Monday, November 26, 2012

Are You Fighting Others or Creating New Options?

Is it fiercely competitive for you to be successful? Do others have to lose for you to win?

Below is my first blog post from 2004. I was a manager trying to get projects done. I had only glanced at agile. There was no iPhone yet. But some things haven't changed. Leadership Coach Tim Sanders is still great, The Leadership Summit is still awesome (I already bought my tickets for next year) and my views of how and why we should work have only deepened.

Be sure to get the free PDF chapter of Tim's new book at his site. Good stuff, easy read and it can change how you work and interact today. Also, there's a great interview of Tim by Dave Ramsey at the Entreleadership podcast site. At the podcast site are also interviews of Jim Collins, Patrick Lencioni, Dan Cathy, Steven Covey and more.

Recently I was reminded of Tim's lesson while reading Zappos! Delivering Happiness - A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose (great book - now in audio and comic book form, too). The author wrote about playing the card games at Vegas, and how in life we have the ability to "create a new table" - to create opportunity. Be sure to check out the free Zappos! Culture book, too.

At the 2004 Leadership Summit, Tim Sanders, Leadership Coach for Yahoo!, shared that we often don't have faith in our people or ourselves. There are those that have an attitude of 'scarcity', driven by fear of competition and filled with a sense of lack, what they don't have. It's the difference between social networking for other's benefit and networking for personal gain (which he said is actually prospecting or brokering).

He gave a good word picture by saying "It's the difference between being a gardener and a butcher." Tim said that at Yahoo!, if you are driven by scarcity (nay-sayer, doom and gloom), they will literally stamp a piece of paper with "Chicken Little" and stick it to your back, to be left there all day. Tim made me think how often I look to the negative side of a situation. In software development, we need to look at the possible concequences, but really only as risk analysis.

Even then, the downside should perhaps only be considered, noted, and then everyone should move forward on the project focussing on the upside. This doesn't mean be unrealistic, niave, or wear rose-colored glasses, it only means that we decide to concentrate our energy on the possible positive outcomes, encourage others, and be a contributor to the solution.

And an IT project, we could all agree, is much more than flowcharts and code.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

6 Common Wrong Ways to do Scrum

There's a lot of differences in how people are doing Scrum. Some (not many) differences are with the core framework, and more are outside of it. I get very concerned with any changes with the core framework.

If a company decides they need:
  •  a role of Technical Product Owner or Proxy Product Owner, or 
  •  a five week sprint, or 
  •  a services team creating only web services for other teams, or 
  •  a design team doing UX work, or 
  •  an architect team doing look-ahead work, 
  •  or are writing stories that span two sprints because the testing process alone takes over a week.
I want to talk with them about why. Although they are breaking part of the core framework, to me it's less about breaking the rules and more about violating the principles underneath why Scrum works, and to help them see and understand that. It's more important that they understand why Scrum works rather than are they or are they not following the rules.

For example, a team has a Technical Product Owner because neither the Product Owner nor team members understand the system well enough to make educated decisions. Do they want the team members to have that knowledge? They usually say yes. Then that is the goal (and the issue), and not the Technical Product Owner role. Ask why the work-around is there, and then see if that root cause shouldn't really be the focus and problem to solve.

Growing up, I was trained to turn the wheels when parking on a hill. I didn't understand the importance of that until one day I drove up the hill to school and saw what used to be Karen's VW bug. She had parked it at the top and but the parking brake had slipped, and the car had rolled down the hill, gained momentum and flipped several times. Had the tires been turned, the car would have just bumped in the curb and then stopped. Rules and principles can be disregarded if there's not an understanding and respect of why they're there.

For variations I've seen outside the Scrum framework, I'm interested but not always concerned. For example:
  •  the user story format
  •  how non-functional requirements are handled
  •  the estimation point sequence
  •  whether estimation is done using planning poker or team estimation
  •  whether the stories are broken down into tasks or not
  •  how project work is approved
  •  the role of the Project Manager, managers or architects

These topics become conversations about what works best for the team, and that's who I'm primarily listening to. If it works for them, they'll do better work, and that's a win for the business.

