Sometimes we can’t see the tree for the forest

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This time of year many of us are making resolutions. Try something new. Get some improvement.  Of course, the biggest challenge is often how to stick with the something new long enough to see the improvement. 

Take your team for instance. Over the past year, how many new things did they try? How many stuck? Did any make a positive difference?

If you're struggling with these questions, here's an idea. Simplify the picture. Sometimes we can’t see the tree for the forest. So rather than attempt to understand the impact of multiple new things, try focusing on just one thing for the next month or so.

Have your team pick one agile practice. It can be one that they are already doing or something that's new. Have everyone pay attention to what difference that one practice makes. What is the team learning through its use? Does it provide new insight to their process?... their product? ... the organization?... themselves?

Above all, don't give up too soon. Give the practice a chance... perhaps 2 to 3 Sprints. What changes are happening Sprint over Sprint? The team might be surprised the difference even one agile practice can make. By focusing on the change, the team is more likely to see the benefit of that one practice and will be more likely to continue the practice. If you find this approach effective, continue by adding another practice and try that for a few Sprints. After a bit of understanding the trees, the forest will emerge.

Which days of the week to start and end your Sprint

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There’s much confusion over which days of the week to start and end your Sprints. Many teams new to Scrum simply choose to start their Sprints on a Monday.  After all, it’s the start of the work week. And since most Sprint durations are some multiple of one week, the end of the Sprint naturally falls on a Friday. Here’s why starting on a Monday and ending on a Friday may be a bad idea.

Monday Fog

Not everyone is at their best on Monday morning. Shaking off the detritus of the weekend and getting back into the work groove can sometimes take a good part of the day. Plus, Mondays get more than their fair share of late arrivals to work and often fall victim to an extended 3-day weekend. A Sprint Planning meeting held first thing Monday morning may not capture your team at their best.

Friday Fatigue

The bookend to Monday Fog is Friday Fatigue. After a week of intense, focused team collaboration, despite a Sustainable Pace, many of your team members may have already mentally checked out for the weekend. Fridays are also prone to the same extended 3-day weekend problem as Mondays. Getting your whole team together Friday afternoon can be a bit of a challenge. The quality of feedback captured during a Sprint Review meeting held on Friday afternoon is likely to suffer as a result.

Stakeholder Inconvenience

Sprint Planning and Sprint Reviews always benefit from stakeholder input. For example, a Sprint Planning meeting is more effective when a feature’s business stakeholder is available to clarify their needs. And the purpose of the Sprint Review is to gather feedback from these same stakeholders (and others) about the “done” feature to determine what to do next. If any of these stakeholders are absent, there’s a significant lost opportunity for value creation.

Imagine the inconvenience to the stakeholders if the Sprint Review is on Friday afternoon and the Sprint Planning is the following Monday. It would be great if Scrum Teams always worked close to their stakeholders. However, more often than not, stakeholders do not work in the same place as the Scrum Team. This physical separation means that many stakeholders must travel some distance to where the meetings are to be held. If this distance requires a flight or overnight travel, putting a weekend between the two meetings is a big barrier to stakeholder participation.

Middle is Best

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Scheduling the Sprint Planning and Sprint Review meetings in the middle of the week creates the opportunity to hold all of these meetings in one day. The Sprint Review and the Sprint Retrospective of the Sprint that is finishing are held in the morning and the Sprint Planning for the following Sprint is held in the afternoon. Yes, it is a busy day, but the focus is just two Sprints worth of work. The potential payoff of this 1-day investment is big. 

Collaboration and Value Creation

Collaboration is essential to value creation using Scrum. Starting and ending your Sprints mid-week is an easy way to boost collaboration by facilitating and enabling optimal stakeholder and Scrum Team participation in the Scrum meetings that begin and end the Sprint.

What's in Your Agile Toolkit?

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A hammer is very effective at pounding nails, but not so good at turning screws. Different tasks benefit from using the proper tool.

Use of the wrong tool or an improperly used tool can have unintended consequences.  There's an old saying, "Give a 5 year old a hammer, and suddenly everything needs pounding" -- with predictable results.

There are a number of agile frameworks out there, but one of the most popular, Scrum, doesn't prescribe the use of specific tools. This lack of guidance presents a question:  If you are new to Scrum, or are simply trying to increase proficiency, what agile practices should you use? What tools should you pack in your toolbox?

Scrum Skeleton

Scrum Skeleton

Scrum with Practices

Scrum with Practices

Figuring which tools to use is not trivial.  There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of potential practices.  If you don't believe me, here's starter list ( I stopped at 101 practices):

101 Practices

101 Practices

The answer to which tools to use lies in understanding the problem that you are trying to solve.  In an earlier post, "Where do you want to get to?", I suggest a model for narrowing down the choices to tools that fit the problem space.  This narrowing creates focus on a smaller set of tools best suited for the job.  Add the right tools to your toolkit and learn how to use them effectively in the context of solving the problem.