Category Archives: How-To Apply Agile

Practical or step-by-step advice and descriptions on how to do various agile practices.

A Litmus Test for Agility

Being Agile seems to be the rage these days and everyone has an opinion on what Agility means and how to do it “right”.  This article doesn’t make process recommendations, but it does provide a quick, effective way to help your team and organization get on track with being Agile (primarily a mindset measurement) and not just doing Agile (primarily a practices measurement).  Presented below is a simple and lightweight test that can be applied by almost anyone; it provides clear steps for improvement, and it is geared for alignment with the core Agile Principles and Values.

The Need

CoachThere are lots of Agile practitioners, coaches and trainers out there claiming to be experts.  Some are genuinely skilled while others have a few key certification letters beside their name and yet little to no in depth, real-world experience.  Although most have a genuine intent to help and they might actually succeed at it, others might inadvertently do more damage and provide harmful guidance.  How can you help them help you?

FrameworkThere are also numerous frameworks, methodologies, and practices that claim they are well suited to help an organization become more Agile.  Some of them are simplistic, process-based approaches that may not account for your environment, culture, or specific business needs, while others are more complex and pragmatic.  Depending on your situation it can be tricky to know what will work best.  How can you find a suitable fit?

MeasurementThere are also many tools and approaches to measure a team’s Agility, the leadership’s alignment with Agile, or the organizational maturity.  Some of these simply measure the number of practices (i.e. are you doing Agile), others account for an in depth assessment of cultural factors (i.e are you being Agile), and some are based on scenarios that are idealistic given common real world business challenges.

Indeed there are a wide variety of indicators of varying complexity, so you might be challenged to determine if they are simply vanity measures, helpful health indicators, or suitable fitness criteria, and more specifically if they appropriately measure for the outcomes you are looking for.  How can you ensure they are providing valuable insights and actionable results so you may make data driven decisions?

Keep it Simple and Focused

Given all these complexities, how do you know what it really means to be Agile, how can you align the effort, and how do you know how successful you are?

The answer is keep it simple and focused, and be outcome driven. Specifically, start with the foundations of Agile and then evaluate Agility from your perspective, your organization’s business needs, your employee’s needs, and most importantly from your customer’s needs.  Then, use that information to measure and steer improvement towards your real desired outcomes of Agility.

In the spirit of keeping it simple and focused, I’m sharing a “quick” and lightweight Agility Litmus Test and Procedure below to measure how you are doing and to ensure you, your stakeholders and your approaches are all headed in the right direction.

A Straightforward Procedure

1) Align With The Agile Manifesto

Read the Agile Manifesto.  I don’t mean gloss over it on the train on the way to work, or over lunch, or during your kid’s sports game.  I mean READ it, focusing on the twelve guiding principles AND the four value statements.

If it helps, boil each of the twelve principles down to two or three key words to provide clarity.  Then, when reviewing each principle ask yourself what you think it really means, and why you think it was important enough for the signatories to explicitly call it out in the Manifesto (what the intent was).  To ensure everyone has a similar frame of reference you may find it useful to host a time boxed, focused discussion on each principle.

2) Choose Key Agile Measures

Of the twelve principles ask yourself which ones (pick 3 or 4 at most) are core, or most important to you and your stakeholders (your organization, your leadership, your customers and your team).  Don’t just speculate or guess what the answers are; you will likely need to facilitate several workshops with the appropriate people to get to the truth to those questions.

This activity in itself is a test.  If there is not close alignment on what the most important principles are then stop right here.  Do not proceed until you align on what those key principles are.  If you proceed without alignment you risk working against one another and not towards a common goal or outcome.  Note that getting alignment might prove contentious so you may need a series of facilitated sessions to hash it out.

Once you align on several core principles they become your key indicators for the Litmus Test for Agility.  These are also your defined Agile outcomes, because they encapsulate what it specifically means for you to be Agile (where you want to be).

3) Perform a Critical Assessment

Starting with your key indicators, honestly answer the question how close or how far away are we” for each one.  Use a scale of 1 to 7, where 1 means “not close at all” and 7 means “we are totally nailing it”.  I chose 1-7 because it gives just enough range to differentiate measures.  That, and it is exactly 1/2 of the pH range for a proper Litmus test!

Be sure to seek fair and equal participation in this evaluation, as it is important to help reduce bias and ensure perspectives are accounted for.  This means you should ensure you have adequate representation from as many groups as is practical.

Honesty and transparency are also extremely critical here so you may require a facilitated session.  You may also need to provide a safe environment to encourage honesty in responses, so anonymous scoring and evaluations would be an appropriate technique to use.

4) Determine Actions

Critically review the summary of evaluative responses for your key indicators.  If the average is less than 6 out of 7 then hold a strategic planning session to determine actions to get you closer to achieving those outcomes.  Note also if there is a wide dispersal of the individual responses for a key indicator that would strongly suggest there is a large misalignment amongst the respondents, and you need to address that gap.

One question to ask would simply be “what would it take…”, or “what would we need to do to get us to a 6 or higher?   When following this line of reasoning be sure to account for the coaches, practitioners and experts you are relying on by asking “What can or should they be doing to align with our key indicators and Agile outcomes?”

Also, look at the frameworks and approaches you are using and ask “How can we switch, change or improve our ways to improve Agility?”

Finally, look at the tools and measures you are leveraging and ask “Are these vanity measures or are they really meaningful?” and “How can we improve these measures (not just the values, but the metrics themselves) to provide more meaningful insights and help us better realize our defined Agile outcomes?”

As a group then choose at least one and no more than three specific actions that came out of the discussion above, implement them, hold one another accountable for them, and measure on the next round if your actions had the desired effect of improving the scores for your key indicators.

5) Learn and Refine

Repeat steps 3 and 4 of this procedure at frequent and regular intervals, being sure to not only measure but also define and take new action.

