past bij gecompliceerd werk ten opzichte van een alternatief als Lean, wat beter werkt bij gecompliceerd – planbaar te maken – werk.

Het uitvoeren van een Agile transitie brengt vaak frustraties en teleurstellingen met zich mee. In hoofdstuk 4 wordt een aantal veel voorkomende gevaren benoemt die hieraan ten grondslag liggen. Twee daarvan zijn voorkomend maar vaak onvoldoende zichtbaar voor de buitenwereld, of de mensen die een voortrekkersrol bekleden in een Agile verandertraject. De eerste betreft de randvoorwaarden die niet, of onvoldoende, door management of directie worden aangepast. Als deze er niet zijn zullen de medewerkers en de organisatie als geheel niet in staat zijn de verwachte cultuuromslag waar te maken. De tweede heeft betrekking op de rol van de Product Owner in het Agile gedachtegoed. Veel organisaties verwachten te snel te veel van de mensen die deze rol invullen. Zonder ook voor hen de juiste voorwaarden als training & opleiding en mandaat te scheppen. Wat is een mooier voorstel dan de verandering naar Agile aan te pakken op een Agile wijze? In het laatste deel van dit hoofdstuk wordt deze “Paradox van gecontroleerde flexibiliteit” helder toegelicht.

Hoofdstuk 15 draait om het Scalen van Agile naar meerdere teams in grote organisaties. In de praktijk zijn hiervoor diverse frameworks beschikbaar met meer of minder adoptie en ondersteuning vanuit de markt. De auteur benoemt hier echter alleen SAFe, als meest bekende en populaire framework. Mijns inziens doet hij daarmee alternatieven als LeSS, Spotify of Nexus, en hiermee de lezer, net te kort.

In het boek is ook aandacht voor de meer projectmatige of hardere kant van zakendoen, hetzij via aanbestedingen hetzij via andere contractvormen. In hoofdstuk 18 wordt besproken hoe fixed price contracting past binnen een Agile werkwijze. De auteur komt met voorbeelden en maatregelen en maak zo inzichtelijk dat deze twee beter samengaan dan menigeen verwacht.

Conclusie

Bij een nieuw boek over Agile rijst al snel de vraag naar de toegevoegde waarde ten opzichte van de bestaande literatuur. In dit geval zit de kracht van het boek vooral in de heldere uiteenzetting van de tips, maatregelen en voorbeelden die voor specifiek vraagstukken relevant zijn. Doordat de vraagstukken soms een zekere mate van overlap kennen kun je als lezer een gevoel van herhaling krijgen; dit is echter niet storend. Dit geldt temeer omdat je niet lineair door het boek hoeft te gaan, je kunt praktisch in ieder hoofdstuk beginnen op basis van je eigen behoefte. Kortom, een overzichtelijk Agile naslagwerk en handig startpunt bij concrete vragen of probleemsituaties.

Over deze recensie
Deze boekrecensie is tevens verschenen op www.managementboek.nl.

Filled Under: agile,agile projectmanagement,book review,scrum Posted on: 12 January 2019

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Kanban in de praktijk – Growing Agile

Focus aanbrengen en zaken daadwerkelijk afmaken voordat je aan iets nieuws begint. Het klinkt zo eenvoudig, maar in de praktijk blijkt dit toch lastiger dan gedacht. Met – het van Japanse origine zijnde Kanban – kun je deze uitdaging te lijf gaan.

In het boek Kanban in de praktijk leggen Karen Greaves en Sam Laing stap voor stap uit hoe je Kanban voor je kunt laten werken. Er is geen technische of praktische voorkennis benodigd, het boek is voornamelijk gericht op beginnende teams en organisaties.

De auteurs hebben vanuit hun bedrijf Growing Agile inmiddels al een aantal publicaties op hun naam staan. Ze beschrijven steeds concrete thema’s uit het Agile werkveld. Zo ook Kanban in de praktijk, de Nederlandse vertaling van Kanban Workbook uit 2016. Aan de hand van het fictieve hoveniersbedrijf Growing Garden nemen Greaves en Laing de mogelijkheden van Kanban door. Door de geleidelijke opbouw, zonder gebruik van jargon of bijvoorbeeld IT-gerelateerde termen, is dit boek geschikt voor iedereen die met Kanban aan de slag wil om meer te doen in minder tijd.

