Tag Archives: Business

Using Agile to Run a Small Business – Five Types of Work

At BERTEIG, we used Scrum to run our business for quite a while – about one year.  Over that time we struggled with a few different concepts and practices.  As a Certified Scrum Trainer, I am very aware that Scrum requires us to use the framework itself to expose obstacles, rather than modifying Scrum to accommodate obstacles.  However, over the course of that year, it became more and more obvious that there is something fundamentally different between writing software products (where Scrum is fantastic) and running a business.  Scrum, the framework, just wasn’t good enough.

The main problem we had was with the types of work we encounter in running a business.  We noticed patterns in the types of tasks we had every Cycle (Sprint).  In this article I will look carefully at two of those types of work and then briefly describe the other three types of work.

We discovered that calendar items such as meetings, scheduled public events, and even personal appointments didn’t fit anywhere in Scrum’s Product Backlog or Sprint Backlog.  At first, we tried to think of this as an obstacle and force-fit these into the Product Backlog.  That didn’t work because that meant we couldn’t always prioritize by value.  Even if the Product Backlog had something more valuable in it than the scheduled meeting, we sometimes couldn’t change the dates of the meeting to accomodate the more valuable work.  So Calendar Items became a new category of work in addition to the new “features” that were in the Product Backlog.  (I say “features” in quotes because we were running a business not writing software.)

We also noticed that we were struggling with applying the concept of the Definition of Done.  This led us to explore the concept of Repetitive Activities.  For example, we need to clean our office on a regular basis – vacuum, water plants, take out trash, etc.  If we left that until it became more valuable than anything else on our Product Backlog we would have ended up with a disgusting work environment.  So we thought that this should be part of our Definition of Done.  The problem then became a more conceptual one: what were we doing that needed cleaning so that it would be considered done?  Well of course, it’s simply part of business operations.  Cleaning is not independently valuable.  We did decide that it was most cost-effective to outsource it, but it didn’t match the concept of Definition of Done as applied to the work in the Product Backlog.  That led to an insight: actually, we were looking at a new category of work: Repetitive Activities.  These are those activities that we need to do to sustain our business and which should become habits, or which should be automated or outsourced.

After identifying Calendar Items and Repetitive Items as types of work, we decided that we needed to look at the Product Backlog more carefully.  We decided that we needed to separate features, or as we called it “New Artifacts”, from defects or Quality Problems.  We also formalized the concept of a queue of Obstacles, which is mentioned in Scrum, but about which is given very little guidance.

So after over a three years of trying to use agile methods to run our business, we have finally come up with a stable and seemingly sufficient set of types of work:

  • Calendar Items
  • Repetitive Activities
  • Quality Problems
  • Obstacles
  • New Artifacts

We have written more about our experiences and their results in our e-book: The OpenAgile Primer.  If you are trying to use agile methods to run a business or any other kind of organization, please check it out and let us know about your experiences.  We hope that OpenAgile will become an Open-Source method that we can contribute back to the world of work and life.  OpenAgile for business is a great match and is, in our experience, a much better fit than Scrum or Kanban.


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Cool Blog – SustainabilityCulture.com

One of our partner organizations, HBI Leadership, has launched a blog called SustainabilityCulture.com.  Check it out!


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Link: Business Value Game

Interesting: The Business Value Game.  If you have tried it out with clients or with a team, please let us know in the comments!


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Agile Management – Two Quick Links

First, I did a conference telecast today.  You can download the recording of the talk “Recession Proof Your Business with Agile Management“.

Second, Esther Derby has written a good article about what management needs to do to have a successful agile implementation.


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Agile Productivity Measures

Scott Ambler has written a couple good articles about measuring productivity with velocity.  Acceleration: An Agile Productivity Measure. and Examining Acceleration.

