Sunday, November 17, 2013

ScrumButt Test (6): Estimates created by the Team

Another installment on the ScrumButt Test.
So, the next item on the test says: “The Product Backlog has estimates created by the Team.”
Why is this important and what does it mean? Meaning first.

So, normally in Scrum estimates mean estimates of relative size/complexity in Story Points. See Mike Cohn’s book:

Each story (or at least any story in a Release Plan or Product Roadmap) needs a story point estimate. You can’t bring into Sprint Planning any stories without Story Points. No, no, no. (If the Story is discovered in Sprint Planning, that’s a bit different.)

And these estimates are created by the Team of implementors. Those who will do the real work.


Well, estimating my own work gives me much more motivation. And responsibility. And another reason to appreciate how my work interacts with the work of others. If the Story Points come from some other person or group, they don’t have the same feeling.  The same impact.

Yes, there is a downside. Not every Team is equally good at estimating. Yes, it’s true. But we are convinced that the negatives are more than offset by the positives.

Usually, though, only the Team knows what they really can or can’t do very well.  So, only the Team can do relative estimating.

Another key reason for this item on the test is how we will, later, use Story Points to know velocity. And how we will use velocity for many things, from which I will highlight three:
  • Tell some managers: “Look at our velocity. We are going at 20 work units per Sprint. Stop hoping and dreaming that we will go at 40 work units just because you want that. It’s magical thinking and it ain’t happening. And your trying to make it happen is just making things worse.”
  • Tell ourselves: “Folks, we’re going at 20 Story Points, but we need to do better. Let’s identify a top impediment and FIX IT. So that we can go 22 or 25. Now! (But not by working harder (more hours).) “
  • Face the truth. Velocity is a way to help us all face the truth. And take action. (Ex: With our impediments, the velocity is only 20 — someone is going to ask: “Ok, what do we do about it?”)
OK. That’s some commentary to start with. Now put your thoughts into action.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

What does it mean to be 'Ready'?

Jeffry Hesse wrote this blog post. And it inspired me to write the post below.

The new Scrum Guide says that PBIs (product backlog items) must be well-understood and granular enough (just before going into) for Sprint Planning.  And that PB Refinement is the process we use to get them to Ready.

Those are not quotes, but that is how I read it.  I think accurately.

Jeff Sutherland and I and others advocate the 'ready, ready criteria'.  Roman Pichler and others call it the Definition of Ready.  I am ok with either phrase.

So, what is it?

Well, like the DOD (definition of done), it must be specific to each Team.  Each Team must define one for themselves.  And they vary some, depending on many factors.

We want the User Stories (or PBIs) to be more defined than they often are for some 'agile' teams.  But this does not necessarily mean the voluminous documentation that many waterfall 'teams' have. (I put 'team' in quotes here because I never find that waterfall teams have anything close to the team feeling of agile teams, especially a good agile team. Nor the productivity.)

So, 'ready' is kind of a Goldilocks concept (like most things in life): not too little, not too much, just right. A balance.  We definitely want to leave some room for the Team to be creative during the Sprint.

The ready, ready criteria are similar to the concept of GIGO.  Garbage In, Garbage Out. Or rather, obviously, the opposite. We want 'good stuff' going into the Sprint, so that 'good stuff' can be completed at the end of the Sprint.

I conduct courses and workshops all the time, and I ask people: what do you want in your 'ready, ready criteria'?  The context is: Imagine we are having a short meeting about 1.5 days before the Sprint Planning Meeting. What are the things you want to review to be sure the 'top items' are ready, ready?  And we assume a 2 week sprint, with about 8 small PBIs (stories) about to go into the next sprint.  (Yes, I am making lots of assumptions that may not apply to you...)

Here are some of the things they say.  This is a super-set.  First, any list would not apply to 'every' user story you have.  Second, for your specific team, you might make this list longer, shorter or just different.  Suitable for your specific situation.

