Monday, June 8, 2015

Life after your First Agile Project

This blog post is adapted from a workshop/presentation I recently led at the May NWA PMI Professional Development Day.

So, you just finished your first Agile project in a Waterfall organization. Now what? Let me put my Agile Coach hat on and tell you, “It depends.” It depends on whether or not it was a positive experience and how supportive the overall organization is of this “Agile thing”. Let’s run through a few possible scenarios.

Agile Sucks

You may be one of the many people whose first exposure to Agile is a negative one. Maybe your team was uncooperative. Maybe there were too many practices that were too new for the team to successfully adopt. Maybe the organization was so un-Agile that your team got exhausted from trying to swim upstream the whole time. Or maybe your team never really became an Agile team; you were a bunch of silo’d individual contributors with Waterfall mindsets trying a new front-end to the same process you’ve always used to get the job done. Whatever the reason, all you know for sure is that Agile sucks. It simply does not work; not for you, maybe not for anyone.

As an Agile Coach, I am sincerely bummed if this was your experience. I wish I could have been there to help make sure you knew why you were adopting Agile, not just how to go through the motions. I wish I could have been your heat shield, to protect you from the Agile defeatists and remove organizational impediments for you. I wish I could have helped you through the forming and storming stages of a team into norming and performing, so that you could benefit from a team who, corny as it sounds, was greater than the sum of its parts. I wish I could have helped you learn how to continuously improve not all at once, but incrementally.

But I wasn’t there, so what will you do? I hope that you will take pause and consider the possibility that those Agile proponents can’t all be crazy. What did they do or have that you didn’t? What might you have missed? Get involved in virtual and physical Agile communities, remain open-minded, and stuff your toolbox with as many practices and approaches as you can. Study the Agile Manifesto and its principles and recognize that what it’s defining is a mindset, not a methodology. You have to be Agile before you can successfully do Agile.

Agile Recipe

Maybe you had some success with Agile – or at least you think you did – and you want to keep doing it with all your future project teams. What really happened is you ran a successful Scrum project, and you’re ecstatic that you found a working recipe that will turn any team into a high-performing team. The team followed the Scrum Guide to the letter and there’s no doubt in your mind that this is what Agile is all about. Agile is Scrum, Scrum is Agile. If you follow the exact same approach, you are confident you will have similar results with your next team. After all, this is the same company, same culture, same organization support and/or impediments. Why shouldn’t you expect the same results?

The short answer is because it’s not the same team. Even if some of the people are the same, if the make-up of the team isn’t exactly the same then it’s a different team. You’ll be starting back at the forming stage with a new backlog, maybe even a new Product Owner, and there’s no guarantee that this group of people will interpret and embrace the Scrum Guide the same way the old team did. Hopefully you learned enough about teaching, coaching, and/or facilitation from your last team that you can guide this new team through the same pitfalls in a faster, safer way. Hopefully you learned Servant Leadership skills that will help you get buy-in from the team to try this new thing. Hopefully.

Hopefully you learn by the end of this project how much more successful the project would have been if you would have kept your previous team together. There is a cost associated with breaking up a high-performing team and knocking everyone back to the forming stage. There are also reasons that you may want to incur that cost in order to reap specific benefits, but “because the project ended” is not one of those reasons.

Keep the Scrum Team

Not only did you have success with the team, the team became a family. You are now a high-performing Scrum team that knows the process and each other so well that you couldn’t dream of breaking them up. You manage to keep the team together for the next project, and you hit the ground running.

This is great, but you have to be careful. If you have decided that Scrum is the be-all end-all of Agile then, eventually, the team will begin to stagnate. Scrum ceremonies will become ritualistic instead of productive, thought-provoking team activities. Group-think may begin to crop up, and the electric feeling of respectful debate will flicker out of the team. Some team members may become too comfortable, others restless. If you don’t do something, you’ll lose everything you fought to keep.

My hope is that you learn that Agile isn’t about following a recipe. It’s about starting with a recipe and making it your own. It’s about evolving the way you cook, trying new flavors, and learning how to transition from cook to chef. Hopefully you find all the success you were looking for and more, because our successes motivate us to keep going, keep trying.

Become comfortable with mining for conflict and facilitating conflict to unearth change that will make the team better. Stay in tune with the latest ideas and do your best to keep the team in the “Learning Zone”.

