It’s Official – Women Are Killing it in Agile!

The ScrumMaster trends report 2019 showed that women in the ScrumMaster role are taking home a higher salary than their male counterparts. Those with training and certification were doing even better than those without.

Here at ThinkLouder, we’ve seen that women are eager and excited to get the ScrumMaster certification under their belts. In fact, we’ve had more female participants than men this year! We’re delighted to be supporting gender equality in high tech careers, and we want to wish all our female ScrumMasters a happy International Women’s Day!

Here’s one of our ScrumMaster students, Brandi Raso, sharing her experience. If you want to join Brandi, and add ScrumMaster certification to your list of achievements for 2020, get in touch!

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Agile QuickTip: Yellow and Red Cards!

Here’s how introducing yellow and red meeting cards can help you focus your teams meetings, and stop them getting taken off track.

We’ve all been there when a meeting loses focus. Sometimes participants get too far in the weeds, sometimes they start talking about things that aren’t relevant, or maybe start talking about redundant things that have been covered and put to rest.

One technique that can really help your team members to focus comes from soccer.

Introduce the yellow and red meeting cards. Here’s how it works. Provide each participant with a yellow and a red card. This can be a post-it note, or just index cards.

Now, whenever a meeting starts to get off track, anyone with a yellow card can hold it up, providing a signal to the person speaking that maybe they need to refocus or move onto a different topic. If two or more participants raise a yellow card, this means that someone can hold up the red card. When the red card is held up, this gives the speaker or the speakers 60 seconds to wrap up that discussion before moving on.

Using this very visual and clear tactic, you can keep meetings focused, on topic, and quite frankly, way more engaging for everyone involved.

I hope you enjoyed that Agile QuickTip, and I hope you found it valuable. I’d love to get your feedback on this tip, or any others from the series, so feel free to send me a message! Don’t forget to check out thinklouder.com to see how our training and coaching offerings can help both you and your teams.

Agile Quicktip: Use Defect Thresholds to Help Product Quality

Use Defect Thresholds to Help Product Quality

Most scrum teams have backlogs that contain more than just user stories and new product features. Oftentimes, they contain bugs and defects that have been reported by customers or users or even by the team itself. These aren’t always handled right away.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as perhaps none of these bugs or defects are considered high priority or need fixing immediately. However, once there are a large amount of these in the backlog it can make your product seem sloppy or bug-ridden – no single bug may be a priority, but collectively the probably should be.

Placing a maximum threshold on the number of bugs or defects that a backlog can contain before triggering them being prioritized for the next sprint.  This sets a minimum quality standard, and gives a consistent approach to handling issues that come up with the product.

You could apply the same principle to larger programs that contain multiple backlogs.

Let’s say you set the threshold to five, or eight items. Once that threshold has been reached collectively across all backlogs, this sends a signal to teams that they have to prioritize handling those defects for the next sprint. With this process in place, teams will never see a proliferation of defects and you always make sure you have a quality and stable product.

I hope that Agile Quicktip was valuable for you and your teams. Let me know what number of items you choose for your own defect threshold in the comments and also how it works for you. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the series, and make sure to stop by Thinklouder.com where you can learn more about how our training and coaching offerings can help you and your team.

Agile QuickTip: Using Multiple Choice Estimates

Agile QuickTip: Using Multiple Choice Estimates

If you ever find that estimating tasks during sprint planning is painful and argumentative then multiple choice estimates might really help with your team’s planning.

Most scrum teams follow a similar path during sprint planning. Team members will break user stories or backlog items down into individual implementation tasks or sub-tasks. Often, they will estimate these tasks in hours to get more detail into how long they they might take to complete. Often this will result in arguments amongst team members causing planning meetings to devolve into something far more contentious and painful than we had hoped.

A better alternative might be to use multiple choice options when estimating these tasks. For example, a task can be categorized as:

  1. A) Less than a day
    B) Less than 4 hours
    C) Less than 2 hours

In this way, each task only has 3 estimation options A, B or C.

Top tip: If a task is greater than a day, then have that team break it down into a smaller task, and then use multiple choice options to estimate the smaller task as ‘less than a day’, ‘less than 4 hours’ or ‘less than 2 hours’.

By applying this multiple choice estimation consistently at all your sprint planning meetings, estimation begins to happen quickly, reducing the amount of arguments while retaining the same level of accuracy.

I hope you enjoyed this Agile QuickTip, and I look forward to hearing how it worked in practice when you implemented it in your next sprint planning. Be sure to check out the rest of the series, and leave a comment or send me a message to let me know if there’s anything you’d like to see next. You can also head to Thinklouder.com to see how our training and coaching offerings can help both you, and your team.

Agile QuickTip: Don’t Manage Cross-Team Dependencies – Eliminate Them

Don’t manage cross-team dependencies – eliminate them.

