Sunday, October 19, 2014

Funnel Task Board helping agile teams delivery more

Many agile and Scrum teams struggle to limit their work in progress. This results in task switching, delays and other wastes, overall reducing how much the team delivers. Physically limiting space on a team task board asks as a mental barrier. This can be used to limit their work in progress and hence deliver more. I have had good success with Funnel Boards. The User Stories fall from the backlog into one of three spots available in the funnel for User Stories. It is a simple and effective way to limit the teams WIP. I heard of Funnel Boards at Agile Tour London 2013.

Zombie Team, Funnel Task Board
Zombie Team Funnel Board
The funnel board, leaves plenty of space around the edges for avatars, notes and other visualisation.

An empty Funnel Board

Funnel Task Board, empty, limiting WIP

The backlog at the top, is the Sprint Backlog. It is populated during Sprint planning and empties out as the Sprint progresses. Hopefully it is empty at the very end of the sprint.

Work flows from top to bottom

Funnel Task Board, flow, limiting WIP, limited WIP, lean, scrum, agile

As one of the three in progress stories is Done, the next story from the Sprint backlog flows down into the available spot.

A simulated sprint in progress

Funnel Task Board, flow, limiting WIP, limited WIP, lean, scrum, agile

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Waterfall Iterations softening resistance for the transition to Scrum

Switching from traditional waterfall development to Scrum is a very big mental change for many people. These people can be resistant to the change and potentially lead to a failed transition. It you have detected resistance to the transition to Scrum, before making the big change, consider an intermediate step to ease everyone into Scrum and lower the resistance to change. Consider changing to ‘Waterfall Iterations’ for a while before moving to Scrum.

waterfall iterations

When faced with transitioning from traditional waterfall development to Scrum, there are many unknowns and misunderstanding to be overcome. In some organisation this breeds significant resistance to the transition. If left unchecked this resistance to change can derail the whole transition. It is a great idea to find out what unknowns and misunderstanding exist and deal with them one by one. However that approach is not scalable and some issues will remain as the switch over looms. 

What I have used and seen to be successful in change resistant organisations is to stage the transition. Teams change from Waterfall to Waterfall Iterations for a couple of months, then the switch over to Scrum. Teams can be switched over a couple at a time, so that they can learn from and support each other. There is a co-ordination cost to having teams operating in different approaches; however it is generally worth it to smooth out the transition.

Waterfall Iterations

This phase introduces everyone to Iterations, co-location, cross functionality, Product Owners and Scrum masters. 

  • Cross functional, co-located teams of 5 to 9 people.
  • Teams use Sprint Retrospectives, Task boards, Burn-downs and Daily Stand-ups just as in Scrum. 
  • Iteration planning occurs every two weeks, where the Product Owner works with the team to pull in work items that have been created by whoever in waterfall created/allocated work items.
  • Iteration Review occurs every two weeks where the team demonstrates their completed work items to the Product Owner.
  • Functional testing carried out by the team with in the Iteration.
  • System testing carried out by separate testing team, outside of the Iteration.


The switch to Scrum from Waterfall Iterations; focuses teams on completing (including System testing, deployment) User Stories, that they themselves have created, split and sized.

A note

In organisations where there is strong support for the transition (or even only light resistance) I would recommend switching straight to Scrum.

Another note

Kanban is an evolutionary process improvement approach that dramatically reduces resistance to change. That is another option to consider.

Photo Credit:

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Choosing the correct type of feedback can improve your coaching

Helping people to grow and improve is very satisfying. Hence constructive and re-enforcing feedback seems natural to me and I use it often. However there is a continuum of behaviour that prompts me to give feedback and unfortunately it should not always result in re-enforcing feedback. The feedback approach coaches’ use should change to suit the type of behavior we are providing feedback about. Choosing the correct approach is crucial in effecting the outcome that will help the individual, team and yourself.

observed behaviour continuum feedback type style behavior

Adjusting feedback

Use Adjusting or Corrective feedback when someone is doing something that they must stop, or must change. I.e. Their behaviour is destructive, career limiting, negatively affecting others.

