Posts Tagged ‘lessons’

77fb900d0923c2cdff00ab346fa453abOnce upon a time there was a team called the Kanban team. But they didn’t do Kanban. They had a task board and they tracked their work, but that was it. The Kanban team also had a new agile coach. This new coach wasn’t very familiar with Kanban, but did some research and realised that the team was missing some basics. The team met and did some exercises and reviewed their processes and board and made some changes – changes supporting Kanban basics. But these changes didn’t stick. And the team didn’t really like the new board. And the team didn’t feel empowered to improve on the new board. The fact that the lanes were taped onto the whiteboard also meant it was hard to change things on the fly, so in some cases the team could also not be bothered.

The agile coach was frustrated. The team was not learning and they were not growing. Their environment was changing and they were not adapting. They didn’t actually want to do Kanban. They had a broken information radiator. The agile coach decided to watch and wait. The more she watched the more she realised what the gaps were – where the team needed feedback – but she was at a loss as to how to resolve those gaps. She had conversations with certain key team members and stakeholders. She shared her concerns and observations. She created awareness through conversation. However, the team were not yet ready to tackle these things. They needed some guidance and direction. So she waited. And researched. And discussed. And watched some more. And then another agile coach recommended she read “Lean from the Trenches”. And she realised that this was what she had been searching for.

Having learnt from the first attempted iteration of the board, the agile coach decided on a different approach to presenting the changes. Thankfully these changes could coincide with a team reshuffle: the Kanban team would be no more. There would be a new team – a mix of old and new team members. And the incoming team members were familiar with Scrum and simple task boards. This provided a ‘good excuse’ to advocate some changes to the information radiator. So what she did was:

  1. Use the ideas from “Lean from the Trenches” together with her observations of how the team worked and the type of work that they tackled to draft a new task board. She made sure that the new task board still included the information the team found valuable on the current board – even where it was currently hidden or somewhat confusing. She also included some basic changes she hoped would help generate feedback to guide team-driven improvements.
  2. She shared her board with team members individually. She asked them what their thoughts were. She asked them for questions and feedback. She was happy to see that they quickly connected the new and the old and found the new version simpler to understand.
  3. She shared that she was going to remove the permanent lines. The lines would be drawn with whiteboard markers. It would be easy to change the board. Things would be more flexible.

Eventually the big day arrived. The agile coach and one of the analysts mapped the existing stories and tasks to the new board and then the hard work of ripping down the old board began. Come Monday morning, the new board was ready for stand-up. There were still some questions and some of the stories/tasks moved a bit during the session, but even from day one the process was working better:

  1. The team solved discrepancies on the board themselves. With the previous board iteration, they had turned to the agile coach when they had a question or weren’t sure how to use their information radiator instead of finding a solution for themselves.
  2. There were already suggestions from the team around how to tweak the board. They were already taking on ownership of their information radiator.
  3. It was VERY visible that work-in-progress was piling up on one of the key stories – and that there were in progress stories or tasks that were not currently being worked on by anyone.

The key take-aways?

  • Don’t be afraid to try something new.
  • Be ready for failure – ideas won’t always work the first time round, but that’s how one learns.
  • Persevere: if at first you don’t succeed; try, try again.
  • And once it’s initiated, let it go – ultimately the team needs to own the change.

What changes have you struggled then succeeded to make in your team recently? What techniques eventually led to your success?

StoryMap

(This is part 1)

I liked the idea of story-mapping from the first time that I read about it. I’d done a couple of up-front sprint zero type exercises to create and size a Product Backlog at my previous company, and the feedback from the team about the exercise was that, once it got down to the relative sizing, it was hard to keep a grasp on the bigger picture and people often got confused about the relationships and boundaries between stories.

Simply, a story map is a way of maintaining a visual connection between stories as it shows the higher level user process (which also intuitively maps dependencies in 99% of cases) while showing the stories underneath. The other cool thing is that it’s a visual way to ensure one is doing vertical slices – by choosing stories in horizontal groups (so across the user process). Stories are also prioritised vertically adding the dimension that comes from the traditional Product Backlog. One of my team members, seeing our story map for the first time, described it as a ‘seven dimensional view’ of the project. Amazingly, although it has these many dimensions, it’s a pretty simple view to understand and can also be used to show progress.

If you haven’t already done so, I recommend you spend a worthwhile hour watching this video. I’ve also added some other links about story-maps below, but the video is still one of the best resources I’ve come across.

For this two-part entry, I’ll describe a bit of how our very first story mapping session went and some of the learnings I gained from running it. I intend to do some follow-up posts over time as our map (hopefully) evolves.

Our ‘project’ is slightly challenging to story map as

  1. We’ve already started working
  2. It’s about replacing something that already exists
  3. It’s related to our security architecture – so it’s very technical and quite difficult to map from a ‘user’ perspective.