One of the biggest challenges that a scrum team has to contend with when working in a multi-team, or scaled enterprise environment is managing cross-team dependencies. This is where your team is dependent on some other team to deliver something of their own, before you can make any progress. This could be anything from some data you’re waiting for, a design someone has to deliver in the Marketing team or from an external freelancer, or a web service or core module that you’re waiting on from another development team before you can do what you need to do.

A critical technique to helping your team to be successful is actually finding strategies to shift those dependencies from being what we call ‘finish-start’ to ‘finish-finish’ dependencies.

While finish-start means that you need to wait for someone else to finish before you can begin, finish-finish means you can still make progress, even while you wait for the other team to complete their own task. High priority items need immediate attention, so your job is to facilitate your team in abstracting those dependencies – decoupling them so that you can make progress on your part, without having to wait deliverables from other teams. Here are some ways to make that happen:

  • Create mock objects or mock services
  • Use some generic or rudimentary design while you wait for the real one
  • Create some mocked up data or hard coded data while you wait for the live data

The possibilities are limitless, depending on the task you’re waiting on, but this way you and your team can continue to make progress on these high priority items even while you wait on other teams. This way your team can focus on their high-value, high-priority items – build and test all functionality and even get user feedback without having to wait on dependent teams.  Making progress is more important than having the final version. Of course, later on there’ll be some additional work to integrate what you’ve done with these teams, but by then, that’s just the minority of the work that remains.

If you’re loving these Agile QuickTips, make sure you haven’t missed any by subscribing to our YouTube channel. You can also check us out on Instagram and Twitter for a daily dose of Agile inspiration. Head over to our website thinklouder.com, where you can see full information on all of our training and coaching.

Agile QuickTip: User Stories and Product Ideas Should be Born on Index Cards

How Do You Capture Your User Stories and Product Ideas? Try Index Cards

Here’s an out of the box idea that at first glance might seem counter-intuitive. I believe that user stories and product ideas should be born on index cards, rather than immediately logged electronically.

Most Agile or scrum teams will use some kind of electronic tool as a repository for their product backlog. This could be a JIRA, or Rally, or it might be something as simple as an Excel spreadsheet or Google Sheet that houses user stories. Sometimes, however, an electronic tool can serve as a barrier to creativity and collaboration, exactly what you need for brainstorming and idea generation.

A better way to capture these ideas is by using an index card or a sticky note. Think about how ideas are generated. The product owner will be talking to users, engaging with customers, discussing with stakeholders or even informally chatting with their own team members.  Pausing conversations to type notes into a computer or mobile phone would really slow those conversations down. Capturing these ideas on an index cards has a few key benefits:

  1. It makes the whole process a lot more tactile, supporting different kinds of learning and collaboration.
  2. It encourages others to participate at these vital early stages where creative sparks can fly more easily. Everyone can contribute ideas on their own post-its.
  3. It allows the Product Owner to take leadership over which ideas are best and should be included in the repository. Index cards can be moved, groups, prioritized, etc.
  4. It streamlines the eventual list of ideas and user stories to the most essential and immediate. Not all the ideas should make it into the repository. Product Owners can filter the sticky notes or index cards they want to include.

Give it a try next time you’re with your team, and let me know in the comments if it makes a difference!

If you are enjoying these Agile QuickTips, don’t forget to subscribe to my YouTube channel, as well as check out the website ThinkLouder.com to learn more about coaching and training offerings. For a daily dose of Agile inspiration, follow me on Instagram and Twitter @GioraMorein.

Agile QuickTip: Safety Checks to Kick Off Your Meetings

Safety Checks to Kick Off Your Meetings

We often assume that participants in teams feel comfortable being open, transparent and forthcoming in a way that will make meetings and interactions meaningful and valuable.  But what if this assumption is wrong? How would we know?  How might this affect a meeting, it’s participants and the meeting outcomes?

One simple technique that can be introduced when kicking off any meeting is the Meeting Safety Check.

At the start of a meeting, all you need to do, is ask participants to rate on a scale of zero to five what their level of comfort or safety is, in participating and sharing information during the meeting. You could have people hold up the corresponding number of fingers; or write a number on a post-it. If you’re concerned that team members won’t be honest about in their rating you could do this anonymously to help participants feel more comfortable sharing.

Based on the results of the Safety Check you then have three choices: continue with the meeting as planned, keeping an eye out for the team dynamics; address the safety concerns before the meeting begins; or cancel the meeting altogether until the safety concerns have been addressed. By introducing Safety Checks, not only do we make meeting safety a meeting pre-requisite priority, we also introduce a way to assess and evaluate when safety issues dealt with.  Meeting safety will likely lead to more engaged participants and better meeting outcomes.

I hope that this Agile QuickTip was enjoyable and valuable, and you can see yourself implementing it into your team meetings. Make sure to check our YoutTube channel to catch up on the ones you’ve missed! Don’t forget to head to Thinklouder.com to see our training and coaching offerings, and hit that follow button on Instagram, @GioraMorein, as well as on Twitter.