  • Do prepare (gather specific examples of the behaviour, talk to peers, draft what you will say, practice what you will say)
  • Do follow a structure and be directive in your delivery. Here is a template that you can use: it has been observed here, here and here, that you are doing X which is causing Y, this behaviour needs to stop, because it is causing Z. If the situation comes up again please do A instead.
  • Do give this feedback is private.
  • Do not give this feedback immediately after the event. Make sure you wait until everything has calmed down, so that it can be talked about in a rationale and deliberate manner.
  • Do not combine with other types of feedback, as it sends mixed messages.

Constructive feedback

Constructive or developmental feedback should be used when helping some to do better, or to help them see opportunities that they missed. 

This is covered in combination with Re-enforcing in my article Coaching Scrum Masters. The feedback sandwich puts two slices of re-enforcing feedback around a sliver of Constructive feedback. I have found this approach to be highly effective and have received plenty of positive feedback about it.

Re-enforcing / Encouraging feedback

Use it to praise people for effective behaviour and encourage them to do more of it, and perhaps do it even better next time.

  • Can be given in public (as it publicly promoting the behaviour that is appropriate), however be aware of who you are giving it to, some people will be embarrassed through to down-right upset at public acknowledgement. 
  • This type of feedback should be approached as discussion with the recipient. You are not telling them to repeat their behaviour you are merely discussing the benefits that you noticed and that you would like to see more of that behaviour.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Ideas for tasks when splitting or planning your User Stories

After years of working in a command and control culture moving to an agile methodology feels liberating for many team members. Unfortunately it can also feel over whelming. The first time a team needs to plan their iteration for themselves the can struggle to think of appropriate (and importantly small) tasks to split their User Story into. What follows is a list of ideas that I use with new teams to open their eyes to some of the options they have available to them.

Additionally of the following information is available on this one page PDF cheat sheet.

Cheat sheet for splitting or planning User Stories into tasks


  • Clarify Product Owner expectations
  • Product Owner early feedback
  • Product Owner review 
  • Confirm all Acceptance criteria

Shared Understanding

  • Scenario workshop (Three amigos)
  • Design session
  • Test creation session
  • Meet with customer representative


  • Design review 
  • Refactoring of existing code
  • Interfaces created
  • Code / Implementation
  • Code reviewed
  • Unit tests
  • Unit tests reviewed 
  • Defects resolved 
  • Defects retested 
  • Code merged 

Quality Assurance

  • Functional test plan created 
  • Functional test plan reviewed 
  • Functional test plan executed 
  • Automate functional tests 
  • Identify tests for automation
  • Exploratory testing
  • Regression Test Suite passes 
  • Continuous Integration passes
  • Deployment Tested
  • Performance tested


  • Deployment instructions
  • Internal Processes / Guides
  • External Processes / Guides
  • User story – notes, history, plan
  • High Level design
  • Design decisions
  • User Manual
  • Help
  • ‘How to’ Guides 


  • User Story updated in tracking tool 


  • Script/Run-sheet updated 
  • Data prepared 
  • Demo automated
  • Deployed to demo environment 
  • Practice run

Agile Coach Competencies

When thinking about how I could further improve my skills and knowledge as an Agile Coach, I came to the question of ‘How does an Agile Coach differ from a Scrum Master?’ Both provide coaching and work in agile, hence any division could appear to be very arbitrary. Writing out the competencies that I feel a good Scrum Master should have and then the competencies a good Agile Coach should have helped me answer the question. One good way to split the roles; is to look at what they focus on.