Inleiding
Hfd 1. Werk visualiseren
Hfd 2. WIP en pull
Hfd 3. Doorstroom verbeteren
Hfd 4. Expliciete afspraken
Hfd 5. Samen verbeteren
Bijlage – Personal Kanban
Bijlage – Het vliegtuigspel

De verhaallijn is duidelijk. Er wordt een gezamenlijk project gestart door Linda, Ellen en Joost, tussen de reguliere werkzaamheden van iedereen door. De drie besluiten Kanban in te zetten met als doel dat het werk, het schrijven van een boek, daadwerkelijk afkomt. In elk volgend hoofdstuk leren onze hoveniers dat er best nog wat verbeterd kan worden aan de opzet die zij tot dan toe gebruikten. De leercurve die zij meemaken zie je ook vaak in de praktijk terug, met trial en error ontstaat een werkwijze die passend is voor situatie.

Qua theoretische volledigheid zit het boek goed. De basisprincipes worden uitgelegd en daarna komen vaste onderdelen aan bod: initiële Kanbanborden, WIP-limieten per persoon of kolom, creëren van Pull en spelregels. Het geheel wordt aangevuld met praktische tips, voorbeelden en vragen voor de lezer. Op deze wijze rol je eenvoudig door een scala van opties en kun je de beste opties voor je eigen situatie bepalen. De suggestie die de auteurs geven om na ieder hoofdstuk zelf met de aanpassingen en vragen aan de slag te gaan, is nuttig. Zo ervaar je direct wat voor- of nadelen van bepaalde keuzes zijn.

Daarnaast hebben de auteurs in het verhaal een aantal bekende kenmerken van Scrum aan het gebruik van Kanban toegevoegd. De dagelijkse Standup, Retrospective en Definition of Done zijn ingebed. Zij hebben deze practises hiermee onderdeel gemaakt van Kanban, logisch want deze Agile practices zijn hiervoor prima geschikt. Puristen zullen zeggen dat zij hiermee feitelijk ScrumBan beschreven hebben. Deze samenvoeging doet echter niets af aan de waarde van het verhaal en sluit aan bij de ontwikkelingen in de praktijk. Zo heeft Scrum.org vorige maand een publicatie uitgebracht waarbij Kanban wordt beschreven als werkwijze binnen Scrum teams. [zie https://www.scrum.org/resources/kanban-guide-scrum-teams].

In de bijlagen van het boek zijn tevens twee extra’s opgenomen ‘Personal Kanban’ en ‘Het vliegtuigspel’. De laatste sprak mij het meeste aan en geeft snel inzicht in de kracht van Pull. Probeer deze eens uit met je team en je zult zien wat het effect is van een kleine aanpassing in werkafspraken.

Conclusie

Kanban in de Praktijk is geschikt voor iedereen die weinig bekend is met de werkwijze Kanban en graag met concrete voorbeelden en/of stappen werkt. Mocht je een vlotte lezer zijn dan bestaat de kans dat je het boekje binnen een uur uit hebt. Dat is geen ramp, in dat geval ben je waarschijnlijk ook al bekender met de materie en kun je wellicht met een aantal tips direct aan de slag.

Over deze recensie
Deze boekrecensie is tevens verschenen op www.managementboek.nl, meer informatie over het boek of de auteurs is te vinden op www.growingagile.co.za.

Filled Under: agile,book review,kanban,scrum,software development Posted on: 6 April 2018

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What I gained from 100+ retrospectives

Nothing teaches better lessons on retrospectives than running retrospectives in practice. In this blog I will share personal lessons on retros and some ideas for alternative structures. The first four topic describe mindsets and things to consider during preparation or follow ups. The latter four provide ideas on alternative retro formats.

Boy-scout-approach: It is okay not to have life changing outcomes of the retro. Small steps count very much in the overall picture. If every retro would produce a live changing outcome, all teams would be top notch by now. Why not use a boy-scout-approach: each time you sit together try to leave the room in a slightly better shape than you came in. It is just like Uncle Bob advises programmers to do before checking in code.

