Agile Metrics: Velocity

Agile Metrics are meant to serve certain purpose(s) and can be very useful if leveraged appropriately. In this series, I want to share my experiences of how metrics may be used, abused and effectively become focal point of failure of Agile adoption in an organization.

Velocity is an indication of the average amount of Product Backlog turned into an Increment of product during a Sprint by a Scrum Team, tracked by the Development Team for use within the Scrum Team.

There is no such thing as a Good Velocity or a Bad Velocity. Remember, it is based on relative estimations.

Let’s understand with some examples on how a powerful Velocity metric can turn from Good, to Bad, to Ugly.

The Good: Along with other inputs like team capacity, prior commitments, Velocity helps Development Team decide how many Product Backlog Items they may forecast for current Sprint. Velocity also helps Product Owner to gauge how quickly a team may work through the backlog, because the report tracks the forecasted and completed work over several iterations. The Product Owner may revise the forecasted delivery timelines based on the variations in velocity of the Development Team.

Velocity is absolutely awesome and GOOD metric when it is used by the Scrum team themselves to understand their progress, their strengths and how they can improve Sprint over Sprint to become better. Leveraging Velocity for any other purpose by people outside the Scrum Team may quickly result in this metric being abused and making it BAD.

The Bad: I have had instances where leaders have asked me questions like, “If two teams have similar skillset, shouldn’t their velocities be similar?”, “Team A’s Velocity is 2 times that of Team B’s – shouldn’t Team A work on the remaining Product Backlog Items for faster delivery?” This prompts me to explain to them that each team would use their internal consensus to estimate the size of tasks at hand. Such sizing of efforts may differ from team-to-team due to differences in the reference points for these two teams. Size of task ‘X’ for Team A may be larger than its size for Team B, because former may be used to slicing efforts to smaller sizes and thus resulting in ‘larger’ estimates. This may make Team A’s velocity appear higher than Team B’s velocity.

Leveraging velocities for such comparisons will not yield any benefits. In fact, such comparisons make teams very uncomfortable, as they quickly understand that leaders are using this metric to measure the collective team and possibly their individual productivity.

The Ugly: When Leadership decides to use improvement in Velocity as a measure to gauge Development Teams’ performance and teams become aware about it, things become ugly. Now Development Teams will start fudging the sizes of their PBI’s / tasks to ‘bloat’ their velocity, just to ensure they appear to meet (may be even beat) their target velocity. At this point transparency will cease to exist in the team ensuring mechanical Scrum implementation resulting in sub-optimal metrics and delivery.

To sum up, Velocity is a result, not a desire. Velocity is a good metric for Scrum Teams to leverage for its internal purpose with the idea of continuous improvement. The moment this metric is used for any other purpose, the teams and organization will lose the benefits that Scrum has to offer. This will result in Zero-sum game for the entire organization and they will lose focus on their Agility goals.

References

Scrum Insights for Practitioners – Hiren Doshi

Source: https://www.scrum.org/Resources/Scrum-Glossary

How to prepare and pass the PSM I Assessment

We, at Practice Agile frequently get this question from budding Scrum Masters, “How can we pass the PSM I assessment?” This made it imperative to jot down this blog based on the inputs we received from our students who cleared the PSM I assessment in first attempt. Hence this is tried and tested by people with diverse background and experiences.

Preparation

  1. Read the Scrum Guide and understand 11 core elements of Scrum
  2. Read this excellent book “Scrum Insights for Practitioners” by Professional Scrum Trainer® Hiren Doshi as it has a lot of case studies based on practical experiences. Free e-book is available on our website.
  3. Clear the Scrum.org Scrum Open assessment with 100%at least once.

Attending a PSM workshop is optional to write your assessment. In most likelihood, by following the above 3 steps you will clear your PSM I assessment. However, attending the PSM workshop is highly recommended as it provides with much needed depth of knowledge to not just clear the PSM I assessment, but it also prepares you for intermediate PSM II and expert level PSM III assessments. In addition, we have enough data to make a claim that PSM workshop has prepared our students to face tough Scrum Master interviews and have also given them enough confidence to practice Scrum at their workplace.   Also by attending it, you get 2 free attempts towards the PSM I assessment and significant discount for PSM II and PSM III assessments.

