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According to the Scrum Guide, "Scrum is... Simple to understand, Difficult to master."


I have never agreed with this statement. Scrum is easy. I can explain it in 5 or 6 sentences. If you agree with the basic principles and design decisions, Scrum makes sense and is very easy to follow.

However, most organizations are not structured around these principles. Scrum therefore implies changes in how people work, and those changes are really hard for most organizations:
  1. Deliver something of value at least once per month. Many developers and teams are not capable of doing this, and have to learn a lot of new skills. Their organizations are structured around not doing this. Changing this is hard.
  2. A team solves the whole problem (from idea to done). This implies feature-teams, but most organizations are organized as component teams, so this implies a reorganization. This is hard.
  3. One voice speaks for the customer. The means decision-making about the product is delegated into the team. This fundamentally changes the conversations with the team, from commanding to discussing; from tell to consult, advise and agree; from about what to do to about why and how to do it. This implies rethinking how leadership works, and this is hard.
  4. A coach helps everybody get better. This introduces a new role whose value is barely understood to serve people whose value is massively underestimated.
  5. Inspect and adapt at regular intervals: this means examining yourself and changing. Inspecting may lead to recognitions that are not consistent with your self-image. When the team discovers something that needs outside help to fix, management is expected to make it happen. Who is now telling whom what to do? This implies taking priority requests from people you used to give orders to. Lots of things about adapting can be hard to do.
I think the challenge of doing great things with Scrum is reflected in “the first impediment”: not having a Scrum Team with the skills and authority necessary to be a Scrum team. The PO can’t decide. The Team is not cross functional nor does it own their time or infrastructure. The Scrum Master does not have time or access to management to make improvements happen. Fail before you begin.

If you want to get off to a good start with Scrum in your organization, get your management involved to fix or prevent the first impediment! Get the roles right. I believe if you do that, everything else is much easier.
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Why do you want to teach your team Scrum? From a company's perspective,  one answer dominates: better results, faster. I spent much of last year talking to my customers about this goal, why it is so hard to achieve, and how can I better help my customers achieve this goal.

Watch my Lightning Talk:

I have designed new services and new price options to better support you on your Agile voyage, including what I believe is the lowest published price for a 3 day Certified Scrum Master Training in Switzerland.

How can I help you to achieve these goals:
You can get help and support from me and other practitioners through my online mentoring program: Achieving Performance Through Agility ("APA"): Group Mentoring with Peter Stevens. You get help with your transition challenges; to learn from other practitioners; to discuss specific problems with your peers; to develop & cultivate your own Agile Mindset; and a forum to share your successes! You get to participate in monthly calls with me and your peers, access to our shared resources, and admission to our semi-annual Agile Retreat.

More importantly, I have designed course packages to help you achieve your goal of a high performance team and keep you costs down! Check out the packages:
  • No Frills. Book 90 days in advance for my best price! (60 days for the courses this spring). Just training, no additional services, so the course is even freed from VAT. As far as I know, this is the lowest published price for a 3-day Certified Scrum Master or Scrum Product Owner or training in Switzerland. Perfect for individuals and self payers!
  • Standard Economy - the classic course with lunch provided at the venue.
  • Premium Economy - Support for your first step on the road to a high performance team. Includes participation in your first group mentoring session with Peter Stevens
Booking "Business Class" gives you the APA mentoring program at a substantial discount!
  • Basic Business Service - Support on the road to a high performance team.
    Includes 6 months membership APA, including admission to the Agile Weekend Retreat.
  • Extended Business Service - Long Term Support on the road to a high performance team. Includes 12 months membership in the APA, including admission to the Agile Weekend Retreats.
Check out the prices and packages:
Of course, if you have any questions, you can always reach out to me here!

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Estimating is such a pain. I remember when I first read about Scrum and saw that the team was responsible for estimates, not the Scrum Master. I was sold!

But... estimates are controversial. Without estimates many stakeholders are unwilling to fund development efforts. The upside is that the process of discussing the stories in the team helps everyone understand what the feature is about. It's about the conversation, not the number. OTOH, estimates do not produce value for the user, so they are potential waste, and may be used to beat up the team if the estimates are not correct, which is even more counterproductive.

