Scrum Shortcuts the Video Series from Ilan Goldstein

Aussie Scrum expert Ilan Goldstein has made the perfect accompaniment to his handy book of scrum tips called Scrum Shortcuts without Cutting Corners.  It’s very handy reference to anyone wanting to get through those tough episodes we all experience in product development with its slant clearly on Scrum – I find the tips to have a universal appeal as well.  Here’s a bit of a summary and teaser for you to try the video series yourself.

On FrontRowAgile Ilan talks us through his tips and experiences by diving them up into five broad categories.

  • Planning and Protecting
  • Requirement Refinement
  • Establishing Estimates
  • Monitoring and Metrics
  • Reviews and Retrospectives

Planning and Protecting

Here we get tips on Sprint Planning.  Scrum tells us to do this to set up a goal for a team to deliver value to their customers.  There is important psychology that backs this up.  To quote Tim Lister and Tom DeMarco – ‘Providing lots of satisfying closure, one of the key elements of a chemistry-building strategy for organisations’  Maintaining a rhythm via sprints and the ceremonies within helps teams achieve results.

Visual representations help a lot.  The brain processes visual information 60000 times faster – from what I hear :)  So it follows that it would aid human psychology.  It’s more stimulating and we gain information just from passive observation.  So the task board is a central part of Scrum – actually the Scrum Guide tells us to use any visualization that makes sense and the task board almost always does.

In addition to this other visual artifacts help us like the sprint burndown and a prominent display of the Sprint Goal.  It becomes part of the team’s rituals.  Place them near the board.

A sprint is never without hurdles.  Visualize these (risks) as well.  A memory peg helps to CONTROL your issues.  The acronym helps as follows:

Confirm, Triage, Remove, Outline and Learn.  – Ilan explains more in the video ;)

Requirement Refinement

It’s important to divide stories into tasks.  A mistake is divide stories on a technical basis.  It’s common to see UI, Business Logic, Data Logic splits across an entire story.  Find a split that delivers a slice of functionality that cuts through the layers of technology and deliver that.  For example username/password of a Login story.

Sometimes we do need to deal with a technical requirement.  Try and fold those into something that is useful to the customer.  The use of user story format for technical stories is a bit of square peg in round hole.  Don’t sweat that if it happens.

A word on completing those stories and tasks with the well known definition of done.  That checklist that a team uses to ensure that when they say they are done they are done.  The team creates and owns this, but we do expect to see similar items across many software teams. Examples like unit tested and peer reviewed.  The DoD operates at task, story and release level – have one for each level.

Establishing Estimates

We learn about using story point estimation.  It’s useful to factor three planes into the estimation, namely Complexity, Repetition and Risk.  We don’t need detailed specs, rather other items to compare against – that is benchmarks from historical performance (or fake it til you make it – i.e. till you create history, use your best guess).  We learn about the approach to Planning Poker – a big take away is to incorporate diversity and it’s a common pitfall to assume experience is all that counts.  Some tips are provided on planning poker – rather than repeat them all (you should watch the video for that) some are re-estimate classes of stories when discovery of a wrong estimate occurs and to facilitate respectful debate on differing sized stories as opposed to a deconstruction.

Monitoring and Metrics

Metrics need to matter – rather than metrics matter.  They are a guide to inspect and adapt and not a tool or wedge against individuals.

Many teams find the sprint burndown chart to be useful as a guide on progress.  Used honestly it will highlight issues visually that a team can use to correct itself during a sprint (i.e. we aren’t going so well) or for when more work can be pulled in (we are doing well).  The same can be applied at the release level as well.

The daily scrum is an important monitoring ceremony. An effective standup is pivotal to being able to move tasks do a done state through the three questions (What I’ve been doing, What I intend to do and What is blocking me).  Keep it short and on topic and agree to fix issues outside the event.  To keep it interesting try by energising the event like throwing around a toy and change that up when it starts to wane.

Early and continual walkthroughs during the sprint are important for feedback from the PO and from others.  It will make the Sprint Review more of a tick and create a more valuable experience when that event occurs because it can focus on outcomes and looking ahead.  A walkthrough is a checkpoint that keeps us within the sprint goal and on track.

Reviews and Retrospectives

The Sprint Review is a momentus event and should be handled as such.  Be prepared with Demo Data and a real staging environment and not smoke and mirrors – the PO could say to roll forward to production with the increment.  Let the attendees know beforehand with an agenda and ensure the location is booked and setup with all that is necessary like a whiteboard and the hardware.

When running it consider it more like a collaborative workshop rather than a demo.  A two way exchange is therefore encouraged. Keep the meeting on topic with off-topic conversations acknowledged and agreed to be parked for later.  The development team gets a feel for what’s coming next and is able to ask questions around that.

Those receiving the product increment get a feel for how the team went about the delivery fostering an empathic view of the effort.  An enjoyable review is an indicator of success.

With the retrospective, the team has it’s all important opportunity to reflect and celebrate it’s wins and also to think deeply about where it can improve (invite the PO as well).  Ironically when the pressure is, is when it’s most useful.  Scrums values really do come into play in this event:

Scrums Values

Scrum Values

Some popular topics for focus are around communications, process, scope, quality, skills, environments with an aim to have actions that can be delivered in an upcoming sprint (don’t do them all if there are many – rank them).  Keep those actions visible near your task board.  A couple of interesting retrospective techniques are represented (circles and bubbles) with these suiting newer teams – with mature teams, just shooting the breeze works well.