6) Reassess and Pivot as Needed

If time permits or if your key indicators all show consistent strength, consider switching to some of the other Agile Manifesto Guiding Principles.  If it seems logical you may even want to go back and repeat the entire process as your needs and outcomes may have changed.

Conclusion

The core value this Litmus Test for Agility provides is a) in its simplicity, b) in it’s inherent alignment with the Agile Values and Principles, and c) in its focus on what matters most for you and your stakeholders.  It uses the Manifesto as a foundation, and then allows you to focus on what is most important to you.

Like all tests and models this approach has some inherent strengths and weaknesses.  For example, it is lightweight, cheap, easy to implement, and aligned with core Agility, however it is not an extravagant or in depth test so it may not account for complexities.  As such it should never replace sound judgement.

Meanwhile, if you sense or feel there is something deeper going on that may be impeding your organization’s ability to become more Agile then be sure to investigate thoroughly, work with others to obtain nonpartisan assessment, and provide clarity along the way on intent, outcome, and learnings.

If you are practicing Scrum, using a more sophisticated tool such as Scrum Insight (a virtual “Coach-in-a-Box”) can provide much richer, deeper feedback and insights, including recommended actions.  Even the free version of the tool provides keen insight.

Depending on circumstance you might also find it advantageous to call in expert facilitation, advisors or coaches to either conduct an Agility test such as this or even help your team or organization get to the heart of their issues and challenges.  Organizations such as BERTEIG are not only Agile teachers but they are also hands-on practitioners that can coach your team and organization to reaching new levels of Agility, either with a lightweight touch or a fully immersive engagement.

Coincidentally, reflecting, collaborating, providing transparency, and adopting a continuous learning and improvement mindset are in and of themselves indicators of Agility.  So identifying core values such as these and then making them part of your Agile Litmus Test (i.e. making them your new Agility outcomes) shows how simple it can be to improve, adapt and grow even this lightweight approach!


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The Soft Skills Revolution: Why You May Want Team Development

If you go on line and type “soft skills” into your browser, you will come up with a plethora of sites. That’s because soft skills are being touted as the most important skill set for any individual in any career. Soft skills are becoming de rigeur in job applications and leadership training of every kind. One might say that there is, in fact, a soft skills revolution occurring in every sector of society.

What is motivating this revolution? Perhaps the more automated our world becomes, we see that our more human characteristics and relationships are needed to balance such a high degree of automation. Perhaps it’s become clear that human characteristics are what drive everything forward in either a positive or negative fashion.

Wikipedia describes soft skills in this way:

Soft skills are a combination of interpersonal people skills, social skills, communication skills, character traits, attitudes, career attributes, [1] social intelligence and emotional intelligence quotients among others that enable people to effectively navigate their environment, work well with others, perform well, and achieve their goals with complementing hard skills. [2]

By another definition, soft skills are those skills that are difficult to measure.

With the advent of the Agile Manifesto (www.agilemanifesto.com) and agile processes permeating business and organizational cultures more and more, people are abandoning the silo mentality and striving to create a more communal environment and team consciousness. Many organizations and businesses are learning that teams rather than individuals are more effective at accomplishing goals.

When a team of people have to work together, there is an expectation that they will all do their best to get a job done. On the other hand, it’s also normal for people on a team to encounter hiccups and even conflicts, whether it’s issues of personality, ego or disagreements of one kind or another. Then there are those team members who do not feel safe to offer their opinion, or those who harbor a prejudice against a certain type of person they may be required to work with.

By putting people together to work alongside each other day after day, we are creating a potent mix. Human beings are extremely complex and diverse after all. There are volumes written about both the need for and the difficulty of people working and achieving together.

From a recent Insight BTOES newsletter about hiring practices:

If they’re the best there is in their craft but would prefer to just do their job and be left alone, it isn’t likely they’ll engage in team improvement activities and become a contributing part of the new culture. It’s simply not worth taking on the resistance/non-engagement that you’ll have to deal with until your patience runs out and you’re right back where you started…”

http://insights.btoes.com/hard-skills-or-soft-skills-more-important-leadership-culture-transformation

Many corporations now claim that soft skills are the number one priority when hiring, Hard skills can be easily taught but soft skills make the difference whether a person is even teachable and flexible enough for a corporate environment.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, because soft skills have not been the focus of our education systems, and those who have them need continuous practice and improvement. But everyone has the potential to become more empathetic, cooperative, supportive, and respectful.

Whether it’s learning to communicate effectively, or to create a sense of cohesion in a team, there are many pieces that can be put in place to help any team (and its individual parts) be more powerful, effectual and happy.

One very basic ingredient that can make a world of difference to a team’s work is to feel safe. Safety comes with having clear and consistent goals. Team members feel safe to speak his or her mind without fear or judgement, even if their opinion is different from others. A team feels safe to experiment and to succeed or fail. Safety is built on the very essential idea of trust.

Psychologist, author and consultant Harvey Robbins has written extensively about the idea of trust as a key element of any team. He describes trust as follows:

· Trust means setting clear, consistent goals. If people don’t know exactly what they’re supposed to, they will feel set up to fail…

· Trust means being open, fair, and willing to listen. This requires more than making a thoughtful, considerate face. It means listening to the words other people are saying.

· Trust means being decisive… It’s a challenging thing to say, but sometimes it’s better to make any decision – good, bad, or indifferent – than it is to make no decision at all.

· Trust means supporting one another…Your team belong to you, and you belong to them.

· Trust means sharing credit with team members. You are there for them, not vice versa. If you are a glory hog, you are stealing from the team.

· Trust means being sensitive to team members’ needs. You should know what legitimate secondary agendas they may have, and be willing to help them achieve their personal goals.

· Trust means respecting the opinions of others. The worst thing a leader can do is denigrate or dismiss or ignore team members. If they’re no good, move them off the team. But even then you owe them your respect.

