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Hours vs Story Points – Demystifying Sizing

I’ve worked with many different Agile teams from different organizations. Story points are a common topic of confusion and frustration on teams, particularly new teams. I hear questions like, should we use points or hours? Should we use T-shirt sizes? Should we use Fibonacci? Should we estimate the tasks or the stories?

In this post I’m going to explain how we use story points in Scrum. It is important to note that Scrum does not require any particular sizing or estimating technique. I’m going to explain Story points because it’s one of the most adopted techniques in Agile. The method I’m going to explain is a best practice.

Story points are a number assigned to a story, or PBI (product backlog item), to give it a relative size compared to other items in the product backlog. Before I go any further, let me explain something about “Stories”. User stories are a technique from eXtreme programming which expresses the need from the user perspective. A PBI doesn’t have to be in a user story format. In fact, if the item is not related to a user, don’t waste your time putting into a user story format. Creating a story that says something like “As a BA I need to write requirements so…” is bad. Often we refer to all the PBIs as stories, even though they all may not be in a user story format.

Back to story points. The story points do not equal hours, days or weeks. When estimating story points, the team is trying to figure out how big a story is compared to other stories. The team, those who will actually do the work, estimates the points.

For simplicity, let’s go through a basic example. The Product Owner created a Story which says “As an Admin User, I need the ability to disable other user accounts”. The team then during a backlog planning/sizing session looks at the story and asks the Product Owner questions. After the questions are answered, it becomes clear that the work is small. The team agrees to assign the story with 2 points, using a rough order of size scale like Fibonacci (1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21). The team then moves on to estimate the next story. The next story reads “As an Admin user, I need the ability to perform batch updates in the system and run real-time reports”. The team has many questions for the product owner about this story. There a lot of unknowns and potential complexity. The team then decides that due to the complexities, the story is much bigger than the previous story. After some back and forth, the team agrees to assign the story with 8 points.

The basic example I provided is how story points are used in Scrum. The points give a relative size to stories in the product backlog. That’s it. It’s not complicated.

Things get a little more interesting with Sprints. Before Sprints start, teams conduct a Sprint Planning Session. This is when the team determines what stories (which are already sized with points) will be completed in the Sprint. For 2 week sprints, it’s advised the planning session should be 4 hours or less.

During the Sprint planning session, the team breaks down the stories into tasks. The tasks are estimated in hours, one day or less per task. Once the time for the tasks is estimated, the team has a good idea of the work they can commit to in the Sprint. They can compare the estimated time of the tasks against their capacity. If they know one team member is on vacation for example, using the task estimates they can better plan for the Sprint.

When the Sprint is in progress, the team updates how much time is left to complete the tasks at the end of each day. This provides the data needed for the Sprint Burn down chart. The Sprint burn down chart shows the time remaining to complete the tasks. The Sprint burn down doesn’t measure completed story points, it measures completed hours of the tasks. Below is an example of a Sprint burn down chart:

Now, up until this point I’ve referred to story points only for relative sizing, with no relation between time and points. Yet, once teams establish a stable velocity (average amount of points they complete in a Sprint), they can use points to forecast release planning and a product roadmap. Although release planning is not a core Scrum event, it is widely used. When teams plan for a release, which may be several sprints in the future, they track using a Release burn down chart. Unlike the Sprint burn down chart, the Release burn down measures the completed story points. The release burn down tracks how many story points remain to be completed to meet the release.

Below is an example of a Release burn down chart:

To recap, Stories are estimated in points using relative sizing, and tasks are estimated in hours, no longer than one day. The Sprint burn down chart relates to time left to complete the tasks in the Sprint. The Release burn down chart relates to points left to complete the release.

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an Agile Delivery Consultant and IT Project/Program Manager. Follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.