No absolutism in having one: It is also okay to skip the retro occasionally, for example when the whole team wants to work on finishing an important feature in a sprint or simply because a lot of people are not in. This forms no problem just as long as this is incidentally and not structural.

Attendees & information: Some teams and Scrum Masters are really outspoken on who should or should not attend their retrospectives. My personal ‘ground rules’ are:
– Always invite and encourage Product Owners to join in;
– Let management know they can sometimes join, I only invite them directly when needed;
– Actively share the outcomes of the retro with PO, teams and management.
For me it is a healthy sign if Product Owners like to participate and have a genuine interest in being there. In general, the same holds for occasional attendance of line management or perhaps even project managers. In case of the latter two, their role should be kept equal to that of the team members or should be that of an observer. Although when teams don’t feel safe anymore, you should reconsider the setting and check what is hindering the team. In case (project) management or Product Owners show no interest in the outcomes, this indicates a gap in involvement and should be addressed. Of course, there is a mutual obligation to inform, but management should have a basic interest in the teams.

Historical perspective: Save the teams retro outcomes in a form, so you can see what is happening over time. Not just to check if actions and outcomes are put to effective use. If you have done this a few times for multiple starting teams, you see some patterns emerging. For example, in the type of topics discussed during retros. Knowledge, team spirit, basic rules on the Agile Way of Working are all topics to be found for starting teams. More importantly, you can see if topics reoccur and if topics in general relate to more process or enhanced improvements. These insights enable you to think about the ‘why’ of these reoccurring topics and appropriate actions.

Team-coffee: After a sprint went sour, it could work just to have a team-coffee and let people spill their guts and let their frustrations run freely. Change of scenario helps in getting people in the trusted zone to talk. No need for a formal routine, just write down what you hear and do a summary & wrap up of what you have heard to. If you feel more comfortable with increased structure, you can follow the steps of lean coffee to steer the session, see: lean coffee.

Communication & personalities: Working on team collaboration and being able to understand each other’s dos and don’ts can add real value. I have created an easy format to help teams through a session by prepping and explaining themselves. The personal test results are not interesting to me – although sometimes the combined results of a team can tell you a few things – but it certainly is a nice personal pitch starter. By allowing everyone to share their own characteristics people often surprise each other. For more info on the format see: retrospective-team-communication-and-personalities.

Feedback & speed dating: For teams who are a more familiar with each other, you can try a setup for providing and accepting feedback. Step one would be to share some basic rules and theory. And of course, invite people to provide each other feedback. Mind that this usually does not mean people will start doing it. It seems giving feedback is not that easy. A little trick here is to setup a retro like a speed date session. People sit in one-on-one sessions and give each other a tip and a compliment on their work in the team. This will help team members overcome the first hesitations to share their thoughts. To conclude everyone can present the top-tip he or she received to the group.

Retro tools: In some situations, you might be part of a co-located team. The team could be spread across a building, city or even across countries and time zones. Working in these teams requires extra energy and work from everybody. This is especially true for sessions like a retro where discussions and interactions are the foundation of valuable outcome. Some tools support distributed retrospectives like retrospectives-tool-for-distributed-retrospectives. Even when you are perfectly sitting together, the change in format by using a digital tool can be fun.

Additional reading:

samples.leanpub.com/funretrospectives-sample.pdf (retro formats)
leanpub.com/50quickretrospectives (retro formats)
www.mountaingoatsoftware.com/blog/a-simple-way-to-run-a-sprint-retrospective
(basic explanation of running a retrospective by Mike Cohn)

Agile Retrospectives – Making Good Teams Great (Esther Derby & Diana Larsen)
Coaching Agile Teams (Lyssa Adkins)
Large-Scale Scrum – Chapter 14 (Craig Larman & Bas Vodde)

Special thanx to Stefan Jansen for letting me use the retro picture as he is the only person recognizable in the collage. Furthermore, the teams of Zoover, Weeronline, PGGM, Info Support, Softelligence and FourCorners have very much contributed!

Filled Under: agile,scrum,software development Posted on: 9 March 2018

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Retrospectives: tool for distributed retrospectives

Little gem for distributed retrospectives!
In recent years, I have worked with distributed teams occasionally. In an early team an eager colleague, Stefan Kemp, created an interesting responsive web application to support retrospectives in this team setup. That is already 5 years ago. Up until this week I have been using his app for different customers and teams. Let me walk you through it and share my enthusiasm.

