"It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change!" - Charles Darwin

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

The User Story Workshop

User Stories in Oxford by Jacopo Romei / CC BY 2.0
What can you do when you need to write a considerable number of User Stories in a very short timeframe?

Why a User Story workshop? 

It is a useful tool to achieve the goal of writing many stories fast, especially when the development team has a lot of technical knowledge, or there is a lot of knowledge outside the team to be used to complement Product Owner’s domain knowledge.

What is a User Story workshop? 

When starting a new Release, I suggest to run a a workshop with the Product Owner, the Development Team(s) which will build the specific product and all people who can contribute, regardless of their role. 
The goal of the workshop is to come out with as many User Stories as possible, which can solve the problem(s) represented by a given number of requirements.

How to run a User Story workshop? 

Here is the structure I usually propose:
1. The Product Owner presents the goal for the next Release and the most important requirements. This normally takes about 1 hour: participants normally ask clarification questions
2. Participants are split in groups of 4-5 people and we do a number of (usually 3) 1-hour iterations structured like that:
2a. Group brainstorming to elicit as many stories as possible (30 min)
2b. Group work integration, where groups review each other work, find similarities, remove some stories, etc. (30 min)
The next iteration might continue on the same requirement or on a different requirement. Sometimes I tried other creativity techniques besides simple brainstorming, like Lateral Thinking techniques, e.g. the anti-solution.
Especially if it is a newly formed team, not so used with writing stories, I provide a pattern to follow to brainstorm stories.
 I ask the team to look at the system from outside-in and ask themselves who, what and why:
- Who is the user who will benefit from the specific function?
- What is the function which might contribute to solve a certain problem?
- Why is that function needed (to solve which problem)?

My experience

Generally speaking I found the User Story workshop very effective: it helps the team focus on the goal and make an efficient use of all brains around. You can easily write 50 User Stories of different granularity in 4 hours: sometimes more time is needed to achieve the intended goal, but I always prefer to start with no more than 4 hours and have other sessions if needed.


In order to make the US workshop effective, the people involved should have been trained in what a User Story is and how to split the work in small slices which cut the system vertically and allows building an iteratively evolving product which continuously stays shippable. 
When needed, I propose and facilitate a very effective workshop to teach how and why splitting a product in small vertical slices: the Elephant Carpaccio exercise invented by Alistair Cockburn.  
I do recommend these 2 hours of learning, engagement and fun.

What is preventing you to try it out tomorrow? 

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Installing Scrum effectively: Upgrade your company´s Operating System!

Magic Wand by photophilde/CC BY 2.0
Scrum is simple but not easy!
I'm sure that those of you who had seriously tried Scrum can recognize what this sentence really means.
And being simple is definitely one of the strenghts of Scrum, but also one of its pitfalls: it is so straightforward to understand by managers than most fall into the trap of believing it can become a magic wand for the company problems.
Sometimes without even reflecting about what the company's problems really are!

Ken Schwaber, co-inventor of Scrum said once: “Agile development will not solve any of your problems – it will just make them so painfully visible that ignoring them is harder”.

Missing operating system_ {error message} by Karl-Ludwig Pogemann/CC BY 2.0
And that's where the tough part starts!
Scrum is not plug and play! It's not a simple upgrade of the SW methodology currently in use in the company! It changes some of the basic assumptions and thoughts about products get developed!
It's like installing an iOS 8 app on an IOS 4: it won't work! 

You need to upgrade the Operating System!

I would like to share with you what I learned to be three fundamental upgrades needed in the company´s Operating System to install Scrum effectively.

1. Cross functional teams self-organized around value delivered to customers

It is extremely important that development teams are organized so that they can deliver value to customer as fast as possible and not around technology or internal product structure.

You do not want to have unproductive teams overwhlemed by thousands of dependencies, right?
You do not want to create unnecessary coordination work and increase your overhead, do you?

So move away from micro-managed functional teams organized around your system architecture: you will heal your company!
Effective teams are cross-functional and have all the competences needed to transform a backlog item in a potentially shippable product increment within one Sprint.
They work together to remove waiting times and handovers, which represent waste of time and knowledge. 
This does not mean at all having a team of generalists. It means instead having a team of specialists with T-shaped competence, so that they can contribute in doing the work when necessary, even in knowledge areas different from the one they are specialized in. 
Cross-functional teams learn continuously from each other's skills and share knowledge inside the team and between different teams.
These teams must be self-organized: they are the ones who have the best knowledge and must be empowered to decide how to do the work and continuously adjust their process.
A cross-functional and self-organized team can have the possibility to look at the whole development process, find the weakest link or the bottleneck at hand and do whatever they see as necessary to fix it. They have enough visibility of the whole to avoid sub-optimizations typically happening in traditional environments.

2. Agile Leadership

In an environment where teams are empowered and self-organized, leaders stop taking project decisions or asking for review and status report.
They focus instead on removing impediments, aligning stakeholders, building a trust environment, coaching, providing feedback, developing people’s skills and building the capabilities of the organization: they basically create the conditions for the teams to perform at their best.
They cultivate skills of servant leadership, are empathetic and willing to help.
This is applicable with different flavors to managers, Scrum masters and Product Owners.
  • Scrum is enabled by managers who build a culture of discipline and excellence, guide on principles and values instead of giving complex rules to follow, teach people not to cut corners, challenge people to high performance and lead by example. They empower people to choose how they want to work and give room for experiment and safe/fast failure. Good Agile managers stay close to the teams and Manage By Walking Around and Listening.
  • Scrum is enabled by full time Scrum Masters who have a very good knowledge of Lean, Agile and Scrum and can coach the team to apply Agile values and principles. They teach and coach them to challenge the status quo and continuously improve, think and work as a team, collaborate and challenge each other to grow.
  • Scrum is enabled by Product Owners who clarify the Why? and the What?, but not the How? Therefore they trust the team will work at their best. At the same time they challenge and support them to continuously improve. Good Product Owners paint the big picture for the team to take responsibility of the product as a whole and actively support the team to find ways to connect with the customer. They take the responsibility to act as a unique interface to the organization for any work request towards the development team and protect them from interferences.
It is a lot about being more than doing. See also 3 necessary management mindshifts in a fast changing world.

3. Well groomed backlog

People might be arguing about what a good Product Backlog is, but here is what definitely a good Product Backlog is not (but far too often seen around): a generic list of work items which are not user centric, not split end-to-end, not estimated, not even always prioritized.
A high quality Product Backlog is an enabler for iterative and incremental delivery of high quality potentially shippable product increments, which is the core of Scrum (Garbage In-Garbage Out theory applies in this case). It helps the team focus on the right things and build them faster.
A high quality Product Backlog is a manageable size, living artifact of Independent, Negotiable, Valuable, Estimable, Small, Testable (INVEST) User Stories.
Such stories are easier to understand for the team, easier to plan and easier to work, so that the team can be more productive.
INVEST stories allow:

  • Minimize the risk that the team does not deliver anything at the end of a Sprint. 
  • Faster learning and faster development because the team gets feedback and finds problems earlier. 
  • Better prioritization and defer decision due to a shorter feedback loop. 
  • Deliver value more often and therefore can make customers happier. 
  • Teams to be more focused and more motivated, because they feel a sense of velocity and accomplishment.

Where do you think you should start first in your OS upgrade?