 

The Truth About the Limitation of Scrum

limitation of scrum

There is something I’d like to get off my chest. There is this notion in Agile that project management is no longer needed. Some even think that the role of a project manager will soon be extinct. Before we chase away project managers with pitch forks, lets back up a bit. I’m 100% on board with Agile and with Scrum, but I disagree that the need for project management is going away. The reason is that Scrum has a limitation. It is not designed to deliver large scale projects, at least not without help. The complexities of large scale projects demand the need for project management. This may change at some point, but I don’t see it happening any time soon. And, I’m not sure it should.

I can envision the Agile purists as they read this. Project managers needed in Agile? Scrum has limitations? Blasphemy! Hear me out.

When I refer to large scale projects, I mean projects that could have anywhere between 5-30 changed systems. These types of projects usually include complex system dependencies and a lot of coordination. The systems need to integrate and plan their production releases based on their dependencies. Someone needs to oversee that it comes together, and that someone is a project manager.

On Scrum teams, no, there is no need for a project manager. There are only three defined team roles in Scrum. They are Product Owner, Scrum Master, and the Development Team. Scrum is perfect for teams that focus only on one product or component. As an example, a Scrum team may focus on the search feature of a website.

The need for a project manager shows itself when you have large-scale initiatives. When you have a large project that impacts many Scrum teams, someone must coordinate all the dependencies between the teams. Without a project manager, who will do this? I posed this question in a recent advanced Scrum training course. I then proceeded to watch the instructor twist into a pretzel struggling to answer it. I was then referred to a course offered on Scrum@Scale.

Scrum@Scale, along with LeSS, and SAFe are the popular scaled Agile frameworks. While each of these have their benefits, they also have limitations when it comes to large scale projects. The problem is not scaling more Scrum teams, although that poses a different set of challenges. The problem is managing large scale projects.

In a recent HBR article, Agile at Scale, Jeff Sutherland and other experts discussed large scale Agile projects. They said you can establish a “team of teams” (or Scrum of Scrums), and issues that can’t be resolved can be escalated up to leaders. I’m all for that, but it still doesn’t answer the question of who is coordinating the work of all the teams? They go on in the article to reference Saab’s aeronautics business. “Aeronautics also coordinates its teams through a common rhythm of three-week sprints, a project master plan that is treated as a living document”.

I found it interesting that they referenced a company that uses a project plan in an article on scaled Scrum. This further indicates to me that we need to pause on the idea of abandoning project management.

Scrum@Scale is the model Jeff Sutherland advocates for scaling. In Scrum@Scale, there is a Chief Product Owner (CPO) and a Scrum of Scrums Master (SoSM). They are like the team level Scrum Master or Product Owner roles, but at scale. These roles sound like they will help address the challenge of managing large-scale projects, but there is still a gap. While a SoSM focuses on removing impediments and the CPO on prioritization, you still need someone to look at the project from a holistic view. Someone must coordinate team dependencies, not to mention manage risk, schedule and budget. In short, you need a project manager.

The need for project managers on large scale Agile projects has fueled the rise of SAFe. If you’ve read my post on the problem with SAFe, you know that I’m not a huge fan. But, at least SAFe acknowledges that someone needs to coordinate the work of self-organizing teams on large scale projects. They refer to the role as a Release Train Engineer (RTE), but it sounds a lot like a project manager to me.

Why do Agilest cringe when they hear the words project manager, or for that matter, the word project? When I say there is a need for project management in Agile, I am not saying that projects need to move in sequence from phase to phase like waterfall. I’m not referring to a command and control tyrant who manages Gantt charts with an iron first. Project managers today can lead large initiatives and still follow Agile principles. Projects can still use an iterative experimental process.

You may argue that by creating an architecture where each Scrum team works on an autonomous application, you end the need for a project manager. Spotify is a good example. Lightweight autonomous applications are the way to go, but you still can’t get away from dependencies on large scale projects. In most large fortune 500 organizations, legacy applications are dependent on other systems.

In summary, Scrum has a limitation when it comes to large scale projects. Project managers are not needed on Scrum teams, but they are still needed in Agile for large scale projects. What is changing is not that the Project manager role is going away. It is the role itself that is changing to align with Agile values and principles. The Scrum organizations seem to be working hard to address this limitation through their scaled frameworks, but they have a long way to go.

