Effective Chartering for Scrum Teams

lions.jpgThe presentation from my talk with Jens Korte on team chartering at the March 2010 Scrum Gathering in Orlando is now available online at http://prezi.com/gc0m9zvmjb0q/.

We enjoyed preparing and giving this talk very much. Thanks very much to the people who attended and for the interesting questions and discussion, all of which contributed to the talk’s success.

It’s the first time that I have made a presentation using Prezi (http://prezi.com). Prezi allows the presenter to zoom around a large canvas and get away from the intrinsically serial nature of traditional presentation tools. It suits my style and was well received by all that I showed the results to (I’ve heard of some feeling symptoms akin to motion sickness as a result of the zooming and rotation). I’ll be continuing this experiment with my next presentation at Agile Central Europe in Krakow Poland on 8-9th April.

Many thanks also to those who mentioned our talk in their post-gathering round-ups. Here:


and here:


Leuchtfeuer entzünden: Einführung von Scrum bei der Allianz Deutschland AG


An article, co-written by ScrumCenter founders Christoph Mathis and Simon Roberts, describing the Scrum transition at Allianz Deutschland AG, is now available for free download thanks to an agreement with SIGS-DATACOM GmbH.

The article, co-written by Gerhard Hastreiter (Allianz Deutschland AG), Chistoph Mathis (ScrumCenter GmbH) and Simon Roberts (ScrumCenter GmbH), first appeared in the January 2009 edition of ObjektSpektrum and can be found here.

Leuchtfeuer: Introducing Scrum to an Enterprise by Lighting Beacons

At the German Scrum Open Space conference on 11th July, Christoph Mathis and I presented our ideas on sustainable Enterprise Scrum transitions.

The ideas are based on our experiences leading the successful Scrum transition at Allianz Deutchland over the last 1.5 years and identifies some of the key success factors and pitfalls as well as outlining the approach.

We”ve adopted a beacons (German Leuchtfeuer) metaphor since our approach is based on successively illuminating different parts of the project and governance landscape of the organisation. Key success factors that we described include support from top management and the use of the right mix of training, coaching and mentoring for the people involved in the transition.

We’re speaking at several conferences and meetings over the coming months (including the Stockholm Scrum Gathering, XP Days Germany in Hamburg, OOP 2009 in Munich and Peter Stevens’ Scrum Breakfast in Zurich) where we will be discussing these and related topics. In the meantime, our slides are available and we welcome questions.

Brain-writing Retrospectives

There are many techniques that can be applied during Scrum retrospectives. The excellent book “Agile Retrospectives” by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen has several suggestions. As a Scrum coach I try to keep retrospectives fresh and interesting by using different techniques and I regularly dip into this book for inspiration.

One of the simplest retrospective approaches is to get the team to make three lists:

  • Continue – what has worked well and should be continued
  • Stop – what has not worked well or has hindered us and should be stopped
  • Start – what things have we not been doing which we should start to do

With the support of a facilitator, the team can produce the three lists on three separate flip-chart sheets. However, sometimes the team dynamics makes this difficult, for example if one or more of the team members are very dominant so that other team members are effectively excluded. Brain-writing is one way to help all team members to contribute.

In this article I describe how brain-writing can be applied as part of a Scrum retrospective.

Brain-writing proceeds as follows:

  1. Each participant is given a sheet of paper containing a table with three columns “Continue”, “Stop” and “Start” (attached as Powerpoint in English and German).
  2. Each team member spends up to 5 minutes writing entries in each column.
  3. The sheets are then passed to another participant (e.g. to the left).
  4. Each participant reads what has already been written and may then write additional ideas if inspired to do so (5 minute time-box).
  5. This continues for at least one round – i.e. until the sheets are back at their starting points.

Once ideas have been generated using brain-writing, the retrospective can continue as follows:

  • Consolidate the lists – producing three lists (“Continue, “Stop” and “Start”) on a whiteboard or flip-chart.
  • Prioritise the list items by voting with coloured stickers or marker pen “dots” – each participant gets three votes per column.
  • From the highest priority items (e.g. the top three items), generate a list of SMART (simple, measureable, achievable, realistic, time-boxed) actions.
  • Consider creating Product and/or Sprint backlog items from the actions.

Brain-writing Retrospective Sheet (German and English) – Microsoft Powerpoint

Default Keyboard Focus

flow|state: Show mercy to keyboard users (yourself included) by setting the default keyboard focus In this post on flow|state the author explains the importance of setting the default keyboard focus in a web application – i.e. where text will appear if the user starts typing without clicking on a control or otherwise changing the focus. Some sites do set the focus appropriately (e.g. google search) but others seem to overlook this simple but important point (e.g. google reader, microsoft.com).

I’ve facilitated several agile projects where the customer or product owner has come up with a user story something like:

As a web site visitor
I want to start typing without having to change focus
so that I can get the results that I need as quickly as possible

This is usually simple to implement (unless you can’t use JavaScript) and provides an immediate reduction in aggravation for users. For some applications this can actually make a difference to the business case. For example, if call handling time for a large scale call centre application can be reduced by just a second, it can result in significant cost reductions over a year.

