After running a survey of product developers, I collected the following 3 top challenges that product developers face in their work.
Unclear specifications with missing information like acceptance criteria, and that require large amounts of rework after we start developing a particular functionality
Finding out critical use cases too late (via bugs, real-user feedback, etc), which leads to long delays in the project.
We don’t have a clear and measurable definition of value, therefore it is always a fight of opinions where the HIPPO (highest paid person’s opinion) prevails most of the times – even when it goes against survey results.
A toolbox to solve these problems
Given these 3 main findings, it is easy to understand why delivering on time is hard for many teams. No matter how much goes into planning and estimating, when the agreement on value is missing, and the specifications of what to do are too fuzzy, we will inevitably find big gaps that lead to massive scope creep and delays.
But it does not need to be like these. There are simple tools I collected in my product developer’s toolbox (#PDevTOOLBOX) that can help alleviate or remove these problems. Based on your input through the #PDevTOOLBOX survey, I’ve created a booklet (15 min read) you can download and read while on the run in your mobile phone or tablet.
We like to keep our retrospectives fresh. We find it helps to reveal things we might not otherwise have found if we alter the format frequently. With this goal in mind, we follow a simple system:
Once a month we use our ”normal” retro format. Everyone in the team is familiar with this, and we can perform them quite quickly, with minimal prep work and explanation required. Basically, effective with very little admin.
Once a month we have our ”experimental” retrospective. A little more set-up time required, but a good opportunity for experimentation and explorations.
This is the story of one such retrospective.
Obviously, you can perform many Agile practices, but not be Agile. However, there are a lot of practices out there and sometimes teams can become focused solely on those that they are currently using, rather than looking at other tools they might bring to bear. This is where the Agile Practices Retrospective comes in.
In preparation for the retrospective, we created cards with various Agile practices as headlines, and a brief explanation of each listed on it. I also color coded them under various categories so they could be more easily identified from afar. Then we simply taped all these cards to a wall in their respective categories. There were about 50 cards in all.
With over 50 cards, there was a lot of information. We split into groups and started categorizing the cards under a new set of headings, it was made clear to all that they were not expected to read all the cards.
Doing (Working Well): Things we are currently doing, and quite happy with the way they currently work.
Doing (Could be better): Things we are currently practicing but could use improvement.
Not doing (By choice): Things we are not currently practicing, but have made a choice not to use in our context.
Not doing (Not tried): Things we are not doing, and have never really tried.
WTF!?!: We have no idea what this is, or what it means.
Deciding what to focus on
We obviously cannot talk about all these things. So, we used dot voting to decide what topics to focus on. Each team member was given 3 ”dots” for each of these types of vote:
We should start and or alter this practice in some way. (Indicated by a dot)
We would like to learn more about this practice. (Indicated by a +)
I also printed out simple list versions of the same information, as I knew it would be hard for everyone to gather around the board when deciding how to use their votes. Despite this, this was still not as successful as we would have hoped. Part of this is because we are actually two teams and our 3 customer representatives, so the whiteboard was too crowded. I feel this would go better with a single team.
Discussions and action points
We had open discussions and tried to create action points/experiments around the topics we had discussed. I will just give a very brief of what we arrived at:
Root Cause Analysis/ 5 Why’s
We even arrived at the fact that without formal tools, we are still quite good at root cause analysis. But perhaps a formal tool might reveal something we would have otherwise been unaware of.
Experiments: 1)Focus on using our discussion time during retrospectives (Generate Insight) to use more formal tools like 5 why’s.
2) When events are added to our timeline at daily stand-ups, then we should also consider doing a more in-depth analysis of those items.
Discussion: We felt that we very likely do have a product vision, and even a fair amount of impact mapping done for that, but this is not communicated to the entire team at a frequent enough rate. Also, we need to get better at following up these things.
Experiments: 1)Make the product vision more concrete and communicate it at a regular interval.
2)Follow the vision and impact map up at a regular interval.
Behaviour Driven Development (BDD):
Discussion: This is a discussion point we wanted to learn more about. So, the discussion was brief. We basically arrived at the fact that it was intriguing and we want to know more.
Experiments: 1)The two team members who know something on the subject will provide some links and a quick intro for everyone else.
2) Some of the team will experiment with these concepts in our ”Brain Day” next week.
This retrospective was reviewed well by the team, everyone generally liked it.
It was a fairly active retrospective, because of all the moving things around and working in teams, so the energy level remained high throughout.
Probably the best aspect of this retrospective was the addition of fresh concepts into the team, the idea to focus on things we wanted to learn more about was a good one. In the future, we would probably recommend only focusing on these things.
There was a fair amount of prep work involved in this one, although I consider it worth the investment, it wasn’t free. Hopefully, a bit cheaper for you, as we have provided the work we have done. Once again: https://tinyurl.com/l8loec6
It was too hard to get an overview with so many items, this may have been due to team size, and might have been possible to mitigate by having the team read the list beforehand.
Despite there being so many items, the list was not even close to exhaustive, and it was hard to leave off some practices that really should have been included.
Jeff is an Agile Coach who considers the discovery of Agile and Lean to be one of the most defining moments of his life and considers helping others to improve their working life not to simply be a job, but a social responsibility. As an Agile Coach, he has worked with driving Agile transformations in organizations both small and large.
Jeff is also involved in the Agile community and is one of the founding members of Gothenburg Sweden’s largest agile community at 1500+ members , and he also organizes the yearly conference www.brewingagile.org.
In this Episode we explore Leadership, what it means, and why it is such an important discipline for Scrum Masters.
Sean is an officer in the Canadian army reserves, turned Agile Coach. He shares with us what he learned about leading teams in his military career. How those lessons apply to knowledge work, and how to develop our Leadership skills.
In the armed forces, we look at leaders as someone who will be with us in harms way. To be able to function effectively as teams, leaders need to learn to work with teams in a manner that builds trust and empathy. Scrum Masters can learn a lot from how that is achieved in high-pressure situations.
The book mentioned on the topic of Trust: The 5 Dysfunctions of a team by Lencioni, includes many examples and practices on how we can help build trust within our teams. We also refer to Turn the Ship Around by Marquette, a book dedicated to explore the topic of leadership filled with lessons for Scrum Masters.
We also discuss what it means to be a successful leader, and review some of the Agile Manifesto principles that bear directly on leadership, and the practice of that discipline.
We are temporary stewards of our profession
Sean helps us to challenge our personal visions of leadership, what it means for our profession, and how it should influence our actions. “What type of organization do you want to build?”, Sean asks.
To help us develop our own understanding and vision of leadership Sean recommends 3 books:
Sean is an Enterprise Agile Coach with IHS Global. He has been involved with agile development for 8 years as a developer, product owner, and agile coach. Prior to his exposure to agile development Sean spent 13 years in the Canadian Army. In fact, Sean is known to point out that the Army is far more agile than most people think.
That background in the Canadian Army influenced his view of Leadership and the role of Leadership in creating and developing great teams.
You can connect with Sean Dunn on LinkedIn, check out Sean Dunn on the Scrum Alliance or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.