The Power of Anonymous Retrospectives

The Scrum values – Openness, Commitment, Focus, Respect and Courage are the foundation for the behavior and practices in Scrum. It’s difficult for organizations to adhere to these values from the onset of their Agile journey. Agility is about behavior and cultural changes and the values listed can’t be demanded, they have to be earned by creating transparency and is a journey that never ends.

While coaching Agile teams over the years, I have learned that no matter how open and transparent the organization is, there will be some individuals that won’t openly speak up. They are mostly introverts and have a phobia of public speaking. They will limit their interaction to a bare minimum. In some organizations engineers carry the management fear. They feel like they are being observed and anything and everything they say will reflect in their yearly performance appraisal and they clamp up. In either of these situations or situations similar to these, the Anonymous Retrospective helps get the real pulse on the floor. It helps all the participants open up and talk about what they really feel deep within about the organization, the culture, the people, the leadership, the technology, the motivation factor, etc.

So what is Anonymous Retrospective? As the name suggests, all data collected is completely anonymous. The first rule of the Anonymous Retrospective is the data collected has to be truly anonymous and there should be no attempt to tie the same to any individual – either through the language used to describe it or with an handwriting match. What I normally do is I put an empty container in the middle of the room and  give each participant a bunch of Post-its. I ask them to jot down their thoughts on what is working well and the areas that need improvement. I emphasize to the participants that this is a Anonymous Retrospective and encourage them to share their thoughts without having an iota of worry. I then ask them to fold the post-its and put it in the empty container. I normally time box this to around 25 to 30 minutes.

Once everyone is done, I get the container with the post-its and give it a good mix. Then I appoint someone neutral to take notes on their laptop and help me with basic categorization. I pick each note and try to read it as verbatim as possible, except for certain cases where there are personal attacks. I read them one at a time in front of the entire room, the person taking the notes captures it, and then I tear the post-it in front of all the participants and put it in the trash can to maintain confidentiality. This is what I mean by “Anonymous”.

Anonymous Retrospective will generate plenty of data which has to be validated for its accuracy. Once all the data points are collected, work with the participants in the room to finalize the categorize the data, and generate information by connecting data in each category together.  Following this put an action plan together to address each category. Most likely you will need multiple sessions to do this… but remember you now have some solid facts with which you can incrementally introduce improvements. This is what the power of Anonymous Retrospective is!

I am happy to hear your thoughts.

Tesco’s Success Story with Agile Adoption

 

 

Over the past 2 years I have been helping Tesco’s Dotcom International Grocery Home Shopping (IGHS) group in the capacity of Agile Coach to build their eCommerce Platform. Tesco Dotcom’s challenge was to take the world’s largest grocery website international to multiple countries outside UK as quickly as possible and be the market leader. 

As the saying goes, “The proof is in the Pudding” …. By using Agile as a Software Development Methodology  with a  combination of Scrum, XP, Kanban and lean principles of choice, Tesco was able to launch their Dotcom operation to new countries regularly and is currently live in 5 countries within the span of just over 2.5 years. This group with several Agile teams distributed across 2 geographies was able to bag 4 major awards within the organization, including the “Tesco – IT project Cup” of the year.

It is my privilege and honor to be part of a journey with this passionate team that was constantly hungry to take the Agile adoption from one level to another tirelessly through continuous Inspection and Adaption and both the passion & Hunger continues….

Scrum team organization – Feature teams or Component teams – Part 2

Component Teams (CT) are specialized teams organized around the architecture of the product under development. Examples of such teams are UI / User experience teams, Database design and modeling teams, team of Architects, Security team, etc.

A typical component based scrum team is more or less similar to a feature team i.e. each CT will have 3 to 4 developers, 2 to 3 testers, a Product Owner & Scrum Master with Documentation and Architect representation as needed.

The top node of the diagram “Theme/Epic”depicts customers value add features (Features that customer value). Think of this as some high level requirement that marketing will use in their presentation to advertise a product. This value add feature might not be small enough to finish in one sprint and gets decomposed in to multiple smaller features i.e. Feature 1, Feature 2, Feature 3, and Feature 4. What this essentially means is, once Feature 1 through 4 are done in its entierty, the top level Theme/Epic is “Done”.

