This is a post in a series on the talks that I attended at my first ever Agile Africa Conference in Johannesburg. All posts are based on the sketch-notes that I took in the sessions. 

Some of the slots were really short, which meant speakers couldn’t really go into a lot of detail. These are sketch-notes from some of the shorter talks.

Popcorn Flow

agileafrica.JPG  popcornflow

Find out more: https://popcornflow.com/

 

 

Leader Transformation

agileafrica

The full title of this case study was “Leader Transformation – a side effect of an agile transition”.

Key take-outs for me:

  • Different parties have different motives and often change driven from the top is feared or regarded as a ‘fad’ to ‘survive’.
  • Beware early successes- sometimes they create a false sense of confidence which leads to running before one can properly walk
  • Start from where you are

Mob Programming Case Study

mob

An interesting talk on the before and after effects of having a team practice mob programming. Some of my key take-outs for if you want to try it:

  • Start by following the rules and then inspect and adapt.
  • There are some things where mob programming doesn’t work very well, e.g. doing research, where learning is not an outcome of the work, and problems that are still very large.
  • You need to mob program with a cross-functional team with all the perspectives (problem knowledge, testing expertise, developers, UX, etc.).
  • You also need to create time for team members to do things on their own i.e. not all of their day is spent with the ‘mob’. This “alone time” could be spent on things that aren’t suited to mob programming and/or other creative initiatives.

 

This is a post in a series on the talks that I attended at my first ever Agile Africa Conference in Johannesburg. All posts are based on the sketch-notes that I took in the sessions. 

I was hoping the video for this talk would be available before I got round to blogging about it, however unfortunately it isn’t🙂 I’ll update this post with a link once it is available, because I don’t feel my notes will really do the talk by Neal Ford full justice.

agileafrica

The talk kicked off with a couple of tales about QWERTY keyboards and the legacy that remains. Most people have heard of the fable that QWERTY keys are arranged to help typists type more slowly to prevent jamming (apparently not true…), however how many of us have ever considered the underscore? Sure, we use it now, because it’s there, but did it  really make sense to port if over to modern-day keyboards when it was originally there to enable manual typists to underline pieces of text? Perhaps not🙂

To Neal, anti-patterns are wolf ideas in sheep’s clothing: they are ideas that look like a good idea at the time, but sometimes turn out to be a terrible idea. He then went on to describe six practices that have potentially proven to create anti-patterns over time:

1. Abstraction Distraction

Abstraction seemed like a clever idea to black box certain functions, however as the abstraction layers increase, things become increasingly complicated and confusing, eventually resulting in so much abstraction that the code is almost unusable and people are afraid to go in and make changes because they have no idea what will break

2. Code Reuse Abuse

Code reuse in principle, is good, but it can also lead to a whole bunch of dependencies that need to be managed.

3. Overlooking Dynamic Equilibrium

Things change all the time – and they change at different paces – so it’s really hard to plan an architecture for the future because you don’t know which parts will change when and at what pace. It’s no longer possible to be predictable, so rather focus on being adaptable.

4. Dogma

“Do it because I said so” or “do it because that’s how it’s always been done”

5. Sabotage
  • Cowboy coding
  • Focusing on cool stuff rather than necessary stuff
  • Inventing cool puzzles to solve
6. Forgetting that some things scale non-linearly
  • Examples are code, teams, and tools over time.
  • As the size increases, the pain increases exponentially
  • Tools have life-cycles and Neal recommended that when you are using a tool and it starts becoming painful to use, the you should probably start looking for a new tool

 

Neal also recommended a book called “Evolutionary Architectures” and mentioned some key concepts to bear in mind:

  • Components are deployed
  • Features are released
  • Allow for incremental change at an architectural level
  • Embrace experimentation and remember to include users in your feedback loop

And I’ll leave you with one last thought from the talk: Is Transitive Dependency Management tomorrow’s GoTo anti-pattern?

LINKS
nealford2

Thanks to sketchingscrummaster.com

 

This is a post in a series on the talks that I attended at my first ever Agile Africa Conference in Johannesburg. All posts are based on the sketch-notes that I took in the sessions. 

I’m not sure if you recall our first experiment with self-selection? Imagine my surprise when I realised that our keynote speaker on the topic, Sandy Mamoli, was the very same person who had been part of the team that created the material we’d used for our own self-selection attempts. As we’d also run a second less successful experiment, I was quite interested to hear a little more “from the horse’s mouth”, so to speak.

agileafrica.JPG

There were some key points shared by Sandy that helped me understand a little more why our second attempt had not succeeded from an expected outcome perspective, but had, in fact, succeeded from a feedback perspective.

