- Outside the Product Owner and the implementation team, senior stakeholders may require milestones articulating deliverables.
- Epics or Themes, high-level declaration of the “Release” essence, rolls up from Features, and Product Backlog Items (PBI). Relative effort estimations may be applied at the PBI level, and then rolled up to calculate/guestimate the duration of Epics.
- Look toward SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) to change the culture by providing an opportunity for the entire organization to participate in the Agile process. “Product Increments” present windows of opportunity every 8 to 10 weeks.
- Product Increments may involve multiple scrum teams, their scope, and how these teams may intersect. In order to synchronize these Scrum Teams, SAFe introduces Agile Release Trains (ART), and Release Train Engineers (RTE) to coordinate cadence of the scrum teams to be in alignment with Epic and Feature deliverables.
- Stakeholders may require a “waterfall” plan to understand delivery timeframes for milestone artifact deliverables. For example, “When do we deliver in the plan? We have dependencies on XYZ to build upon and integrate”
- External teams may have dependencies on artifacts delivered in the plan thus cross scrum team interaction is critical, sometimes through a reoccurring ceremony “Scrum of Scrums“.
- Additional transparency into the scrum team or the “Circle of Trust” can be provided through the use of Dashboards. Dashboards may contain widgets that produce real-time views into the current initiative. Key Project Indicators (KPIs), metrics being monitored to determine the success of Product ABC Epic Phase completion.
- Dashboards may include: Average Team Velocity, Burn Down, Burn Up, Bug Status by Severity, and metrics that are initiative focused, e.g. N out of Y BI Reports have been completed.
Machine learning and deep learning are two subsets of artificial intelligence which have garnered a lot of attention over the past two years. If you’re here looking to understand both the terms in the simplest way possible, there’s no better place to be..
— Read on morioh.com/p/78e1357f65b0
Individuals and Interactions over Process and Tools
Stereotypical software developers are introverts, heads down, coding. Articulating where they are in the development lifecycle sometimes heavily relies upon tools for measuring progress such as JIRA, Product Backlog status of User Stories, e.g. “In Progress” with an Effort estimation of 3.
“Blocked” User Stories may require the implementation team to “break out of their shell” and work with their teammates to “unblock” Product Backlog items. It breaks people out of their comfort zone. We need to discuss options and opportunities for removing blockers. “All for One, and One for all”
Working Product over Comprehensive Documentation
Over a decade or so ago, the measure of my merit was the complete test coverage of requirements for software implementation. Back then I was a QA lead, and my focus was to make sure all use cases for the software under development had complete test coverage.
Requirements changes from our business through our business analysts must be vetted with the QA team so use cases/test cases must be updated to ensure coverage. Sometimes a dependency of one requirement had a ripple effect throughout the software, so lots of documentation updates were required. Milestone dates were in many cases fixed, so teams were squeezed to do more with less time.
Flash forward to today, and leveraging Agile principles, I breathe a slight sigh of relief. Iterating product delivery via sprints every 2 weeks is supremely better than attempting to traverse updates to Business Requirements Documents (BRD), and technical specs. User Stories in a Backlog are much more succinct, and in some cases, a bit more abstract leaving functionality open to some level of ambiguity and interpretation.
Sprint Close scrum ceremonies every two weeks with our Product Owner, the central mouthpiece for the definition of the software product helps define the path forward. Did we get it right? Where do we need to make changes? There is no substitute for an evolving product and accompanying dialog with our Product Owner.
Customer Collaboration over Contract Negotiation
Both sides of the aisle seem to agree, building a solution with iterative input from the customer enables the product vision to be realized far better than without frequent touchpoints.
Statements of Work (SoW) to engage 3rd party solutions integrators (SI) may be abstract in some way. Holding vendors accountable for loosely formed requirements is tenuous at best. Quibbling about he said, she said is a waste of time.
Fail fast, engage regularly and often with our [Business] Product Owner enables us to collaborate on a working solution. The focus is on the evolving product vision and not the paper trail.
Responding to Change over Following a Plan
A “last-minute” change request? It could push back our timelines and accompanying milestones. Dates can’t change, and teams need to absorb the changes, i.e. nights and weekends. Responding to incremental changes at a regular cadence is a sustainable life cycle.
A relic of the Waterfall model is the construct of a “gate” process. In order for a project to achieve a milestone, the project/solution would need to achieve certain criteria that would allow it to go to the next phase of the project. For example, going from solidifying requirements in a Business Requirements Doc (BRD) to the software implementation phase.
In Agile, we leverage the Product Owner (PO) and the Product Backlog to determine what gets done and when. A Product Backlog item (PBI) may cover the full lifecycle of a Feature, from requirements to implementation. The Product Owner dictates acceptance of the PBI based on the status/transparency of the Backlog, such as the criticality of the Bugs linked to the PBI. Product quality and implemented functionality are transparent to the PO, who will determine the next steps such as release the software, and/or go through another iteration/sprint. Iterations are a defined cadence agreed to by the implementation team and the Product owner, typically, 2-week sprints.
