Agile

Remote Retrospective using Lean Coffee

Do you have any problems with your retrospectives? Is there a few people with “strong voices” that gets their saying every time, talking about what they consider to be the problems, whilst others remain silent (and no light is shred on what they think is wrong)? We had that problem, and it kept me busy thinking for a better approach to perform retrospectives, where we discuss what everyone in the team agrees are the most important.

”Coffee

Lean Coffee & remote team

Since I’ve been attending a few Lean Coffees arranged in Stockholm, I thought that would be a good format to use, also for a retrospective. I fired off some searches on the interwebz, that made me confident that it would work (more information to be found here and here)!

However, there was one more challenge to solve. The team was a remote team, with two individuals not working from the main office. How to solve that nicely? Since I’m a huge fan of digital boards, my solution was a shared board in Favro!

”Board

(Digital Kanban board in Favro with four columns: ”To Discuss”, ”Discussing”, ”Done” and ”Actions”)

Introduction to Lean Coffee

If you don’t already know about Lean Coffee, I will now shortly introduce you to that. So, what is Lean Coffee?

”Lean Coffee is a structured, but agenda-less meeting. Participants gather, build an agenda, and begin talking. Conversations are directed and productive because the agenda for the meeting was democratically generated.” – http://leancoffee.org/

It was created 2009 in Seattle by Jim Benson & Jeremy Lightsmith. If you happen to be in Stockholm and wants to experience the real thing, you can click here for more information.

How does a remote retrospective using Lean Coffee work?

Preparation prior to the retrospective meeting

  1. In your favourite digital tool (we use Favro), set up a simple Kanban board with four columns:  ”To Discuss”, ”Discussing”, ”Done” & ”Actions”. See the picture above for how it can look like.
  2. Provide access to the digital tool for all the meeting participants.
  3. If several of the meeting participants sit together (in a meeting room), bring a laptop and share the screen on a TV/projector.
  4. Use Skype/Slack/other phone conference solution for audio.

During the retrospective meeting

  1. Generating topics – Each meeting participant starts to write 1-2 sentences on for each topic in the past time period (scope of the retrospective) that they would like to discuss. Either they add the ”stickies” directly to the digital board themselves (using their laptop), or the meeting moderator can take the physical stickies and write them into the digital board, using his or her laptop. Remote participants will of course add to the digital board directly. A set amount of time is spent on this step (like 3-5 minutes for a one hour retrospective). All ”stickies” are placed in the ”To Discuss”-column.
  2. Presenting topics – Each topic is shortly introduced by the one who wrote the ”sticky”.
  3. Dot voting – Each participant is given three ”dots” to freely distribute amongst the topics. On the digital board dots (.) (or better *) can be added after the describing text. For convenance, it’s easier if one or two meeting participants do this at the same time (to avoid conflicts and confusion).
  4. Order the topics – The topics are ordered in the ”To Discuss”-column, most ”dots” comes first.
  5. Start to discuss – The topic with the most ”dots” is selected to the ”Discussing”-column. It’s discussed for 8 minutes (a timer is set).
  6. When time is up, participants vote with their thumbs:
    – ”Thump up” – Continue to discuss the topic for 3 more minutes (then vote again).
    – ”Thump side” – We can go on with this topic or take the next, it doesn’t matter for me.
    – ”Thump down” – This topic is discussed enough and set to the ”Done”-column. Move on to the next.
    (Participants in the meeting room uses their physical thumps, remote participants can just say what they are voting, or paint a thumb on the shared screen, this is possible in Slack).
  7. Documentation – During the discussions the meeting moderator shall write comments & actions in the digital Kanban board directly, this information can be taken further.
  8. When to end – Discussion continues until meeting time or topics are out. But what about meeting time ends before all topics are discussed? Well, the team have voted and what they considered the most important topics are hopefully already sorted out. If not, call for a new meeting, or let the topics stay in the ”To Discuss” column for next retrospective (maybe it then gets the votes needed to be discussed, if not, well it’s not that important after all, the team has considered).

After the retrospective meeting

If you (I assume you are the meeting moderator 🙂 ) have played your cards well, you don’t have to do anything afterwards! Actions are nicely put in the ”Actions” column to take further. For reference the topics with detailed comments can be transfered to a more permanent storing in a wiki or Confluence-page.

Summary

I hope you now have a way to perform democratic remote retrospectives! One thing to mention, if the team is not used to this format, is to be a bit flexible with the timer and the thump voting. The timer can be seen a bit stressful and limiting for the discussions. Usually you can ”feel” when a topic has been discussed enough, then you can go on to the next. That goes for the thump voting as well, You can ”see” the level of engagement for a topic, and thereby know when it’s time to move on.

if you have any questions don’t hesitate to contact me. Good luck with your future retrospectives!

