Agile QuickTip: Kick off your Team with a Retrospective

Kick off your Team with a Retrospective

Starting your scrum team off the right way can be the difference between success and failure. Here’s a great idea to set them up for success, by starting by looking back – with a retrospective.

Everyone has their own way of kicking off a scrum team. Some Scrum Masters might set out boundaries or explain communication tools, it really varies. One idea that might really make a difference the next time you start off your team, is to kick it off using a retrospective.

By looking back on individual team member’s experiences on their past scrum teams you can find out a lot about them before you even get started. You also find out what they were happy with in the past, described as the similar things they want to bring forward into their new team and at the same time, some of the things they want to exclude that didn’t work for them previously.

Not only does your team kick off by owning their own formulation process, they actually set the expectation that together, we’re continuously looking for ways to get better. As a process, I’ve found that this really helps level up your team.

I hope you enjoyed that Agile QuickTip, and found it a valuable idea for kicking off your next scrum team. Make sure to check out the back catalogue, and leave me a comment or a message if you have something you want to add or clarify. Then, head to thinklouder.com to see how our training and coaching offers can help you, and your team as a whole.

11 Ways You Can Inject Some Joy into your Videoconferencing

Working from home getting old? Here are some ways to make meetings with disparate teams a lot more fun, adding some laughter and interactive features to your latest videoconferencing zoom call. 

Have Fun with Backgrounds

fun backgroundsTeleport yourself to the leaning tower of Pisa, or lounge in the Oval Office or on stage at Carnegie Hall. Float weightlessly in outer space, or pretend you’re a member of the Simpsons family. The options are limitless with Zoom’s background feature, toggled on or off from the gear icon in the top right-hand corner. The one below was shared by the Star Trek team on their Twitter account! Encourage your team to be creative with their backgrounds – or challenge them ahead of time with a theme, such as European, TV, or a specific color choice. 

Ice Breakers

Ensuring that you start a meeting with small talk is a good way to ease a team into a conversation, and enable social contact between teams that are working from afar. But it can get a little dry when everyone’s talking politics, or stuck with “how was your weekend” chit chat. Instead, with a bit of preparation, you can get a lot more out of those first few minutes. Try challenging two or three team members to come armed with ‘two truths and a lie’ for the group to guess between, or ask everyone to send in an interesting fact ahead of time, and then see if the team can match the fact to the person.

Schedule Time for Movement

Especially in long meetings, it can be tough going to stare at a screen and sit still when you’re alone. Every 20 minutes, encourage the team to stretch, walk around, and rest their eyes from the meeting room. Depending on how comfortable you all are as a team, you can do anything from guiding the participants in a five minute yoga session, to engaging in a full on dance party! We love the JustDance app, that turns your smart phone into a controller, and allows a whole team to copy dance moves in sync. 

Bingo!

bingoThis one takes a little more forethought, but can be a great way to get teams engaged in a remote meeting. Create bingo cards that you can distribute ahead of time, via email. These could be anything from ‘buzzwords’ that often come up during meetings such as “Furthermore” “Let’s circle back” or “With all due respect”, or you could use events such as “Someone loses connection”, “A kid or pet disturbs the meeting” or “repeat question”. Here’s a great example from RedBubble that you could even get printed on a range of merchandise if you wanted! 

Fancy Dress Friday!

Or any other day, now that we mention it! If you don’t think you’ll have much luck encouraging your team to arrive in full superhero get-up, why not start small, with a fun hat or an accessory challenge? You can all vote for best costume, and it’s an easy and light-hearted way to get a meeting started in style. 

Use those Collaboration Tools

One of the things that makes remote meetings less engaging is when there is one team leader, and the rest of the participants are passively watching. Zoom has a lot of collaboration tools that you can use, from Remote Control, where another user can take control of your desktop, to Annotations, allowing the whole team to use arrows, draw feature, highlight and more of a shared presentation. You can also make the most of your usual collaboration apps such as Google docs while you’re all mid-meeting. 

