Tips for an awesome daily standup

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If you are a part of an agile team, you probably are doing daily standups (daily scrum), right?  As many things in life go, repetition can cause something to be less and less enjoyable, even to the point of dread. If the grind of the 3 questions (what did you do yesterday, today, and what are your blockers?) has got you down, here are some tips to optimize your daily standups.

1.) Start on time – Even if everyone is not there on time.  This may seem counter-productive, but who wants to wait around every day for 2-5 min while people wander in with their Starbucks or like to take a bathroom break every day before standup?  If you consistently start on time, people will get the hint that they need to be on time or will always be late.  Also, This rewards those who tend to be on time more often than not.  If you really want to have fun with it, start a standup tip jar.  every minute late you have to throw in a dollar to pay for the team’s beer run. 🙂

2.) Standup – There is a temptation to walk into a room, put down and open up your laptop, and settle in with a warm beverage.  This is a sure fire way to drag out your standups. By standing up people are slightly less cozy and more apt to get down to business and move on with their day.

3.) Do not turn standup into a status reporting session – In my opinion, the standup should be more focused on the plan forward than going over what took place in the past. There is often value to sharing what you’ve done if it helps share knowledge and communicate that you’ve completed something.  I always try to go by the 80/20 rule for standups. Let me explain: Only 20% focused on the past and 80% of your update focused on the present and future. another way of saying it is to spend 80% of your time discussing your plan forward and any impediments in your way.

4.) Be inclusive of remote team members – This could be a completely separate blog post, but here a few of the most important suggestions I can make.  First, use video if at all humanly possible. You lose so much in translation without seeing someone’s face. Next, consider having someone at the location where the team is mostly co-located be on point to making sure the remote folks are considered.  I’ve worked on many distributed team, and it’s very challenging to keep them in mind unless you are intentional about it. This article from Leading Agile has more great tips.

5.) Utilize a parking lot – if you or your team has a challenge with going deep into solutions at standup, it’s probably time to start using a parking lot.  Or as I’ve heard some people dub it, “The after party”.  If a conversation has gone too far into the weeds someone should propose it get’s added to the parking lot.  Quickly write it down on a sticky note, etc.  Then after everyone has given their update have the folks who need to keep discussing the parking lot item stick around.  I’ve worked with some coaches/scrum masters who are very legalistic about the parking lot. I say, use common sense.  If the team wanders into the weeds once and a while it’s fine, don’t shut it down.  But at the same time, you don’t want 7 team members that don’t need to be involved to have to sit through a conversation that could be had by 2-3 people.

6.) Streamline standup with other agile events if possible – Here is an example: You have a two-hour backlog grooming session from 1PM, then standup at 4PM.  Do you really want the team to go back to their desk to try to work for an hour, then go to standup?  I sure hope not, because context switching is costly and to be taken seriously!  The team should think ahead to try to minimize this context switching when possible.

7.) End on time or early – For a team for 6-12 I highly suggest going NO longer than 15 minutes for standup. And as we know tasks often expand to the time allocated.  This is why it is important to keep the conversation moving so you can finish early or on time, every time.

8.) Try mixing up the format once and a while – I was on a team once that did “third person Thursdays” where you had to give your entire update in the 3rd person.  It still accomplished the goal of standup but it was a fun way to mix things up. Another thing you could try is have team members attempt to give an update for the person standing next to them based on what you think they did and are going to do.  This method is slightly less productive but still fun. If your standup is in the morning, try surprising them with donuts or gourmet coffee once and a while.  Another thing you could do is a brief quiz at the end of standup. “What did Suzie say she was blocked on?” The first person to answer get’s a $5 Starbucks gift card.  I think you get my drift…mix it up!

I’d love to hear your ideas and experiences on how to make standups rock, and keep them from sucking!

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A Guide To Backlog Grooming

Photo Credit: Leanpub.com
Photo Credit: Leanpub.com

Backlog grooming is an activity many agile teams perform each sprint. This is the process of adding detail, estimates, and order of priority to items in the Backlog. This is an ongoing process in which the Product Owner and the Team collaborate on the details of Product Backlog items. During Product Backlog refinement, items are reviewed and revised.  The Product owner is responsible for having stories ready for grooming, and the Scrum Master is responsible for making sure the stories are groomed before sprint planning (via backlog grooming).

What is Backlog Grooming?

  • Removing user stories that are no longer relevant or needed
  • Re-assessing the relative priority of stories based on emerging information
  • Applying estimates to stories which have yet to be estimated
  • Correcting estimates based on newly discovered information
  • Creating new user stories in response to newly discovered needs by the team, product owner, or customers
  • Splitting user stories which are high priority but too large to fit in an upcoming sprint

Grooming will allow for:

  • A better understanding of user stories
  • Identification of dependencies and potential gaps for stories
  • User Story estimation for upcoming and future sprints

Product Owner’s Role

The Product Owner’s role in backlog grooming should start before the actual meeting. The PO will need to make sure that the stories are already prioritized. This is vital to making sure the team’s time is used to groom the most important items first. The PO should also add acceptance criteria or user acceptance test cases to stories as appropriate, depending on how soon each story will be pulled into a sprint. Backlog grooming should not be done without the PO.

Scrum Master’s Role

For this project The Scrum Master will schedule the meeting and take care of any other logistics.  The Scrum Master should also be in contact with the PO before the grooming session to make sure the stories are ready to be groomed.  Backlog grooming can be done without the SM.

The Team’s Role

Having the team involved with grooming is imperative.  While the PO has a great deal of the content identified up front, the team can help round out the technical aspects, dependencies, and other considerations.  With the team’s help, the acceptance criteria can be modified and expounded upon.  If the team has the ability to even briefly review the top upcoming items, its ideal.

