Agile Does Not Scale

The Agile Manifesto defines “agile” using 4 values and 12 principles. People embrace values and principles and act on them. Therefore, people are the practitioners…and people do not scale.

TheComputingScaleCo-KennyLouie-Flickr

TheComputingScaleCo-KennyLouie-Flickr

This is has been my thought process on scaling agile for a while, but I’ve often struggled to fully articulate this idea. Then I saw Gunther Verheyen’s recent post – “Agile and Scrum, actually”.

As a side note, I’m a big fan of Gunther Verheyen. I’ve mentioned his excellent book – Scrum: A Pocket Guide – many times on this blog. I follow him on twitter (@Ullizee). And his latest series of “actually” scrum posts on his blog site are fantastic.

Verheyen hit a beautiful note in the previously mentioned “actually” post that struck a chord with me.

“Values and principles are agnostic of scale.”

Awesome. He’s absolutely right. The scrum tactics, strategies, and practices are modified to align multiple teams working off of a single product backlog. But the principles and values stay the same and they apply the same way whether dealing with one team or many.

When adopting agile, the question really becomes:  How do the values and principles impact our organization?

The answer is important because when organizations try to “scale agile” they are really scaling their software development systems – their processes, structures, relationships, and practices used to deliver their products and services.

If they have not dealt with these impacts, their scaling efforts cannot possibly go well.

Question: What are your thoughts about scaling? Can teams successfully scale their systems and stay consistent with agile? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Help!!! My Sprint Review is Out of Control!

A past co-worker reach out distressed about their Sprint Review meetings running amuck. Too many participants, topics, and tangents dropped the value of the meeting down to zero. Clearly, the Scrum Master must get the meeting refocused, but what’s the best way to do that?

National Library of Ireland - Flickr

National Library of Ireland – Flickr

This team operates in a plan, build, and run model. In other words, there are people responsible for planning, people responsible for development, and people responsible for support. A problem with this model is the cost of transitioning work between the 3 teams.

In an attempt to lower the cost of the handoff, the build team (scrum team) decided to incorporate the transfer to the support team (run) during their Sprint Review meeting.

Not surprisingly, the participants in the Sprint Review meeting increased and the build team now struggles to complete the support transition in the 4 hour time box (4 week Sprints), let alone the actual activities that are supposed to be completed during a Sprint Review meeting.

From the Scrum Guide:

During the Sprint Review, the Scrum Team and stakeholders collaborate about what was done in the Sprint. Based on that and any changes to the Product Backlog during the Sprint, attendees collaborate on the next things that could be done to optimize value. This is an informal meeting, not a status meeting, and the presentation of the Increment is intended to elicit feedback and foster collaboration.

This means that the build team is not properly reviewing the current increment of software. They are not adjusting the product backlog to optimize the potential value of the next Sprint. And they are not collaborating with the product owner to get aligned for the next Sprint Planning session.

To solve this problem, the build team should add transitioning support of the new feature/story/bug fix to their Definition of Done. There are 3 clear benefits to moving the cost of this activity from the Sprint Review Meeting to the overall Sprint.

  1. Impact of the requirement will show in the team’s velocity. The build team should estimate their work knowing that transitioning the feature to the support team is part of the effort. This ensure that the cost of the process is known and can be discussed in real terms.
  2. Impact of the requirement will show in the value delivered. Similar to the value benefit, knowing the impact to amount of value a team can deliver in a sprint is another metric that can help guide better decision making and operational practices.
  3. The value of the requirement can be discussed in terms of impact to the organization. Having metrics replaces emotional conversations. Rather than argue that a transition meeting has zero value, the team can discuss the merits of the system in terms of value.

Perhaps most important of all is that the build team gets their Sprint Review meeting back. This meeting is critical for getting the team ready for the next Sprint and to ensure that product backlog is optimized and ready to be used in the next Sprint Planning meeting.

Bad Agile Management Burns Scrum Teams

Last month Giles Bowkett wrote a scathing blog post about scrum called: Why Scrum Should Basically Just Die in a Fire. It’s a provocative article that shows how damaging bad agile and scrum can be to a team.

