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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Start With Scrum?

“Start with Scrum.”  Have you ever heard someone say this?  I’ve heard this statement multiple times over the years when folks are talking about agile transformation, and it rubbed me the wrong way.  The problem is, I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. In many ways, it makes sense right? Scrum can help someone wrap their mind around work decomposition, shorter feedback loops, retrospection, and being connected to the customer more through user personas. But why are so many teams struggling to find agility with scrum? I think I finally can explain why I think this approach isn’t the right thing to do if your end goal is agility.

1 – Scrum is a framework and agile is a mindset.

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Source: Michael Sahota

Last year when I was presenting at the Global Scrum Gathering, we borrowed from Michael Sahota who said something to the tune of “If you adopt agile practices you could see a 20% benefit. If you adopt an agile mindset you could see 300% benefit!” So many people I meet that are interested in agile for their organization just want the benefits but without the mindset shifts needed to get there.  I don’t fault them for that because when you look at the Agile Manifesto it reads out very well and sounds like positive things for most rational people. What is sorely missing is the “counting the cost”. If becoming agile as an organization was as simple as doing some training and doing the Scrum Events, there wouldn’t be agile coaches.

2 – Scrum is so 1990’s.  (just like these awesome “hackers” in 1995)

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Look…I love scrum.  I really do!  It’s something that opened up a doorway for me to be exposed to agile manifesto which has changed my life and career aspirations.  But, while I was working on a blog post entitled “The History of Agile” it dawned on me that Scrum was a response to waterfall. And it was a tremendous leap in the right direction away from fixed cost/scope/timeline type projects.  Then came along the agile manifesto which was a response to scrum and the various flavors of agility frameworks sprouting up. But we need to look ahead and allow the agile mindset to lead us into the great unknown.  Ron Jeffries, one of the great original thought leaders in agile even said “I may have invented points.  If I did, I’m sorry now.”  The point is, we need to inspect and adapt as technology changes, culture changes, and people change.

Here’s another awesome 90s picture just because I found so many great ones to use for this article.

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3 – Training wheels can create improper habits.

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I was listening to a presentation by Joshua Kerievsky last week and he told a story about teaching his daughter how to ride a bike. He said that many people talk to him about how Scrum is like training wheels for their organization to adopt agile.  He pointed out though that training wheels don’t actually teach you balance, they just teach you how to steer and peddle.  He took his daughter to the park one day and had her learn how to ride a bike by keeping her feet of the peddles and just pushing herself and lifting her feet to learn the balance.  She quickly got comfortable with keeping balanced which is typically the hardest part of learning how to ride a bike.  And in no time she was ripping around on the bike!  What’s the lesson here?  You don’t always need training wheels to begin your journey towards agility.

In conclusion, starting with Scrum may not be the right strategy for your team(s).  My personal guidance as an agile coach is to only start with Scrum if you envision something close to Scrum being your destination. And even in that is your situation, always start with trying to adopt an agile mindset before trying to implement a framework. By doing this, you are allowing your organization to tap into their creative potential, untethered to just one framework.

The History of Agile

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The timeline above contains some key moments in the history of agile, and some other interesting events taking place at that same time for reference.

  • 1970 – Waterfall Model was created (by Winston W Royce.) Interestingly enough some of the risks he called out have been realized and are much of the reason we saw agile come into existence.
    • “I believe in this concept, but the implementation described is risky”.
    • “The required design changes are likely to be so disruptive that the software requirements upon which the design is based and which provides the rationale for everything…. are violated. Either the requirements must be modified, or a substantial change in the design is required. In effect the development process has returned to the origin and one can expect up to a 100-percent overrun in schedule and/or costs.”
  • 1970 – Also, Gas is 36 cents per gallon. Wut?!
  • 1990 – Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber conceived the Scrum process in the early 90’s.
  • 1991 – Also, the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind signified the start of the Grunge era that would dominate the music scene up to the mid-90’s.
  • 1995 – Scrum is codified in 1995 in order to present it at a conference in Austin, Texas (US) and published the paper “SCRUM Software Development Process”.
    • Scrum was first tried and refined at Individual, Inc., Fidelity Investments, and IDX (now GE Medical). These weren’t simply startups with greenfield development efforts.
  • 1995 – Also,  OJ Simpson was found NOT GUILTY!
  • 2001 – In February 2001, Jeff and Ken were amongst 17 software development leaders creating the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. – Their goal was to take all the good things they’ve learned and create a “charter” for others to use. By this time there had been many variations of agility that evolved.  The manifesto was taking the best of the best and boiling it down to principles rather than a framework or methodology.
  • 2001 – Also, Lord of the Rings comes out in Theaters