Agile, Hybrid Environments: Opportunities for Synergy
Epics, Features, Product Backlog Items, and Tasks are object types in a Backlog that enable the PO and the team to link objects and plan over multiple sprints. Epics or Themes of Sprints are “high level”, potentially strategic initiatives. Features roll up into Epics as a part of several sprints. Either Epics or Features may be high enough level to link to Psydo Project Milestones for a product roadmap of deliverables, and solicitation outside the team.
Aggregation of Product Backlog Items, Effort Estimations, roll up into Features, and then up into Epics, which roughly equate to milestone timelines.
The “Definition of Done” (DoD) for a Product Backlog Item may require 0 outstanding Bugs with the severity of “Critical” linked to this PBI. The DoD criteria could be analogous to a traditional Quality Assurance gate.
Tasks that are production rollout activities, without a project plan, should be planned for in future sprints, akin to estimating when items may be completed in the proper sequence. Some of the Tasks may be placed conservatively in “early” sprints and may require items to be “pushed forward” after each of the iterations.
Team Effort Estimations Are Critical to Accurate Velocity, Maximum Productivity, and Team Building.
The team tech lead may provide an effort estimation with little or no input from the developers and/or testers doing the work.
If the tech lead vocalizes his/her effort estimation…
- BEFORE the developer who will be doing the work, the developer may feel pressured to agree with the tech lead’s estimate.
- lower than the developer’s guestimate, who will be doing the work, this might create social friction and inaccurate velocity.
- WITHOUT a collaborative approach, a comprehensive estimation may be ruled out, such as consideration for not only dev. and test., but infra (configuration management, i.e. build & deploy) and other effort costs.
Using tools like Planning Poker, where all estimations are revealed at once helps the team appear to not contradict one another. The negotiation process occurs after all teammates flip their cards at once. Derives better estimates with more perspectives not factored in based on a single Tech lead providing the estimation.
Transparency and Scrutiny
Many “hands-on” project/product stakeholders want maximum transparency into the current state of the product regardless of the duration of the sprint (e.g. 2-week sprints), Typically, a pulse on the product at two-week increments satisfy most.
Some of the agile, change management tools such as Microsoft Azure DevOps offer dynamic graphing and reporting. Product stakeholders may be provided dynamic dashboards, that include Burn Down, and Burn Up charts based on the sum of effort from user stories (i.e. product backlog items). At any given time charts can predict velocity, and based upon the outstanding, total effort estimation, can chart a course to the next release.
Meaningful burn up and burn down charts rely not just on accurate effort estimations, but the people who are assigned these user stories constantly update the status of these stories, e.g. New; In-Progress; In-Review; Done. Countless times I’ve seen team members update the user story status the day before the sprint close/demo, from New -> Done. This habit gives any product stakeholders a false view of the product within a sprint.
Another challenge and opportunity with Transparency and Scrutiny within a given sprint, is making sure each user story has one or more (child) tasks. Defining tasks provides a wealth of opportunity, such as naming all of the tasks to complete for the story, e.g. database tasks, UI tasks, etc. If the tasks are itemized, they may also be assigned to multiple team resources, and show a delineation of labor.
Sticking with the Azure DevOps tool, Tasks have a default field, “Remaining Work”. This field may express task work in hours or days, the unit of measure. In the beginning, tasks are populated with the total task guesstimate of hours. Each day the person assigned the story task may draw down on the task to incrementally show progress within the task and correlating story.
Task, Work Remaining field must be relentlessly updated across the Backlog in play or else it will create more harm than good. At this level of scrutiny on tasks are amorphous and will be challenging to garnish any projected value.
The Abominable Blocker
What, you can’t figure it out on your own?
The dreaded blocker has the ability to stop a Scrum team in its tracks. The term Impediment used synonymously with the word Blocker, has an innocuous sounding sentiment. Your Scrum team may use either, perhaps a less severe issue merits an Impediment?
The Kanban / Scrum board may have a column in the workflow called Blocker, which should fixate your team on helping to remediate that Blocker. Our Daily Scrum of 15 min may focus on Blockers as they have been isolated in our workflows.
Conquer the blocker before it conquers you!
Closing and Demo for Sprints should follow healthy applause from the team, including Stakeholders and Product Owner. Positive reinforcement of a job well done. We’ve completed what we committed to complete, should be followed by applause. We should take a moment to soak in the feedback.
Pass the Mic
For those of us on the Scrum team who are introverts and actively look for ways of dodging opportunities to speak, this one is for you. During Daily Scrum, pass the facilitation mic around where everyone gets an opportunity to facilitate per stand up.
Allow all people within the team an opportunity to demo the “Done” user stories on sprint close. It’s not to break folks out of their shell, it’s to impart a sense of pride in the work accomplished, and truly resonate the one team mentality.
Disclosure: the opinions provided are my own and do not reflect that of my clients, or anyone I represent.