During Assessment –

  1. Ensure you have reliable and good internet connection
  2. Stay in a quiet area (undisturbed for 75 minutes)
  3. Assessment is for 60 minutes with 80 objective type questions. You need at least 68 answers correct to meet the minimum passing percent of 85%.
  4. Since this is a race against time, do not spend too much time on tricky questions as you will get conscious about the time during the assessment. If unsure about the answer, select the best option you can think of and bookmark the question to revisit later.
  5. Do not bookmark too many questions (if possible), as you may not get sufficient time to go through all of them.
  6. At the end of the assessment time-box, the answers will automatically be locked in, hence it is important to ensure you have selected the answers from your end in case you do not get time to review the questions again.

Agile Coach Toolkit #8: Limiting Work-In-Progress

Do your team members have a tendency to pick up the next task to work on in case they get stuck with current task because they are measured for ‘utilization’? Such multitasking isn’t just bad, but also has harmful effects and causes stress on the person as proven by a study at Stanford University. Here’s a sample of Scrum board with no limit on WIP items –

Few issues with above view –

  • None of the Product Backlog Items are done as there are lot of tasks in progress. In case of any outage or downtime towards the end of the Sprint, most likelyno value will be delivered by the end of the Sprint.
  • This may also reflect a dysfunction that team members are working in silos, as everyone is busy working on something, but just not focused on delivering the most valuable story together as a team.
  • The flow of value delivery is constrained as the cycle time to complete anything valuable is impeded due to multitasking.
  • There is a high probability that the motivation and the morale of the team members might be low and in addition there might be a psychological pressure on the team to finish all the Product Backlog Items selected for the Sprint.

Recommended steps for Limiting Work-In-Progress:

  • You will need to have a buy-in from the team regarding issues with no limiting WIP items. Discussing above issues would be a good starting point to educate them.
  • Have them focus on the outcomes rather than ‘being occupied’. If any of the team members is stuck because the task he/ she is working on is blocked due to external dependency, instead of picking up a new task, review other WIP items of the team and assist the team members to get it done. This may mean learning new skills along the way and also help break down silos among the team.
  • When picking up work from the Scrum Board, always work backwards to ensure that tasks closest to Done is tackled first before moving backwards towards selecting next item to be worked upon. Such approach will also assist in reducing the Cycle Time.

Above steps will eventually lead to a Scrum Board that will look like the one below where value is continuously delivered to stakeholders during the Sprint –

Have you used this technique? If yes, please share your story.

References

Kanban and Scrum – Making the Most of Both – Henrik Kniberg and Mattias Skarin

http://brodzinski.com/2015/10/dont-limit-wip.html

PSM vs. CSM

PracticeAgile team regularly receive questions from Scrum enthusiasts about which certification to pick for assessing their Scrum mastery. We would like to provide below insights in order to help you take decision on this topic. Hope you find it valuable. Do not hesitate to reach out to us in case you have any queries.

 PSMCSM
Certifying AuthorityScrum.orgScrumAlliance
Training mandated?NoYes
Course materialStandardizedVaries by trainer
Number of questions8035
Time limit60 minutesNo limit
Passing score85%69%
Assessment LevelIntermediateBasic
Certification renewalLifetime validity$150 every 2 years
Number of certificates issued (Mar 2018)138,104450,000+
Number of Trainers200+2,334

Agile Coach Toolkit #7: Straight Feedback

One of the reasons Scrum allows opportunistic discovery is due to its short and fast feedback loops. With the aim to build a high-performing Team and to get the best potential out of each individual and to help them be successful, Agile Coach needs to provide straight feedback to them. But giving straight feedback is a daunting task especially since we are dealing with human emotions. In general, just the utterance of the statement, “I would like to give you feedback” sends the heart racing for a lot of people.

Recommended Steps for giving Straight Feedback:

  • Do not delay too long in giving feedback to the person. Best to give it while the incident/ event is fresh in the mind. My suggestion is to give it within the same day at the latest, if possible.
  • Take the person away from team and work environment, even for a coffee or for a walk to maintain it a bit casual. It helps to have such discussion in isolation to avoid other distractions.
  • Start by saying something on the lines of –

“I would like to give you feedback on … <topic>”

  • Be very specific and do not generalize the feedback as it will lose the essence. It will help maintain focus on the issue.
  • Get the person’s opinion on the matter you want to discuss by Asking Powerful Question

“How do you think you did in this … <topic>?”

