Top ScrumMaster + Scrum Product Owner Questions from Training – FAQ

scrum-alliance-challenges-donna-farmerScrum is easy to understand.

It can be the hardest thing to actually do.

Below are some of the most common questions we see in ScrumMaster and Scrum Product Owner courses.

Before you go through this, it may be very helpful to first understand the following:

Eventbrite - Certified ScrumMaster Course (CSM) in Atlanta, GA - Bring a Friend = iPad!
Eventbrite - Certified Scrum Product Owner Course (CSPO) - Get Certified in Atlanta, GA

FAQ on Most Common and Top Questions from ScrumMaster or Scrum Product Owner Training

How can Agile/Scrum be applied to Hardware or Solution projects?

Scrum Development doesn’t really work well in hardware development except in the aspects of hardware development that are done using software. Agile as a philosophy, though, works EVERYWHERE.

For example, the modeling and planning of the hardware can be done iteratively. The creation of simulation software (if applicable) can be done iteratively. Beyond this, however, much of hardware development is a task flow that must be followed and can be easily mapped out.

Scrum, however, can be used by people creating hardware. There’s still a Product Backlog. People can still commit to a certain amount of work in the Sprint. Daily Scrums can still be done to improve synchronization and communication.

Does Scrum conform to PMI standards? If so, how?

By definition, Scrum can’t confirm to PMI. PMI is a project management method. Scrum is a framework for managing people and workflow. It’s kinda like asking about the difference between apples and oranges. They’re just two different things. Not much else can be said.

What is a typical implementation of change from waterfall to Scrum?

  1. Start with understanding your culture. Period.
  2. Create a transition team to set vision, milestones, goals.
  3. Pick a pilot project —OR — a piece of a larger project
  4. Provide the proper training for the proper personnel
  5. Run several Sprints — adjust as needed
  6. Evaluate your results, adjust as needed
  7. Move on to a larger group (e.g., another product development group) and repeat steps 3-6.

In Agile/Scrum, how do we deal with people working across multiple projects in parallel?

Well, pretty much the same as you do now. The detrimental impact to your projects before Agile/Scrum will still be there after. Working on projects in parallel is not an issue of development method. This is not a question of looking for the development method that WILL allow you to work on multiple projects at the same time. The answer we’re looking for is to find a way to work on one project at a time in such a way that all projects get done faster and with higher quality.

How many Scrum teams can a Scrum Master realistically run?

That has everything to do with the ScrumMaster, the teams, and the product. Experienced teams don’t need ScrumMasters as much. Experienced ScrumMasters can work with more teams efficiently. Difficult products can make both teams and ScrumMasters work harder to accomplish the same thing. In my experience, I’ve never seen a ScrumMaster work with more than three teams at one time (and not very successfully).

Driving efficient and simple solutions in Sprints – can Scrum design and work complex solutions effectively?

I frequently hear concern that Agile Development can handle complex problems because it doesn’t try to solve the entire thing up front before building it. The reality that I’ve experienced shows that complex problems cannot be solved in detail up front because there are too many variables and too many assumptions made about the complex problem when working out a solution. Thus, we end up spending a bunch of time up front to build a solution that ends up changing in large ways during the development effort. Agile Development, on the other hand, encourages looking at a complex problem at a high level and then solving the parts one at a time. Does this mean that Agile Development might make some mistakes in solution during the development effort? No. However, because you will spend so much less time up-front trying to create a solution, you will have some time during development to build a solution and even some time to make mistakes.

So, Agile Development solves complex problems “efficiently,” if not “effectively.”

Role of wikis or collaboration tools in Scrum?

Can be useful in allowing Scrum teams that are non-co-located to communicate. They don’t replace face-to-face communication, however, and should not be used as a complete replacement.

Where does Scrum track risks and major impediments?

Impediments are generally tracked, per Scrum, in the organizational or team impediment list. Beyond Scrum, project risks are generally handled in some form of project risk tracker or document. Backlog related risks are handled within each backlog item in the form of notes and other documentation and in larger story point estimates to account for the impact of the risk.

Does Scrum state that teams must use User Stories or are Use Cases acceptable as well?

Scrum does not make any assumption about the construction of a Product Backlog item (PBI). It can be anything from a task, to a feature, to a scenario, to a defect ID.

How to handle high priority fires/opportunities in the middle of a Sprint?

Per Scrum, high priority fires (defects) may pass directly into the Sprint. The team should address the defect and then determine the impact to their commitment to the Product Owner and adjust accordingly. Per Scrum, high priority opportunities either wait until the next Sprint or cause an injection of change so that a new Sprint can be planned around the high priority. In reality, teams and Product Owners will often remove a lower priority PBI in favor of a new, high priority PBI (the catch is to remember to solve and plan the new PBI — that’s why Scrum measures the change, to force the replan and conversation that must take place when (not if) change happens).

Are key decisions in Scrum tracked in non-functional requirements & stories?

That depends on the nature of the decision. Decisions that affect NFRs are frequently captured in PBIs or as a separate part of the DONEness definition.

When do you do functional testing, performance testing, volume testing, ADA testings, and deployments to test environments?

As often as possible. Daily if you can (which means that the testing needs to be automated). Deployments to test environments are completely dependent on your frequency of testing. Deferring testing creates technical debt.

At what point do you plan for the next Sprint since planning will take away team time from the current Sprint?

Yes, its true that planning takes time away from building, but we have to do it anyway, so NOT doing it isn’t the solution (nor is only having certain individuals do the planning — that just takes your developers out of the loop at a critical juncture). I use backlog grooming workshops scheduled for 60-90 minutes once or twice a week to allow the team to discuss what’s coming up in the next Sprint (and get it ready for solving). This allows the team to think about what’s next without being interrupted too often to do it. Teams that do this can accomplish more and more preparation in less and less time. Then, when Sprint Planning comes along, we spend the proper amount of time (1 day for a 4 week Sprint, 1/2 day for a 2 week Sprint) doing an effective job of planning because the PBIs are now nice and small and everyone understands much of the functional requirement of the PBI.

Any pointers to good books or websites about QA within Scrum?

Lisa Crispin, Brian Marick, Janet Gregory. Lisa and Janet have a good book out there called, Agile Testing: A Practical Guide for Testers and Agile Teams.

In your experience, what techniques have you used to recognize top performers? Is it recommended?

This is a loaded question at best. Scrum is all about teams and teamwork. Going out of your way to identify individuals could hurt those who are really trying, but aren’t the ones recognized. I think the question you have to ask yourself is, “why are you looking for top performers?” What is it you want to do? Do you want to recognize them for high performance? Yes? But why would you want to do that in an organization that is looking for high performing teams, not high performing individuals. See, the trap you can easily fall into is the setting of individual performance over that of your team. This is counter-productive. Individuals that have their eyes set on that particular trophy start setting their own agenda and worry less about their teammates.

If you want to recognize high performers, make it a peer-recognition. Let the team members identify that one person who really made it happen, but don’t get carried away with the award. Make it a lunch, honoring the individual. Something relatively small in cost.

The real awards should be based around high performing teams.

Should team members provide estimates on tasks they have no or limited expertise with?

They should be involved in the discussion, even if they can’t provide a realistic estimate.

What metrics are generally used to assess a ScrumMaster’s performance?

I can’t speak to “generally used,” but I can tell you how I would do it as a 23-year manager. When you are trying to evaluate an employee’s performance (not something I recommend getting carried away with — performance evaluation should be part of the normal coaching, not part of the compensation package), I look at it in terms of the roles that the individual plays. For example, a ScrumMaster can be described as:

  1. ScrumMaster
  2. Scrum Team Member
  3. Software Engineer (or perhaps, Software Analyst, Systems Analyst, etc.)
  4. Individual – career aspirations, goals
  5. Employee

Now, what are this individual’s responsibilities with regard to each role?

  1. ScrumMaster – e.g., Keep the team fully functional and productive. Did she do that? How does the team see it?
  2. Scrum Team Member — e.g., Stay focused, get PBIs to DONE. Did she help with that? How? How does the team see it?
  3. Software Engineer – e.g., learn new techniques, stay technically current, etc. Did she do that? How? How does the team see it?
  4. Individual — e.g., is she trying to achieve a new role? Was there something specific she wanted to do this year? Did she do it? Was she effective?
  5. Employee – e.g., did she follow company policies? Is she a contributing member of the organization? How? How does the organization see it?

If you do what most organizations do and claim this is linked to compensation, you will likely garner excessive disappointment when compensation and salary grades do not truly line up with the level of the performance offered by the employee. Instead, we need to keep our focus simply on being the best that we can be and profiting from the organization’s success in whatever way the organization can realistically afford to do so. The organization that skimps on sharing their success will end up with people who aren’t interested in success, just employment. The organization that shares their success with their employees ends up with people banging on their doors trying to get in. These are two separate issues and should be kept that way.

How to project a final product picture to customer if the project requirements keep changing?

The question answers itself. If the requirements keep changing, the final product picture will change as well. The best you can do is base your picture on what you know and change it as the product requirements change. If your customer is the one suggesting the changes, that should be enough.

If a team is running well with no obstacles, does the ScrumMaster run out of things to do?

Unlikely. Even with everything is beautiful for the team, there’s still the organizational impediment list that needs to be addressed. Beyond that, there’s the question, “Can my team’s performance be raised? How?”

FAQ on Career Path of Scrum Product Owners for Management

complex-product-backlog-product-ownerAs Agile and Scrum grows deeper into the market it is valuable for Management to communicate the rewarding and desirable career path that a Scrum Product Owner can have… even beyond just leading single Scrum Product Teams.

Before you go through this, it may be very helpful to first understand the following:

Eventbrite - Certified Scrum Product Owner Course (CSPO) - Get Certified in Atlanta, GA

Career Paths for Scrum Product Owners

Q. Are there multiple types of PO?  If so how are they different and how do they work together?

A. See earlier questions under “Product Owner Role & Organization” that describe how Release Product Owner and team Product Owner roles work as a team with a “single voice” on priority and acceptance decisions.

Q. What are possible steps in Product Owner career path?

A. A PO may start out working as part of a PO team as team Product Owner, or they may begin as PO for a single team product.

  1. Product Owner I – Trained Entry Level Product Owner
  2. Product Owner II – Experienced w/ Continuing Ed (From Score Card requires 12 months)
  3. Senior Product Owner – Release PO responsibilities for a major product; typically leading a PO team and/or working with multiple Scrum Teams. Should be both trained and experienced and meet continuing education requirements. 3-5 years combined program management, Agile/Scrum, and Product Owner experience.
  4. Principal Product Owner – TBD.  5-8 years combined project, program, Agile/Scrum, and Product Owner experience.

Q. What is difference in job title for RPO vs team PO roles?

A.  See Career path steps above

Q. What is the next step in the Career Path for a product owner? Is it to Product Management?

Q. What are some possible stepping off points into other jobs or roles?

A. Product Owners could potentially transition either to or from Development Management or Product Management. There are multiple paths to and from a Product Owner position. It could also be back to a prior contributor job or another professional position, or leadership role.

Q. What qualifies as continuing education and who needs to approve it?

A. Example Continuing Education Activities include:

  • Internal, onsite, or public Agile training classes
  • Agile topic meetings at local professional organizations
  • Agile workshops and seminars
  • National or International Agile software development conferences such as Agile 20xx

Management has budget approval of the individual’s costs for attending continuing education. The company’s Director, Agile Methods publishes guidelines for qualified continuing education activities and may review and revise these from time to time with input from Scrum Masters and management.

Q. What professional certifications are applicable to a Product Owner?

A. The Scrum Alliance offers one level of certification:

Q. Should the company support and pay for people to be certified?

A. Not necessarily, the company will pay for Product Owners to maintain membership and certification for approved professional organizations, but not necessarily to obtain CSPO certification.

Q. Is Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO) required to become and serve as a Product Owner?

A. No, Certification is not required for Product Owners but CSPO or equivalent training is.  See “What training is required…” question below under Inputs section.

Q. How is the pay scale determined for a Product Owner?

A. HR should determine market value for common industry jobs that are similar to product owner responsibilities

Q. What recognition and reward do I receive as a Product Owner?

A. Compensation and recognition for Product Owner position should reflect the level of responsibility and market value.

Inputs

Q. Who is eligible to become a Product Owner?

Q. Who selects / approves Product Owner candidates?

A. Development Executives will ultimately determine who is eligible based on their confidence in an individual’s leadership abilities for Product Owners. Key stakeholders such as Product Managers should be involved in selection.

Q. Where would candidate Product Owners come from?

A. May come from BA’s, Developers, Development Manager, Product Manager, Project Managers etc. where Some have more industry experience and some have more technical experience.

Q. How does someone start out? What training or accreditation is a prerequisite?

Q. What training is required to become a Product Owner?

A. CSPO training or equivalent is required.  This may be satisfied by The company on-site courses taught following a CSPO based material, or by completing Certified ScrumMaster training plus one day of internal The company Product Owner training.

Q. Why should managers encourage their most qualified people to consider the Product Owner role?

A. For people who are seeking a challenging leadership growth opportunity this is a good opportunity for development. Product development quality and effectiveness is highly dependent on product owners to drive requirements through completion and is therefore a critical role for succeeding with Scrum.