If you have experienced large scale Agile projects where there was no need for a project manager, I would love to hear about it. I’ve worked for many organizations that have adopted Agile and I’ve yet to come across one that had no need for project management.

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an Agile Delivery Consultant and IT Project/Program Manager. Follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.

Delighting Clients Absolutely Needs To Be The Primary Goal

In 2011, my wife and I went on a vacation of a lifetime. We went to the island of Maui, and we were fortunate to stay in the Ritz Carlton hotel. The trip was a wedding gift from a very generous family member. Had it not been for the gift, my wife and I would have not been able to take such an extravagant vacation.

Staying at the Ritz, surrounded by the beautiful blue ocean and breathtaking Maui views, was an experience we will never forget. Yet, when I look back upon the experience staying at the Ritz, there’s something else that I am reminded of. It wasn’t only the radiant sunshine and palm trees that delighted us. The customer service provided by Ritz Carlton employees was fantastic!

By far, the customer service at the Ritz was the highest quality we had ever experienced. Whether checking in, asking for advice, or saying hello, the staff treated us as though we were royalty. They did this for good reason. They understood that an underlying principle for successful business is to delight clients.

In 1954, in his book The Practice of Management, Peter Drucker said that the purpose of a business is to create a customer. Well, times have changed. While Drucker may have been right that creating a customer was the purpose for business in the 20th century, it’s not good enough today. Increased competition and the advance of technology and globalization have demanded a new way of doing business. The marketplace has changed. Today, businesses need to not only create a customer, they need to delight them.

In Stephen Denning’s book, The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management: Reinventing the Workplace for the 21st Century, he emphasizes the importance of delighting customers. He puts forth principles aimed at moving away from Fredrick Taylor’s outdated command and control style of management. Setting a goal to delight clients is Denning’s number one principle. “The purpose of work is to delight clients, not merely to produce goods or services or make money for shareholders”, writes Denning.

By having client delight be the company goal, it achieves several things. First, clients will promote a product or service if they are delighted by it. Dr. W. Edwards Deming used to harp on this. Dr. Deming said that a happy customer will generate new customers through word of mouth. This effect poses a dilemma for management because it’s hard to put figures around it. It’s hard to measure. Dr. Deming said: “The most important figures that one needs for management are unknown or unknowable”.

Second, delighting clients will inspire continuous innovation. Employees don’t get inspired to produce goods or to increase shareholder value. Employees get inspired to improve people’s lives. Starbucks gets this. Their mission is not about coffee, it’s about inspiring and nurturing the human spirit.

Third, delighting clients fosters a company culture that enriches job satisfaction. Companies that put client satisfaction first, use self-organizing teams. If you haven’t experienced working within a self-organizing team, where you are free to innovate, be yourself and have fun, you are missing out.

The Agile software delivery movement has been leading the way for a new customer focused style of management. Regardless if your business creates software or not, there is much to learn from the Agile movement. It’s the modern way of doing business, with focus not on systems and things, but on people. In Scrum, self-organized and empowered teams build products in short iterations. After each iteration, the product goes to the client for immediate feedback. Shorter feedback loops increase both the product quality and client satisfaction.

The market place today demands a new way of doing work. Our workplace is now made up of knowledge workers, and we must inspire and empower them. Fredrick Taylor’s model of management is not suitable anymore.

Going back to the 2011 vacation my wife and I took in Maui. The experience we had staying at the Ritz Carlton will forever be ingrained in our minds. We learned what it is like to be delighted as customers. For me, I want to emulate that feeling into the clients I serve. At the end of the day, business is about people, not about numbers. If we make client delight the top priority, shareholder value and profits will follow.

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an Agile Delivery Consultant and IT Project/Program Manager. Follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.

Advanced Scrum Training and Meeting Jeff Sutherland

When it comes to Agile delivery, I’m a big advocate for Scrum. Scrum offers an easy to understand and lightweight framework for developing products.

