Scrum from Hell revisited.

Today was a flashback kind of day.  I was part of a Scrum Master training day and one of the games the group played was “Scrum from Hell”.  It took me back to 2009 when I wrote one of my first Blog Posts about a game I played with one of my teams.  The blog post remains fresh with me as it is still one of the most viewed posts I have written as it still gets a lot of hits per month, even when my site hasn’t been updated as often as I would like.

Playing the game again was awesome and as I have gained more experience since I wrote the original post I looked on it from a different perspective.  Originally when I played the game I was trying to highlight to our team how disruptive one aspect of our teams behaviour was.  We had a few people in the team who loved to talk and would take the meeting off on tangents and no matter how many times the team brought it up at Retrospectives, the usual suspects still persisted.  We put them into the hot seat as Scrum Master and mimicked their behaviour.  They found it frustrating and could see things from the teams point of view and changed their ways.

Today, I saw the game as a great fun tool for highlighting how hard facilitation can be for a new Scrum Master to a new team.  In the beginning the daily standup can see people act in different ways when they come together as a group.  Some of these behaviours can be detrimental to the harmony of a team so it is a great way to highlight these bad behaviours to a team and give them experience of how hard it can be to not only facilitate a standup but any ceremony.

Instructions:

  • Split off into groups of 5 or 6.
  • Select 1 person in each team as Scrum Master and ask them to leave the room
  • Explain to the Scrum Masters that they will be running a Daily Standup.
    • Ask them to explain the format of the Daily Standup to the team.
    • Explain the 3 standard questions.
  • With the Scrum Masters still out of the room explain the rules of the game to the teams.
    • Ask the group to shout out some bad behaviours they have experienced in a meeting (Looking at mobile phones, arriving late, side conversations, talking over people were just a few we used).
  • Allow the Scrum Master to facilitate the meeting for 3-5 minutes.
    • When the Scrum Master starts the meeting the teams should act out the bad behaviour that they have chosen.
    • If the Scrum Master notices the behaviour they should call it out (promoting holding each other to account).
  • Ask the Scrum Masters to reflect on how they felt and what they learned whilst playing the game.

Feel free to check out my Original Post for more ideas on this game.

Big thanks to the team for refreshing me on this.

 

 

Distributed Scrum Teams

I was looking for inspiration for my next blog post when I found a notification telling me that I had an article sitting in my drafts section.  Distributed Scrum Teams was the title and it took me back to 4 years previous when this topic came into my head.  I was going to tell you about the successes that I had using distributed teams but I deleted all that.  As I began to edit the post I realised just how far we have come in just a few years and decided to highlight that instead.

When I started out in 2006 there was a lot of chatter about how distributed teams were not Scrum.  If you were using distributed teams, you were breaking the values of Scrum and that was bad.

“Scrum best practices indicate you should be physically near the rest of your team members, actually located in the same area of your work space. How can you effectively apply the tenets of Scrum when working with a distributed team, if you are breaking one of the key best practices? Or deal with the challenges of trying to detail a spec, but keep an agile and open development flow? or Communicate to a remote team the business priorities?” Jessica Johnson.

Fast forward to today and the landscape is so much different in 2018.  A massive change for me has been the way businesses work nowadays.  Businesses have moved with the times by introducing flexible working.  Some have decided to save in business rates by introducing rotas on when different teams can work within the office space to save them the cost of having to buy bigger offices.  This means that teams will be working from home more.  So your colocated team now becomes distributed to an extent.  It may not be possible for businesses to be fully colocated these days.

My previous company had distributed teams that had team members based across all of our UK offices.  Not only that, there were people working from home too.  We had daily standups via Skype where everyone had their camera turned on and one person shared the board to make it visible to everyone.  The team gave their updates just like they would in a physical standup and to facilitate any follow up conversations that occur from  the standup, we had a parking lot after the call where people would would stay to discuss anything that they felt needed discussed.  We used Skype for all of our ceremonies and tried to have the whole team together once a fortnight for planning.  This worked well for us.

I recently worked with a colocated team who were using a digital and physical representation of their Scrum Board.  The main physical wall worked as a big information radiator for the team and anyone else in the department who would take an interest.  The digital board was used to mirror our physical board.  This meant that people could work from home or Flexi time if needed.  The level of collaboration within this team was on par with the level of collaboration within my distributed team.  Each team had found the best way to work for them and improved upon this as they worked together.