Step 1: Getting organized
As a first-timer you create your account and you can register a new team straight away, go here: retrospective.rhea.infosupport.net. Once you are in, you can invite your fellow team members via email. Then you can plan your next retro and instruct everyone that the retro app is going to be used – and more importantly – is already waiting for the first items! There are three types of input awaiting: positive items, improvement topics and flowers to thank team members or other involved teams or persons.

Step 2: The retro
Usually the Scrum Master drives the retro, but in theory anyone can guide the team through the session. It works best if you have shared audio and a shared screen. In that case, everyone can see what is happening on the same screen . Depending on your organization’s tool-setup these can be facilitated by different technical solutions (e.g.: Skype, Polycom, Communicator or Hangout).

Before you start it is good to check if everyone was able to provide the input before the session. If not, you can take a couple of minutes to do so. Another approach would be to let people do it on the spot when it is their turn. When started, one person at a time explains his or her inputs and places these onto the shared canvas. In case people have prepared the same topics, these can be grouped together. If any item is no longer valid it can be deleted. After everyone has finished, it is time to vote and give the last sprint a personal rating. The voting and rating can be done on the screen or by personal device (tablet, phone or pc). For the mobile devices an easy access a QR-code is presented so everyone can get to the mobile version available in an instant.

The voting and rating result in an ordered list of improvement topics to discuss. Each topic can be given concrete actions and remarks. The actions can have a responsible team member assigned to it, or the team as a whole.

Step 3: Wrap up
Once you have discussed enough topics, or the time is up, you can finish the retro. The Scrum Master can send everyone the outcomes of the retro, so actions can be taken into the next sprint or picked up immediately. In the next retro you can start by looking back at the open action items and check what the results are.

Conclusion

The supported flow and functionality is pretty much that of a default retro with everyone available in the same room. The app itself is very easy to understand, usually after one first retro everyone is fully up to speed to use it to its maximum the next time. Even if you don’t have a distributed team the tool can be used. Either as the default modus operandi or as a change of retro scenery. Thanks Stefan!

Top features include:
• A very swift set up for your team, including invitations
• Adding your personal input throughout the sprint
• Easy format during the retro, including grouping and voting to reduce the numbers of topics
• Emails to remind your team of upcoming retro’s and the outcomes of them
• Some nice charts and trends related to team characteristics

Filled Under: agile,scrum Posted on: 9 January 2018

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Retrospectives: communication & personalities

Some time ago, I experimented with some team retros to start discussion and exploration on our communication and the team’s personalities. After a few tries I came up with this small format. It helped me and my teams getting a swift feeling on each other’s do’s & don’ts and to create a general team vibe. You can use this format either at a new team formation or whenever you are looking for an alternative retro.

Invite & preparation
This format starts with an explicit invite and personal preparation. Thinking on your individual story and using the results to formulate your ideas before the session gives people a head start and saves time during the session. In case new topics do come up, you can always still on-board them on the fly. For the Scrum Master this phase means collecting and preparing all the inputs and making sure they are available during the session.

Retro_invite

The actual retro
All team members do their personal pitch with the help of their preparation and a personal page provided by the Scrum Master. Sometimes teams are a bit shy to start. So it can be a good idea as a facilitator to start by setting the example and presenting your own slide. Usually other team members will come up with questions and then the session is kick started easily.

Retro Individual Slide

Team overview
After everybody has had his turn, you can present the team overview. The more diverse the better. A picture can tell a story but the value for me is in the interaction and flow that is created during the retro. Besides, most teams like to see their team picture! Based on the kind of tests you have selected for your team, you can get different options for visualization of course. There is no need for expensive material or assessment centers. Start with the options that are easy to use and for free (like the ones I have used).

Team Slide Personalities
Note: in the end it does not really matter which tests you use. This approach as such helps people thinking and talking about themselves. Although the graphs merely act as conversation starters, they do tell you a thing or two about the team……

Have fun!

