Big Room Planning / Nexus Sprint Planning

Consider this post as a first step in learning about Big Room Planning, or a refresher to those who know about it already or a toolkit for those who have it planned on the cards.

Complex, cross-team projects often pose challenges to Stakeholders as to who is going to do what, when and how. What is my dependency on others and how accountable I am for the dependencies faced by others? Over the years Agile has managed to ease the life of many involved. The concept of Big Room Planning / Nexus Sprint Planning or BRP helps break big goals into smaller manageable chunks, enables business and technology alignment and makes elephantine problems seem feasible to solve.

So what are the basics of BRP, advantages and how to do it effectively? I will walk you through the basics and how we conducted an effective BRP recently for a major tech organization at Bangalore. It was surreal, 15+ Scrum Teams working across geographies, building a complex software product.

What is BRP

When you have many teams working towards a common goal, we can bring all these together to one room towards one common goal. The goals are then broken down into various scrum teams to identify which team delivers what and how. This can also include teams from various geographies calling in from various locations to provide their valuable inputs or take stock of the situation.

The strategies and effectiveness of the BRP conducted by the Scrum masters, scrum coaches and stake holders helps decide:

  • The path from goals to integrated incremental deliverables.
  • Clear release goals for the next 2-3 months.
  • The release goals, stakeholders and clear understanding of final deliverables.
  • Whether to increase release frequency or the agreed deliverables during sprints.

What can BRP help achieve?

But why do BRP. Is the effort worth, so many people are going to share time and effort for two crucial days. Answer is yes. Two days of effort preceded by an effective Scrum coach can make a sea of difference to the project. Some of the top benefits you can achieve from BRP are:

  • Define the Release Cycle. Plan the work and effort for the next few weeks and months.
  • Identify and Visualize dependencies and integration points across various teams.
  • Improve Collaboration. Teams get to see a quick white-boarded view of what each team is doing.
  • Helps with quick decisions making promoting a feeling of one-unit, making everyone inclusive to the cause. ·
  • Diverse views help look at angles you never thought of before.
  • People own the goals since they have planned them together.

What are some insights from my BRP session

In this section, I will sprinkle my own wisdom dust on how you can execute successful and really effective BRPs. These are like ingredients and you can experiment with these but some are necessary to lead to convincing results for all.

  • Need a strong facilitator – The importance of this cannot be underlined more. Without a good captain, the ship can go astray. The Scrum masters play a pivotal role of clearly defining what the end goals are, what we are trying to achieve and how we are going to achieve it.
  • Agenda, crystal clear agenda – A clear Agenda and the outcome desired at the end of the sessions as well as BRP.
  • Objectives – Need clear and crisp objectives for teams to be aligned. Embed this in the planning, motive and efforts of the teams
  • Answers – Availability of Product Owner and SMEs to help with any clarifying questions the teams have in the BRP session.
  • Alignment – A clear alignment between Product Owners, SMEs, and the respective ScrumTeams.

Different Flavors, Equal Goals

Nexus Sprint Planning is also a flavor of the above that helps plan and coordinate work done by Scrum Teams in the current sprint. Attended by all Scrum teams and all stakeholders, it helps teams look at the Product backlog and prioritize work for the upcoming sprints. All team members equally participate to make adjustments of the work during refinement events, participation from all scrum members helps minimize communication issues. We will talk more about this in the posts to follow.

If you like this post, share it amongst your peers and friends. Have something to say? Drop in a note here or reach out to me if you need help in facilitating some good BRP sessions effective for your business. PracticeAgile.com has helped many Startups, Mid-size corporations and Enterprises by empowering them with the power of effective Big Room Planning!

5 Psychological Aspects for being an awesome Scrum Master

We all understand, every field has a skill quotient that you need to achieve to be able to qualify and deliver. It’s a Doctor of Medicine for someone who wants to practice medicine, be a Doctor, and save lives. An Arts degree for an Artist who wants to paint the town in their colors. Similarly, it’s educational degrees, some authentic time-tested certifications, and real world hands-on practical experiences that qualify us to become Scrum Coaches, Scrum Masters, Agile Consultants and so on.

A Doctor at work

What makes a better artist is the ability to see the world and empathize with the art it requires. Doctors can have a degree qualifying them to be the best in their profession, but would you visit them again if they don’t give you a listening ear? What if they don’t ask open-ended questions from their experience to seek first to understand, then to be understood?  What if they prescribe medicine without taking into account your allergies, immunity and actual health conditions?

An Artist engrossed in creation

Similarly, there are some psychological aspects, call it invisible forces, that are needed to be an awesome Scrum Master, Coach or Consultant that you just can’t ignore.

