Buckle-Up Sign

When everything is done it is time to buckle and go home!

When I am asked what a team should do with stories that are incomplete at the end of a sprint or iteration I am reminded of the Jackson Browne song Load Out -Stay

“Now the seats are all empty
Let the roadies take the stage
Pack it up and tear it down
They’re the first to come and last to leave”

Now the demonstration and retrospective are all done and despite the team’s best efforts, one or more stories do not meet the definition of done. The planning process that springs into action after the completion of one sprint often times feels sort of anticlimactic compared to the celebration that marks the end of an iteration. The team feels like the roadies as they swing back into action to pack up the last iteration and get the next ready to go. Shortcuts are sometimes taken with teams and product owners without thinking about “rolling-over” the escaped stories. Doing anything without thought is never a good idea. The three basic steps for dealing with incomplete stories are:

  1. Return the incomplete stories (or other work items) to the backlog. Stories are either done or not done, there is no partial credit.
  2. Re-prioritize the backlog based on all of the stories on the backlog. There are a number of approaches for prioritization ranging from most risky first to most valuable first. As part of the re-prioritization, reassess the approach to selecting work. At times it might be more important not to stop work on the story even when it does not meet the team’s prioritization strategy. Sometimes team members have just gotten to a point they can solve a problem and putting down might be less efficient, however, sometimes the need of the business and product owner will conflict (the product owner and business always win).
  3. Plan (or re-plan) the work that will enter the team level planning process. Prioritize stories that are more important or return higher value ahead of the stories that you returned to the backlog unless there is a solid reason why that should happen.

The process for dealing with incomplete stories is straightforward. Incomplete stories have to compete for attention just like any other story. Being partially done does not generate a privileged position.

In addition to re-prioritization, items you should keep in mind when addressing incomplete stories.

  1. Do not recognize any contribution to velocity or throughput for incomplete items. Remember no partial credit. Velocity is an average over a large number of sprints or iterations; it will balance out. Throughput is similar.
  2. If you are tracking cycle time (and you should be) don’t reset the start date of the story. The start date for the piece of work begins when the team first starts to work on the item and ends when the story meets the definition of done.
  3. If using story points and velocity as a planning tool don’t resize the story or your velocity will be incorrect and no amount of averaging will fix the problem.

Resist the urge just to roll over stories into the next sprint or iteration. Reassess whether they should be worked on in the next sprint (or even if they should be worked on at all) when compared to other work. Reassessing will make people uncomfortable; there was a commitment to complete an item when you drew it into the sprint. However, transparency and thought are core behaviors that every team should embrace.

Sign for a weather shelter

Is A Demo A SAFe Area?

I have been asked many times whether it is “ok” to include work that is not complete in a demonstration/sprint review (I’ll use the term demo from now on).  The simple answer is that is a bad idea 95% percent of the time. Demos are agile’s mechanism to share what the team completed during the current sprint or iteration. The use of ‘complete’ is purposeful. It means the work meets the organization’s technical standards and is potentially deployable in production.  Complete mean stories that meet the definition of done – before the demo, not the next day. Teams define done before they begin work. Done typically includes steps such as coding, testing, documenting and reviewing. Unless the piece of work meets the definition of done (or a deviation agreed upon) then the work is not done. Demonstrating in progress material is a bad idea in most situations for many reasons.  Mixing done and not items in a demo: (more…)

A spider web has several external risks.

A spider web has several external risks.



Making sure external risks are addressed in an Agile effort, or any effort for that matter begins with making sure that at least a basic risk management approach is in place. If a basic risk management approach is in place we can integrate the concept of external risks.  Everyone involved should understand the basics of the risk management process being leveraged on the effort.  All risk management processes need to identify who is responsible and how the process fits into the value delivery flow.  Specifically, incorporating the idea of external risks into the process is typically more urgent as the scale and duration of the effort increases if for no other reason than longer efforts are exposed to the trials and tribulations of the outside world longer than small efforts.  The size of the effort affects two main variables used to scale  Agile risk management.  The larger the effort the greater the need for the people involved with the effort to define who is responsible for risk management and how much process is needed to keep things organized.   The size of the effort, while a continuum, will be represented by small efforts (one team and a few iterations or sprints) and large efforts (over 75 participants with at least 6 iterations or sprints) for illustration.   (more…)

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Nesting Easter eggs show each layer of the process improvement architecture

One of my children owned a (Russian nesting doll) that is now somewhere in our attic.  I was always struck how one piece fit within the other and how getting the assembly out of order generated a mess. I think I learned more from the toy than my children did.  The matryoshka doll is a wonderful metaphor for models, frameworks, and methodologies. A model represents the outside shell into which a framework fits followed by the next doll representing a methodology placed inside the framework. Like models, frameworks, and methodologies, each individual doll is unique, but they are related to the whole group of dolls. (more…)

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When the goal is complicated architecture, everyone needs to coordinate.

Much of the work to coordinate and synchronize goals happens during planning.  As Mike Cohn described with the metaphor of the Agile planning onion, Agile planning is not a one-time event nor are planning activities confined to the beginning of an increment or a sprint. However, delivering work using Agile is not just a big ball of planning. Goal coordination and synchronization activities need to happen outside of planning activities.  Several non-planning Agile techniques are useful for ensuring coordination.  The degree of usefulness is a function of size, complexity and the Agile maturity of those involved. The techniques include:

Test First Development (TFD) in all of its forms (including Test Driven Development, Behavior Driven Development, and Acceptance Test Driven Development) begins by establishing how the developers will prove the work they are planning to deliver.  Expressing how the solution will be proved before writing the first line of code anchors the functionality being delivered to the effort’s goals. All of the test first development techniques can be applied to any size project; however, these techniques require teams that have access to the correct tools and have at least a moderate Agile maturity.   

