Tag Archives: project

Best Agile Advice Articles – Ten Year Anniversary!

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Agile Advice was started in 2005.  In ten years, we have published over 850 articles (an average of just about 2 per week!).  Here are some collections of the ten “best” articles.  I hope you enjoy looking back at (or discovering for the first time!) some of the things that have made this such a great joy for me.

Ten Most Popular Agile Advice Articles

  1. How Two Hours Can Waste Two Weeks (75,000+ visits)
  2. The Seven Core Practices of Agile Work (25,000+ visits)
  3. Eight Barriers to Effective Listening (17,000+ visits)
  4. Seven Essential Teamwork Skills (17,000+ visits)
  5. 24 Common Scrum Pitfalls Summarized (15,000+ visits)
  6. Mentoring and Coaching: What is the Difference? (14,000+ visits)
  7. Wideband Delphi Estimation Technique (14,000+ visits)
  8. The Pros and Cons of Short Iterations (13,000+ visits)
  9. Three Concepts of Value Stream Mapping (13,000+ visits)
  10. Agile Work and the PMBoK Definition of Project (11,000+ visits)

Ten Most Commented Upon Agile Advice Articles

  1. 24 Common Scrum Pitfalls Summarized (19 comments)
  2. Agile Becomes Easier with Useful Tools (12 comments)
  3. Important Words about Scrum and Tools (9 comments)
  4. The Skills Matrix and Performance Evaluation on Agile Teams (9 comments)
  5. The Definition of Done is Badly Named (8 comments)
  6. How Two Hours Can Waste Two Weeks (7 comments)
  7. Agile is Not Communism (7 comments)
  8. Agile Tools vs. Agile Books (6 comments)
  9. The Decline and Fall of Agile and How Scrum Makes it Hurt More (5 comments)
  10. The Planning Game: an Estimation Method for Agile Teams (5 comments)

I also want to acknowledge that there are a number of other contributors to Agile Advice besides me (Mishkin).  These contributors are all experts, all have great experiences, and all are fantastic people to know.  I’m grateful for their contributions since they have all made Agile Advice a better place to browse!

Five Most Frequent Contributors (of Articles, besides Mishkin)

  1. Paul Heidema (34 articles)
  2. Travis Birch (24 articles)
  3. Christian Gruber (19 articles)
  4. Mike Caspar (16 articles)
  5. Shabnam Tashakour (13 articles)

Plans for the Future – Five Top Ideas for Series

  1. Essays on each of the Values and Principles of the Agile Manifesto
  2. Summary articles of several Agile methods including Scrum, OpenAgile, Kanban, Crystal, XP, and others
  3. Real Agility Program case studies
  4. Reviews of other scaling / enterprise Agile frameworks such as Disciplined Agile Delivery, Large Scale Scrum, Enterprise Scrum
  5. New guest articles from thought and practice leaders.

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Project Lessons Learned vs. Sprint Retrospective – 17 Points of Comparison

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Another fantastic article by Mike Caspar: Sprint Retrospective vs. Lessons Learned (a Generalization)

Mike says:

Consider reviewing these differences in your environment to determine if you are getting benefit from your Sprint Retrospectives and following their intent.


Here are a few other Agile Advice articles about Retrospectives.

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The Real Agility Program – Execution and Delivery Teams

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Execution IconIn a recent post, Mishkin outlined the Leadership Team component of the Real Agility Program.  While the Leadership Team track focuses on developing leadership capacity for sustained transformation, The Execution track focuses on launching and developing high-performance project, product and operational teams.  This track is the one that most of our clients use when they run Agile pilot programs and is a critical component of getting quick wins for the organization.

Groundbreaking works such as The Wisdom of Teams (Katzenbach & Smith), The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (Lencioni) and Drive (Pink) have served well to distill the essential requirements of high-performance teams.  Scrum, Kanban, and OpenAgile are proven frameworks that optimize the value of teams and create the necessary working agreements to help teams reach that high-performance state.

