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So, now you know two things about me. I write in my books and I can’t draw. I snapped a shot of this image from the Coaching Agile Teams book – Chapter 7, (Lyssa Adkins) because it is an amazing way to portray how the role of the scrum master, product owner, and agile manager work together. Too often I see coaches running off managers and basically telling them that they no longer have a job. Managers are seen as the enemy of Agile. It doesn’t have to be that way. It shouldn’t be that way. We should be teaching managers what their new, even more powerful, role is!

This picture really stirred me up because it put into writing questions I have often had explaining to the scrum master and agile manager. There are also pieces of this that validate things I’ve always instinctively known but didn’t have anything but my gut to tell me it was true.

I love that the overlap in these roles is there by design. It’s not a place to struggle for control – it’s a place to partner for power!  The scrum master intentionally shares the bulldozer of impediments function with the product owner because the person with the most influence is more effective depending on the actual impediment.

The scrum master AND the manager are the guardian of quality and performance and partner also on organizational change. When I read this my first thought was, “There it is! I have a tool to help scrum masters understand that THEY are a guardian of quality and performance.” This means that the scrum master very clearly has a role in ensuring that the team is getting better at delivering quality code. It’s not only about ensuring they collaborate and sing Kumbaya — if they aren’t improving on delivery of quality code and satisfying their customer’s needs it really doesn’t matter that they are collaborating and enjoying one another’s company. The purpose of adopting scrum is because companies want to deliver. We’ve done so much focus on the people side of the scrum master that along the way we have lost the part where we must deliver. Accountability. Responsibility. These are not dirty words. They are the signs of a maturing team.

The manager is a value maximizer and a partner with the product owner in driving business value. We can’t tell managers to step back and be completely uninvolved with the team. They are a partner to help ensure that organizational impediments aren’t hindering the teams and to ensure that the team is delivering business value.  There it is again … delivering.  I’m not sure why everyone has forgotten the importance of delivery. We (the industry / agile coaches) have been so focused on creating self organization that we have stepped to the other edge to a place where responsibility and accountability are foreign to agile teams. They believe they should be left alone to do whatever they want and no one can tell them anything because managers aren’t supposed to be managers.  How interesting how this anti-pattern has developed over the past 15 years. Ken and Jeff must be a bit frustrated with “agile coaches” and the damage that has come from those who really don’t now what they are doing.

The last thing on this that was so powerful to me was that triple responsibility of being a champion for the team’s success and being a heat shield keeping things that distract them from DELIVERING from creating churn with the team. The reason this resonated with me so much is because I have seen scrum masters take the “protect the team” message as, “protect the team from managers” “protect the team from responsibility for their own actions or lack of action” “protect the team from the product owner.” The truth is that if we focused more on protecting the team from themselves and stopped colluding with them they would become high performing much sooner.

Wow, there’s a lot of passion in here. It’s true. I’m passionate about this because I want to see people become successful. People who do not willingly take responsibility and stand accountable for their actions rarely experience true or lasting success. As a coach, I love my clients too much to leave them that way.

Happy trails …

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As an Enterprise Agile Coach, I want to help ScrumMasters sharpen and, if necessary, develop coaching skills to complement the tools already in their Agile toolkit. In my Keep Austin Agile 2016 session, I introduced 16 professional coaching skills that ScrumMasters can cultivate, which fall into four categories: (Video starts at category #2 – bottom lining.)

  1. Internal Control skills – focus on self-control, self-management
  2. Verbal Communication skills – making distinctions, direct communication, articulating what’s going on, bottom lining (Video starts at bottom lining.)
  3. Relational/Forwarding skills – help make a connection between coaches and the team, helping the team go beyond their current beliefs and solutions,  critical thinking
  4. Creative Thinking skills – changing geography, taking different stances, using visual aids and reference points

 

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I love to walk around team spaces and identify cool things that people are doing so I can share them with the organization.  Last week while doing a Gemba Walk in one of my offices I found this!

On his metal scrum board he created “What’s at Risk” information radiator magnets in the design of a traffic light.  Red indicates that the story is at risk with a high likelihood that it will not be completed this sprint.  Yellow indicates that the story is somewhat at risk and there is a chance that it will not be completed this sprint.  Green indicates that story is not at risk and is expected to be completed this sprint.  He uses two magnet discs to cover up the extra colors and only displays the current risk state of the story.

