Tuesday, 23 October 2012

What a makes a GREAT scrum master?

Part time scrum master?

Many software teams who claim to be "doing scrum" have people “stepping into” the role of scrum master.
I frequently see project managers, development managers, testers, developers taking the reins with varying degrees of success. Often, willing team members take on the role of scrum master in addition to their development or testing responsibilities! I also see a lot of teams going solo, i.e. doing scrum without a scrum master. This is a practice that I think ultimately prevents a team from improving and getting full benefit from the scrum process. Even if someone possesses all of the soft skills to the do the role, they still need to have the core skills and knowledge required to be an effective scrum master.

The scrum master responsibilities

  • Be the Guardian of the scrum process
  • Be a servant-leader to the team
  • Be an impediment remover
  • Be an interference shield for the team
  • Be a coach
  • Be an agent of change
I don't think that a part-time or temporary scrum master can fulfill all of these responsibilities and to do this role successfully you need to be all of the above things to the team. I think that someone who steps into the role can be a good scrum master, but will they be a great scrum master?

Two levels of scrum mastering?

I think there are 2 levels of scrum mastery.

Level 1: B.A.U.

This is the layer of scrum mastering that keeps a team ticking over. The part-time or temporary scrum master tends to operate at this level. The list of responsibilities include (but are not limited to):
  • Be the Guardian of the scrum process
    • Ensure PO has a backlog of stories for the team to work on
    • Ensure PO has prioritized a list of stories before planning
    • Ensure the team is clear about the requirements
    • Encourage the team to make a projection of the amount of work they can achieve in the sprint
    • Ensure team feels comfortable with projection versus current velocity
    • Protect the sprint backlog
    • Limit W.I.P.
    • Ensure the team focuses on quality
    • Monitor the stand up (make sure people don't waste time, keep updates short, stay on topic)
  • Be a servant-leader to the team
    • Set up all scrum ceremonies
    • Point of contact for Scrum updates.
    • Send out reports/ burn-up charts
  • Be an impediment remover
    • Remove barriers to productivity
    • Help to resolve issues/ arguments/ debate
  • Be an interference shield for the team
    • Maximize time available for developers to develop (protect dev time )
    • Reduce waste/ non sprint activity
    • Protect team members from being dragged away to work on non-sprint activities
    • Protect the team health and well being

Level 2: Strategic

This is where all the good stuff happens. A full time, "proper" scrum master will operate at this level.
  • Be a coach
    • Help team to self organize
    • Help the team to improve engineering practices so that each sprint/ story is potentially deploy-able
    • Help the team understand Scrum/ agile principles and techniques (rather than just mindlessly following a process)
    • Help the team understand the benefits of these techniques
    • Help the product owner manage the backlog
    • Remove the distance between the PO and the team
    • Teach the PO how to maximize R.O.I. and meet objectives through SCRUM
    • Ensure the team is learning in retrospectives
    • Promote continuous improvement
    • Coach a team to self sufficiency (e.g. how to remove own impediments)
  • Be an agent of change
    • Observe & identify areas for the team to improve
    • Create a culture of continuous improvement in the team
    • Facilitate creativity and empowerment
    • Determine where the Scrum process is compared to where it could be
    • Potentially look beyond scrum, for techniques that can help the team improve (e.g. Lean/ kanban)
    • Challenge the team to improve engineering practices (CI, TDD for example)
    • Look to improve things outside of the team that are slowing the team down (e.g. business stakeholder involvement, handover to dev ops, poor communication across the organisation)
    • Keep an eye on the future 

High performing teams through great scrum mastering

The scrum master who operates at the strategic level will give teams a massive boost over time. To have someone who is focused on improving a team and making a team awesome and improving a team's working environment means that inevitably, positive change will occur within a team. The alternative is stagnation. 

If your team has a level 1 scrum master or worse, no scrum master at all, who is going to constantly beat the drum for improvement? who will keep an eye on the future and the health of your scrum process? Who will promote constant improvement? Who will ensure the team is always learning?