· Trust means empowering team members to act. It means trusting that they are up to the challenges that you trained them for…

· Finally, and ultimately, and most difficultly, trust means being willing to suffer… The ordinary leader exposes his people to all the risk. The trusted leader assumes risk himself.

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/716760

When a team has clearly articulated goals, it helps build a sense of cohesion, in that every member is aware of what they are working toward. When team members are allowed to work out an action plan toward achieving a goal, this gives everyone a stronger sense of purpose and ownership.

If you’re wondering whether a Team Development workshop would be of benefit to, or is necessary for your business or organization, here are some thoughts from MindTools that can help you decide:

  • Are there conflicts between certain people that are creating divisions within the team?
  • Do team members need to get to know one another?
  • Do some members focus on their own success, and harm the group as a result?
  • Does poor communication slow the group’s progress?
  • Do people need to learn how to work together, instead of individually?
  • Are some members resistant to change, and does this affect the group’s ability to move forward?
  • Do members of the group need a boost to their morale?”

https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTMM_52.htm

Everyone has the potential to grow their soft skills. However, a company may not have the resources to help unlock this potential in its employees.

If team development is not part of a company’s culture there may be discomfort in dealing with friction arising from a lack of soft skills. In this case, an external facilitator or coach can be a very helpful resource to guide a work team, using thought-provoking activities and role-playing, to find greater connection and trust amongst themselves, and to address issues with a detached point of view.

Organizing such a workshop for your team does not mean they are not doing well or failing. It means you, the team lead/ manager/ CEO/ HR person, etc, care about your team’s best interests, highest achievements and happiness.

Valerie Senyk is a facilitator for Team Development with BERTEIG, and can be contacted by going to http://www.worldmindware.com/AgileTeamDevelopment


Affiliated Promotions:

Try our automated online Scrum coach: Scrum Insight - free scores and basic advice, upgrade to get in-depth insight for your team. It takes between 8 and 11 minutes for each team member to fill in the survey, and your results are available immediately. Try it in your next retrospective.

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Practicing Scrum (subversively): you CAN do it!

photo by V. Senyk
photo by V. Senyk

by Jerry Doucett and Valerie Senyk

You want to be practicing Scrum! You’ve taken Scrum training, received your industry certification, and perhaps even experienced being a Scrum team member. In your heart you believe Scrum is the right tool and approach for you, and you believe your current organization and your customers could really benefit from Scrum practices. 

However, for whatever reason your organization is either hesitant to consider Scrum or believes it’s a bad idea. Perhaps there was an experience with a poorly executed pilot. Perhaps your leadership see it as being too risky.

What do you do?

This article explores how you could subversively practice ScrumMaster-ing in your workplace without getting into trouble or breaking the rules. (Ssh…we won’t tell!)

Before you even begin strategizing, you need to ensure that what you do aligns with the Scrum values, namely:

 

Doing Scrum subversively will certainly take considerable courage, focus and commitment on your part. Be aware you will be challenged to respect the existing organizational culture and norms, and your organization may push back on your efforts.

You also need to acknowledge that the very act of being subversive means you are not being completely open or transparent that you are trying to practice Scrum.

Or you could tell your workmates, “I’ve had this terrific training in Scrum and could we try a few of the techniques to see how they work?” Then introduce something as simple as time-boxing or holding retrospectives with your colleagues.

You will also want to ensure what you do is harmonious with Scrum Theory and the pillars of empirical process, which are:

1. Transparency 2. Inspection 3. Adaptation

Normally, one could say there’s a direct conflict between being transparent and being subversive. Keeping this in mind, it is imperative you be absolutely transparent on the actions you are taking and what the specific goals, outcomes or learnings are that you hope to achieve.

However, given the circumstances you’ll likely choose to not use Scrum terminology to describe what you are doing. In other words, describe the practices and activities that you are implementing or recommending, express their benefits and what you hope to accomplish, but don’t explicitly call them by their Scrum name.

As for Inspection and Adaptation, those approaches should be perfectly aligned with your intent to try to help your company become a learning organization. That means you will need to park your ego at the door and accept the results. If your learning shows your subversive Scrum activities do not provide the benefit you’re aiming for, you will need to stop them regardless of whether you think they should work.

Let’s explore some activities and practices you may want to tactfully consider to help your organization benefit from Scrum (without actually “doing” Scrum).

1. Lead by Example

As someone that appreciates the values of Scrum, you should aim to educate others and provide them with a similar understanding. That means practicing these values in how you show up and in everything you do, even explicitly calling out certain actions when they are a prime example (whenever it is appropriate).

This does not mean preaching! Instead, it could be sharing your thoughts about something when contributing to a decision, or simply pointing out when and how something that aligns with the values contributes to a better team, a better experience, or a better solution.

Leading by example also means being human and honest when mistakes are made or when failures occur. This can be particularly risky in an organization that has not embraced Agility, or where failure is frowned upon. That is where you need courage, and a commitment on your part to hold improvement of the work above your own individual career needs.

2. Communicate More

Make a concerted, conscious effort to communicate with your team and partners more. For example, get up out of your seat and spend more time in informal face-to-face discussions rather than sending e-mails or chat messages.

Perhaps you can have short, informal meetings with just the team either daily or several times a week to see what’s been done, what needs to be done, and what challenges the team is facing. The key here is to keep it short, focus on what is needed to move work forward, and define actions to address issues. Then always follow up and make sure the actions are being pursued and that progress is shared with the team.

3. Be Open And Transparent

Although you may consciously choose to not use the proper terminology and language of Scrum, the key is to always be honest about what it is you are trying to do, why it’s important, and what the desired outcomes are.

To this end the goal should be to become an organization that “learns about learning”, constantly tries to improve, delivers value faster, and applies new knowledge in the best possible way. Scrum may be a fantastic catalyst for that, but there are many other approaches that will achieve similar results.