Exits

Q. What are my options when I no longer want to be a PO?

A. See Pathways above, “There are multiple paths to and from a Product Owner position. It could also be back to a prior contributor job or another professional position, or leadership role.”

Good questions to pursue through training, self directed learning, and continuing education:

Q. How should product owners get input from stakeholders?

Q. How do product owners work across products to see that functionality syncs up & integrates properly?

Q. How do you blend customer commitments with feature work?

Q. How do management stakeholders get input into the backlog?

Q. How do PO’s work with UX/UI?

Q. How does the Product Owner engage with the UI/UX Teams on Customer Needs & Requirements?

Q. How does a PO develop acceptance criteria?

Q. How do Product Owners work across products together, especially if work done in different sprints for different teams?

Q. Are Product Owners focused on the current release, future releases, gathering customer feedback, etc?  Is that multi-tasking successful?

Q. Are there tasks Product Owners do today that would be better suited for a separate role such as Business Analyst or usability lead?

Q. How do you blend customer commitments with feature work? (Item we already had…suggestion was to include ‘and technical debt’.

Q. How does product owner deal with individual performance as an impediment?

Q. How does Scrum team give input to PO?

Q. What should a scrum team do if their PO is not fulfilling their part of the deal?

FAQ on Most Common Product Owner Questions for Management

complex-product-backlog-product-ownerAs Agile and Scrum grows deeper into the market it is valuable for Management to communicate the rewarding and desirable career path that a Scrum Product Owner can have… even beyond just leading single Scrum Product Teams.

Before you go through this, it may be very helpful to first understand the following:

Eventbrite - Certified Scrum Product Owner Course (CSPO) - Get Certified in Atlanta, GA

Frequently Asked Questions on the Product Owner Role & Organization

Q. What is the Product Owner Role?

A. Product Owner is one of the key roles in Scrum that acts as the “single voice” for priority and acceptance of what to work on for a Scrum Development Team

Q. What is a Product Owner responsible for?

  1. Creates and Maintains the Product Backlog showing visible progress towards forecast results
  2. Prioritizes and sequences the Backlog according to business value as expressed by roadmap and stakeholder needs
  3. Prepares for each sprint and release planning session by working with team to elaborate Feature Stories into Minimal Marketable Features that deliver increments of value and User Stories that are appropriately sized for each sprint.
  4. Conveys the Vision and Goals at the beginning of every Release and Sprint.
  5. Represents customer and stakeholder interests. Engages and solicits their feedback to validate priorities and compromises.
  6. Participates in daily standup Scrums, Sprint Planning Meetings, Sprint Reviews, and Retrospectives.
  7. Accepts User Stories during the sprint to confirm implementation meets intent of acceptance criteria.
  8. Re-negotiates Sprint priorities and commitment when team communicates new discoveries that impact size or value of work.
  9. Communicates status to stakeholders including use of Visible Product Backlog for forecasting release content and dates.

Q. What is definition of Release PO versus Feature PO?

A. When a Scrum Product Team includes more than 2 Scrum Teams we have found that it’s more than one Product Owner can handle. In this case we suggest adding a Release Product Owner as a Product Owner Team lead.  The PO team covers all the responsibilities and activities of a Product Owner divided into RPO and team PO roles. 

Release Product Owner leads the PO team and is first and foremost responsible that the PO team presents a Single Voice

  • Clear statement of vision, direction, release purpose and goals
  • Managing overall Product Backlog and publishing the Product Backlog
  • Show alignment w/ product roadmap
  • Getting stakeholder buy-in on Product Backlog
  • Prioritization of Product Backlog
  • Prepare appropriate Product Backlog to drive release planning
  • Ongoing release plan forecasting
  • Deployment & release readiness checklist
  • Market launch split out to PM

Team Product Owner (or just PO) is a member of the Scrum Team responsible for working with the team from sprint to sprint and grooming the breakdown of Features into sprint sized User Stories so that they are prepared for Sprint Planning

  • Prioritize user stories to drive Sprint Planning
  • Acceptance criteria of stories in sprint
  • Day to day available to team for conversations about stories in sprint
  • Accepting stories in sprint

Q. When do we need this distinction versus having a single PO for smaller product teams?

A. Any time we have more than one PO assigned to a Scrum Product Team.

In some cases the RPO may also act as team PO for one of the Scrum Teams with assistance from additional team PO’s on other Scrum Teams.

Note that we recognize there is overhead incurred by introducing a layer with a Release PO as well as the team POs but have found it is worth it to avoid spreading a PO too thin across more than two Scrum Teams.

Q. If a product has a single PO are they also the RPO?

A. In as sense, Yes. When there is a single PO for a product they span the responsibilities of both RPO and team PO.

Q. Is the product owner a member of the Scrum Team?

A. Yes, Product Owners are considered to be a member of the Scrum Team.  See the definitions for “Scrum Team” and “Scrum Development Team” above.

Each Scrum Team should have a single Product Owner responsible for prioritizing work items for the Sprint backlog along with the corresponding acceptance criteria.  A Product Owner may be a member of up to 2 Scrum Teams. Conversely, each Scrum Team will have a single Product Owner as their input for what work to work on.

Q. Who is responsible for staffing the Product Owner role?

A. Product development quality and effectiveness is highly dependent on product owners to drive requirements through completion. Therefore, development management is responsible to staff a sufficient number of qualified Product Owners to satisfy the needs of each Scrum Team.

Q. Who should Product Owners report to?

A. Leadership over product lines and those who can help influence changes in products depending on market/client needs.

Q. What department should Product Owners report to?

A. Often this is business, and can look like the Product Management Group, sales, or even marketing.

Q. What reporting structure should Product Owners follow?

A. Release level Product Owners should report at an equivalent level to their development management peers. If the development manager(s) for people on the team(s) the PO works with report at Director or VP level, then the PO should report at the same level. Regardless of reporting structure, development management must have the authority to address any impediments. The preferred approach is for people acting as Release Product Owners to report into the Product Development organizational structure.

Q. Who should team Product Owners report to?

A. Team level Product Owners should report into the same department as their RPO.

Q. PO Role vs. full time position?

A. Full time role. It’s one of the most important and can easily take up 100% of their time to do it right.

Q. Is Product Owner a job title or a role that someone with an existing job title fills?

A. To be a release level Product Owner is a full time job that includes coordinating with stakeholders and managing dependencies in addition to working closely with the development team.

Q. Is team PO a full time job?

A. Yes, a team PO is also a full time job dedicated to success of their Scrum Team(s)

Q. How much time should a person expect to spend on Product Owner activities?

A. Full time job for both RPO and team PO’s.

Q. How many Scrum teams would we expect a full time Product Owner to handle?

A. A Product Owner should have no more than two Scrum Teams.

Q. Can one person be a PO for multiple products?

A. Not recommended

Q. Handling “Part Time Product Owners”?

A. Not recommended

Q. Handling “Distant Product Owners”?

A. PO’s assigned to teams should be co-located or at least be in a compatible time zone with their Scrum Team

Q. What is value of technical product owner versus a business focused product owner (and vice-versa)?

A. While in practice we recognize that people come to the PO role with different strengths, we don’t distinguish in the PO role based on their background; these are not recognized types of PO’s.

Q. If you are Product Owner what title would you have?

A.  Product Owner, (we’ll cover career paths next)

Q. What is common industry job title for product owner responsibilities?

A. Some typical job titles used in software development include: Program Manager, Technical Program Manager, Technical Product Manager, Product Analyst, or Product Owner

Q. What are the “lines” between the different roles, where does one stop and the next role start – PM/PO, PO/Business Analyst

A. Product Managers are responsible for a product roadmap that is detailed and aligned to corporate strategy. Product Owner is responsible for ensuring their product backlog is aligned to the roadmap.

Q. How much customer interaction is expected from a Product Owner? How is their interaction different from Product Managers?

A. Product Owners communicate with customers in a listening role to share backlog and results for checking understanding, and in order to solicit feedback. Sales and account management calls should be minimized, and are not considered a primary responsibility for the Product Owner role.

Product Managers communicates externally and across the company. Product Managers are responsible for the market message and communicating commitments and promises to customers.

Q. Where is management support to product owner role & backing their decisions?

A. In addition to coaching and budgeting for professional development and skill building activities management should:

  • Provide feedback on product backlog content, priorities, and dates with clear purpose
  • Support acceptance decisions the PO makes during each sprint
  • Management will route all work for teams through product owner to support single voice for work priorities
  • Manage consistent and qualified staffing for teams from sprint to sprint with minimal changes throughout a release
  • Key Stakeholders will provide clear direction on prioritizing to achieve corporate strategy and product management objectives shown in product roadmaps
  • Development Executives will support the PO in helping Key Stakeholders to understand and accept the necessity for making tradeoff decisions on dates and/or feature content consistent with actual team capacity

Q. Who are PO’s are accountable to?

A. Product Owners are accountable to the Key Stakeholders who make the financial commitments:

  • Business Unit President
  • CTO
  • Product Manager

Product Owners negotiate agreement to backlog priorities with these Key Stakeholders and keep them informed of any significant impacts or deviations from forecasts.

Q. What defines success for a for a product owner?

A. Profitable products and satisfied customers.

  • Product releases deliver great value as perceived by customers and stakeholders
  • Balances feature delivery with sustainable software development
  • Stakeholder and team members understand rationale for prioritization and forecasting is visible and transparent
  • There are no surprises on progress, feature content and dates, or priority changes made along the way
  • Scrum Team members feel meaningful accomplishment from delivering “winning” features
  • Continuously learning and improving use of agile principles and practices
  • Deliver a product that is aligned with the roadmap

Product Owner Competencies

Q. What are the qualifications to become a Product Owner?

Q. What levels of experience would they have?

Q. What ‘behavioral skills’ would they demonstrate?

A. The following Starting Competencies are needed to become a Product Owner:

  • Relevant background
    • Industry and/or application domain knowledge
    • Or experience in some parallel or related business field
    • Experienced in customer interactions
    • Excellent listening, verbal and written communication skills
    • Negotiation skills with ability to compromise and balance tradeoffs among multiple interests
    • Proven leadership and decision making
    • Professional presentation skills
    • Familiar with Agile and Scrum principles and practices

Q. What skills and experience do I gain as a Product Owner?

Q. What are the skills we need in a Product Owner?  Must those skills be in one person?

Q. What competencies should a Product Owner demonstrate?

A. The following Performing Competencies are needed to do the Product Owner job well:

  • Subject matter expertise and sufficient market knowledge to understand customer wants and needs
  • Manage product backlogs with priority decisions that mitigate risk and maximize value while showing steady progress towards forecast results
    • Manages backlog content consistent with priorities agreed to with key stakeholders
    • Provides a visible forecast and notifies stakeholders of any significant changes in effort or risk
    • Create Feature and User Stories that represent “vertical slices” of value
    • Collaborates effectively with Scrum Master and Scrum Development Team
    • Engage both team and stakeholders to collaborate in release planning
    • Inspires commitment by communicating clear vision, direction, purpose, and goal for each release and sprint
    • Approachable and available to team members to answer detailed questions about requirements
    • Understand and represent the interests of customers and stakeholders such as: customer service, sales, development management, and executives
    • Engages and solicits their feedback to validate priorities and compromises
    • Constructive Conflict Resolution
    • Demand / assure accountability
    • Effective planning and forecasting in spite of the inevitable uncertainty and unknowns
    • Understands and applys Agile and Scrum principles and practices

Balances new feature delivery with high quality software while minimizing creation of additional technical debt for sustainable software development.

[Next we’ll cover Product Owner Career Paths]

FAQ on Career Paths of ScrumMasters for Management

scrummasters As Agile and Scrum grows deeper into the market it is valuable for Management to communicate the rewarding and desirable career path that a ScrumMaster can have… even beyond just leading single Scrum teams.

See our first post on ScrumMaster basic FAQ for Managers

Before you go through this, it may be very helpful to first understand the following:

Eventbrite - Certified ScrumMaster Course (CSM) in Atlanta, GA - Bring a Friend = iPad!

Frequently Asked Questions on the ScrumMaster Career Path

Pathways

Q. What are possible steps in ScrumMaster career path?

A. There is more than 1 step on a ScrumMaster path including:

  1. No title appended – Entry level working ScrumMaster with CSM training < 12 months experience
  2. ScrumMaster appended – Qualified working ScrumMaster with > 1 year experience plus 2 days of continuing education per year of experience (per Scrum Score Card)
  3. Senior ScrumMaster – Full time ScrumMaster position handling multiple teams, often also acts as ScrumMaster for a Scrum of Scrums.  Demonstrates learning additional knowledge and greater experience than #2. ScrumMaster
  4. Coach ScrumMaster – Full time ScrumMaster who is booked on a regular basis to coach and train other teams, sites, and/or groups.  Demonstrates additional coaching qualifications beyond #3. Senior ScrumMaster

Q. Does this career path include the Senior ScrumMaster?

A. Yes, but it’s not a necessary step to the Coach ScrumMaster level

Q. Do we need a different career path to get to be a Senior ScrumMaster?

A. No, that is one possible step on the ScrumMaster path

Q. How does this relate to other careers in Product Development?

A.  ScrumMaster may be an add-on role to another product development job such as Software Engineer and may be considered favorably for advancement to other positions such as management.