  • Let the person share his/ her perspective on how he/ she believes the issue was handled. This will also serve as a checkpoint for them to introspect.
  • You may choose to then ask the person, “Why do you think you did it that way?” This will help the person to provide their reason for handling things that way.
  • Then provide your feedback on the specific topic. Avoid personalized criticism (“you are useless”) or judgmental comments (“your code is useless”) to the person. Give feedback with great humility, love and respect in mind when having such critical conversations. Remember your goal is to get the best of the person and make the individual excel in his / her role.
  • Then ask below question to the person to see if she/ he is in agreement –

“What do you think about that?”

  • Most likely they will agree with you. You can ask below question to get the person to think about next steps –

“What would you do next time?”

  • If the person disagrees, let him/ her vent a bit. Let the person reflect back on it and ask again, “What do you think about that?” If the person agrees, help chalk out the next steps in above point.
  • If the person does not take the responsibility, acknowledge it (that he/ she will not take the accountability) and say “I’ll take it from here.” May be a good idea to escalate in case the matter needs intervention from HR.

Have you used this technique? If yes, please share your story.

References

Coaching for Performance – John Whitmore

Giving Feedback Straight

Watch our expert from https://www.projectmanager.com/?utm_source=youtube.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=GivingFeedbackStraight give insight on why giving straight up feedback to your project team will improve project success and why it"s your responsibility as a project manager, to let your project team know how they"re going on a regular basis.

Agile Coach Toolkit #6: Building Consensus

Being a Scrum Master of a team with strong personalities can be challenging at times especially when two or more people believe that their approach is right. Such situations may call for Effective Facilitation to build consensus. This will help get the best out of the productive dissent at the same time ensuring that they do not fortify into sub-groups.

There are multiple benefits of building consensus –

  • Better decision-making as discussions would help uncover flaws/ situations which individuals may not have thought of.
  • Assist in better implementation of solution since everyone cooperates as it is a team decision.
  • Maintains team’s working relationship healthy by making everyone feel included.

Before going for a team discussion, it would help if you know the personalities you are engaging with and using Root Cause Analysis in one-to-one conversation to uncover any personality conflicts between the participants.

Steps for Building Consensus:

  • Have everyone understand the meaning of giving consent by encouraging them to think about what’s best for the entire team rather than individuals.
  • Clearly articulate what needs to be decided. It may be a good idea to also layout why the issue is being raised.
  • Before pitching for lengthy discussion, do a quick poll to check if there is consensus. If majority of the team agrees to a solution, listen to the concerns of dissenters. Adapt the popular solution to get their points addressed so we have a win-win solution.
  • If there is a disagreement amongst team members, allow everyone to voice their concerns during the discussion so their ideas can be included. It would be a good idea to list them to ensure these get addressed.
  • List Scrum Values and ask people the follow them throughout the discussion.
  • Leverage Timeboxing to ensure that you curtail lengthy discussions.
  • For final decision, do another poll to see if majority of the team agrees. Dissenter (if any), can serve as critical evaluator of the implementation of team decision. This may help spot issues before rest of the team can see it.
  • Ensure that the team decision is communicated at the end of the meeting.

Have you used this technique? If yes, please share your story.

References

Agile Coaching – Rachel Davies, Liz Sedley

https://www.wikihow.com/Reach-a-Consensus

Agile Coach Toolkit #5: Active Listening

Have you ever been in a situation where someone is talking to you and when they ask a question like, “What do you think?” you realize that you were zoned out? At that point, with slight embarrassment, you ask the person to repeat what she/ he just said. It is difficult to maintain focus on listening to a person due to many interruptions and distractions (audible, visual or other senses).

Listening actively to others is one of the most powerful tools you can have for effective coaching. There are 3 levels of listening –

  • Level 1: Internal listening – You tend to listen more to your own inner voice rather than focusing on what is being said. At this point, you may be making opinions or be judgmental.
  • Level 2: Focused listening – At this point you maintain a laser sharp focus on what is said by the person. At this level, you are listening intently to every word and “listening” to every nuance in the conversation.
  • Level 3: Global listening – At this level, you are able to uncover the underlying meaning of the spoken words and are conscious of the emotions of the person. This enables you to connect with the person.

For effective coaching, you need to be at Level 2 and then have the ability to listen at Level 3. At times, you may find yourself drifting to Level 1. In such cases, you will need to make conscious effort to bring yourself back to Level 2 for a meaningful coaching experience.