4. Use Better Meeting Practices

Another approach to consider is improve meeting experiences by time-boxing and defining a specific scope for each meeting. Setting a time limit and outcomes for a discussion helps create a sense of urgency, manage expectations and focus the conversation on the most important topics. The facilitator will need to enforce these constraints, otherwise you lose the effectiveness of the practice.

5. Have One or More Key Stakeholders Empowered to Make Product Decisions

This may be a considerable challenge in organizations where there is little appetite or understanding about Scrum practices, but do what you can given your authority and influence. If possible, try to have a single voice (key stakeholder) defined as the person with the final authority on the product or service that your team is delivering. Work with that individual to set them up for success by connecting them with the other stakeholders, perhaps facilitating discussions with them, and showing the key person(s) effective techniques for prioritizing the work that is being asked for.

6. Limit Efforts to What Matters Most

One practice that is important to apply, but often difficult to master, is focus. Limit work and discussions to the most important tasks and activities, and request that other discussions on lesser-important work be delayed. Always try to focus the conversation back to what is currently the most important work.

On occasion you may even want to point out times when plans were well-defined in advance but ultimately changed a lot when the actual work was in progress. This indicates the waste in planning too much up front and in constant task-switching. When done in conjunction with time-boxing this practice becomes a little easier.

On a macro scale, try to limit development to smaller chunks of end-to-end deliverables. In other words, deliver small things often all the way to completion as much as possible (e.g. to a staging environment). Then show the outcome and deliverable to stakeholders and customers, explaining that although the final product may not be done, this is to get them something fast and gather feedback.

7. Reflect on Learning

When possible, ensure that reviews of completed work happen frequently. Ensure the outcomes, functionality and value is shown and that learning (for the product as well as the methods) are part of the discussion.

Without becoming intrusive, seek stakeholder feedback frequently and informally. Be willing to demonstrate an ability to pivot plans based on that feedback.

As a team, hold informal retrospectives of how you worked together. If the term “retrospective” is contentious, consider calling them something else, such as a debriefing.

8. Visualize and Display Work

Have your own personal backlog and list of current activities visible at your desk. Use post-its to represent all work that you have on your plate, and ensure it is always up-to-date. Prioritize the work items you have coming up, and visually represent this as a rank-ordered list of things that you have to do.

It won’t take long for people around you to notice what you are doing and ask about it. Use this as a great opportunity to educate others on the values of transparency and focus.

9. Keep Your Team Size Appropriate

If you are on a particularly large team, see if it is possible to split that large team in to smaller groups. The benefit is more face-to-face time and interaction across the new team, an increased sense of belonging and commitment to the new team’s purpose, and it should also be easier (in theory anyway) to get decisions made and increase alignment.

The challenge will be finding a logical way to split the teams to mitigate dependencies of people, skills and products, and ensuring the new teams can still collaborate with one another. Geography might be a good way to split the team if you are distributed, but you would need to ensure all the skills to deliver the solution exist on all new teams.

10. Push for Automation

If you are in a development environment where tools, automation and engineering practices are not currently being used, and they could be of value to your organization, then start investigating whether it is possible. Tools and automation aren’t cheap or easy to implement, but they dramatically encourage you and your teams to collaborate better and they enable the adoption of Scrum practices such as fast delivery of value.

Final Note

Be confident that your own creativity may help you unlock ways of practicing Scrum methodology without disrupting your organization’s practices.

You may or may not be able to implement all of the above actions but, as one Agile coach says, “it’s all about how YOU show up, how YOU are.” In the final analysis, your example, your enthusiasm, your courage will be the best you can offer.


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Try our automated online Scrum coach: Scrum Insight - free scores and basic advice, upgrade to get in-depth insight for your team. It takes between 8 and 11 minutes for each team member to fill in the survey, and your results are available immediately. Try it in your next retrospective.

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How HR Can Save or Destroy Agile

“Business engagement alone is a necessary but not sufficient condition for Agile to succeed”

It’s taken a while but now it’s well understood amongst seasoned Agile practitioners that Business engagement is necessary for successful Agile implementations. Just when we thought engaged Business owners were enough, we’re now realizing Business engagement alone is not sufficient. The impact of corporate shared services, especially Human Resources (HR), on Agile adoptions or transformations are often overlooked. In fact, Agile practitioners often bypass HR in their zeal to quickly change the way they work and the related people processes.

“Companies are running 21st century businesses with 20th century workplace practices & programs”

– Willis Towers Watson

It’s not just IT departments practicing Agile but 21st century businesses overall that are characterized by flatter organizations and an insatiable appetite for small ‘a’ agility. Agility that is pushing and breaking the envelope of current HR processes and tools. Agile individuals and teams are very vocal when it comes to calling out technical obstacles in their way. The same could be said when it comes to HR related obstacles that impact Agile individuals and teams. If we listen, here’s what we would hear:

  • “Can we team interview the candidate for attitude and fit?”
  • “I was an IT Development Manager. What’s my role now?”
  • “My manager doesn’t see half of what I do for my team. How can she possibly evaluate me?”
  • “With no opportunity for promotions in sight, how can I advance my career?”
  • “Why do we recognize individuals when we’re supposed to be focused on team success?”
  • “Charlie’s not working out. Can we as the team fire him?”

As the volume increases, how will HR and HR professionals respond?

“2016 will be the year of Agile HR … most HR teams have no clue what Agile HR means”

– HR Trend Institute

The reality is that most HR teams have no clue what Agile is, never mind how it will ultimately rock their world. Most Agile initiatives emerge from the grass-roots or are driven independently by IT functions with little to no involvement from HR. HR  sits on the sidelines and watches IT “do their thing”. There is a misconception that Agile exclusively falls under the IT domain; overlooking the fact that the core of Agile is about the people and culture – the sweet spots of the HR profession.