All the best,
Tomas from TheAgileist

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More Agile ahead!

Hello dear readers,

Long time no see! I haven’t published a new blog post in a very long time… Partly I’ve been occupied with other things, but I’ve also felt that I don’t have anything exciting to write about. Now I have started a new job as Agile Project Manager at Quickspin, a Swedish gaming company. Now I will hopefully be involved in more Agile stuff that I can write about. I also got the spark back for writing again, when I read that another blogger had picked up some of my old stuff!

”Formula”

(Picture borrowed from www.jile.io)

My top 5 blog posts

In the meantime, before I get some new stuff out, I would like to recommend my top 5 blog posts (that continues to attract readers, with a high steady state of page views per year):

  1. The Arrow – Advanced kanban board (This is my evergreen, I wonder if I ever can write another blog post that becomes as popular as this one…).
  2. The Phoenix Project (A book review, that gains awful lot of traffic, and I don’t really know why. I have now started to read a new book by Gene Kim called ”The Devops Handbook”. Stay tuned for that book review!).
  3. Retrospective with timeline (A neat way to get feedback on, for example, a project).
  4. Priority pyramid (My very first visualisation, that also got acknowledged by the Agile community!).
  5. Context switching – Public Enemy No. 1? (This is actually the second blog post I wrote, after the first standard ”Welcome to my blog”. Truly honoured that it still gets so much attention 🙂 ).

Summary

Which one of my blog posts are your favourite? What do you want me to write more about in the future? Don’t hesitate to contact me!

All the best,
Tomas from TheAgileist

Focus & Flow

Travelling on a train that got delayed, I started to think about flow & focus that resulted in this blog post.

”Formula”

Focus <-> Flow

If you can focus (i.e. limited the work done in parallel), you will get flow through your system. If you can show a track-record of  flow (i.e. continuous deliveries), it becomes legitimate to focus. Just like the opposite is true. If you can’t focus you will not get flow. If you don’t have flow, you need to start work earlier (to meet the delivery) and you end up with multiple parallel work activities and you become unfocused. If you can’t focus the flow is gone, and downwards it goes.

So focus gives flow, and the other way around. That gives this simple “formula”:

Focus <-> Flow

Theories is one thing, but I bet that you long for an example that you can start to use right away? Well, here it is a visualisation that creates focus and gives flow in the end of a larger effort when everything shall ”come together”!

Shooting Target

Nowadays we have everything in Jira, including the team’s Kanban boards. Atlassian, that makes Jira, claims it to be ”The #1 software development tool used by agile teams”. That’s very good, but it’s hard (is my opinion at least) to visualise an overview to actually ”see all the work”, especially if you are using multiple projects in Jira, like we do. So when we are approaching the end of a major release, we use a good old whiteboard to ”get everything together”.

”Shooting

At the end of a larger release we use the shooting target that I have blogged about before. It’s a very straight forward metaphor that everyone understands. We aim for the target in the middle, and all the work needs to proceeds in a ”To-do, Doing, Done”-manner from the outer circle to the center. The circle can be subdivided to show different “parts” (like products) that need to come together to make up the release. The shooting target in the pictures has four subdivisions.

”Shooting

Explanation (where to coloured “circles” in the picture above corresponds to the bullets in the list below):

  • Visualization of the needed work – As mentioned we have everything in Jira, residing in several projects. To actually see the work needed to ”tie a release together” this visualization is essential. It better depicts work in front of us, than work already done that Jira shows (and that everyone already have an understanding of, since they have been part of it).
  • Target date – We put up the target release date in the middle to communicate to everyone in team team, as well as outside stakeholders, what we are aiming for. A part from communication, a target date helps prioritization. An example: ”If we shall be ready end of next month, there are no way we can take this work on, it have to wait for the next release!” We can use crystal clear communication, when we say ”we need to hit the target”, we actually mean it 🙂 .
  • Responsibility – As on a ”normal” Kanban-board we use avatars to show who is working on what. This time I simply collected the pictures that the persons uses in other systems (like Slack) and printed them out and glued them on regular square-sized magnets (that I in turn have longtime borrowed from my daughter 🙂 ). Avatars showing who works on what also communicates something else that is very important, what we are NOT working on! As in ”We are focusing on this for now, and leave that to later” or ”Why are we not working on this? We need to start doing that now!”. This type of overview you can’t get in a digital tool like Jira (is my experience).
  • Dependencies – To highlight dependencies (for example to other departments within the company) avatars are used for that as well.
  • Other information – Other parts of the whiteboard are used to keep track of other information, like who is on vacation.
  • Operation of the board – The board is “walked” regularly, and two questions are used by me (as the facilitator):
    1. What have moved since last time?
    2. What is hindering us the most today from “hitting the target”?