This is a great, simple way to make risk transparent to the team so they can make appropriate decisions and adjustments as well as communicate properly to stakeholders.  Placing the information radiators on the scrum board makes it very easy for anyone walking by to know exactly what to expect this sprint.  It also gives indications that help may be needed to remove roadblocks or provide information in order to help the team move forward on that story.

Information radiators are a great way to promote transparency.  How are you using them to help your team grow and to allow others insight into how they are doing?

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Agile values and principles are the core foundation by which Agile organizations operate and make decisions. Everything we do is based in these.  With that being said, viewing every principle through a holistic perspective is absolutely necessary.  Every word in the principles we live by has value and impact.  So, when we reduce a principle to a three word summary, I believe we do ourselves a disservice.  This practice often results in focusing on part of the principle without the balance of the other side.  Through this oversight, we inadvertently create environments where there is unbalance that leaves people frustrated and confused.  They begin to believe that Agile is the problem.  But, the real problem is our failure completely embrace the Agile values and principles and settle for anti-patterns instead.

Today, I’d like to take a deeper look into Agile Principle #8 which states:  Agile processes promote sustainable development.  The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely. 

People often refer to this principle as the sustainable pace principle.  The most common description given of how we practice this principle is that the development team should not be expected to do more work than they can complete in a normal business day.  We don’t want people working 70 hours a week because they are forced to do more work than is possible during a normal work week.  Working at that pace is something a team may be able to do for a sprint or two but they cannot work at that pace indefinitely.  When people are tired and overworked they make more mistakes and it actually slows down their ability to produce work.  It also impacts motivation.  When people are overworked and have no work/life balance motivation dwindles.

But there’s another part to this principle that I don’t hear quoted as often.  It’s the part that talks about the constant pace at which the sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain.  This is about the consistency of our delivery, sometimes referred to as predictability.  Developers should be able to trust that sponsors and users will allow them to work at a sustainable pace.  In return, sponsors and users should be able to trust that developers will consistently provide a continuous stream of valuable software.  The team has a responsibility to be transparent with the sponsors and users regarding how much work they can complete in a certain timeframe.  They also have a responsibility to be transparent when the forecast must be changed along the way due to new information or unforeseen problems.  This gives the sponsors and users the ability to communicate and make decisions regarding the impact of the forecast change.

How does this impact the way the team conducts planning and communicates their forecast?  Teams should plan for as much as they can realistically complete and communicate that forecast.  Then, they should strive to complete 100% of their forecast every sprint.  If something happens to prevent the completion of the forecast they should communicate as soon as feasible to stakeholders so they know what to expect.

Should teams forecast 125% of what they believe they can realistically complete and be happy if 80% of the work gets finished?  No.  Why?  First, because it sets unrealistic stakeholder expectations to communicate more work than the team can realistically expect to finish.  Second, because it contributes to a lack of trust between the stakeholder and the team when the team keeps promising work they consistently don’t deliver.  Third, because the extra time planning and tasking stories that aren’t likely to be worked creates waste and adds unnecessary time to the planning process.

Then what do we do with “stretch” stories?  It is my belief that “stretch” stories are not a part of the forecast.  Plan and communicate what you believe you can complete.  If the backlog is groomed properly it will always have at 1-2 sprints worth of work in “ready” state.  So, if the team runs out of work they can always agree to pull in another story.  The solutioning and tasking for that story can take place when the decision to pull it in happens.

If the team consistently gets 100% for 3-5 sprints, stretch yourself and bring a few more points into your sprint forecast.  It may take you a couple of sprints to get to 100% again but it will stretch your ability to produce work and push you to incorporate practices like automation in order to move faster.

There should be an understanding that no team will always complete 100% of the work forecasted.  This is another part of the concept of trust and transparency.  Stakeholders and customers trust that developers will always strive to complete 100% of the forecasted work.  Developers trust that when something happens and they can’t deliver 100% and communicate openly to stakeholders and users there will be grace and understanding extended.

 

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One of my favorite things about being and Agile coach is connecting with the Agile community through conferences, meet-ups, and other networks.  Because of these connections I get to interact with  Agilists all over the world.  Over the past few months I’ve noticed a concerning trend coming from the Scrum Master community.  They are telling me with excitement, “I’ve finally worked myself up to two teams!”  Some have said they are now working with three or four teams.  The thing that concerns me is that they seem to view spreading themselves across multiple teams as an accomplishment.  I am hearing pride in “being busy” and “being able to handle more” and that tells me that we still have work to do.  It tells me that there may still be an anti-pattern running rampant in our Agile organizations telling us lies.