Doing Scrum is more than going through the motions.  Ilan conveys throughout the videos this ethos.  Look deeper, be prepared for the hard stuff and learn from the experiences and everyone will be winners.  This video series will help with great tips to aid in your scrum and agile journey.

Gaming of Weighted Lead Time


I think this highlights important points about metrics. I favour fewer of course, however this one looks like it’s very useful.

Originally posted on The IT Risk Manager:

This post is in response to Kent McDonald’s excellent question on the Weighted Lead Time post. The question deserves a longer response. Kent asked… “What are some of the behavior changes you have seen from teams or organizations when they started paying attention to this metric?”

I spent over two years at Skype working on metrics at the organisational level, especially operational metrics. I learnt two key lessons:

  1. All metrics will be gamed. In fact Robert Benefield, an expert in game theory, gave the following advice. “All metrics will be gamed, when you design a metric, start with the behaviour you want and then create the metric so that when it is gamed, you get the behaviour that you want”. A variant of lead time is a great example. The easiest way to game lead time variants is to create smaller units of work which is exactly the behaviour we…

View original 417 more words

Edits to my Personal Manifesto

I documented my personal manifesto originally in this link.  It was useful to get it down on paper rather than a tacit understanding.  I think I should sharpen it up a bit.  It’s the same mostly – some wording has been modified.  I’m asking people to call me out when I err.

G(enuine) – Be honest, forthright and fair rather than vague, fake and invulnerable

R(espect) – Actively listen and respect (not necessarily agree with) the views of others rather than jump to hasty conclusions

I(ntegrity) – Uphold good human values and principles and avoid situations that are opposite to these

T(ransparency) – Be open about why, what and how rather than obfuscate, obscure or opaque

S(incere) –  Mean what we say via actions rather than being glib, hollow and lack of follow through.

Whilst we try and be all things on the left we sometimes recognize we fall into the poor behaviours on the right and seek to correct that.

Photos Augusta Georgia and Columbia South Carolina

Just a few photos I posted on Google+ from a trip for work to Columbia South Carolina. I passed through Augusta Georgia the home town of a musical hero, the late James Brown.


Ok to be Mediocre, Ok to want to Improve

Last week I posted the following to twitter, somewhat inspired by Margaret Heffernan’s TED Talk on the Pecking Order and also by my own experiences in being interviewed and interviewing applicants for jobs (some ideas captured here in a earlier post/rant on broader dysfunctions).

Elitistism preventing New Hires

Some questions in interviews are valid but when it takes a demeaning, condescending tone – that’s when you know you’re in trouble.

Friend and colleague, Ryan Musgrave, in response, posted this video from Jacob Kaplan-Mosson (a self confessed mediorce programmer), which is related to the subject.  Those 10x programmers that some dream of hiring just aren’t as thick on the ground.  In fact hiring them could also reduce the through put of your team (read Five Dysfunctions of a Team to get a real life account of this).

We mostly fall in the middle for talent

We mostly fall in the middle for talent

We mostly fall in the middle of a normal distribution as the video explains.  It’s time to stop dreaming of hiring superstars and look to develop the skills of high potential applicants.  They needn’t know the Agile Principles off by heart or recite every little bit of Object Oriented doctrine that could easily be memorized anyway.

Look to test applicants on more meaningful questions about how they deal with technical problems, how they learn, how they deal with people problems.  Again these need not be perfect answers but should give you a feeling of potentiality.  Ultimately a good applicant wants to develop mastery in what they do.  Think of questions that will give you clues to this and give you a feeling of genuineness.

Ultimately Values, Principles and Philosophy should align best they can.  If your own Vision is strong then finding those who want to follow should not be hard.  As those looking to hire, perhaps starting there and looking inwards is the place to start.

Those feeling belittled by by the superstar programmer, take solace, also look inward and look to get the best out of yourself.  If your a superstar programmer and maybe not as generous to others in the team, you can improve as well by helping others to improve technically.  Collaboration is hard but does reap many benefits personally and for others and for the bottom line.

Sultry Sunday Summer Sunrise in Chattanooga

The coolest part of the day in humid Chattanooga.  28 degrees Celsius can easily feel like 38 degrees Celsius during the day.  Sunday morning is the quietest and stillest part of the week and more apt to capturing the city still asleep.

WP_20150712_013 WP_20150712_011 WP_20150712_009 WP_20150712_007 WP_20150712_005 WP_20150712_001

Ask Why – To Understand

This is a follow on post from my post called Ask How (Don’t say No). Sometimes in some situations it makes more sense to Ask Why to increase understanding.

Sometimes we find ourselves in a passionate conversation about a topic.  Someone says something, perhaps in a strident tone, this can force a reaction from others that implies that what has been said is wrong.  The response can stop conversation dead in it’s tracks as processing of the remarks take place.

Now a facilitator can help keep the conversation going and relieve the tension and let the point carry on to it’s final conclusion.  We don’t have a facilitator all the time though, so we can train ourselves to react quickly still but thoughtfully as well.

I suggest the first response is ‘Why?’, ‘Why do you say that?’  This could help create a response that helps the person retrieve an important item that adds further context.  Sometimes excitement causes that person to forget to mention that important piece of context.  Asking Why is an Open Question and keeps the conversation going rather than perhaps escalating into an out and out disagreement.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 659 other followers