Story points are particularly controversial, because they are vague and fragile. Using real or hypothetical hours has other disadvantages. (What do I do when my customer only wants to pay the hypothetical hours, not reals ones?!)

I believe you can base estimates on something more concrete and measurable: Acceptance tests.

This satisfies the need to estimate larger projects, while eliminating the main drawbacks of story points and maintaining the benefits of estimation from the team perspective. Let me explain how I came to this conclusion.

"Shouldn't we create estimates now?" Yesterday, I lead a group of aspiring Product Owners through a 1-hour Scrum simulation to create the "analogue version" of the products they had conceived in the previous exercises. After the teams had created their forecast for the sprint, they wondered if they should estimate.

What is the value-add of the estimate? At this point, not much, because they have already made their forecast, which is itself an estimate, and they would be wasting time that they could use to actually produce the result.

I suggested instead that they make sure they are clear on how to verify that the goal of each story has been achieved. Write the goal on the front of the card, and the confirmation on the back. If the goal or the confirmation are too complicated to fit on a single card, make more cards, each with a goal and confirmation, until the cards add up to the original goal.

Does you recognize the XP (Extreme Programming) approach here? The three C's - Card, Conversation, Confirmation. The description and the confirmation have to fit on one card (I use 1/3rd of A4, but A5 or 4"x6" are probably okay too). A card corresponds to an acceptance test.

Does anyone see the similarity to Pawel Brodzinski's "#Noestimates scale"?
  • 1 - fits easily into a sprint. 
  • TFB. (T means "too", B means "big" and F is for you to figure out)
  • NFC (N mean "no", C means "clue" and F is forever the same)
Estimating in #NoEstimates is simply breaking the stories down to until they are standard size, then counting the cards. My understanding is XP cards are usually very small; many fit easily into a sprint. So XP cards count as a "1" on the #NoEstimates scale.

Counting the cards is the same as counting the acceptance criteria, which in turn is creating an estimate.

How can you use acceptance criteria to estimate a project?

Story points and planning poker were a big leap forward. The discussions between the development team, product owner and other domain experts facilitated a common understanding of the problem to be solved, and eliminated the need to do work-breakdown analysis. Using this approach us you can use simple math and charts to predict and monitor how much functionality will be done by when. Using the Fibonacci sequence or the Cohn scale addressed the problem of false precision.

The main drawback of this approach is that story points are vague and fragile. If you put them under pressure, they break. (Is this a 3 or a 5? The product owner wants higher velocity, so let's call it a five!) Because they are difficult to standardize, it is difficult to compare velocity of different teams. Teams often ask to re-estimate because something is more work than they thought it was.

What if the basis could be more objective? 
Acceptance Tests: A concrete basis for estimates
How might this work in practice? Given this story for a job portal: 
  • As a job hunter, I want to submit my CV with my application for (reasons that should be obvious)
How to know how big the story is? After discussion the team and product owner agree on the following workflow (I call this "how-to-demo"):
  • Given I have selected a position to apply to...
  • Step 1 Create an application
  • Step 2 Attach my CV by dragging it to the application
  • Step 3 Preview the application to submit and see that the CV is attached.
Assuming that these steps are sufficiently granular that they fit easily into a sprint, each one becomes a point, and the story is a three-pointer. 
A tangible estimate
One point equals one step in the how-to-demo. 

If any of the steps are too big, it becomes a new card with its own how-to-demo. So let's say Step 2 is "TFB", then we would make a new card. Create and preview the application are each one point, and Attach the CV depends on the number of steps to validate it. If this is also three points, then the total for this feature is 5.

How do you estimate before the start of the project? Simple. Use planning poker, but instead of applying some abstract size, you are guessing the number of acceptance criteria you expect to satisfy. 
Tracking progress
As you implement the project:
  • you take credit for acceptance tests satisfied, just as you did with story points. (The issue of partial credit disappears, because the stories are very small, and a test is passed or not).
  • if the requirements change, you update your guesses accordingly. Do you expect to have more, fewer or the same number of acceptance tests?
  • In backlog refinement (getting ready to implement), your guesses become actual acceptance criteria.
  • Replace your guesses with the actual number of steps in the how to demo. This enables you to keep track of how good your estimates are, because for each story there is an estimated number of steps and the actual number of steps.