The Delivery Team track of the Real Agility Program creates new, cross-functional, multi-skilled, staff-level teams of willing individuals.  These teams are responsible for delivering value—business results and quality.  Individuals are committed to the performance of the team and the organization.  Teams develop the capacity to self-organize and focus on continuous improvement and learning.  A team is usually composed of people from various roles at the delivery level.  For example, and IT project team might be composed of people whose previous* roles were:

  1. Project manager
  2. Business analyst
  3. Software developer
  4. Tester
  5. Database developer
  6. Team lead
  7. User experience lead
  8. Intern

* These roles do not get carried into the new delivery team other than as a set of skills.

The track begins with establishing pre-conditions for success including executive sponsorship, availability of team members and management support.  Team launch involves a series of on-the-job team development workshops designed to enable the teams to create their own set of values, working agreements and high-performance goals.  Teams are guided in the creation of their initial work backlogs, defining “done”, estimation and planning and self-awareness through the use of a collaborative skills matrix.  The teams are also assisted in setting up collocated team rooms and other tools to optimize communication and productivity.

Qualified coaches assist the teams to overcome common issues such as personal commitment, initial discomfort with physical colocation, communication challenges of working with new people in a new way, management interference and disruptions and appropriate allocation of authority.  This assistance is delivered on a regular schedule as the team progresses through a series of steps in the Execution track process.  Usually, these steps take one or two weeks each, but sometimes they take longer.  A team that needs to get to a high-performance state quickly might go through the entire program in 10 or 12 weeks.  In an organization where there is not the same urgency, it can take up to a year to get through the steps of the track.

The coaches for this Execution track also help management to resist and overcome the strong urge to manage the problems of the teams for them.  In order to develop through the stages of team development, teams need to be effectively guided and encouraged to solve their own problems and chart their own courses towards high-performance.

The goal of the Execution track of the Real Agility Program is to help the team go through the stages of forming-storming-norming and set them up to succeed in becoming a high-performance team.  Of course, to do this requires some investment of time.  Although the Execution track is meant to be done as on-the-job coaching, there is a 5% to 20% level of overhead related to the Real Agility Program materials themselves.

See also the article on the Recommendations component of the Real Agility Program.

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Updated: Agile Estimation with the Bucket System

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I have added a pdf download of this article about Agile Estimation with the Bucket System.  It’s just a handy, nicely-formatted document that can be used for quick reference.  It is now part of the materials I give out for my Certified ScrumMaster training classes.

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Updated: Planning Game for Agile Estimation

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I’ve made a minor update to my article about Agile Estimation with the Planning Game to include a downloadable pdf of the article for easy printing.  The downloadable version also includes a tiny bit of commentary that comes from my upcoming Agile Advice book.  There are also two links added at the end of the article.  One is the the wikipedia article about Planning Poker (which describes the method slightly differently), and the other is to an article I wrote a long time ago about the wideband delphi estimation method.

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Reader Survey: Important Topics for an “Agile for Managers” Workshop

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Hi Everyone,

We have started putting together a list of topics / learning objectives for a new course: “Agile for Managers”. I am interested in getting suggestions from readers on topics to include. What are the challenges you have had with managing agile teams? If you are on an agile team, what are some of the challenges you have had with management? What are the burning questions you have as a manager about deciding to use agile methods? What have been some of the critical success factors in adopting agile methods? What about pitfalls?

I will summarize feedback in a future article as well as post a proposed agenda for such a workshop. In order to “give back”, I will also make the initial draft of the course materials available under a Creative Commons license so that others can use the materials.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

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Calculating a Budget for an Agile Project in Six Easy Steps

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A former student of mine called the other day.  He asked a good question: how do you calculate the budget for a project if you are using an agile approach to delivery.  Here is the overview of the six steps to do this.  I will follow the overview with some detailed comments.

