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Why I Love the Boards We Use In Agile Software Development

in Agile/Agile Engineering/Product Management/Project Management

I know this is going to sound weird, but I have an affinity for the boards we use in Agile Software Development (or Agile Project Management). I’m using the generic term board, but you may refer to them as Storyboards, Taskboards, Testing boards, kanban boards, or simply job boards.

If I get into the way-back machine; back to when I first started my career. I was in Valdosta, Georgia working my first job out of college, Trus Joist MacMillan, and I was being walked around the manufacturing facility. I was in awe and deep appreciation for what I was learning. As I went through the customer service area, I noticed a large magnetic board and on it were these color coded cards with lines that represented stages and dates running across the top. I inquisitively asked, “what is that?” They quickly and proudly gave me the run down that these things all represented our customer’s requests for goods (a.k.a. orders). The columns represented stages of the manufacturing cycle and the lanes represented weeks. This board was the central information hub for the plant — the board described everything going on from department-to-department. It gave the all plant team members indicators as to how well are we satisfying our customers, what’s coming up for the next week, and which customer orders were being held up. The other thing I noticed is that as you went throughout the facility, other departments had similar boards that were a reflection of the main board but for the specific customer requests they were working and the boards reflected each departments workflow.

Does this sound familiar?

If it doesn’t, then you are probably not working in an agile world, or living under a rock, or you are using agile by you are missing out on something great. Me and my colleagues talk about metrics a lot – with our customers and internally. Well, in case you didn’t notice, the boards themselves are living breathing metrics. The boards are the team’s communications central as well as a key way to see collectively “how are we doing?”

In fact, the boards often ask just as many questions that they answer. These questions can vary based on your role and whether or not you are an embedded team member using the board or a bystander looking to gain insights from the board. I took on the the challenge of looking at questions asked and answered by the boards and found 40, yes 40 — check them out on this mind map. I’m sure there are more; however, I figured 40 was a good start and stop.

Mindmap of Questions with Boards

Besides all the questions boards ask and answer, I also love boards for their ability to simplify the portrayal of real-time information while being able to have complex information tucked away in the details. Teams can easily innovate and adapt their boards with the use of colors, pictures, lines, layouts, materials, etc.

Finally, I love boards because they actually build the teams. They provide a place to recognize accomplishments, share challenges, and they are the place to stand around and talk about what is happening on the project. If you are using an electronic board, you can still gain these valuable intangibles by keeping the board up-to-date and driving all collaborations on what is happening on the boards. Boards give teams focus, while also given them information that empowers them to make decisions to get things done and meet commitments.

Please share your thoughts on why you like, love, or hate the boards your teams use. Share some examples. If you are not using a board today, why not? Trust me — you will be glad you did.

Checkout this gallery of board examples that I found:

v1storyboard
v1epickanbanboard
Neon Board
Quadrant Board
magnetboard
kanban-full1
IMAG0033_thumb[2]
dsc_0281
bigboard
Agile Task Board

Presentation – Attempting to Jump the Largest Agile Hurdle

in Agile/Project Management/Resources
Agile Culture

Had a great time recently talking to the PMI Atlanta – Agile Interest group. Great participation and lots of fun, nice people. Please check out the presentation and let me know if you want to have this discussion at your organization.

Words Mean Things – Efficient and Effective

in Agile/Product Management/Project Management/Teams
[mks_pullquote align=”left” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#117788″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]Efficiency is doing things right.
Effectiveness is doing the right things.
– Peter Drucker[/mks_pullquote]As we continue to explore words and their impact on conversations and behaviors, I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up a common set of words that generally makes me twitchy if one is emphasized more than the other — the words are Efficient and Effective. Let’s first look at the definitions of both:

effective. a. Successful in producing a desired or intended result.

efficient. a. (esp. of a system or machine) Achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense. (of a person) Working in a well-organized and competent way.

A lot of people talk about and use both these words — in fact, with some folks, these words are their Drinking Game words (every time they say it, you drink). If your role focuses more around management then you probably guilty of using the word “efficient” quite a bit. If your role is focused more around product quality or release management, then you probably say “effective” throughout the day. If what you do or build is largely commoditized or well established, you may tend to focus on how efficiently things get done. If what you produce is suffering in the market (either a lot of support or lack of sales), the word you probably talk about a lot more is effectiveness.

In all these cases, the context of the person or the product dictates our focus on either efficiency or effectiveness. This seems fairly harmless, but problems creep in when we might focus on one thing more than the other. If we focus to much on achieving maximum productivity, we may tend to miss key details and or skirt over a key step that insured quality. If we focus solely on effectiveness, we may see over engineering, gold plating, and an opportunity pass us by.