So, here are some of the things I recall them saying (that I agreed with):
  1. Is the US (user story) phrased well and completely (eg, the 3 parts)?  Do not forget the 'so that' clause.
  2. Does it match the INVEST criteria well?  (You remember them: Independent, Negotiable, Valuable, Estimable, Sized Appropriately, Testable.)
  3. Small enough? (Sized appropriately should have done that, but let's emphasize that one. A key issue for most teams -- stories are not small enough yet very often.)
  4. Acceptance criteria good? (These should cover the tests well enough.  If not, add another item.)
  5. Story points still good?
  6. Business value points still good?  (Relative business value points.  Explained elsewhere.)
  7. Questions answered? (Reasonable questions from the Doers.)
  8. Tech Issues addressed?  (One simple example: Android, iPhone, Windows Phone or all 3?)
  9. Enabling Spec good enough?  (A whole other discussion. Not for now. The blog has a post on this.)
  10. People-work match?  (Sometimes the PB has all Java stories for this sprint, but there is only one Java guy in the Team, and he is going on vacation for a week. Yikes!  Mis-match!)
  11. We still agree this is the best work for the next Sprint?  (Best considering everything, but especially business value.)
  12. Team Thumbs Up?  (I want everyone on the Team to give each story a thumbs up. This is a catch-all; if something is amiss that is not covered above, hopefully someone's thumb catches the issue.)
This of course is more work if we have just identified a new story (which should happen sometimes in real life).

If a couple of stories get rejected, the PO has another day to 'get his stuff together' to get them ready for the SPM (sprint planning meeting).

This meeting is one of the two meeting I like to have to do Release Plan Refactoring. This one is short-term focused. The other is 'long-term' focused. These two meeting go together.  We do not have one without the other.  We plan longer-term so that Sprints go better.  We do Sprints to fulfill the longer-term Vision. They go together.

This meeting (just before SPM)  requires that the PO 'get his stuff together' beforehand. For example, the acceptance criteria should already have been defined, and the question is: does the Team think they work?

And not all that work is done by him (or her) alone. But the PO is responsible.  It is expected that a few issues will be found.  The POs work is expected to be good, but not perfect. (Again, it is not solely the POs work; many others could have contributed.)

We have the assumption that every day we are learning, and every day things can change. Both for the good and for the bad, and for the 'bad' (eg, maybe good for the customer, but harder for us as a Team to deliver).  Hence, we have to have this meeting at the last responsible moment.  (Cf. the Poppendiecks.)  Just before the next sprint planning meeting, leaving some time for the PO to recover from some issues.

Are some of the issues or concerns above being addressed on other days during the Sprint?  YES!  By the PO.  In some one-off quick meetings.  In some pairings, maybe with business stakeholders.  Etc. Etc. Etc.  But this is the last time where the whole Team (together) reviews the stories about to go into the Sprint. It should be a fairly short meeting (about 1 hour).

Or, so I coach for most teams.

Are there other ways to do it?  Surely.  Are they more or less successful?  I don't really know -- I have not tried all the million other ways.  I see my teams having more success with my approach.  But honestly I do not have double-blind independent studies.  Do you?


Two points additional points:

The Team must be motivated to do this. And I would try to include some business stakeholders. By giving the Team the 'thumbs up?' vote, that tends to get their attention.

In a 2 week Sprint, I also like to do another meeting, in the first week, that addresses the Release Planning for the longer-term. That meeting is also typically about 1 hour. More on that later.


I hope you will give feedback. I hope you will try some of these ideas, and that they help you. And then give feedback again.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Impediment List - Charlotte Class Nov 2013

Here are the impediments that the Charlotte class identified:
  1. Too little transparency
  2. No finalized requirements
  3. No communication
  4. SME Availability
  5. Missing Required Technology
  6. Resistance to a common goal
  7. Unrealistic expectations
  8. Outside pressures
  9. Vague requirements
  10. Lack of resources
  11. Lack of money
  12. Bad estimates
  13. Hiding problems
  14. Not crying wolf soon enough!!
  15. Conflict (interpersonal)
  16. Lack of knowledge
  17. Technical debt
  18. External estimates
  19. Poor QA
  20. No Buy-in from Team
  21. Poor communication
  22. Organizational structure
  23. Dissatisfied Team members
  24. NOT collocated
Maybe these give you ideas about your Team.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Impediment List - Montreal Class