  1. Prepare and estimate the project requirements using Planning Poker
  2. Determine the team’s Velocity
  3. Using the team’s burn rate and velocity calculate the budget for the Iterations
  4. Add any capital costs
  5. Using the definition of “done” add pre- and post- Iteration budgets
  6. Apply a drag or fudge or risk factor to the overall estimate

Prepare and estimate the project requirements using Planning Poker

The project requirements have to be listed out in some order and then estimated.  If you are using Scrum as your agile approach, you will be creating a Product Backlog.  Extreme Programming and you will be creating user stories.  OpenAgile and you will be creating Value Drivers.  Kanban and you will have a backlog of work in progress.  Regardless of the agile approach you are using, in a project context you can estimate the work using the Planning Poker game.  Once you have your list, you need to get the team of people who will be working on the list to do the estimation.  Estimation for agile methods cannot be done by someone not on the team – this is considered invalid.  It’s like asking your work buddy to estimate how much time it will take to clean your own house and then telling your kids that they have to do it in that amount of time.  In other words, it’s unfair.  Planning Poker results in scores being assigned to each item of your list.  Those scores are not yet attached to time – they simply represent the relative effort of each of the items.  To connect the scores to time, we move to the next step…

Determine the team’s Velocity

The team needs to select its cycle (sprint, iteration) length.  For software projects, this is usually one or two weeks, and more rarely three or four weeks.  In other industries it may be substantially different.  I have seen cycles as short as 12 hours (24/7 mining environment) and as long as 3 months (volunteer community organization).  Once the duration of the cycle is determined, the team can use a simple method to estimate how much work they will accomplish in a cycle.  Looking at the list of work to be done, the team starts at the top item and gradually working their way down, decide what can fit (cumulatively) into their very first cycle.  Verbally, the conversation will go something like this:

“Can we all agree that we can fit the first item into our first cycle?”

– everyone responds “Yes”

“Let’s look at the second item.  Can we do the first item AND the second item in our first cycle?”

– a little discussion about what it might take to do the second item, and then everyone responds “Yes”

“Okay.  What about adding the third item?”

– more discussion, some initial concern, and finally everyone agrees that it too can fit

“How about adding the fourth item?”

– much more concern, with one individually clearly stating “I don’t think we can add it.”

“Okay.  Let’s stop with just the first three.”

Those items chosen in this way represent a certain number of points (you add up the scores from the Planning Poker game).  The number of points that the team thinks it can do in a cycle is referred to as its “Planning Velocity” or just “Velocity”.  With the velocity, we can then do one of the most important calculations in doing a budget…

Using the team’s burn rate and velocity calculate the budget for the Iterations

The team’s velocity is a proxy for how much work the team will get done in a cycle.  However, in order to understand a budget for the overall project, we need to take that estimate of the team’s output and divide it into the total amount of work.  Our list has scores on all the items.  Sum up the scores, then divide by the velocity to give you the number of cycles of work the team will need to complete the list.  For example, if after doing Planning Poker, the sum total of all the scores on all the items is 1000, and the team’s velocity is 50, then 1000 ÷ 50 = 20… This is the time budget for the team’s work to deliver these items.    To do dollar budgeting, you also need to know the team’s burn rate: how much does it cost to run the team for a cycle.  This is usually calculated based on the fully-loaded cost of a full-time-employee and you can often get this number from someone in finance or from a manager (sometimes you can figure it out from publicly available financial data).  In general, for knowledge workers, the fully-loaded cost of a full time employee is in the range of $100000/yr to $150000/yr.  Convert that to a per-cycle, per-person cost (e.g. $120000/yr ÷ 52 weeks/year x 2 weeks/cycle = $4615/person/cycle) and then multiply by the number of people on the team (e.g. $4615 x 7 people = $32305/cycle).  Finally, multiply the per-cycle cost by the number of cycles (e.g. $32305 x 20 cycles = $646100).

This is the budget for the part of the project done in the cycles by the agile team.   But of course, there are also other costs to be accounted.