Key Takeaway: Agile is not a flash in the pan, and is something that has been evolving for 20+ years. I believe we are even starting to see Agile become more of the “norm” in Software development. Agile as a mindset opens up the door for so much more than just SW Development.  What do you think will be the key points in time for agile 20 years from now?

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.

Planning tool: Pointing Poker (website)

What is it?

Someone developed this handy website for online Planning Poker sessions. Their website says it best “Online, virtual and co-located agile teams use this application during their planning/pointing sessions to effectively communicate points for stories.”

https://www.pointingpoker.com/

Pros:

  • It’s FREE!  It’s hard to be overly critical of a free tool right?
  • You can set custom point values.  this is useful if you want to simplify your backlog grooming discussions.
  • It’s fast to setup a session and requires no authentication.  In my opinion you want to spend as little time focused on getting into the tool as possible.  No credentials or software = a breeze.
  • Enables remote team members or distributed teams to work together.
  • The timer is super useful for keeping on track.  Until you press “Clear Votes” the timer keeps going.

Cons:

  • The interface is a bit outdated.
  • If you are concerned about security, this may not be the tool for you. While it’s not required to put sensitive or specific information on the site, all one needs is a session ID to see the contents of a session.
  • You can make your name whatever you want when you join the session.  Follow me on this one.  Depending on your team’s sarcasam-o-meter you could see some interesting names join your session. 🙂  If you are trying to run a smooth session with multiple people it could be a little clunky until you figure out who’s who.

Conclusion:

I love the tool, and have yet to find anything that works as well as this.  Well done!

Screenshots:

Agile Tool: Trello

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If you are anything like me, I’m always looking for great agile tools to add to my arsenal.

I stumbled Trello the other day and I must say I’m pretty impressed! So far I can say that it’s great for personal Kanban or small internal projects. And it’s free!

Notable Features: You can easily invite people into your boards to collaborate,  view version history, add pictures to cards, and create custom lists. There’s a guided tour function that is really helpful to give you a jump start into using the tool.   Another feature I think is really helpful is the ability to create check lists within a card.  This would be a great way to keep track of tasks within a story.  My personal favorite feature is the ability to add a deadline to a card…So helpful for planning out a light weight project or really any small effort needing coordination.

Enterprise Use: From what I can tell this would not be a great Enterprise tool due to some features missing like rolling up cards into epics or portfolios.  I’ve heard this same feedback from 4-5 colleagues.  However, my observations are based on the free version, not some of the paid options they have, which very well could have those additional features.

Personal Use: I created a board for a home projects and invited my wife to the board.  We can both individually add projects or honey do’s and change the order of the stack rang for our backlog. (It’s fun to see how we have different priorities 🙂 )  The mobile app works quite well and does pretty much everything I would want it to do from my phone.

Conclusion: If you are looking to get more organized and incorporate some of the agile principles into your life and work, Trello is worth checking out!

Image source:  Trello.com

Apology to the internet and an intro to the blog

Dear internet and devoted bloggers, I’m sorry.  I occasionally write some blog posts on my personal blog, but for the most part I’ve been one of those who consumes but doesn’t contribute.  Have you ever thought while searching for something “I really should be one of the people that posts helpful information on the internet and not just the one who searches for it.” ???  Well…I have too, for many years, and that’s part of why I am starting this blog.

I’m a project manager in the Seattle area working at a consulting firm.  In recent years I’ve been working with agile team more and more, and know I’ll have some information others might find useful. I’ve developed such a strong interest in agile/scrum that I’m going to get of my keyboard butt and write!

I’ll be posting about practical everyday tips for agile teams, my experiences with different training resources, agile memes and will even have guest bloggers from time to time.  Hopefully we can keep a lighthearted and humorous approach to solving real business problem.

Thanks for stopping by The AgileSphere!

-Chris