Here are the top impediments identified by the recent Montreal class.  There may be some things that are similar (a different person might be trying to say essentially the same thing, but for his team).  Maybe your Team will recognize some good things to work on:
  1. Team too small
  2. Under-staffed
  3. Loss of communication (with) customer, stakeholders
  4. Not dedicated teams
  5. Tech Debt / Bug creep
  6. Scope too big
  7. Too many discussions without action
  8. Short deadline
  9. No scope / (no) clear requirements
  10. Bad estimates
  11. Lack of time
  12. (Lack of) product definition
  13. No internet connection
  14. Communication issues (Team)
  15. Time zones
  16. Priorities / specifications [I'm not quite not sure - ??]
  17. Interference (Other tasks / projects)
  18. Lost ownership
  19. Constant team changes
  20. Lack of support from Execs
  21. Unrealistic schedule
  22. Bad risk management
  23. Bad change management
  24. Scope is changing
  25. Scope creep
  26. Needs evolved (team not aware)
  27. Changing scope
  28. Constantly changing requirements
  29. Unrealistic amount of time
  30. No team communication
  31. No teamwork
  32. Lack of knowledge / skills
  33. No communication with client
  34. No feedback
  35. Short deadlines
  36. Imposed deadlines
  37. Micro-managing
  38. Lack of interests
  39. Limited budget
  40. Budget too small
  41. Unrealistic schedule
  42. Lack of tools
  43. Lack of communication
  44. Didn't stick to method
  45. No methodology
  46. Scope too big
  47. Scope change
A couple of things that I noticed.
First, I asked them to identify the key root causes that lead to project failure. From their real experience.
Second, I asked "What are the biggest 1 or 2 impediments for your team now?"  Sometimes that identified new things that came out with the first question.
Now, this can happen for many reasons.  But one thing this tells me -- if you ask the question a different way, you get different answers.
They hear it differently each of these ways:
  • what are the possible root causes for our failure (if we were to fail in this project)?
  • what are our biggest impediments now?
  • what do we need to change to double our velocity (without working any harder, no more hours)?  Assuming we could change anything around here.
You may mean the same thing, but they hear it differently. And respond differently.
Fix the most useful one thing first.  Usually small incremental steps of improvement.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Scaling, Part 2

Here are some additional patterns to consider when Scaling.

For now, consider that I am using a narrow definition of scaling, to mean only, collocated teams working together on one product in a fairly tight way.

1. Upfront Work.

To over-simplify, if we create any product, we plan, we build, we release.  That is the simplest pattern.

And, often, especially with 'greenfield' products, we have to do some 'upfront work' along with the planning.  This is true even with one Team.  I call that work I-A-D.  Infrastructure, Architecture, and Design.  There are many names for it, and the exact nature of the work can vary a lot depending on the nature of the product. And god knows, there are lots and lots and lots of variations for how people are doing this work currently.

There is so much to say about I-A-D.  Let me say only a few things here, today.

One, we must keep it small, but which now I mean mainly small in duration. It is so easy to 'take-off' 6 months to do a perfect architecture, as an example.

Two, it must be tested incrementally.  All knowledge work should be tested quickly after the knowledge is created.  And re-tested and re-tested.

Three, as we scale, we must accept that, ceteris paribus, we usually need more of it than with a
smaller effort.  Or an effort with fewer people.  It, for example, has to be documented somewhat more.

Four, we want 'everyone' in the 3 scaling teams to know 'everything' about the I-A-D.  Well, as soon as I say that, you see our dilemma.  Getting all 21 people on the same page about the I-A-D is a 'knowledge management' nightmare.  But, as soon as we have scaling, that's what we want.  So, using common sense, we do things to help the knowledge appropriately spread throughout the Group (the 3 Teams).

Ok, for today I feel I have said enough.  Good people, with common sense, can execute on those ideas.  But it is true that many of us need more detailed patterns, even for only 3 teams.  More on that later.

2. Coordination of Sprint start and end dates

In general, it appears to be a good pattern to have all Teams in a scaled group start and end their sprints on the same day (or days).

Why?  Well, they have to be coordinated together.  In part, this means that they must receive feedback together.  And then use this feedback together.

Yes, I entirely understand that this pattern, as much as it helps, also presents problems. How do you actually do it?  What is the same person needs to be in 3 meetings at the same time?  Etc, etc.  Still, it seems to be the better pattern.