Friday, November 02, 2012

People Problems

Change is hard. Change is even harder in a large organization (or one that is old, or has a long average tenure or is successful in some way).

If you haven't experienced the difficulty, and time involved, and patience required, and politicking needed, you perhaps are blessed with a change-ready (or hungry) organization, or the changes haven't been very big or, truthfully, important.

For those that have experienced these challenges, I'd like to offer some recent, and completely untested, thoughts on what this is all about for those people who are required for, and likely resisting, the change agile is bringing about.


It's all about story. And character. And plot. And setting. Do you recall these terms from English class from high school or secondary school? What's really happening in their world?

I've used the phrase "The issue isn't the issue," when describing conflict management. That is, usually what we are arguing about isn't the problem that needs to be resolved. Ever feel like you logically addressed the point someone made, only to have them bring up yet another point? People with these issues can be a bit like Jell-o. You push down one issue, only to have another bulge out somewhere else. That's because there is something happening underneath the surface with this person, but it's either something they can't say or don't even realize they're saying.

One time I had to deal with a manager who walked out of the middle of a release planning meeting. She obviously didn't plan the morning thinking "I need to make sure my people are ready for the big release planning meeting. And if I don't like how it's going, I think I just I'll storm right out. I also need to meet with Joe and Sarah about the Christmas party decorations." Buuut, she also wasn't telling me, "I'm feeling insecure about my ability to lead my team through so much change, especially when I don't have a solid, working knowledge of it. I'm afraid of making bad decisions or looking foolish so visibly - in front of my team and on such a critical project. It didn't help that I oversold my ability to handle change, too." I don't think you'll see that kind of honesty and transparency unless you're at a team building offsite and just finished holding hands in a circle and singing Kumbaya.

But the truth is, they respond from how they feel much more than what they're thinking. And the better that we can listen and put together the puzzle pieces of the context in their world and from their perspective, the better that we can help each other. We don't need to always be right, but we should always be understood.

For more on this, checkout Crucial Conversations and Emotional IQ. And make sure you understand your personality type, too - either your strengths, Myers-Briggs, DiSC or the new Action and Influence behavioral and team profile by agile coach and trainer Peter Saddington

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Getting Better Before You Get Bigger

At most of my Scrum training classes, people ask about how to scale agile at their company. When coaching at a company, what we are doing is typically the #1 need for scaling - getting better.

As Woody Zuill said so well at the Agile Open SoCal conference last month, "People ask how to do it right in the large, when they're not even doing it right in the small."

Yes, there are methods, tools and techniques for doing agile with 10+ teams, or multi-team projects, or distributed team members. But those practices won't solve the most common problem - lack of organizational alignment, buy-in and support (and from top to bottom). Most of the issues I find are with mid-management handling the change that come with introducing agile. But this is the same challenge that happens with introducing any change. The book Leading Change reinforces this point with 10 years of stories around introducing change at difference organizations. 

My experience has been that you'll be much better off getting one or two teams excellent. And by that, I mean success that everyone can see, and that is obvious. Nothing wins arguements and gets support like success, and this helps mid-management's willingness to go out on a limb with this new thing that will surely: raise more questions, change they way they do their job, move them out of their comfort zone, upset some of their reports, make mistakes. Help make that gamble for them as easy as possible. 

And keep in mind that we're in the Late Majority with agile adoptions. These are companies, customers, and managers who generally do not like change, resist change, and have been at the same company (and maybe job) doing things mainly the same way for 10, 20 or 30 years.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Listening to Your Team

Sometimes for a retrospective, I'll have a team play the ball point game. I do this because it let's be see the team dynamics as a whole in only 20 minutes. Is someone dominating the rest of the team? Is this a team afraid to take risks? Is this a team that innovates? Is this a team that has trust, is close and works well together, or are they a group of individuals who begin to blame and finger-point when the pressure is on?

Recently I had a picture of a team that was unique to me, but perhaps common to others. It was a team that I would give an A+ to for effort and energy. They were trying as hard as the possibly could, and that was part of the problem. They were so intense, so focussed, trying so hard that they weren't listening and giving weight to everybody's ideas. Instead, in the craziness and loud voices, it seemed they found themselves guided (or more appropriately, driven) by the energy and passion of a few.