How do you ensure powerful collaborations?

I want to take this opportunity to share the top five values that have helped me to be a better Scrum professional in today’s ever evolving, beautiful, but at times chaotic world.

  1. Empathy: Spend time connecting with people to gain their trust and earn their respect. Respect cannot be demanded with titles.  Be positive, keep an open mind, and believe that everyone is doing the best job to his or her potential.

    Evaluate how you are practicing these values

  2. Humility: Serve people and teams to make a measurable positive difference in their lives. Don’t be judgmental. Use evidence, data and facts as a compass to help with your decisions.
  3. Compassionate: Be kind, down to earth and practice tolerance. Have faith in yourself and believe in your abilities. Make your own magic.
  4. Authentic: Be honest, be genuine and be real. Copying or imitating is easy, but that’s not you. Use your imagination and creativity and contribute something new and useful back to the community.
  5. Forgive:  Everyone makes mistakes. Let go, make peace with yourself, and learn the art of forgiveness and move on. Practice collaboration over competition.

I don’t claim to have mastered the above values and I honestly feel one lifetime is too short a time to master them. But, by being mindful and by practicing these values it has helped me be a better Agile Consultant and I sincerely hope it helps you too.

Collaborative and Happy Working Spaces

There are many more advances in corporate awareness, organizational development, Agile, and Scrum that are paving way for more values and psychological inputs. As PracticeAgile delivers more and more trainings, workshops, and consulting services, we will share more of our learnings as we walk on this journey together.

We would love to hear your thoughts about this article and what you would like us to cover in our upcoming posts. If you want to collaborate and learn more in our next workshop, check out our training calendar and sign up for the trainings that interest you. Share this with your fellow colleagues and friends to share the knowledge and spread the wisdom!

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. At the same time if the Scrum Team optimizes their velocity to be able to deliver value faster, but other teams within the system are unable to consume their outcomes, it will result in waste per Lean principles. Optimization is best done at system level rather than locally.

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

How to manage unplanned work during the Sprint

As part of the Scrum Tapas video series, Professional Scrum Trainer Hiren Doshi discusses a model to assess and control unplanned work that may come up during a Sprint and reviewing its impact during the Sprint Review.

Agile Coach Toolkit #3: Asking Powerful Questions

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 third part in the series of tools that I have found useful in my role as Agile Coach – Asking Powerful Questions.

Purpose – As a Scrum Master, you will deal with different personas in the Scrum Team with clear goal to build a high performing team. Dealing with human psychology is complex at best (though I feel that it is chaotic at times). At times you are pulled into situations where there are conflicts among the team members and you may need to coach them to ensure it is constructive and doesn’t go down into war zone.

Description – Coaching is a guided discussion meant to sort out conversations, set goals or learn new behaviors. Start your coaching conversation by welcoming the participant and asking the person what he/ she would like to get out of the discussion. This will help set the objectives for the discussion and serve as a guardrail for channeling the conversation. This stage should not take more than 10% of the time.

Let the participant open up and talk about his/ her concerns. To get the person open up more, you may need to ask open ended question like –

“Tell me more about it?” or “What else?”

In order to gauge if the person has tried solving the issue by himself/ herself, you may ask below question –

“What have you tried and how has that worked out?”

Sometimes I find it helpful to ask below question to understand the person’s emotional state by asking –

“How does that make you feel?”

In addition to helping the person express his/ her feelings, it also provides us with good insight into how emotional aspects play into the issue. One of the useful follow up questions I find helpful is –

“If you were to give a suggestion to friend who in this scenario, what would it be?”

This helps the person to take a step back and analyze the problem from third party perspective. Sometimes, even a short question like below also help explore few options

“What is possible?” 

Unless that person has not come up with options and you want to give any suggestion, first ask the person –

“May I offer you a suggestion?”

Then add your thoughts by stating –

“Have you explored … <option>?”

After the conversation has run its course, you would like to wrap up by asking the participant to summarize the take aways and next steps to ensure there will be a fruitful follow up. This should ideally be no more than 10% of the entire conversation.

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

References

http://www.coachingagileteams.com/2008/04/15/agile/powerful-questions-for-agile-teams/ – Lyssa Adkins

Agile Coach Toolkit #2: Timeboxing

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 second part in the series of tools that I have found useful in my role as Agile Coach – Timeboxing.

Timeboxing is a time management tool that allocates a fixed time period, called a timebox, to an activity. Timeboxing is generally used for ensuring that effort is spent well on activity at hand and reduce waste.