Scrum is great, but it by no means is a silver bullet.  Scrum does not solve problems, it exposes them. It is like shining a big flashlight on your product development team, exposing the good, the bad, and the ugly. Scrum is an adaptive framework, not a methodology.

For most organizations, Scrum is an effective Agile framework. This is particularly true for companies new to Agile. Scrum offers a set of guide posts and rules that make it easier for organizations to get out of their own way. The rules are simple, but not easy. Anyone can get a get good understanding of Scrum by referencing the Scrum Guide.

Last week I got a great refresher on Scrum by taking the Scrum Alliance Advanced Certified Scrum Master (A-CSM) training led by Angela Johnson. Angela is passionate about Scrum, and her and her company, Collaborative Leadership Team, does a great job.

The training was a great reminder that Scrum is about people working together to deliver the highest possible value early and often.

During the training, I had the privilege of meeting and chatting with Dr  Jeff Sutherland . He was teaching a course next door on Scaled Scrum and during a break we met. While we were discussing the challenges of Agile adoption, he gave me some good insight. He told me that sometimes all it takes is one person to start an Agile movement within on organization. He said it’s like someone pulls a lever.

Dr Sutherland relates Agile transformation to the Blue Pill/Red Pill scene from the Matrix. “Take the blue pill, and go back to sleep and continue to use waterfall. Take the red pill, and stay in Agile Wonderland, and see how deep the rabbit hole goes”.

Below is a picture I took with Dr Sutherland.

 

Jeff Sutherland and Mike MacIsaac

Jeff Sutherland and Mike MacIsaac

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an Agile Delivery Consultant and IT Project/Program Manager. Follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.

Embracing Change and Dotcom Operations

“The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change” – Heraclitus

Change is necessary in business, technology, and in our personal lives. For me, these past couple of months I have had a lot of change in my life. From moving to a new home to starting a new consulting assignment, change has been abundant. While change can be unsettling, it’s necessary for growth. This brings me to latest consulting role, working in Dotcom Operations.

The picture above shows the monitoring screens located across from where I sit. As you can tell, it’s no small deal. Keeping a live production website running which handles thousands of transactions per second is no small ordeal. To do so, while also adding changes and enhancements, requires talented operations teams.

In my view, operations teams don’t get the credit they deserve. The people I’m working with in web operations are some of the most technical folks I’ve worked with. They are also good people. They are infrastructure engineers, coders, and they work with the latest DevOps technology.

It’s fun learning about the latest technology they’re using in Web Operations. Infrastructure built in the cloud using tools like Jenkins, Chef and Splunk has given me a broader perspective on IT. It’s taken me back to my days testing software in QA, but things have changed. The technical systems for web operations are more advanced than they were five years ago.

Technical systems are always challenging to manage, but what’s more challenging, are the human systems. People need to collaborate and communicate with each other, and this is where I come in to help. The effectiveness of operations teams relies heavily on communication.

To help with communication and the constant influx of work coming in, the teams use Kanban. Kanban uses a pull system to make process better. Below is an example of what you may have seen with a Kanban board.

The core practices of Kanban are as follows:

  • Visualize Workflow – Using Kanban, teams can see the whole visual representation of their workflow.
  • Limit WIP (work in progress/process) – Teams should experiment with WIP limits, which will help improve focus and increase throughput.
  • Manage Flow – By paying attention to how quickly work is getting through the process, teams can begin to improve flow management.
  • Make Process Policies Explicit – Teams should set their own policies on how they can best do their work and improve flow.
  • Implement Feedback Loops – This is about continuous improvement. Just like in Scrum, Kanban teams need to measure their effectiveness and continuously improve.
  • Improve Collaboratively, Evolve Experimentally

Kanban comes from manufacturing and the TPS (Toyota Production System). The below quote is from Taiichi Ohno, creator of the TPS:

“There is no magic method. Rather, a total management system is needed that develops human ability to its fullest capacity to best enhance creativity and fruitfulness, to utilize facilities and machines well, and to eliminate all waste.”