After several iterations, and even my sharing with them the performance I've seen from the vast majority of other teams, they were beginning their next iteration with exactly the same approach as before, yet committing to significantly more work. "What changes have you made since last sprint?" I asked. "We are going to be more focussed!" they said emphatically. I wish you could have seen the situation - these guys had been giving more effort and energy than a playoff team, yet were saying the missing key to success was focus? Essentially, they were saying they were going to try harder, but make no other changed and more than double their productivity.

In the quiet moment while I had their attention, I asked if anyone on the team had any ideas that hadn't been tried yet. Immediately, one then two then three people shared great ideas that would enable the team to hit their goal. Now, these people sharing their ideas were not the loud, gregarious, driving leaders. They were more likely introverts. Just like the ones that statistically make up the majority of your technical team.

Often, I'll lead retrospectives by having everyone write down their thoughts one what's going well, not-so-well, and any ideas. This ensures that I hear the voice of even the quietest (or newest or youngest) team member. Our agile teams do not succeed based on the old, traditional approach of a project manager in charge who, often, is expected to make all decision (and therefore often the only person trying to solve all problems). Agile teams rely on collective intelligence. The same way that Google has come up with great products such as AdWords and Maps, or the way that Barrick Mining found fresh approaches to find where to mine based on contest submissions from around the world (as described in Mavericks at Work). 

No one of us is as smart as all of us, so make sure that you're creating space to hear all voices and great insights of your team.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Best Team Building Exercise

Diana Wei from the Orange County PMI recent asked for recommendations for team building ideas. Some recommended a happy hour, or sailing, and I suggested doing a Five Dysfunctions of a Team offsite.

I had completely forgotten what I share every Scrum class - have the team discover their personal strengths! Over the past eight years, every department I managed, every new team I introduced Scrum to, we would do a strengths-based personality assessment. I was at a company in the Bay Area this week that had a new, heralded CEO, and I saw that they were already helping the change efforts by rolling out a personality assessment to employees. My impression is that, while many overlook these psychometric tests, great managers and leaders instinctively know the value of these tools.

There are several choices in this area that I have used and would recommend.

StrengthsFinder - Close to 10 years old, and still a perennial best seller, the StrengthsFinder assessment from Gallup will give you a list of your Top 5 Strengths Themes out of 34 possible, along with an action guide. Buy the book, and you get a key to take an online test that emails the reports. 

StandOut -  Last year, this book and new assessment came out from Marcus Buckingham, formerly with Gallup, was one of the first to write about strengths in the management best-sellers First, Break All the Rules and then Now, Discover Your Strengths. He's since written more books and created create videos on introducing strengths or how to truly cultivate them. You can purchase the test online, or buy the book and get a key to take the test online. It also includes an 18 page action-plan result.

Action & Influence - Brand new assessment from an agile training and coaching company that I think highly of, this assessment not only gives you your strengths, but it also maps that onto a grid of your teammates. Now managers can see in a nice chart where all the team members fit, and are able to quickly identify any gaps in the team, or opportunities to move people into roles that play to their strengths. The test is based on over a decade of research and work in psychology and organizational development.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Teams, Being Smart Isn't Enough! You Have to Be Healthy

Some notes from hearing Patrick Lencioni at The Leadership Summit in August... 

Lencioni started by saying that much of what he was going to share were things we all already know, and quoted Samuel Johnson, saying "People need to be reminded more than they need to be instructed."

For the second time during the conference, I heard someone talk about Southwest Airlines (the first time was by Jim Collins). Lencioni started his talk, as he starts his new book The Advantage, by sharing a story from Southwest Airlines. For those who don't know, Southwest is the most successful airline, in a very competitive field, when looking at financial consistency (143 consecutive profitable quarters, including the only major airline to do so following 9/11), and customer satisfaction (consistently at the top for lowest customer complaints, most on-time flights and fewest baggage problems).