Tips for Active Listening:

  • Get rid of distractions like mobile phone, laptops or other electronics, move away from noisy places.
  • Before the conversation, become self-aware by taking a moment to assess your mood and clear your thoughts.
  • Maintain an open posture – unfold your arms, unclench your fists and keep good eye contact.
  • Active Listening is difficult to master and requires a lot of practice to get better at it. It is very effective when used with “Asking Powerful Questions”.

Have you used this technique? If yes, please share your story.

References

Agile Coaching – Rachel Davies, Liz Sedley

http://www.coactive.com/learning-hub/fundamentals/res/FUN-Topics/FUN-Co-Active-Coaching-Skills-Listening.pdf

Scrum.org PSF – What, Why, and How?

Certifications and training courses help establish a fact that the participant knows about a subject and can be questioned to ascertain. The Scrum.org, Professional Scrum Foundation (PSF) is one such course that prepares you for the Scrum world.

Here is a straight-to-the-point short post about PSF. Like our course curriculum, trainings, and our consulting, we like to get straight to it than beat around the idea!

 What is PSF?

Professional Scrum Foundations or PSF helps master everyday Scrum duties and responsibilities. This covers the eligibility needed to appear for the prestigious Professional Scrum Master Credential examination.

 Why should I do PSF?

To lead better, function effectively as a Scrum-practitioner, and be a self-organized Scrum player. Without these, effective deliveries of project leave a lot desired. A Scrum master is someone who has to learn to be active and deliver effective value. The PSF foundation course will enable you to attempt the PSM I assessment and prove your mettle.

How do I do PSF?

We at PracticeAgile.com help train our students to learn and master PSF. The course comprises of expert instructions and team based exercises that help you gain mastery over Scrum nitty-gritties, lead teams to collaborate more. We will cover:

  • Fundamentals of Scrum
  • The Scrum Framework
  • Mastering Scrum
  • Planning with Scrum
  • Getting Started and keeping Scrum healthy

It’s a Hands-on workshop where we do scrum from the trenches. An example case study of an HTML based website is carried out, where we build the Website as a Scrum-project over duration of 4 sprints. It helps get first-hand experience on how to deal with dependencies and integration challenges in scaled environment.

Contact us through my linked in presence or drop us a note at Practiceagile.com. Happy to answer any queries you have about PSF. For folks based out of Mumbai, India and nearby areas, we have a training scheduled next week. Check the training calendar to know more and register.

Agile Coach Toolkit #4: Effective Facilitation

As an Agile Coach, you frequently encounter situations which demand quick thinking to get things moving in the right direction. Over time I have found few techniques which come out handy and always keep these in my playbook in case need arise. This is the fourth part in the series of tools that I have found useful in my role as Agile Coach – Effective Facilitation.

Purpose – As a Scrum Master, you will need to facilitate Scrum events, decision making, conflict resolution and other critical discussions. This will require some preparation and deliberation to ensure the goals are met.

Description – Facilitation is needed to ensure that the group works cooperatively and effectively. As a Scrum Master, you will need to take care of a few aspects to help meet the goal(s) of the discussion. Tips for effective facilitation are listed below –

  1. Ensure that everyone participating in the discussion understand its purpose. You would need to set the context at the beginning and may have to reiterate once in a while when you see that the discussions are digressing from the context.
  2. Working agreement at the beginning will help. E.g., mobile/ electronics usage, punctuality, participant expectations, etc. Listing the Scrum values, especially if you are going to deal with conflict resolution may help the discussion.
  3. If the event/ meeting is not interactive, you may want to spend some time take some time to find the root cause.
  4. Create a safe environment for people to speak by ensuring that people focus on task at hand rather than pointing fingers. Immediately interject if there are any personal attacks.
  5. Use Timeboxing to ensure that discussions are productive.
  6. Balance the discussions so that introverts feel included in the discussions.
  7. As a facilitator, you need to read the mood in the room to take breaks at regular intervals to keep the energy level high for productive discussion.
  8. Be neutral in your stance and do not take sides (beware of your implicit bias during heated discussions)

Have you used this technique in coaching your team? If yes, please share your story.

References

Agile Coaching – Rachel Davies, Liz Sedley

Scrum Insights for Practitioners – Hiren Doshi

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