Budgeting
As with story points, this approach requires a baseline for comparison. How many individual acceptance criteria can you team actually get done in a sprint? Once you have established this, the math should be the same as for story points: (Size / velocity) * Team Size * Sprint Length = Estimate in Person days.
Summary
A point corresponds to a step in your how-to-demo confirmation workflow. An estimate is a guess of how many steps there will be to confirm the story. Backlog refinement confirms or updates the estimate and produces fine-grained stories which are ready for implementation. Velocity measurements, budgeting, a estimating function much like convention story points.


3/12/2017 -- Updated to recognize Pawel Brodzinski, the source of what I dubbed the #NoEstimates scale.  His discussion of the topic is quite illuminating!
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What does it take to become a Certified Scrum Trainer (CST)? The bar is known to be very high. In this one hour webinar I held for the Discuss Agile group, I talk about the challenges of becoming a CST, tell my story, present the requirements for becoming a CST and discuss the challenges of finding a good mentor.

CST Voyage and Mentoring by Peter Stevens (14.09.2017) - YouTube
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The Personal Agility System is the simple framework I have been working on, to help people do more of what matters.

What really matters? That's a great question! Does the answer just roll off your tongue? For many people it doesn't. But if you don't know what matters, what difference does it make what you do? How can you be satisfied with your life and your impact on the people important to you?

At its heart, Personal Agility is a coaching framework to help you figure out and focus on the things that really matter to you. Personal Agility is based not on performing tasks but on asking yourself Powerful Questions.  A powerful question invites you to think and reflect. You know what is the right thing to do.

These core questions help you figure out and focus on what really matters. There are a total of six questions, five to ask yourself routinely and one to help you get unstuck:
  1. What really matters? -- This provides context for answering the other questions.
  2. What did I get done this week? -- Celebrate it and feel good about yourself (even if what you did was different that what you had planned last week)!
  3. What could I do this week? -- Keep you to-do’s in a place you will see them again.
  4. Of those things, which are important and which are urgent? - Triage against what really matters.
  5. Of the urgent and important things, what do I want to do this week? -- Take only as much as you think you actually get done. 
  6. Who can help? -- The question and the answer can both help you get unstuck. That person might be helpful too!


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I was recently asked, "what does management need to know about Scrum?" Here is my answer, in 10 bullet points:
  1. Market forces are driving shifts in how leadership leads
  2. Scrum is a simple, team-based, “Agile” framework for solving complex problems
  3. You can probably get twice the value in half the time through Scrum
  4. Changing for better performance seems obvious but requires a huge shift in your culture 
  5. Only apply Scrum if you are prepared to make the necessary changes to get better performance
  6. Agile is a mindset not a toolset
  7. The transition to Agile is an investment
  8. Shared goals and the ability to agree on priorities are key success factors
  9. Start with a concrete project and follow quickly with your leadership team
  10. You can do all the stuff you did before, like budgeting and scheduling, just differently (and probably better).

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A few months ago, I watch a stunning video about how bacteria overcome antibiotics. It's stunning how fast the adaptation can occur! I believe agility is transforming the world of work in a similar way. I believe top management is most resistant.

It is stunning how quickly bacteria overwhelm the antibiotics. In just 12 days, E. Coli bacteria can adapt to survive in an environment that has 1000x the concentration of antibiotics which would kill the bacteria at the beginning of the process. The bacteria adapt constantly - they are agile! Antibiotics adapt very slowly - in this case, not at all. So I guess that makes them waterfall if the agile counterpart is fast enough.
How bacteria overcome antibiotics
The Evolution of Bacteria on a “Mega-Plate” Petri Dish (Kishony Lab) - YouTube

Jurgen Apello recently assembled a list of Agile Models, Methods and Movements. As I write this, there are 150 entries in the list. At least 25, and perhaps as many as 50 of them are not about software. There are methods for Product Innovation, Building Cars, Education and Schools, Personal Time Management, Collaboration, Coaching, Marketing and more.