Lencioni was at a leadership event at Southwest listening to presentations detailing Southwest’s values (the ‘Southwest Way’ - a Warrior Spirit, a Servant’s Heart, and a FunLUVing), their unorthodox approach and the things they do to make their customers happy. He was sitting next Southwest CEO Gary Kelly. Lencioni leaned over and asked, "Gary, why don't your competitors do any of this." It was a rhetorical question, but he said, "Honestly, I think they think it's beneath them."

Building a Heathly Organization
Organizational health is the single greatest competitive advantage in business. It is virtually free and accessible to any leader who wants it, and yet it remains ignored by most leaders and virtually untapped in many organizations. Too many leaders think it's beneath them. It's not measurable enough. Not immediate enough, not push-button results.

To better understand why this is, Lencioni used contrast. In order to maximize success and to be the best, there are two requirements for success. You have to do things well in these two categories:

Be Smart

Be Healthy


Minimal Politics


Minimal Confusion


High Morale and Productivity


Low Turnover

Being Smart is all good stuff. You should be solid in the areas of strategy, marketing, finance, and technology. It's only half of what a company needs to be successful, but gets about 98% of leaders attention. We are more comfortable with those things that are easier to measure and less emotional. But to change organizations you have to make them healthier!

Southwest is fabulous, not because they are smarter than their competitors, but because Southwest is so healthy as an organization. They get so much more out of their number of employees than their competitors do.

CEO's want to improve their companies, but it's like a classic scene from I Love Lucy. In the scena, Lucy is on her hands and knees looking at the carpet in the living room. Ricky comes in and asks what she's doing.
"Looking for my earrings," she replies. 
"Did you lose them here in the living room?" 
"No, I lost my earrings in bedroom, but the light out here is so much better."
CEO's know they are missing some things on the human, touchy-feely right side, but they are out of their comfort zone in dealing with them, so...they gravitate back to the left side. They focus even more on strategy and technology, etc. But the truth is, if we want to change the organization, we have to make it healthier.

Thirty years ago, the Smart side was new. There were lots of gains to be made by focussing on that side. But now, you can't distinguish your company by focussing only on the Smart side. You can have lots of great people working at your company, and they can all have the domain expertise to be awesome. But you won't be able to tap into it. You won't bring out their potential. Southwest's people aren't smarter than their competitors. But they use every bit of knowledge they have.

Organizational health is the multiplier.

The next post will be on "How do we do it?"

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Slice of Humble Pie

Yesterday, as I climbed up my back steps, I had a realization that made me swallow real hard - like a something difficult to get down. It was, as we knew growing up in Texas, a slice of "humble pie."

Photo by Joselito Tagarao via Flickr using a CC-BY license.

Eating a slice of humble pie means that you rightfully were humbled. It could be the team asked if they could rotate the ScrumMaster and you're the ScrumMaster. It could be your team building idea completely flopped. Maybe a friend told you that you were the wrong in some gripe you've been carrying around for weeks. Your stock picks have brought what saving you had to almost nothing. In some ways, it's acknowledging failure. Although you might have failed, you are not a failure. And as John Wooden said, You aren't a failure until you start to blame. Failure is good medicine for us, but we often don't want to take it. We avoid owning failure - it hurts - and turn to blame someone or something else. Humility allows us to cut out the cancer from the body of experience, separating the good from the bad. Keeping the good things we need to learn from what happened, while cutting out the stinkin' thinking. Sometimes we need to realize that we're not great at everything, a shadow attitude that makes it more difficult to really listen and value other people's opinions. Humility isn't thinking yourself nothing, it's not thinking more of yourself than you ought.

For me, it was realizing that some was better than me at what I do. Even though I had been doing it longer, and I had even helped them, they were now far past me. Rather than push the surgical knife away by saying that they were doing better because of luck and circumstances (more on that from Jim Collin's later), I had to acknowledge that this person was simply more driven and hard working than I was. And that was hard for me to accept. But owning this allowed me to pause and ask myself, "Why are not so passionate so as to be that driven and hard working? What is not clear about your vision and goals that it's not that motivational for you?" That was the golden take away from this experience - my personal mission statement wasn't clear enough, and certainly didn't have a clear strategy, to empower me.