Q. What are some possible stepping off points into other jobs or roles?

A. Some possible stepping off points include other leadership roles such as a manager job or Product Owner role.  Someone may also choose not to continue as a ScrumMaster and continue to progress in their chosen position as a development contributor.

Q.  How does Certified Scrum Developer fit into ScrumMaster career path?

A.  CSD fits into Software Engineer Career Path rather than this ScrumMaster path.  It would be a definite plus for a Certified ScrumMaster who is also a programmer to become a Certified Scrum Developer.

Q. Does a ScrumMaster career path lead to a management position?

A. Maybe.  Excellence as a ScrumMaster requires good leadership and people skills which are also critical in a management role. The ScrumMaster career path has multiple possible outcomes and we don’t suggest that any of them indicates greater success than another outcome. One possible outcome is accepting the challenges of a management position instead of ScrumMaster.  Note that it is considered a conflict of interest for a ScrumMaster to at the same time hold a manager position.

Q. Will experience in a ScrumMaster role be a requirement for progress into Management?

A. No.  It’s not a necessary pre-requisite to management.

Inputs

Q. Who is eligible to become a ScrumMaster?

A. Really anyone. But look here for best ScrumMaster characteristics.

Q. Who selects / approves ScrumMaster candidates?

A. Development Managers will ultimately determine who is eligible based on their confidence in an individual’s leadership abilities and their enthusiasm for improving agile development. Our biggest concern first is always putting the right people on the right teams, including a ScrumMaster. We use Team Science to do this. Find out more here.

Q. Where would candidate ScrumMasters come from?

A. People can volunteer to be ScrumMasters or be nominated by management

  • Needs to be voluntary, even if Management suggests or nominates a person.
    • Individuals volunteer or express interest (manager can decline)
    • Managers can identify candidates with skills (individuals can decline)

Q. What levels of experience would they have?

A. ScrumMasters should have experience in a software development job such as programmer, tester, or business analyst.  Ideally they would already have some experience as a Scrum team member.

Q. What ‘behavioral skills’ would they demonstrate?

A. Some of the more important behavioral traits include:

  • leadership
  • good communication
  • good people skills
  • facilitation
  • organizational skills
  • conflict resolution
  • negotiation
  • courage
  • assertive
  • coaching

Q. How does someone start out? What training or accreditation is a prerequisite?

A. The first step on a ScrumMaster path requires CSM training and a 6 month commitment to serve as a ScrumMaster after management approval

Q. Why should managers encourage their most qualified people to consider the ScrumMaster role?

A. ScrumMaster is a crucial role for succeeding with Scrum. A highly qualified person who has both the respected technical skills and behavioral traits can raise the performance of the whole team in the ScrumMaster role.

Q. What about people who are trained and qualify as ScrumMasters but are not currently assigned to a team.

A. People may also be qualified and ready to serve but working as a regular team member until they are asked to serve as ScrumMaster on a new or different team.  Qualifications and “active reserve” status will be documented for backup ScrumMasters in the on-line list of company ScrumMasters.

Exits

Q. What will happen if I want to go back into the team?

A. It is OK for people to decide they don’t want to continue in the ScrumMaster role.  However, new ScrumMasters should commit to serving in the role for at least 6 months.

Q. Who “pulls” a ScrumMaster if they are unsuccessful in the role; team or management?

A. ScrumMasters need the trust and confidence of both management and their team.  ScrumMasters serve the team and a team can ask for a different ScrumMaster if the entire team agrees.

FAQ on Most Common ScrumMaster Questions for Management

scrummaster-retrospective-management-agileAs Agile and Scrum grows deeper into the market it is valuable for Management to communicate the rewarding and desirable career path that a ScrumMaster can have… even beyond just leading single Scrum teams.

Before you go through this, it may be very helpful to first understand the following:

Eventbrite - Certified ScrumMaster Course (CSM) in Atlanta, GA - Bring a Friend = iPad!

Frequently Asked Questions on the ScrumMaster Role

Q. Is ScrumMaster a job title or a role that someone with an existing job title fills?

A. It is first and foremost a role in Scrum but may also be used as a title where a person is filling that role for multiple teams and it becomes a full time job.

  • ScrumMaster is a role that may be appended to a regular job title

Such as: “Sr. Software Engineer – ScrumMaster”

  • And in the case of a “full time” ScrumMaster it may be their entire job title.  Such as: “ScrumMaster”

Q. Can it be a role and still have a career path?

A. Yes, today a typical “career path” at looks something like: I – associate, II – junior, III – senior. The ScrumMaster “path” looks more like steps or supplements added to other job title oriented career paths.  It may have options and branches rather than just a “ladder” with various levels.  A ScrumMaster could also start as backup for primary on a team.

Q. How do you add it to your tile on email, business card etc?

A. Yes ScrumMasters who meet the qualifications outlined for this career path may append “- ScrumMaster” to the regular job title.  They may also show CSM or other certifications from recognized professional organizations.

Q. What models for ScrumMaster and team should we consider?

A. Valid options for ScrumMaster working with a team include:

  1. Full time ScrumMaster who fills the role for one or two teams and/or Scrum of Scrums
  2. Part time working ScrumMaster added to responsibilities of functional job title (not ideal as a SM should be focused primarily on one team.

Q. Is a ScrumMaster on the team – are they considered a team member?

A. The ScrumMaster is a team member. They could contribute either as:

  1. A working member of the same team where they contribute work in addition to filling the ScrumMaster role. This is currently the predominant pattern at the company: “I like a ScrumMaster to be a working team member.  I believe it gives them better insight to the problems/impediments that exist and a closer relationship, which builds trust, with the team itself.”
  2. A facilitator on the Team.  This is the case for “full time” ScrumMasters, and it’s also possible they could fill the role for one team while working as a contributing member of another team. Note that some people suggest that this allows the ScrumMaster to be more objective and impartial in coaching the team.

Q. What is a ScrumMaster responsible for?

A. “While a ScrumMaster does not assume responsibility for the success of the project -that remains with the team – a ScrumMaster does assume responsibility for the team’s adoption of Scrum and practice of it.”

Q. How much time should a person expect to spend on ScrumMaster activities instead of primary job title activities?

A. A ScrumMaster should make this role their top priority to focus on benefits to the overall team. Their load will vary from sprint to sprint depending on what impediments and issues the team is dealing with. Newly formed teams typically take more ScrumMaster time; 50%-100%, while experienced ScrumMasters with established well functioning teams might spend 50% or less of their time on the ScrumMaster role.

Q. How many Scrum teams would we expect a full time ScrumMaster to handle?

A. One or at most two teams.  See question above about how much time.

Q. If you were a “full time” ScrumMaster what title would you have?

A. “ScrumMaster” when not appended to another title would mean that it is a full time responsibility.

Q. Would the title for a Scrum of Scrums ScrumMaster typically be a Project Manager?

A. Not necessarily.  Only if the person previously had Project Management qualifications and experience in which case they could have a “Project Manger – ScrumMaster” title, otherwise their title would just be “ScrumMaster”.

Q. What skills and experience do I gain?

A. ScrumMasters exercise and develop their leadership and interpersonal skills along with training and continuing education in scrum and agile development.

Q. What qualifies as continuing education and who needs to approve it?

A. Example Continuing Education Activities include:

  • Internal, onsite, or public Agile training classes
  • Agile topic meetings at local professional organizations
  • Agile workshops and seminars
  • National or International Agile software development conferences such as Agile 2010

Management has budget approval of the individual’s costs for attending continuing education. The company publishes guidelines for qualified continuing education activities and may review and revise these from time to time with input from ScrumMasters and management.

Q. What professional certifications are applicable to a ScrumMaster?

A. The Scrum Alliance offers several levels of certification:

  • Certified ScrumMaster CSM – required to serve as a ScrumMaster
    • 6 month commitment to serve as a ScrumMaster at the company
  • Certified Scrum Professional CSP – 3 year of experience to qualify
    • 12 month commitment to serve as a ScrumMaster
  • Certified Scrum Coach CSC – > 5 years of experience to qualify

Q. Should the company support and pay for people to become certified?

A. Yes, The company will support and pay for Scrum related certifications based on the ongoing commitment from the individual to apply the certified skills as outlined in the prior question on applicable certifications.

Q. How does this affect desire for certification in other jobs and roles?

A. In the future we should answer this question as we define career paths in other areas based on the value and relevance to each role or position.

Q. Is certification required?

A. CSM is required to become and serve as a ScrumMaster.  Additional Certification is not required but is supported and encouraged. Continuing education is required for active ScrumMasters to spend at least 2 days a year on improving their knowledge and skills for agile software development.

Q. Will the company pay for advanced certifications?

A. Yes, based on individuals continuing commitment to serve as ScrumMaster using the certified skills

Q. What recognition and reward do I receive?

A. Opportunities for recognition and reward include:

  • Recognition from management and team members
  • Extra Career Development & training opportunities
  • Participation in the company ScrumMaster Community
  • Resume building
  • Certification

Q. Should there be a financial reward for being a ScrumMaster?

A. Additional financial compensation for ScrumMasters who take on this role in addition to an existing job title may be appropriate to recognize the added commitment and responsibility expected from ScrumMasters. Development management and HR should consider their existing position and compensation to determine the appropriate amount.

Note opinions are split on this point. There is value in this to consider that; being a ScrumMaster “feels like a thankless job” and also to make the management’s commitment to the role more tangible.  The counter argument was “is this necessary?” This would be a plus but was not necessary.

[In our next section, we cover Career Paths]

Being an Agile Coach – Making Effective Decisions

change-ownership-agile-decisionsMAKING EFFECTIVE DECISIONS

Decision-Making is obviously one of the major functions of the Agile coaching process.

Myths of Decision-Making:

  1. The higher up the decision is made the better it is. So, if the President makes the decision it is obviously a better decision than a decision made by a Vice-President. This is not better because we will be moving back to centralization where one person dominates everything. Decisions tend to naturally go up the organizational chart eventually anyway.
  1. The longer we consider a decision the better the decision will be. This is not always the case. But decisions can grow stale and stagnate if dwelt upon too long. The more complex the issue, though, typically more time needs to be allotted… not to think… but to experiment!
  1. A good decision made late is better than a mediocre decision made early. A decision that will really benefit a team needs to be made early rather then last minute. Precious time is often wasted in the lollygag scenario. Time factors often dictate that a decision must be made. And even if the best decision is not made, at least a decision was made in time.

Causes of Ineffective Decision-Making:

  1. The lack of clearly-defined goals and objectives. People don’t act because they don’t know which direction to go. Decisions can’t be made to do things that haven’t been previously decided to do.
  1. Insecurity of position or authority. Decisions are postponed because the leader  is afraid of the possible consequences.
  1. Lack of information – no alternative seems clear OR all alternatives seem viable.
  1. Desire to retain the status quo or simple fear of change – there is comfort in the comfort zone. But still, because things change and the team needs to develop and change as the market changes.

The Problem-Solving Process of Decision-Making:

Decisions are made, typically, to solve problems:

  1. The orientation to the situation – we get familiar with the background of the problem. Analysis, experience, training, skill, and administrative intuition are helpful in determining the truth of the situation.
  1. The identification of key facts – we will never have all the facts but we can get the facts that truly identify the reality. Utilize effective questioning. We want to ask “open” questions that will give us information rather than a simple yes or no. Carefully sift through the information and deduce logically
  1. The identification of the major problems in the situation: Look for the causes of the effect that have been seen or demonstrated. Why are things happening the way they are? What caused this issue? Again, carefully sift through the information and deduce logically. Get insights from others who can give information from another perspective.

Often, the unique situation you are in requires you to do a lot more research and problems solving to help leaders make good decisions… At the end of the day though, I would suggest, always taking an empirical approach. Experimentation is key. The more you experiment… the more you can learn quickly!

Being an Agile Coach – Dealing with Conflict

conflict-agile-fingers-pointing

The word “conflict” tends to stir up emotions in corporate America. Few companies want to find themselves in conflict. Most employees will view conflict as a bad thing and something to be avoided at all costs. But some conflict can actually be healthy. The reality is that disagreements do not have to turn into fights. We can keep our differences in check if we have a few basic understandings regarding conflict. Conflict occurs when two or more people with mutually exclusive viewpoints attempt to solve a problem.

Two kinds of Conflict (healthy and unhealthy)

Conflict is unhealthy when it negatively impacts the company or team by hindering or limiting their ability to do productive work.

Conflict is healthy when the opposite occurs. When conflict is viewed and handled appropriately.