Summary

I hope you liked this blog post and that you have a better understanding that you need to focus to get flow. In doing so you achieve a positive spiral where focus and flow enforces each other. The shooting target is one visualization to support focus and thereby flow. Good luck with your implementation of this!

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

The Goal

It’s a trend that young people don’t read books anymore. Instead they spend time on social media or playing computer games. I, who read a lot of books, see this as a problem. Therefore I really like the initiative from Goldratt Books, to re-publish the legendary book ”The Goal” from 1984, but now as a business graphic novel! Hopefully this format will make the Millennials get the invaluable information about Theory of Constraints.

The full title of the book is ”The Goal: A Business Graphic Novel”, and the original was written, as you all may know, by Dr. Eliyahu M. Goldratt. Dwight Jon Zimmerman and Dean Motter have made the adjustments to this new format of graphic novel, and the book has 143 pages and was released in August 2017.

”The

Content

The book starts with an introduction by Efrat Goldratt-Ashlag (daughter of Dr. Eli Goldratt). Back in 1984 Eli wanted to present his new idea (Theory of Constraints) in a way that would stand out from the normal ”boring” management books. He choose the format of a business novel (or, as some say, a teaching novel). The publishers were sceptical but one of them believed in the format of a novel, and published it. 7 million copies sold, and translation to 32 languages showed that the decision was right! Now Efrat wants to do the same thing her father did, using the graphic novel format to appeal to the readers of today!

What is the story? It’s about a factory (the Unico plant) that has run into severe problems (like late shippings) resulting in layoffs. Alex Rogo, a newly appointed plant manager, is put in charge to fix the problems. Alex spends his time in numerous and seemingly meaningless management meetings. He struggles to find out what the problems for the factory really are, but he finds no answers. One day, at the airport, he runs into his old professor Jonah and asks his for advice. Jonah becomes the mentor to Alex, in his pursuit to fix the problems to save the Unico plant. As the story goes along, the ”bits and pieces” of Theory of Constraints are explained in order to help Alex. I will not give away anything more about the story, you simply have to read it yourself! 🙂

However, I end this review with ”The 5 focusing steps of Theory of Constraints”:

  1. Identify the system constraint(s).
  2. Decide how to exploit the system constraint(s).
  3. Subordinate everything else to the above decision(s).
  4. Elevate the system constraint(s).
  5. Go back to step 1. Warning: Do not allow inertia to cause a system’s constraint.

”The

Recommendation

First of all, ”The Goal” is one of the classics. If you haven’t read it, you should really pick up a copy. I really like the graphic novel format. It appeals to me, and hopefully to numerous of others. This is a must read that I can highly recommend!

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

The Journey

Right now, when I start to write this blog post, I’m on my way back from the best journey I have ever done! We have been four families, with an age span from 4 to 54, travelling to various locations in the United States (like Hawaii, San Francisco & Los Angeles). We all come from Sweden so it’s a long journey, both in distance and time for us. In this blog post, I will tell about which tools and Agile practices we used to make this journey successful!

”TheJourney

Picture 1 – Sunset seen from Santa Monica Pier

Pre-planning

Google Hangouts

Since the four families lives in different places in Sweden, we needed a tool for our planning meetings. We choose Google Hangouts, mainly because some of us use it at work. The planning meetings had no real structure, but screens we shared to for example show interesting hotels that we could book in the different locations we were visiting. The messaging function of Google Hangouts was also used heavily, to send information and URL:s back and forth. This planning meetings started out already in March (nine months prior our departure).

”TheJourney

Picture 2 – Conversion on Google Hangouts planning the trip

Airtable

After a while, we had agreed on a travel plan and we started to do bookings of flights and hotels. We took help from a Traveling Agency for some of the bookings (they were for example able to book cheaper flights). With a lot of information gathered that we needed to keep track of, we selected Airtable as the tool. It is an online tool, and it is easy to invite members to use it. It can be seen as a cross-over between a spreadsheet and a Kanban-board. We used Airtable to store information about our booked flights and hotels as well as suggestions of tourist attractions we wanted to visit.