Ms. Glaze | Flame | Flickr

Ms. Glaze | Flame | Flickr

I’m not going to go point by point and argue with Mr. Bowkett about his experiences with scrum. They are his experiences, and they are truly awful. I have sympathy for him and those who have been burned by a botched agile transformation.

With waterfall, teams know what they are signing up for at the start of a project. They know there will be problems and that a death march is likely. They also know that the date set at the beginning of the project is likely wrong, but still they soldier on.

But with agile and scrum it’s supposed to be different. The agile manifesto is a developer play aimed at making the lives of engineers better. Scrum specifically puts the team in control of how they accomplish their work. Everything should be great.

But often, it isn’t.

Mr. Bowkett makes this point by calling out many common scrum anti-patterns that he has experienced:

These are all valid – and unfortunately common – problems on scrum teams. However, the conclusion that he draws from the existence of these problems misses the mark.

In other words, in its best-case scenario, Scrum’s a dog-and-pony show. But that best-case scenario is rare. In the much more common case, Scrum covers up the inability to recruit (or even recognize) engineering talent, which is currently one of the most valuable things in the world, with a process for managing engineers as if they were cogs in a machine, all of equal value.

Rather than cover up individual inabilities, scrum exposes the bad practices of organizations. Quickly. Work becomes transparent, impediments become obvious, and old practices become extra painful.

The culprit here are manager who thought they were getting hyper-productivity for free. They want the benefits of scrum, without having to change.

Mr. Bowkett’s problem is with lousy managers, not scrum.

The agile community is also partially to blame. The tendency is to focus coaching and training on the scrum team. But it is the management team members that we need to be working on the most. Bad scrum cannot take root in an organization that embraces the scrum values from the top down.

Part of embracing the scrum values is accepting the twelve principles of agile from the agile manifesto, which Mr. Bowkett also railed against.

I don’t think highly of Scrum, but the problem here goes deeper. The Agile Manifesto is flawed too. Consider this core principle of Agile development: “business people and developers must work together.” Why are we supposed to think developers are not business people?

We’re not. The intent of this agile principle is the end the “us vs them” mentality between IT and “the business”. With Scrum, the expectation is that the product owner is co-located with the development team and available to answer questions about the product backlog items.

This isn’t a slight against the business acumen of developers. It’s a call for close collaboration between stakeholders and engineers. How else can the development team know if they are working on the most valuable features for the business?

Question: Have you been a part of a poor agile transformation? What went wrong? How could things have gone better? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Agile Coach Camp 2014 Was A Huge Success

During the closing circle of Agile Coach Camp 2014 our facilitator – Deb Hartmann Preuss – asked us: Which word described our experiences during the conference? The word that immediately came to mind was “humbling”.

CS | Share | Flickr.com

CS | Share | Flickr.com

Agile Coach Camp is an open space event. It’s an “unconference” where agile coaches network and develop relationships while inventing ideas, concepts and practices. The attendees come up with high-level topics and create their own conference agenda – better known as the marketplace.

They then gather around the topics that interest them and collaborate, plan, discuss, and dig deeper as a group to develop new “things”. You can fine more information about the open space concept here.

One of the interesting parts about this format is that the presenter is actually a facilitator. They are responsible for proposing a problem or an idea, but after that the session turns in to a dynamic group discussion.

At this year’s Agile Coach Camp, some of the biggest names in the industry showed up. People like Diana Larsen, Esther Derby, Don Gray, George Dinwiddie, and Tim Ottinger facilitated and presented alongside the other 90 participants.

While it was humbling, it was also amazing. Getting to exchange ideas with some of the best coaches in the industry was tremendous fun. That kind of interaction is simply not possible at the larger conferences. It is a level of sharing that I’ve never seen in a community.

In fact, many of the topics we discussed would not have made it in to the agenda of a traditional conference. Those events are filled with talks on metrics, agile tools, and scaling scrum.

At Agile Coach Camp, the focus is squarely on individuals and interactions and not process and tools.