In my experience, having a great scrum master with a strategic remit, facilitates the growth and nurturing of awesome, productive, high-performing teams. This stuff doesn't just happen!

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Expanded EPIC boards

What's the problem?

As scrum teams, we always look to the Product Owner as the fountain of all knowledge and requirements with respect to our supply of work. Yet, I've found that often the big ideas or concepts for projects are so light on detail that POs are desperately in need of a way to translate the high level idea into a backlog of stories to get the dev team up and running

We've all been part of projects where the BAs and POs lock themselves away for a few weeks with a high level understanding of a project and come back with a list of user stories for the dev team to work on. By the time the devs see the requirements, its hard to see the wood for the trees. We get bogged down in the
details, the stories are sliced poorly & are not delivering vertical slices of functionality. Often there's no wiggle room. Its all MMF. We cant cut anything out.

Additionally, defining an entire release worth of stories in advance which, ultimately, require change or may get dropped from scope, results in a waste of PO time and a delay in getting the dev team up and running. (Dan North touches on this release planning anti pattern in his blog post "The Perils of estimation" http://dannorth.net/2009/07/01/the-perils-of-estimation/)

So whats the solution?

Well, I've had great success recently using a variation of an "Epic board" as a tool for getting a project up and running. Developers, PO's and BA's collectively deconstruct EPICs into user stories that add value and are small enough to be used in a sprint. You don't need to write up the stories just yet, simply identifying valuable, vertical slices of functionality can be enough.

So Whats an EPIC board?

For those who are familiar with Epic boards as a concept, you may be used to the techniques outlined here: http://agile101.wordpress.com/category/programme-management/agile-epic-board/ , where EPIC boards are used as a programme management tool, tracking parallel deliveries across multiple teams.

To be honest, I think this technique is a bit too "project manager-ish", a throwback to the old "Gannt chart wallpaper" days.

So, why would I want to use an EPIC board?

Where Epic boards are most valuable, I find, is as a way of visualising the work in a project and also, as an acceptable way to discuss requirements at a very high level without the need for debate about whether or not the story is too big/ too small for a sprint. For kick off,  an EPIC should be a perfectly acceptable level of
granularity for a requirement


Representing your project as an EPIC board can provide a lot of immediate advantages by

1. helping you explore your project concept and discover what actually needs to happen in order to realise it
2. helping you visualize the work that needs to happen to achieve the project goals (piccie)
3. helping you get from "big concept" to "sprint level user stories" quickly. (This  helps you get your dev team up and running quickly)
4.  providing a framework to encourage scope management - facilitating meaningful prioritisation discussions
5. facilitating faster time to market by making "must have" functionality more visible & more obvious.
6. helping you de-risk project delivery by making "most important" features more visible & more obvious.

So, what's the process?

Identify project goal(s)
ask your PO "What is/are the goal(s) of this project" - write them on cards/ post them on your wall
(e.g. goal = sell flights online)

For each goal, ask the PO
What is the minimum we need to do to achieve this goal? & when do we know we have achieved this goal? - write them on cards/ post them on your wall

These will most probably be your 1st level of EPIC stories. Be ruthless, only identify the most important things you absolutely have to do to achieve the goal. (e.g. view available flights/ select flights/ enter payment details/ book flights/ view receipt)

Break it down - Expand your EPICS
Start breaking the Epics down into smaller chunks or "SUB-EPICS" - write them on cards/ post them on your wall
This step is the exploration step. You break down your high level requirements into something a bit more meaningful, you start to get at some of the detail that was previously uncovered.
e.g. for "view available flights" epic, you might identify the following sub-epics: filter available flights by airport, filter available flights by date, filter available flights by price, filter available flights by airline, filter available flights by special requirements (dietary, special needs etc)

We start to see there are a lot of different use cases or features hidden in the seemingly simple "View available flights" story

Depending on the size of your project and epics, you should find that at this stage you will already have identified some stories that are small enough to work on in a sprint. if not just keep on breaking a requirement down until you feel you have.

