All posts by Mike Caspar

Insight from a new Scrum Master

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I recently had the pleasure of doing some coaching with someone who is new to Scrum and has taking on the role of the Scrum Master as part of a team of teachers.

Edwin Portfillo - Scrum Master
Edwin Portillo  – (c) Copyright Edwin Portillo, 2015

Last week, I unexpectedly received this email from him. I wanted to share it as a thought for other new Scrum Masters in the making…..

I’m beginning to understand that being a SM involves me not coercing people into following a specific task but guiding them into  deciding as a group what must be done for the team to move efficiently.

“We never want to be in a position where 100% of the work is 80% done.

On the other hand, if 80% of the work is 100% done, you have a qualified success.”

 Edwin Portillo
High School teacher (Scrum Master – The Teaching Team)
Hope High School / Blueprint Education

As you can see, Edwin has come a long way already in his understanding of the role. Please feel free to share your Positive comments with Edwin if you wish.  I’m sure he’ll appreciate it :->

I’ll start…  Thanks Edwin for taking the time to really think about how your actions should impact your team. Thank you for sharing your ideas with new Scrum Masters in such a simple and effective way.

Mike Caspar
Passionate About Agile


Scrum –
Hope High School –
Blueprint Education –

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Teams and their proximity to the final user

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A great, simple post from Mike Bowler…

Time: Teams that are writing code today that will be used by their customers tomorrow are very focused on what the customers actually need. Teams that are writing code today that won’t be seen by a customer for six months are less engaged.

Mike Caspar
Passionate About Agile

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A story about Acceptance Criteria and a medical procedure to help your Agile team

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The following story is designed to help get your teams thinking about the topic from the “How can we learn this together” approach.
There are many detailed books with different points of view about acceptance testing.  I created this story as a way for teams to discuss this in a common language and figure out what works for them.

While you read this, I hope you see many similarities to the Agile Frameworks of your choice.  Perhaps quizzing your team on how many they find might be fun? (a different topic).

Please don’t give me a hard time about the medical inconsistencies.  I’m not a doctor and don’t have a medical degree.  It’s just a story and is completely fictional.

Fade in…..  The patient walks into a moderately lit room with an uncomfortable black chair that looks like it’s 20 years old, sitting next to a medical examination table.  The patient sits on the little black chair to discover it also feels that way.  He is going to be the patient for a long series of medical procedures to solve some medical problems.  The patient knows it will take many surgeries to get to where he wants to be.

Surgeon: So, we’re going to remove your appendix this week.  The team is anxious to get rolling.

Patient : I’m pretty nervous.  I don’t really know what to expect and I know I have all these other operations that need to get done for me to be totally healthy.

Surgeon : Don’t worry.  We have a really good team.  We also want to make sure you are 100% satisfied with the work we do.  We know that you want to get some cosmetic work done in the future and you have other important surgeries to do, but for now, let’s focus on the appendix removal, OK ?

Patient : Sure

Surgeon : We want to make sure we have a common understanding of what you want from us.  So, we’re going to ask you a few questions OK ?…Can I get the team in here ?

Patient : Sounds good.


Surgeon : Well, for this to be considered a successful operation, what kind of things are you looking for?  I already know, that to me at least, successful means two things.  1- The appendix is out and 2 – you don’t die during the surgery.  Well, actually, the not dying part is part of every surgery we’ll do for you.  We’ll assume that every surgery needs you to live.

Patient : I’m glad you said that!!! Phew.. I feel better already.  And ya, I agree, it would really be a drag to do the surgery and not end up with the appendix out.  I agree with both of those things.

Surgeon : We need to put a caveat.  If we start and see that it’s impossible to finish for some other reason, we’re going to abort the surgery.  We won’t continue if we can’t be successful.

Patient : Yes, that makes sense.

Surgeon : So, we’re agreed then.  Let’s go ahead and get you prepped.

Anesthetist :  Not so fast, I need to speak.  We want to make sure you don’t have any allergic reactions.  Have you ever gone under?  Do you have any allergies ?

Patient : I’ve been under before, and have had no problems.

Anesthetist : Great.  Let me just record that on our surgery card.  We’ll need to know that we can make adjustments as we go if something bad happens.  Is that OK ?

Patient : Ya, whatever you need to do.. Go ahead and switch to another chemical if you need to.  I’ll be happy if you don’t kill me and you’ve done what you can if you notice an allergic reaction.

Patient : Since I’m on the topic, I would like to have a very small scar and not a big one. I am willing to pay extra for a smaller scar and therefore, for me, I won’t be happy unless the scar is small.

Surgeon : Well, that will make the operation harder and we might need to put off some work where we were prepping for your next surgery until a future date. The reason is that you can only be under a limited amount of time.  It won’t cost you more because the price of the surgery is fixed.  You might have to give something else up later.  Can you live with that ?

Patient : Yes, if I have a big scar, I won’t be happy. I am willing to pay the extra over the long run and maybe I’ll have something less done later.  I really don’t want big scars as we move forward.

Surgical Resident :  Hold on, that’s way too subjective.. What might be big to you could actually be a really small scar.  What does a small scar mean?

Here are some examples.  Which on of these is considered small enough for you?

(shows a batch of photos).

Patient : I’d like it to be at least this small.  (picks one).

Surgical Resident : OK, the scar will be under 30 CM in length and 1 CM in width.  Does everyone feel we can do this and this?

Everyone : Yes

Surgeon : Anything else?

Patient and the rest of the team : No.

Surgeon : Well, then, we’re a go.  Now that we all know what will be considered acceptable and a sign of success, let’s get prepped tomorrow morning first thing…

Fade out…

Fade in.. .the day of the surgery…. (beginning of the Sprint)… the patient is rolled in…

Doctor : OK team, let’s quickly review our acceptance criteria… Patient Alive, deal with allergic reaction and the patient expects a scar of under 30 CM and 1 CM in side.  I expect everyone on the team to help me make sure we meet these requirements.  Can everyone agree before I cut?

