Category: agile (page 1 of 3)

Working Remotely in a time of Coronavirus (Covid-19)

We are going into a new period where a lot of people will have to work remotely for an unknown amount of time. Here are some tips to help make this transition successfully and easy for you, your family, and for your company.

  1. Set up your workspace to be conducive to work. This means different things for different people, but mainly it’s an area without distractions. Sitting in your living room with the TV on while your family comes in and out is probably not the best place. Find a quiet place, set it up so that you are able to work consistently during the day without interruptions.
    • Avoid distractions. Have a pile of personal paperwork on your desk that you’ve been meaning to get to forever? Put it aside, in a closet, or work on it after work hours to get it out of your space. TV on, Netflix playing, radio or Spotify playing? Turn them off and focus on the task at hand.
    • Family Ground Rules. Have a discussion with your family and set some ground rules, for example when the door is closed, do not disturb. Those of us with children will know that they will need attention throughout the day as well, however set up some rules where you can get some deep work done. 
  2. Over Communicate. One of the biggest challenges with remote work is being able to get in contact with people that you need to when you need to. It’s easy in an office to ‘pop over’ and have a chat with someone quickly, but that is still needed when you are working remotely as well. Make sure you are in constant contact with:
    • With your team.  The quick questions that you want answered, the updates, the help you need is right there. Keep in contact with your team through Slack and throughout the day. Let them know what you are working on and and when you need help.
    • With your Manager. They are going to want to still be aware of challenges you are facing and how they can help you. Management is there to help, and can only do so if they know what is going on, so keep in touch with them. 
  3. Keep your calendar up to date. One of the quickest and easiest ways of informing everyone what you are working on, and if you are able to be disturbed, is through the calendar. Make appointments for yourself for ‘lunch’, ‘break’, or ‘deep work’ so everyone knows what is going on. If you are needed for something, or you are not responding to Slack, it lets everyone know where you are and what you are doing. 
  4. Make time to get up and walk around. Being remote and not having any outside influences can be great for deep work, however you need to look after your health as well. It is recommended that you stand up and walk around every so often just to make sure you are being healthy. It’s good for your heart and your mental health to take a bit of a break and walk even around the house, for 10 minutes.
  5. Get dressed for work. Working from home is still working. You don’t need to be a 24/7 pyjama monster. Being dressed for what you are doing is important, not only because we want you on video conference calls, but also because it sets you in the right frame of mind for the day and tasks at hand. 
  6. Connect Socially. Working remote can be very socially isolating, and humans need outside communication to survive. Solitary confinement has been identified as having adverse effects on the mental health of those that have been subjected to it, and working remotely can have many of the same effects. Schedule time to connect with your colleagues. One tactic is to set up some “Beverage of Choice” meetings, where you take a break and video chat with colleagues. Get 2 or 3 of you together to have a 15 minute break, chat about what has been happening, what you are working on, or whatever. Keep the social connection with your team and people at work.
  7. Know when to log off.  Ever been working away and check the time and suddenly it is much, much later than you thought it was? When you are in the zone (current terminology is ‘the flow’) time just seems to pass by.  Make sure you give your mental health a break by stepping away from the computer and focus on anything else. You will be able to come back refreshed and able to tackle the task anew.

Toronto Agile Conference

How to #FAIL at Agile – presentation

October 30, 2018

What does it mean to be Agile?

Great Teams

A central tenet of Agile is that the team is empowered to make decisions on how to best accomplish their work in the quickest time possible. What this means is that each team is able to do things that are necessary in order to hit that goal. They structure the work in ways that allow everyone to know what is happening, and who is doing what. They stay in constant communication with the Product Owners to understand what needs to be developed, and they are able to control how it gets developed.  It also allows each team to adjust how things are working for them, in order to make them more productive and efficient. They conduct a Retrospective at the end of each sprint, looking back at what went well, and what didn’t go as well as hoped, so they can make adjustments or ask for additional help in resolving their issues. This empowerment makes people happy, and study after study shows that happy employees lead to happy customers.