There are three significant change movements gaining momentum:

  1. Reinventing the way we work – whether it’s IT adopting Agile or an organization becoming more nimble.
  2. Reinventing HR – where HR is moving beyond its historical focus on basic people administration, compliance and transactions to a valued place at the executive table; ensuring context and alignment across the business to generate Customer delight.
  3. Reinventing organizations – as the level of human and organizational consciousness evolves from valuing meritocracy, accountability and innovation to valuing self-management, wholeness and evolutionary purpose. (See “Reinventing Organizations” by Frederic Laloux: http://www.reinventingorganizations.com/)

All three have the common denominator of people; an integral part along the entire timeline of each movement. As these three movements overlap – at the intersection – will be HR. So, who better to help navigate the emerging paths of each change than “the People’s people”?… otherwise known as “HR”.

An analysis of the Human Resources Professionals Association’s (HRPA) Competency Framework shown below can help guide which HR competencies will have the greatest impact (on a scale of 1 to 10) on Agile.

“How do we get HR started towards their destiny?”

If you’re an Agile team member, invite HR to start a conversation about what Agile is and how they can help you and the team.

If you’re an HR professional, here are some suggestions:

  • Learn about Agile
  • Visit with your Agile teams during sprint reviews or daily scrums
  • Talk to your friends and colleagues about their Agile experiences and challenges
  • Review in-progress HR process & tool changes through an Agile lens
  • Partner with IT and other Agile implementation stakeholders to guide the success of Agile

To help HR take the first step, here are some suggested Agile learning resources:

It’s time for HR to get off the sidelines and get in the game.  HR needs to be a “friend” to Agile, not perceived as a “foe”.

Borrowing from a Chinese proverb,

When the winds of change blow, some will build walls while others build windmills… the harnessing of your greatest natural resource, your people, into power.

Build windmills.


Affiliated Promotions:

Try our automated online Scrum coach: Scrum Insight - free scores and basic advice, upgrade to get in-depth insight for your team. It takes between 8 and 11 minutes for each team member to fill in the survey, and your results are available immediately. Try it in your next retrospective.

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Top 10 Secrets of Agile Transformation with Michael Sahota

I dutifully watch Scrum Alliance’s webinars whenever they offer something I want to learn about, so I recently attended Michael Sahota’s “Top Ten Secrets of Agile Transformation.”

Sahota is a bit of an Agile guru, and well-respected in the community. He founded the Toronto Agile Community, and can be seen at Scrum Alliance gatherings everywhere. He also facilitates a Certified Agile Leadership course. You can learn more about Sahota by going to his website www.agilitrix.com.

The webinar he conducted was fascinating, because by the time he went from #1 to #10, I realized his “secrets” were very simple, and that one could start with #10 and work backwards to #1 and learn the same things.

By simple I mean his points were clearly articulated and comprehensive.

Before enunciating his secrets Sahota started with the idea that “Culture is the #1 Challenge with Agile.” He asked, “What are we (agilists) doing to create resistance to a change of culture in an organization?” Mindset, he averred, is more important than the practice of Agile – by which he referenced creating safe and trusting relationships, engaging with others, promoting continuous learning, innovation and so on. On a continuum line with “practices” on one end and “mindset/culture” on the other, he urged practitioners to find a balance between the two.

And now for the count-up:

Secret #1 – Clarify the purpose of bringing in an Agile coach by asking “why?” Usually the answers have to do with improving the quality of a product and encouraging more collaboration.

Secret #2 – Focus on organizational goals (and drop the word “Agile”). If the goals are clear, as those articulated above, one can drop the Agile initiative and try another. Agile is not the goal, but focussing on doing and being Agile can set up the wrong expectations. You may say, “Of course we will likely use Agile to help us achieve the organization’s goals,” but remember that Agile cannot be the goal!

Secret #3 – Focus on growth (and drop “transformation”). The idea of transformation is that it is a painful process. It also implies an end point: one is transformed. The idea of growth is more natural, and transformation is really about creating healthy change and growth. It is ongoing.

Secret #4 – Increase awareness of the global context. Global trends mean that an organization must be growing to survive. A lot of organizations do not know how to read their engagement surveys, or don’t even have them. People’s talents are wasted when engagement is low, which leads to massive financial waste. Millennials demand change – will not seek to work in an organization that’s regressive or stagnant. An agile enterprise is resilient and anti-fragile. How well is an organization set up to thrive in the future?

Secret #5 – Increase awareness of organizational context – what’s happening in an organization? However, resist telling leaders that their organization is broken. Start with humility and compassion, and then show leaders that there is a lack of engagement by their members by reading the survey. It’s not about blame – have the leaders acknowledge this and say what they want to do about it. What difficult conversations are needed here? The coach must stand in the truth of what’s happening, listen and understand. Be real.

Secret #6 – Clarify the focus of the initiative. Is more time spent on tactical initiatives (as in, how do we work?), in strategic initiatives (what do we want to achieve?), or in cultural concerns (who do we want to be?)? Discuss what percentage of time is needed to spend on culture in order to have a bright future.

Secret #7 – Build a shared understanding of what culture is. Culture has to do with both consciousness (or energetic property) and structures. Consciousness includes identity, values, beliefs, and the unwritten rules and norms in an organization. It includes values such as safety, trust, people being valued… Structure (practices) and consciousness (culture) co-exist together and are inter-dependent.  Refer to the Agile Manifesto: people over process. – focus on structures without consciousness cannot succeed.

Secret #8 – Clarify the leaders’ role in growing. The consciousness of the leadership is most important. New organizational behavior requires new leadership behavior. Growth requires leaders go first! How do we invite them to go first?

Secret #9 – Honour the leaders’ freedom to choose. Do they wish to work on something tactical? Cultural? A coach must let go of what he or she wants. We cannot coerce people into believing what we believe.