The stories for component based teams are fed by these decomposed features Feature 1, Feature 2, Feature 3, and Feature 4. As the diagram shows, Feature 1 is dependent on Component Teams C1, C2 and C3. Similarly, Feature 2 is dependent on component team C1 and C2, Feature 2 is dependendent on CT C1 and C3 and so on. Component teams in general provide functionality and serve multiple Features. Component teams generally don’t generate products that get shipped to the customer. But they develop functionality that is consumed by feature teams and indirectly helps add value to the features being delivered to customers.

If organizations are structured in a way that specialized teams are spread globally then forming component based teams might make sense. Component based teams are great to keep site affinity, work across different timezones and also to keeping team culture intact. But it also comes at an expense of management overhead.

Few challenges with component teams based on my experience

  1. There is overhead of integrating component team’s delivery with the top level features. In the example above, when C1, C2 and C3 finishes the deliveries for Feature 1 they have to be integrated together in Feature 1.
  2. To ensure all scrums are aligned well to deliver end-to-end customer functionality, it will take lot of upfront planning as well as tracking during the entire sprint.
  3. In my experience, with component based teams it’s very difficult to deliver thin slice of end-to-end functionality at end of each iteration because feature team needs time to harden (stabilize code base + write integration tests) their code with component team code delivery.
  4. Since component team serves multiple features teams, negotiation needs to happen between Feature Team and Component teams to avoid starvation. For Ex. In the diagram above Component Team C1 gets requirements from Feature 1, Feature 2, and Feature 3. In the upcoming iteration let’s say C1 can only serve Feature 1. In this case Feature 2 and Feature 3 teams will have to wait until next iteration before their needed functionality is delivered and will be starved.

Thus, for component teams to succeed open communication channel should be established throughout the organization.

Please share your experiences.

Scrum team organization – Feature teams or Component teams – Part 1

There is a big ongoing debate within Agile/Scrum community on whether Scrum teams should be Feature based or Component based. I am currently experiencing this dilemma in my organization and would like to share my thoughts on this.

Feature teams are long lived, cross-functional, co-located teams with 7 to 8 members in a scrum team that completes many end-to-end customer features, one by one. These comprise of subject matter experts from various component areas e.g. UI, Middleware, Database designer, Architects, Business Analyst, Testers, Documentation etc. In short, a self sufficient team with no dependencies. By organizing teams in this fashion, feature teams can develop a thin slice (enough for one iteration) of customer valuable, end-to-end features at the end of each iteration.

The pitcure on the left is a over-simplified diagram of how a scrum based feature team will start executing priortized stories from overall product backlog. Each story, i.e. User Story f1.1, f1,2, … represents a thin vertical slice i.e. end-to-end incremental functionality delivered at end of each iteration. The picture shows that at end of iteration 2 feature f1 and f2 are complete.At end of iteration 3 feature f3 is complete and most likely this product can be shipped to customer. In most cases, your organization will have multiple feature teams and in that case, work allocation can be handled in many different ways. Ex. FT A can work on developing feature 1, FT B can work on developing feature 2 and so on. Other way would be in iteration 1, FT A works on story f1.1 and f1.2 as that’s their capacity and FT B can work on User Story F1.3 and other stories from feature 2. With this approach you can have customer shippable feature f1 at end of iteration 1.

Feature based teams can deliver thin slice of customer visible functionality one after the other at end of each iteration. This is possible because there is no dependency, delay or hand-off issues between teams.

Forming feature teams for an organization where everyone is co-located or at least in the same timezone seems practical. However for global teams, where expertise is spread throughout the globe, forming feature teams that develop thin slice of end to end functionality is a challenge. Forming a FT which spans multiple timezones violates most of scrum principles – as this team will have a difficult time self organizing for various reasons like culture, timezone differences, etc. This will have a negative impact on team’s velocity and their performance will suffer. In short, FT can’t scale in geographically dispersed large teams which is more or less a reality for all organizations.

In the next post, I will discuss component teams and present my view on how we can use hybrid approach that will allow scaling Agile software development in global teams.

1 2
×
×