  1. Purpose is important. Squads form around a strong purpose that they can buy into.
  2. Self-selection will always fail if management selection is going to be done afterwards to ‘tweak’ the outcomes. (Her solution: make the blueprints for the new squads very visible everywhere as soon as possible after the session.)
  3. She shared a story where squads would not form around a particular vision or goal and usually where that happened there were deeper issues at the root which needed to be resolved before a team would be successful.
  4. Self-selection should NOT directly or explicitly impact reporting lines.

So, upon reflection, after comparing our first and second experiment and adding in some of the tips from Sandy, these were my conclusions:

  • Self-selection should happen independently of reporting lines
    • The first time we did it, there was no impact on reporting lines; the second time we did it, reporting lines were impacted by which squad you moved into.
  • Try keep “people owners” as observers not players
    • There was a subtle form of “Liar Liar” in our second attempt as every time there was a significant shift in numbers to one or other ‘cost center’ then the managers (who were also the Product Owners) had a quick chat about how to re-balance things. In our first experiment, everyone remained in the same “cost center”.
  • Ensure the Product Owners are well prepared in terms of their vision
    • The second time we ran self-selection, one Product Owner had a very clear and mature view of what the squad would be achieving; whereas the other Product Owner was new to the space and hadn’t really had time to formulate their thinking and strategy properly.

Sandy also advised the following:

  • Where squads have fully formed after a couple of rounds, move forward with those squads (regardless of the state of the others).
  • Where squads aren’t fully formed because there just aren’t enough people, have the squad members identify what ‘imaginary friends’ they need to ‘hire’ to form a full squad.
  • Where squads haven’t formed for less obvious reasons and/or people refuse to participate in the process (and choose no-squad), revert to traditional management selection for those people and root cause the reasons for the resistance.

This keynote was very valuable to me as it shifted my perspective of our second attempt from being a failure to being a great source of useful feedback about the state of a particular space. Have you tried self-selection? What was the outcome? What did you learn?

 

This is a post in a series on the talks that I attended at my first ever Agile Africa Conference in Johannesburg. All posts are based on the sketch-notes that I took in the sessions. 

agileafricaSam and Karen started by clarifying what they meant by distributed teams: teams that don’t sit in the same location. They then categorised distributed teams into three main categories:

  1. Teams that work in the same time zone and/or the majority of their working/office hours overlap
  2. Teams that work in different time zones but there is some overlap of working/office hours
  3. Teams that work in different time zones or have different shifts so that there is no overlap of working/office hours.

For each, they then shared some common characteristics and where best to focus energy.

Full Overlap

These teams are characterised by synchronous communication. Here the best focus would be on technology and tools to ensure that communication is as easy as possible when people are distributed. They suggested some ideas like a video wall (expensive option) or running Skype continuously in the background (cheap option) to allow synchronous communication and cues to happen as naturally as possible.

Partial Overlap

Communication in these teams is largely asynchronous (e.g. email), so time together is valuable. Rather than use this time for things that can be communicated is an asynchronous manner, focus on using team time to create understanding. A practical example in the Scrum world is rather than use overlapping time for something like a stand-up (which can also be done via an update in most cases), use it for things like Grooming and Planning where more complicated conversations are required to flesh out understanding and work through difficult problems.

No Overlap

Their main ideas here related to being creative with

  • Tools e.g. creating a video for reviews and stand-up that can be distributed to the other team(s)
  • Rotating a team member who “takes one for the team” and changes their office hours so that there is some overlap with the other team(s).
  • Planning work to try to keep work where there are dependencies in teams that are working in similar time zones.

Besides the advice above, they also had the following general tips:

  • Use Good Technology
  • Have and Use Working Agreements
    • “Bottom Line” – a phrase used when people start to waffle and need to get to the point
    • Talking Over – agreement on what happens if people talk over each other. One idea is to give the facilitator permission to provide the order of who speaks in what order.
    • Multiple back-up plans – So if (when) the technology fails, everyone automatically knows which one to try next (and it doesn’t need to be discussed)
    • Silence – Silence is OK
  • Good Voice Trumps Bad Video
  • Same Experience for All
    • If one person needs to dial in, then everyone should dial in
  • Prepare
    • Prepare for sessions more than you would for face-to-face: agendas, tools, pre-reading, etc.