Jim Collins wrote in Good to Great that Level 5 Leaders look in the mirror to assign blame. This core leadership character trait and value doesn't come easily and needs to be developed. We don't get promoted into some leadership platform and then begin working on getting these leadership traits. Unless we already have them, the sudden, new power (however small) will quickly begin to corrupt and blind us. Instead, we develop these traits which will then qualify us for, and pull us up and forward into, leadership opportunities.

Patrick Lencioni's Fart Story (yes, really)
Humilitas by John Dickson: How the Virtue of Humility Can Turn Your Strengths into True Greatness in all Areas of Life
Great Video Clip on humility from John Dickson and Patrick Lencioni from The Leadership Summit
Jim Collin's Good to Great Diagnositic Tool

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Sample iCal Calendar for Meetings in Scrum

In my Scrum training classes, one of the most common requests is that I draw up what a schedule might look like for all the meetings we've been talking about (Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum/Daily Stand-up, Sprint Review and Sprint Retrospective) in a two week sprint. I've created that sample here. Below, there are links to an iCal format for import into Microsoft Outlook and also a PDF version. On the iCal file, each meeting has a link to a description of the meeting, for additional reference.

Sample Sprint Calendar
The reason that I have sprints beginning and ending on Wednesday is mainly to avoid Monday and Friday due to common impact of people taking vacations, planning to be sick :-) or holidays. You could certainly use Tuesday or Thursday without much difference. Also, I have Sprint Planning and Sprint Review and Retrospectives happening on the same day. Although it makes for a very full day, that's what I commonly did as ScrumMaster with my teams. You could spread that over two days, but I choose to keep continuity over tiring people out (and in consideration of this, I did try to bring caffeine and sugar to the afternoon planning meetings).

Also, I wrote up a sample agenda for the Sprint Planning meeting. I plan to do the agendas for Sprint Review and Retrospectives as well.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

My Brother-in-Law Says Scrum Doesn't Work

The question inevitably comes up at my internal, or more often, at my public Scrum classes. "Does this really work? My brother-in-law worked over that Barf-o Software, and it was all messed up over there."

Deciding whether Scrum, or any other agile methodology, really works based solely or your or someone else's personal experience is anecdotal. It's the person who doesn't want kids because his brother's kids are out-of-control mini monsters, or doesn't like wiener dogs because one bit him when he was seven. For me, it was football. I didn't play because my brother said the coaches were mean to him when he was in 7th grade. I finally tried out my senior year and loved it. And the coaches weren't mean to me. Well, not very. I did have to run extra laps for talking to David Stewart when coach was talking to us.

Scrum works (better in some in contexts than others), but when it's going poorly, it's often because of 1) people doing Scrum wrong, 2) bad company culture, or 3) difficult team and project structure.

I've seen ScrumMasters (the role that should know Scrum the best, and therefore educating others) let the daily 15 minute Scrum go over 45 minutes, do planning poker estimating for each person's task for every story in the sprint, post a formula that showed the ratio of story points to developer and QA (it was 1 and .5, just so we all finally have the answer to that secret recipe), tell the team what their tasks would be, make every decision, lie to the team (FYI - that's bad), and more. Of course, this has an impact on the team. They don't do as well as the could, maybe even poorly. But that doesn't mean Scrum doesn't work. It means the ScrumMaster isn't doing it right. And worse, the team isn't owning the principle of continuous improve to work through these, and other, issues and get past them.

Secondly, bad company culture will make Scrum, and any other process, go poorly. Management that sets unrealistic deadlines on a project with fixed scope without asking the team for estimates will be bad for the team whether they do Scrum or traditional waterfall (although it won't be as bad with Scrum because at least you can tell management within two weeks that it looks like it's not all going to get done when they asked for it). Project managers who let every new change or request pass right through to the team without asking good questions or request priority or feature trade-offs when new, valid  needs are discovered will cause problems on any type of project. Some company cultures simply don't value the project teams, but hold to Theory X and see them solely as resources who need the whip cracked in order to get results. These executives will try Scrum because they hear it will get more results faster. But when they find out that these improvements (and others) come in part through self-organized and self-managing teams (who expect to be supported and empowered), senior management won't let go and trust, but instead tries to implement the Scrum practices without the Scrum and agile values. The results are predictably bad (and the teams upset, too boot).