Start with a Trigger Activity

activityRemote working can be just as productive as in-person meetings, but it can really make a difference to pull the team together with an activity at the start. Consider whether you want something that’s ‘just’ fun, like the Tiny Campfire idea you can see below, which can be ordered complete with ice-breakers, ghost stories and individual tiny campfire kits, or whether you want to try to link the activity to your meeting agenda as a whole. If your team is filled with parents that are likely to have the bricks to hand – Lego Serious Play can be a great way to facilitate conversation. 

Welcome to my Crib!

If you’re all working from home, why not encourage your team to start off each meeting with a particular person giving a quick tour of their home, or their office or study? We’re all secretly interested in one another’s battle stations, and it might give the rest of the team some ideas for their own! Encourage the person in the spotlight to explain their working set-up, do they have multiple monitors? A special ergonomic chair or desk? Inspiration on the walls? Time to brag!

Bring your Pet/Kid to Work Day

It can be a little embarrassing when your toddler or your dachshund video-bombs your meeting, whether they’re looking for a snack or a bit of affection. But it can also be just the pick-me-up that your participants need! Instead of ignoring the interruption, try leaning into it! Ask the team member to introduce the unexpected guest, and let them have some screen time, too! 

Get a bit Visual

visualShaking things up could involve helping out your visual learners with something that isn’t just talking and listening. One fun idea is to get the team talking via emoji’s in the chat box, forming full sentences with the help of our pixelated buddies. Encourage your team to share their artistic skills, drawing caricatures of one another and inviting the other participants to guess who they might be, or even getting their creative juice flowing with something like this awesome spreadsheet pixel art! Bet you never knew you could do that on Microsoft Excel! Here’s a free template you can use for starting Pixel art, courtesy of MuseumHack.com. 

Try a Competition

There’s nothing that breaks people out of their stupor like a little competition! There are a lot of ways that you can add some friendly competition to a meeting to get the adrenaline flowing. A couple of top tips are using external sites such as www.TypeRacer.com where you can pit your teams typing skills against one another, or try something more intense like www.Zombs.io, where your team can band together to ward off zombies! 

What other ideas have you found that have really added excitement and joy to your remote meetings? Share them in the comments! 

Agile QuickTip: Estimation a drag? Get the whole team involved.

Estimation a drag? Get the whole team involved.

While it might seem counter-intuitive, getting your entire team involved in the estimation process will end up providing more clarity, and actually improve your plans overall.

Let’s just admit it. Estimating stories or other backlog items is not fun. A lot of times it can even become contentious or combative, and it’s not hard to see why many people view it as a waste of time.

Let’s shift the way we think about this whole process. I think estimation can be an opportunity to get different perspectives and create alignment amongst your team. This is why an important part of estimation is to get the entire team participating. This way, you can get different team members perspectives on the various solutions and assumptions and finally get convergence on the path you want to take.

Remember, your team didn’t start off agreeing on the size of the story. Its only after agreeing on the assumptions, the work, and the complexity that a team agrees on the size of the story. If everyone is involved in the process, then even if you end up being wrong, at least you’re all on the same page.

Did you find that QuickTip valuable? If so, let me know in the comments! If you have any further thoughts on the topic, I’d love to hear your feedback, so feel free to send me a message. You can also check out thinklouder.com to learn more about out training and coaching offerings, all of which can make a real difference to both you, and your teams.

Agile QuickTip: Conduct your daily scrum in front of the board

Conduct your daily scrum in front of the task board

The daily scrum provides team members an update on exactly what’s happened over the last 24 hours, what has been learned, and what sort of adjustments need to be made over the next 24 hours.

However, have you ever thought about how you’re hosting your scrum, and the team members for whom it may be less effective? As many as 65% of people are visual learners, which means that a purely auditory scrum might well pass them by, or make it a lot harder for them to pinpoint questions they have, or information that is missing from the daily roundup.

One technique that really helps clarify the daily scrum for all participants is to conduct the stand up in front of the team’s task board. This way everyone can physically see the team’s plan at the same time as they are getting updates on it. Team members not only hear what’s happening, they can also see what’s happening.