”TheJourney

Picture 3 – Collection of tourist attractions we wanted to see, gathered in Airtable

The actual journey

The framework for the journey was set with all the bookings we had made. We knew how many days we had planned to stay at each location.

Planning meeting for activities

When we arrived at a new location I hosted a planning meeting to have everyone to agree on what activities we should do the upcoming days. Given the span in age and different interest in the activities, we of course sometimes splited the group of four families into other constellations. Overall, we kept a general plan for each location that everybody agreed upon.

Board for activities

To capture and visualise the planning I put up a simple board with post-its on whatever I found suitable (pro-tip: bring your own tape to make the post-its stick better 🙂 ). One column for each day at the location, and three rows dividing a day into three sections: Before lunch, afternoon and evening. This showed to be pretty sufficient for our needs.

”TheJourney

Picture 4 – A planning board on a glass table

Google Maps

All four families rented their own car for travelling in California, US. The traffic in Los Angeles can be pretty hectic, so it was nearly impossible for us to drive together as a group. To solve this problem we planned routes using Google Maps. We did that at the hotel, while having access to wi-fi. The good thing with Google Maps are that routes can be downloaded (the person who planned the route shared the link using Google Hangouts, and all the other ”navigators” in the separate cars downloaded it to their phones, while having wi-fi access). This way we saved money, not to use roaming to get mobile data. The one thing you miss navigating after an offline route, is traffic updates. Normally this is no problem. But it becomes obvious during rush hours, then Google Maps can offer alternative routes depending on the traffic situation. Sometimes we turned on mobile data when driving in rush hour, to get these traffic updates. 

Overall, we had a very positive experience using Google Maps on the phone for navigating, compared to an ordinary GPS. Actually, the car rental firm wanted 197$ for GPS in the car. Way to expensive!

”TheJourney

Picture 5 – Navigating using Google Maps, shown in offline and night time mode

Summary

The stuff described above helped us to have the structure needed to be able to perform a trip of this kind, without any major disappointments. Travelling a large group together can be quite challenging, and I wouldn’t recommend doing it without any pre-planning/structure (carpe diem may work if you are a smaller group).

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

Top Ten List – Books

Today I visited Stockholm Lean Coffee. It was my first visit in a long time, and the discussions were very giving as usual! The question that I brought to the table was the one of tips of (new) Agile books to read. I got a few suggestions that I can come back to later, when I’ve read them. For now, I will share with you my top ten list of the most inspiring Agile/Lean/Management-books that I have read. Here it goes, in reversed order for most excitement, of course! 🙂

”Top

Top Ten List – Books

10. #Workout (Managing for Happiness)

I start off with the one and only book that yours truly have contributed to. 🙂 It’s the “#Workout”- book that Jurgen Appelo self-published. See my short review here. It has now been withdrawn from the market, and replaced by “Managing for Happiness: Games, Tools, and Practices to Motivate Any Team”. Most of the chapters from the first book was transfered over to the new one that is available for purchase.

9. Scrum and XP from the trenches, 2nd edition

My Agile journey really kicked-off by reading this book back in 2008 (it was then the 1st edition, released 2007). It gave me the understanding that it was possible to build software without using the waterfall model! The 2nd edition is annotated by Henrik Kniberg, sharing eight more years of his experience. Here is my review of the 2nd edition.

8. Creativity, Inc.

Ed Catmull is an astonishing leader! This book is his biography, but also tells you the story on how to build an innovative and creative company, like Pixar (nowadays a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company). In his career he made art and technology come together. Here is my review of the book.

7. Soft Skills

Before I started this blog I had a strong desire of writing a book myself. But I had no idea on how to do it. Via Manning I got involved in a MEAP (Manning Early Access Program) providing feedback to this book “Soft Skills”, to get me “into the world of book writing”. It turned out that John Sonmez are a quite nice fellow! 🙂 “Soft Skills” clarifies personal kaizen.

6. This is Lean

This is my Lean-bible! It taught me the “secret sauce” of flow efficiency (work moves fast through the process) over resource efficiency (people to be busy at all times). I read this book long before I started blogging, therefore I don’t have any formal review, instead you can read this blog post that sums up my thoughts regarding this.

5. Moments of Truth

This book I first read in Swedish (then it is called “Riv pyramiderna!”). The author Jan Carlzon states that a leader of a company can’t be an isolated and autocratic decision maker. Instead, he or she must be a visionary, a strategist, an informer, a teacher, and an inspirer.The values presented in this book are well inline with the agile thinking, talking about empowered teams that are cross-functional and customer focused. Here is the review.