Last, Scrum works best with cross-functional teams of people sitting together, and preferably kept together long term and fed different project. Once, a ScrumMaster was saying he felt his team wasn't gelling and collaborating well together. It turned out that every one of his team members lived in a different country. In Scrum, we work better and more efficiently in part because we move away from our functional team silos and heavier-than-needed process and towards individuals and interactions (just simply talking to each other more in order to solve problems and get stuff done). If you don't have that, it won't work as well. And that's not Scrum, that's your organizational structure. I've seem team members on a team matrixed on 17 different projects. How effective can you be, really, with 10% of your time on a given project? On paper, with some resourcing tool splitting everyone's time up, the math deceptively looks good. But in reality, ramping up and down daily on different projects and activities thrashes productivity. That's not a Scrum problem, that's someone somewhere not wanting to prioritize and say, "Really, these three initiatives are the most important. The other 14 will have to wait."

These, and other, challenges are some of the problems covered in the Certified ScrumMaster class. Scrum doesn't solve these people or culture problems for you. It simply makes the problems you have clear, and gives you great tools to show, if you change, how good things can be right away.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Should the ScrumMaster be Telling the Team How to Do our Work?

In a word, no. The Scrum Master is a servant to the team, not managing the team or their tasks. The Scrum Master should facilitate the team meetings, not tell people what to do. The Scrum Master should encourage and empower the team to solve their problems themselves, not inflicting their help by solving all real and perceived problems. The Scrum Master is the shepherd and guardian of the process - more of an evangelist and trustee than the Scrum Police or Scrum Boss.

The more the Scrum Master can back away from making sure work gets done, control things so that there are no problems or failures, or coordinate all the orchestration details of how things get done, the more the team can step in, step up and own the execution and delivery. One linchpin seems to be allowing the team to fail - giving them the freedom in a safe-to-fail environment (culturally and the framework of short sprints of small, shared stories), and trusting them to learn from it and get better.

In the end, no matter how smart and hard working one person is, nothing beats the power and smarts of a committed team working together and focused on a clear, shared goal.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Who Should Be the ScrumMaster?

Who should be or become the ScrumMaster for your new team? That is, which role: project manager, lead developer, functional manager, or anyone but one of these roles?

Although, understandably, most management wants a standard answer for who they should select to be the ScrumMaster in this new work paradigm, there is not a one-size-fits-all answer. And the reason is because it depends on the person, the team and the environment.

Before I walk through some of the roles, I think it's a good question to ask "Who is deciding who becomes ScrumMaster?" I see management decide often times, but they make the decision without knowing what Scrum is and, more importantly, how it works. The decision on who the ScrumMaster will be does not need to be made months, or even weeks, in advance. I've seen teams decide hours before their sprint begins. If at all possible, take this important decision to the team to see what they think. There needs to be prudence in this, certainly, but I'd rather lean towards making this statement of empowerment and trust of the team from the very start of adopting Scrum.

I commonly see Project Managers given the role of ScrumMaster, but there's a trade-off. What makes a great project manager may not make a great ScrumMaster. In fact, it might be counter. Often, management wants project managers who "get things done." That is, they drive performance. They push the team. They may even micro-manage for results and visibility by tracking every task, status, risk, change and deviation from the plan. And management might love this (or, more truthfully perhaps, love the results). On the other hand, I've also seen Project Managers who provide management what they want (helping get more productivity and more visibility to progress, issues and options) by serving, empowering and trusting the team. If you are currently a Project Manager, which type are you? My experience has been about 50% of project managers are on each side, with very few changing. For some, their "driver" approach impacted the team so badly that management was considering removing the person from the team.