Grow the Agile Team

credit: universal studios

Perhaps you’re one of the rare few who, by the end of your first Agile project, recognize already that the team should be together and should not be limited to just Scrum. Perhaps you’ve already begun incorporating aspects of Lean, Kanban, DevOps, Lean Startup, Lean Enterprise, eXtreme Programming, or any number of other Agile approaches to help your team stretch and grow. You have a vision for how amazing your team can be – a unicorn among horses – and you recognize that Agility is a journey, not a destination.

The team can only become so awesome before running into major roadblocks within the organization. The team can become locally optimized, but the benefits will be limited until the entire system is optimized. After all, this is a Waterfall organization – you can run whatever methodology you like within your team, but there’s still an overall process that must be respected.

You’ll soon find that, in order to best help the team, you have to spend less time with the team and more time fixing the environment they live in. Maybe it’s the dependent teams – adjacent teams doing similar work or component teams, such as Security, Infrastructure, or Release teams. Maybe the Operations team is pushing back, trying to drive constancy at the sake of functionality. Maybe it’s the way work is approved and projects are formed that prohibit the team from responding to customer requests and market demands as quickly as they are capable. Maybe there are leaders or others in the organization that are afraid of change and, consequently, are passively or actively sabotaging the spread of Agile.

If you are successful, you will find that organizational Agility provides orders of magnitude greater than a single Agile team. You’ll find that what the team does rarely have as great an impact on their performance as the environment in which they operate.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The HiPPO vs. The Dude - The Eternal Prioritization Battle

If you didn't already know, I'm a huge fan of David Hussman's "Dude's Law", which states that "Value = Why? / How?". I've used this concept both in coaching in general (as it was intended), as well as a fun and easy way to execute Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF) prioritization.

A universal obstacle to value-driven prioritization is the HiPPO - the Highest Paid Person's Opinion. I still encounter this in organizations that have been on their Agile journey for over a year. It's painful for me to hear them explain the difficulties they have with changing priorities while being held accountable for the successful delivery of original commitments. Yet, when I recommend they quantify their value somehow, they explain that it can't be done. Priorities are set by people that have much more subject matter expertise and are "above my pay-band". They have to obey the HiPPO.

How does one respond to the HiPPO? With the immortal words of The Dude, of course!

"Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, uh, your opinion, man."

Opinions are important, but we want everyone's opinion and we want to put those opinions in context of all the available options! When a conversation framework is used to turn opinions into a quantitative estimate that can drive consistent and objective prioritization of work, it becomes easy to justify a change in plans. When teams track how much value they delivered relative to what was committed to (instead of static features or objectives) then the reluctance to take on valuable, unplanned work goes away; even more importantly, the team is armed with the data to push-back against unplanned work that really isn't as valuable as the HiPPO made it seem!

The HiPPO vs. The Dude

Dude's Law isn't the only way to prioritize work. There are other techniques you may decide to use, just know that if you stick with the HiPPO you run the risk of seriously damaging team morale and momentum. The HiPPO destroys, the Dude abides.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Practical Application of Dude's Law: The Value Estimation Game

Last summer, Todd Kromann and I presented on Dude's Law at Agile2014, and I figured it was high time that I wrote a blog post to walk through what we covered.

Dude's Law

If you're not already familiar with the Agile Dude, David Hussman, we highly recommend becoming familiar. David is most well-known for his coining of Dude's Law, which states that "Value = Why / How". The intent behind Dude's Law was to help teams avoid what David refers to as the "Recipe Trap" - doing things because that's what the "recipe" (read prescribed methodology or management mandate) says you're supposed do.

Dude's Law: Value = Why / How

Using Dude's Law as a coach is extremely powerful.It's a simple way for people to question everything they do. It emphasizes the need to know why we do the things we do. It resonates with people at an almost instinctual level.


The more Todd and I used Dude's Law in our coaching, the more applications we found for it. Eventually, we noticed the similarities between Dude's Law and Don Reinertsen's concept of "Weighted Shortest Job First", or WSJF.

WSJF is a powerful prioritization tool. There are basically three underlying principles to WSJF. First, if all the work you have to do is the same size, you do the job with the highest cost of delay first. In other words, we want to do the work that is the most urgent or will cost us the most to not do. After all, if all the work items are going to cost us the same amount then we want to get the most out of the time spent.

Second, if all the work you have to do has the same cost of delay, do the shortest job first. In other words, if all work is equally expensive to not do then we want to start getting benefit as quickly as possible.

