All posts by David Sabine, PST

David is a Professional Scrum Trainer with Scrum.org. He works to improve the profession of software delivery. He helps organizations deliver products of the highest possible quality and value. His career highlights the intersection of business, technology, art and education. With his broad experience, he helps organizations and teams understand agility at all levels: practice and delivery, leadership and stewardship, organizational design and culture. David is a Professional Scrum Trainer, Agile Business Consultant, Product Expert, Technical Coach and Software Engineer, Public Speaker, Executive Director of Ontario Scrum Community®, TEDx Alumnus, Musician, Husband and Dad. David works primarily in the Toronto area. Contact David about Private Agile/Lean & Scrum training for your organization. Or register for his upcoming courses at https://scrum.works.

If Showcasing Technical Work, Then Remember to Keep Stakeholders Engaged

During Sprint Reviews, I’ve observed teams showcasing the results of purely technical work. Sometimes the resolution of a defect caused by some form of technical debt (“we noticed that we were making too many service calls”); or something related to development infrastructure (“we had to switch to a new testing framework”.) In such cases, the presentation frequently jumps quickly into a description of what was done showing, for example, the before and after behaviour connected to the defect or the results produced with a testing framework.

Potential problems with this are that business stakeholders attending the meeting:

  • might be left wondering what this means to them
  • feel unable to provide any feedback
  • and in the worst case scenario, might feel they’ve wasted their time attending the Review.

A team might ask themselves, “what is the reason for us to have purely technical items in our Product Backlog?” But leaving that aside, the perils of losing stakeholder engagement during the Sprint Review could be mitigated by framing the presentation around the following questions:

  • How is the world better now that we’ve fixed this defect?
  • What’s the impact on the users and the business?
  • What specific new capability does this technical work allow the team to do now for the business they serve (that they couldn’t do before)?

Submitted by Fernando Cuenca


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Practice Focus: Send Less Email & Close Slack

Very few people are paid to chat or write email: executive assistants and lawyers mostly.  Everybody else is paid to do other work like write code, build things, solve problems, or transact with customers.  Think about what you’re actually paid to do, then do that and only that.

If the Slack channel side-bar represents your definition of “collaboration”, stop! If you need to communicate with others while doing your work, do it face-to-face whenever possible or by phone & video. To be clear: Slack channels may be good for announcements but quickly digress as water-cooler drivel and those chatbots are sorry excuses for actual event logging. Perhaps it’s reassuring to be reminded that there’s nothing in Slack (or Yammer/HipChat/Asana/Jira/Trello) more important than the work you’re actually paid to perform.

If your “Sent Items” folder is a CYA repository, stop! If it’s necessary in your organization to CYA then document your activity in a personal journal and stop involving other people in your CYA habit.

If your Inbox is your to-do list, stop!  Use sticky-notes, a hipster PDA, or a calendar.


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If Multiple Lines of Business Have Competing Priorities, Then Portfolio Prioritization…Right Now!!

I was with a Scrum team two weeks ago who were complaining that multiple lines of business were each pushing priorities into their backlog. The results included:

  • team working lots of overtime;
  • team couldn’t make/keep commitments for any of their stakeholders;
  • team couldn’t focus;
  • team was embarrassed that their code quality had eroded.

The team had come to think they had “multiple Product Owners”. I explained that’s impossible and when I asked who in their organization has the authority to reorder or veto any items in their backlog they all were able to name one Vice President. That VP, I said, is their de facto Product Owner regardless that others may have that job title. The team came to understand that:

  • their so-called Product Owners do not have the authority required to order their backlog, yet;
  • and until they do the onus is on their VP to relinquish said authority and to have crucial conversations with all stakeholders in order to prioritize the portfolio and to set realistic expectations with regard to the team’s true capacity.

For more reading about managing multiple backlogs in an organization, check out this article: Backlogs in an Organization – Levels of Queues


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Do Great Work & Don’t Ship Defects

Teams are often pressured by business stakeholders to “go faster” and deliver new features quickly at the expense of quality. This pressure leads to technical debt unless the team stands strong. Engineers and developers, you have a responsibility to your teams, your profession, and to yourselves to uphold high standards. Yes, learn and incorporate techniques which enable you to deliver frequently but take care to also ensure that your code meets or exceeds your definition of done.


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Design Debt & UX Debt is Technical Debt

Hey! Let’s all work together, please.

Technical Debt is a term which captures sloppy code, unmaintainable architecture, clumsy user experience, cluttered visual layout, bloated feature-sets, etc.  My stance is that the term, Technical Debt, includes all the problems which occur when people defer professional discipline — regarding any/every technical practice such as product management, visual and UX design, or code.

I assert that the change we need to catalyze in the business community is larger than any one discipline and I am worried that I have seen an increase in blog articles in recent years about concepts like “Design Debt”, “UX Debt”, “Experience Debt” — these articles unfortunately are not helping and have served only to divide the community. They are divisive, not because we shouldn’t be discussing the discreet facets in which Technical Debt can manifest, but because authors often take a decidedly combative approach in their writing.  Take these phrases for example:

  • “Product Design Debt Versus Technical Debt” written by Andrew Chen
  • “User Experience Debt: Technical debt is only half the battle” written by Clinton Christian
  • “Design debt is more dangerous because…” written by James Engwall.

I agree with Andrew Chen that Product Design Debt is a problem — I just don’t like that he chose to impose a dichotomy where there is none.  Why must he argue one “versus” another?  Clinton Christian has implied that we’re in a “battle”.  James Engwall has compared the “danger” of Design Debt relative to Technical Debt.  These words are damaging, I argue, because they divert attention to symptoms and away from root causes.

The root cause of Technical Debt is that people forget this simple principle of the Agile Manifesto: “Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.”

The root solution to Technical Debt — all of its forms — is to help business leaders realize there is a difference between “incremental” development and “iterative” development so they may understand the ROI of refactoring.  No technical expert should ever have to justify the business case for feature-pruning, refreshing a user interface, refactoring code, prioritizing defects.  Every business leader should trust that their technical staff are disciplined and excellent.

Yes, please blog about UX Debt and Product Development Debt, etc.  But please do so in a way that encourages cohesion and unity within the Product Development community.


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When the team says, “we need detailed requirements before we can estimate”…

The next time the team says “we can’t estimate without better requirements” what they actually mean is, “this is crazy, but hey…if you think you can accurately predict all the exact requirements and you can guarantee that nobody in this company will change their minds about those requirements between this moment and forever, then we’ll give you an estimate to hang your hat/noose on.”

Every group responsible for the creation and delivery of software (or any complex/creative product for that matter) will experience dissonance between the need to plan and the need to obey the laws of nature which prevent us from travelling through time and future-telling.  Business leaders have to finance the development of product; creative and technical leaders have to solve complex problems amidst dynamic, unpredictable, circumstances.  These conditions manifest as a dichotomy which is difficult to mediate (at best) and/or downright toxic (at worst).

On one hand, a common sentiment among project managers is: “The problem I have with the release planning stage is that without clear requirements, the developers don’t like to give estimates, even with story points.”

On the other hand, a common sentiment among developers is: “Stakeholders don’t understand what they’re asking for, if they knew the complexity of our technology they wouldn’t be asking those questions.”

If developers don’t like to provide estimates, it is likely because others in the organization have used their estimates as though they are accurate predictions of future. Thus, when said estimates turn out to be inaccurate they are used as punitive metrics in conversations about “commitment” and “velocity” and “accountability”.

Point of order: NOBODY CAN PREDICT THE FUTURE.


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