(I've used the MSCW technique, which has worked quite well in these exercises)

When you've broken the EPICS down, the expanded EPIC board serves as a great visualization tool. It becomes obvious when you see all requirements side by side, that there are some elements of the EPIC that we could "potentially" go live without (In Orange below). Finding flights by airport & date are probably critical, but in theory, filtering by airline, price or special requirements are all enhancements. Nice features that would give the user a better experience, but would not necessarily prevent them from finding a flight that they want.

Do the minimum
For the 1st iteration of your project, just do the minimum you have to do to book a flight. Take the risk out of your delivery.  (The purple and blues)

If you have time leftover you can add the extra features (the Oranges). Enhance the experience for the customer, provide bells & whistle but ensure you have done the highest priority work first!

There are lost of other things that could go into a project like this, e.g. show link to hotel booking, car booking, holiday insurance etc. You could capture these if you like, but make sure you aren't putting them on the critical path. If halfway through your project you haven't successfully booked a flight but you can cross sell holiday insurance its not going to give your PO any confidence that you are on track to achieve the goal of the project which is to enable flight booking online.

Focus on the main goal, then incrementally add other pieces of value later


- all groups should be represented in the EPIC boarding session (PO/BA, DEV, Test, Scrum master)
- Use a white board initially. This makes it easier to make changes when you are expanding your epics and identifying sub-epics or stories. Once you think you have your EPIC board in a fairly "expanded" state, put them on cards on the wall.
- Don't worry if some EPICS can't be broken down just yet. Early on in a project you will know more about some requirements than you do others. Accept this, but make sure you get the analysis done before the dev team is ready to work on the EPIC.
- treat the EPIC board as a living document. keep updating it when you get fresh information. just like your release plan.
- As soon as you have identified some sprint level user stories, take those away, write them up and get the team up and running. Once they are sprinting, you can focus on getting the other EPICS expanded! 10% sprint level user stories is fine if you have identified most of the EPICS.We don't need to know everything up front. We can drive out details along the way.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Mature agile estimation

Let's face it.... estimates are always going to be estimates! Not actuals.
No matter how much time we dedicate to getting the estimates "RIGHT", chances are they will still be wrong. They don't take into account the proverbial "unknown, unknowns" and in software development any item of work can contain unknowns or complexity that blow the estimates right out of the water!

In traditional project management the tendency is to chase reasons for "wrong" estimates and track actuals against estimates in some kind of attempt to get "better" at estimating. As a result, teams spend a lot of time putting hourly estimates on user stories, which still have a very high chance of being incorrect, so why bother? What a waste! Instead, spend a little bit of time estimating and be just as wrong/ right in the end!
I suggest a "mature" attitude to estimating. 
  • assume that the work will take as long as it takes
  • assume that everyone will do the best job they can on a user story
  • assume the team will not cut corners on quality
  • assume no unnecessary over-engineering
  • estimate "how big" user stories are using the fibonacci scale and comparatively estimate each story against other stories. (Is this bigger or smaller than the last one? How does it compare to our benchmark stories)
  • use the fibonacci scale because the gap between numbers increases as we go higher. This mimics software development in a way because the bigger the story, the higher the risk of unknowns or complexity creeping in which will increase the amount of time it takes to develop.
  • Based on the previous sprint's velocity, the current sprint's capacity and very importantly, gut feel. Project how much work the team can get done in the upcoming sprint
  • Use this projection to manage expectations of when you can deliver your features/ software/ product
  • If you "under-estimate", and have extra capacity left in a given sprint, then try to take extra stories into the sprint. (Pull system)
  • only take in additional stories if you can finish them by the end of the sprint otherwise you will affect your ability to be "potentially deployable" at the end of that sprint
Really, what management and product owners want to know is when we can deliver our products and they want predictability. The above method still gives us these things, but without the pain of hour estimation and actuals tracking.