Both in theory and in practice. If it makes you feel better, think of it this way: this pattern sucks the

3. Changes to Sprint Planning Meeting

As soon as you scale, you want all 3 Teams in your Group to be at one Sprint Planning Meeting. But then you have roughly 25-30 people in one meeting, and a meeting that size always sucks.

So, what to do?

Clearly (from experience) you cannot have each Team working alone, in their own Sprint Planning Meeting with no 'outside' influences.  Also, clearly, having a whole day meeting with 25-30 people is very very hard.

The usual solution is to compromise.  That is, spend part of the day as a Group.  And part in individual Teams.  I like starting as a whole Group.  And ending as a whole Group.  And maybe a middle whole Group meeting where you review the stories selected for each Team.

4. Changes to Sprint Review

As soon as we scale, and we want to have the Sprint Reviews for each Team on the same day, someone says: "How can we do that?  We need the same people, or many of the same people in every Sprint Review?"  Which usually is a correct observation.

So, we use common sense.  There are many similar answers, but I'll suggest what my colleague Catherine Louis calls the Science Fair approach.  You probably did this as a kid.  Each kid or team had a table in a large room, maybe the cafeteria.  And all the parents would file in over 2 hours, and the judges too, and look at each of the 'exhibits' or 'experiments'. And go back and forth.

And that is the idea.

So, each Team continuously demos its features.  At a separate table.  And the CPO (chief product owner) and the POs (the product owner for each of the 3 teams) and the BSHs (the business stakeholders for all 3 teams) all move from table to table, trying to see what has been done, how it fits together (or doesn't), and deciding how to give the best feedback.

And in fact, team members also shuttle amongst the tables, trying to see what has been done by our Team and the other Teams, and how it all fits together and what it 'means'.

As you can see, doing this well requires some skill and experience.  And you can imagine the self-organization that also takes place each time.  And in ways that cannot be predicted.  People will see issues and identify inter-relationships that could not have been anticipated beforehand.

In any case, hard as it is (and in some ways, it is easy), we recommend the Science Fair approach.  It takes somewhat longer, but it pays dividends.

We also recommend that each Team have a short 'review' discussion. And that the whole Group have a 'review' discussion. Probably a short Group review at the beginning, and then again, at the end, to review the overall feedback and its implications.

If only scaling were simpler!   For that matter, people!  You know, if we could only get rid of those pesky customers, things would get a lot better real quick!

That reminds me of the most important advice about scaling: KISS.  Or, as Einstein perfectly expressed it: "All things should be made as simple as possible, and not simpler."

Lean-Agile Resources

We have put together some Lean-Agile Resources on this page. Please give us your feedback and suggestions.

Scrum Values

All of you should be aware of the Agile Manifesto and the Agile Principles.

To me, they are not perfect, but they are an excellent expression of many of the key ideas behind Agile.  And we should be thinking about them every day.  They require thought and common sense to consider how they should be applied on a day-to-day basis.  And explanation.  Yes, I meant every day.  In part because we humans so easily forget, and in part because the opposite ideas are also quite deeply embedded in us.

Now we come to something that I have not been discussing nearly as much.  The Scrum Values.  They are here.  Rather than being ideas about how Scrum or Agile works, they are more guiding ethical 'laws'.  A bit more like the 10 commandments from Judaism.

I guess in theory Ken Schwaber, their author, wants you do follow these while you are doing Scrum.  But really, as you read them, if you believe them, you should be doing them 'all the time.'

Let's list the key words: Commitment and Focus, Openness, Respect, and Courage.

To me, for most humans, they seem like great things to strive toward.  And things about which I will always be making mistakes.  If I am honest.

I encourage you, at least while you are doing Scrum, to consider them, and to try to follow them to the best of your ability.  And to help your colleagues follow them.

To err is divine, to forgive human. So, encourage your colleagues to follow them. And don't forget, also, to forgive yourself for your own failures.


Ken Schwaber, in a recent blog post here, compares the Scrum Values to the values (and also principles) articulated by Kent Beck, in his book Extreme Programming Explained.  I definitely recommend Kent Beck's book, and its chapters on Values and Principles.