We know conflict is unhealthy when:

  • People no longer calculate their remarks to edify or change others. Instead, they plan their remarks (often unconsciously) to hurt, demean, defame, or even destroy another
  • People begin to question whether their relationships can weather the storm of difference
  • People feel rejected by those who were once considered friends
  • People feel they have no control and the odds are against them
  • The pain of the competition is greater than the exhilaration of the challenge
  • People make accusations, and it seems that “others” want to destroy or split relationships down the middle.
  • People use words that have violent connotations

Conflict is healthy when:

  • The people involved feel confident they can manage the differences
  • Those involved adhere to firmly to decision-making processes authorized by the team and working agreements of the company
  • People operate within the specifically stated, generally understood rules of appropriate behavior in the company
  • People cooperate in the process suggested by the leadership

Reactions to conflict

  • Conflict is wrong.

Some individuals believe that conflict is always wrong. The mindset is that people in a copmany should be in agreement and live in harmony. They become nervous when team members express differences of opinion. They “lovingly” try to encourage people into one opinion. The attitude does not acknowledge that legitimate differences can exist among different people.

  • Conflict is an opportunity to exercise power.

Some people view any discussion as debate and any issue as a time to win at any cost. These people get their thrills in the competition of the moment. Winning the issue is oftentimes far more important than the issue itself.

  • Apathy (this doesn’t involve me)

Some people do not care much about the outcome of the issues involved. The apathetic spirit comes from several sources including burnout, fatigue, stress, a defeated spirit, or a different set of priorities.

  • Personal affect (this does involve me)

Some people do have a considerable stake in the outcome. These often include the leader, staff, board members, managers, and other directly involved individuals. People often believe that the outcome will affect their reputation and/or their feelings of self-worth. Oftentimes the emotional involvement clouds an individual’s reasoning and judgment surrounding an issue.

  • Conflict might split a company

Some people become nervous when any disagreement occurs in a company or team because they believe it will divide the team needlessly. These individuals many have vulnerable feelings left from past conflict that was handled in a hurtful way. Whatever the reason, they tend to sweep all controversial issues under the rug and hope they go away. They would rather stay in a bad situation than risk the unknown.

Responses to Conflict Continue reading “Being an Agile Coach – Dealing with Conflict”

Make a 15 Minute Daily Scrum Pure $1,500 Cash (Whaaaat???)

daily-scrum-giveaway-1500-3d-printerIf you haven’t already taken the 2013 State of Agile Survey, definitely check this out…

Now in the final 2 weeks’ stretch, VersionOne is trying to get at least 1,000 more people to take the survey. In doing so, they just announced an expanded prize offer – For the first time ever, the grand-prize winner of the drawing can choose to win this 3D printer OR just take the cash – $1,500. Plus lots of other cool swag.

The idea is this: the bigger the data sampling, the more value peeps will get from the report, which has become the largest and most cited survey in the agile community. The State of Agile Survey helps software professionals (that’s YOU) make tough decisions and get the most from their agile initiatives.

Take the survey before it closes on Oct. 16th and your email address automatically goes into the drawing.  While you’re at it, try passing it on to at least 5 of your software peers (don’t worry; if you don’t forward it, nothing bad will happen to you!)   #StateofAgileSurvey.

Agile – Preparing to Make it Work for Your Organization – From Agile Practitioners

v-for-vendetta-agile-UK-parliamentThe term “Agile” is fast becoming a more common word within the software development community. It’s growing, morphing, being attributed to successful projects, and also being blamed for unsuccessful ones. What comes to mind, for many, when considering Agile as a tool to be used for teams, companies, projects, and products alike, is whether there truly is enough hard evidence around the value of adopting Agile methods.

I would believe it fair to say that there are a lot of doubts and misconceptions around Agile. Do any type of search for examples of Agile success on Google and you’ll find the web short of concrete evidence to support their claims. More often than not, you’ll find success stories that are very specific to a particular demographic, team, company, environment, and situation. Moreover, you’ll find critics of Agile methods and their viability. There seems to be no real foundational 12-Step program to implementing Agile successfully, and there will never be one.

This paper is not going to have all the answers for you. It is not intended to be that. Rather, this paper is an opportunity to take a deeper dive into how you can get started with resources that can help you take your first steps into Agile. Prepare yourself to plan for the change you desire in your team or company, and eventually, help you have the right types of conversations with your management.

I’ve recruited 4 other thought-leaders within the Agile space to help me take in the fuller picture of Agile and what considerations we need to have as we progress towards Agile. I’ve chosen practitioners, not theorists. People who are in the deepest trenches of Agile transformations and adoptions. It is from this lens that I want to people to view this paper. Much has been written about things to consider when adopting Agile to the enterprise and this paper does not belong to that group. This is a view from practitioners, giving you only what is applicable, and executable.

It is fair to say that Agile CAN work for your organization, but it isn’t easy. Let’s take a deeper look into what practitioners of Agile have to say and dive into the deep end with us.

Our contributors:

Agile – What is it Anyway?

An easy click over to the Agile Manifesto tells us pretty clearly what the guiding principles are:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

But what about applying these principles? How do you execute within a complex organization? Some light research has been done around what Agile means to many people. It was found that at the end of the day, Agile, to many, is collaboration and cultivating culture within an organization. Derek Huether would agree with this, saying that, “Agile is the embodiment of empowerment and responding to change.” Meaning, that Agile is simply a term for what businesses and even individuals should strive for: A continued state of being flexible and enabled to change accordingly.

For Don Gray, “Agile is what I call, A high order of abstraction. You cannot put a pound of Agile in a wheelbarrow. Agile can be understood by the Manifesto. That’s a good place to start.” It would seem that many organizations are adopting some facets of Agile at this point. You may not even need to call it “Agile.” In reality, it may be just improving something. Mike Cottmeyer agrees with this an states that, “Agile is a set of principles, 4 principles in the Agile Manifesto expressed through family of methodologies from which the methods are derived from principles. In the end it’s about the Manifesto.” It would seem that how you apply that is a different matter.

“Agile in a lot of ways, represents two different things, approaching and developing projects and products. The belief system from the Agile Manifesto: Being flexible, and being open to how you approach projects. Secondly, Agile is new way of thinking of how to develop projects. Prior to Agile, there wasn’t a codified method. I believe there still is a lot of evolution that needs happening. People will learn and new things will be added to Agile-thinking,” – Chris Goldsbury

Bottom Line Around the Term “Agile”

Agile  is a set of principles, a way of considering approaching projects differently, being flexible, and creating a culture of collaboration. In a sense, Agile is all about being open to new ideas.

Adoption or Transformation? – Should Your Company “Adopt” or be “Transformed?”

Often times we hear about “Agile Adoptions” or “Agile Transformations.” Is there a difference? Our practitioners say yes. “People don’t agree on what Agile means because often they don’t have a common definition of how to apply it,” Don states. “For me, adoption of Agile is taking on principles. Transformation is a more embedded process.” Mike adds to this in that, “Adoption is about the things you do. gaining benefit is the transformation. Transformation is a look into the total organization as a whole and more importantly, the cultural transformation that needs to happen.”

It’s apparent that “adoption” and “transformation” are not the same thing. While the term “Agile” may be a mindset of openness and collaboration, how you undertake that in your business, enterprise, or team is a matter of what you’d like to see happen.

In regards to adopting Agile. “Absolutely yes,” Mike states. “There are certain principles and constructs behind Agile that are inarguable. Most organizations can benefit from doing some parts of being Agile. It really is a matter of whether your company can you do the right things in your org to make Agile successful.” One has to be mindful about the current reality of your organization or situation. Take a good look at where things are. “Be flexible,” Chris adds, “You generally get better success when you’re flexible and open to change.” 

Derek adds some noteworthy insight to this and comments that “Yes, absolutely, try Agile. But it starts on an individual level. There are people that want to be Agile, or be naturally Agile, but then there are individuals who don’t desire for that. There are people who don’t want to be autonomous, but want to be the cog. You don’t have to respect it, but have you have to accept it.”

Individual Readiness Is A Part of Change

“The first step is transformation of the individual…The individual, transformed, will perceive new meaning to his life, to events, to numbers, to interactions between people.” – Edward Deming – System of Profound Knowledge

As an individual reading this paper, you probably want positive value-add change to your organization. First and foremost, change starts with you. Communicating Agile principles and practices are great, but it really takes a servant leaders attitude to be the conduit for positive change from yourself out to your environment. Chris says that you should always look into your situation clearly, and see what is really needed. Be flexible and be prepared for tough questions, pushback, and a potentially long road ahead. If you are dogmatic about your approach then it will not work. Chris has seen a lot of people doing this, pushing a philosophy. Not taking the time to understand the business culture, readiness, and even how it will impact the customers.

Derek adds that he enjoys seeing small wins happen over time, than no wins at all. “Is it a full Agile adoption? No. Usually there are constraints on an environment that will not allow full adoption or areas of the environment that are conducive to being Agile.” In a lot of ways it is about perception. How you effectively communicate value is so important. “Small businesses are more conducive to Agile. Less overhead, less process, and less governance you’re working against. The larger the enterprise, if you are dealing with that as a standard, the harder it can be. But not as the exception.” 

“Never attribute to malice or stupidity that which can be explained by moderately rational individuals following incentives in a complex system of interactions.” – Hubbard’s Corollary to Hanlon’s Razor

As you prepare, remember that you are interacting within a complex system of people. “To create something new is where Agile lies. That creates discontinuity.” Don states. You are on the cusp of something new and fantastic. To become a change agent is exciting, but it can also be daunting.

Chris adds that you need to be sometimes painstakingly cautious about your approach. Meaning, you will have to take baby steps in some organizations. “Lead by example. Demonstrate Agile. If you are a manager, that may mean giving up the empire underneath you.” What Chris is talking about is referent power: The power that doesn’t come from people that directly report to you. “When people want to be led, they choose who they want to follow.” How this may apply in your organization is to raise up internal champions for Agile. Whenever you come upon a new problem or consideration, it may not be you who needs to fix it! A different leader may need to be chosen. “If you find yourself making all the decisions all the time, then there is something wrong with that.”

 Bottom Line: Do Adopt Agile, Transformation is the Long Road

All our practitioners agree that all companies should adopt the mindset of Agile. Any and every organization can benefit from being open, flexible to change, and creating a better collaborative place to work. One could agree that all of these are great ideas. Now, how do you apply or transform an organization? We’ll jump into that next.

Should Your Company Adopt Agile to be Transformed?

This is where the rubber meets the road, and where many companies have failed. Giving lip service to a set of methods, ceremonies, artifacts, and practices will have you driving down a long road of disillusionment, burn-out, negativity, and suffering. Sounds harsh? Probably because it’s true.

 “The righter you do the wrong thing, the wronger you become.” – Russell Ackoff, Organizational Theorist, Author and Co-Author of 31 books

I was very encouraged to hear from all four of our guest contributors the same question: “Why?” – Any good beginning starts with the question of why you are doing it: “Why would you want to do Agile? Increase customer satisfaction? Increase quality? How are you measuring these things? Let’s start with some fundamental assumptions around change. When you adopt Agile you are talking about how we change the way we do something,” Don asserts. “So the real question is what do you want to do? If I’m looking at improving time to market, quality, and increasing customer satisfaction, that is something we can measure.”

“An improvement program must be targeted at what you want, not at what you don’t want.” – Russell Ackoff

If a company truly begins to look at the reasons around why they want to become more Agile, the more focused they will be in their strategy to know it, apply it, and internalize it as a business culture. Start by understanding where your company is today and ask tons of questions. Questions like:

  • Why do we really want to change?
  • What does success look like?
  • What data will be able to support value-added changes to our business?
  • What problem are we trying to solve?
  • What is the goal we are trying to achieve?
  • What is the target we are trying to hit?
  • Does our company desire increased transparency throughout the business?
  • Is our company environment and culture support increased collaboration?
  • Does management and leadership support change?
  • Does our company culture support more flexibility?
  • Is our company organizational structure and culture in alignment?

These are tough questions to ask, but our coaches agree that if you don’t ask these types of questions before you embark, you may find yourself in a place that was neither helpful for your company, nor valuable for your customers.

“You have to build a culture, or have a culture that supports ‘being Agile.'” Derek says. “There may need to be a leadership change, and a cultural change, meaning that there need to be people to support that change.” Chris adds that if you go into a company and think that you can to push something down their throats it won’t work. If you’re dogmatic about your approach you won’t succeed.” He goes on to say that: “I see a lot of people doing this. pushing a philosophy. Not taking the time to understand the business and their customers.”

Agile Isn’t a Good Fit If You’re Not Willing to Change

“Creativity is a discontinuity.” – Russell Ackoff

Agile in total is creating something new. Agile is a new way of thinking. Agile is introducing change into a system. “Anytime to introduce change into a system, things can get all messed up. People go through a period of chaos, and until it becomes normalized, things are going to be weird. A good coach normalizes the experience of change in a company” says Don. Mike adds that “Certain principles of Agile that are transcendent. I think that Agile is a good fit when you are delivering some tangible product or a good fit when you’re dealing with problem domains where either you don’t know the direction your heading, or you need to figure it out as you go. It may be that it’s not even valuable to figure it out up front because you need feedback. If you have brutal top down organization with heavily matrix’d projects structures… it might not work.”

Some organizations are already Agile because they are already set up in a way conducive to Agile. Meaning they fully embody the culture of collaboration, communication, flexibility, empowerment of teams and individuals, and try to do the best they can for their customers and get out of the way.