Filled Under: agile,scrum Posted on: 11 December 2017

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Visualization helps Agile Teams & Organizations

Transparency is one of the corner stones of great Agile teams and organizations. If that is the case, isn’t it strange that so many teams have little outwards visualizations? Not only teams benefit from visualization, but also management and other stakeholders could gain direct insights from the information presented. In this blog, I will discuss visualization from different perspectives using my own checklist as a starting point (see at the bottom of this blog). At the end, I will share a few pointers to get you started.

The eight examples on my checklist are a nice start. Depending on your team or department characteristics, you can probably add a dozen others. Some at least as important as the ones on the list. However, the true value for me lies in the dialogues and questions that arise from them instead of the – more fundamental – discussion on which items should or should not be on the list.

Team perspective
Let’s start with the team perspective. The first reaction and question that usually pops up is: for whom are we visualizing? Unarguably, it should be for ourselves and our stakeholders. So, if we do it for ourselves, we need to have information radiating that is important and useful for us. In my opinion, all topics on the checklist should matter to any given team. If not, there is a chance something is off in the basic way the team is functioning and/or supported by its organization. Do it, pick one topic and argue that it is not important for a healthy routine of your team.

The second reaction from teams can come from two directions: “we don’t have that information” or “it takes too much time to gather it”. Both arguments are excellent starting points for valuable discussions – during retro’s or just over coffee. Not having the information means that your team is flying in the dark. Either the product or the company’s road map is not clear or perhaps the feedback loop for continuous improvements is not implemented. If collecting these basic team drivers takes too much time, chances are that tooling is not in place or not used correctly. The reactions mentioned in this paragraph are indicators that the Way of Working can be improved.

Management perspective
Let us shift to the managerial perspective. In more Agile oriented organizations this perspective often leads to a different reaction compared to the ones above. “My teams are self-organizing, self-managing or self-supporting, so they decide what is shown and needed.” Wrong! As long as managers are responsible for their performance – either hierarchical or via a more servant-leadership – it is their job to have an interest in these subjects. If not, they’ll have a tough time explaining what added value they have for their teams and thus their organization. For example, how can a team manager not want to see Impediments or improvements made by his or her teams? In addition, teams often need directions and coaching on organizational goals and drivers. Outward visualization helps the process of aligning the organizational goals and the Way of Working of the teams.

In practice, it can be challenging to implement and decide on the most useful visualizations for your teams or department. Remember it is good to try things and ask around who is interested in what information. Or as a manager, discuss with your teams what the goal and improvements are from an organizational point of view. If done right, the information not only benefits the teams, it is also a source of information that could substitute numeral status meetings.

Stakeholder perspective
The third and last perspective is that of the stakeholders. Top priorities for stakeholders usually contain the question: “When is this or that feature finished?” By showing this information crystal clear in the team area, the team provides the stakeholders with direct insight. Moreover, it helps by building confidence and making the team predictable for its environment. Perhaps the expected date example is a bit simplified. How about this one: create a good Story map of the current product (iteration) and put it in a visible place in the area. Make sure you add significant release dates, in case you don’t go to production in every sprint yet. Now, the timeline has its own functional context which makes clear what the stakeholders can expect. For teams, it is good to adjust to the stakeholder’s needs. Thus, especially as a Product Owner you should invest in what the stakeholders would like to see and hear from the team. Also, be confident to use visualization and communication forms you have seen working before.

A few pointers to get started
Responsibility: who’s responsible for visualization? When teams just start, most of the times it is the Scrum Master who begins with Burn down charts and Impediment boards followed by other more Scrum – or process – related information. In my opinion, it should be a Scrum team effort. In other words, everybody – also the Product Owner – is using the team area to show road maps, examples or key metrics. This will stimulate the philosophy that if it is important for the team, we put it up there. Anyone can decide or try to use some new metric or insight. This does not mean that other stakeholders cannot let the team know what they would like to see.

Gemba walks: one practice that provides insights to all stakeholders is doing Gemba walks across multiple team areas. Don’t ask how things are going straight away. Instead, look around and see what the information presented is telling you. I have used this technique also with colleagues visiting other teams. Besides entertaining it is an easy mechanism to share practices and bring teams a little closer. A Gemba walk might be a catalyst for explorations on visualization benefits for teams, managers and stakeholders.