Third, if both the size and cost of delay are variable, do the weighted shortest job first. You do this by dividing the cost of delay by the size; the higher the result, the sooner the work in question should be executed. Since our highest cost is typically the manpower necessary to do the work, size is defined by duration. Duration is also useful as the denominator because it emphasizes the need to get things delivered quickly, so we have a bias towards smaller slices of value.

WSJF = Cost of Delay / Duration

Where's the work?

Before we go any further, we need work items. If you're applying this within a team, simply use the work that's already on your backlog (or slated to go on your backlog). Application of WSJF (or Dude's Law) tends to work best at the Epic or Feature level, but can be applied to User Stories as well.

If you don't have real-world work, you can do what we do - have the team(s) come up with their own work. We usually run this with multiple "table teams" - teams formed around tables in the room. We like to get one set of Features for the whole room so we can see the differences in prioritization by each group (it makes for some interesting conversation at the end of the workshop). To do this, we tell the room that we have a great idea for a game, but all we have is a title. Based on our market research, we know this title is a winner. We want to build "Angry Flappy Candy Bird Crush Saga". We then solicit five Features from the room that we think are essential to become profitable as quickly as possible. Voila! We now have the beginnings of a backlog.

Estimation Game

The key to applying WSJF (or Dude's Law) in the context of prioritization is the quantification of those values. We need numbers so we can do an actual numeric division to get a numeric value for WSJF (or Value). How do we do this? We highly recommend relative estimation! The most common way to use relative estimation is to use Fibonacci numbers to size items relative to each other. If you've never done this before, this can be daunting - especially for your first work item, when you do not yet have anything to compare the item's size against.

The technique that we use in this workshop is called the "Team Estimation Game". This technique works well to quickly get an initial backlog estimated. Since most people are used to estimating size anyway, we have teams estimate the size (what we refer to as "Cost of Implementation") first using the Team Estimation game. Once they're done, we have them write the number on the bottom of each story card, in the center.

The Team Estimation Game summarized

Cost of Delay

Now that we've estimated the cost of implementation, we need to estimate the cost of delay. We do this with the exact same approach we used for cost of implementation. When trying to figure out cost of delay, think of it in terms of, "How expensive is this to not do?"

When considering cost of delay, there are several factors we need to consider: inherent value to the business; urgency due to any number of reasons (legal deadlines, market demands, partner collaboration, etc.); the value of other work that's dependent on this work item being done first; risks that this item may reduce; and so on.

When we're talking about benefit, we usually use the priority scale where 1 is most important, then 2, then 3, etc. That is not what we're doing here. In this case, a 1 is something with a very low cost of delay - it's not very urgent, valuable, etc. The higher the number, the more expensive it is to not do.

Once each card has a number value, write it in the bottom left corner of the card.

Run the Math

Now that we have the two variables on the right side of the equation, we need to "run the math" to see what our WSJF (or Dude's Law) number - what we call the Value Index - comes out to be. For each card, divide the Cost of Delay (bottom-left number) by the Cost of Implementation (bottom-center number) and put the result, the Value Index, in the bottom-right corner. Order the cards from highest Value Index to lowest Value Index. This is now the priority that the math recommends you complete the work in.

As long as your estimation was honest, doing the work in this order will give you the greatest return on your investment over time. We can maximize how much we capitalize on our work as soon as possible. The below graphs help illustrate this.

Add value sooner with WSJF/Dude's Law

Remember Dude's Law

What we often find is that the first time people use this approach their prioritization is a little wonky. That's okay - the purpose of this exercise isn't to mandate what order you do things in. This approach is a conversation framework to help teams make sure they're working on things in the right order, factoring cost of implementation into the prioritization process instead of looking only at short-term benefit. Teams also find that this tool becomes more beneficial as they gain experience with it - they learn what they need to discuss in order to come to proper estimates that lead to better prioritization.

Remember the original intent behind Dude's Law: to avoid the Recipe Trap. This approach is not intended to be a recipe for the team to follow blindly. This is a tool, one that the team should understand the benefits of before they decide to adopt it. Understand the Why before jumping into the How.