Amazing Product

Since the team is happy and empowered to deliver on what the Product Owner needs, the outcome is an amazing product. We are able to shift priorities and work on the most important features quickly. Our Product Owners are able to interact with our customers and potential customers to determine what their pain points are and then focus the attention of the team on creating a solution to meet their needs. As importantly, the team is always focused on quality of the product.  There isn’t a separate team that slows down development or is critical to how something is made. Our Quality people are embedded in the team, understanding what the requirements are at the same time as the developers, involved in the process, and then able to be very effective in their job and complete their task within the sprint. With the whole team focused on delivering a quality product that meets the customers’ needs, it is easier to create a product that customers love.

Full Company Alignment

Being Agile also means we are able to be more responsive to the industry and our customers. We are able to quickly assess priorities and make adjustments to what we are developing, so we are always working on the highest priority items. 

Other organizations are often challenged to ensure that priorities from Sales are communicated to the right teams, that they don’t conflict with the priorities from Customer Support, or that Quality Assurance understands what is coming. They develop lengthy “Business Requirements Documents” or “Technical Specifications” to communicate to the teams what they want, taking months to pass on something simple by going up what hierarchy and down another.  With our Agile Methodology, we have eliminated that outmoded process and have a clear and open communication with all our teams, actively soliciting feedback from all the groups and people who have interactions in the industry or with our customers. This communication and alignment mean that we are able to develop a valuable product faster, which leads once again to happy customers.

Equals Happy Customers

Our great teams, amazing products, and full company alignment together allow us to deliver the highest value to our customers, which in turn, makes them happy. Everything we do is centred around ensuring our customers have a great experience with us and with our software. The key is that we are not just committed to making fantastic software, there are a lot of companies that have done that and failed their customers. We are committed to solving our customers’ problems, to provide them with the tools that they need for them to succeed. Helping our customers succeed, helping them save money, and assisting them to deliver value to their customers is where we focus and where we excel.  Agile allows us to deliver amazing products, be responsive to our customers’ needs, and to help them succeed.

Presentation – How to Fail at Agile

I had a great time presenting “How to Fail at Agile” .  I mentioned that I would have the presentation posted online, so here it is! If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me.

How To Fail at Agile

Agile Coach Camp Canada 2018

June 1 – 3, Cornwall Ontario

Active Listening

One of the agile games I play with my teams is meant to help encourage active listening. As the quote above states, most people are not listening to understand but to reply.

The game that I utilize to help people change to active listening is called “Fortunately/Unfortunately”. In this game, which I believe started in Improv, the team builds a story. The first person starts with a “fortunately”, such as “Fortunately my wife is pregnant”. The next person needs to be actively listening and then responds off of that statement with an “unfortunately”, like “unfortunately, it’s not with your baby.”. The story keeps building with alternating “fortunately/unfortunately” until it gets back to the originator, or goes around a few times.

This technique helps the team to have some fun and gets them into the habit of active listening.

I had a team that exhibited all the wrong ways of doing this exercise. After I started with “Fortunately my wife is pregnant” the next person stated “Unfortunately the Raptors are out of the playoffs”, and the following person said “Fortunately you like kids”. Both people were not listening to what the previous person said and had their own agenda or thought out reply already in mind.

A couple other positive outcomes come from this game. The first is embracing the silence. If you are truly engaged in active listening there will be a definite pause after the previous person finishes speaking. Silence is fine.

Another outcome is the unspoken agreement to let each team member complete the task on their own. Very rarely does a turn come to a member and have another member speak up and interrupt with their own idea. Each team member is able to come up with their own solution in their own time.

Try this game at your next team gathering. It will really help highlight why we need to be actively listening in our meetings, and in life in general.

Spark the Change 2017

Master of Ceremonies, June 12 – 13, 2018

What Happens if We Fail One or Two Sprints?

(First published on the Scrum Alliance Website)

 

I ran a Scrum Master Summit for my company recently where we invited the 42 Scrum Masters for a day of learning for them and for us. At the end of the planned session we had a “Lean Coffee” discussion where anyone could vote on the topics for discussion.