Bottom Line on Agile Consideration for Your Company

When thinking about whether your company should adopt Agile or not, take into consideration: Culture, the type of projects, products, or services your company builds, and even regulatory issues. Ask the tough questions: What problem are we trying to solve? Are we ready for change? Is our culture ready to bend, stretch, and ache a little to get there?

What to Prepare to Communicate to Management About the Value of Agile Implementation

You are ready. You are prepared. You have taken a look at your current environment and see that it is ripe for Agile opportunity. You know where you can find small wins. You know how to measure success in them. You have asked the tough questions and have received enough positive feedback from management and stakeholders on the potential. You are ready to roll. So what next?

“One never becomes a leader by continuously improving. That’s imitation of the leader.” – Russel Ackoff

At the end of the day, we need to back to the question: “What problem are we trying to solve?” Don asserts, “If we are trying to solve a simple problem, why are we taking on Agile? That may not be the best course of action.” Consider thinking about what sort of change you want to plant into your organization.

Define the Problem First, Then Ask How Agile Adoption Will Resolve That Issue

“When a system is taken apart, it loses its essential properties. The system behavior is not the sum of its parts, it’s the product of their interactions.” – Russel Ackoff

Take into consideration who your management is. Your message may just depend on where you management comes from. In terms of Personality Theory – People who come from development side are generally intuitive in nature. The business side? Data oriented. Don suggests that a healthy combination between showing data and describing what it means is a good approach.

Derek, speaking from his experiences, suggests looking at and preparing to discuss what we can deliver now. “You don’t need to ask for the kitchen sink every time. I want to give you the most important thing the quickest. The pain point often is the long duration of delivering value. Focus on the highest priority and problems we need to solve. From there your strongest critics can become your strongest allies.” 

Demonstration of successes can often help win over management. Chris suggests doing an assessment of the current environment, system, or processes. From there, one can easily see where some universal Agile practices make sense. “You also have to consider their context. Some care about how you improve things, some don’t care about that type of detail. Do they have to show stockholders? Do they need to be able to communicate risks and management overhead?”  

For Mike, he is cautious about what to communicate to management: “Very rare that management even cares whether you are using Agile or not. You may not even want to talk about team culture, retention, or happy developers. To me it’s about business value and predictability. Is the business getting the outcomes they desire or want?” 

Bottom Line for Communicating to Management About Going Agile

There are several factors we need to consider before we communicate:

  1. Data – Show measures of potential change and value of those changes
  2. Small wins – Sometimes bootstrapping small areas within your control can show demonstrable value
  3. Management Speak – Communicate to management about things they care about: Business value and predictability

 Summary

Agile can work for you and your organization. It takes patience, resilience, and even a bit of gumption. There are a lot of misconceptions around Agile and where it works and where it doesn’t. We agree that it can work in all companies, but your companies milage may vary on its environment, readiness for change, and management style. True Agile transformation is the goal. Take incremental steps towards that goal and exposure yourself to others who have faced the challenges you are facing. There is a whole community out there ready to help you.

Setting and Achieving Goals as a Change Agent

setting-goals-agile

SETTING AND ACHIEVING GOALS

I. Goal Achievement and Organization

  • These go hand in hand. There is much that can be said about goal orientation. It has to do with attitude. The attitude of the leaders to the goals and their potential problem and the followers and their attitudes. We need to be concerned as to whether our teams are “problem-centered,” or “objective-centered.”
  • Keep your eye on the doughnut, not the hole.
  • Of course we know that problems will arise, but we need to remain focused on the goal.

How can you tell if your team is goal-oriented or problem-oriented?

Questions to consider …

  • Are we generating new ideas to accomplish goals and objectives?
  • What has caused any changes?
  • Do we have room for the “out of step” leader … those with different ideas?
  • How do we utilize business session times? What happens in our church meetings? How much time do we discuss goals vs. problems?

How can a problem-centered company be “turned around?”

4 ways to develop objective-orientation

  1. Reorganize the decision-making process – decisions should be made at all levels of authority – decentralization
  2. Eliminate timidity – people must be willing to speak up
  3. Decentralized systems input – decentralizing the kind of information that is necessary to operate a company or organization – people in the organization then will know what is going on from the top and they are able to have input as to what happens at the top – employees are able to speak to the powers-that-be and share concerns and ideas
  4. Reduce long lead times – setting goals with sub-objectives – It is tough to keep people motivated by a long-range goal if they do not see anything intermediate (smaller achievement levels need to be built in) – Iterative development!

Goal Orientation

5 Aspects of the Importance of Goals and Objectives

  1. Objectives must be derived from what our company vision is, what it will be, and what it should be
  2. Objectives must be operational, capable of conversion into specific targets and assignments
  3. Objectives must make possible the concentration of resources and efforts – you nail up a specific target/goal so that everyone can focus on it
  4. Objectives must be multiple, never singular. We have many objectives.
  5. Objectives must relate to all areas of which the progress of the company depend

GOAL ACHIEVEMENT AND TIME MANAGEMENT

10 Common Time Wasters

  1. lack of planning – leads to crisis management
  2. crisis management – running from here to there, no plan for approaching the issue
  3. lack of prioritizing
  4. over commitment
  5. undo haste – rushing to do stuff – we are never really efficient in the heat of the moment
  6. paperwork (busy work) and reading (not all) – in the office only read that which is directly related to your goal achievement
  7. interruptions
  8. meetings
  9. indecision
  10. failure to delegate

The Seven Major Time-Wasters

  1. Telephone interruptions
  2. Unexpected visitors (drop-ins)
  3. Meetings (planned and extemporaneous)
  4. Fire-fighting (unexpected crises)
  5. Procrastination
  6. Socializing
  7. Indecision

Keys to Effective Time Management

  1. Make a firm decision to become excellent at time management
  2. Set clear goals and objectives that are consistent with your highest aspirations
  3. Create detailed plans of action and get organized for productive work
  4. Establish clear priorities and always work on your highest value tasks
  5. Develop good work habits and learn to concentrate on one task at a time (the most important task)
  6. Think through and carefully plan large jobs or complex tasks that involve several people

According to time management specialist, Michael Fortino, over the average lifetime people spend …

  • 7 years in the bath room
  • 6 years eating
  • 5 years waiting in lines
  • 4 years cleaning house
  • 3 years in meetings
  • 1 year searching for lost items
  • 8 months opening junk mail
  • 6 months sitting at red lights
  • 120 hours brushing your teeth
  • 4 minutes per day talking with your spouse – as it averages out
  • 30 seconds per day talking to you kids – as it averages out

We, therefore, must learn to save time …

We must continually ask…

  • “Why am I on the payroll?”
  • “What have been called to accomplish?”
  • “What am I supposed to do?”
  • “What results have I been called to achieve?”
  • “Is what I am doing right now contributing to the accomplishment of my most important goals, objectives, and responsibilities?”

These are some ideas on what is going on… now, what do we do about it? Time to focus. Do great work. I would/could say… that FOCUS… or the ability to focus is the key in a lot of ways. What other things would you add to my thoughts here?

The Best Training Isn’t What You Say, It’s What You Do

Dear Peter Saddington,

Thank you for the two day course for Scrum Masters.

I really liked the way you helped us learn Agile and Scrum through team activities.   Your training method itself reflected the principle that doing is more important than reading theory.

And you overcame so many obstacles (no projector / bad TV / faded markers / locked doors / late comers / fire drill) to enable us to focus on the session.  You showed us the qualities of a true Scrum Master.

Thank you also for sharing anecdotes from your personal experiences.  Your career path and academic qualifications inspire many of us.

I have been a huge fan of Agile principles, and I long to be part of a true Agile team.  You helped me picture the ideals with so much clarity that I truly hope my aspiration to be in an agile organization will come true soon.

Thank you.

Regards,
Sudeep

Making the World Round Again with Agile

scrum-cycle-peter-saddingtonOnce upon a time, the world of software development was flat. The customer had a product to be developed, which they handed off to a vendor, who handed it off to workers. In this linear process, odd schedules and isolated teams were the norm, and any true collaboration was limited to a few hours a day at best. The bible of instruction was a Requirements Document that stayed the same even as months passed and the software evolved in unforeseen ways. The unfortunate byproduct of this arrangement was a distance in time, geography and understanding – and the final product often suffered as a result.

Then agile came along, shook things up and gave outsourcing what it needed – a way to make the world round again. With agile, development is collaborative and flexible, rising from a foundation of frequent interaction and fast-paced response cycles. Instead of relying on an up-front set of instructions and working through testing and revision cycles at the end, teams work with customers throughout the cycle to optimize the design in real time. The result of this streamlined model: an accelerated road to market with a product that’s perfect the first time.

Consider this example:

Let’s say an online shopper needs to enter a credit card number to place an order. In our flat world model, that’s all we would know – we wouldn’t know what the screen should look like or what other data should be collected. The odds are high that we’d turn in a product very different from what the customer envisioned, and have to make expensive corrections. But in our round world model, we’d start with a well-rounded user story that would help us flesh out a more accurate, satisfying product. We’d also repeatedly meet with customer to collect their feedback and refine the product based on their ideas. The end result would be software that matched the customer’s vision.

So just how do you make this new world happen? Collaboration is key – that much is clear. However, it’s also important to know that this round world doesn’t just happen laterally, but longitudinally. Read on for the best practices that can turn your software development world round again.

Tactical Execution – Lateral Agile

Communication.

Like we said above, in the flat world of waterfall development, customers hand the Requirements Document over the fence to the provider as a static directive that lays out a problem to be solved – and the two businesses don’t intersect again until the vendor hands back complete, working software. As you might guess, that leaves more than a little room for guesswork and assumptions. Agile, however, relies on frequent communication and multiple interactions per day to keep the project on course. The teams clarify what will be built, answer questions and request feedback. We synchronize the communication rhythm and ensure that all team members have tools like Skype to enable immediate conferencing.

The difference is colossal. Imagine building a house in the United States; normally the owner would provide regular feedback on the flooring, shower tiles or cabinet finish so the builder could rectify mistakes on the spot. But if the owner only saw the house once it was complete, correcting all of the wrong features would be a massive and costly endeavor. This is the exact fate good agile communication prevents.

Location.

Even when you’re working on a project within your own company, smooth collaboration can be a challenge. When a project involves a customer, a vendor and an outsourced team, the potential for communication breakdowns and lost opportunities are even greater. For this reason, smart customers and vendors recognize the wisdom of using workers who are close by. Using an Indian team might make the most sense for a company in that time zone, while using a Mexican team could be the best choice for an American business. The physical proximity can lead to more efficient supply chains, faster delivery times and easier meeting access, something not to be overlooked.

Meetings.

Agile is all about staying attuned to user stories and customer needs, so we can build the most relevant, useful product possible. And the way we do that is through meetings. Daily huddles help us identify potential problems, reduce email, eliminate roadblocks, and incorporate customer feedback. Instead of disconnecting from the customer during development, we invite them to experience the software features in progress and provide feedback for corrections and enhancements. Not only does this lead to greater customer satisfaction, it saves time and money correcting errors post-production.

Strategic Choices – Longitudinal Agile

Cultural compatibility.

While outsourcing models involving offshore teams may work for some projects, agile teams benefit far more from using teams in culturally relevant locations. Near-shoring has become a popular model for agile development for many reasons; it offers the considerable cost savings of outsourcing while eliminating time zone difficulties and language barriers. Instead the team works with developers that live in complementary time zones and share a similar culture. The result is deeper engagement, tighter collaboration and increased profitability.

Shared agile understanding.

To design the best possible software, all players on an agile project should ideally operate as one team – and this is best accomplished by utilizing a shared framework that defines roles, processes and systems. All teams should observe the same daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly operational rhythm, as well as a common vocabulary; when you consider the potential for different definitions between team members or with customers, the need for precision become clear.  Taking the time to clarify coding terms or testing stages can eliminate misunderstandings and enhances communication, ensuring that the teams grasp the customer’s expectations.

There’s no doubt that agile has simplified and accelerated the world of software development. By adopting agile methodologies, teams can reconnect with their customers and each other for cost savings, faster time-to-market and greater productivity. And by weaving communication and collaboration into every step of the project cycle, agile teams can offer their customers the most accurate and perfect product possible.

[Cliff Schertz is the founder and CEO of Tiempo Development, which provides cloud-focused companies with a powerful, integrated platform of services know as Tiempo Quality System™ (TQS)that transforms the way their products are developed, deployed and supported. For more than 25 years, Mr. Schertz has been leading and growing successful technology service companies, enabling his customers to achieve superior performance, high customer satisfaction and profitability.]

Agile Coach Leadership Traits

scrummaster-agile-leadership-servant-job-description

What is Leadership? 

Three Styles

  1. Autocratic – Has to do with a totalitarian approach to leadership. This is more of an attitude than a leadership style.  This leader demands instant obedience, no discussions from underlings are desired. This is NOT a desirable leadership approach.
  2. Free-rein – The opposite of autocratic. This is more of a “hands off” approach. This is a good approach when dealing with highly skilled and expert individuals (professionals). Some of the more “blue collar” type individuals actually do not desire a free rein approach. They are told what to do and when to do it at work, they almost expect similar treatment at church.
  3. Participatory – Typically the best approach. Group decision-making, multiple leadership. There is, however, a leader at the head.