I encourage all product owners to consider whether there is room for such a feature in their product backlogs!

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Pair Programming

In PairProgrammingMisconceptions Martin Fowler makes some very good points and I agree with everything that he writes. However, I think that there is an important point that he has not mentioned: what are the alternatives?

In traditional software engineering projects, there has been widespread use of peer review (design reviews, code inspections, code walkthroughs etc.) as a means of improving code quality. Pair Programming provides a more efficient means of reviewing both design decisions and code.

Over the last few years I’ve noticed a tendency in many organisations to dispense with code reviews without replacing them with anything, let alone pair programming. If developers don’t think that anyone else will have to read their code, code quality in terms of defect density and ease of maintenance will suffer.

Is the Toyota Production System Responsible for Toyota’s Success?

In April of this year it was announced that Toyota had overtaken General Motors as the largest manufacturer of automobiles in the world in terms of vehicles sold. It seems that they will maintain this lead for some time to come. Interesting, a Toyota representative played down the achievement stating that they were focussed on meeting customer needs rather than winning a race.

The Toyota Production System and the Toyota Development System, initially developed in the 1940s and 1950s and publicized in the west in the 70s and 80s, were primary inspirations for the Lean and Agile movements. So is “The Toyota Way” responsible for Toyota’s success? According to a report that I overheard on BBC World Service Radio, yes, at least partially. They mentioned the Toyota Production System and stated that it is now used by most automobile manufacturers. Maybe the superficial details of the production system itself are even used by GM, but the Toyota Production System is based on much more which, according to anecdotes that I have heard, has not been adopted by GM.

The Toyota way is based on respect for their workers and embodies important principles such as self-organisation and adaptive processes that are so important when managing complex systems. It also applies the principle of eliminating waste, so if, for example, a machine needs to be moved to enable a team to do its job better, it will happen without jumping through hoops.

All of this does not sit comfortably with a prescriptive command and control approach, yet many Western organisations remain tied to such practices. In many cases, particularly when there is a crisis, the instinct of Western organisations (including governments) is to add additional controls to their processes (in the form of rules, laws etc.). This is often the opposite of what is required – give people the resources that they need, make them feel that they are truly valued and respected and they will deliver the results.

TDD Workshop

I recently led a test-driven development (TDD) workshop for the team that I am currently coaching. We’ve been working together for several Sprints (every Sprint bar none has resulted in valuable functionality that has been put into production). We’ve previously looked at unit tests in detail and I had made a strong recommendation to try to write the tests before the code under test. Over the last couple of Sprints, the quantity and quality of unit tests in the product has increased dramatically.

One of the outcomes of our last retrospective was that the team requested that we revisit the area, this time focusing on TDD. So I scheduled a couple of hours for a workshop.

I kicked the workshop off with a few slides to explain the philosophy behind TDD, explaining that TDD is not just about testing (or even mainly about testing) but has a great deal to do with design and documenting what services the code provides. I found a quote from Bob Martin that I really like:

“The act of writing a unit test is more an act of design than of verification. It is also more an act of documentation than of verification. The act of writing a unit test closes a remarkable number of feedback loops, the least of which is the one pertaining to verification of function”.

The introduction led to an extensive discussion about the pros and cons of TDD. In this type of situation, I’m not looking to convince people that a particular technique is valuable (you can’t make people believe in something) but to get them to try it out and then reflect on whether it works for them and the team.

I fired up Eclipse and went through some examples (based on material from Frank Westphal’s excellent book Testgetriebene Entwicklung mit JUnit und FIT).

By the end of the workshop, everyone had agreed to give TDD a try in the current Sprint. As normal, we’ll reflect on our experiences at our end of Sprint retrospective.

Second Talk on Agile at CDTM

I was recently invited to do another talk on agile methods at the Center for Digital Technology and Management in Munich, Germany.

This time, the talk covered the following areas:

  • user stories
  • agile estimating and planning

After examining some of the characteristics of good user stories, the students practiced writing some (with “As a …, I want …, so that …” clauses and acceptance tests on the back).

We then used the planning poker technique to estimate some user stories for the team’s first Sprint.

Once gain, thanks very much to Ana Balevic for organising and hosting the talk and to the students for some interesting questions and discussion.

Talk on Scrum and SOA at the CDTM in Munich

I was recently invited to talk about Scrum and SOA at the Center for Digital Technology and Management in Munich, Germany. The CDTM is a partnership between two Munich universities and cooperates closely with industry. It’s aim is to “prepare the students for future leadership positions in their professional career.”

The talk was provided as a part of a course that introduces students to an agile approach to SOA development. During the course, real functionality will be developed and demonstrated to industry partners.

The talk covered the following areas:

  • What is agile?
  • Why do we do agile software development (what are the issues with traditional methods and how does agile make it better in many cases)?
  • The agile manifesto, key values, principles and practices.
  • Key success factors and pitfalls for agile projects.
  • An introduction to Scrum.
  • The Dysfunctional Scrum exercise.
  • Case studies – different ways of approaching building an SOA-based system using Scrum, based on my experience coaching different projects and teams.

Thanks very much to Ana Balevic for organising and hosting the talk and to the students for some very interesting questions and discussion.