Eliminating waste was a major rule of the original TPS. TPS identified seven types of waste in manufacturing. They are Transportation, Waiting, Motion, Defects, Inventory, Overproduction and Extra Processing.

Years later, Mary and Tom Poppendieck defined the following seven categories for waste in software development.

  • Partially done work
  • Extra processes
  • Extra features
  • Task switching
  • Waiting
  • Motion
  • Defects

An effective way of identifying waste for is through creating Value Stream Maps. Often the biggest bottlenecks occur after development and testing are complete.

Summary

Over the past few years I’ve managed a broad range of IT projects. From working in the insurance industry, to reverse logistics programs, to Web Operations. While this work has commonalities, Web Operations is different. Tackling a constant flow of work is a change for me, and change is good. The change to Web Operations has provided me with two key opportunities. The first and most important, is to provide value and help a talented team of engineers. The second is to learn a different aspect of IT and business.

Are you embracing change in your business and in your life? If you work in software development, are you continually trying to reduce waste and follow lean principles?

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. Follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digital Disruption Has Exposed a Need For Soft Skills

empower teams

The PMI (Project Management Institute) released their 2018 Pulse of the Profession report. The report gives good insight into the current state of global project management.

What I found most interesting was the effect of disruption on project management. We are in the midst of digital disruption affecting almost all industries. A good part of manual work has already been replaced by automation. AI, Big Data, Data Intelligence, and Healthcare reforms are a few of the disruptive trends already affecting businesses.

Dr. Michael Chui, a partner at McKinsey Global Institute, said that knowledge of these disruptions is crucial for project managers. It’s important to “understand the art of the possible and try to stay at least abreast, if not ahead, of what these technologies can do.”

Project management is no longer only about managing scope, schedule and budget. Project managers need much more than technical skills. They must be able to lead strategic initiatives that drive change in organizations.

Dealing with digital disruption, leadership skills and business acumen are critical skills. Organizations would be well advised to invest in training to help their project managers build upon these skills. In PMI’s survey, 51% of respondents reported that soft skills are much more important today than they were just 5 years ago.

It’s ironic, the more digital the world becomes, the more the need for basic human skills increases. Emotional and social intelligence are critical assets for project managers. I recognized this growing need for soft skills in project management, years ago. The need goes beyond project management. In information technology, there is a drought of emotional intelligence.

Project managers must deliver more value than the functional aspects of project management. As a program and project management consultant, I strive to build relationships and provide leadership. I want to go beyond scope, schedule and cost, and I expect the same out the project managers I work with.

If your business is in need of project managers who have the soft skills needed to respond to disruption, reach out to us at MacIsaac Consulting. We are here to be of service.

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. Follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.

 

Hands Down, This is The Best Skill To Have As a Project Manager

Best Skill To Have As a Project Manager

If you are considering a career in project management, listen up. There are a lot of different skills needed to be successful, ranging from people management to organization and planning. There is one skill though, that you need above all the rest.

The hands down best skill to have as a project manager is the ability to communicate.

Project managers can spend up to 90% of their time communicating. Webster defines communication as “a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior”.

The communication process requires both a sender and receiver. The sender transmits the message to the receiver. The receiver then decodes and acknowledges the message. The below image from PMI’s PMBOK is a good outline of the communication process.

Most project managers focus on the sending part of communication, overlooking receiving. This is understandable because project managers must send messages often. The receiving part of communication though, is as crucial.

Let’s look at the different aspects of communication for project managers. I have broken them down into speaking and writing (sending), and listening (receiving).

Speaking

You don’t have to be an amazing orator to speak as a project manager. You also don’t have to be an extrovert who enjoys being the life of the party. I’m an introvert who’s not always comfortable speaking in groups. This is an area which I’m sure I could improve, but my discomfort in speaking is not always a liability. When I’m not speaking, I’m listening, or at least trying to.

The four important areas of speaking in project management are the following:

  • Running meetings
  • One on one communication with team members or stakeholders
  • Proving updates to leadership
  • Giving presentations

I could write a full post about each one of the speaking topics, because they are all important. I enjoy one on one communication the most. Effective one on one communication requires emotional and social intelligence.