Benefits of Timeboxing

  • It help everyone aligned and focus on the problem/ issue at hand.
  • Timeboxes encourage the team members who are working hands-on on the problem to create the best possible outcome in the time allotted, within the current context.
  • Timeboxing serves as guardrails and make the team safe by restricting the risk.
  • It avoids procrastination by helping the team to avoid distractions and prioritize their work.
  • It helps prevent unnecessary perfectionism by the team members.

Note of Caution – As a Scrum Master, timeboxing would be a great tool in your kit. But care must be taken in certain scenarios –

  • Do not go aggressive in timeboxing a particular discussion that the team may be engaged in. Sometimes they may be ‘in the zone’ and shorter time duration my end up doing more damage than to help them.

I have found this simple and yet effective idea of timeboxing very beneficial in my role and would encourage Scrum Masters to leverage it in their roles. You may find it helpful to remind the team about time whenever they tend to digress from the problem at hand. Sometimes a periodic reminder helps ensure that discussions/ activities keep progressing.

Have you used this simple technique in your role? If yes, I would love to hear back from you.

References

Scrum Insights for Practitioners – Hiren Doshi

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeboxing – Wikipedia

Raffle for PSM workshop, Mumbai (2 Tickets)

In 2007, Ken Schwaber allowed me to attend his Certified Scrum Master class in Boston for a mere $200 (for certification and meals) for a ticket that had a price of over $2000 then, because he probably saw the hunger in me to learn Scrum. Ken’s gesture of goodwill gave me a tremendous boost in my Agile journey.

Today while gearing up for the exciting PSM class, which I will be co-teaching with another mentor of mine Steve Porter, I want to happily contribute back to the community. I will raffle 2 heavily discounted tickets for the workshop on 16th – 17th March in Powai, Mumbai to anyone who shares the same passion to embark on this awesome journey. You will only pay INR 8500 (Regular ticket price of INR 24998+GST). The cost includes PSM I assessment fees, the premium Scrum.org training material and the cost for the food. I will also provide a hard copy of my book Scrum Insights for Practitioners, which will be co-signed by Steve Porter. I will pick 2 names randomly (you will have to trust me on this) on Monday, 12th March and names will be announced at 5:00pm. Please submit your names by 3:00pm March 12th. 

Registration Link: https://practiceagile.com/raffle-for-psm-workshop/

Agile Coach Toolkit #1: 5 Whys

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 first part in the series of tools that I have found useful in my role as Agile Coach – 5 Whys.

Brief History – This technique was originally developed by Sakichi Toyoda and was used within the Toyota Motor Corporation during the evolution of its manufacturing methodologies. It is a critical component of problem-solving training, delivered as part of the induction into the Toyota Production System.

Purpose – 5 whys can be used for:

  1. Root Cause Analysis during Sprint Retrospectives
  2. Identifying impediments

Description – Discuss with team members to look at the issue and ask “Why?” up to five times to get beyond habitual thinking. It is imperative to distinguish causes from symptoms and pay attention to the logic of cause-and-effect relationship to identify the root cause. Be empirical in the investigation by leveraging the facts for decision-making.

Example – An issue identified is “poor Sprint Planning”. Let’s find the root cause for this problem.

  • “Why was Sprint Planning poor”?
    • “Well, we did not have a clear objective and the PBIs were not ‘Ready’
  • “Why were the PBIs not ‘Ready’”?
    • “The team did not meet for Product Backlog Refinement meetings”
  • “Why did the team not meet?
    • “Yes, we were supposed to meet on Thursday from 4 to 6pm, but the CEO called for an impromptu All-hands at the same time”
  • “Why wasn’t the meeting re-scheduled”?
    • “Well, there is no owner for the meeting”

So the real root cause for poor Sprint Planning was no accountability of the Product Backlog Refinement meetings. It is very important to identify the root cause, come out with action items for improvement, identify an accountable person from the Scrum Team and agree on the expected time frame for putting the improvements into practice.

Have you used this technique to identify the root cause of any problems? If yes, please share your story.

References

Scrum Insights for Practitioners – Hiren Doshi

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/5_Whys – Wikipedia

Agile Retrospectives – Esther Derby, Diana Larsen

Scrum Chapter Mumbai – “Leading Agile adoption”

Goal to answer the question:

“As an aspiring Agile Coach, I want to learn how to lead Agile adoption for my 1st prospective client, so that I can deliver maximum value and improve their ROI for the investment they make in me”

We had some excellent discussions.