You may also decide to elaborate on the formula. You may take the SAFe approach and discuss different factors to Cost of Delay instead of having a single number. You may decide to incorporate IBM's approach of Value Dials and ITBV. You may end up with a multi-sheet Excel workbook with dozens of numeric inputs that feed into a complicated formula. In the end, it all boils down to Why/How. Be careful how much extra time you put into prioritization and make sure the improvements to your prioritization justify that extra time.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Revisiting Normalized Story Points

It has been just over 18 months since I published my most popular blog post to-date: "Normalized Story Points". As of this writing, it has received over 5,400 page views, thanks primarily to the reference it has from Dean Leffingwell's blog post from entitled "More on Normalizing Story Point Estimating".

As an Agile Coach who takes continuous improvement seriously, I have learned much and grown much over the last year and a half. Here are a few of the things I've learned regarding Normalized Story Points.

Know Why You Want Them

I've become a HUGE fan of David Hussman's "Dude's Law". Before you do anything, you need to know WHY you're doing it, not just HOW to do it.

The purpose of Normalized Story Pointing is to enable high-level estimation of work for a SAFe Release Train comprised of closely aligned teams, any one of which may pull a Feature off the Program Backlog for implementation. Normalized Story Points should not be used for:
  1. Comparing teams against each other
  2. Forcing teams to use the same story point size (so that "1 Story Point" means exactly the same thing to everyone forever and ever amen)
  3. Defining "Story Point" to mean "Ideal Man-Day"
  4. Any punitive purpose
If you don't know why you're using Normalized Story Points, don't use them. If your intended use of Normalized Story Points violates the mindset established by the Agile Manifesto, don't use them (although, if this is the case then you probably won't realize it unless someone points it out to you).

Beware the Ideal Man-Day

The 4-step process for getting started with Normalized Story Points involves using time as a reference. This works well because you're using a very small story, one with very little complexity, which means the primary factor for determining "bigness" is lapsed time. That being said, I've found that teams that start with this approach have a very, very difficult time recovering from the mindset of "1 point == 1 ideal man-day". This is bad for reasons.

This also leads to teams always using days of availability to forecast velocity rather than taking a rolling average velocity or "yesterday's weather" as an indicator of what they're likely to deliver. Data trumps theory; the approach to get started is based on theory, while average velocity is data.

Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools

Processes and tools exist to enhance and enable interactions between individuals, not replace them. As I've explained in a previous post, the process of Agile estimation is beneficial primarily because of the conversation that it fosters. It's a well-formed game that drives a shared mental model of the work for the entire team.

I've found that teams that use Normalized Story Points may skimp on the conversation, especially if one team ends up with work that another team has already estimated (after all, we all share the same definition of story point, right?). This was never the intent behind Normalized Story Points, but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen.

Beware the Recipe Trap

David Hussman explained that he uses "Dude's Law" to help teams avoid what he calls the "Recipe Trap" - doing something because that's what the recipe says to do, without understanding what the intended benefits are. When it comes to Normalized Story Points, the recipe trap is very real and very dangerous. If you use it, be very careful about how you explain and implement it with your teams. If your teams can't all pull from a common backlog; if you're going to use them to run punitive metrics; if you want to streamline your process by reducing meaningful conversation; or if you're looking to use it because that's what SAFe says to do, I plead with you to reconsider.

TL;DR: Normalized Story Points can be a useful tool for your organization, but it's not a one-size-fits-all solution. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Tell Me Why, not How

If you're familiar with the concept of User Stories then you've likely been exposed to the concept of a User Story "script". One of the most common scripts goes something like:
As a <who> I want <what> So that <why>
As a <who> I want <what> So that <why>

Looks simple enough, right? The problem is that most people who grew up in a non-Agile environment are not used to articulating the "why" in their requirements. They are used to capturing what it is that needs to built and how. Consequently, that's what usually end up making it into our stories, causing them to look like:
As a <who> I want <how> So that <what>
As a <who> I want <how> So that <what>

What's the difference? Let's look at an example.

Old Habits Die Hard

It's not uncommon to see a story that reads like, "As an administrator I want unique group IDs for tickets so that I can easily group tickets." On the surface it looks like a good user story. What's the "what"? The author would argue that it's "unique group IDs for tickets", but that's not the need. The need is to "easily group tickets". The author is trying to dictate how to meet that need in the user story. Those familiar with the INVEST model for user stories will recognize that this violates the "N" - Negotiable.

So we need to move the "what" into its place and establish a proper "why", which means we need to have a conversation. What valuable outcome is enabled by being able to group tickets together? Do you want static or dynamic grouping? Are the groups established by pre-established rules, or is the intent for users to group tickets however they like? Once we have our answers, we may end up with a better user story, something like, "As an administrator I want to easily group tickets so that I can sort and filter to easily find tickets of interest for a given task".