 Three Components

  1. PersonThe particular personality traits and leadership attributes the leader brings to the table. There are different personality types and individuals will respond differently and accordingly to this personality depending upon his or her personality.
  2. Group – The question is: “What kind of leader does this group actually need?” AM I WHERE I NEED TO BE?
  3. Situation – Leadership is situational. We can take the same leader who was successful in one scenario and place him or her in another scenario and NOT have the same exact results. Happenings may be slower, faster, not at all. Rather than success, failure could be more commonplace.  This could be related to any number of factors: geographical, cultural, social issues, political differences, phraseology, management approaches, leadership styles, etc.

Three Terms

  1. Leader – Really comes down to what a person is. He or she IS a leader. Generally a leader is one who has the ability to influence individuals to follow a particular direction or pursue a particular goal. John Maxwell, “Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.” Leaders are goal-oriented.
  2. Administrator – These are more result-oriented. They strive for order, to correct failures, and operate systems.
  3. Manager – same as administrator.

Leaders inspire people, but managers depend on systems. Managers attempt to adjust to change, while leaders attempt to produce it.

Leadership Check Up Continue reading “Agile Coach Leadership Traits”

Becoming an Agile Coach – Effective Communication Techniques

take-the-power-back-power-to-people

Effective Communication Techniques 

Communication requires cultivation of techniques. It is not something that comes naturally. The number one reason relationships fail is poor communication (leads to massive misunderstanding).

Five Conditions to meet for effective communication:

  1. Desire – you must want to be effective. It really must be a consuming passion. Love for coaching and teaching should drive you to desire excellence.
  1. Understand the process of communication – the three aspects of communication MUST be understood and appreciated. We use words, but we also use imagery and gestures. We also receive data back from listeners. What seems so easy is really a very trying art and science. But this can become quite easy once we appreciate the process of communication. We are dealing with needs, emotions, feelings, and realities. These are serious issues and we must take them seriously.
  1. Master the basics – three basic skills
    • Connecting with the listeners
    • Conveying information in ways they can understand it
    • Checking responses (interest levels and connectivity is seen in body language)
  1. Dedication to Practice – It’s time tested. Which means you won’t be a rockstar on day one.
  1. Patience and Persistence – time is our friend. We will get better. There is simply no way it cannot happen if we follow the first four conditions. Self-evaluation is of tantamount importance.

How do I get people to pay attention to me?

We all want attention. We thrive on it and want more of it.  It is human nature, but it is also an enemy of the Agile communicator. Why? Because we want to draw people’s attention, not to us, but to the potentially life-changing affects of being agile…

The first law of communication is audience attention. You must get their attention.

Three techniques for getting and keeping attention:

  1. Pay attention to others and they will pay attention to you. Work the crowd. Don’t simply appear. We must be the right person, at the right place, at the right time. We speak truthfully to needs, fears, hurts, and on practical and relational matters. In the speaking event, the listeners are our top priority, not us or even our message..
  1. Overcome the stiff competition for attention. People are no longer getting the personal touches they desperately need. We are closer physically than ever before, but fail to connect with most people. Ever notice the service attendant at the drive-through window? Ever notice how people will not acknowledge each other in elevators? People tune out or “filter” people out of our lives or environments. This makes communication very difficult.
  1. Be interesting! Build messages in creative ways! Push yourself beyond your self-created limitations. People come to speaking events prepared to “turn on the filters.”

5 tactics to improve communication Continue reading “Becoming an Agile Coach – Effective Communication Techniques”

Ideas on Managing Distributed Teams Using Agile [3/3] – Review and Conclusion

globalization-agile-distributed-teams

Things to be followed by Distributed team in Sprint review meeting:

  • Keeping Track of the Stakeholder Comments -During the sprint meeting, the distributed team needs to capture these comments so the Product Owner and the development team can decide which ones they will act on.
  • Effects of Distance – The facilitator of a distributed retrospective needs to understand the cultural differences in the team. SM needs to understand how different cultures interact when they want to change something
  • Or have issues they want to talk about that can help the facilitator encourage participation from all team members.
  • Release Planning –The number of Sprints to map out and use with “Look ahead Planning Technique” will depend on Sprint length, dependencies, and needs of the teams involved.
  • Engaging Stakeholders – At enterprise level environments, to address the diversity of data by the Scrum team, the PO can help identify which customers are representative of different markets.
  • Resolving Blockers – The SM should create a list of blockers and assign them to team members or managers. The SM should also ensure the team is burning through the blocker list.
  • Handling New Requests in the Middle of a Sprint – In Distributed Scrum, it becomes mandatory that the team commits to sending requests through the Product Owner(s), who will decide the priority of the request in the Product Backlog.
  • Demos May Provide a False Sense of Completion – Add a DRAFT watermark on any screenshots or to use data that is clearly not real, to avoid false sense of completion to the stakeholders. Setting Expectations – The facilitator, for distributed teams, should talk to the team ahead of the first retrospective and explain the expectations for the retrospective.
  • Remote Demonstrations – Network Delays and Poor Performance – Distributed Team should test their tools ahead of time to be sure the distributed meeting will run smoothly, without network poor performance

The team can also consider making the recordings available for download before the demonstration meeting and discussing them through a teleconference.

Understanding the Team Members’ Personalities

Team have a different combination of personalities, and the facilitator of the retrospective needs to understand the personalities of team members to lead the meeting effectively.

  • Teleconference Meeting – Distributed teams with overlapping work hours should use a teleconference call to the same phone number every day to hold their Daily Scrum meetings.
  • Videoconference Meeting – The main advantage of this approach is that team members get to see one another, so there is less nonverbal communication loss. Dealing with Defects – Distributed team may want to consider creating a user story with a certain number of story points in the Sprint to deal with the problems, OR, they can set a priority for the maintenance tasks as per the customer log OR create a subteam to focus only on handling these issues during the Sprint OR depending on the skill set of the technical support team team to make the necessary code changes
  • Services May Vary by Location – Set up a single machine with a standard configuration that everyone uses during the demonstration meeting. Before the start of the meeting, distributed team members can access the machine (remotely or locally) to bookmark links, set up scripts, and do a quick dry run of their presentation.
  • Respecting Cultural Differences – SM needs to make sure cultural difference should not be taken lightly during the retrospective meeting in distributed teams
  • Managing Dependencies within the teams – Agile teams will not try to account for every possible dependency at the start of the project, but will look ahead two or three Sprints to ensure that teams are ready to deal with dependencies, using INVEST model
  • Gaining Commitment – With a distributed team,team members who are sensing that other team members have unspoken issues need to take responsibility for drawing attention to the issues to SM because of this, the SM needs to rely on the whole team to take responsibility for ensuring good communication.

Approaches to Handling Time Zone Issues

Distributed Teams can use four different methods to deal with distributed Daily Scrums where the team has members with no overlap in their work hours, as follows:

  • Daily Scrums through documentation
  • Liaison approach
  • Alternating meeting times
  • Share the pain Disruptions at the Team Member Level – Handling Stories the Team Cannot Complete During the Sprint – Before working toward the solution, the team first needs to identify the work they need to do to complete the story through meetings between team members or with the Product Owner.
  • Asking for Comments Before the Retrospective Meeting – What Went Well and What Can We Improve?
  • Ask the team for comments about issues or problems they noticed since the previous
  • Sprint retrospective and summarize them for team discussion. The result is still an action plan and a list of behaviors the team needs to change or continue in the period until the next Retrospective.

Risks

During the Release Plan, the PO will want to identify the risks associated with the project and teams, when possible, the mitigation plan for each of them Note: No one should interpret silence as agreement. Team members should phrase questions in a way that needs a verbal response to improve the understanding within the team. Precautions to be taken while conducting Distributed Scrum meeting

  • Increased distraction – Background noise can be distracting on a teleconference so teams should chose a room to conduct the meeting.
  • Handling Blockers During the Sprint – In the large scale enterprise transitioning to agile, the SM needs to hear from Distributed Scrum Team members who are facing blockers and dealing directly with inhibitors will help increase the velocity of the team over time, as well as the velocity of other teams as they transition to Scrum.
  • Provide Questions to Focus the Discussion – In distributed setup, team members respond to a set of questions developed or selected by the team. The purpose is to focus on a few issues and address them effectively instead of trying to address a lot of issues and address them poorly.
  • Coordinate Multiple Product Owners of different teams – Product Owners meet regularly to discuss Product Backlogs, dependencies, and links between and boundaries between user stories w.r.t. different teams
  • Release Plan Check or Update: Enterprise Scrum Teams often begin providing tasks for high-priority user stories before the Sprint Planning meeting. All team members discuss the tasks because it helps with communication for distributed and scaled teams and provides opportunities to find better ways of completing the user stories. Silence on a teleconference is not a commitment.
  • Keeping the Team Engaged – Possibly the best way to stay engaged and to make sure that others on the team stay engaged is: Awareness. Build awareness of what the team is working on.
  • Advertising. Advertise for collaboration.
  • Attack blockers. The team and SM should strive to fix all blockers within one hour of the Daily Scrum
  • Responding to Questions During the Sprint – For enterprise product development, the PO should look for ways to match representative stakeholders with the teams’ working hours and to be available during that time as well. For applications the team is developing for a specific client, the Product Owner may not have the flexibility to choose stakeholder representatives available during the full working day of the client.
  • Discussing Reported Issues – During their retrospective, the team reviews the reported issues and, if others feel strongly enough, the team addresses them, creates their action plans, and log them as actions they will revisit in follow-on Sprint retrospectives to evaluate their success.
  • Facilitating the Meeting – In a distributed environment, as individuals come into the call, they will identify who they are. The SM calls each person and asks for their response. They may respond in the order they arrived at the teleconference or the SM may choose to call on each person
  • Sharing Time Zone Challenges – One approach to help manage such cases is to make sure that distributed teams in different time zones are fully self-sufficient and the team spreads the work to minimize dependencies.
  • Managing Time Effectively – Limit the discussions to a limited set of issues, it is important for the team to agree, this is the right set to be talking about in the meeting. The meeting facilitator may want to keep a window of time open for unplanned issues that come up during the retrospective.
  • Invest in Smarter Development – Test automation and continuous integration help agile teams to complete user stories within a Sprint, working together or for distributed teams.
  • Taking Daily Scrum Notes – Helps the distributed team members to overcome language problems, plan and learn. Chat Tools & Wiki help distributed teams to do Daily scrums.
  • Continuous Integration – Continuous integration is the key to delivering stable, high-quality code consistently and quickly, which results in reducing time to market for any distributed agile team Release Retrospectives – The team talks about the project, and then defines and records the milestones in the project like initial training, team formation, Stand -up Meetings, start of development, middle of release, deployment etc.

Coordinating Agile and Non-Agile Teams

Making sure the non-agile team is aware of the priorities of the agile teams and keeping dependencies visible can help to prevent blockers between the teams. Scrum of Scrum can solve distributed team road blocks, future dependencies, commitments to other team members, issues with integration, and other points that impact one another.

  • Reports Any Build Failures to the Team – Allows the Distributed team to know the current state of the code in the integration branch of the source control system, generating a notification email for build success or failure.
  • Face to Face Collaboration –SM should reduce the amount time spent each day on project setup tasks, which will extend the duration of the project startup tasks and enables to build trust and relationships needed in distributed development efforts.
  • Reduces the Risk of Integrating Code – Continuous integration ensures a build runs regularly and allows the distributed team to identify integration issues earlier when they are less costly to fix. This practice helped the team to identify design problems and avoid introducing defects in scenarios we did not cover. These smaller testable deliverables allow the team members testing the feature to start their work in parallel with the development.
  • Establishes Greater Confidence in the Product – When developers are doing the unit testing of their code, they should also create automated unit tests as continuous integration certifies every build, developers can make changes with more confidence and the entire team can remain in sync with the latest build.
  • Reduces the Time to Find Integration Issues – Developers receive the build status by email, so they can see and fix problems. The next time the build runs, the build status changes from fail to pass automatically.
  • Improves the Efficiency of the Team – Distributed Teams efficiency can be improved by automating once and then reusing as much as possible. This removes human error, provides consistency, and frees up people to do higher-value work.
  • Builds Can Run at Different Frequencies – Setting up the hourly build helps the distributed team to know about a failure closer to the time of the code integration, and team members can take action on it earlier.
  • Test Automation – To streamline the testing and help the distributed team to get as much done as possible within a two week Sprint, teams should automate time-consuming manual processes where possible
  • Dedicated Automation Teams- The developers in distributed teams should tell what is ready to be automated to allow testers to closely couple with the product. And other testers in the distributed team doing manual executions and informs their highest-priority items for automation as well.
  • Identify High-Value Automated Tests – Testing installation and configuration of the operating system, regression tests, as well as acceptance into testing tests all have a high rate of return because the distributed should often repeat and in different environments.
  • Automate What Is Stable – Automated test cases should be created for parts of the project that are stable will help teams improve their effectiveness and avoid rework.
  • Test-Driven Development – For distributed teams, if someone is working on code written by a developer in another geographical location, having the built-in documentation in the code helps reduce their dependency on the author and enables them to work with the code faster. Working directly with the source code provides a common language for the developers and removes languages barriers.
  • Helps Reduce the Time to Fix Defects – By using such tests and fixing the area where the problem is occurring, the developer in distributed teams can save the time needed to create a full build, start the application, get to the right place, and test the fix manually.
  • Helps Improve Code Quality and Provides a Safety Net for Changes – As the distributed team should write the unit tests first, providing test coverage for all or most of the code, thus, provides an early defect detection process where developers can improve the code knowing the existing set of tests will detect any problems.