If I assume a Scrum Master is someone focused on providing Servant Leadership for a single team or a couple of teams. Than an Agile Coach is someone who focuses on coaching the department (and/or company) that those teams exist in. The Agile Coach provides training and coaching that is aimed at delivering value across the department/company, not just the team level. Sure a Scrum Master can do this, however it is not their focus when there are Agile Coaches and Scrum Masters in the same company.

With all of that in mind, I have updated my post on Scrum Master Competencies, and I present the competencies that I want a good Agile Coach to have.

The information presented below is available as a two page PDFcheat sheet.

Agile Coaching Competencies cheat sheet

Competencies of a good Agile Coach

These competencies assume that the person already has most of the Scrum Master Competencies.


* Adaptable
* Persistent
* Observant
* Unassuming
* Inquisitive


* agile Manifesto
* Scrum
* XP
* Lean 
* Kanban
* Agile Fluency Model
* Declaration of Interdependence

Scaling Approaches

* Scrum of Scrums
* Lean PMO
* LeSS 
* SAFe 

Change Management

* Iterating towards agility
* Questioning to encourage action
* Create broad network of contacts
* Building strong relationships
* Crucial Conversations
* Fearless Change Patterns
* Kanban Method
* Kubler-Ross change curve
* Kotter’s 8 step model
* Lewin's model
* McKinsey 7-S model 
* ADKAR model
* Schein's organizational culture model
* Appreciative Inquiry


* Dangers of metrics
* Lean metrics
* Visualising metrics
* Personal KPIs
* Team KPIs

Thinking Tools

* Queuing Theory
* Systems Thinking
* Theory of Constraints

  • The Five Focusing steps
  • Current reality tree
  • Evaporating Cloud


* Questioning for realisation
* Questioning to encourage action
* Creating SMART goals
* GROW model
* FUEL model
* Neuro-linguistic programming 
* Body language to control the mind
* De-stressing techniques
* The Responsibility Process 
* Working with resistant people

Training / Teaching

* Reading the audience
* Keeping energy levels up
* Kolbs learning styles
* Learning Modalities
* Fleming's VARK model
* Games for learning
* Run Dojo’s
* Run Lean Coffees
* Run World Cafes
* Competency Based Training
* Creating training material
* Creating games


* 30s elevator pitch for agile
* Exhibit passion


* Interviewing Techniques
* Competencies to look for


* Awesome emails
* Excellent written
* Creating memorable presentations
* Presenting
* Using appropriate medium


* Backlog Prioritisation Frameworks

* Multi Team Boards
* Traditional Iron Triangle
* Agile Iron Triangle
* Release burn-ups
* Feature / Traffic Light charts
* MoSCoW categorisation


* Facilitate large groups
* Facilitate senior managers

Collaborative engagement techniques 

* Impact Mapping
* Value Stream Analysis

Self Development

* Experiment at work
* Self reflection
* Attend Meet-ups
* Attend Conferences
* Read Books, Articles, etc.

Motivating Others

* Autonomy
* Relatedness / Purpose
* Mastery
* Detractors / Inhibitors

Distributed Development

* Models
* Communication
* Engagement
* Technical Practices

Agile Contracts

* 10 types
* Building trust

Your Thoughts

Have I missed anything? 

Is there any that you disagree with?

Related Articles

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Co-ordination < Cooperation < Collaboration

This is one way a work group can improve their interactions and hence become a high performing team. Individuals and Interactions are crucial for a team to have a chance of being a successful agile team. I often see teams that are full of great individuals yet the team is not performing as well as they could be. One common cause of this is that they are all working as individuals and not interacting effectively. These work groups can become great teams by progressing themselves from Co-ordination to Cooperation to Collaboration. 


Three people coordinating their work across three tasks on three User Stories

Dictionary Definition: the organization of the different elements of a complex body or activity so as to enable them to work together effectively.

The working definition I use: Pursuing individual success over team success, by staying well out of each other’s work. i.e. Team members working on separate user stories within the same iteration. 

