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. 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

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.

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/

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

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