Why? Why?! WHY?!?

What have we gained by phrasing the story this way? A couple of things (at least). First, we have context for the story that will enable the team of professional problem-solvers to create the best solution for the problem within the bounds of the NFRs (Non-Functional Requirements) and FSRA (Future State Reference Architecture).

The second benefit is that we can better decompose the story. With the original wording, we would likely decompose the work into the layers of the system - creating a grouping cross-reference table structure first, then the business logic and virtual object code to associate tickets to groups, and finally the user interface layer for the administrator to actually use this functionality.

With the revised wording, we can leverage the advice from Agile Learning Labs at and split our story into smaller stories that are vertical slices through the entire system. This enables us to deliver value sooner and test our architecture as it's being built instead of all at the end.

Living in Reality

This is the most common anti-pattern that I've seen in the real world of user stories. What anti-patterns have you seen? What advice do you have for overcoming user story anti-patterns? Is this even really an anti-pattern?

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Socratic Coaching Approach

"The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new." -- Socrates

I recently read "The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement" by Eliyahu M. Goldratt. For those of you unfamiliar with this masterful work, it is the book that introduced the Theory of Constraints and was a primary predecessor of "The Phoenix Project" - in fact, "The Phoenix Project" not only makes mention of "The Goal", it is written in a similar style and format!

I learned a lot from "The Goal", but I was able to apply a couple of learnings immediately to my coaching: 1) The Goal itself; 2) the Socratic method. Granted, I'm very new to this and still have a lot to learn about the Socratic method, but that's not stopping me from giving it a try!

This is the basic conversation I've been having for the past couple of weeks, usually in response to "How do I convince so-and-so to be more Agile?"

Me: What is the goal of any company?
Them (usually after some thinking and a few guesses): Make money?
Me: That's right! Now, as a development center, how do we help the company make money?
Them: We provide solutions/capabilities/cost savings/etc.
Me: Okay, and when do we provide them? When we finish requirements?
Them: No...
Me: When we finish Coding? Testing?
Them: No.
Me: Then when?
Them: When we deploy.
Me: Okay, so we deliver value when we deploy. How often do we deploy?
Them: Not often enough.
Me: I agree! So as soon as we deploy something and start working on something new, we are basically just accruing expense until the day we release again. Yet, in Agile, we often find ourselves sitting on "Production-ready" code without releasing it. What are some other consequences to releasing code in large, infrequent batches?
Them: It's more difficult for our customers to handle the change. They require weeks of User-Acceptance Testing and have to build Change Management plans around each release.
Me: Precisely! Also, what happens if we find a defect?
Them: Defects can be very expensive because we find them late, which means they are large and highly impactful. Plus the defect may be something that we developed a long time ago and have forgotten about.
Me: Right. So... what I'm hearing is that when we deploy less frequently then we delay delivery of value and increase risk, both of which are contradictory to our goal to make money, is that right?
Them: Yes, exactly!
Me: So why don't we just define Agile as a mindset of striving to deliver more valuable functionality with high quality at faster rates? Then "Being Agile" means doing whatever makes sense to reach that goal. Do you think they could get on board with that?
Them: Absolutely - they'd have to be foolish not to!

Notice that I didn't say Agile until the very end. The idea is to help them realize for themselves the obvious truths that Agile espouses in a way that solves their problems or aligns with their current paradigm. This results in a more natural mindset shift, as opposed to one that feels forced or alien in a classroom environment. I've seen a lot of success with this approach so far, and I'm hoping to get even better with experience.

How about you? Have you used the Socratic approach in your coaching? What ideas, successes, or failures would you share with someone just getting started with this approach?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Agile vs. non-Agile Value Delivery

One of the key differences between Agile and non-Agile approaches is how scope is managed. Agile techniques use some form of continuous backlog management, while non-Agile approaches set the scope up-front and changes to that scope are painful. As a result, I'm often asked how this impacts budgeting. I respond that I prefer a budgeting approach that aligns with "Beyond Budgeting" thinking, but I recognize that such a shift likely won't occur at the same time the team wants to start using Agile. I advise them to secure budget the same way they have been (due primarily to lack of choice), but use the money in a more Agile way. Here are three scenarios that illustrate why.