Conclusion

Distributed team needs to go for mandatory training to run into full fledge agile teams so that they could understand the potential impact of making the change. Although the project teams are undergoing through while adjusting to be a distributed agile teams, it becomes more important for them to understand and adhere to Scrum, rather than immediately thinking that Scrum needs to be changed.

I believe that collaboration becomes very important in distributed teams as they collectively responsible for delivering on their commitments. One important key to having success in managing distributed team is to have a high commitment level from all team members, and the best way to get that is to give them ownership over how they will work.

Another key to embrace self-managed distributed team is valuing the entire team and not having an “us versus them” atmosphere between different Scrum Teams on the project. The best ways to build relationship within teams is to find ways to share the pain of being a distributed team, to get to know each other as people, and to foster frequent, quality communications between team members.

Another way to introspect the distributed team management is to use their Sprint Retrospectives to see what they are doing and how they are communicating is working for them; when they need to adjust, they should do so as fast as possible.

I must say the teams with members distributed across sites can enhance code ownership and improve autonomy essential to team self-organization. Automated communication of Product and Sprint backlogs throughout the organization combined with upward reporting of teams’ status to management can tightly align the team distributed teams together.

Ideas on Managing Distributed Teams Using Agile [2/3] – The Retrospective

globalization-agile-distributed-teams

Retrospective Timings :

To be effective and timely, distributed teams should call joint retrospectives as soon as possible after having their own team meeting. Depending on the no. of teams involved in a joint retrospective, teams may want to limit the number of participants from each Scrum Team to keep the meeting productive.

  • Team Composition – Teams >=9 people should consider geographic closeness and proper distribution of skills as well as team size so as to build self-organizing teams
  • First level of Sprint Planning – The PO, SM will use a screen-sharing tool to display the vision, sprint goal, user story, the estimates the team provided, and the acceptance conditions for the user story.
  • Answering the 3 questions: Team members should communicate information that brings value to others on the team. They should also try to identify team members that can help them resolve their issues.
  • Documentation helps to Overcome Distance: Because of language barriers, distributed teams often need more written documentation than collocated teams. Another approach is to record the demonstration before the meeting to allow the developers to create the recording at their own pace in the language of the meeting or to have a fluent speaker speak over the recorded demonstration.
  • Hold Joint Retrospective – The Distributed Teams working together will conduct their individual
  • Sprint retrospectives at the end of each Sprint and then will conduct a joint retrospective.
  • The benefit of this approach is that it promotes communication between the various teams involved in a project
  • Individual Scrum Teams should aim to have the lowest distribution level possible encouraging feature teams over component teams.

Dealing with Incomplete Stories

The PO takes the impact of dependencies into consideration when reprioritizing the Product Backlog due to work the team did not complete during the Sprint, highlighted in Scrum of scrum Coordinating the Team on a Daily Basis – Priorities can change daily. The Daily Scrum meeting provides a daily synchronization point for the team and allows them to revise their plans regularly. Using the Right Tools : In a distributed environment, tools and good practices can help team members communicate more effectively, but it is more important to make sure the tools the team introduces will help them get the job done.

Scheduling for Teams with Overlapping Work Hours – Make sure all team members of distributed team, regardless of the time zone, can complete their work and prepare for the demo within overlapping work hours.

Larger Retrospectives

Distributed team members can reflect and comment on release quality and capability. The team talks about the project, and then defines and records the various milestones within the project to improve on or continue in future releases.
Enterprise planning tools for distributed team members, PO & SM to develop more than one feature to address a single solution so as to disaggregate the higher-priority features into user stories that can fit within a Sprint.

Checking Estimates from Preplanning Teams

In scaled environments where teams send representatives to help with preplanning, it is important
the teams who are going to be doing the work revisit the estimates

Committing to the Team

Team members are making a verbal commitment to their team when they state what they are going to do today, creating an opportunity for the rest of the team to confirm they met their commitments yesterday.

Valuing the Whole Team

SM should focus on an “us” versus “them” attitude in the distributed team, due to more delays in communications & fewer opportunities to work together Scheduling for Teams with No Overlapping Work Hours.

Alternate meeting time

The distributed team holds one Sprint Review meeting during the normal workday for part of the Scrum Team and holds the other Sprint Review meeting during the normal work hours of the other part of the Scrum Team.

Building Trust

SM needs to develop a sense of trust and honesty with one another, which in turn will lead to a wider degree of openness.

  • Single Backlog for Multiple teams – The different skill sets in the team needs to deliver user stories that are available across each distributed location
  • Separate Backlog for Multiple teams – The Scrum teams work independently from one another and have their own individual Sprint backlogs, but the Sprint dates are the same marking their interdependencies and risks in the Sprint preplanning sessions or in a Daily Scrum of Scrums.
  • Reviewing Changes Based on Stakeholder Feedback – The team would review changes made since the preplanning meeting, and the PO would confirm the priorities of the Product backlog.
  • Verifying Progress – Tasks not opening and closing regularly are an early sign the team may be going off track. Team members not showing regular progress may be facing outside distractions the SM should reduce or remove.
  • Transparency – Distributed agile teams should use project management tool to identify tasks that are open, in progress, and completed so everyone is aware of the current status.

More on the Sprint Review and Conclusion next!

Ideas on Managing Distributed Teams Using Agile [1/3] – Introduction and Ceremonies

globalization-agile-distributed-teams

Today the businesses are shifting to emerging economies due to reduced business operations cost and easily available workforce, like Russia, China, India, Philippines etc. If I put it more precisely, tomorrows business would be more virtual and distributed with distributed as its key element. Hence forth, the need for better managing the teams, using right tools and process become critical day by day for any enterprise company.

Shift and Need of having Distributed Agile Teams

  • Globally distributed teams reduce costs
  • Reaching Market more quickly with the “follow the sun’ Model
  • Distributed Teams Expand Access to New Markets
  • Acquisitions as a result of consolidation resulting in companies working together to integrate their business
  • Expanding for Innovation and Thought Leadership
  • Telecommuting gives options to communicate with their teams more effectively
  • Collaboration Tools – Improved tools for distributed communications and server-based, multiuser tools for product development are removing barriers, and more teams view distributed collaboration as an alternative.

Handling Distributed Agile Teams

Distributed teams heighten the need for clear, timely communication between sites. You might be thinking of some questions as the complexity increases with distance as time zones, language barriers, and cultural differences get in the way, let me resonate it for you:

  • Are distributed teams difficult to manage?
  • Are they failing to meet some expectations?
  • Are they having trouble working as a team?
  • Is team morale a problem?

Agile can’t fix every problem, but it can bring them out into the open where the team can evaluate and correct them. Agile puts challenges under a magnifying glass. As the image under the glass grows larger, they scream for attention, and your team’s performance will improve after they address the challenges and correct dysfunctions. Continue reading “Ideas on Managing Distributed Teams Using Agile [1/3] – Introduction and Ceremonies”

Why It’s So Hard to Hire Great People

google-team-science

Google admitted that its infamous brainteasers — e.g.: “How much should you charge to wash all the windows in Seattle?” — are awful at predicting who will be a good employee.

Your reaction might be: um, FINALLY. And, sure, thinking about windows-per-housing-unit isn’t the most direct way to assess engineering skill or creativity. But Google’s flawed strategy was the answer to another brainteaser: What’s the best way to hire great employees, anyway? People are complicated, organizations are complicated, matching people and organizations is complicated, and it’s extremely difficult to predict who will be brilliant and who will be a bust.

“Years ago, we did a study to determine whether anyone at Google is particularly good at hiring,” Laszlo Bock, Google’s senior vice president for people operations, told LinkedIn. “We looked at tens of thousands of interviews, and everyone who had done the interviews and what they scored the candidate, and how that person ultimately performed in their job. We found zero relationship. It’s a complete random mess.”

Brainteasers didn’t matter. Colleges didn’t matter. GPAs? Yeah, those didn’t matter, either. The ability to hire well turned out to be utterly random for everybody…

Frankly, this is why understanding culture is so important. Google could have used something like TeamScience to help them:

– Understand their unique team culture
– Then hire the right cultural fit to their teams

Makes sense right? We already know that it makes sense… but most companies don’t take the time to do a cultural survey.

[HT: The Atlantic]

Agile Habla Aqui?

Agile doesn’t speak English, Spanish, or Martian. It just speaks efficiency and speed to market. Here’s how to implement agile across languages.

As agile grows in popularity, many businesses are finding that one of its greatest gifts is its common vocabulary. Other methodologies often struggle to communicate across different languages, processes and cultures. But by working from a foundation of mutual understanding based on a shared language, agile prevents misperceptions, delivers the customer’s vision and accelerates time to market – all by implementing some simple yet highly effective practices.

So how does this common language of agile development work? While smart vendors and customers will make an effort to work with culturally compatible teams, the effort to synchronize expectations and processes can’t stop there. Teams from different regions, backgrounds and companies will still need to reach out and create a synchronized language.

The five agile practices below can help teams work across their differences to ensure a smooth, streamlined project cycle.

Provide real-world examples of what we mean

Effective agile teams will find a way to work around an unavoidable truth: we all define words and concepts differently. We come from different backgrounds, some of us speak different languages, and all of us are influenced by sources such as former training, bosses or projects. As a result, our viewpoints and definitions can vary widely, which can quickly lead to erroneous assumptions on a project. By using real-world examples to accompany our agile terminology and directives, any guesswork is eliminated.

Let us look at the following scenario. We recently entered a new software development domain. There is usually “shorthand” that has developed among team members when they have worked shoulder to shoulder for a long time. In this particular case, our customer’s team has worked together for over 15 years. So the terms used while expressing requirements in user stories are clear to them. For us as an external developer it would have been easy to misunderstand the meaning of that shorthand. However, the real-time interaction required of agile allows us to overcome such deviations due to misunderstanding in just a matter of hours.

Implement a framework like CMMI or SCRUM

On one project I found myself in Mexico with an extremely diverse team. Engineers, developers, economists and government workers all played different roles on this project, and everyone was focusing on a different piece of the puzzle. The viewpoints and ideas clashed to such an extent that I really doubted we could hit the project deadline or meet the customer’s goals. Yet in the end we did deliver a successful product – and it was because we implemented a framework that helped everyone understand and carry out their specific roles. The magic of implementing the right framework is that it defines parameters, institutes clear communication and spells out the right processes and directions. Putting a framework in place at the start helps dispel any confusion over priorities and roles down the road.

Define the literal language

This is absolutely necessary in a time-boxed iterative process. The reason is obvious; if we’re working with 14-30 day development cycles, even a slight misunderstanding can lead the project disastrously off course in a very short time. Once again, remember that we all bring different understandings to a project.

done-not-equal-doneThis is never as evident as it is with the word “done.” Generally, a team’s Definition of Done (DoD) is aimed at bringing a standardized quality to meeting client demands and making success repeatable throughout the project. But the standards themselves can differ from team to team. One team might decide that all coding, testing and peer review must be completed, before it can be called done. Another team might decide to split their DOD into additional levels of Done Done and Done Done Done. Still another might have adaptable DoD depending on the project type. To make sure that everyone is on the same page at every point in the project cycle, precise definitions are critical so take the time to develop them and ensure all team members use them.

Think of it like building a house

In the United States, you often pay for your house long before you move into it, since the house has to pass certain inspections and is only considered ‘move-in ready’ after those inspections. In another country, on the other hand, you might move in before construction is officially complete and then keep working on it while you’re in residence. Such different practices and expectation can easily lead to a misunderstanding – so you can see why it’s vital to clarify the meaning of our words.

Stay focused on the promise to the customer

True, a lot of businesses like to talk about their “promises” – but when it comes to agile, this isn’t just empty talk. Accountability is woven into every fiber of the agile model, while teams keep the customer’s needs in mind at every stage. The Promises Triangle aligns customers, providers and workers by ensuring the workers are both informed of the promise to the customer and empowered to fulfill it. The purpose of this diligent accountability? Avoiding a common pitfall of waterfall model, where the Requirements Document begins a promise that eventually winds through non-technical staff who then add in unrealistic promises – a process that often leads to disappointment in the final product.

Prioritize frequent communication and feedback

Agile cycles are built around user stories – first by gathering those stories, then prioritizing user needs, then deciding what can be delivered within the designated timeframe. Teams also constantly solicit and incorporate feedback to maximize customer satisfaction. On a practical level, this means that customers must be prepared for frequent interaction and able to deliver clear feedback, while vendors must be able to explain how element X affects element Y in a way their customers will understand.