Team : Yes.

(Surgery is moving forward)

Surgical Resident : Doctor, if you do that just a little differently, perhaps you will be able to shave a few millimeters off the size of the scar.  What do you think ?

Surgeon : Great idea.. Thanks for that.  Why don’t you hold onto the medical gizmo while I do the next cut. Sure, that will make it easier for both of us to do this together.

Anesthetist : Hey guys, hold on, let’s just talk about this.  if you do that, his blood pressure will go up and you risk killing him.

Surgeon : Wow, thanks. I doubt we would kill him, but we’d probably have to do some extreme surgery which would definitely give him a huge scar. Let’s think about this.

(discussion takes place)

Team : Glad we figured out how to do that. We can safely do that without causing any risks to the patient in the future.  Let’s go for it…

(surgery continues)

Surgical Resident :  Hey Doc, we’re almost half way through the time for the drugs and allocated time for the surgery.  Can we all agree about how much work is left so we don’t keep him under too long ?  OK, we have about another 2 hours of work do here. We’re still good.  No need to worry.  Let’s update the surgical status board to say “surgery progressing appropriately” so his family knows everything is on track.

(surgery continues).

Surgeon : OK, let’s finish up.  Anything missing ?

Surgical Resident : Yes, don’t forget to take out that sponge.

Surgeon and Anesthetist :  Yikes!

Surgeon : Thanks for catching that.

Anesthetist : No kidding.  That wouldn’t be very professional and people probably wouldn’t think we’re very good at what we did if we left stuff undone and had to come back and fix it later.

(surgery is finished successfully and the patient gets rolled out).

… fade out

… fade in….   patient in recovery and the team comes to check on him.

Surgeon : So, the surgery went really well.   You’re obviously alive, your appendix is gone.  Only one last thing…..

(the doctor removes the bandage and shows the patient the size of the scar).

Patient : Wow, that’s exactly what I asked you for.  It hurts a lot, is that normal? I wasn’t expecting that!

Surgeon : Yes, that’s normal.  Once the swelling goes down, it will be even smaller.

Patient : Thanks Doc.

Surgeon : Thanks to the team. Everyone really worked hard to make this happen.

Patient : Ya, thanks team.

Surgeon : Oh, by the way, we had to correct an adhesion we discovered while working.  Not to worry, we didn’t charge you extra.  We charge for the amount of time we spend doing the surgery.  We just fixed it while we were in the area.  (yes, I can see the malpractice lawyers cringing.. this is just a story).  We knew it wouldn’t extend the amount of time for the surgery and we knew you would be happier with the results.

Patient : Thanks. The team is amazing!

Surgeon : Is there anything you didn’t like or any special comments you’d like to give the team for the next surgery?

Patient : Ya, I wish you would have warned me about how much it would hurt.

Surgeon (whole team nods) : Thanks for that.  We’ll consider that in the future.

…. fade out ….

… fade in ….   Medical Team room.

Surgeon : Well, that went very well.. any comments about what could have gone better?

(some discussion happens).

Surgeon :  Great, we’re agreed then.  For the next surgery and all the ones we do in the future, let’s have an open discussion with the patient ahead of time about the expected amount of pain so it doesn’t cause them alarm when they come out of surgery. It will be a better experience for them and improve our professionalism.

…. fade out….

Mike Caspar





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Using planning poker cards to estimate larger amounts of work (projects)

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You have been fighting for the right for your SCRUM or OpenAgile team to do the right thing and allow the TEAM to estimate the work for a project instead of having a PM, senior manager or Committee just make something up for team.  Congratulations…

Then you realize.. Oh, Oh.. Now what ?  How am I going to pull this off ?   You will find all kinds of interesting material on the net with complex formulas and calculations.  There are some well written and recognized books about this topic that can help.  *Agile Estimating and Planning by Mike Cohn is a great place to start.

What is important is that the TEAM should estimate the work required to complete a Sprint (or a Project).  The people doing the work, really know best how long their work will take.

Please remember though, estimation is just that, and should not be cast in stone.  The reality is that at this early stage (or even 1/2 way through a project), there are still many unknowns.

I have used the following approach with as many as approximately 20 team members at the same time.  Maybe it will work for you.

The following procedure assumes you already have a team or teams that are familiar with their velocity and capabilities.

Here’s how it works….

At this early stage, their may be some stories, but likely everything is in Epic or Theme sizes.  Perfect.  You don’t need too much detail.

The Product Owner can give a brief overview of the vision.  You might find it useful to have stakeholders there to listen in and answer questions at this early stage.  This will help them to have an idea already of what obstacles they will need to be removing for the team in the future :->

Then, let the team use what they already know….  Planning Poker Cards.  For an overview of the process, here’s a link for a documented procedure from Mountain Goat Software.

Just change the scale of the cards to be 10 times more.  A 2 would become 20, a 20 would become 200.  The team members already know this system.  It will be easy for them to learn.

So, if your usual numbers are  1,2,3,5,8,13,20,40,100, use the same cards for team voting.  The values would just be 10,20,30,50,80,130,200,400,1000..

You will quickly get an overall estimate for each Epic with numbers from the team.  Just add up the numbers to get an overall number and divide it by the overall velocity and you’ll have some idea of how many sprints of work are left.

More importantly, you will also have started the process of communication among the team members and the Product Owner.  The Product Owner will already know which parts of the project may present challenges to assist them in their overall product planning.

Planning Poker Card Values Image
Card Values Transformed

As estimates really are just that, don’t get excited if the numbers aren’t what you deem to be perfect.  You will have an idea based on existing velocity of the “broad estimate” for the project.

Nothing fancy, works quickly, and gets everybody thinking about the big picture.