Some of them are about organization and management: Radical Management, Management 3.0, Beyond Budgeting, Sociocracy and Holacracy are among the more prominent. While there are some examples, see for instance the SD-Learning consortium, AFAIK none of them is mainstream at the C-level.

The field of software development corresponds to the zone of level 1 dosage of antibiotics. Today agile software development is now mainstream in development groups, even as many people and companies still struggle to do it well. 

The next level is the immediate leadership of customers, managers and stakeholders. This corresponds to level 10.  There are many adaptations, including frameworks like SAFe and LeSS, but this domain is still more traditional than agile. (I am currently working on a course for Stakeholders. Please contact me if you'd like to help with solution validation! Thanks!)

Each new Agile framework is an adaptation to a new domain. Non-software areas, like building cars and other tangible products, correspond to dosage level 100. Here agility is just starting to make inroads.

And the most resistant? The C-Level of big companies and organizations. These institutions are most insulated from all kinds of change and disruption. They are represented by the 1000x level antibiotic dosage.

I believe stakeholders of software projects will be the next group to adopt/adapt to agility. Many other domains will start applying the lessons of agility soon. Top management (and government) will be the last to know! 


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When was the last time you really spoke to a customer or stakeholder about their needs? Sure, everybody talks about getting out of the office, but how do you actually do it? Here's an interview template to make customer conversations much easier.

Download the Canvas as PDF from
https://MyPersonalAgility.org/freetools
My ultimate goal is to have an impact. I have found the best way to do that is to create alignment between myself and my stakeholders or customers.

I use this canvas to guide my conversations with my stakeholders. It has been a game changer for me! So much, that it is now a part of Personal Agility.

The goal is to understand your stakeholder, build a rapport, and get actionable information to guide the next steps. This might be about our collaboration or a product I want to create for them.
Getting ReadyI generally plan 60 minutes for the interview, but it can be done in as little as 30 minutes if you and the other person are focused. Whether speed or depth is more important to you, depends on the context and what you are trying to achieve.
Doing the interviewStart out with an explanation of why we are here:
As you know, we are working to do <whatever it is you want to do>. Beyond that, my goal is create an effective partnership between us, so that we can work together effectively with a minimum of frictions. I want to focus on doing great things for you and your customers. To that end, I would like to understand you, your goals and your perspective.
I have found the following questions and order to be most effective at understanding the stakeholder. Sometimes I will vary the exact formulation to suit the audience, but the flow is usually the same.

  1. Stakeholder - Note and if necessary confirm the person's name and contact information. (Note I save the what really matters question for last)
  2. Main Goals or Objectives - What do you want to achieve through this project or collaboration?
  3. Challenges and Impediments - What are the main challenges to achieving your goals or desired outcome?
  4. Risks, Concerns, Fears - What concerns you about achieving your goals?
  5. Frustrations - What causes you to bang your head against the wall?
  6. Definition of Awesome - If I could snap my fingers, and all your wishes came true on this project, what would that look like?
  7. Support - How can I/we support you to make this come true?
  8. What really matters? - When push comes to shove, what is most essential? ( Generally it is better to ask this question late in the interview. Sometimes you may not ask the question directly, but rather summarize yourself).
  9. What's next? - What is the next thing that you need to do for this stakeholder (follow-up)?
Coaching questions can be helpful to elicit better, more complete answers, e.g. "Is there anything else." or "Let me read this back to you; have I understood you correctly?" Sometimes it is helpful to vary how you formulate the question, so that it resonates better with your interview partner.


I ask the questions in the numbered order. Yes, the "What really matters question" comes almost last, though it is right next to the stakeholder info on the canvas. Often people need to go through the steps of the other questions before they can answer that question.

When I am trying to build a relationship, I also answer each question to my stakeholder, so they understands me as well. This is not about deciding anything, just about understanding. So I try to avoid debate, I just make sure that I have understood the other person.

This is one of several free tools that I offer as around Personal Agility. You can download the PDF with the instructions at https://MyPersonalAgility.org/freetools. (For the canvas, no registration is required, just download!)
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According to the Scrum Guide, the Product Backlog is “an ordered list of everything that might be needed in the product and is the single source of requirements for any changes to be made to the product.”