You can find more tips at RemoteAgileCoach.com.

I’ve shared some of my thoughts on distributed teams in a previous post. What have your experiences been with working on a Distributed Team?

This is a post in a series on the talks that I attended at my first ever Agile Africa Conference in Johannesburg. All posts are based on the sketch-notes that I took in the sessions. agileafrica

Despite its short length, this was an interesting talk for me. There were two new ideas that I’d not been exposed to before and quite liked. The first was the term “Most Loved Product” (MLPLOL-48). A MLPLOL-48 (rather than MVP) is a slice of a Product that can be used to gather feedback about the user experience i.e. does my Product makes my customer smile? The important part about a MLPLOL-48 is to not forget the smiley!

CaptureSecond, and largely related, was the concept of what a MLPLOL-48 vertical slice needed to consist of. Whereas vertical slices traditionally relate to the stack on which the Product was built, the UX slice needs to include the functional, reliable, usable and emotional design layers to be a full vertical slice.

The presenters also touched on user feedback and how it was important to consider all aspects of the user experience: what they hear, see, say, do, feel and think. They did caution, though, that “not every colourless liquid in a glass is water”, so although user feedback can tell us what they are hearing, seeing, saying, doing, feeling and thinking; we need to probe a little deeper to determine WHY they are having that experience.

Have you ever heard of a MLPLOL-48? What are your thoughts on the UX vertical slice concept?

This is a post in a series on the talks that I attended at my first ever Agile Africa Conference in Johannesburg. All posts are based on the sketch-notes that I took in the sessions. 

Kniberg

I was very excited at the fact that Henrik Kniberg was presenting at Agile Africa this year. And his opening keynote did not disappoint. First, he made it clear what he meant by Scale. He didn’t mean a couple of teams, or even many teams working on different teams working on separate things – he meant numerous team with various inter-dependencies. And then he told us some ways we could avoid becoming “unagile” when working with lots of teams.

 

He said that the first thing to realise is that for such a complicated ecosystem to work, you want everyone to be operating from a space of high autonomy and high alignment. When you achieve that, then everyone understands the problem and also has the mandate to figure out how to solve it. kniberg1

Kniberg then introduced the concept of a “soup” of ingredients required for an environment in which many teams could thrive and continue to operate in an agile fashion. The ingredients of his soup included:

  1. Shared Purpose
  2. Transparency
  3. Feedback Loops
  4. Clear Priorities
  5. Organisational Learning

1. Shared Purpose

Kniberg emphasised that in order for everyone to have a shared purpose, over-communication was essential. Every team member needs to be in a position where they are able to answer the questions:

  • What are you working on?
  • Why are you working on it – what is its impact?
  • How will you measure when it is done?

He described the following top-down model as an example:

  1. The company agrees on their beliefs. This belief relates to how they are to remain a viable operation. It could be around how the company believes they make money; who their customers are; or what is likely to happen in the future.
  2. Beliefs then break down into North Star Goals. This is a goal that the organisation wants to achieve in order to realise a belief. It needs to have metrics.
  3. Goals are then broken down into “Bets“. It is called a bet because it is a hypothesis: if we do this, then we think (bet) that this will be the impact on our goal.
  4. And, finally, teams have goals which contribute to proving or disproving bets (Kniberg called these tribe goals).

2. Transparency

Being clear about what everyone is working on and why helps to provide context that enables autonomous teams to make intentional rather than accidental decisions. One of the tools Kniberg shared with us was the DIBB Framework.

DIBB Framework

DIBB stands for Data, Insights, Belief and Bets. Basically you have a single space listing all the prioritised Bets and it is very clear what data was used to generate insights that led to the Bets, and then the Belief that particular Bet relates too. Bets can be tracked on a single Kanban taskboard with the columns: Now (what we’re working on now); Next (the Bets we will work on next); and Later (not priority for now). Kniberg emphasised that all of this information should be in a simple format that was easy to share with all (one of the companies he worked for used a simple spreadsheet).

3. Feedback Loops

We all know feedback loops are important. Feedback loops help us adjust our course. Scrum and other Agile frameworks already have built-in feedback loops for single teams. It is necessary to increase the feedback loops to cover multiple teams when scaling. Examples of multi-team feedback loops could be a Scrum of Scrums, multi-team retrospectives, Friday demos, Whole Product Review or Alignment Events, and Management Reviews.