In my personal experience it does not make much difference if a team are colocated or distributed these days.  The main barrier is the team themselves.  They must be committed and willing to collaborate with each other to make things work.  Maybe in the past the tools that we have to help us collaborate weren’t as powerful as they are today and I think this may be a huge factor in why it was considered bad practice to have a distributed team.  But now there are so many avenues open to teams to aid collaboration when they are not in the same office.  It is all inspecting and adapting along with your team and continually improving the way that you work together.  It will be hard to begin with but if it was easy, it would be boring 🙂

It was interesting writing this article.  It highlighted to me that not only is out teams constantly changing and improving but the business landscape too.  I wonder if all of those people who were complaining about distributed teams in the past are now embracing the change or even realise that this has happened.

 

Blogging and I.

I have been maintaining my blog for a while, quite loosely as you will see.  I often found myself having great ideas to post but when I sit down to actually write a blog post, they never seem to fit together well and ultimately they don’t get written.  I really need to practice what I preach and stop starting, start finishing!  I thought to myself.

It wasn’t until I started to listen to Geoff Watts audio book on Product Mastery  that I realised where I was going wrong.  When it comes to blogging, I needed to be more decisive (apparently my wife has been telling me this for years :D).

One sentence that stuck with me was “When things become difficult, it is tempting to put them off, to do a bit more research”.   Then another “The result, nothing of value is actually delivered”.  Both summed up my situation.

It really struck home today when I was sitting down to write a blog post on my first assignment as a contractor.  I had written all of the ideas that I had down on a piece of paper to get some structure before I would begin to type the post.  There were so many ideas in my head that I was getting nowhere fast.  I decided to clear my head and go for a run.

While out on the run I thought about the other things that I had to do today and suddenly it hit me.  I was subconsciously putting off the blog post as it had become too hard to write.  But why was the post so hard to write?  I went through all of the ideas I had and realised that I was trying to fit three blog posts into one and because it wasn’t fitting perfectly the perfectionist in me decided that the post wasn’t a good idea.  I realised that I have done this with so many blog posts in the past and it was something that I needed to fix.

I came back from the run and decided that I had to break the massive post down.  I decided to fact check the two quotes used by Geoff above when I found the tweet below, which summed up my predicament perfectly.

Tweet

This made me smile as I had already realised that the expectations for my blog post were unrealistic and decided to break the big post down into manageable chunks.  It then led me to write this blog post.  The outcome, I delivered value and have a couple of blog posts that actually make sense to me and will be easy to write.

It is amazing what taking a little time to clear your head can achieve.  I realised a lot about myself today in that when I get an idea for a blog post I try to cram as much into that idea as possible to a point where it becomes too big to actually do anything with.  I have a lot of knowledge, experiences and practices that I try to get across but have a tendency to overdo it which leads me to lose confidence and scrap that idea.  Being decisive about the content you want to appear in your post and not being scared to take things out that just don’t need to be there is key.

Hopefully this results in more blog posts from me in the future 🙂

Cheers Geoff 🙂

 

Sign up to save a life.

A bit of a different topic for my first blog post in a long while!

As I sit chilling out I am reminded of the significance of today’s date.

Exactly this time last month I was being wheeled up to a hospital ward having just donated bone marrow to potentially help save the life of a young child with Cancer. Everyone has it in them to save a life and hopefully after reading this you will consider signing up as it is such a worthwhile thing to do and can change the lives of so many.

Around 10 years previously my cousin Elaine was fighting her own battle with Cancer and it so happened that there was a drive by Anthony Nolan to find a match for a local child who was in need of a bone marrow or Stem Cell match.  After speaking with Elaine we decided (I say we as I like to think that I had some input in the matter :D) that I would go to the event and register as a donor.

Registering was really easy, a quick form to fill in along with a swab in the mouth and we were done. “You will probably never hear anything from us as a small minority are ever picked” I was told and off I went.

For 10 years this was the case until my phone and my wife’s phone got text messages at the same time along with 2 seperate emails.  The texts informed me that I was a potential match for someone on the Anthony Nolan register and if I would be prepared to donate. Things just got real!

With Elaine being very ill all those years ago I remember wishing there was something or someone who could help make her better but unfortunately that was not the case. I knew how the other family would be feeling and could relate to their position so there was little chance of me backing out from donating.  Having my own child too added more emphasis for me.  If it was possible, I would have donated that day.

Anthony Nolan were excellent in sending out all of the information regarding the operation and what was to be expected along with what would happen on the patients side. They organised everything from transport to accommodation for both my medical and my donation.