Symptoms at Stand ups: 

  • Many user stories in progress.
  • Reporting their status to the ‘leader’, not the team.
  • No interest in user stories that are not their own.
  • No concern regarding delivery of user stories that are not their own.


Three people cooperating while working on three tasks on one User Story

Dictionary Definition: the action or process of working together to the same end.

The working definition I use: Pursuing team success, by working as individuals. i.e. Team members working on separate tasks within the same user story. 

Symptoms at Stand ups: 

  • Few user stories in progress
  • Present their information to the team.
  • Asking questions about user stories that they are not working on.
  • Interest in the delivery of user stories that they are not working on.
  • Rushing to select the most interesting tasks for themselves. 
  • Rarely offering to assist each other.


Two people collaborating on one task, while another cooperates by working on another task all for the one User Story

Dictionary Definition: the action of working with someone to produce something.

The working definition I use: Pursuing team success, by working as one. i.e. Team members working on the same task within a user story. E.g. Test Scenario workshops, design workshops/sessions, pair programming, pair testing.

Symptoms at Stand ups: 

  • Few user stories in progress
  • Present their information to the team.
  • Regularly offering to assist each other, especially when a user story is at risk.
  • Requesting the team input into selecting the next task that will best help the team achieve its goal. 
  • Regularly offering to pair with each other, and regular acceptance of those offers.
  • Useful discussions often break out. It is sometimes hard to keep the stand up short because there is some much input and interest is effective plans and strategy.

Collaboration improves creativity

Effective collaboration results in something far greater than any contributor could achieve by themselves. Here are some creative collaborations, were I believe the result was superior to the input of any individual: Monty Python, Pink Floyd, The Beatles. They all bounced ideas off each other, helping each other to reach great heights. When separated they were all still great individuals yet failed to reach the dizzying heights they reached when collaborating.

Collaboration improves reviews

It is hard to provide an effective review without in-depth understanding of the work being carried out. That is why it is difficult and sometimes ineffective to review each other’s work when team members are just cooperating with each other. When team members collaborate with each other they are able to review as they progress, and/or review the work with deep understanding that results in superior feedback and hence a superior result. 

Collaboration improves planning

Planning is only as good as the input it receives. When team members are collaborating they are more invested in the work, and hence more motivated to provide input. Additionally they are more motivation to ask the tough questions at stand ups, that help teams deliver when the going gets tough.


Team members should aim to always be Cooperating and often be collaborating. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Don't start your Sprint or Iteration on Monday

Monday seems like a logical time to start your Sprint, right? The start of the calendar week, rested after the weekend, let’s go! In reality it is a bad idea, and I will explain why…

Start/Finish line

Primarily it comes down to interruptions to the sprint cadence. The start and finish days of a sprint are the days where it is crucial that the entire team is in attendance. Everyone needs to know what we are doing, why, and to learn together from our mistakes.

Public or Bank Holidays usually occur on a Monday. If your sprint is scheduled to start on a Monday, which is also a Public Holiday, you need to reschedule all of the sprint meetings, shorten the sprint and this causes significant admin overhead and critically it interrupts your cadence. The other issue that often occurs is the impact of changes arising from Monday morning management meetings.  These changes hit the team just after they have started their sprint, resulting in re-planning costs, and a diminished sense of autonomy.

Fridays are bad too as this is often the day that people book off to extend their weekend into a mini break. Fridays are often the day that leaving lunches, leaving drinks and other celebrations occur, resulting in more impacts.

So instead of Monday, start your sprint on Wednesday or Thursday. The sprint end/start being the middle of the week has several advantages. It avoids the issues of Monday/Friday. Meeting rooms are generally more readily available in the middle of the week.

I do not recommend Tuesday because when there is a public holiday on Monday the sprint will effectively be ending the Friday before a long weekend (which is when everyone is mentally checked out).

So in summary avoid Mondays and Fridays it will save a lot of heart ache.

Photo Credit: Andrew_D_Hurley via Compfight cc