The belief that “the more I can handle and the busier I am the more valuable I am to the company” is left over from days when sustainable pace wasn’t a part of the culture.  The truth is that busy does not equal productive.  Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.  It is not to ensure that everyone is at least 100% (or more) utilized.  Agile processes are supposed to promote sustainable development.  The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.  When we are running at 100% (or more) of our capacity we cannot maintain that pace indefinitely.  At some point, we burn out mentally, physically, and emotionally.  We cannot afford choose utilization over productivity.  Our primary measure of progress should be working software, not how much more we can get done with fewer people.  The efficiencies in an Agile organization don’t come from piling more work on fewer people.  They come from improving our technical practices, increasing automation, increasing quality, lowering technical debt, collaborating, and learning to continuously improve our processes.  These things give us the ability to produce more without adding employees because we stop tripping over ourselves and can run along a clear path.

I read the following question from a user on stackoverflow.com:

“Does running your servers at 100% CPU usage cause any issues or is it just good CPU utilization?  My servers have 8 physical cores constantly running at near 100% for “open hours”/10 hours per day.  The program is architected to run on 8 threads – and it fully uses them. Performance is good but the infrastructure guys are worrying about the “maxed out servers.”  I think it’s just good use of available resources. What’s the point of having lots of core if they are not all fully utilized?”

The problem with this line of thinking is that when resources are fully utilized they don’t get more done.  Contrarily, less gets done.  They move slower, wait time increases, and so do errors.  Here’s the response someone gave to this question:

“Almost without exception it causes issues, or will cause issues down the road (as demand grows).  100% CPU utilization on a web service server is not good.  If your CPU utilization is at 100% it means that each time the server gets a new request there is a 100% chance that the work will have to wait some amount of time before the server gets started on it.  The typical performance sweet spot is about 70%.  Does that sound low?  If so, remember that 70% utilization doesn’t mean that 30% of the CPU is being wasted.  Instead, it means that 70% of the CPU’s capacity was used over a sample period.  For CPU measurement metrics, a sample period is something like 2 seconds.  During that 2 seconds the breakdown of that 70% is uneven.  In other words, it may be something like 100% for 1 second and 40% in one second.  For short bursts like that, 100% utilization is okay because we know that if a piece of work is delayed it is only for a brief period. (One that won’t make the human waiting upset.)”

I’m wondering, if we adhere to this rule with our hardware resources, why don’t we realize that the same rule applies to our human resources?

I’ve been in the position where I was a scrum master on one team doing an excellent job.  I knew the pulse of my team and they were growing rapidly and performing better than ever.  Then, I was given a second team.  Sure, I had enough down time in my average week to handle facilitating Scrum events for two teams (in theory) but because I was toggling between two team rooms I missed a lot on both. On sprint end/start days I felt very pressured.  I ran from one retro to the next on and often couldn’t compile the improvement plan into a consumable format until two days later.  I fell behind updating information radiators and had less time to think analytically through what was happening with each team.  Over time I saw that both teams were maintaining, even growing some, but the rate of growth was slower than when I had only one team.

Then, something tragic happened.  I was “doing such a great job” that I was asked to take on two more teams for a month to fill a hiring gap.  I felt like a total failure.  I had to choose which teams I was going to work with and leave the others stranded.  I had no clue what was going on in any of the four teams because I wasn’t spending enough time with any of them to catch the important conversations.  My teams all felt abandoned by me and had to pick up the slack felt by my absence.  While in my manager’s eyes nothing fell to the ground because my teams were mature enough to fill in the gaps without me, my teams felt all the pain and none of the benefit.

I learned a very powerful lesson through that experience.  Being utilized at 100% (or more) capacity didn’t make me a super Scrum Master.  It made me a terrible Scrum Master.  On a ledger somewhere it may have looked like the company saved money by utilizing me to full capacity but the impact of the hidden cost was much greater than the financial gain.  We would have done better to allow the third and fourth teams to work without a scrum master for that month.  Instead, we caused four teams to operate without a scrum master by spreading me too thin.

What message do we send as an organization when we tell our teams we expect them to plan their sprints at 125% of their capacity?  It’s a message that says we do not value sustainable pace.  What message do we send when we tell our employees we want them on multiple teams so we can fully utilize their capacity?  It’s a message that says we do not value sustainable pace.  What message do I hear when Scrum Masters tell me proudly that they are working on multiple teams?  I hear that they have forsaken the Agile principle of sustainable pace.  I hear an anti-pattern.  It makes me know that though we have come far we still have more work to do before becoming truly Agile.