NO, it is NOT perfect.  That’s not the idea.  Spending too much time on this won’t necessarily give you more accurate results.  I find that letting everyone know it’s not perfect, removes a lot of pressure and keeps things moving forward.  People will STILL do what’s right and give their opinions on issues that really matter to them. Don’t worry about that ! :->

The hardest part is to keep things moving forward, especially with a larger group.  Be prepared for this or this will take far too long.

You may find that the numbers are Not what you expected and may be higher than you had hoped for.  Think about it this way.  If today, the team is telling you based on what they CURRENTLY know that the project will take 6 months to complete, what is the point of saying, NO, the exact amount of scope will get done in 3 months? As agilists, we know better.  Besides, at this point in time, we really don’t know what the work actually is yet.

Try and avoid having only developers, or only a certain group, and please don’t exclude testers or BA’s.  The idea here is that since you are working cross-functionally, you should be getting a cross-functional vote. Depending on your group size, you may have a hard time getting your WHOLE team involved.  Just resist the temptation to only have a few people.  You’re really missing the benefit.

This process has also worked for me half way through a very large project for a new team (it was not possible to do this at the beginning).   I was fortunate to be in a company that had a great attitude towards the results and used the information obtained to re-align their corporate objectives based on the teams’ input about how long epics would take.  That was a great experience and allowed for a very successful project delivery!

Listen to what the team is telling you!  They have all given their input this way.  There is no reason to think they are wrong about the their capabilities or the capabilities of the company to keep up with them.  The team will also automatically factor in the environment they work in and the corporate development culture.

I’ve successfully used this technique with a group as large as approximately 20 people from a variety of teams working on the same project in the same room with a Product Owner and 2 Stakeholders.

That same team also estimated approximately 6 months worth of epics in just under 2 hours. Longer than that would not likely have produced better results.

The goal isn’t to create procedures here, but to find a way to allow the team to estimate work instead of schedules being handed down to them.  More importantly, it will start the goal of communication between the Team and the Product Owner.

Maybe this approach will work for your team.  If you try this, please let me know how it worked out for you either way.

Mike Caspar


Mike Caspar – Mike Caspar’s Blog

OpenAgile –

Scrum –

Agile Estimating and Planning by Mike Cohn

*Agile Estimating and Planning by Mike Cohn

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Be able to explain WHY.

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Every once in a while I’m reminded of the very important question: WHY?

If you are considering SCRUM, XP, Lean or any other Agile Framework, or if you are considering using OpenAgile which is an Open Learning System, you will be changing the organization.

Many people think they can do “Agile in a bubble” and therefore not interact with the rest of the organization.  You will likely find that you will quickly run into obstacles to using the Framework.

Just the iterative process alone will change the way stakeholders interact with teams, meeting rooms are scheduled, vacation schedules, communication requirements, team spaces and/or seating, the responsibilities of stakeholders, and even the interactions between team members and other departments.  Because of this, working towards Agility WILL change your organization.

You may start out with an aggressive framework such as XP(Extreme Programming), or something a little more gentle such as Kanban or Lean (which let you start out as you are and visualize your process).  However, please don’t kid yourself; you will eventually need to change the way things get done in the company.


Which WayWhether you are the OpenAgile Growth Facilitator, a Scrum Master trying to introduce Agile from the grass-roots, or if you are the CEO or CIO trying to introduce change from that level, you will eventually need to address the WHY for the change.

Managers and employees alike need to know why they are being asked to leave their comfort zones.  In some cases they will be going against everything they have learned in the past about people management or how they should work.  They need to know the reason.


Whatever level you are in at your company, please be ready to explain why you are making the change to an Agile Environment.  Something like “to be more efficient”, isn’t really going to cut it.

  • Is it to be more competitive against other companies breaking into our market and you need to change quickly to stave them off?  To give this message, you would need to let people know that you are concerned about this.  This is part of the Transparency of Agile.  If you know this, but are not willing to pass this on to your managers or teams, you will have struggles when managers don’t know why you are changing their environments.
  • Is it to stop the high level of turnover in your company ?  You will be changing to a more team-focused environment which might seriously change the way Project Management or even H.R. does things.  For this also, you will need to explain your changes to help you get support.

I could think of many other reasons.  You should have your OWN reasons.

If you started an adoption or transformation a while back, it’s a good idea to restate this every once in a while (if even for yourself).  It will remind you why you are continuing to improve and learn every iteration.

Asking yourself once in a while will also allow you to improve your message which will likely change slightly over time as the market and your environment changes.

Please, go home TONIGHT and ask yourself WHY are we transitioning or continuing to work towards being more agile.  You will need to answer this for others more than once as you continue on your journey.

If the answer to yourself is “this is our last chance to make sure we don’t disappear as a company”, that revelation is a good one as well, and you will know why you need to stand strong on the changes you are making.  Either way, it all starts with the same question.

Please make sure you always know the answer to the question “Why?“.


OpenAgile, Growth Facilitator
XP (Extreme Programming)
Kanban, Lean

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The term Scrum Master can cause it’s own confusion.

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I recently had a revelation about the Title “Scrum Master” and why it seems to be so confusing in some companies, especially those that are moving from Command and Control to an Agile Environment.

I was observing the activities of a new team that did not have a Scrum Master but were trying to use the SCRUM Framework. The company had unfortunately not added this role in their new SCRUM team(s). The reasons why are not important. Let’s just say, they now have those roles.

When the Scrum Master was selected, some issues showed up over a perception of that person getting a “promotion” to a management type position. They were now the “Master of the Team” (or so the perception was).

I managed to help that team out by simply reminding them the intention is that the Scrum Master role is as a Master of SCRUM, not a Master of the Team.

There are some management type abilities to be a Scrum Master for sure, but they are more directed to interfacing with the outside world and removing obstacles for the team. There are some management skills required to be able to have the confidence to keep the rules of Scrum and push back and deal with different levels within the organization.