Each entry in the list is called a Product Backlog Item (“PBI”). Since User Stories are such a common practice, Backlog Items are often just called “Stories” even though User Stories are not part of Scrum and backlog items are not necessarily in User Story format. (I use story and backlog item interchangeably).

A list is just a list, so there is nothing binding about the Product Backlog. It is a list of ideas – things that you think belong in the product, but this list is subject to change at any time.
Each backlog item has the following attributes:


  • Description – a statement of the goal or purpose of the story.
  • Sequence number – its place in the queue – determined by the Product Owner
  • Value -  a statement of the business value of the story – determined by the Product Owner
  • Estimate – the development team's guess about how much work is necessary to get the story to “Done”.

Often, the acronym INVEST helps to remind us what makes a good backlog:

  • Independent – the product owner can prioritize in any order
  • Negotiable – the story does not define how the story should be implemented
  • Valuable – the story has business value (e.g. to a user, customer or stakeholder) – no artifacts purely for the benefit of the development team are allowed.
  • Estimable, Small and  Testable – each of these serve to ensure that the backlog item is small enough and concrete enough to be implemented reasonably effectively.

We can think of a Backlog Item as a reminder to hold a conversation. That conversation is between those who understand the goal (often the product Owner, a stakeholder, a subject manager expert or even an actual user) and the development team, i.e. those who will implement the story.

This conversation should be held shortly before the backlog item will be implemented so that it is easy to verify that the story was implemented correctly. Everyone still remembers the decisions that were taken and no one has had time to change their minds!

The result is the “confirmation” – a statement of how to confirm or verify that the implementation of the story met the goals set for it.

The process is often referred to as the “three C's”: Card, Conversation and Confirmation. The idea is that you write the story of the front of the card and the confirmation on the back of the card after the conversation. In a software environment, that confirmation will become more formal acceptance tests and ideally, automated acceptance tests, if the team is good!

The conversation serves to get the story ready for implementation. The Team and the Product Owner may agree to rename to the story to make the description more understandable. They may take large, complex stories and “refine them” into smaller stories with simpler acceptance criteria. The sum of the parts equals the whole, but is easier to implement, validate and accept. Important: A small story is not a task, it still meets the criteria for a Product Backlog Item: When implemented, it has business value.

Ideally, your stories should be small enough that the team will forecast at least 6 and preferably 10 stories or more, regardless of sprint length.

This process of making the stories smaller and getting them ready for implementation is called backlog refinement. This video explains the process:

Backlog Refinement and the Product Backlog Iceberg - YouTube

For an explanation of estimating with story points, check out Explaining Story Points to Management

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Are you trying to figure out what really matters to your stakeholders? The Personal Agility Impact Canvas leads you through a 30 to 60 minute interview so you find out what is really important to your stakeholders, building their trust while you do.

You've probably heard about the Lean Canvas or the Business Model Canvas. These help you think about and understand your customers and your business. But how do you know what really matters to them? You have to talk to them to validate your assumptions. This is key to achieving better Impact (as I explain in my PAS Workshop)

Inspired by Iman Aghay's approach to problem validation, I created a canvas to lead you through the discussion with your stakeholder's, centered around Who, Why, and the Outcomes you want. Each question is a Powerful Question, to help you understand what is on your stakeholder's mind:

Who?

  • Stakeholder - Note and if necessary confirm the person's Name, Function, Contact Details
  • Goals or Objectives - What do you want to achieve through this project or collaboration?
  • What really matters? - When push comes to shove, what is most essential?

Why?

  • Challenges and Impediments - What are the main challenges to achieving your goals or desired outcome?
  • Risks, Concerns, Fears - What are your biggest concerns about achieving these goals?
  • Frustrations - What causes you to bang your head against the wall?

Outcomes

  • Definition of Awesome - If I could snap my fingers, and all your wishes came true on this project, what would that look like?
  • Support - How can I/we support you to make this come true?
  • What's next? - What is the next thing that you need to do for this stakeholder (follow-up)?

You can download the Personal Agility Impact Canvas, either in a blank or annotated version.

Enjoy it! I would love to hear your experience with it, and if you would like to translate it, I'll be happy to provide the sources!

PS: Special thanks to Iman, whose Ultimate Course Formula inspired me to create this canvas.
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