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Information radiators (IR) are used to help teams see information transparently so they can make fact based decisions about how they want to change.  But how do you know which information radiators to use with a team?  How do you know how many are needed and what to display?

The best way to use information radiators is in response to something you see or something the team is struggling with but needs a way to really understand what’s happening in order to grow.

In the story below a Scrum Master started using this version of a sprint (points) burn up so her team would have a visual representation of how they were actually working together during sprints as a basis for which to develop improvement experiments.

  • Symptom #1 they were consistently not finishing all of the work in the sprint
  • Symptom #2 they were starting a lot of work at one time in the beginning of the sprint but rushing to get work tested and accepted during the last two days of the sprint
  • Symptom #3 they were carrying over stories and said that it was okay because it gave the testers something to do while the developers were heads down during the first 8 days of the sprint – which indicated that they were actually doing mini-waterfalls.
  • Symptom #4 they were adding stories to the sprint after it started before the original work was complete weren’t finishing the new work brought into the sprint

During the first sprint review they analyzed the burn up and noticed that the green bars that represent points accepted did not show up until the last two days of the sprint.

  • They realized that starting a bunch of stories and working on them separately didn’t make them go any faster because it created a bottleneck in testing at the end of the sprint which left some stories unfinished.
  • They decided to pair up or swarm on work in order to open fewer stories at one time and get them tested and finished earlier in the sprint.

During the next sprint they paired on work and focused on finishing rather than starting work.  At the end of the sprint they analyzed the burn up again and noticed improvement, but not enough.

  • They realized that they were less successful completing larger stories because they took longer to develop which caused them to start testing too late in the sprint to finish.
  • They decided to break stories into smaller more manageable pieces of value so they could finished them quicker.

During the next few sprints they noticed that working with smaller stories helped them close stories faster.  By continuing to pair on stories and limit work in progress they found that they were able to more consistently deliver stories every few days during the sprint.

The team noticed that though they had begun to deliver at a more consistent rate they were still having problems finishing all of the work by the end of the sprint.  They analyzed the burn up in their next retrospective to see if they could gain any new insights.

  • They realized that they were actually finishing the number of points they originally forecast during sprint planning.
  • They recognized that during days 4-6 they finished 10 points of work but they also added 10 points.  They also recognized that every time they finished a story they seemed to add another which was contributing to why they had unfinished work at the end of the sprint.
  • They decided to work on breaking down their tasks better so multiple people could swarm on stories.
  • They also decided that instead of a developer bringing a new story into a sprint when there wasn’t development work on any of the stories the developer would cross over and help the testers with a story they hadn’t developed.
  • Lastly they decided that in the last 2 days of the sprint, if there were no stories they could assist on they would focus on some smaller technical debt clean up tasks rather than bringing in new stories they would not have time to finish.

Over the span of a quarter the team was able to effectively make improvements to their delivery and predictability by using this information radiator to help them visually inspect their work habits.  At the end of the quarter the team felt that acceptable improvements had been made and analyzing the burn up during retrospectives was no longer a value add so they abandoned that practice to focus on other improvement areas during retrospectives.

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While attending the Agile Coaching Institute’s Coaching Agile Teams class a while back the instructors read this poem to the class.  It served as a powerful reminder that as an agile coach, or a scrum master/team coach, we must see people and teams as naturally creative, resourceful, and whole if we want to empower them to grow and move forward.  As a coach I must be a servant to those I coach.  I’m not here to be better than them or to have all the answers.  I’m here to serve them in their quest for greatness.

It’s often a first reaction to want to jump in and fix things and fix people.  It’s so easy to have all the answers.  It’s empowering to play the super hero.  But the real power is in allowing people to identify their own solutions.  The real power is in self restraint and waiting for people to grow and change on their own.  The real power is in stepping back so other people’s greatness can shine forth.

This poem serves as a daily reminder that it is impossible to both be a fixer and a servant to others.

A Fixer*

A fixer has the illusion of being casual.

A server knows he or she is being used

in the service of something greater,

essentially unknown.

We fix something specific.

We serve always the something:

wholeness and the mystery of life.

Fixing and helping are the work of ego.

Serving is the work of the soul.

When you help, you see life as weak.

When you fix, you see life as broken.

When you serve, you see life as whole.

Fixing and helping may cure.

Serving Heals.

When I help, I feel satisfaction.

When I serve, I feel gratitude.

Fixing is a form of judgment.

Serving is a form of connection.

*Author Unknown