How to show: I did not elaborate on the form in which information is shown. That is on purpose. Depending on the team, tools and context, you’ll get different outcomes. The fact that I am not a great sketch artist results in more print outs for my teams. In companies with big screens available in team areas you can have as much metrics and info on the screen as you would like. In some companies on the other hand, there is a strict clean desk policy and very little information is allowed to radiate from team areas.

Conclusion

The discussions and feedback from teams and stakeholders can be as valuable as the visualizations themselves. So, make sure you are aware of their thoughts and needs before mounting all kinds of information to the walls. Depending on your role you can initiate the dialogue with or within your teams in diverse ways. Use the checklist, the Gemba walk or any another conversion-starter in your team or department to explore the benefits of visualization. I am curious to hear your experiences and/or remarks. The discussion and feedback from teams and stakeholders can be just as valuable as the visualizations themselves. So make sure you have these before you start mounting all kinds of information to the walls, or demanding this as management.

Visualization
Download the one-pager: Visualization helps Teams and Organizations

References

There is a lot of information out there, so I added just a few examples to get you going:
[1] www.infoq.com: Visualize Agile https://www.infoq.com/visualize-big-picture-agile
[2] Ben Linders: Visualizations https://www.benlinders.com/visualization-team-deliver-value/
[3] www.thoughtworks.com: Story-mapping https://www.thoughtworks.com/story-mapping
[4] Toolbox for the Agile Coach – 96 Visualization examples, Jimmy Janlén, 2015
[5] Coaching Agile Teams, Lyssa Adkins, 2010

Filled Under: agile,agile projectmanagement,kanban,scrum Posted on: 1 September 2017

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Product Owners! What is dominant on your Backlog: Urgent or Important matters?

Product Owners have a great responsibility in prioritizing the work on the Backlogs. Their role can hardly be underestimated. How about some support from the past? Decades ago Eisenhower made a quote on important and urgent matters. His idea has transferred into a matrix used to prioritize personal actions. Can Eisenhower’s priority matrix help Product Owners in prioritizing backlog items? I think so. In this post I will combine Eisenhower’s ideas with those of Agile product backlog management, and a little wild life.

Eisenhower’s matrix
In short, Eisenhower’s matrix focuses on four distinctive quadrants created by the two viewpoints – urgency and importance. The goal is to determine someone’s priorities [1][2].

Urgent matters: require immediate attention. If possible you should act on these matters now. Important matters: these relate to long term objectives and need constant focus. When combined this leads to the following overview and actions:

Eisenhower Matrix

Now let’s transpose these quadrants to backlog management in an Agile environment. All work on the Backlog can be qualified according to Eisenhower’s quadrants. But what is the optimum setup for your Sprint Backlog? Is there any? Based on the model, I will discuss a set of situations which are all taken from projects and teams I have worked with over the years. In these situations, teams are working on Product Backlog Items that primarily originate from one of the quadrants. To make teams easily recognizable, they all have a different nickname which sticks out.

 

1. Orange Firefighters, brave and busy
Agile firefighting dog

If your teams are busy working on the urgent important issues or new work of this category is entered each running sprint, it seems like your teams are firefighting. This is only a good thing when a) there is an actual fire and b) – more importantly – they can extinguish the fire. If this pattern is more the rule than the exception, changes are something is not OK. This could relate to your production environment, either the applications, the infra, people handling it, or all. Try to look for the root causes and fix those, via the regular process of course. Instead of focusing on optimizing the fire-hoses and firemen. Although your teams are working on the top priority work items, there are risks and down sights. For example, every Product Backlog item which is refined or taken in the sprint and pushed out by the orange firefighters, has been a waste of time. Moreover, the company’s short term future may get hurt if this situation occurs for too long a time.

PROS: working on top priority items, CONS: waste in preparation time, pressure within teams, ATTENTION: should not persist for long, focus on fixing root causes!

 

2. Blue Coyotes, opportunistic
Agile Coyote

Sometimes teams are working on urgent but not important issues sprint after sprint. These teams are the so-called coyotes. This scenario also raises an interesting question. Are those issues really urgent? If you and your team tend to say no, there should be a dialogue. Re-discuss these issues with your stakeholders and try to balance them out with your company’s important stories. In practice it is more convenient to work on topics that are urgent to our stakeholders now. However, don’t go for convenient, but invest in discussions and long-term goals.