From what I understand, this is a measure of the effect of agile on the relative improvement over time of a team.  I would beg to differ that it is a measure of productivity.  Productivity is value delivered over time.  If team A is delivering $5/week and team B is delivering $5000/week, then knowing that team A is accelerating faster than team B isn’t terribly important, particularly if the market can’t bear to absorb $6/week of whatever team A is producing.

Measuring productivity is hard.  I would love to hear from people who have tried various means to measure productivity.  I measure productivity in our business, but I can do that because we are small and everything we do has a direct effect on the bottom line.  Does your business run with that transparency?  If not, why not?


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OpenAgile and Small Business Management

For the past three months I have been working with Paul Heidema (our VP of Marketing) to use OpenAgile to run our business.  I thought it might be interesting for folks to see a screen capture of how we have arranged things in CardMeeting to do our planning and tracking. The yellow cards are labels for our Cycles, the white cards are Work Queue items, and the blue cards are Tasks related to the item.  The orange cards represent special information (eg. obstacles or ongoing work) and the green cards represent reflections and learning for each Cycle.

BCI OpenAgile CardMeeting


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Agile Benefits: Responding to Change

The fact that agile methods increase return on investment, accelerate learning, increase stakeholder satisfaction, and enable better control of work are all an interesting result of this final benefit: responding to change.

Continue reading Agile Benefits: Responding to Change


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Agile Benefits: Satisfied Stakeholders

So far, we’ve discussed learning and value as benefits of agile. Now we turn to a more human side: satisfied stakeholders. Agile methods provide multiple roads to satisfaction for customers, users, business people, bureaucrats (okay, maybe not _all_ bureaucrats), team members, managers, shareholders, and interested passer-by. There are three primary mechanisms by which this occurs: engagement, trust-building and feedback-control. [UPDATED: added link to explanation of Commitment Velocity]

Continue reading Agile Benefits: Satisfied Stakeholders


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Agile Benefits: Early Return on Investment

We wouldn’t do agile if we didn’t think it was better in some way. More and more, I am seeing the adoption of agile methods being driven by business management (rather then engineering). There is a clear reason for this: agile methods offer the possibility of early return on investment compared to other methods of working. This benefit is only one of five essential benefits of agile, but it is one of the most practical and easiest to measure. Therefore it is important to clearly understand how agile methods can deliver this benefit… and how they can fail to do so!

Continue reading Agile Benefits: Early Return on Investment


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Agile Benefits: Rapid Learning

So what exactly are the benefits of agile? Why are people, teams and organizations so interested in agile processes? What about agile caused it to become a popular and rapidly growing approach to working? I have seen five essential benefits that come from implementing an agile methodology. Here I describe what I think of as the most important benefit of agile: rapid learning.

Continue reading Agile Benefits: Rapid Learning


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Strategic Plan

Okay, this is only marginally related to agile, but I thought it was interesting nevertheless: How to Write a Detailed Strategic Plan. The main connection to Agile Work, is that you need to have a clear performance goal in mind towards which you are working. This may be a great way to clarify your thoughts about such a goal.


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Cancelled Iteration

Last week went totally wonko for Berteig Consulting. My planning was bad, bad, bad!

Continue reading Cancelled Iteration


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First Interation Ending

My first iteration using Agile Work for my business development has come to a close. Here is what I did for a “demo” and retrospective.

Continue reading First Interation Ending


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My First Challenge

Wednesday is nearly done and I’m looking at my list of tasks and cringing! I’ve only done a few out of the forty for this week. What’s going on?!

Continue reading My First Challenge


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The Case for Context Switching

Recently, Dimitri Zimine wrote an excellent little story about context switching. Joel Spolsky writes in “From the ‘You Call this Agile’ Department“:

Dmitri is only looking at one side of the cost/benefit equation. He’s laid out a very convincing argument why Sarah should not interrupt her carefully planned two week iteration, but he hasn’t even mentioned arguments for the other side: the important sale that will be lost.

Okay… I’ll bite.

Continue reading The Case for Context Switching


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