Agile QuickTip: Your Process Management Tool is not a Facilitation Tool

Process management tools are a common way to for a team to manage its work, it’s backlog, and its plans.  But these are repositories of information, they are not likely the best way to create this information.  Here’s an idea that might make work better.

Most agile scrum teams will use some kind of digital or electronic tool to help manage their team process. Maybe it’s Jira, or IBMs RTC, or Rally, or Microsoft’s own product. All of these tools have pros and cons, and are great process management tools, made to hold and manage a repository of information about your plan and your backlog. Regardless of which tool you choose, you need to remember that these are process management tools – not facilitation tools.

Just because these tools are the best place to store your information, does not mean that they are the best tool to facilitate the creation of this information. You need to find alternative ways to facilitate collaboration and communication to create this data – regardless where it ends up being stored.

Seek out tools that can help facilitate discussion, planning, solutioning etc.. Use more tactile tools if you can – like sticky notes or index cards.  If your team is virtual, us some kind of collaborative whiteboard or shared canvas – like MURAL.  You could even use more real-time data-capture tools – like Google Sheets or Office 365 that lets multiple people edit a shared document at the same time.  Using more facilitation-centric tools, your team can generate far more ideas; ensure that every voice is heard; avoid group-think;  and supports collective ownership of the outcome.  You’ll then need to then figure out the best way to extract this information and ‘import’ it into your process tool.  This will result in better information being captured and will even make your process management tool more useful, and far more valuable.

Skip the process management tool and pick up the sticky notes, and let me know how it turns out!

If you enjoyed that Agile Quicktip and found it valuable for your teams, make sure to check out the rest of the series. I would love to get your feedback, so please do leave a comment below, or send me a direct message. You can learn more about our training and coaching offerings , or follow me on Instagram, @gioramorein.

Agile QuickTip: Get rid of the ‘Survey 7’ Level-Up to Get Feedback

Get rid of the ‘Survey 7’ to Level-Up the Way You Get Feedback

Surveys can be a really effective tool when collecting feedback or gaining insights from different stakeholders.  Their versatility allows them to be used to get feedback from users and customers as well as to get ideas for improvements from team members.  Surveys can also be really effective as part of a team’s Sprint Reviews and Retrospectives as a tool to gather and visualize different opinions in the same meeting.

I have found that on surveys with questions rating responses from 1 to 10, the number ‘7’ is often the average response.  The ‘7’ becomes the fence-straddler of survey responses: “not terrible, but not good enough to be an ‘8’”.  The ‘Survey 7’ is effectively the non-choice for those that are unsure.  It might make it unclear or difficult to determine what action to take or decision to make.

One technique that might really help is to eliminate the ‘7’ as an option in the survey.  By getting rid of the ‘Survey 7’, it forces respondents to make a choice between the ‘6’ or the ‘8’.  Is it good enough to be rated an ‘8’ or is it just a ‘6’?  By making people choose, we can get better feedback, better insights, and information that is far more actionable.

This Agile QuickTip explains how eliminating ‘Survey Seven’ might have a really positive impact on your team, as well as your product overall.

If you enjoyed this Agile QuickTip, and found it valuable for your teams, make sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel, and check out the rest of the series. You can also follow me on Twitter @GioraMorein, leave a comment below, or send me a message. Don’t forget to check out thinklouder.com to see how our training and coaching offerings can help you and your team.

Agile QuickTip: Add Expiration Dates to Your Backlog Items

Add Expiration Dates to Your Backlog Items

If you have a backlog that’s getting out of control, consider using expiration dates to help control the list and streamline your team’s priorities.

Many mature agile teams or scrum teams that have been together for a while might find themselves with a backlog that’s hundreds if not thousands of items deep. On a list this large, it stands to reason that there will be items that have been around for so long they have become stale or obsolete. This can make it difficult to set priorities or work out what items need addressing next. Sifting through your backlog can become an all-day task.

One technique that I find is really helpful is to place expiration dates on backlog items.

This could differ depending on the task. Maybe you’ll choose six months expiration, twelve months or even twenty four months. That way, you have a set amount of time to implement the item, and you would probably feel comfortable that any task that has been around for two years and that hasn’t bubbled up in priority maybe shouldn’t be there at all, and really isn’t worth implementing.

At the very least, the expiration date forces product owners to really evaluate these items and make a decision as to whether to escalate the priority, or to remove them altogether. This way your team can focus on those things that are really the most valuable, and remove the noise of obsolete or out of date items from the to-do list altogether.

I hope you found this Agile QuickTips by Giora Morein valuable, and get a chance to check out previous episodes you might have missed by subscribing to our YouTube channel. Once you’ve done that, head over to our social media pages  Instagram and give us a follow, @GioraMorein.