Secret #10 – Growth can happen anywhere.You, as an individual, are the limit for growth.

Sahota suggests creating a culture-bubble in which consciousness and safety can be grown. In this last point he quotes Gandhi: “Be the change that you want to see in the world.”

I am aware that in the 45 minutes of the webinar, Sahota went through each point relatively quickly. Each one in itself provides room for reflection. For me, the fact that the tenth “secret” puts the onus on each individual to grow is telling; if we change, we can help those around us in their transformation. But that requires extra-consciousness, I think, and humility. Overall, Sahota points to values and culture within and without as the key.

Michael Sahota is offering his Certified Agile Leadership class in the new year through BERTEIG – you can find dates at this site: http://www.worldmindware.com/Certified_Agile_Leadership#schedule


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Doc Norton introduces Host Leadership at 8th Annual Toronto Agile Confernce

“Sometimes we get so caught up in what should be that we miss the beauty of what is.” – Doc Norton

At the 8th Annual  Agile Conference, held in Toronto, Ontario last week, the keynote speaker Doc Norton presented some insightful ideas on Host Leadership, about the roles people take when initiating, launching and facilitating new ideas. The basic premise of having a Host Leader mindset is to be fluid with the needs of the environment. While there is a time and place for authoritative decision-making, otherwise called gate-keeping in Host Leadership lingo, there is also a need for a humble approach to supporting an idea from conception to fruition without clinging to hard-and-fast expectations about what must happen.

In his example of applying these principles, he shared how his family decided to host a Euchre game to create an opportunity to meet new neighbours. When something different than expected emerged, he experienced the value detaching from “what he wanted it to be” and accepting “what was becoming.”

In brief, here are the 6 key aspects of Host Leadership.

  1. Initiator – The person that provides the initial spark. A new idea.
  2. Inviter – Extends the invitation to people who may be interested in the idea. Who to invite and who not to invite.
  3. Space Creator – Those who create the physical and emotional space for those in attendance to feel safe, to learn, and to engage in the opportunity.
  4. Gate Keeper – Defines and protects the space which is created. Lets people in and out as necessary or appropriate. People who enforce the rules, doing interviews and hiring.  Note: there is a right balance for this where there is not too much gate-keeping but just enough to create the right boundaries.
  5. Connector – Brings people together. They are conduits for information. They are typically the ones who know how things get done.
  6. Co-participator – Team leads participating in a retrospective as equals.

Sometimes the Host Leader sets and reinforces rules, but sometimes they serve others. This depends on the moment and context. 

Doc Norton laughed at his own story when he revealed that even though he and his wife put lengthy effort into creating “Euchre Night” he discovered that in the basement a large group of guests started playing poker. Rather than becoming disgruntled about the change, he adapted and became a co-participator. As a result of letting what was becoming just be, the neighbours found themselves carrying out Poker nights monthly for a decade.

Host Leadership is about creating space for great things to emerge and surrendering the inclination to control the outcome.

These six items are aspects of roles of everyone on a team and shouldn’t be thought of as one person per role per team. Instead, when people on a team ebb and flow around these roles the thought-processes and discoveries can be shared with the team, and the growth on the team supports the initiatives for team members.

What were his concluding words of wisdom to the audience?

He said, “Consider your leadership role at work. Regardless of your title, think about what you are initiating. How do you extend invitations? What space are you creating and maintaining? When are you gate-keeping? How are you connecting with others? How are you joining what is emerging even if it is different than what you expected?”

 The take away from this inspiring opening address was the optimistic message that what is becoming may be better than anything anyone could have hoped for. 


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Three Links For Agile Product Development

Last week, conversations in the Scrum Facebook Group clamoured around the topic of Agile Product Development and Agile Project Development or Management.
To be honest, when I posed a question on the topic I had a hint of its significance but did not have even a glimpse of the depth of this can of worms until many more conversations, online and offline, and research on websites and YouTube on the topic.
One respected coach said to me that there may be no bigger issue than this in the Agile industry. Well then, let’s explore it a little bit.
Here I’m including three links which Facebook group members recommended. I hope these links may also be useful to other new Product Owners who are grappling with the concept of “no projects” in their work environments.
This is undoubtedly by far the very best Product Owner video I’ve seen to date. It’s just 15 minutes long. The speaker is clear and easy-to-listen to. The graphics are descriptive and simple despite representing complex ideas and systems. I came away from this video with a much more thorough and concrete understanding of the role of Product Owner.
This book is recommended by a fellow Scrum enthusiast. Amazon describes it in this way,” In Agile Product Management with Scrum, leading Scrum consultant Roman Pichler uses real-world examples to demonstrate how product owners can create successful products with Scrum. He describes a broad range of agile product management practices, including making agile product discovery work, taking advantage of emergent requirements, creating the minimal marketable product, leveraging early customer feedback, and working closely with the development team.
While I haven’t had the chance to read it yet myself, I find it reassuring that a renowned author addresses this important topic and offers his valuable insight into the conversation around Product Owner and Project Manager.
agile-team-room-example
On September 09, 2016 a blog post about User stories addressed this very relevant question. The first line states, “User stories can be considered the basic units of work in organisations using an agile approach to product development.” I found this post and this website very useful in understanding the importance of user stories and how these fundamentally shift work process around delivery of value to customers.

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Leading to Real Agility – Communicate the Vision for Change

Leading an organization to Real Agility requires that you communicate the vision for change throughout your organization.  This video introduces the four key concepts of communicating this vision for change as you and your executive team lead your organization to Real Agility.

The video presents four core concepts:

  1. Continuous communication at every opportunity: every meeting, every phone call, every email, every presentation!
  2. Simplicity of the message: short, jargon-free, concrete.
  3. An emotional component that encourages a change in behaviour.
  4. And urgency!  (A window of opportunity, a competitive threat or an internal problem that needs to be addressed now.)