Okay, so are you done when the answer is yes? Well, sorry, no. If this situation is continues for a long period of time, it could be a sign that you are understaffed. Not working on the important issues, could be a serious threat to business continuity on the long term. Perhaps you can consider to appoint a temporary team that can eliminate the ‘pile’ of urgent stuff, which is in the way of working on the important stories. However, one thing should be in place before you scale up: a clear vision on what is actually important. This may sound like a no-brainer, but more than a few Product Owners are struggling in identifying what is really contributing to the company’s future.

PROS: satisfying to stakeholders, CONS: not working on the long run, ATTENTION: are backlog items really that urgent or is there too much stuff in the way?

 

3. Green Tortoises, steady but a bit boring
Agile Tortoise

The third scenario reflects the mindset of the tortoise. Namely, where the majority of the work directly relates to important backlog items. Good for you, you keep the company or department in business. However, you might be missing out on immediate revenues from low hanging fruit. Why not optimize your SEO rank now and then, or eliminate that bug 80% of your users are complaining about? These small improvements won’t harm the long-term objective and they do give you a change to help users, increase the short-term cash-flow and satisfy a few stakeholders along the way. Like their nickname, these projects or teams can be a bit boring and move slowly towards a certain ‘old age’ or goal. In their journey, they could lose the connection with the rest of the organization when results are not made visible in the meantime. Besides that, if these projects entail migration without new functionalities, also the teams can get bored. They may benefit from the diversion of small improvement stories.

PROS: working on the mission of the company, CONS: in long running projects stakeholders can get detached, ATTENTION: room for quick wins along the way?

 

4. Well… Black Dodo’s
Agile Dodo

If you have teams working on the black stuff, something is off. Perhaps you are way overstaffed, or backlog management is in utterly disorder. Avoid this situation at all costs. When nothing changes soon these teams will become extinct…

PROS: none, CONS: waste of time and energy for all, ATTENTION: immediate action required!

Balancing act, rhythm and focus

Do you feel like you are getting mixed signals now? You are right. This is the arena where great Product Owners can stand out of the mediocre crowd. If they are able to balance the Product Backlog with the stakeholders and find a rhythm together with their team(s) to ensure enough focus, you have a winning combination. Relevant questions to be answered are: Who is your most important stakeholder? And how are competing stakeholders managed? What is most important for the customer and the future of the company?

A predicable heartbeat helps the team and PO in delivering on regular intervals. Yet, it also promotes alignment in the rest of the organization. The characteristics play an profound role in the optimum heartbeat. For example, if you are part of a true DevOps team, you know ad-hoc work (important and urgent issues) will emerge and that is part of your sprint routine. In another case you might have a more component oriented team, building stuff for other teams.

If you only have one development team available, the balancing act of shifting priorities becomes more precarious. The team can feel comfortable working on multiple topics in one sprint and it is not forbidden to do so, as long as there is enough clarity and stories are really Done at sprint’s end. However, most teams benefit from focus during the sprint, so when possible, craft your Sprint goal on one or two categories only. You could for example spend one sprint on urgent matters and the next two or three on the important trajectory. In general, true orange stories are always executed asap. When multiple teams are involved you can have more flexibility and for example rotate duties between teams every few sprints.

Last thoughts

So, Eisenhower can help in identifying certain wanted or unwanted patterns in your current Product Backlog. What it cannot do is provide the ‘correct’ distribution. That task is still meant for the Product Owners and their teams. I am curious, what kind of wildlife represent your teams currently and how is your Backlog setup in terms of Eisenhower’s quadrants?

References

[1] Eisenhower: http://www.eisenhower.me/eisenhower-matrix
[2] Eisenhower: http://www.businessinsider.com/dwight-eisenhower…..
[3] Coyote: https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coyote
[4] Tortoise: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tortoise
[5] Dodo: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dodo

Filled Under: agile,scrum Posted on: 14 April 2017

Mission statement

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How? Try to improve something small everyday..... In management, in coding or life.

Learn from anybody

Be aware that every colleague, teammember or friend is capable of something that you are not.

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Failure is the only way to success, so fail fast and fail often, especially in software development.