 

One of the more interesting topics that unfortunately didn’t get any votes, was “What happens if we fail 1 or 2 sprints?”.

 

I think you should be failing more often than 1 or 2 sprints.  As a team we need to be challenging ourselves more, trying new things, and experimenting. That will lead to failure, which will lead to learning which is great for it’s own sake.  I want the teams to fail, but I want them to fail fast. Try something new for a sprint, see if it works, how you can tweak it, what is un-usable, what can be taken away and then start again. Get into a pattern of trying and failing.

 

In talking to the Scrum Master who wrote this, their concern was around velocity. They are concerned that they should be hitting the exact number each and every sprint. It’s actually good that they are NOT hitting the number sprint after sprint.  They should be challenging themselves with a higher number every once in a while. It would be too easy to not challenge yourselves and keep the same number sprint over sprint, set the number 10 points lower than what you know your team can do and coast.  But that’s not good for the morale of the team, for the education of the people, for the project/sprint, really for anyone.

 

So they should set the sprint goal higher than what they have been, with the team’s agreement.  And not just gaming the system by making a 5 point story an 8 point story, but by taking on more than what you would normally and seeing if you can do it.

 

Or keep the same velocity target and trying pair programming. Anything that gets your team trying new things, learning and pushing their boundaries, either personal or team based.

 

The question however has some deeper undertones unfortunately.  Traditionally in the work world failure is punished and we have ingrained the fear of retribution into our people. I think the question is based on that, the “What will management do to us if we fail 1 or 2 sprints?”.  I think most companies that are working in an agile manner and have adopted the agile mindset will be open to experimentation and failing. Fortunately where I work we are encouraging this, we want our people to try, to strive for more, to learn and yes to fail. Management will do nothing if you fail, so keep trying.

 

Velocity and other metrics are meant to offer a team an opportunity to improve, to give them insight on how they are performing.  They are not to be used to measure teams against each other, to say that team “A” is better than team “B” simply because their velocity is 10 points higher. Management should be looking to the teams to see how they can help them become better, not to be using metrics as a punishment tool.

 

To answer the original question “What happens if we fail 1 or 2 sprints?”; you learn.

Something all Scrum or Agile practitioners need to know

Sharpies are cool!

Difference between a Scrum Master and an Agile Coach

I was fortunate enough to be the MC at the Happy Melly Exploration Day event in Waterloo recently and was asked this question that I think deserves some exploration.

I do have a question for you about transitioning from Scrum Master to Agile Coach. I heard opinions that say that it’s just a title, and that in fact Scrum Masters often do very similar things to coaches anyway. I agree that this can be the case in some companies, but my observation has been that Agile Coaches usually get a wider mandate and hence are able to better foster overall organizational growth. Also, Agile Coaches could potentially coach more than Scrum. And, here I have limited evidence, but I think there is usually a salary difference, too. So I’m curious about your take on it. What are the biggest differences between Scrum Master and Agile Coach?

 

It is true that Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches do similar things, however at different levels. It is also true, as you state, that Coaches to get a wider mandate, not only to coach the executives but SM and teams as well. You are seen as the overall expert, answering questions, reviewing sessions, providing feedback and guidance and helping to plan the journey. What are the next steps? What training is necessary? Who should be trained? What do you do about a SM that isn’t performing? About a team?

There is a salary difference, but that depends on the expertise of the Coach, the industry, and the mandate.  It can be a pretty wide range, and that again depends on the maturity of the organization that is hiring you as companies new to the agile process might not place as much value on the role as it deserves.
The biggest differences are what you are expected to do. A Scrum Master works with “A” team. An Agile Coach works with ALL teams, AND executives AND other teams/groups. A Scrum Master ensures that the team is following the Scrum process, doing the ceremonies and behaving the right way. An Agile Coach helps to define what is to be done, how, who does it, when, why, how it fits in with the organization, change management, people management and interactions between agile teams and other parts of the organization (like Dev Ops, Hosting, Build teams, Education, UX/UI, etc).

The main difference is the level that the two are operating, single team or enterprise.

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