The medical that Anthony Nolan give prior to donation is very thorough.  It consists of blood checks, chest scan, ECG tests and general wellness checks.  Which I am glad to say I passed with flying colours which gave me great peace of mind, not only that I was OK but there were no risks to the recipient either.  After the all clear I was given a date for donation.

The donation date came around really quickly and I was soon off to London to the University of London Hospital.  I had never had an operation before so I was trying my best to think of anything but the operation.  Being scared of needles was playing on my mind but I really had to “man up” :D.  I had watched a YouTube video previously (I know … I know) as I was curious as to what the procedure was but even this didn’t put any fear into me so I knew that I was ready!    The staff at the hospital were all fantastic and helped out my mind at ease also.

In the morning I was taken down to theatre and put under general anaesthetic.  I remember waking up a short time later none the wiser as to what had happened.  It was like magic!

The medical team had taken over 1.5 litres of bone marrow from 2 areas in my lower back (pelvic bone) by the time I had woken up the bone marrow was already being whisked to its recipient to start the process of giving them a second chance.  It was an amazing feeling!

There is a lot of misconceptions about bone marrow donation in that people think it is very sore.  Actually.. you don’t feel a thing.  Yes, there is slight discomfort afterwards for a little while but in the grand scheme of things it is a little pain for a lot of gain.  I was up and walking around a couple of hours later that day.

You are potentially giving someone and their family and friends the chance of a lifetime and I for one feel privileged to be able to donate.  I also kept the promise to my Cousin that I would help someone if I could.

So today, I sit here fully recovered and thinking of the recipient, wishing them all the best and hoping that they are on the road to recovery.

You can register to donate at the following sites and they would be thrilled to have your help.   Things have progressed a lot since I registered and they can even post out kits to your home in order for you to register.  All it takes is a spit and you could save someone’s life.

There are people out there at the moment needing stem cell and bone marrow transplants, you never know, maybe you can give them the chance that they need.

16-30 year olds via @AnthonyNolan

18-55 year olds via @DKMS_uk

Play it SAFe

It has been an interesting past few weeks in work, we have been planning our first SAFe increment as an experiment and as a change to our usual 6 week planning.

A great resource for me was “Pacific Express” by Alex Yakyma.  It is a Semi-Fictional take on how Alex brought SAFe, specifically the Agile Release Train to a large scale company.  The way that Alex describes the whole process from a Contractor point of view, having to find out the current issues, explain how SAFe can help improve or remove these issues alongside selling SAFe to the company was very helpful.

What really helped me was the way Alex broke down the ceremonies of SAFe, explaining each part of the increment planning, it’s purpose and what we expected to get out of it.  It helped me in my opening speech on explaining the ceremonies of the increment planning.

Well worth a read alongside the interactive SAFe diagram at Scaled Agile Framework

The Scrum Guide

I was recently watching a Scrum Webinar where they polled the audience on whether they had read the latest Scrum Guide or any version of the Scrum Guide.  77% said that they had read the guide with the remainder saying that they had not read it.  I decided to post this for anyone looking who has not read it or anyone who is looking to familiarise themselves with it.

Described as “The book of knowledge” by most people and as “The rules of the game” within the guide,  the guide has been written and updated by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland to give an overview of Scrum and is an important read for anyone currently using or looking to roll out Scrum to their organisation.

It has been updated on a few occasions since it was released in 2010 so it is always best to check the website to make sure you have the latest version.  I started my journey with Scrum in 2008 reading the “Agile Project Management with Scrum” by Ken Schwaber and whilst there was no guide at the time, this was my textbook my source of clarification and checking if I was doing things right or had a clear view of the roles and rules.  The guide is a quick way for people to check that they are on the right track and the beauty is that it will always be the latest version.

“Scrum is a framework for developing and sustaining complex products. This Guide contains the definition of Scrum. This definition consists of Scrum’s roles, events, artifacts, and the rules that bind them together. Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland developed Scrum; the Scrum Guide is written and provided by them. Together, they stand behind the Scrum Guide.” (Scrumguides.org)

Scrum Guides websites

PDF Version Scrum-Guide-US

Distributed teams and Online Scrum Walls

There has been widespread debate around physical Scrum Walls vs digital Scrum Walls for teams for some time now.  I know that this totally depends on the situation of your teams as to which method you choose.  Personally, having used both physical and digital walls I feel at home using both.  Each has their benefits depending on what type of team you have, whether the team is collocated or distributed and the ease of locating space on a wall big enough to house your board.  As always I would say research both and pick which one is most suitable to your needs and way of working.  If you find that either is not working, don’t be afraid to change!