Whole Product Review

A whole product review is when all the teams working on a particular product (whether building features or working as a support team) get together to plan for their next timebox. It includes the following components:

  • A demo by each team of what they have done since the last Product Review (to create context)
  • Break-outs per team to plan ahead for the next timebox.
  • Creation of Team Boards that include
    • The goals for the next timebox ordered by impact
    • Stretch goals for the next timebox – these may not be achieved
    • Risks in the next timebox
    • The deliverables that will be delivered at the end of the next timebox
  • A management review of the team boards on the same day before the next timebox starts

Triple Feedback Loop

This actually came out of a conversation I was listening to during one of the Fish Bowl sessions at the conference (and not from Kniberg), but an idea for these multi-level feedback loops could be:

  1. Normal team reviews (Loop 1)
  2. Monthly product reviews (Loop 2 – with all the teams)
  3. Quarterly Sponsor review (Loop 3 whole day with team and management)

4. Ordered Clear Priorities

Ordered priorities help teams make the right decisions when trade-offs are required. Priorities should feed down into teams from the Company Beliefs and North Star Goals. Clear priorities help teams answer the questions “If we can only do one, which one would we do and why?”.

5. Organisational Learning

In order to improve, we need to learn. We cannot learn if we don’t have time to stop and process feedback that we receive. Or have time to practice skills we are growing. Kniberg suggested a couple of ways to create slack time in teams:

  • A pull team schedule where teams pull work as they have capacity to do it
  • Scheduled slack time e.g. retrospectives, gaps in sprints, etc.
  • A culture of promoting learning over busyness

Some ideas for cross-team learning:

  • Holding “Lunch and Learn” events where teams get together in an informal session to discuss a particular topic
  • Cross-team retrospectives
  • Embedding team members i.e. having a team member from the team that is sharing temporarily sit with the team that is learning

chef The last part of the keynote dealt with the “chef”. The chef is the person who ensures all the ingredients are available for the soup and continuously tweaks them to ensure the soup is as tasty as possible. In traditional organisations, we used to call this person or persons “leaders”. Leaders are not there to tell the team how to solve the problem. They are there to ensure that the team environment contains the ingredients for autonomy and alignments.

Leader chefs:

  • Create a shared sense of accountability
  • Enable teams to align their decisions to company goals and with other teams
  • Ensure that decisions can be made through transparency and clear ordering of priorities
  • Create slack

My main take-outs were:

  • Intentional rather than accidental decisions
  • Scaling needs autonomous teams that are aligned
  • Some cool ideas for creating top-down goal alignment and transparency
  • Some cool ideas for creating peer-alignment and transparency
  • The role of leaders in an Agile set-up

What were yours?

 

https://sketchingscrummaster.files.wordpress.com/2016/08/hendrik-kniberg1.jpg?w=648

With thanks to sketchingscrummaster.com

Dark Stories

Posted: August 19, 2016 in Team
Tags: , ,

darkstoriesI was following one of the Australian Agile conferences on Twitter recently and someone posted something about a talk on “Black Stories”. The click-trail eventually led me to this link and I decided that the card game sounded quite appealing (regardless of whether it would prove to be useful as a tool or not). A search for “Black Stories” for sale to South Africans almost ended in vain, but thankfully I decided to submit a query to http://www.timelessboardgames.co.za/ and they got back to me almost immediately to say that they had a set of “Dark Stories” in stock. A quick Google confirmed that this was the equivalent thing and, seeing as it was a Friday afternoon and I was in the mood for shopping, I ordered a box, which arrived the following week.

Since then, I’ve played a couple of games with my team. Our organisation has a horrid culture of people being late for meetings (generally five minutes; when I’m planning a session I always plan for at least 10 minutes) so having something for us to do while people dribbled in seemed a great idea. And, if it encouraged people to get there on time, even better! At first, people didn’t really figure out what was going on (I only play one card per session and we time-box it to 10 minutes, so sometimes people arrive after we’re done) but they’re slowly getting the hang of it and I have noticed that the percentage of on-time arrivals is increasing. I also like that it encourages some lateral thinking, which is also something we don’t practice very often in our day-to-day, so hopefully it will stimulate some more creative problem-solving too.

So far, I haven’t managed to take my box home yet to play it in my personal capacity, but that’s OK. A chance to make meetings more fun is far more valuable. If you’ve been struggling with this or getting people to rooms on time, I’d really give this a try. Do you have any other easy tricks or tools you’ve used in the past to set a good tone for a meeting or encourage other helpful behaviours?