Scrum Chapter Mumbai - Feb 2018

1st Edition of Scrum Chapter - Mumbai, "Leading Agile Adoption" Goal to answer the question: "As an aspiring Agile Coach, I want to learn how to lead Agile adoption for my 1st prospective client, so that I can deliver maximum value and improve their ROI for the investment they make in me"

Some insights we gained from our discussion:

  1. Understanding ‘The why”: Why is the organization is trying to embrace Agile?
  2. Derive the baseline of where the organization stands before the Agile journey
  3. Facilitate retrospectives and interviews with the C-level executives, mid level managers and the foot soldiers to understand the culture of the organization as well as their Agile readiness.
  4. Educate the organization on the new ways of working and get a top-down and bottom-up buy-in. This can include trainings, brown bag sessions, etc.
  5. Define quantitative business metrics to measure the progress with the idea of continuous improvement and the understanding that all we need to do is try to be “better than yesterday”
  6. … and many more

The 2nd edition of Scrum Chapter Mumbai is planned on Saturday, March 24th from 4:30pm to 7:00pm.

Topic:  Moving from “ScrumBut” to “ScrumAnd

Goodbye, 2017

Goodbye, 2017

Here are the “3 important lessons learned” by me this year:

Overcome your fear of failure:  Be uncomfortable and do something different that you have been avoiding because of the fear of failure. There can only be 2 outcomes – either you will be successful or you have learnt something to be better the next time. And both the outcomes will help you overcome your fear of failure.

Change works better inside-out:  Be humble and accept that the people in this world are not perfect and neither are you. It might be difficult to change someone else, but easier to change yourself.

Health is your biggest wealth:  Working at a sustainable pace is the key to avoid burn out. It is absouletely essential to create a healthy balance in your calendar.

With great humility I also thank the Scrum enthusiasts for accepting my book, “Scrum Insights for Practitioners: The Scrum Guide Companion”. Your positive feedback has been overwhelming and I am glad I was of service to the Scrum community.

Thank you! I wish you all a very happy and prosperous 2018!

What are some lessons you have learnt this year?

Attributes of Professional Product Owner

In Scrum, Product Owner is responsible for maximizing the value of product being developed by Development Team. This implies that a product’s success relies heavily on the Product Owner role. I have consolidated the attributes from Mike Cohn’s book “Succeeding with Agile” with few more must-have attributes for this role:

  • Visionary – Product Owner must have a solid vision on what (s)he would like to deliver to the customers. This would require the person to understand the business, market conditions and should be able to weigh in the risks and opportunities. Without this quality, Product Owner may struggle to envision the product which (s)he wants to build for the customer. In large organizations with lot of legacy systems, I recommend having Product Owner to envision product that delivers something of customer value. This product may touch upon multiple internal systems. Product Owner would need to work with Subject Matter Experts from each system to build Product Backlog which maximizes value delivered to customers.
  • Minimum Viable Product (MVP) mindset – At times, Product Owners fall for the budgetary trap. They get tempted to build more features since there is still budget left for consumption. Studies have proven that on an average more than 65% of developed features are never used. This is a case of adding waste into the system. Instead of consuming the budget, focus on only delivering the most valuable features.
  • Understand the competition – We live in a highly disruptive market where new products are launched quite often. Product Owner needs to have his/ her eyes and ears on the ground to understand where opportunity arises and take swift decisions.
  • Communicative and Collaborative – As a Product Owner, the person will need to communicate with diverse set of stakeholders including Development Teams. The person should collaborate with everyone to bring them onboard with the product vision.
  • Negotiation skills – Collaborating with various stakeholders and Development Teams would need excellent negotiation skills. This will also help avoid delays in decision-making. When stakeholders skip Sprint Reviews, it is a classic sign of dis-engaged Product Owner.
  • Release frequently – Business value perceived by Product Owner is only a hypothesis unless it is released to the market. By not releasing frequently, you will just lengthen the feedback loop from the customers and miss the opportunity to take necessary tactical decisions about the product.
  • Empowered – If Product Owner is not having authority to take decisions related to the product, it may cause delays in actual work as Scrum Team will have to wait for decisions taken by the ‘right authority’. This will happen when Product Owner role is being performed by a person that serves as a “proxy” between the Product Manager and Development Team.
  • Available – A Product Owner must be available for Development Team. In general, person performing this role has other non-Scrum related tasks at hand and makes it difficult to find a right balance between those tasks and Product Owner’s accountabilities. This becomes more challenging when working with geographically distributed teams with limited time-zone overlap. Scaling this role when you have multiple Development Teams working on same product makes the matters worse. I usually recommend having Product Owner office hours to ensure that teams get necessary time with Product Owner to get their queries answered.

All-in-all Product Owner is a leadership role which requires the attributes mentioned above so Scrum Team has an edge to build a product that customers need.

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