Remember, the word is SCRUM Master, not TEAM Master, Team lead, Project manager, etc.

Of course, changing the order of the words would be inappropriate, but perhaps explaining the distinction to others might help clear up some of the confusion for your teams.

The term is SCRUM Master

Mike Caspar

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Facing the facts early on. Risk Mitigation can be a powerful motivator.

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Recently, I was able to witness a remarkable event in a company that is relatively new to Agile. They have several teams at about Sprint 12, with several new teams just starting up. Many of their processes are waterfall based.

A failed waterfall project was moved to an existing Agile Team.

In the second Sprint, the Team (feeling trust in the organization and the process), came to the Scrum Master and said, “We’d like you to talk to management. We are not sure this project should be using the platform we develop on. We think another team’s platform may be more appropriate”.

The company had spent time developing a “specification document” for this “project” before Agile was introduced. There were detailed specifications as to how the product was to be created and which platform to use. NONE of this was done with the benefit of asking those that would actually be doing the work.

The project was initiated before learning about applying Agile. One developer was tasked with following the specification. After 2-3 months of frustration, the developer left. This left the company in a bad position. Not only was the project incomplete, but there was also no knowledge transfer. The project was basically stopped.

As Agile was now the new target way of doing things, the project (and new developer hired through the previous process) were added to an existing SCRUM team. The team is using one week Sprints.

After only two Sprints (two weeks), the team had recognized the futility of the approach that was “specified” and took this to management.

Traditionally, large organizations staff for projects. In an environment such as this, how could team members be expected to be truthful and honest about the state of affairs? It would mean the end of their jobs or contracts.

The key here is to allow teams to stick together. Not only will you avoid losing all the efficiency the team has built up, but you will also allow them to be truthful about their situation.

If you are a manager reading this, ask yourself. “Do I want to know that things will go wrong at the beginning of the project or wait until 5 months have gone by to be told, ‘We knew it would never work””. Or even worse… “We knew the product owner was asking for ridiculous features that had no Return on Investment for the company, but hey, you hired us for this contract. We just follow instructions”.

As it turned out, the project did continue with the current team, but with some changes to the specification. The parts of the system that were going to be problems in 5 months were re-evaluated and were removed as they really did not have any real value to the company. It was then decided to stick with the same platform.

Discussions did occur regarding moving to the alternate platform, but were deemed unnecessary after open discussion between the teams and the managers involved. Realistic expectations were set based on value to the company.

Sometimes features are absolutely mandatory for the product. This cannot and should not be taken away from the process. What we gain here is that we are able to have a discussion about necessity. In the end, the business has to decide what is valuable, not the development team.

In a case like this, ask yourself, “If my team is very against this, maybe I should at least think about it”.

The company is working in a very short iterative environment, they quickly recognized a flaw in the system design and dealt with it after only 2 weeks into a several month project.

Working incrementally allows the company to “Inspect and Adapt” on a regular basis. This has to include the question, “Does this still make sense?”. If you need to go backwards, let it be to reverse one or two Sprints of work, not months, or even years.

Fortunately, for the company, the product will come out on time, with appropriate technology based on Return on Investment, and likely with significant cost savings over the initial design. This will also allow the team to get started on other high value projects. Talk about win-win.

This project could have gone to another team. It would not have been negative for the first team. The next project would have just come down the pipe for them.

The early signs helped adjust the “expectations” and everyone is moving forward with a clear understanding that they are on a more appropriate path going forward.

For those of you out there trying to convince companies (or yourselves) that Agile is an effective framework, don’t be afraid to talk about “RISK MITIGATION“.

Think about it this way; The company wants to know early on that there will be a problem, not near the end of the project. This is part of the purposeful transparency of any Agile framework.

Mike Caspar
Mike Caspar’s Blog

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The Pursuit of True Agility and Jazz Music

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A manager I am working with recently sent me this link. I have seen this topic discussed before, but never so nicely worded. Thanks Charles.

It is a discussion about how Jazz music is different than Classical music and how that knowledge could help to understand Agility.

Great post. I think we’ll hang this on the wall somewhere in the team room.

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Scrum Master, Process Facilitator, Growth Facilitator. Managers or Leaders or Neither?

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“I now can see why Corporations have such a hard time identifying the Scrum Master in their organizations. Scrum Masters basically don’t fit either category, yet most corporate hiring is done based on hiring of “leaders” and “managers”.”

For the complete text click here

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How to Introduce a Test Driven Mindset

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Recently, I was helping a friend of mine introduce OpenAgile into their environment. They are a software development house with some local and some overseas developers. I am occasionally following up with my friend to see how they are doing.

Their development has been going well since adopting Agile practices with the exception of a recurring problem with “returning bugs”.

A bug will be discovered, fixed, and then several weeks later will show up again after some other modifications.  This is a sure sign that Test Driven Development is not happening.

Consider the following:

  • There is a master data entry screen called “Shipment Entry”.  The first field on the form has a “Shipper” field that allows the entry of a Shipper Code.
  • If you press CTRL-N, you Should get a sorted list of Company Names ordered by CompanyName, paged 20 at a time, with a smaller selection if some of the characters of the company name have been filled out.  The resulting list should appear within 3 seconds.
  • Today you downloaded the code, recompiled and find that the drop down does not sort anymore.
  • You know that you have fixed this before.

Introduce the Test Driven Development Mindset.

Instead of opening a ticket, sending an email, complaining or whatever your process is, consider trying the following and introducing something like this into your source / version control.
Shipment Entry Screen Tests
Shipper Field is Empty, CTRL-N pressed List Appears, paged 20 at a time, sorted Alphabetically by Company Name within 3 seconds
Shipper Field has “ABC”, CTRL-N pressed List Appears (filtered to show all companies containing “ABC” in the company name), paged 20 at a time, sorted Alphabetically by Company Name within 3 seconds
Shipper Field has an invalid entry “INVALID”, CTRL-N pressed Within 3 seconds, a pop-up appears indicating “NO COMPANY FOUND”, the shipper field is blanked and the cursor is returned to that location. The popup disappears.