Leading to Real Agility References

Here are some additional references about how leaders can help their organizations move towards Real Agility by communicating the vision for change:

Please subscribe to our YouTube channel to receive notifications when each new video is published! (There are 15 more videos coming in this series, and more beyond that on other topics!)  You can also find the summary article that helps you find all the videos and additional references here: Leading to Real Agility – Introduction.

Mishkin Berteig presents the concepts in this video series.  Mishkin has worked with leaders for over fifteen years to help them create better businesses.  Mishkin is a certified Leadership Circle Profile practitioner and a Certified Scrum Trainer.  Mishkin is co-founder of BERTEIG.  The Real Agility program includes assessment, and support for delivery teams, managers and leaders.

BERTEIG Real Agility logo - leading to Real Agility


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Launching a New Product: #1 Question – Is this a Project or a Product?

Recently, it’s come to my attention that a friend is experiencing nearly insurmountable financial hardship. After initially offering to help out by sharing a few food items, I realized that a few items shared once is not enough. This inspired me to consider the idea of sharing food weekly. I decided to create a regular care package of sorts, until she got back on her feet again.

She agreed to pick up a care package from me weekly. And that’s how this social action initiative was born.

Once I knew I’d be doing this weekly, several logistics had to be sorted out. Where was the food coming from? Where would I store the food between pick-ups? When would it be picked up?

Interestingly, I don’t have enough food in my own cupboards to share with someone weekly. Fortunately, I know many others who are like-minded and highly value supporting and helping others so I began to reach out. Within days I had more than seven bags of food to share and it occurred to me that this would be my goal – 7 bags for 7 days. That should get her through the week.

It didn’t take too long for me to see that if I considered myself as the Product Owner of this product – a weekly food package – that there might be valuable Agile concepts and practices which could easily help support the sustainability of this initiative. 

Is this a Project or a Product?”

 

Immediately, an Agile Coach inspired me to think of this not as a project, but as a product. The main difference, he reminded me, is that a project has a start and an end. A product doesn’t have an end date. It can always improve.

At the beginning, I thought of this as a “project.” You know? A bunch of us getting together with the vision of sharing food weekly. It was our “Food Sharing Project.”

Before long, I realized that was an old way of thinking about work. When I thought about the food package as a product a lot changed. It became easier to see what was needed for this product to be useful to the recipient. The quality of this product became clear.

I also watched this video from Mishkin Berteig which encouraged me to think about the ways in which this package could be run with Scrum. (So far, I am the Product Owner. Now I just need a ScrumMaster and Scrum Team. You never know, maybe this will evolve some day!)

Then I read this article by Mike Caspar which got me thinking about acceptance criteria and the importance of consultation, reflection, learning and planning.

The key learning for me today is that when I think about this service of delivering a weekly care package as a product I see it’s likely it can continue indefinitely, always improving. That really excites me.

It is not a project, but a product and is being organized and delivered using Agile methods.

This is one way that Agile is being used outside of IT with great success.

 

 


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Link: Communicate The Vision

This video, newly released on BERTEIG’s YouTube Channel, reminds leaders of their responsibility to communicate the vision to their organization. Check out the 2-minute video for valuable insight into the process.


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Week-long Sprints Work for Weekly Newsletters

What I like the most about Agile-thinking is the principle of taking action with very little planning. This philosophy of learn-as-you-go creates space and time for the team to experiment with ideas to create a successful product.

For the past year, I have participated in an agile experiment of sorts. Basically, the goal was to write a weekly newsletter. But more specifically, the intention was to create meaningful content to readers of the newsletter which would empower them to continue to make positive change in their organizations by applying Agile methods.

Six weeks after starting the newsletter, I attended my first Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) training in Toronto, Ontario. At first, I thought I could manage the newsletter content and delivery using Scrum. I quickly realized I couldn’t. Even if I viewed myself as a ScrumMaster, I wasn’t working on a Scrum team. There was no Product Owner. It couldn’t be run using Scrum.

However, I realized something essential that I could glean from Scrum and that is the idea of Sprints. I realized right away that if I viewed the creation and delivery of the newsletter in one-week Sprints I likely could be successful. And indeed, this application of a Scrum method was extremely useful.

Thinking about delivering a newsletter in one-week Sprints helped me to think about the smallest amount of content which could be easily and predictably delivered weekly. As my capacity, and the capacity of the team improved, so could the level of complexity also increase.

As the level of complexity increased, the newsletter itself improved in quality.

I would like to write more about how a newsletter can be created and distributed using Sprints and other Agile methods because doing it this way helped me to stay adaptive & flexible as the newsletter was refined.

5 keys for using Sprints to create & distribute a newsletter

  1. Understand “Done Done!” – Before CSM training, the newsletter was “done” when I pressed ‘send’ on my computer. When I better understood the meaning of “Done Done” in a Sprint I changed my thinking and behaviour. When I sent the first draft to be proof-read, this was “Done” and when it was returned to me edited and when I did final revision then it was ready for scheduling. When I pressed “Schedule” then the newsletter was “Done Done.” I would plan to schedule the newsletter three days before it was expected to be released. That gave me three days of  ‘buffer’ to accommodate last-minute changes, if necessary. I was learning to become more Agile.
  2. Learn to Accommodate Last-Minute Changes – If last minutes changes cannot be easily accommodated, then the product delivery is likely not Agile. When I started creating and distributing a weekly product, with the expectation that things could change at any time then I learned to establish a “bare-minimum” which could be produced even if changes occurred. This gave me the ability to be flexible and adaptive and much more Agile.
  3. Be Agile; Don’t Do Agile – When I went to CSM training, I thought I would learn how to do Agile things on my team. When I completed the training and started applying Sprints to the weekly distribution of a newsletter, then I realized I must “Be” Agile in my approach, in my communications, and in my creation of the product. I learned that Agile is really a state of mind and not a “thing” at all. Agile is about continuous action, reflection and planning with an open-mind and a readiness to always learn and grow and change.
  4. Action, Reflection, Planning – Before using one week Sprints, I didn’t give myself enough time to reflect and plan the next Sprint. I had a backlog with enough items to keep me busy for 6 months. My work-in-progress was a nightmare and unmanageable. I had four weeks worth of drafts saved and often got confused between what content was going out when. Establishing a regular weekly cadence helped me take control of this “mess” by just taking small action steps, reflecting on them weekly, and using the learning to plan the next steps. This revolutionized my work.
  5. Prepare For Growth – When a product is delivered successfully with Sprints, it keeps getting better and better. This leads to goals being met and growth happening on the team. In this case, it lead to increasing numbers of subscribers and the establishment of a collaborative team approach to creating and distributing the newsletter. Without Sprints, without an Agile mindset, I’m absolutely certain the goals would not have been achieved and growth wouldn’t have occurred. But with Sprints, things just keep getting better and better every week. I love it!