I've seen managers also take on the ScrumMaster role. This, more often then project managers, has negative consequences, only the consequences are not so obvious, but these can be corrected more often and more easily than I've seen with project managers. Some managers, due to their company's culture and expectations, carry the responsibility of getting results from their people (for the projects their people are on). Along with this, many more are expected to make sure their direct reports are busy (that management is getting their money's worth from the employees). For these managers, even if they wanted to embrace the transformative qualities of the ScrumMaster, the company culture will push back, and most often win. For managers in these tough positions, I'd rather see them find someone else to be the ScrumMaster, and then the manager can focus more time and energy towards the bigger need of being a heat shield, organizational impediment remover and management mindset and company cultural change agent. Truthfully, that is the great need and value immediately and long term. For those managers not in culture or carrying those "busyness" mandates, and who have the right attitude towards their role and their team, I have seen great things happen. For these managers, this new role in the business and IT world of ScrumMaster opens new pathways to work with their team, provides new tools to let their people learn and grow, and fosters collaboration between their people. In many ways, this is what these managers were looking for in terms of moving away from needing to make sure things got done (which now the team commits to and owns getting things done), and wanting to focus on growing their people. For those managers wanting some book recommendations specifically for this new "Agile Manager" aspect of their work, take a look at my Agile Management and Leadership book list on Amazon.

My preferred option for whom should be the ScrumMaster is to look to those who are individual contributors (developer, lead developer, business analyst, QA). Ideally, the ScrumMaster is a fulltime role, which has the downside of giving up a fulltime employee. Again, this is contextual. The ScrumMaster will certainly need to be fulltime if the team (and/or company) is starting with agile, or if the project or product that the team is working on is fraught with challenges outside the scope of the basic context taught in my Certified ScrumMaster classes of a "single, co-located, cross-functional team." That is, if there are challenges of having multiple Scrum teams, or using offshore or remote team members, or a larger team, than the need of a ScrumMaster's time and help will be greater. On the other side of the scale, in a simple context, supportive environment, and/or experience ScrumMaster, I've seen the ScrumMaster still do 50% of his or her time doing development (or other tasks) as a player and coach. The biggest trade-off there is that the ScrumMaster needs to know their personal limits on commitment to tasks and stories they take on, as well as balancing personal and team focus. Not easy. 

I'll end with my favorite stories that illustrates what I'm really after when thinking of who should be the ScrumMaster on team. First, I was at a company that was deciding how much to grow their agile adoption. They had one team doing Scrum for six months with great results and a second team had just finished their fourth two-week iteration and was also doing well. The conversation among the executives came to a seemingly trivial point of who the ScrumMaster happened to be on the six month team. When a manager informed the executives that the ScrumMaster also happend to be the most junior developer on the team, there was unanimous appreciation and excitement about how this was exactly what the company wanted for it's culture - that anyone could make very significant contributions! 

My second story is from when I was working with a team that had a working agreement that included rotating the ScrumMaster every two months or so. After finishing their second rotation, at the meeting to decide whom would be next, the team unanimously, and quite noisily, voted to keep their current ScrumMaster. Forever. They loved her and how she helped them. She had grown to love the role and the team as well. And this was a person who was had a fair bit of self-doubt about even trying out the ScrumMaster role the first time, only agreeing to do it because of the guarantee of the ending (surely in failure, she assumed). 

It's stories like these that show how Scrum can help individuals, teams and companies thrive.

Scott recently posted an updated version of this post on the Rocket Nine Solutions blog:

He also posted a companion piece: Who Should Be the Product Owner,

And you can find a video about it on as well.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Common Scrum Questions

I recently did an agile overview for a company's IT group, and was again surprised by the number of questions that could be answered by someone attending a Certified ScrumMaster class and, living out the role as educator, lets the team and others know how and why Scrum works. I'll go through the more common questions on my blog over the next few weeks.

Here's a few questions I see commonly.

1. Who should be or become a ScrumMaster? That is, which role: project manager, lead developer, functional manager, anyone but one of these roles?

2. Should the ScrumMaster be telling us how to do our work?

3. Does Scrum really work? I had a friend that worked over that Company X, and it was all messed up over there.

4. What's the right way to do Scrum? I worked at Company Y where they did Scrum, and my friend at Company Z does it a different way.