This has the added benefit of providing more context, more information, and more background. It also better allows your team to notice if something is missing, or if something’s fallen off the plan that should be there.

I hope you enjoyed that Agile QuickTip and found it valuable. If so, be sure to check out the rest of the series. I would love to get your feedback on this tip or any others that I’ve shared, so leave a comment below, or send me a direct message. Also, don’t forget to head to thinklouder.com to see how our training and coaching offerings could help both you, and your agile teams.

Can Working Remotely and Working Agile… Work, Together?

Want to meet for a coffee? … Oh right.

Whether you think it’s a great idea or not, you’ve probably found yourself working as part of a remote team over the past few weeks, and none of us know exactly when it’s going to end. For those of us who thrive on the agile idea of individuals and interactions, it can be a real sucker-punch to our productivity and our morale.

Over the past 15 years, I’ve worked with some of the most high-performing teams in the Fortune 1000. What they had in common was not that they all sat around the same conference table day in and day out. In fact, some of the most valuable Agile methodologies can be aligned with working from home, or working with remote teams. These insights might even enable you to get a whole lot of value out of this difficult time.

Agile has Moved a Long Way Since it Began

It’s true that the agile manifesto was originally built for teams who were working together in the same office, following the idea that “the most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.” However, distributed teams are nothing new, not only as a result of global offices, but also for providing a number of benefits. These include the ability for teams to be able to work around the clock on important projects, handing over to one another when the working day closes, and finding great skilled talent in less central locations or high-tech hubs.

To make distributed working ‘work’ for agile teams, here are a few considerations that should be front of mind.

  1. Communication is Key

This is true no matter what, but in this difficult time where teams are suddenly working remotely it’s more important than ever. Don’t worry if it feels like you’re overcommunicating, that’s a better result than leaving people out of the conversation, or jumping to the assumption that a decision is ‘too small’ to get feedback or buy-in from colleagues. Without seeing one another face to face, important facets of conversation can get lost, things like hallway chat, or ‘water-cooler’ conversations, if you like.

Top tip: Encourage teams to use video chat to catch up and sync, not just for scheduled meetings. This can help build a more communicative environment for while you’re working remotely.

  1. Put Clear Standards Around the Definition of Done

It’s a lot harder to ensure that everyone’s on the same page when they aren’t physically in the same office. One great tip is to publish your definition of done so that everyone can see it, and refer to it. This takes away ambiguity and makes sure that all your team members are on the same page. You can expand this to publishing any information that you want teams to be able to align on, such as a remote working policy, or expectations around troubleshooting and code review for developers, for example.

  1. Remember, we are Responding to Change – Not Following a Plan!

There’s no greater test of this agile principle than the situation we all find ourselves in. We’ll all need to think fast to keep our teams productive and valuable over these weeks and months, but your agile training should have prepared you, at least in part. Team members will be working under extraordinary circumstances, many with young children at home or with the challenges of isolation. Think about implementing new ideas such as a sync time before the daily Scrum where individual team members can ask pressing questions or catch up on something they have missed.

Don’t forget to include regular reflections both individually as a manager and also within your teams to see where team members are at, how they’re feeling and the tools they are using to cope with their temporary reality.

  1. Using this Time to Get Ahead

If you’re finding yourself with time on your hands while you’re working from home, this could be a great time to get yourself ScrumMaster certified. For a limited time, the Agile Alliance are enabling online courses, so that participants can get this important certification from home.

In many ways, this is a preferable format for completing this course, allowing you to work unpressured at your own pace, in a comfortable setting, and around complicated needs like childcare or global time-zones. The course is set up intelligently, with the ability to replay lessons, access coursework from anywhere at any time, and receive immediate feedback from teachers and mentors.

If you want to talk about getting certified, or want any more coaching tips on managing agile teams remotely, head to thinklouder.com/events or get in touch.

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!

Giora Morien Button

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.

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