Category Archives: Agile

Right Size First, Then Split

There is a hell of a lot going on in Agile Space on Story Splitting.  On the internet and I hear it in interviews and conversations.  It’s as if the only solution to smaller batches is to split ad infinitum.

Now don’t get me wrong, big batches are not good.  They hurt feedback mechanisms, create silos and delay delivery of value.

And there is the point, delivery of value.  Getting value to the customer is important.  Story Splitting is one way.  It doesn’t need to be the starting point.  We may be losing our focus on delivery of value by thinking about a process.  Value is not defined by the splitting of stories.

Something to consider then is to understand the nature of your work.  Are there different types of work, or another way to put it, sources of demand?  Can you use that information to help?

Maybe your team is predictable in it’s delivery.  That’s great and congratulations to you on that.  That data on delivery time can be leveraged.  If you can say we can deliver product enhancements on one product within a time frame and be confident about that say 85% of the time.  There you go – you have the makings of a Service Level Agreement or SLA.  Your customer may even be happy with that!

How can that help in sizing stories?  Well Dan Vacanti describes it in his book Actionable Agile Metrics for Predictability.  It’s called Right Sizing.  In essence it shortens the sizing conversation by asking does this work which we are about to take on fit in within our SLA.  If so then pull the work.  If not have that splitting conversation.

It’s that simple.  However, if you are experiencing problems in predictability and expanding delivery times then you’ll want to deal with those.  Dan’s book describes how Little’s Law and its components gives you ample information to help discover issues in your process.

Story Splitting is an option to start with.  You can consider others like this.  I think it will help you understand work to a higher level of fidelity.  Your customer will hopefully feel the difference as you deliver to them more meaningful increments of value from the increased understanding.  Coincidentally, you’ll also be on your way to be being better Systems and Lean Thinkers which are interesting subjects that will aid you being of best service to your customers.

What makes you Fit for Purpose?

Can someone answer this question?   Well yes, I can help.  In short it’s what you do, be that individually but mostly in a team, to ensure anyone you serve receives the service you provide in a reasonable time frame with appropriate quality.

Where does that start?

It starts with understanding who your customer is.   Taking steps to learn about the customer and what satisfies them.  There are some tools available to you to help like Customer Surveys, Customer Interviews, Customer Empathy Maps, Personas and going to see for yourself.

Somewhat lagging but still providing information about the customer and their needs ( which can and are probably changing) is a Net Fitness Score which is an alternative to Net Promoter Score.  If you are producing software you can add code to capture data about how your customers are using the application.  This is is part of a process called instrumentation that is done to computer programs.

This takes us into the area of measurement.  In addition to customer measures, a team can also use other metrics to ensure delivery is just right.  By just right, we mean that any feelings of over-burdening (muri) are minimised to ensure that a team can sustainably deliver work.

Here some measures include, service response times (cycle time) for the different types of requests a team gets.  Are we able to deliver those reliably.  By reliable we mean within the realms of probability and not exact measures.  Knowledge Work being naturally variable in nature we tend to defer to probabilities like a Service Level Agreement. 85% of the time we can deliver in 3 days as an example.

In aiming for better on-time delivery you may need to eliminate muda or wasteful activities.  You may find amplifying collaborative activities and learning new skills will help. These type of improvements stem from understanding the nature of different requests like demand (high and low periods), expectations of quality and when request are expected to be fulfilled (Cost of Delay).

Another measure is acceptable defect levels, with the aim to reduce these to a negligible level.  Defects may need to be balanced with responsiveness.  If you require greater responsiveness then Fit for Purpose may mean acceptance of higher failure load (another name for total defects).  Responsiveness may also mean less predictability and some work may have an have a wider range of delivery date performance.

If failure load is high, then addressing some level of quality can also have a bearing on on-time delivery.  In software development that means ensuring little or no technical debt.  High levels of technical debt lengthen cycle times as a team looks to deal with the complexity of software laden with technical debt.   Continually reducing and maintaining low levels of technical debt will help maintain reliable delivery.  It will also allow innovation to occur because the team is freed from the burden of low quality.

Addressing these and becoming reliable means you will have confidence to communicate service level expectations within reasonable levels of probability.  Doing this with appropriate quality will often result in plaudits to the team and reversing what may be many sources of dis-satisfaction for the customer and team a like.  Find out what makes your system of work Fit for Purpose.  Work hard on reaching that level.  Agility will be a natural result.

Webinar: Case Study Agile Testing results in DevOps Success

I recorded a webinar for CodeGenesys on a case study on Agile Testing involving my Australian Client called AgWorld.

Hopefully it conveys that quality is owned by everyone and quality starts well before a line of code is written.