I’ve read several blogs lately about having efficient daily stand ups or retrospectives or planning meetings, with just a few words mentioning ensuring effectiveness. Since these meetings are about creating a team and continuously improving, effectiveness should be a key part if not the primary part of the discussion. In these situations, you could argue that efficiency would help drive effectiveness. For example, sticking to the 15 minute rule around stand-ups is meant to be a time boundary to help team members to ensure their effectiveness of their message.

EffectiveEfficientAgile and Lean principles have elements of both effective (focus on delivering value) and efficiency (while minimizing waste). If you are an efficiency junky, don’t forget effectiveness. And if you tend to be an effectiveness aficionado, don’t forget that in today’s market landscape — things have to be done efficiently. Both of these words should be used together and when we have a discussion about doing something better, we should understand how the improvement impacts effectiveness and efficiency. I quoted Peter Drucker at the beginning of this post, and it’s appropriate since his writings, specifically his book The Effective Executive has long shaped this Effective vs. Efficient model and thinking. The model shows that without effectiveness, efficiency doesn’t matter. That being said, the time window for effectiveness has gotten smaller due to competition and more demanding consumers — meaning, in his model you may not survive long.

So the next time we are innovating around our process, let’s be sure the conversation includes doing things effectively while while keeping efficiency in mind.

Twelve Awesome Interactive Facilitation Techniques for Agile Teams

in Agile/Agile Engineering/Product Management/Project Management

If you work with a team, and possibly, you are the Scrum Master or Lead or Product Owner, or just a Team Member trying to guide a conversation — then these interactive facilitation techniques are for you. But before we move on, let’s first get it out there that we may call these “Interactive Facilitation Techniques”, but they are really games. More specifically, games that help us at work. Using games — I mean interactive facilitation techniques — help us to effectively and easily facilitate discussions. Using these games to helps to drive good team behaviors (Blunt 1993) including cooperation, clarifying, inspiring, risk taking, harmonizing, and process checking. All the while, helping to overcome the destructive team behaviors of dominating, rushing, withdrawing, digressing, discounting, and blocking. That all being said, let’s get to it. The following list of games are those that I’ve personally used with teams that I see work really well and are easy to adapt. I’ve taken the liberty to group them by the team meetings where they make the most sense; however, as I previously said — they are easy to adapt and can be used for almost any activity.

General Brainstorming

Affinity Mapping – An oldie, but a goodie — this great way to collect, organize, and rationalize ideas — even large amounts of ideas. I’ve used this to help understand the objectives of meeting attendees and get everyone on the some page. Here’s a great a time-lapse video of a team using Affinity mapping to sort 500 pieces of customer feedback…

Dot Voting – Dot voting is a simple way to get a group of people to form consensus. This technique let’s everyone have a voice and it’s a quick and easy way to rank things. By the way, here’s a cool and FREE tool to do this with distributed teams … http://www.dotvoting.org

Pre-mortem – First off, let’s remember that words mean things and mortem is related to death. So I equate doing a pre-mortem to death planning including making your bucket list, understanding what things you should do to be health, and things to do to stay safe. The pre-mortem is a great risk management technique.

Discovery

Product BoxProduct Box – Also known as Vision Box, this is a great way to discover what customers think, a way to uncover expectations, and ultimately share – or gain a shared understanding of the product or project or release. I find the product box to be a great exercise for Release Planning and project chartering.

My Worst Nightmare – This is a great way to get into heads of the team and learn from their experiences, anxieties, and expectations. An easy way to express yourself, you use pictures. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and it’s true. I use this exercise to prime the pump on understanding objectives.

Spider Web – Another game from Innovation Games, Spider Web is a form of context diagramming, but it’s no the run-of-the-mill context diagramming. First, everyone get’s to draw, second — use pictures, and finally, no rules — lines can go from one item to another. You’ll find this a great game to understand information flows between people, systems, and organizations.

Requirements

Staple Yourself to Something – Have you ever found that getting started is the hardest thing to do? Well, this is the perfect game for you. This game involves mapping out processes, it helps to quickly get everyone on the same page as to how something should work. It helps with knowledge exchange, establishing process flow, and establishing a shared understanding.

Empathy Mapping – Establishing personas is a key activity at helping to understand our customers or the users of the systems we are building. This technique is a fast-and-easy way to do understand our users as a team. Even if you already understand your personas, let the team do this exercise and see what they discover.

Buy a Feature – Have you’ve ever been frustrated with stakeholders not being able to make prioritization decisions? Buy a Feature is an awesome way to help drive the discussions around prioritization. You may not land on the final ranking, but you will gain some awesome insight into what is important and where people are willing to negotiate.

White Elephant Sizing – This is the only way to estimate stories. Okay, not the only way, but it’s a good way. This game is a spin on the White Elephant gift exchange we do after the holidays. The values of this game are conversations and shared experiences of all the players. If you want to find a fast way to estimate, try this.