5. What about budget?

6. Our teams are distributed and remote. Can Scrum work for us?

7. How long until we start to see improvement?

8. Should we still have project managers and a PMO (project management office)?

9. I'm in QA, and this Scrum stuff stinks for me. I'd rather have it the old waterfall way.

10. Do we still need to do requirements in agile?

11. We don't have a Product Owner, but we know what needs to be done. Can we still do Scrum?

12. Management says we still have to hit deadlines that were set 15 years ago. Isn't that not really agile?

13. Is the ScrumMaster a fulltime role? What about what I used to do?

14. What if some of our work is dependent on people in other departments, like Operations (and they don't care that we're in two week sprints!)?

15. What if there are dependencies on other Scrum teams, and our commitment is dependent on them getting their stories done?

16. How do we do good architecture without doing some sort of good (or good enough) design upfront?

17. What do we do if our stories aren't complete at the end of our sprint?

I'll answer these, and more, over the next few weeks.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

It's Not Scrum, It's You

I was recently teaching a Certified Scrum Master class and was told by a student that Scrum didn't work because management still comes and demands additional features or projects and sets or keeps the deadlines and not asking for estimates of how long it will take. 

That is not a Scrum problem. That's a business environment problem. And the solution is often the person lamenting it the most. Perhaps it's like the guy that complains about women because he is married to someone who makes demands and doesn't respect him. It's not women that's the problem, it's his allowing his wife to control him. 

These are the type of complex organizational development problems that are difficult to solve. They take more than a two day class on Scrum fundamentals to solve. They may be very difficult and take a long time, but they are possible. Don't think that they are not. There is a world of difference in the mindsets behind possible and impossible.

If you fall into the trap that they are impossible, you give up trying - looking for possibilities, options, trying out new ideas. You lose hope. Certainly if you are a leader, it is incumbent upon you for the sake of the people who follow you. The book Strengths Based Leadership lists the four needs workers have of their leaders: hope, stability, compassion and trust. If you are an agilist, you are acting as a servant leader, and therefore need to maintain hope. 

I couldn't tell this student how to solve his problem - that's contextual and that's why there are coaches helping organizations with these types of cultural and management changes. Even without a coach helping, there's a lot of places to look for good information on this.

But you won't take that first step if you are stuck thinking it's impossible. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Recommended Reading for January

John Deere's agile success story - Not mentioned is that they have 105 teams all on two week sprints and 8 week release cycles. In one year, warranty expenses are down 50% and there's a 20% increase in first-to-market features. Read more on the blog of their agile transformation lead, Chad Holdorf. Dean Leffingwell helped John Deere, and his enterprise approach is covered in his great Scaling Software Agility session at Agile2011.

The SOPA and PIPA protests were impressive and effective, but there's more. Noted author and technologist Joel Spolsky writes about what's next. Also, we may see the birth of something truly transformative as crowdfunding becomes a platform for the common people to be heard in Washington. And in case you're wanting something to have a voice about, here something from the NY Times on how we have not taken care of the least among us.

Photos of dozens of agile team rooms. Great for ideas of how to improve your teams' areas.

Almost a dozen helpful agile tools (burndown charts, Kano analysis, checklits) available on Paul Hodgetts' site.

For those into strengths, here's a great review comparing Marcus Buckingham's new strengths assessment StandOut to StrengthsFinder, and a great interview of Marcus on StandOut, his strengths assessment and strengths in general on Drucker on the Dial.

And, on a related note, the 360 performance review is flawed because it, as a relative assessment, only says if the person getting surveyed is more or less compared to the preson asked.

Lots of interesting things coming out of Agile Leadership Europe. I particularly like the fun idea of Bathtub Conferences. Bit of info on ALE, and a rant, from Jurgen Appelo.

Need some recommendations for reading? Here's a nice, commented list of best business books in many categories for 2011, 2010, and on.

And last, do you know anyone who pair programs 40 hours a week? What if it was remote pairing? Videos, slidedecks and more on pair progamming, along with great presentations (and presentation surveys).