Mean and Lean Agile Teams Q&A-EN

Mean and Lean Agile Teams Q&A-EN


Recently, I had the pleasure of presenting our 12 Mean and Lean Analysis Approaches for Agile Teams webinar. During the presentation, we received some awesome questions. I wanted to share those answers in hopes of helping others, whether or not you were able to attend to the webinar.

What is most important thing to do when transitioning to Agile from Waterfall?

Talk to the team about having the right mindset. Agile is a culture change, not just a methodology and implementing some ceremonies. It’s important to understand how to make sure you have healthy teams and a healthy backlog. The one thing that I see in teams that are successful is when the whole organization understands and embraces Agile. It’s not just about IT, Agile strategically benefits the whole company when the whole company has the right mindset.

Also from a change management perspective, it is key to prepare your organization for a transition from Waterfall. This is a major transition and there will be some discomfort but know that’s usually a byproduct of growth and progress!

What percent of people you deal with think stand ups are valuable?

Almost 100% of the teams I work with use the daily stand ups. It is by far the most popular ceremony. I see people who are not doing any other agile ceremony but choosing to adopt the daily stand up. Of the individuals who are resistant to doing the daily stand up, the most common complaint is that they don’t get anything out of it. To me, this is a red flag that someone is not thinking about their team and still has the mindset of an individual contributor.

What does concern me is that Scrum Masters aren’t setting the tone and the energy of the stand up. If the stand up becomes dull, routine and boring, I challenge the Scrum Masters to be creative. Your stand up should be an informative morning pep rally and a healthy team should be eager to hear what’s going well and what roadblocks their teammates are encountering.

How do you make the stand up more collaborative? Our daily stand ups are more of status meetings and some people report the same status day after day.
My favorite 3 questions to have the team answer instead of “What did you do yesterday?” are:

  • “What did you accomplish?”
  • “What do you plan to accomplish?”
  • “What do you need help with or do you have bandwidth to help anyone that needs help?” (I like to give members a gold star/stamp each time they volunteer to help a teammate.)

I also like to rotate who facilitates the stand up so each member can put their own spin on the format. Empower the team members to take ownership of the stand up. Instead of complaining, the team members themselves have to come up with formats to make the stand up fun, engaging and informative in 15 minutes or less. A few examples include: bringing/wearing a hat during the stand up, using different things for the talking stick (like a football or a stuffed animal), and having a different person each week share a positive quote, project trivia question, work appropriate joke or just give positive feedback to team members!
Also, creating a Niko Niko Calendar gets the team engaged and talking about their challenges and not just general status updates.

What’s the biggest problem with stand ups when they’re not working?

I find that this is a symptom of a bigger problem. Usually, it’s a by-product of a team that is working as a group but still thinking as individuals. One thing I encourage is to incorporate team building exercises into your retrospect to get people to connect personally, and not just relate to each other based on roles and responsibilities. There are a lot of ice-breaker type games that help people to relate to each other. (Try some of our instructor’s favorites and see our infographic for some tips.) Even if team members have worked with each other for years, it doesn’t mean they actually relate to each other on a more personal level.

Also, don’t make your stand ups too formal, create an atmosphere more like a pep rally. You want people to come to the stand up with a mindset of what piece of information can I share with my team to help us perform better? 

If you are new to a company not using agile, what lean principle would you suggest starting with to demonstrate the value for making a transition?

I suggest Lean Principle #9 (see the slide below) because it will get your team talking about what’s working and not working. You can create a Kanban board of ways to continuously improve areas of waste and the solutions to doing that will lend themselves to introducing the Agile (i.e. scrum and Kanban approaches). I also recommend reading my recent blog post: Baby-Stepping Your Way into Agile Using Kanban Principles.

How do we learn how to quantify value as BAs?

In the famous words of Jerry McGuire – “show me the money”. The key to quantifying value is trying to determine how a feature, function or solution is going to help the company Save Money, Make Money, Avoid Spending Money, Make Money Faster, With Less Overhead, etc ca.  This is easy enough at the feature level but when you start breaking down features into stories, each story should contribute to the overall feature by some percentage. At the story level, I like using a variation of relative sizing that instead is applied to relative business value points.

As an example, you are creating a mobile app that allows customers to order, pay and pick up groceries on the go. The organization decided on this project because they are losing revenue to competitors that have this service. So, if we are trying to prioritize 3 stories: #1 is ordering, #2 is paying and #3 is applying coupons. On a scale of 1 to 5, which has the highest business value? No one will use the app without #1 so I give it a 5. And if they can’t apply their coupons, they don’t care about story #2 because they won’t buy from you if they are paying a higher place. So #3 has a higher business value than #2 – even though we think of #2 being the next logical story to develop, it actually has a lower business value than #3.

Creating more value with less… resources are always a challenge and usually very thin. What is the best approach to effectively utilizing resources?

Cross functional training, pairing resources and swarming are a few techniques to help you optimize your team and resources. Team members can play more than one role. Instead of everyone dividing the work up, they all focus on work on finishing one thing. Multi-tasking as a team can actually cause things to take a lot longer. For more on this and developing t-shaped skills, check out my blog post: From a Dysfunctional to Cross-Functional Agile Team.

Lean Principle #2 talks about deferring commitment until the last responsible moment. How do you determine that moment? Many teams defer commitment (or decision making) until it negatively impacts other team members.

First, a little more about Deferring Commitment. This is about not rushing to make decisions and locking yourself into the design or the “how”. The team wants to get as much information as possible, learn from it and adopt. In Agile, this is also the ‘just in time’ requirements and design because you are deferring it. I have a few suggestions for when it comes to getting your stories ready for development that will help set guidelines and drive when decisions have to be made.

Story grooming starts about 2-3 sprints before that story is committed to a sprint. This is a good time to determine what questions need to be answered and if there any dependencies, constraints, risks or impacts. All of these need to be addressed before the story is assigned to a sprint. This ensures that key decisions that impact a story’s success are made before the planning session. A story should not be assigned to a sprint if there is a significant decision or outstanding question that will impact or delay the story implementation. If the decision itself requires a team effort, then assign it to a sprint as a SPIKE.

I will also add that your Lead Developer or Architect should monitor and flag when design decisions need to be made. The Architect may not be a member of the team, but the team should consult him/her prior to any planning and prioritization of the backlog.

I hope this helps answer some questions you might have about becoming a mean, lean agile machine! Please let us know if there is more we can help with as you continue your agile transformation journey.

– Jacqueline

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Jacqueline Sanders-Blackman

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