The Perfect Planning Scenario

First, let's look at what happens if both Agile and non-Agile approaches were to deliver exactly the same value implemented exactly the same way and we knew up-front exactly how much it would cost. If we took an iterative delivery approach then we would see an "S-curve" in the delivery of value (in blue), as explained in the video "Agile Product Ownership in a Nutshell" by Henrik Kniberg (starting at the 8:27mark). This allows us to capitalize on what we're building faster, so we start making or saving money faster. Compare this with the non-Agile approach (in red), where we don't see any value until the end. The area between the blue line and the red line is additional realized value over time, even though we ended up in the exact same place at the exact same time.

Blue = Agile; Red = non-Agile

The Bad Estimate / Budget Cut Scenario

Now let's imagine (if you can) a scenario where we don't have sufficient time to deliver all of the value. Maybe it's because our estimates are off. Maybe because it's because our budget is cut. Whatever the case, we end up with 60% of the time and money necessary to deliver all of the planned value. If we take an Agile approach, we end up with the top 60% of the functionality, 100% completed. If we take a non-Agile approach, we end up with 100% of the functionality 60% completed. This means that we're either delivering nothing but documentation and partially-coded functionality, or we end up begging for the money required to finish delivering what we started out to deliver.

Blue=Agile; Red=non-Agile

The Imperfect Human Scenario

This scenario was difficult to name - I'm open to alternatives. Basically, this is the scenario where the humans responsible for doing all of the non-Agile prep work of requirements elicitation, design, and coding end up delivering something that not only took longer than anticipated but didn't provide the desired value. By taking an Agile approach, we do "Just Enough, Just in Time" everything, so we're always as smart as possible when we make decisions. We work in short iterations and get fast feedback so that our defects are cheaper and our direction is constantly being corrected. As a result, we end up delivering more value sooner.

Blue=Agile; Red=non-Agile

Making a Point

As per usual, my drawings are overly-simplified to make a point. Agile is not a silver bullet, but taking an Agile approach means you're more likely to deliver more value sooner and end up with a better end-product. Hopefully this approach propagates throughout the entire organization and the way you manage work-intake, scope approval, and value execution become leaner and more continuous from end-to-end. In the meantime, do what you can within the reality of the world you live in to make the most of the resources you have. I'd love to hear your perspectives and additional scenarios that illustrate the differences in Value over Time between Agile and non-Agile approaches.

Monday, September 8, 2014

"I Like that Old Time Rock 'n Roll"

I'm am constantly amazed with the power of first impressions. As much as we may try to avoid it, the initial impressions we get when we're first introduced to a person, place, or idea tend to stick with us for the rest of our lives. This sentiment is embodied in the classic Bob Segal hit, "Old Time Rock and Roll". The song starts with its thesis:

"Just take those old records off the shelf, I'll sit and listen to 'em by myself. Today's music ain't got the same soul; I like that old time Rock 'n Roll"

This same phenomenon happens in Agile as well. When people think of Agile Transformations being hindered by first impressions, they usually jump to those who "didn't do it right", who failed and were left with a bitter taste in their mouth. I would argue that, in the long-term, the more hazardous first impression comes from those who have greater-than-anticipated success with the first thing they try. From that point on Agile is defined solely by what they did the first time.

Let's say your first approach was Scrum - and I mean by-the-Scrum-Guide Scrum. It works so well for you that you scoff at Kanban, DevOps, or anything else that violates your 5 ceremony, 3 role, pure and holy Agile approach. Nevermind that you are supposed to be looking for ways to improve every Sprint. Nevermind that the best way to improve team performance is adjustments to the process, not the people. "I'm sorry, you don't use time boxes?" "How do you plan without using User Stories?" "Clearly you don't know what Agile means."

I find it telling that the first line in the Agile Manifesto states that "we are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it" (, emphasis added). They didn't say that they had uncovered the best way of developing software, they were in the never-ending process of uncovering better ways. They didn't come up with the Manifesto by getting doctorate degrees and jumping into a think tank, they came up with it based on their experiences in doing it and helping others.

I find it highly narcissistic for anyone to have claimed the best way to do anything. Given how long mankind has been on the earth and the fact that nothing has yet been proven beyond improvement, saying that you've "figured it out" means you're either selling something, deluding yourself, or both. Those who really get Agile know that it's about the journey, not the destination. If you keep reliving the glory days of your first Scrum team then you'll never give proper attention to challenging the status quo and innovating the next big idea for delivering software in a better way.