If any developer works on that screen, before checking in, they need to do all the tests on the SHIPMENT ENTRY TESTS document to ensure they have not broken anything.Don’t get me wrong. The idea is not to document the entire screen up front! Try to avoid designing the ENTIRE UI up front in this way. That has it’s own non-agile problems. This is just an easy way to introduce future changes using a different mindset.In my example above, there is a field called “Mode of Transport”. It currently shows a list of numbers which internal employees “KNOW” from years of experience with the application. When that number is selected, it gets converted into something like “MAIL”, “COURIER”, when it is printed on the final document. Your team has agreed to do work to have it show the appropriate labels in a drop down on the screen.Traditionally (non-test mindset), you would send out an email or open up an issue with a request for this change. Then, the cycle will continue again. As time goes by, you will always need to re-check this is working properly.

Try something like this instead:

When you have finished your planning and have decided this “story” or “feature” will be introduced to this cycle or Sprint, simply modify this document as follows;

Shipment Entry Screen Tests
Shipper Field is Empty, CTRL-N pressed List Appears, paged 20 at a time, sorted Alphabetically by Company Name within 3 seconds
Shipper Field has “ABC”, CTRL-N pressed List Appears (filtered to show all companies containing “ABC” in the company name), paged 20 at a time, sorted Alphabetically by Company Name within 3 seconds
Shipper Field has an invalid entry “INVALID”, CTRL-N pressed Within 3 seconds, a pop-up appears indicating “NO COMPANY FOUND”, the shipper field is blanked and the cursor is returned to that location. The popup disappears.
Mode of Transport Entry into Field Within 1 second, when entering this field, a drop-down list appears show full descriptions, sorted alphabetically by Mode of Transport.

Granted, the tests will eventually become cumbersome. However, please remember that someone will eventually be testing these screens and find these bugs in a never ending circle. My friend found that every morning they were having to go through all the screens to see what “new things” were broken.

Why not just try to get it right during your Cycle or Sprint ?

In the above example, as soon as someone takes on this task, they will have a failing test (Red), they will do what they need to do to get the test to pass (Green), and then will adjust the code to be efficient (Re-factor).

Although Test Driven Development is better done at other places in the code, this is a great way to introduce the “Mindset” into your team.

Someone will eventually say “This is getting to be a hassle. Can we automate it somehow?”, which as an Agile person is exactly the words you eventually want to hear.

Maybe now, you can start to introduce it at the Unit Test, or Functional Test or whatever level is appropriate to your organization. There are some more formal ways of doing TDD such as Extreme Programming (XP).

The important thing is that your company will have shifted to a Test Driven Mindset.

The quality of your product will increase and stay that way and the need to go back and fix old bugs in a never ending cycle can soon be a thing of the past.

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Where should I sit?

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Inevitably, there will be some change to your team.  Someone will leave or perhaps you will have new members joining you.

Either way, you will be asked the question “Where should I sit?”.

Do not take this question lightly.  You have the opportunity to make significant changes with the addition or departure of a team member.

There are many different types of personalities in a team.  Because of this, you cannot realistically expect the same personal interactions between people sitting next to each other.

More importantly though, it is your responsibility as a Scrum Master, Mentor or Coach to consider the positive adjustments which can be made during this great opportunity for change.

A simple example to get you thinking about this could be….

  • You have a developer sitting at an end station with a slightly restricted view from the rest of the team.
  • This team member does not ask for help when he or she needs it.
  • You will be adding a developer to your team.

Trying to talk to the developer who does not ask for assistance, may help.  However, why not consider using this opportunity to solve this problem in a different way.

If the developer is moved to a more central location, they will not be as separated from the group.  Perhaps this would give them more opportunity to ask for help, increase their communication level with peers, and if you are lucky, the other team members will more easily recognize that this is happening an spur this person on to get them to ask for help.

So, where do you put a new developer ?… Certainly not off at the end by themselves.  The new person will feel isolated, and will have a harder time integrating.

The team is already a very close unit and has gone through the team development stages of Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing.  With the addition of the new team member, this cycle will start again and will make it even harder for them if they are on their own at the end of the seating layout.

Reminding the team of the four stages of team development before a new person comes on board can be a big help.  It reminds all team members of how hard it is to integrate new members and the likely result of the addition.

Many people can get attached to their desks or workstations.  Therefore, moving people around in a traditional environment can be a painful experience.  In an Agile team, life is about change, adapting, adjusting to what is happening and making positive changes to improve productivity and enjoyment.

As team members move locations, they will learn different skills and ideas from the person sitting next to them.  It will also be common place to adjust as necessary.

Changing team member locations also helps change things up and gets rid of complacency.  A danger for an Agile Team is no longer attempting to make changes and progress because everything is “fine” or “perfect”.  If you are hearing these things from your team in Review or Retrospective meetings, perhaps it is time to change desks just to get change happening again.

There may be other personality or non-team type things you wish to address.  Instead of bringing that person into an office and talking to them, you could solve things by simply changing desk locations.

Better yet…..  If you have a team that has embraces and practices Consultative Decision Making, why not ask the Team where the new person should sit to be most effective!


Scrum Master – Scrum Alliance
Consultative Decision Making –
Open Agile Institute
The four stages of team development –

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What if your first cycle ends up with zero story points completed?

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I recently introduced a small software development company to the ideas of Agile development, the culture of Agile, and of course some of the fundamentals of working in incremental steps.  We focused specifically on OpenAgile.

They started their first cycle with great enthusiasm and with as much attention to detail as possible, but still ended up completing zero story points in their first cycle. Is this is a disaster ? The short answer… NO.