What’s the potential impact of not having backlog grooming?

  • Your stories will not be prepared for sprint planning.
  • The connection of work items to big-picture vision will grow stale.
  • A dev may be looking or hearing about a story for the first time as they are having it assigned during sprint planning. This typically can increase ramp up time.

Who Should Attend Grooming Session(s)

  • Pre-Grooming: Discipline Leads (UX/Component), Product Owner, Scrum Master (OPTIONAL)
  • Grooming: Same audience as above and including all Dev members and the QA teams.

Just Getting Started?

For the initial 1-2 sprints it’s suggested that both Pre-Grooming and Grooming sessions take place.  Cadence and details below:

Pre-Backlog Grooming

(Optional but highly recommended during early stages): A more focused group review to prepare stories for the full team grooming sessions. Goals:

  • Review story scope
  • Identify blockers and agree on an plan of action to unblock items
  • Ensure the stories contain the minimum needed information to the team to be able to discuss and estimate.

Pre-Requisite: Product Owner has reviewed stories for Pre-Grooming and they are ready for review.

Timebox: Try to have 30-60 min planned each sprint for pre-grooming .

Backlog Grooming

A collaborative discussion and elaboration of user story details and estimates.  All stories on the agenda won’t always be estimated as some will require additional discussion / decisions. Goals:

  • Stories should be understood by all members of the team
  • Blockers should be closed or workable
  • Stories should be ready for sprint placement

Pre-Requisite: Product owner has reviewed stories for  Grooming and they are ready for review.

Timebox: Try to have 1-2 hours planned each sprint for grooming. For teams that are new to this you may want to plan for 2 hours and finish early if you get through everything.

Back To Basics

After your backlog begins to take on a level of refinement, you may find that it’s no longer necessary to have two separate backlog grooming meetings.  A great indicator for determining this would be to ask the following question: “Are all of the stories for the next two sprints containing enough detail that the entire team attend grooming without wasting time?”

Questions?

If you made it this far, you’ve consumed a lot of information.  Feel free to comment with questions or some suggestions you might have.

I want to use agile, but my organization doesn’t want to

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Fear not agile warrior, you are not alone and help is on the way.  They are many situations where someone just knows that agile could help or even change the face of the entire company if utilized…yet someone or many people within an organization are opposed to the idea.  So what should you do?  First off what are some reasons someone would be against agile?

  1. The’ve been on a team where agile was used, and failed.
  2. They don’t know enough about agile or have misconceptions.
  3. They don’t believe agile is right for their organization/product.
  4. They’ve worked with an Agile Coach/Scrum Master/Consultant that was not very good at their role.  Yes, not everyone does their job well…even in the wonderful agile community.
  5. They are from the past (I kid…I kid! That was an IT Crowd reference)

Now for the part you really came to this blog post for: What are ways I can help my organization adopt and/or support agile?

  1. Start emphasizing agile principles in whatever work you are doing. As a consultant that works on a wide array of projects with a variety of methodologies, I’m often tested with how to apply principles on a personal level. Getting out of the theoretical and nitty gritty practical application is a great exercise towards see if/how agile could work at your organization. If this is something you feel is “out of your league” or you just don’t have the time to do, it’s OK.  There’s other ways to makes strides towards becoming more agile.
  2. Propose solutions to problems from an agile perspective but without using agile lingo. Some people are just turned off to agile terms and immediately roll their eyes when you say “backlog grooming” or “daily scrum”. But if you are able to problem solve using agile principles you could begin to win over even the harshest of critics.
  3. Create a mini scrum board for tracking your own work. I heard a story of a person who was trying to advocate for their company to adopt agile, and started doing a scrum wall in a shared space.  Pretty soon scrum boards were up all over the company.  Some were labeled “Inspiration wall” or “Wall of vision”.  Everyone from IT to Sales was using them. Baby steps can be better than no steps, right?
  4. Contact consulting companies. See if they would be willing to share about agile within your organization.  Some consulting companies will do this for free because it’s a great way for them to help your cause, as well as demonstrate their expertise in this area should you need their services down the road. Or see if they are willing to just share free resources with you.
  5. Join user groups and contribute to the agile community. There have been times where my primary daily function was far from an agile focus, but I was able to stay energized by attending local groups or writing blog posts in my personal time.  Also, sometimes effective reflection comes when you are looking in from the outside.
  6. Find a new opportunity.  (Please take this with a grain of salt as it’s just my opinion.) This for many reasons isn’t the first option anyone would like, but it may be the right solution. As the industry seems to be moving more and more towards adopting agile, it’s less likely that a company is just flat out rejecting agile. It could be that they proclaim to use agile but it’s very broken or dysfunctional. These kinds of situations can cause stress if you are a firm believer in the agile principles. But is the disappointment or stress consistently outweighing the rewards or satisfaction experienced? If yes, it may be time to look for new opportunities.   Robbie Bach wrote a relevant article you may find useful called “Knowing When To Walk Away

What about you? What advice would you have for someone in this scenario?  I’d love to hear what other people have done or are doing.

MBP #1: Become More Agile By Doing Less

Micro Blog Post #1:

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What Is An Agile Process? An agile process is simply ANY process that adheres to the principles of the agile manifesto. When the founders of the Agile Manifesto got together to create it and the principles, they asked what they were doing right. When working to continually improve do not simply focus on what where you need to improve. But look at what you are doing right and try to do more of that. Keep it simple and your agile teams will flourish. Becoming more agile doesn’t necessarily mean introducing more processes, it could just be focusing more intently on what is working.  Who knows, maybe you can become more agile by doing less.