I know, I know, it's hard to give up those first impressions, the glory days, the golden years when everything was perfect and your selective memory hadn't kicked in yet. But you have to if you want long-term success. It's risky business, but somebody's got to do it.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Is Agile Skub?

On a long wall at work, there's a glass board (probably 40 feet or so wide) on which our CIO will ask questions and anyone passing by can answer using dry erase markers. The question most recently posed is something to the effect of "What are you doing to be more Agile?".

I found it interesting that somebody wrote "Pro Skub" on one end of the board and "Anti Skub" at the other end. What is Skub, you ask? It's a reference to a Perry Bible Fellowship comic, penned by Nicholas Gurewitch.

This raises an interesting question for me: is Agile nothing more than a meaningless buzzword that arouses passion on the fringes that comes across as absurd to everyone else? To at least one person in my organization, it would seem the answer is "Yes!"

To me, this is an indicator of the "Trough of Disillusionment" on they Hype Curve. It reminded me of an article titled "The End of Agile: Death by Over-Simplification". To me, the points made by this article and others that it references indicate an over-emphasis on practices or principles in silos. In other words, teams will focus on one specific principle, practice, or approach under the banner of Agile and claim that it will solve all of their problems. Of course it doesn't, and when it doesn't it leads to disillusionment and cynicism.

It is so crucially important that we take a step back and look at the whole Agile Manifesto, with all of its Principles, along with complementary principles and approaches (such as Lean and Flow). Practices, approaches, and methodologies are all tools, and none of them sacred, in an attempt to align more with the Lean|Agile paradigm that will drive successful teams.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

WSJF - What to do in a tie?

Todd Kromann and I facilitated a workshop at Agile2014 on the subjects of Dude's Law and Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF). We helped the group understand how to apply relative estimation not only to Cost of Implementation (size, expense, complexity, etc.) but also Cost of Delay (urgency, risk, dependency, compliance, etc.). We used the modified Fibonacci sequence most often used for Story Points to quantify both of these numbers, which was done by table teams. Each feature's Value Index, used to prioritize, was determined by its Cost of Delay number divided by its Cost of Implementation number. (You can get a soft copy of the handout we used here).

At the end of the workshop we had, as we usually do, a team whose features included a tie. This sometimes happens because they have the exact same Cost of Delay and Cost of Implementation numbers. More often, this happens because the numbers used in the equation are different, but the division comes out the same. One of the questions that invariable arises is: which feature should be prioritized first?

In theory, it doesn't matter - the ratio of urgency to expense is the same. Once both are implemented the ROI is equal. The decision of which to do first should be determined by the organization. In reality, I believe that the smaller feature should be implemented first. I've drawn up an example to illustrate.

In this scenario, we have two features, A and B. Feature B is 20 times more expensive than A, but also 20 times as valuable. Let's look at what would happen if we implemented Feature A first.

As you can see, we get a little value very quickly and significantly more after a delay. If we say that the y-axis represents millions of dollars and the x-axis represents quarters of the year, then we get $2MM/quarter after our first three months with no increase until five years later, when our quarterly revenue jumps to $42MM. By the end of our 22nd quarter, we will have earned $82MM.

Now let's see what it would look like if we did Feature B first.

Using the same axis values as before, we're basically going five years without any revenue. However, after five years of development, our revenue jumps to $40MM/quarter, with a $2MM/quarter bump immediately after. Just like before, we will have earned $82MM by the end of our 22nd quarter and will be earning $42MM/quarter thereafter.

So which one's better?

Do you really want to go five years without bringing in any revenue? Of course not! You'd much rather start capitalizing on your work after only one quarter's worth of work. Not only do you now have some money in to fund yourself, you're learning from the market based on how they use what you've released. This new-found knowledge will improve the quality of subsequent releases.

The reality is that, although the former option is better than the latter, neither are great. What you should do is, while you implement Feature A, break down Feature B into smaller components. It is highly unlikely that all of these components will have a 2:1 ratio of CoD:CoI. You'll identify which sub-Features provide the highest relative ROI and implement them as soon as you finish with Feature A. There may be sub-Features that you never get around to implementing because the value doesn't justify the expense. You can instead move on to a new Feature and begin decomposing and prioritizing its pieces. By the end of your 22nd quarter, you'll end up bringing in much more than the $82MM/quarter number that the two options above afforded.

That's my take on what to do in the event of a WSJF tie. What would you do?