The company has gone through two major releases based on non-agile methods with limited success. One of the owners of the company has been a long time friend and we discussed doing some Agile training with his employees to “see how they felt” about learning about OpenAgile.

There were no commitments made to it. The idea of “Hey, let’s learn about this and see if it’s right for our organization” was the goal. All the team members were told that the company was considering (with emphasis on considering) switching to OpenAgile and would not do it if everyone didn’t feel like it was worth the effort and made sense for them. It was stressed that OpenAgile is not a silver bullet and may not be right for them. The effort was purely exploratory in nature.

As this company is in software development, Agile development easily made sense for them. They were so excited by the OpenAgile training, the developers and the owners decided to immediately abandon their existing plans for development and refactor.  The fact they felt they could do this shows true management leadership and support for the process.

I have to congratulate my friend for his courage in supporting his team.

The team determined that they were working on functionality which would not provide the greatest Return on Investment and decided to adjust their priorities accordingly.

A great deal of our time was spent during the training on the ideas of Consultative Decision Making and encouraging openness between those involved in the process. All team members are encouraged to be open about their opinions during planning and if they find something wrong during the cycle, to speak out.

I find that having management and stakeholder support and encouragement in the process is almost mandatory for Agile to work. Without the understanding from the owners of the company, the culture required to make it work will inevitably cause friction “around the edges” of the Agile team.

We spent time on the concepts of ROI (return on investment) and how to apply it to estimating, planning, re-estimating, and selected work. In using OpenAgile, we want to work on the tasks that give us the biggest value over effort factor or ROI.

We followed the OpenAgile syllabus. As an OpenAgile trainer and mentor, I had easy access to material to teach in an organized fashion.  Their environment is complicated by owners in multiple cities and developers in 3 different cities including an overseas component.

Openness about the potential pitfalls of remote teams made a big difference to the attitudes of those taking the training and the final outcome. Learning OpenAgile, Scrum, XP Programming, or any Agile process is difficult enough without adding the component of two remote teams and overseas development.

Many people leave their OpenAgile training realizing that it is a very effective framework and are anxious to get rolling. Because this company and the team decided to continue with OpenAgile, they started the preparations for the first cycle to begin the following week (after a long weekend break).

The cycle started, cards were created as Story Points, and the work began in earnest. They had many surprises. I had been unavailable through their first cycle and had very little ability to keep up with how they were doing because of a new Scrum Team I was working with. In retrospect, I am glad I was not there to give advice. They did fine on their own :->

In true Agile form, they figured out on their own what was going wrong and when I talked to the owner several weeks later I found out that they had already determined their mistakes.

The team was actively taking steps to improve the next cycle.

If senior managers encourage the right environment and let the team self-organize… you know what.. they likely will :->

Things that went poorly

  • Two days into the cycle, some of their overseas developers went “to visit family”. They did not realize at the time, this was local code for “going on holidays”. I heard from the owner later that if they had not asked why they did not get responses to emails, they would not have known the other developers were away.
  • The Stories were Too Big. Because of the combination of the new way of doing things and the excitement about how much could get done as an Agile team, the team bit off more than they could chew.
  • Attempts at Test Driven Development did not go well.
  • The first two week cycle stretched to 3 weeks because the team didn’t want to have Zero velocity as they felt this was a failure
  • One display bug crept into the first demo related to two different ways of refreshing data on the screen

Things that went well

  • The team talked regularly about how they were doing and worked on regular status updates to determine where they were during the cycle.  This is also how they found out about the missing developers.
  • The owners and managers had an active involvement in helping to remove obstacles.
  • The team found an intriguing way to determine how many story points they could actually commit to in future cycles.
  • The team figured out how to deal with code sharing and peer review type issues related to being at opposite ends of the earth.
  • The team stayed together and focused on the goal of creating potentially deliverable product
  • They were able to successfully work on two simultaneous streams of work on different parts of the system.
  • During the demo, the team was able to demo functionality that could potentially be brought to a customer after only two cycles.


I had a discussion with the owner recently and he told me they all sat down and realized their mistakes of their first cycle. They consider OpenAgile to be a success.

The team was so worried about not completing story points, they considered it to be a failure to not finish at the appropriate time. You need to let newcomers realize that not completing all the story points of the first cycle may happen.  This can be compounded by added complexities of your working environment or project.

Since they were pushing to get the points completed, they were sacrificing quality. They were rushing because they knew they had gone past the end of the cycle and it was causing more problems each day it continued. Thankfully, they stopped the cycle and decided to do the right thing and demo where they were and talk about their progress.

They simply took on too much work, didn’t account for all the other overheads of a new team setup and issues that would take place with their remote environments. This did not mean failure. They learned how to re-organize themselves for future cycles.

With the support of the owner and a little bit of moral support from myself, the team realized they had accomplished a great deal already in their first cycle.

They realized they need to put some better controls on the holiday schedules of the remote teams overseas or at a minimum find out what is expected in this regard.

The team realizes it has a deficiency with Test Driven Development and is working on plans to allocate some time for training on this very important task. Perhaps their one bug from the first demo may not have been there with Test Driven Development in place. They will continue to work toward improving this.

One of the great things to come out of their first cycle…. A potentially deliverable product within the first two cycles!

When I reviewed this with the owner he told me the completed work is already faster and better than their previous system which took 5 years to write. Considering the remote component they are dealing with, this is truly great news for them. Their first cycle has produced software which can now simply grow organically.

Some advice here which I shared with my friend.. Make sure that you have at least one story that can be finished in the next cycle, no matter how small.  Consider it of huge Value to the Agile process.

You need to provide some positive feedback for the team members now.  This does not mean the team should agree to less work than they think they can accomplish. Simply encourage some work that can be completed to be included in the next cycle.

For my friend, although they completed zero story points in the first cycle, they are happy to know that if they just adjust the size of their stories for more attainable results and use what they learned from the first cycle, OpenAgile will work out well for them.