My session (which ended up being two) followed the approach in the video quite closely, so had the following parts/steps:

  1. An intro in which I highlighted the desired outcomes and high level process that we would be following in the session. I also introduced the goal that was proposed by the Product Owner. This led to some debate as it was more business focused, whereas work to date (about a year) had been more about the technology. The team felt there were other ways to achieve business value using the existing infrastructure (a valid point). In hindsight, the goal may not have been the best goal for the session, but it did result in some much-needed debate and clarification and still helped keep the group focused on business value rather than technical goals. I did receive feedback that more up-front detail on the overall process we followed may have been useful in the intro as people weren’t always sure when it was the right time to introduce an idea/concept (none of the attendees were familiar with creating a story map before the session).
  2. The team (individually – silent brainstorming) wrote up stickies (all the same colour – purple) about the ‘things people do’. To help stimulate their thinking, I put up some typical users (we ended up trashing one of them). I also took them through the email example (just the user task level) to help get them to the right level. Once everyone was done scribbling, they did the grouping and naming exercise as demonstrated in the video. We actually struggled with our user tasks being too high level (e.g. manage xyz) rather than too low-level: it did help to try to get the team to start tasks with verbs where they had to break it down a level.
  3. We prioritised the groups and user tasks from left to right and ran through some scenarios. This highlighted a lot of gaps that hadn’t been clear before. At this point the group were getting quite tired and it was nearing lunch time. If I’d had time, I probably would have given everyone a long break at this point. As it was, we only had time for a coffee and tea break. Until now, all the work had been done on a large table in the centre of the room: I now put the skeleton up on the board (not wide enough) for the next part of the exercise. You need a very wide space for story maps!
  4. The next part was not done as comprehensively as we would have liked. We skipped writing stories for some user tasks that we knew wouldn’t be in our first slice and didn’t get into the detail of the second application we’d identified. We also did not write stories for work that we’d already done, which created some confusion later. We still got what we needed out of the exercise, but more time would have been good, and we will need to revisit parts of our skeleton. There’s also a (low) risk that some of the tasks we’ve left out for now are actually risky/important for our first slice.

That marked the end of our first session as we were already thirty minutes over time. Throughout the session, I encouraged the team to write down issues, risks and assumptions on bright pink stickies so that we could ensure we addressed them appropriately and did not forget about them. It also automatically created a parking lot, because anything that was relevant overall but not to where we were in the process could be parked (and eventually they did all find a home, either on the story map or as impediments in our impediment backlog).

Things that I felt worked well:

  • Being strict about using certain coloured stickies to represent particular things. This also made it easier to reproduce the map in a different location!
  • The email example was useful for framing what level we were speaking to.
  • The individual brainstorming and grouping approaches both worked really well. They got people on their feet and everyone engaged once they got the hang of it.
  • Do try to stick to the recommended 5-7 person limit.
  • The product owner was happy to see the team focusing on a business goal rather than a tech goal.

Things that didn’t work well:

  • We didn’t cover all the scope when we created our stories. We may have missed something.
  • Time. In the end, we needed three-and-a-half hours to complete both sessions (which wasn’t far off my gut feel of four hours).
  • Related to time, the team got tired. We could have done with more breaks.
  • The conversation about and agreement on the goal should have happened before the session.
  • Ideally this exercise should happen before work has started, as having done and partially done stories did confuse matters when creating the map.

Links

I recently played a Kanban game with my new Kanban team. I’ve never played an Agile game before so was not sure how it would work, but had heard about the airplane game and how successful it is at teaching teams about flow, pull systems, cycle times, limiting work in progress, etc. After doing some online research, I stumbled across some variations of the traditional game, and was attracted to the Kanban Pizza Game. It looked fun and something everyone could relate to, plus it created the opportunity of actually ordering pizza for afterwards 🙂 The link goes into some detail about how to facilitate the game, so I won’t go into that here. I’d rather highlight some of the lessons I learnt trying to facilitate a game I’d never played or watched being played for the first time.

You need a helper!

There is a lot going on this game, not least of which ensuring teams don’t leave the pizza slices in their oven for too short (or too long without penalties). Thankfully I roped our Product Owner in at the last moment and he also helped with quality control and counting up for scoring, as well as keeping track of which slices had been “spoiled”.

Enforce WIP limits at least once

When I facilitated, I mentioned work in progress limits and enforced that each team had at least three stations (of their choice). In the close-out, one of the teams mentioned that they had set WIP limits but had not really stuck to them – or had changed them on the fly. My feeling is that some of the Kanban principles may have been more clear had these been enforced for the round. In hindsight, it may have worked better from a demonstration perspective to have enforced certain base stations and base limits to start with and then allowed the team to tweak them as the rounds progressed.

Track cycle times

The facilitator’s guide says measuring this is optional (perhaps because you really will need more helpers to do this). My feeling is that we lost a lot of the point by not tracking the cycle times between different rounds and changes to the process. We saw a significant improvement in the number of slices produced between rounds 1 and 2 (and one of the teams did observe that having a pull system – the orders – contributed to this), however, as things became more complicated, the points scored at the end of the round did not always correlate to improved efficiency. Cycle times would have also helped illustrate just how much value was being lost through wasted inventory.

Have a practice round

The group all said that they were more efficient in the second round merely because they had a better grasp of the process and rules. It may be an idea to run the first round twice before introducing Kanban concepts to mitigate this ‘learning’ effect on the outcomes.

Don’t give them timelines

The facilitator’s guide does warn why the team shouldn’t know how long a round is (watch out for clever teams timing a round for better planning!). I did let them know when we were busy with the final round, which in hindsight I probably should not have, as then they paced themselves to make sure there was no excess inventory at the end of the round rather than working towards getting as many orders filled as possible. I guess in real development this approach might make sense, but it didn’t really help from a demonstration perspective.

Outcomes

Things I felt came through quite strongly

  • Having stations.
  • The advantages of a pull system.
  • The group had fun!
  • The fact that the whole process was important: it was not helpful to have a highly efficient stickie cutter if the end-to-end process was too slow to consume the parts.

Things that didn’t come through as well

  • Limiting work in progress.
  • Impact of limiting work in progress on cycle times.
  • Having explicit policies (team felt that they were implicit).
  • Idle time.

Have you run this game before? What did or did not work for you?

Links