If you have trouble speaking, I recommend taking a Dale Carnegie course on speaking. Warren Buffet credits a Dale Carnegie course to helping him overcome his fear of speaking.

Writing

Good clear writing is crucial in project management. One could make the argument that writing is the most important skill of all. The project manager must write by sending emails, status updates, meeting minutes, action items, project plans, etc.

The challenge for the project manager is to communicate clear through their writing. This is no easy task giving the complexities of projects, and the amount of ambiguity that exists in corporate communication. Most companies have their own unique language. The language consists of acronyms and jargon, which makes clear writing more difficult.

Project managers can fall into the trap of using ambiguous corporate jargon in their writing. Part of this is because of fear and corporate politics. What if I write the wrong thing, sound stupid, or make an enemy? A good project manager will put those fears aside and take the time to write good clear English. You can write clear while also being smart about corporate politics.

As a program manager, part of the reason I blog and write LinkedIn posts often, aside from the fact that I enjoy it, is to work on improving my writing. I know I am not a great writer, so I must continue to work at it. Writing, like any other skill, requires continual practice.

Remember, it’s easy to write something confusing, but it takes time to write something clear. For a great resource on writing, I recommend William Zinsser’s classic book, “On Writing Well“.

Listening

Communication in project management is not only about talking or writing, it’s also about listening. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of listening.

To better understand the importance of listening, I’ll paint a picture. Imagine a sea-captain leading a heroic voyage across the Atlantic in the late 1700s (I’m on a revolutionary war kick now, stick with me). For the voyage to be successful, the captain doesn’t tell the crew what to do, all the time. Instead, the captain spends a good part of his time listening to the crew. The captain receives all the messages on problems, concerns, and suggestions from the crew. After receiving the messages, the captain can then take the appropriate actions.

The project manager is like that of a sea-captain. He or she needs to listen to the team members and stakeholders. If the project manager is not listening, the project will most likely go off course.

For a good resource on listening, I recommend Stephen Covey’s book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People“. In this great book, the 5th habit is “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood”. Covey explains how to use empathy, a part of emotional intelligence, to achieve the highest form of listening. Emphatic listening goes beyond active listening, to understand how someone feels.

Summary

I’ve only begun to scratch the surface on the importance of communication in project management. I haven’t touched on communication channels or nonverbal body language, which are also important.

If you are new or considering a career in project management, I hope this post has been helpful. The good news is that we can all continue to improve our communication skills.

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. Follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.

 

 

Wishing You And Your Family a Happy And Safe New Year!

empower teams

Dear friends,

Thank you for helping to make 2017 a great year!  As I reflect back  I am reminded by how much I have to be grateful for. At the top of my list of gratitude is a healthy family and good friends. I hope that this past year has treated you well also. Here’s to wishing you and your family a happy and safe new year and a prosperous 2018!

–  Mike MacIsaac

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the president and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.

Bring IT a Holiday Gift This Season With Good Roadmap Planning

roadmap planing

It’s that time of the year again. Office Christmas party’s and holiday happy hours are in full effect. Most people are scrambling to get last-minute gifts and prepping for time off. Soon the offices will be empty and most of us will be enjoying time over the Holidays with family.

At this point,  most organizations should have a good idea what their IT roadmaps look like for 2018. Businesses usually rank projects based on need and return on investment. This process usually takes place in Q4 as teams prep to get funding for their roadmaps.

Non-IT management of the business typically handle the prioritization process. The idea is, let the business folks decide on what to do, then let the IT folks decide on how to do it.  There’s a lot of logic to this train of thought, and for some companies this works well, but I would tell companies to take caution when using this approach.

The idea that the business should focus on the IT roadmap, without IT involved, is prone for trouble. Yes, the business should be accountable for prioritizing work that provides the most value, but IT should be in the discussion.