The concepts of Consultative Decision Making, Continuous Learning and the Learning Circle allowed them to truly excel and will allow them to continue to do so into the future.

They are looking forward to shipping their new product in record time :->

One comment that was made to me was something along the lines of “Hey Mike, this reminds me of when we used to work together in the garage when we started the company. We all worked together on whatever needed to be done. That’s what made us successful in the first place.”…. Hmmmm.

Mike Caspar, CSM, OA2/5

References: OpenAgile –

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Remember that Agile is about Quality and Business Value

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Recently, I had an interesting discussion with a companion about Agile Processes and the need for corporations, communities or groups to change their approach to planning and doing work. We were discussing using OpenAgile as a Framework.

The person I was talking to told me that their group (Artists) were already used to and embraced the idea of shared responsibility, self-organization, mutual respect and open discussion to get things done. OpenAgile (as well as Scrum) require open communication and truthfulness to be effective tools for self-organization.

My friend then told me how it made sense in the Art Community but it would be hard for Financially minded people to believe in what Agile was about and that it would be even harder for financially oriented educators (ie: Universities and Colleges) to change their minds about teaching Agile processes as a primary part of the education system.

Then it struck me.

For many people, they hear FIRST about the need to share work, how the organization changes, how people are treated better and all the usual comments.

I realized I need to change my approach with these types of people to first discuss how agile processes work to benefit Business Value and Quality. My 15 second elevator speech should start with these ideas and not the other way around.

I don’t know of any business leader, financial manager, non-profit CEO or educator that would think it to be a bad idea if I said to them “Listen, I would like to show you a way to do the most valuable things first, with exceptional quality while at the same time consistently getting better at it. Oh, and as a by-product, you will also have more engaged, long-term staff. What do you say ?”.

We must admit that OpenAgile (or any other Agile process) is not a silver bullet to be used everywhere for all groups. I have however found that after teaching about iterative work and the IDEA of Business Value and Return on Investment, even a “non-agile” team can still benefit from some of the procedures or “routines” of a fixed cycle of learning and it’s heartbeat.

All of the new ways of doing things including culture shift, team based work, etc. would be unfortunate for a business without first remembering that the purpose is to provide Quality and at the same time provide the items that have the most VALUE to the organization.

Quality is an inherited part of the process of going Agile. As more discussion happens and all people in the team have input into the process, inevitably, you should end up with a better result. The customer has more direct input into the final product as it is being created, therefore helping to achieve a result that everyone is happy with.

The real goal to business is this Quality, and the way to get there is all these things that Agile asks us to do, through a continual process of learning.

Business Value. This means different things to many people. Where you are using OpenAgile, Scrum, XP, Pomodoro, remember, the goal of all of these is to work on the tasks that will provide the company or organization to most Business Benefit First.

When coupled with the idea of Return on Investment, the reasons are just far too compelling to an organization to ignore. After all, no organization of any type can afford to exert effort with no return at all in the form of artifacts of some sort. Every organization is there to create some kind of result (value) in its’ chosen field.

Most organizations have many different opinions and reasons for considering one item more valuable than another. You will likely find that most people think ALL of their backlogged items are of equal value to a project or company.

The idea of doing work based on Return on Investment takes some of the emotion out of this process to allow work that is clearly more beneficial to the group to take precedence.

When a task is determined to be of lower value (not because of just value, but work for value) doesn’t make it into this cycle, it MAY well be classified as a higher Value for the next cycle, and therefore, it’s Return of Value / Work may be higher and bring it up the work scale through this process.

There are several ways to accomplish this. One of the easiest is by breaking the item to be done into smaller pieces. It’s Value will remain the same, but the work (effort) required to complete that smaller piece will be less. Therefore, the new smaller task will have a higher Return on Investment and be done sooner.

The idea is that true business value is what is provided first with many competing priorities. Most of us don’t have the ability to just add two or three more teams when more work comes along, so there needs to be some logical process to deal with this.

For my friend in the Arts who is wondering about the Financial Elite having a hard time doing a mental shift towards Agile processes instead of Waterfall processes, consider the conversation about Return on Investment and Quality of the Final product as your starting point. THEN let them know, “Oh ya. you’ll also end up with less turnover and happier employees”. :->

Mike Caspar

References :

OpenAgile –
Scrum –
Pomodoro –
XP –

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WHY? Such a powerful question

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Recently I was watching a situation with a development team where a very important question seemed to be forgotten… WHY ?  This got me thinking about the countless times I have seen work done for no apparent reason than it’s “On The Wishlist”, “We have a card for it”, or “Because Customer Service Says So”.

Many times I have seen features get created where at the end of the release, the final user of the feature says, “Oh, we haven’t needed it to do that for about 3 months now”.  This part of the requirements is long gone.

This brings me back to Waterfall Methodology and something I would expect to see. With it’s linear approach to the Software Development Cycle, it is almost to be expected that there will be some waste of this nature.  This is not to say that Waterfall is never appropriate.  It is just an expected part of the process if you have a long development cycle.

However, using an Agile Methodology such as Scrum or OpenAgile, this should simply not happen.  Agile methodologies are based on Communication.  This communication is paramount during the Sprint or Cycle but is absolutely mandatory during the planning meeting. A team cannot simply be given a list of instructions to follow.  The team needs to understand what their Goal is.

In Scrum, the Product Owner is responsible for guiding the team as to which features should be queued up next based on Return on Investment (which generally means actually needed).

In OpenAgile, the team has a similar approach of consultation with the “end user’ and the planning of work based on Return of Value, and plan appropriately.

Although in Scrum and OpenAgile, there is discussion about Return on Investment, Value, bug free code, Test Driven Development, etc. there often appears to be little discussion about the idea of why we are doing something.

User Stories, if done correctly can significantly improve this problem because the “story” needs to have a goal as to who benefits.  We are doing this Feature for this “x” to get this benefit.