******************************************************

If you’d like to subscribe to the weekly newsletter I mentioned here, you can do so at this link.


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5 Links To Engaging Retrospectives

When a team starts implementing Scrum they will soon discover the value and the challenge in retrospectives.

Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Reviews says that “retrospectives offer organizations a formal method for preserving the valuable lessons learned from the successes and failures of every project. These lessons and the changes identified by the community will foster stronger teams and savings on subsequent efforts.”

In other words, retrospectives create a safe place for reflections so that the valuable lessons can be appreciated, understood and applied to new opportunities for growth at hand.

The Retrospective Prime Directive says:

Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.

With these noble principles in mind, there should be no fear from any team member about the learning, discoveries and occasions for progress.

These 5 retrospective techniques may be useful for other teams who are looking for fun ways to reflect and learn and grow.

  1. Success Criteria – The Success Criteria activity helps clarifying intentions, target outcomes, and results for success criteria. It is a futurospective activity for identifying and framing intentions, target outcomes and success criteria.
  2. 360 degrees appreciation – The 360 degrees appreciation is a retrospective activity to foster open appreciation feedback within a team. It is especially useful to increase team moral and improve people relationship.
  3.  Complex Pieces – Complex pieces is a great energizer to get people moving around while fostering a conversation about complex systems and interconnected pieces.
  4. Known Issues – The Known Issues activity is a focused retrospective activity for issues that are already known. It is very useful for situations where the team (1) either knows their issues and want to talk about the solutions, or (2) keep on running out of time to talk about repetitive issues that are not the top voted ones.
  5. Candy Love – Candy love is a great team building activity that gets the participants talking about their life beyond the work activities

 


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The Scrum Team Assessment – Official Launch

Hi Everyone,  I don’t do announcements on here too often, but I wanted to let everyone know about the official launch of our new product: the Scrum Team Assessment – an online tool for your team to get a report on how well they are using the Scrum framework… and most importantly, helpful recommendations on how to improve!  This is a fully automated Scrum maturity assessment tool!

The Scrum Team Assessment is based on the years that I and two other coaches (Paul Heidema and Travis Birch) have been working with Scrum and Agile teams to improve business and technical results.  The Scrum Team Assessment is a joint effort that has resulted in a fully automated virtual coach for your team.

The analysis is both statistical and expert-system based.  This means that the report has basic information about how the team is following Scrum, and, more importantly, clear how-to advice to get your team to make improvements.  There are “quick wins” which are easy but will have a significant impact as well as long-term recommendations that are often harder, but will drive your team to a high-performance state.

The Scrum Team Assessment includes a survey of about 100 questions that focus on seven broad categories:

  • The team’s environment
  • The basic Scrum process
  • The Product Backlog
  • Team Membership
  • ScrumMastering
  • Product Ownership
  • and Agile best practices

Every team member fills in the survey to help us generate a valid set of recommendations.

The Scrum Team Assessment is $496/team/use (that’s Canadian dollars).  If you have several teams or wish to obtain an enterprise license, please contact us at sales@berteigconsulting.com or +1-905-868-9995.


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Link: Automation Testing for Agile Development

Many times, participants in Certified ScrumMaster or Certified Scrum Product Owner courses ask about automation testing for agile development.

The article which follows provides an excellent answer to one of the most popular questions. After reading it, please consider leaving a comment below.

Automation Testing For Agile Development

By Agile Zone

Agile automation testing is particularly important in the Agile development lifecycle. Agile software development involves a constant feedback loop among team members. This is in contrast to the Waterfall model of development, where software testing only begins once the development phase has been completed.

In Agile development, software testing activities are conducted from the beginning of the project. Software testing is done incrementally and iteratively. Automation testing is an extremely important part of Agile testing. After each change in the system, it is important to run a battery of automated functional and regression tests to ensure that no new defects have been introduced. Without this automation testing harness, Agile testing can become very time-consuming. This can result in insufficient test coverage. This will, in turn, affect software quality. Automation testing is necessary for the project to maintain agility. As a matter of fact, introducing automation processes such as automation builds and automation smoke tests is important in all aspects of agile development. As budgets shrink, time spent on repeatable automation testing becomes more and more necessary.

Continue reading here. 


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Link: The Solution That Fits Our Team

I recently came across an excellent article on how teams are taking the best of several Agile methods and combining them together into a solution which works in their specific environment.

The overview and description of the essence of Agile, Scrum and  Kanban is really helpful.

After you have a chance to read it please share your reflections in the comment section below.

Scrumban: The Solution That Fits My Team

by Serghei Rusu

Image title

If you have any issues with the methodology approach you have in your company, then you have probably heard these words already. That is our case as well. At a certain point in time, we felt like we were no longer facing the rapidly changing requirements that come from modern world business and that the software development methodology we had was pulling us back….

Continue reading the article here.


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