When I started with Scrum a long time ago now, our Scrum Walls were physical.  Lines drawn out with the iconic blue 3M tape adorned every spare piece of wall in our office.  No wall was safe!  Our development teams were based in one location, our Product Owner was based in another and the task of keeping the Wall up to date was a mammoth task.  It was easy for our developers to physically walk up to the board and move a task to the relevant position on the board once it was completed, but it was hard for our Product Owner to keep abreast of what was happening.  It was dependent on constant communication from the team to the PO to keep him up to date with how work was progressing.  It is easy for a PO based with the team to look at a wall to give any status reports, but it is more of a labored task for a distributed PO to see a physical board and quickly give an update to a stakeholder, so it was important for us to always keep the PO in the loop.  Sometimes the communication would fail and with that work slowed so I needed another solution.

This problem sent me on a quest to find a Scrum Wall that worked alongside our existing physical wall but made this available online without compromising the work of the team.  One that would make the wall available online but deliver notifications if tasks were assigned to the PO.  If you have read my previous blog post about the online Scrum Wall that used QR codes placed on our User Stories and tasks to plot them to an online Scrum Wall, then you will see how highly I rated this at the time (although, my teams didn’t rate it as highly as I did and I put this down to the inner tech geek within me that though QR codes were cool at the time).  It did seem as though it would work well in theory but in practice it was a logistical nightmare as you had to print the cards out, physically write on the cards, use a high definition camera to take a picture of the board and then upload the picture for the system to map out the points and move cards to their new positions by comparing it against the last photograph taken.  If you missed a photo or if sunlight was hitting the board the wrong way the picture would be spoiled and have to be run through again.  Even writing out that process makes me tired.

Eventually we opted for the tried and trusted method of pointing a webcam at the board and carrying out our Daily Standups.  It wasn’t without its problems but it worked for us.  Our teams then moved in house with everyone located in the same building and we concentrated on our physical walls and our efforts to move to digital were put to bed.

When I started with my new company I realised that my teams were distributed again.  But thankfully the days of everyone piling into a small room with a 2 megapixel camera, one microphone and a raft of background noise have passed.  The infrastructure now available for teams to communicate is out of this world compared to a few years ago.  We are currently using Skype for business (Previously Lync) and our systems are equipped with HD webcams and advanced conference phones with webcams to help our teams keep in touch.  This is a lot better than previous methods that I have used and it is a useful tool for distributed teams.

With an improvement in infrastructure, software tools have also come a long way since I started with my first distributed team.  Online Scrum Walls have become a lot more advanced and usable.  The main online Scrum Wall that I use is a tool called Kanbanize.  This is a tool that makes it simple to make online Scrum Wall’s or Kanban boards and allows you to tailor them to your specific team.  The god send for the Scrum Master is the ability to utilize Kanbanize to automatically import Bugs or PBI’s from Team Foundation Server or Jira when an item is created by the team.  When a PBI or Bug is created we have set Kanbanize to import the task to the relevant Scrum wall, complete with PBI/Bug number, description, link back to TFS and which Swimlane the task should reside in.  We then pull the PBI from the backlog to the Sprint backlog when it is needed.  So no more manual input and precious time saved!  It allows you to tailor the columns or swimlanes to match your physical Scrum Wall as shown below.

Untitled

Tasks can be colour coded and each user can set their own avatar that will appear on each task assigned to them, mirroring our usual physical Scrum Wall.  With alerts being sent when a task is assigned or switches assignee or if a task is blocked it really is a useful tool for helping teams work together when they are not in the same location.  We share our board on screen as part of our daily Standup so it really is like we are meeting in front of our Scrum Wall every morning.

You can check out Kanbanize’s feature list here but it would be interesting to hear your views on Digital Scrum walls, your experiences or oven opinions on other tools that I should consider for a distributed team.

I will admit, I do love a physical Scrum Wall and I have created one in addition to our online Scrum Walls in our office.  You are probably thinking, why does he need this if he has them online?  Well, I find that it is a good information radiator for people working on the project or different projects.  I also find it useful for people randomly walking past and asking what the board is, what its purpose is and generally showing an interest in Scrum.  All of this is beneficial even though it does require a little overhead.  So there you have it, an example of finding what works well for you and making it happen.