Definition of Done provides a team or teams with a set of criteria that they can use to plan and bound their work based on an overarching definition of done. A definition of done that includes integration activities or a check against the increment’s goal is an effective means of keeping goals synchronized. The definition of done is applicable to all efforts regardless of size, albeit as complexity increases this technique becomes even more powerful.

Continuous Builds is a process in which every time code is checked back into the code repository the application or product is built (or compiled).  The build is immediately followed by some form of testing to make sure the “build” still works.  Continuously building the software ensures that any one team or developer does not go too far off track because the code and testing act as an arbiter that the product works. This technique is applicable to all efforts (Agile or not, big or small); however, I have noticed that the use of continuous builds requires some experience and maturity with Agile.

Scrum of Scrums (SOS) is a mechanism that brings all of the Scrum Masters involved in an effort together to coordinate a group of teams so that they act as a team of teams. The SOS provides a platform for coordinating and synchronizing goals by ensuring teams are aware of what other teams are doing and whether they have had to make adjustments to the goals.  An SOS is useful for coordinating efforts of all size; however, as efforts scale past two or three teams other coordination techniques are needed in addition to the SOS. 

Demonstrations, also known as demos, are Agile’s mechanism to share what the team has been accomplished.  Scaled Agile efforts often have demos at the team level at the end of every sprint, an integrated demo (all teams) and then a larger demo before a release.  Demonstrations provide the ultimate proof of what has been built allowing stakeholders to determine whether the effort’s goals have been met. Demos are useful for every Agile effort.  Larger efforts will do demos both at the team level and then as a consolidated demo for the overall product.

Dynamic Testing (execution of the code), by definition, generates results that are compared against some expected result (even exploratory testing).  Those expected results represent an instantiation of the goals and objectives of the overall effort.  Testing, while important, without the structure of test-first development is a very weak tool for coordinating and synchronizing goals. Do not use this technique alone regardless of the size of the effort. 

Techniques for synchronizing special types of goals and objectives such as process improvement or technical goals are: 

Retrospectives are a platform for teams and teams of teams to examine their performance and to make changes to improve their delivery of value.  When an effort or organization has productivity, quality, and/or efficiency goals, retrospectives (using techniques such as the 6 Thinking Hats) are highly effective.  The retrospective provides a platform to share the objectives and then to synchronize on the steps needed to meet those goals and objectives.

Common Architectures and Standards are typically an instantiation of the technical goals and objectives of the organization. Efforts of all size can use a set of standards or a published architecture to effectively coordinate activity.  Examples of using an emergent architecture to provide guidance can be seen in the SAFe concept of the architectural runway.  The runway is “built” just ahead of the need of the teams generating the functionality that will leverage that architecture.

The effectively coordinating and synchronizing goals is a requirement for any effort, if the effort is going to deliver value efficiently. Agile efforts often use many of these techniques in combination.  Each technique interlocks and overlaps with other techniques so that an environment is created that supports team’s ability to self-organize and self-manage.   The number techniques and how strenuously they need to be pursued is a function of how many teams are involved, Agile maturity and complexity.  Conceptually an effort with two collocated teams and simple business problem to solve will need less goal coordination than an effort with many teams that are spread across the globe. The one absolute when it comes to goals and teams is coordination is always required.

little boy building a block tower

The bigger the project, the more complicated the role of the product owner gets.

The Product Owner (PO) role in organizations that are scaling up Agile projects requires not only nuances how the role is applied but also requires refocusing the typical activities in the role (however this does not mean that they don’t they get out of buying pizza or other relevant food occasional).  The primary responsibilities of a scaled product owner are: (more…)

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I am on vacation for two weeks and could not leave you without some Monday morning mind candy, therefore, we are doing two very special shows this week and next.  This week I have included the responses to the “if you could fix any two (or sometimes just one) things” question I ask at the end every interview from the three most downloaded interviews of 2013.  The top three and one extra were::

SPaMCAST 224 featured Mike Burrows. Mike focused his wishes on:

  1. Changes agents need to take their role as change agents seriously.
  2. Delay is expensive.

Link: http://spamcast.libsyn.com/s-pa-mcast-224-mike-burrows-kanban-values

SPaMCAST 246 featured Tobias Mayer. Tobias focused his wish on:

  1. People, not management or consultants, need to own scrum. (One wish was enough for Tobias)

Link: http://spamcast.libsyn.com/s-pa-mcast-246-tobias-mayer-t-he-people-s-scrum

SPaMCAST 270 featured Alan Shalloway.  Alan focused his two wishes on:

  1. Everyone needs to acknowledge there are laws of software development.
  2. Assuming that everyone involved in delivering software is highly motivated.

Link: http://spamcast.libsyn.com/s-pa-mcast-270-alan-shalloway-sa-fe-lean-kanban

And just because I could . . . a bit of lagniappe, SPaMCAST 138 Featured Jo Ann Sweeney. Jo Ann focused her wishes on:

  1. Reminding the listeners that change often starts before IT starts a project there we need to listen carefully to the stakeholders.
  2. Project teams should care about end users.

Link: http://spamcast.libsyn.com/s-pa-mcast-138-jo-ann-sweeney-communication

If these excerpts tickled your fancy listen to the whole interview by clicking on the links shown above.

Next week the best excerpts from 2014!