Overcoming different backgrounds and conflicting expectations is important in any business endeavor – but in agile development, it’s absolutely critical for a successful product. By implementing thoughtful and effective strategies to align efforts, teams can eliminate potential missteps and fulfill their promises to their customers. In the end, it doesn’t matter what languages and backgrounds teams bring to the table – by following the above practices, everyone will be speaking the shared language of agile.

Guest post from Tiempo Development, which provides cloud-focused companies with a powerful, integrated platform of services that transforms the way their products are developed, deployed and supported.

Peter Saddington Session on the Science Behind High Performance Teams #agile2013

Dear Peter,

Thank you for being a part of Agile2013. Following is some information about your session.

  • Number of attendees at the beginning of your session: # 170
  • Number of attendees at the end of your session: # 170

We asked attendees to indicate whether they would recommend your session to their peers:

  • Yes (Green): # 120
  • Maybe (Yellow): # 3  ***CANT PLEASE EVERYONE*** 🙂
  • No (Red): # 0

 Thanks,

Agile Alliance Team

=========
Had a great time! Thanks Agile Alliance!

=========
Below is the scribd version:

Action &amp; Influence – The Science of High Performance Teams Teams Agile2013 Peter Saddington FINAL

Only You Can Prevent Agile Pandamonium

It’s no surprise that VersionOne wants software teams to use an agile development tool. Preferably theirs. Now they have an ally… and these videos are so LoLs!

Meet Agile Panda, one mischievously destructive giant panda who has very little patience (ok who are we kidding?… NO patience) for those still using notecards, Gantt charts and whiteboards to track their projects.

Robert Holler as PandaAgile Panda’s sole mission is to find agile teams using manual tools and destroy shit around their office – just to prove a point that having a centralized agile project management tool is the only way to go. Of course if you do use old-school agile tools, you’re not likely to see this creature blowing something up in your office. Or nailing you point-blank in the crotch with a paint gun.  But you do risk creating pandemonium (or is it pandamonium?) without that centralized visibility.

I found this series entertaining. Looks like VersionOne has posted a few episodes so far; I’m looking forward to what Agile Panda jacks up next!

Check out the “Agile Pandamonium: Say Yes to the Tool” series on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mEFSzPxFMkg&list=PLgtht2Pp8VhZM8iCNd0NUxy7mImbEkWGd[Oh yeah, and I did hear that some of the VersionOne employees involved in filming these things actually got called into HR for the stunts they pulled inside the building! So if you get even a tiny chuckle from these, make it worth their penalty and share the link!]

version-one-pandaAgile Panda on Twitter@StopAgilePanda

On Facebook at Agile Panda

Staying Agile Webinar – The Notes – High Performance Teams via Mentoring

If you missed last month’s webinar on How to Grow High Performance Teams Through Mentorship by Peter Saddington, we have attached the audio and slide deck below. Enjoy!

A few problems came up when recording, but we were able to save the audio.

$9.99 Apple Store Promotion! Get The Agile Pocket Guide Book on Sale! @ibookstore

apple-store-agile-pocket-guide

It’s here on the Apple Store: The Agile Pocket Guide. It’s right there in the “Learning Business Skills” brick on the main page, in conjunction with the Apple WWDC conference.

It is a two week Apple promotion dropping ebook prices to $9.99 starting 6/4 and running through 6/17.

Would love a tweet about it!:

The Agile Pocket Guide is now only $9.99 in the @iBookstore for the Apple #WWDC2013 – http://ow.ly/lHo6F

There are lots of other books on sale too… here are the other books at the promotion!:

Main Promo Link: https://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewRoom?cc=us&fcId=657275399&id=27829&mt=11&ls=1

agile-store-the-agile-pocket-guide-peter-saddington

A Personal Touch @JerryWeinberg @donaldegray

the-secrets-of-consulting

Having been a fan for so long of Jerry Weinberg’s work, I obviously took the opportunity to get something personal from him. His writing has so greatly influenced how I operate as a consultant and if you ever spend more than a couple hours with me, you’ll probably hear me quote him at some level.

Thanks a bunch Jerry. Even though the Law of Raspberry Jam is alive and well… coupled with the Weinbergs’ Law of Twins… sometimes statistical outliers do occur. Count me to be one of them.

Also, thank you Don Gray for being a great colleague, mentor, and friend. Oh, the client’s we’ll encounter together!

 

Transforming Your Business with Agile Culture [Guest Post]

Agile Team Structure

These days almost everyone is familiar with the benefits of Agile methodology. Marked by collaboration, self-managing teams and real-time response to customer feedback, Agile has evolved beyond buzzword status to become a pillar of the technology landscape. Its advantages are just as well-known: customer-oriented solutions, accelerated product release and cost savings, just to name a few.

The rewards are so remarkable, in fact, that some innovative companies are using the Agile paradigm to transform their business culture. My own business has done just that, and we are consistently meeting the goals we set out to accomplish. By applying the same Agile methodologies to drive business strategy and execution, many businesses – ours included – have achieved breakthrough results.

A Shift in Culture

So how do Agile businesses differ from traditional corporate cultures? It starts at the top. Many companies govern through a Command and Control management style that cascades instruction down a hierarchy. Communication and feedback are limited and slow-moving; rather than harness the expertise of the organization, the company acts on the judgment of a few, resulting in ineffective decisions.

Agile companies, on the other hand, operate with the flexibility and high performance of Agile development teams.  Because operations rely more on collaboration and communication, decisions and solutions are more accurate and effective. Employees are provided with their roles and the tools they need, then empowered to be self-managing.

Agile Business In Practice

You’re probably wondering exactly how Agile culture gets practiced on a day-to-day basis.

  • Daily meetings. Just as with Agile software development, brief and daily huddles should answer three questions. What did you do yesterday? What will you do today? What is your main impediment? To ensure thorough communication, huddles should occur first with managers, then with teams. These meetings reduce email, identify potential problems, and clarify any changes necessary for successful execution.
  • Focus on removing impediments. Agile developers tend to focus on identifying roadblocks and removing them. The same approach here can address and resolve impediments before any negative impact can occur.
  • Goals. Agile development teams start out with their end game in mind, and aren’t afraid to envision impressive products. Agile professionals should do the same, and set major goals. For us, we created a big hairy audacious goal (BHAG) so that we had something to work toward. We had traditionally grown at 60 percent year-over-year but applying Agile to our business strategy has helped us position to reach our BHAG of 100 percent year-over-year growth.
  • Strategy. Working hand in hand with goals is strategy; smart Agile experts identify their desired outcome and draft a plan of how to reach it. Agile companies do the same thing by plotting a path to their goal, then empowering teams to execute that strategy throughout the company.
  • Success as a starting point. Demonstrating success right off the bat can motivate the rest of the company. Start with a department, give them an agile project with an isolated workflow, and then promote the success of that project to everyone else.
  • Self-managing teams. In Command and Control mode, you have an authority who controls and micromanages every project detail. In Agile culture, self-managing teams control their own destiny. On a practical level, this means your people must be trained and given the tools to be successful. Then you supply them with the task to be done and the timeframe, and let them execute.
  • Service. Agile teams pinpoint and prioritize “user stories” that highlight what they want to accomplish in a given time period. Once identified, the team owner assembles a cross-functional team that has the required skills to accomplish the project.  These teams self-organize and manage in way that they can accomplish the work in the require time period and produce world class service.

 

Roadmap to Revolution

As you might guess, adopting an Agile business culture can involve a learning curve. I considered it a control+alt+delete to the way we did business and still believe that you can’t dabble in applying Agile to your business strategy – you have to fully commit. The below tips can help you some avoid pitfalls. 

  • Be flexible. As the manager, it might feel unnatural to take on a non-management team role. But it’s important on agile teams to perform whatever work is needed at that time to succeed.
  • Establish and keep a rhythm. For our business, we set up daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual operations to ensure we had a thorough and well-executed plan. Your rhythm might be different, but it’s important to identify what your company needs, put that rhythm in place and stick to it.
  • You might not be developing software, but you do need a SCRUM Master, who is accountable for removing impediments so the team can deliver on their goals and deliverables. Make sure you have someone on the team who knows both the framework and the subtleties.
  • Give your team the tools for success. Team-oriented culture can benefit from tools like cloud platforms that facilitate collaboration and communication.

Embracing Change

Transforming your business with Agile methodologies requires a full commitment. This is a complete system overhaul, and leaders who adopt only half-measures will see inefficiency and poor returns.  But a full dive into Agile will bring the enhanced communication, empowered teams and faster execution that Agile is known for – and once you’ve experienced it, you’ll never want to go back.

Cliff Schertz is the founder and CEO of Tiempo Development, which provides cloud-focused companies with a powerful, integrated platform of services that transforms the way their products are developed, deployed and supported. For more than 25 years, Mr. Schertz has been leading and growing successful technology service companies, enabling his customers to achieve superior performance, high customer satisfaction and profitability.

Learn more about how to understand your culture using TeamScience.

3 Tools for Feeling Less Lonely when You’re Working Remotely [Guest Post]

Depression_02

[Guest post by Walter Chen] – In response to our post on depression and developers.

Developer depression is one of the most important issues that our community needs to address that no one is talking about.

The problem is often made even worse by the prevalence of remote work in companies that don’t recognize the risk of loneliness. Developers working virtually with their teams experience social isolation resulting from the diminished professional and personal interaction with your colleagues that you get from going into the office. And that literally can kill you.

A review of research published in 1988 found that “social isolation is on a par with high blood pressure, obesity, lack of exercise or smoking as a risk factor for illness and early death” . . .

Even without indulging in unwholesome behaviors, . . . loneliness can impair health by raising levels of stress hormones and increasing inflammation. The damage can be widespread, affecting every bodily system and brain function.

Via the New York Times, Shaking Off Loneliness

Fortunately, even as technology, in enabling virtual work, facilitates an accompanying loneliness, it can just as well help us be less lonely as we work remotely. Here are 3 tools that make remote work less lonely and lead us toward making remote work what it should be: awesome.

  1. iDoneThis

Chris Savage, CEO of Wistia, told me that iDoneThis helps his company of 20 feel like it did when it was just 4 people sitting around a table.

That tight feeling of camaraderie comes from a shared knowledge on the team of what everyone is working on, feeding the sense that the team is rowing together in the same direction. And this is essential for distributed teams.

iDoneThis makes syncing up very simple and lightweight. iDoneThis emails everyone on your team every day to ask, “What’d you get done today?” Just reply. The next day, everyone gets an email digest showing the team’s accomplishments from yesterday — which gets everyone on the same page, aligned, and ready to go.

It takes the pain out of a daily standup for remote teams, which is a common source of friction. When people have to wake up at weird times and when Skype drops the call over and over, people get frustrated. iDoneThis provides a remedy because it works asynchronously over email.

For entrepreneurs, like Laura Roeder, who’ve built million-dollar businesses with happy and healthy remote teams, iDoneThis is an essential tool “to create a cohesive team where work is recognized and valued,” which is vital to combating the sense of isolation and being out of the loop that so often accompanies remote work.

  1. Sqwiggle

There’s no substitute for face-to-face conversation when it comes to fighting loneliness. In fact, psychologist Frieda Fromm-Reichmann defines loneliness as “the want of intimacy,” and talking with another person in real-time and seeing their face conveys a far greater sense of intimacy than text on a screen.

Sqwiggle is a video chat app that gives you the immediacy of being in the same office and the intimacy of face-to-face conversation while you’re working remotely. This is a browser-based video chat app that you leave on while you work. Unlike Skype and Google Hangout, you don’t have to initiate a call to talk, and unlike text-based chat, you can actually see the faces of your teammates.

Everyone on your team keeps Sqwiggle running in the background all day while you’re working. To speak with someone, all you have to do is click on their face in the browser. Instant connection with no dialing or inviting, and you can simply start talking.

You can use chat room services like Campfire or Hipchat with your team to maintain some degree of social sanity — but for actually, you know, seeing your team, and looking at their lovely faces, and talking like humans should, nothing really fits the bill.

Via TechCrunch, Sqwiggle Makes Working Remotely Less Lonely, More Awesome

  1. Turntable.fm

Turntable isn’t a productivity tool at all. It’s actually liable to make your team less productive in the short term — but over time, I’ve seen firsthand how it helps people working remotely feel connected through music, which is a boost for long-term productivity.

On Turntable, each person gets their own cartoon avatar. When you join the same room, which is like a virtual nightclub, you all hear the same music chosen by the room’s DJs. Anyone can be a DJ, and the DJs take turns playing music from their own personal collection or from the service’s wide song selection. If you’re enjoying a song, just click a button — your head will start bopping and the DJ will receive a point. There’s a chat feature to talk about which songs are your favorites.

It’s surprisingly fun and provides a way to express yourself through music. Exploring and discussing your colleagues’ music tastes is a great way to get the sense that you’re hanging out together. One of the biggest casualties of remote work is not only professional interaction around work itself but the missed opportunities to grab a beer after hours and chat on a social level.

Getting to know your colleagues as individual human beings is one of the most powerful sources of connectedness, a key to happiness with work. Feeling like you’re on the same boat, visually interacting with each other, and having a bit of fun all add to that all-important human connection.