When prioritizing an IT roadmap, there are other factors to consider other than financial benefits.  Looking only through the short-term lens of return on investment, you lose sight of the following questions:

  • Which projects are best aligned to the long-term IT strategy for the company?
  • How will the projects affect the IT teams? Are the team’s setup to be successful?
  • How will employees feel about the work? Will those who are doing the work find it engaging, or are you setting yourself up for a mass exodus?
  • How will quality be affected? Are you planning to take on too much work, which could jeopardize quality?
  • If your company is using or moving towards Agile delivery (which it should), how will that affect your roadmap?

Above are a few questions to consider, but you can see why IT leadership should be in the discussion when it comes to prioritizing work for the year.

Aside from IT being involved in the prioritization process, the business should also have a voice in technical solutions. Yes IT is ultimately accountable, but this doesn’t mean the business shouldn’t be in the discussion. When solving technical problems, it’s usually those who work in operations that have the best understanding of the issues. Their’ insights are invaluable.

The need for agile organizations demands that business and IT leadership come together. We can’t afford to have areas of our organizations working in silos. As we begin a new year, isn’t it time we find creative ways for our “business” and “IT” resources and leadership to come together?

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the president and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. You can follow Mike on Twitter @MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.

 

A Fun Day in Minneapolis – Agile Day Twin Cities 2017

Agile Day Twin Cities

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the Agile Day Twin Cities 2017 conference, sponsored by DevJam. The conference aims at helping Minneapolis Agile practitioners learn from each other.   Throughout the day there were breakout sessions which featured different speakers. The talks ranged from the people and business of Agile, to new ideas about improving Agile development.

As David Hussman, the founder of DevJam, kicked off the event, I was impressed by the theme and feel. David made it clear that the event was not about experts and teachers, but instead about learning from each other and challenging the status quo. David also emphasized a focus on product, rather than process. As the event got under way, I was struck by the impressive crowd of Minneapolis Agile practitioners. Minneapolis has become a tech hub and a melting pot for startups, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

Throughout the day I attended many sessions. I heard from other Agile practitioners sharing their experiences. Minneapolis being the small town that it is, I ran into many friends and some former colleagues. One of the highlights was hearing Priya Senthilkumar and Ray Grimmer, former colleagues from my days at PearsonVUE. Priya and Ray talked about their journey implementing stable Agile delivery in a complex environment.

Another talk I enjoyed came from Daniel Walsh. Daniel talked about improving Agile development using the Cynefin framework. Cynefin (pronounced KUN-if-in), Welsh for habitat, was developed in the early 2000s and used as a sense making device. The Cynefin framework has four areas of decision-making: simple, complicated, complex, chaotic, and at the center is disorder. Below is a picture of the Cynefin quadrant with actions for how to respond to each situation.

My take away from the Cynefin framework, is that not all Agile concepts will work well in situations. We need to understand why and where our practices work, and get away from asking questions like, is Scrum better than Kanban? This is the wrong question to ask. We should be asking, what is the situation we are dealing with, and how should we respond to it? We need to get away from a single, recipe based approach for all situations. The way we work in Agile needs to be fluid and smart, and not dogmatic and one size fits all.

I could relate to the concept of the Cynefin framework. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of pushing the wrong Agile framework in past situations. I’ve worked with organizations where Scrum fit like a glove, and in other companies Scrum felt like trying to fit a square piece in a round hole. As the Agile movement continues to evolve, we need to be open to new approaches, ideas and methods.

In summary, my time at Agile Day Twin Cities 2017 was great because it challenged my way of thinking. Sometimes we get so caught up in our work and opinions that we forget to step back and look at things from a different perspective. The new ideas and concepts I heard at Agile Day Twin Cities were great. Perhaps what I enjoyed the most, was connecting with other fellow Agile practitioners.

Below are a few pictures I took during the conference.

Agile Day Twin Cities

David Hussman kicking off the day

Priya Senthilkumar and Ray Grimmer: Agile at Pearson VUE

Daniel Walsh: Improve Agile Development Using the Cynefin Framework

MC Legault: Agile is People & Business!

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant forMacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. You can follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog

 

 

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