Add any capital costs

Not many projects are solely labor costs.  Equipment purchases, supplies, tools, or larger items such as infrastructure, land or vehicles may all be required for your project.  Most agile methods do not provide specific guidance on how to account for these items since agile methods stem from software development where these costs tend to be minimal relative to labor costs.  However, as a Project Manager making a budget estimate, you need to check with the team (after the Planning Poker game) to determine if they know of any large purchases required for the completion of the project.  Be clear to them what you mean by “large” – in an agile environment, this is anything that has a cost similar to or more than the labor cost of a cycle (remember: agile projects should last at least several cycles so this is a relatively small percentage of the labor costs).  In the previous example calculation, the cost per cycle was $32305 so  you might ask them about any purchases that will be $30k or larger.  Add these to the project budget.

Using the definition of “done” add pre- and post- Iteration budgets

Every agile team is supposed to be “cross-functional” but in reality, there are limits to this.  For example, in most software project environments, teams do not include full-time lawyers.  This limited cross-functionality determines what the team is capable of delivering in each cycle – anything outside the team’s expertise is usually done as either pre-work or after the iterations (cycles) are finished.  Sometimes, this work can be done concurrently with the team.  In order to understand this work, it is often valuable to draw an organization-wide value stream map for project delivery.  This map will show you the proportion of time spent for each type of work in the project.  Subtract out all the work that will be done inside the agile team (their definition of “done”) and you are left with a proportion of work that must be done outside the agile team.  Based on the proportions found in the value stream map, add an appropriate amount of budget based on the project’s cycle labor costs.

Apply a drag or fudge or risk factor to the overall estimate

And of course, to come up with a final estimate, add some amount based on risk or uncertainty (never subtract!)  Generally speaking, before this step, your project budget is going to be +/- 20%-50% depending on how much you have used this approach in the past.  If you are familiar with it and have used it on a few projects, your team will be much better at understanding their initial velocity which is the foundation for much of the remaining budget estimates.  On the other hand, if you are using this method for the first time, there is a high degree of anxiety and uncertainty around the estimation process.  Please feel free to add a buffer that you feel is appropriate.  But again, never, ever, ever remove time or money from the budget at this last step.

Please let me know if you have any comments on how you have done this – tips, tricks or techniques are always welcome in the comments.

Thanks, Mishkin.

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Project Defibrillation

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Imagine your father is in surgery for a routine tonsillectomy.  Something goes wrong with the anesthesia and his heart goes nuts.  The defibrillator is brought out, the paddles applied to your father’s chest and the surgeon yells “CLEAR!”.  He triggers the defibrillator, but nothing happens, just a small clicking noise.  He quickly checks the machine, and everything looks okay.  He tries again.  “CLEAR!”  There’s a small buzzing noise and your father’s body trembles slightly.  The surgeon puts the paddles down, and, getting frantic, yells at the nurses to find another defib machine, “NOW!!!”.  Thirty agonizing seconds pass.  One of the nurses rushes into O.R. with a cart with another defibrillator machine on it.  It gets set up.  Another fifteen seconds pass.  It charges and the surgeon applies it again.  “CLEAR!”  There’s a huge shock and your father is killed instantly.  It takes a few more minutes for him to be officially pronounced dead.

Is this how projects are run in your organization?

If this had been a description of a real event, you would be furious.  You would demand that the defibrillators work better – one hundred percent of the time would be about right!  You would sue the hospital for buying shoddy defibrillators.  You would sue the company that made them.  You would sue the surgeon.

Let’s stop running projects this way.  Agile is a reliable defibrillator for your organization’s heart.

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Delivering Successful Agile Projects – A Team Approach

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Last week I gave a talk in Waterloo, Ontario on the topic of Delivering Successful Agile Projects – A Team Approach
.  The slides and a bit more info can be found on the Berteig Consulting site.  There was a great deal of interest so I have also scheduled a public agile project management / certified ScrumMaster course in Waterloo.

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Scott Ambler and ProjectWorld

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Nice little article over at ITWorldCanada on “Detailed Development Specs Up Front a ‘Worst Practice’ Says IBM“.  Pretty standard agile/scrum message.  It’s nice to see it being delivered at ProjectWorld.  I wish I could have been there :-)  Anyone reading this at the talk, I would love to hear your comments.

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