OpenAgile – Evolving Forward

“Truthfulness is the foundation of all the virtues of the world of humanity”

Many people can see some validity or value in this statement, but it may seem strange to them to incorporate this component into business practices or corporate culture. After all much of what is common practice does not reward or encourage those who choose to be truthful.

But as Bob Dylan so aptly put it, “the times they are a-changin’”.

The environment, our capacities as human beings, and our tools to interact with the world are constantly evolving and growing. Yet much of what we do today is based on assumptions about human nature arrived at hundreds or even thousands of years ago when we had less knowledge and understanding about the world and ourselves. Along with the rest of the universe we are evolving as a human species, as such it only makes sense that our higher understanding and knowledge inform our decisions and practices, so we can keep progressing forward.

OpenAgile recognizes the true nature of humanity and how it can work to create a remarkable world in every endeavour. Scientific discovery is revealing this truth about our nature as well, as the video below so wonderfully illustrates.

The Empathetic Civilization

Be Open, Be Agile, Be Free.

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The Rules of Scrum: I take direction for product vision and scope from my team’s Product Owner

As a Team Member, it is my job to figure out how to solve a problem or request that is stated by a Product Backlog Item (PBI), with the help of my team.  It is the responsibility of the Product Owner to give us the vision of the product and decide how much scope is to be done to satisfy the PBI.  One simple way to think about this concept is that the Product Owner is responsible for the “what” and “why” and the Scrum Team is responsible for the “how” and “who”.  If the Team Members decide on the product vision by themselves, they run the risk of misinterpreting features, moving down a path that is not valuable or even creating work disconnected from the needs of those who will be using the software.  If the Team Members choose their own scope they may do much less than is needed or much more than is required.  There is a balance in the Product Owner providing vision and scope, and the Scrum Team providing knowledge and experience in its execution.

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The Rules of Scrum: I work with all the team members to expand the Definition of “Done”

The Definition of “Done” for a Scrum Team makes transparent how close the team’s work is coming to being shippable at the end of every Sprint.  Expanding the Definition of “Done” until the team is able to ship their product increment every Sprint is a process that every Team Member helps advance.  Team Members expand the Definition of “Done” by learning new skills, developing trust and gaining authority to do work, automating repetitive activities, and finding and eliminating wasteful activities.  When every Team Member is systematically expanding the Definition of “Done”, the team builds its capacity to satisfy business needs without relying on outside people, groups or resources.  If Team Members are not actively working on this, then many of the obstacles to becoming a high-performance team will not be discovered.

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The Rules of Scrum: PBIs are invitations to conversations, not detailed specifications

Product Backlog Items are brief descriptions of a feature or function.  Usually they are short enough that they could be hand-written on a small note card.  This brevity is meant to be just enough information so that the Product Owner and the team can use the PBIs as invitations to conversations.  The resulting conversation (ongoing, evolving and involving the whole team and stakeholders) and the shared understanding that comes from that conversation is where the real value of the PBI resides.  Part of the conversation occurs when the Product Owner initially writes the PBI so that the team can estimate the effort of building it.  Part of the conversation is the actual work being done during a Sprint.  Another part of the conversation is during the Sprint Review when stakeholders see the results of the team building the PBIs.  If one creates PBIs as detailed specifications then we are essentially handcuffing the team into a set path and a prescriptive solution.  The reason we hire qualified people onto our Scrum Team is for their knowledge, experience, and problem solving abilities.  If we lock them into a set path, then we are literally turning them into cogs in a machine to spit out specific code.  PBIs that are invitations to conversations allow them the flexibility to figure out how to solve the problem by engaging in a conversation on what is needed.

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The Rules of Scrum: PBIs are ordered by expected Value (ROI, NIAT, etc)

Product Backlog Items are ordered into a sequence in the Product Backlog in such a way that the Product Owner is able to maximize the return on investment (ROI) in the team.  The very first PBI in the Product Backlog should be the one with the highest expected value considering the effort to build the PBI.  There are many ways to calculate this expected value including Return on Investment (ROI), Net Income After Taxes (NIAT), Net Present Value (NPV), etc.  The Scrum Team members should be free to ask why one PBI is prioritized higher than another, and the Product Owner should be able to give a reasonable answer. Since the entire Scrum Team is accountable for its work, it is in the best interest of all members of the team to use expected value, so that both the Scrum team and the customer will be committed to the work that is currently being worked on and the upcoming work in the future Sprints.  If we don’t order the PBIs by expected value, then the Product Owner is likely to prioritize them based on dates, feelings, urgency, or other less valuable methods.  These other prioritization methods will diminish the trust of the team in the Product Owner and may lead to morale problems.

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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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The Value of Retrospectives – Presentation for Agile Edmonton User Group

I’m going to Edmonton to do a presentation on the Value of Retrospectives for the Agile Edmonton user Group.  Should be a lot of fun!  I’ve done many CSM classes in Edmonton (and Calgary).  If you are going to be in Edmonton on April 1st, consider coming out to the meeting!  See you there! – Mishkin.

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Iterative Delivery

Work can often be divided up so that the smaller pieces are valuable on their own. By dividing work this way, a team can deliver value incrementally. The team can choose a short period of time called an iteration and select a small amount of work to complete in that time. This work should be valuable on its own. For example, if a team is building something, then at the end of each iteration whatever is built is usable as it is. This means that each iteration includes all the planning and design as well as construction or creation necessary to deliver a final product or result.

For example, a volunteer group may desire to attract new members. A non-agile approach would have the group plan their membership campaign completely before actually executing on it. An agile approach using iterative delivery would have the group plan a small piece of work that will attract some small number of new members, execute it, and then start a new iteration. One iteration may cover the creation of and delivery of a door-to-door flyer in a neighborhood. Another iteration may cover the design, creation and publishing of a small advertisement in a local newspaper. Each iteration includes all the steps necessary to produce a furthering of the group’s goal of attracting new members.

In a business environment, iterative delivery allows for a much faster return on investment. The following diagram compares delivering value iteratively with a non-agile project delivery where results are delivered only at the end of the project:

Iteration Value Delivery

One can see clearly from the diagrams that the non-agile delivery of value at the end of a project is also extremely risk prone and suseptible to change. If the project is cancelled just before it delivers, then a fairly substantial amount of effort is wasted. In the agile iterative delivery situation, an endeavor can be cancelled at almost any time and it is likely that substantial value has already been delivered.

Even if the work cannot actually be delivered incrementally, it almost always can be divided in a way so that it can be inspected in stages. Either method of dividing work allows us to do the work in iterations.

Iterations are fixed and consistent units of time during which work is performed and between which planning, inspection and adjustment is done. The empowered team will decide on the length of iterations for their work. As a rule of thumb iterations should be shorter than the horizon of predictability. Generally, iterations should never be longer than one month, no matter what the endeavor.

At the end of each iteration, a demonstration of the work completed is given to the stakeholders in order to amplify learning and feedback. Between iterations, the stakeholders collaborate with the team to prioritize the remaining work and choose what will be worked on during the next iteration. During the iteration, the stakeholders need to be accessible for questions and clarifications.

Iterative and incremental delivery is used to allow for the early discovery and correction of mistakes and the incorporation of learning and feedback while at the same time delivering value early.

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