It is however, the responsibility of a Team to ask “Why would someone want to do this ?”, or “Why are we updating this information in the first place”. Often, the insights are very revealing.

Let’s take a simple example.

I the late 80’s, I was working as a developer with a company where the company’s approach was to provide the developers a “requirement” , choose a developer and send them off to do the work (pre-Scrum days).

The developer was to modify a Stored Procedure to go through a table and update every 3rd record in the table to be 50% higher.  It was a fairly complex procedure and a developer at this company spent almost a week re-writing the procedure and getting it implemented. The development team sat down with the engineers and customer and developed a method of testing and verification, backups of the database were made and the implementation work began.

No one asked Why.

Several weeks later a similar request was made in a different part of the system. I spent some time with the developers and encouraged them to ask Why the first modification was made.  The answer was “That is what Sherry said to we should do.  The customers are yelling and this is what we need to do to fix it”.

Those of you using Scrum or OpenAgile are probably already cringing and thinking.. Gees… you could write a book just on this one paragraph alone.  I’ll leave that for another day :->

The actual problem was there was a different part of the system which updated the tables based on Quarterly Results.  This was the actual reason every 3rd record in the table was wrong.  That procedure was incorrect and shared by other parts of the system.

If someone had not stepped in, this cycle of fixing the by-product of the defect could have gone on for many more months.

I convinced the owner to change the procedures to allow the developers to ask questions as a team before work was queued up. I simply asked for this one simple right.

A few months later, the overall bug rate of the application went down, customer complaints went down and the development team started to feel engaged and part of the process.  It was a different place after that.  People enjoyed working there.

As part of the planning stage of your Sprint or Cycle, please consider asking questions such as

-Why are we changing the Field Size from 80 Characters to 250 Characters ?
-Why should the system need a procedure to update these types of records .. Doesn’t the system do it properly ?
-Why would we want to force through Credit Card Transactions without the CVV Code (the security number) ?
– Why are we making a whole new authentication system ?
– How did this become a requirement ?

This type of question is not intended to be a confrontational thing!  Often those requesting the features may feel that you are being confrontational.  Remain calm, and make sure to let the requester know this is a standard part of your process and not a question of their power or knowledge.  The goal is to get knowledge, and not to figure out who is right or wrong.

After discussing it with the person, you may find they do not have a true understanding of why they are requesting the feature or change.  It is possible the idea of what or how to do it will change just from the communication alone (which is when you want it to happen.. not after it’s done).  The discussion may also allow the product to be better than they originally envisioned.

OpenAgile has a term called “Consultatative Decision Making”.  It is the idea that decisions are made based on consultation and discussion with all those involved that may have valuable input to making a decision.

Scrum also values discussion and communication as a fundamental part of Development.

The FIRST value of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development is “Individuals and Interactions over processes and tools”

In the case of the example above, we chose to fix the stored procedure which was creating the bad data and wrote a one-time script to adjust the corrupted records. We never had to revisit this problem again.

It sounds simple enough, but the basic premise of WHY is absolutely mandatory to this process or all decision making will be based on following instructions blindly with no sense of ownership by the team.

References :

Scrum –
OpenAgile –
Manifesto for Agile Software Development –

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Why is hardware being forgotten by development companies?

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This week I met someone while on a personal trip who is in the software business.  His company writes software for a very specialized vertical and from everything he said to me, they are an innovative company and do all the right things including empowering their teams to self-organize, regular training for the staff and generally a great working atmosphere.

The company has still been struggling with getting their product to be “deeper” (his word) for their client base.

I was again reminded of a post of mine from a while ago encouraging or providing cross-training or at least some knowledge to bridge the barriers between the software group and the hardware group (link at the bottom of this post).  In my environment, I’ve been fortunate to have a network admin sitting with our team.  It has prevented many potential problems.

Having been involved in the infrastructure part of IT as well as development, I knew of at least a few products almost immediately that could make his product more compelling to his customers.

To my surprise, I found out his company was only looking at software improvements to their application.  He told me how they are continually developing new features but are not considering running on any new platforms.

I mentioned a few technology (hardware) improvements he could consider and I know that by the time he gets home this weekend, he will have taken a look and passed the information on to his team.  These improvements could immediately add significant customer retention and usability to his product.

From our discussion, it was also evident that his team would enjoy the challenge of some new platforms to keep encouraged about the future. I’m sure that by the time he reads this, he’ll have some of these technologies in hand :->

As Agile practitioners, it seems, we are so focused on improving our software development cycle, our specific development tasks, our daily or hourly builds, our programming skills, and how we create story points, sometimes we seem to lose track of the big picture… What is the customer going to use it on?  This should be fundamental to every developer’s thought processes.

Think to yourself,  “HEY, should we be seeing if our software could run on some of the new technologies out there such as Microsoft Surface, some of the new Wireless Devices, or even benefit somehow from new 3D technologies coming out”?

I like to think that developers who are empowered with information about hardware can think of all kinds of ways to use it.

If you’re on an Agile Team or managing one, ask to learn something about the hardware in your environments.  Consider some “slack” in your Sprint or some work breaks in your Cycle to allow team members to learn something about new Infrastructure or Hardware products.

Think for a moment if your company is writing software for the Web, the power of a deep understanding of how a load balancer actually works, or my personal favorite, the .NET Cache.

Let it be the teams’ choice of which products though. That will give the best motivation and most likely will be the most enjoyment for everyone.

It will broaden your horizons and perhaps give your team ideas you never knew could even be possible.

If we always just wait for a Marketing Person or Product Owner to come up with interesting ideas, where’s the fun in that?

References :

My previous post – Infrastructure Knowledge for Developers
3D example – Sony 360Degree viewer prototype
Microsoft Surface – Microsoft Surface Web Site
Slack – A good article about slack in XP by James Shore
Sprint – Scrum Alliance
Cycle – Open Agile

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