To give you an idea of this, here are some of the sessions that I attended:

  1. Agile Game Mechanics (@paul_boos): A discussion on how traditional game mechanics – random event decks, dice rolling, character creation, quest mechanics, and action points – can be used to develop agile games and simulations.
  2. Conjoint Coaching (@gdinwiddie): Coaching teams as a whole and how to model behavior. Also a great discussion on observing teams and feedback loops to get to the core of what drives the way people interact on an agile team.
  3. Thinking for a Living (@tottinge): The challenges of breaking away from the factory mindset in an age where your job is to think, not assemble. We looked at how the brain works, how naps make people more productive, and even the best time to have a parole hearing (ego depletion example).
  4. BA’s Role on an Agile Team (@agilesquirrel): Where does a BA fit on an agile team? Should they be a scrum master or a product owner? Is “business analyst” a valid agile role? These questions and how to avoid a squirrel attack were covered in detail.
  5. Agile Coaching is Dead (@howardsublett): An incredibly honest discussion about whether or not agile coaching is a bubble ready to burst. We also dove in to the role that certification bodies play in the impending demise of the agile coach, along with what agile coaches can do to change direction and bring value to their customers.

The outcomes of these talks led to what many of us called “ideas too big to tweet”. The conversations were rich and we all walked away with new ideas and more importantly new friends.

This is now my favorite “unconference” that I will keep on my schedule for years to come. Next year Agile Coach Camp is in DC. I hope to see you there.

To read more about Agile Coach Camp 2014 and  the sessions you can visit the event log site here.

Question: Have you attended a conference that changed the way you look your work? Your life? Please share in the comments below. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

The Transition from Project Manager to Scrum Master is Hard

After years of following the PMBOK and delivering projects using traditional project management methods (waterfall) your organization has decided to try out scrum. What are you in for and how much is it going to hurt?

Business Man |Flicker

Business Man |Flicker

The short answer is:  a lot.

I once attended a one day workshop on scrum led by Ken Schwaber and a few other instructors as part of a Microsoft ALM conference. It was a great experience that made an impression on me.

Towards the end of the day, I asked one of the instructors which role a project manager should ideally transition to during an agile adoption. Many in the room were expecting to hear an answer of scrum master or maybe even product owner.

Instead he replied, “Perhaps a project manager could test code…but even that’s unlikely.

I was not surprised.

Having lived through the change from project manager to scrum master I understood the answer. Look, I know this is not what people want to hear, but it is very difficult to make the switch from a traditional project manager to a scrum master.

I’ve written about my struggles with giving up the command and control mindset. The pitfalls during this type of transition are many and you – as a newly minted scrum master – are giving up many of the tools and techniques that brought you success in the past.

In fact, I think it’s abusive to force traditional – PMP certified – project managers become scrum masters. The skills and mindsets are wildly different between the two roles.

For those willing take the leap and learn something new, I’ve come up with 3 thoughts to help you along when things get tricky:

  1. Servant leadership is all about enabling autonomy:  As a scrum master your highest goal is to foster a self-directing team. You are empowering people to make decisions about how their work gets done and thereby am creating the conditions necessary for people to do their best work. Daniel Pink’s “Drive” is a great place to start to learn more about this concept.
  2. Promote the whole team concept whenever possible:  The last thing you want to do as a scrum master is single someone out on the team. Your goal is to instill the mentality of “we are all in this together” whenever possible. Protect the team from outside influences and help them all row in the same direction.
  3. When in doubt, ASK THE TEAM:  You are no longer the smartest person in the room. Actually, you never were. Sorry. The team is smarter than any one person and is capable of figuring out incredibly complex things together. Not sure what to do next? Ask the team AND wait for an answer. Someone will eventually speak and a great conversation could follow.

Clearly, command and control is out the window. Scrum masters do not dictate how much work the team does. They also do not have direct authority over the scrum team members. But these are the tendencies that traditional project managers will have to fight against as they learn how to be a scrum master.

We learn scrum iteratively. My bonus tip is to practice introspection. After a difficult team meeting or a situation that you feel you could have handled better, take the time to think about how you will change things for next time. Becoming aware of your tendencies and behaviors is the only way to correct them and move forward.

A book to help you become a great scrum master is Geoff Watts book, Scrum Mastery: From Good to Great Servant Leadership. This is the guide to getting in to the mind of scrum master. My copy has copious notes and quite a few highlighter marks. Highly recommended!

Question: What was your experience like when you made the move to Agile? Do you have a tip that you would like to share below? You can leave a comment by clicking here.