Going Agile: Trying To Do Too Much

When you are managing a team that starts migrating towards Scrum, you will find yourself looking into things like velocity and burn down chart wondering if the team is committing to too much or not enough.  You will soon realise that if you allow your scrum master to do her job, the team’s velocity will quickly stabilise and become predictable on their delivery.

However, what I find often overlooked is the impact of the backlog management. In my experience, trying to do too much is not just about the team over committing on an iteration but also about the product owner providing a lack of focus for the release.

Let me give you an example. Within the Ubuntu Certification team, we run six monthly releases, this are then divided into two weeks iterations. On the last release, we scheduled 13 themes. A theme for us is a overarching issue or requirement to which then stories are link in the backlog. In other Scrum practices this are called Epics.

Out of this 10 themes, we estimated that we could deliver 75 stories.  The team is in average finishing 7 stories (depending on sizing) per iteration. The problem with this approach is not that the 75 stories we picked weren’t the right priorities but rather that:

  1. We went for breath rather than depth. We achieved some progress in each individual theme, but not in depth progress in any.
  2. The team constantly had to switch mental context between themes. Some times a month would pass between stories from the same theme. Although the stories are independent this did not build on the sense of achievement by team every time a story was complete.

What I have learned in this release is that context switch is not only a problem for multi-tasking coders but it is also a source of waste for scrum teams needing to frequently change backlog themes from iteration to iteration.

With hind sight, I would have rather schedule 5 themes. I think that the kick that the team gets from making substantial progress in a theme plus the reduce need for context switching would have actually increase the productivity of the team.

Our next release starts in November and I am going to make sure that this time we focus on depth!

Going Agile: Poker Planning In Action

The Certification team at Canonical has been Going Agile now for the last 9 months. Oneiric is the first release that we are running full Scrum practices. We are a bit unique as we are spread all over the world. We have 2 people in Montreal (Canada), 1 person in Boston (USA) , 1 person in Raleigh (USA), 3 scatter over the United Kingdom, our Scrum Master is in Germany, and our latest team member is in Taipei (Taiwan). Running Scrum in this type of  environment needs constant innovation. I am keeping track of our progress in my blog at victorpalau.net/tag/scrum/

Roughly every three months, we get together somewhere in the world. We just got back from the Ubuntu Rally in Dublin, where we decided to give our backlog some love!

We largely build our backlog at the Ubuntu Developer Summits and then we continue to add and remove items as we go.

Halfway through the project and with over 100 items to complete before the end of October, we needed to step back and make sure that we were working on the right priorities and that nothing had fallen trough the cracks. What better way to do this than a full poker planning session. Here is how it worked:

  • We use real cards that I brought over from home
  • We clear up a round table big enough to fit the whole team and we booked an hour and a half for the session.
  • We had a house dealer: I chair the session, I did not participate on the poker, my computer was the only one allowed at the table.
  • Using the list view in our google docs backlog, we reviewed a blueprint at the time
  • We spent less than 90 seconds per use case.
  • We use the following t-shirt sizes as measure of effort required to complete a use case: S,M,L & XL
  • Where there was substantial disagreement on size, we asked the highest and lowest  bid to briefly reason their decision. If needed, we did another sizing round after that.
We did came out of the session with a better sized backlog. The biggest benefit for me was that we merged, deleted and added new stories based on what we had learned over the last few months of implementation.
I also had to make some tough choices based on the new information and I decided to removes some blueprints from our Oneiric backlog scope.

Poker by Jonathan Rubio

Going Agile: The Ultimate Scrum Google Doc Template

While trying to work out the best way to adopt Scrum in the Ubuntu Certification team, I didn’t want to commit to an expensive process tool. So we have end up developing overtime the ultimate Google Document SCRUM tool.

I didn’t want to spent too much time reviewing tools and shopping for better prices rather than working on embedding the process correctly in the team. We might eventually move to a hosted “funky” web 2.0 solution, but in the meantime, Google Docs is doing the job just fine.

I thought that it will be great to share our backlog template with everyone, so I have created a public template with some fake stories. Here is the breakdown on how it works: Read more of this post

Going Agile: A few iterations under the belt

I wrote recently about the Ubuntu Hardware Certification team transition to Scrum.  We have since completed a few iterations, which means that the Planning and Demo sessions are in full swing. I am also happy to say that we now have a full-time Scrum Master in the team. One of the key advantages of this is that I get to sit in the demos and ask questions “from the outside” :)

Because of the global distribution of my team, we have end up with back-to-back Demo/Review and Planning meetings. This is how it goes:

3pm UTC – Demo meeting (30 minutes)

The Scrum Master runs (using Mumble) through all the user stories in the backlog.  Previous to the meeting, team members have posted links to their demos. We share the demos using a “virtual meeting” tool.  We end up settling for Spreed, as we already had some company accounts ( but I still secretly love yuuguu!).

At the end of each demo we [product owner, scrum master and me] give our opinion on whether the user story is completed or should be carried over to the next iteration (or later). Read more of this post

Going Agile: Planning for the Demo and Planning meetings

Now that we are scrumming daily and we have agreed a 2 weeks cadence, it is time to start planning for the next set of meetings: Planning, Demos (Reviews) and Retrospectives.

Scrum has four meetings or ceremonies that you must do within a iteration. Here is how they are described by the Scrum Alliance

  • Planning: the team meets with the product owner to choose a set of work to deliver during a sprint
  • Daily scrum: the team meets each day to share struggles and progress
  • Demo/Reviews: the team demonstrates to the product owner what it has completed during the sprint
  • Retrospectives: the team looks for ways to improve the product and the process.

Show me the money!

The value in Demo meetings is that you get to see what the team has done and how it brings value to your customers. However, it is not as simple as it sounds… there are two things that can make a Demo inefficient:

  • Lack of preparation – people scrambling for demos, you hear things such as “it used to work 2 hours ago, but it is broken now due to work for the next iteration”
  • Old habits (die hard) – the tendency is still to ask people “did you finish?”, and  then tick the box, rather than “show me what you did?”

This is pretty challenging to do remotely, hence I have enlisted the help of technology. Read more of this post

Going Agile: Scrum in a fully distributed team

Working with a fully distributed team has made me appreciate the beauty of having face time with your team!  Hence, I took the opportunity at UDS to get more acquainted with my colleagues.

Scrum by DarkMatter

As a first part to introducing Scrum to the team, we defined the high level goals (or Epics) for the 6 month release cycle. Part of what I have been trying to figure out is how to use the tools we have at-hand to get started. For the 6 months sprint backlog, we finally settle on launchpad blueprints. We are basically using a planning project within Launchpad, that will have a milestone per sprint/release. By prioritizing and assigning blueprints against the milestone, we get the backlog view.

Back at Symbian, we started by setting up daily scrums and weekly iteration backlogs. However, once the machine had started we struggled to define long term goals. It is hard to get out from the 2 week mindset.

Hence, with HW certification team at Canonical, I decided to prioritise the longer term goals. This was made very easy by the regular cadence of Ubuntu releases. The next step was introducing daily scrums and a 2 week iteration cadence within the 6 months sprints.

Are you standing up at the other end of the line?

With a fully distributed team, introducing regular formalised communication seems on paper an easy win. However, the trick is in the implementation. How do you do it? We decided not to have IRC meetings, based on previous experience. Eventually,  people did not read the comments from others and waited until their name pinged in the IRC channel to post a pre-baked update.  Another option was to Mumble our way through it! Read more of this post

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.