Retrospectives

SailboatSailboat and 4Ls – I’ve talked about both of these games before, and I play them regularly to help evaluate coaching sessions. I encourage folks to mix it up all the time with regards to retrospectives, and these two games are great ways to do it.

Learning Matrix – This one is from Diana Larson and Esther Derby’s Agile Retrospectives book. What I really like about it is that you find things to improve upon based on looking at what you are doing right. You review where things are going well and look at how applying what you are doing well to this things that are going wrong.

Check out the AgileBacon links page for sites that are all about Games that Work.

If Your Title Rhymes with “leaf”, “erector”, or “resident” – You Should Learn About Agile and Lean

in Agile/Project Management/Teams

If you are reading this blog, then you are either part of an Agile transformation or you are someone considering an agile transformation. If you are someone that works in a management or simply a position of authority at your organization, if you don’t know much about Agile or Lean except that they are the latest buzzwords that don’t seem to go away — well, you should learn more about them. Because, the words might change a little, but the practices and principles have been around for a while and they are not going to go away anytime soon.

Agile and Lean are a set of ideas and principles that shape principles which guide our behaviors and foster the frameworks by which teams use to get things done. These have come about because there’s a recognition that trying to build things that are a result of complex cognitive thinking cannot be done well and in a timely manner to keep up with the demands of consumers. Couple these demands with an exponentially growing and aggressive competitive marketplace — the concepts of focusing on building the right thing and eliminating the waste that keeps us from delivering things right have naturally emerged. Agile and Lean are not old ideas, there’s been a ton of learning and shaping of these ideas and principles. New frameworks and or practices emerge daily as our products evolve and the people creating them do the same.

Why Should You Learn Agile and Lean?

clone_dollyHave you ever said, “Dolly is a great leader and worker, I wish we could just clone her and have ten Dolly’s.”

Or, how about, “I wish our team would just make a decision and get it done.”

Well, Agile and Lean values promote:
[list][list_item icon=”fa-star”]Empowerment[/list_item][list_item icon=”fa-star”]Trust[/list_item][list_item icon=”fa-star”]Commitment[/list_item][list_item icon=”fa-star”]Quality[/list_item][list_item icon=”fa-star”]Value[/list_item][list_item icon=”fa-star”]Team Work[/list_item][list_item icon=”fa-star”]Transparency[/list_item][/list] All of these things involve, giving teams information and the vision, and then getting out of the way to let them deliver.

Another thing to note about the values above are that they are generally practiced by all organizations and you’ll find aspects of each word above within the corporate mission statements. By learning more about Agile and Lean, you can learn how to help your teams or leadership leverage the organizations’ values and adapt those advocated throughout Agile and Lean adoptions.

The predominant reason organizations and teams adopt agile is to respond better to change — that is market changes. The other reasons are productivity and quality, all things that help us make products people want to buy, at the price they are willing to pay, and ultimately with the right level of quality that help mitigate long-term cost of supporting. A byproduct of agile adoptions is improved morale.

How You Learning Agile and Lean Can Help

cycle, loop or feedback conceptAgile and Lean advocates shrinking the feedback loops which improve communications amongst departments and ultimately help your employees make better decisions. Well, you understanding when the feedback loops happen, your role in the feedback loops, and the types of information shared at the different levels of the organization can help you keep yourself out of the way from the team. What I mean by this is that when sometimes things are going right, we’ll go back to what we are comfortable with and understand — and generally this means metrics and reports that may be costly to gather and result in anti-patterns for good team work.

The other value of you learning about Agile and Lean is that you can help facilitate the adoption by being a good leader and facilitating change practices. Keeping a level head when things aren’t going right, and providing guidance as to how best support the teams.

What Should You Do to Learn?

There’s a ton of reading materials out there. Just keep in mind that there’s a lot of books, articles, and blogs that focus on the practices and not as much on the strategic and scaling aspects around agile. This spaces is growing as organizations have realized that not only is there the “build better software” value, but the planning and practices around Enterprise Agile give organizations a framework to make better investments and harness the short feedback loops to improve ROI.

To help get you started, here are a few resources that have been recommended to me and I can vouch for their value of learning:

The Agile Executive Whitepaper, Jim Magers, VersionOne. Nice quick read and primer / introduction to agile.

The Concise Executive Guide to Agile, Israel Gat. Nice quick read that provides a deeper dive than the Agile Executive whitepaper.

Scaling Software Agility: Best Practices for Large Enterprises, Dean Leffingwell. Foundations for the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) which is being advocated as a framework for leveraging Agile and Lean in the enterprise.

Principles of Product Development Flow, Donald Reinerstsen. Helps explain the way Agile and Lean works in Product Development.

Training – Agile for Executives Workshop, VersionOne. This is a workshop that I’ve performed as well as my colleagues and it’s aimed at being a concise four hour session aimed at ensuring Executives understand the history, underpinnings, and execution models surrounding of Agile and Lean.

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