Quality right through the value stream is cornerstone of DevOps success. This carries on right through the software development life cycle starting with requests and turning those into executable specification with BDD/ATDD, automation of unit and integration tests and with the aid of automation tools (Build and Deploy) to increase the delivery rate of completed software to increase the frequency of feedback lloops.


The Importance of Shared Purpose

My latest blog is actually one written for my employer here in the United States, Code Genesys.

You can take a look at it here and is on the importance of shared purpose.  Keep practicing that because it’s hard for first timers and anyone whose experienced for that matter.  Well worth the investment in time 🙂

I have an example of a company who go to great lengths to maintain their purpose.  An old blog article written 2 years ago.

Agile before it was cool

This is a page from a great book by an important author in the software development field, Tim Gilb, called Principles Of Software Engineering Management.  It came out in 1988.


The language is reminiscent of the time and the practices that were in place then, but it was ground breaking in that it talks a lot about what we call Agile Values today.  In fact Tom Gilb invented his ‘Agile’ and ‘Iterative’ EVO methodology in the early 1970s.  It’s mentioned in the book as well.  This was well before Agile became what it is today – a business.   Tom was so ahead of his time, I remember back then that Iterative development was never ever mentioned in schools and in the workplace.

And therefore, I think this Bill of Rights still holds relevancy.  I made the challenge on twitter and some thought point 9 was not relevant, rather a relic of the past.  I tend to think it’s misinterpreted in the twitter response.  Here’s the link to the twitter feed and a snap shot below.


There is power in this for the worker here, even on performance.  Leaders can use this to create an ethos of transparency.  Looking back to look forward.

Where’s the teamwork when we can’t see each other

I’m an Australian working in the USA coaching highly distributed teams. We speak English but even then there are slight differences, like Australian English and American English and even within America like from South to North.

We find it’s hard to get people to use video cameras. They are cheap however the culture tends to not encourage use of them. It’s always hard to collaborate at the best of times and distribution would be a good excuse not to do that.

Seems most distributed companies can’t get past just the phone and a little screen sharing.  When we use just these, we can’t see each other’s facial expressions and body language.  It’s hard to know how to react to feelings and we have to assume or turn up our intonation sense when listening (perhaps even speakers and listeners can make more us of their voice to relay feelings).  Another big issue is having attention – where I work inattention is called ‘multi-tasking’ and we know that don’t work.

Overall, this is more a problem around the difficulties in collaborating and the fears around that.  We’ll need to work on that to allow the tools to be useful.  Make it safe.  Create the culture and camaraderie of teamwork and reward that.  Highlight even when people are doing things that harm teamwork via a team working agreement.  Realization can quickly occur after that and a team can self correct.

Then there is technology, my friend Agile Bill Krebs, is teaching and coaching on tools to assist the distributed work place.  There are simple tools like which is down the low end of the spectrum through to immersive environments like Minecraft.

The technology is there – it just needs a willingness to try using it and adapting to use it to it’s utmost advantage.

Your last resort is to abandon the distributed model.  That can be avoided I suggest.


The Ladder of Leadership and Kanban

Here’s a comparison of David Marquet’s Ladder of Leadership which derives from his work as a nuclear submarine captain and writing his book Turn the Ship Around and then subsequent workshops and writings and the Kanban Method.

The Kanban Method says start where you are.  Other frameworks require a more explicit transformation to new roles and ceremonies.  The Kanban Method also says Improve Collaboratively and Evolve Experimentally (using models and the scientific method).  Of it’s 9 values it also states Leadership.  Acts of Leadership from every level.

A model that you can use to improve and create leadership from everyone is called the Ladder of Leadership (although not explicitly steeped in the scientific method, it is a model).  It starts where you are.  Everyone, and this doesn’t matter what position one holds, is looking to be told what to do.  This is where mostly everyone is.

The Ladder of Leadership recognizes this.  Everyone can use the model as a frame to help each move up the ladder to become more intentional.  By recognizing where someone is on the ladder whilst in conversation, a colleague can frame a question using the next rung on the opposite side of the ladder.

The Ladder of Leadership – Capt. Marquet

Measurement of success comes via a proxy from other measurements like faster cycle times, better quality (less failure demand) and people should be happier and if they aren’t something is still awry.

It takes some time to achieve this.  One must be prepared to stay the course despite the bumps in the road.  If it doesn’t work on one occasion, reflect upon that.  Realize we are humans, have a laugh and try again using what you’ve learnt.  The ultimate aim is to create leaders not followers.  Leaders can relieve bottlenecks and fix problems quicker and with more knowledge than someone further away from the problem.