4. Agile Project Management with Kanban

I immediately bought this book after I heard about it, since I’m both into project management and Kanban! And yes, the book fit me like a glove! It’s a true gem, a perfect Agile book in 160 pages. Read more about it here.

Ok, we are approaching top three now…

3. The Innovators

”The Innovators” is Walter Isaacson’s followup book to the ”Steve Jobs”-biography that I think many of you have read. The book holds 500 pages plus, that covers the whole history of the digital revolution from the 19th century to present time. The main takeaway from this book is that creativity is a collaborative process. That innovations comes from smart people working together as a team, rather than from a lone genius. Here is my review.

2. Kanban in Action

This is my personal favourite amongst the books about Kanban! I’ve read it several times. It sort of changed how I see things, and even how people anticipate me, as you can read in the review that I end with: ”I can truly recommend ’Kanban in Action’ to anyone that wants to know just the slightest bit about managing knowledge work. From the first moment I started reading it, this has been my holy bible of Kanban!”.

And the winner is…

1. The Nature of Software Development

This book is written by Ron Jeffries, one of the original Agile Manifesto signatories. It was published 2015 and is a truly agile book with 150 pages full of wisdom! And questions. That can raise wisdom. If you ask me, I think this book is fantastic! Since the chapters are so short and to the point, it’s almost like reading poetry. Agile poetry. This is the ”true north” or ”guiding star” in Agile we all should aim for! Read my full review here.

Summary

I hope you liked this top ten list of books! If you did and tell me, I can make more of this type of lists in the future. It was quite fun compiling it. 🙂 Until next time!

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

Agile Metrics in Action

Time flies! It’s been a while since I did some blogging, but now I’m back with a book review ”Agile Metrics in Action” from Manning Publications. The subtitle is ”How to measure and improve team performance”. This is an interesting topic I must say! If you do a change in your team, how do you know if it was for the better, or for the worse? You need to have some information, to be able to compare before, and after, the change. Voila, metrics comes in! The book is written by Christopher W. H. Davis and has 270 pages, it was released in July 2015.

”Agile

Content

The book consist of 10 chapters divided into three parts. The chapters are:

  1. Measuring agile performance
  2. Observing a live project
  3. Trends and data from project-tracking systems
  4. Trends and data from source control
  5. Trends and data from CI and deployment servers
  6. Data from your production systems
  7. Working with the data you’re collecting: the sum of the parts
  8. Measuring the technical quality of your software
  9. Publishing metrics
  10. Measuring your team against the agile principles

In software development we need measurement of what we produce, of course, but also measurement of the impact of the changes we make to improve delivery. Collect, measure, react & repeat – these are the steps in the feedback loop that we want to use.

”A method of measuring something, or the result obtained from this” – metrics defined by Google

In the software development lifecycle (SDLC) data to use as metrics can be obtained from the following sources:

  • Project tracking
  • Source control
  • Continuous integration
  • Deployment tools
  • Application monitoring

Development teams should be responsible for tracking themselves through metrics that are easy to obtain and communicate!

From your project tracking system (PTS), like JIRA or Rally, you can get the following:

  • Burn down chart
  • Velocity
  • Cumulative flow
  • Lead time
  • Bug counts

But why stop with only this? The book has a tip about tagging your tasks with as much data as possible. Tag for example all tasks that get automated tests written for them with:
#automated

With a clever query in your PTS, you can use this tag to create a new metric, representing the percentage of the tasks that are covered with automated tests. Store this metric over time, and you can see trends, to answer the question ”Are my automated test coverage going up or down?”. Another useful thing, is called recidivism, which is the measurement of tasks as they move backward in the predefined workflow. If a task moves from development to QA, fails validation, and moves back to development, this would increase the recidivism rate.

Source control is where your code is being written and reviewed and is a great source to complement the PTS data for better insight into how your team is operating. Continuous development starts with continuous integration (CI), the practise of continuously building and testing your code as multiple team members update it. Also use data from your deployment tools and application monitoring to combine everything into powerful metrics, that can tell the team and other stakeholders a lot about the current situation!

To calculate a custom metric you need two things:

  • Data to generate the metric from (as mentioned above)
  • A function to calculate the metric (can be in a range from very simple to super advanced. But remember you should be able to communicate your metric to other people!)

Recommendation

The book ”Agile Metrics in Action” does a good job in thoroughly explaining the topic about metrics. This is done with informative texts, together with a lot of pictures! If your are interested in metrics to help you improve your team, you should definitely check this book out!

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist