Common Agile Practices That Sabotage Us

Make Scrum dogma your own. Take what you need, leave what you don’t.  Here’s one more option to add to the article’s list.

ScrumMaster™ gives you the option in a Retrospective to take credit for work completed in the sprint. It automatically renames the remaining tasks and returns them to the Backlog… ready for evaluation at the next sprint planning session.

No, this isn’t orthodox Scrum procedure. But it makes sense, doesn’t it? It cleans up reports, too.
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Mac of all Trades - Master of Some

Sometimes we need help to improve our team and sharing insights into why some practices and behaviors can sabotage team progress.  Take a look at the following observations teams have made to see if your team can identify with them and take action before it becomes a bigger or longer term problem.


We have a lot of stories that are closed by DEV and then new stories for QA testing are created to test what Dev hands over.

Impact to the Team:

  • Because the number of stories in the sprint steadily increase during the sprint, the burndown chart will likely look like the team is always behind schedule.
  • Individual capacity is extremely difficult to plan during sprint planning because the number of stories at the beginning of the sprint will be lower than reality.
  • Forecasting sprint plans and project schedules via velocity is useless here because the…

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Scrum Master: Position or Role?

To our way of thinking, Brian Lawrence nails it.  From the stony silence (and arrogance) he received when he broached the topic in an Agile group meeting to his concluding points.  However you implement Agile, it needs to fit well with your team structure and needs—and expect those needs to change over time.

Companies, organizations, projects, and teams are unique.  Size, project scope, and team talent varies.  One size—one dogmatic Agile approach—can’t fit all, even if it’s a good place to start. 

The definition and expectations of the Scrum Master role in a work environment shape the type of challenges faced when implementing an Agile approach. 

A team may find the natural progression of Agile in their company not only evolves the job of Scrum Master into a rotating role that anyone can do, for some teams, that role becomes that of a scribe:  the primary responsibilities are to run rituals (sprint planning, daily standups, and retrospective meetings), record changes in task status, and identify impediments and solutions that need to be escalated outside team. 

It helps if everyone is clear about the Scrum Master’s functional role within the team and relative to the rest of the organization.  Is the Scrum Master the Scrum dogma enforcer?  An Agile approach coach?  A mentor in Scrum methodology?  What flavour, strict ‘orthodox’ or ‘reformed’?  Couldn’t agree more, top down mandates don’t optimize teamwork or efficiency.  And when the project stalls, the “I followed every Scrum rule in the book” isn’t a valid management defense or excuse!  The only goal is to deliver superior product, on time, on budget.  And not make your team’s life miserable in the process.

Does the Scrum Master work with the product owner to establish priorities from a BUSINESS perspective, or is that handled by the Dev Lead that has a deep understanding of the individual project under discussion?  If you do rotate the Scrum Master role, you may need to separate out that function.

Having lived in these trenches, this is exactly why we built the NextWave ScrumMaster™ Agile project management tool.  Our work tools have to be flexible.  We need to be able to use them as it makes sense in our individual situations.


Scrum Master: Position or Role?            

Posted by Brian Lawrence
Nov 05, 2013

A couple months ago I attended a local Agile user’s group meeting and sat in on the Scrum Master Birds of a Feather session. I created a bit of a stir when I first asked, “How many of you have full time Scrum Masters?” All the other organizations represented turned out to have full time Scrum Masters. So, I then asked my second question, “What do they do?” I guess I had asked the question in a way that implied that full time Scrum Masters was strange, because I was greeted by several moments of complete silence. Most of the people, other than those from my own organization, looked at me like I had three heads. Finally, they indulged the obviously under-educated member of the group, namely me, with explanations directly from The Scrum Guide as to what a Scrum Master does. I shocked them further when I said that we had moved beyond the need to have full time Scrum Masters. I didn’t bother telling them that we actually never had full time Scrum Masters.

The Scrum Guide generally describes the Scrum Master role as one of teaching, coaching, facilitating, and removing impediments. And when a Scrum team is new, these things take time. A team new to Scrum tries to follow Scrum by the book and needs someone that can do a lot of teaching, coaching, facilitating and removing impediments. But what happens when the delivery team matures? Teaching lessens. Coaching lessens, though there is still need for coaching around constant improvement. Facilitating is still necessary, though this takes up very little time. And impediments lessen as the team learns to deal with them on their own. If one of the team members’ full time job is teaching, coaching, facilitating, and removing impediments and all these things have lessened to where that person is only needed ten to twenty-five percent of their time, what do they do the rest of their time?

For us, we took the following path. We started with Scrum, though I wouldn’t say strictly by the book. We came from a world where we had project managers running multiple projects, thus working with multiple project teams. Our first step was to train our project managers in Agile. Several of them took advanced courses. A couple even became certified Scrum Masters and Agile Project Managers from the Project Management Institute. Thus, our project managers (PM) became our first Scrum Masters. Due to resourcing constraints (we had more teams than PM’s) and possibly due to a little foresight, we did not immediately dedicate a Scrum Master to a single team. Yes, that’s right, we violated one of the Scrum rules right from the start. Each of our PM’s generally had two teams they worked with as the Scrum Master. This kept them busy, but did not overwhelm them. Their role, as you might guess, was to teach and coach the teams in Scrum, to facilitate the Scrum ceremonies, and to remove team identified impediments. And this worked for the first nine months to a year.

Fortunately for us, our Scrum teams matured. It became apparent to me that our set up with using PM’s for Scrum Masters was starting to become a problem when during employee one to ones I kept getting asked just what value the PMs (notice they were not referred to as Scrum Masters by the team) were adding to their team. The delivery team members felt like they were being over-managed by multiple people. They had their own functional managers and they had Scrum Masters who were not really part of the delivery team.

We made our first change in the structure. Each team was allowed to select their own Scrum Master from among the delivery team members. The Scrum Master would still be responsible as a full time delivery team member, but they would also facilitate the Scrum ceremonies and be the first point of contact for impediments to the team. What did we do with the PM’s? At first we left them as PM’s – doing some project management stuff such as cross-team coordination. But we also left them as Agile coaches. And coaching became something a delivery team asked for, not something that we imposed on them. This worked well. Those teams that were more mature in their Agile approach and understanding didn’t feel over-managed. Those teams still coming up to speed had someone they could go to for coaching.

One more minor transformation occurred as we continued to mature. We elevated the PM’s to program managers rather than project managers. They now became responsible for cross-team initiatives. These are projects that transcend products and have tasks / stories in multiple delivery teams. We also rearranged our management reporting where we went from functional managers / supervisors to delivery team managers / supervisors, a role we call the delivery manager. And it is the delivery manager that is now responsible for the Agile coaching and mentoring. We’re still working the kinks out of this model, but the teams are delivering well, so it seems to be working.

For us, Scrum Masters started as positions and evolved to roles as we became more Agile mature. We took the responsibilities of a Scrum Master and divided out the coaching / teaching parts from the facilitation / impediment removing parts. This works well for us allowing the teams to feel self-managed and allowing them to mature at a sustainable pace, as coaching has become something asked for rather than imposed upon them. It also allows more team members to experience the role, as many of the teams will rotate Scrum Master at set time periods. And we’ve found that any type of delivery team member can be a Scrum Master. We have business analysts, developers, and QA testers all being Scrum Masters. We’ve also found that even the coaching / teaching is staying within the delivery teams with the Scrum Masters, as the ones that gravitate to that role are the ones interesting in learning Agile principles and imparting that learning upon their teams.

Finally, the bottom line that makes management happy is that we have less people doing the same amount of work. We have sixteen delivery teams. Without the need for dedicated Scrum Masters, we’ve saved the need to have sixteen more people and with a fixed budget, that really breaks down to being able to have sixteen delivery teams, rather than only having thirteen teams because we’d need those extra people to fill a position that’s really a role.

My concern and the reason for this article, is really a warning to all of you out there beginning your Agile journey. If you hire a slew of full time Scrum Masters, which is happening at least here in St. Louis, you need to have a contingent plan as to what you’ll do with them as your delivery teams mature. And at least here, most of the Scrum Masters being hired are coming out of a project management background. Nothing wrong with that, but again, be prepared to answer the question, “Okay, now what do we do with all these PM type people that used to be Scrum Masters?”

About the Author

Brian Lawrence is currently an IT Director at TriZetto Provider Solutions in St. Louis, MO, where he is responsible for several Agile and Kanban product development teams, as well as application architecture. He has been a process junky since the days of Edward Yourdan. During his career he’s taken development organizations through several methodology transformations, including Rational Unified Process, Essential Unified Process, and Agile. He loves process improvement and looking at ways of developing software better, faster, and cheaper. His current passion is looking at ways to manage within an Agile environment.

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A Larger Agile Reality

Going hand-in-hand with emerging technology and cutting edge science (or cutting edge tech and emerging science) is the need to think differently about many things.

There are no easy answers.  There are answers.

John Fullerton on Regenerative Capitalism

The article is below and here:

Beyond Sustainability: The Road to Regenerative Capitalism

Submitted by Emily Walsh on Mon, 07/08/2013 – 2:06pm

Author:  John Fullerton

Thomas Berry tells us, “It’s all a question of story.  We are in trouble now because we don’t have a good story.  We are in between stories.  The old story, the account of how the world came to be and how we fit into it, is no longer effective.”

For better or worse, economy, from the local to the global, is now a central component of the human story.  In our search for a new story, Capital Institute, together with our Field Guide to Investing in a Regenerative Economy project partners and our collaborators – practitioners and trans-disciplinary academics alike – is offering up a vision of what we are calling “Regenerative Capitalism.”

As part of that effort, we recently convened a small gathering of sustainability experts from diverse backgrounds to discuss the Field Guide project as well as a draft white paper entitled “Regenerative Capitalism,” which draws on business models studied in the Field Guide, integrating them into a theoretical framework.  (You can the read a summary of the draft paper here.)

The new story, we believe, must be grounded in the physical reality of a planet whose natural resources and waste sinks are not unlimited, and the ethical reality that unbounded inequity is intolerable.  The modern expansionist material economy story, despite its magnificent achievements in the past two centuries when its scale was far smaller, fails on both grounds.

The new story must also be relevant to a growing global population of seven billion people, half of which is currently living in urban environments, with the trend of continued urbanization appearing to be locked in.  China alone anticipates building cities for 250 million new inhabitants in just the next five years.  That’s thirty New York Cities.

The new story must also grapple with the reality of global corporations whose scale and span of influence exceed that of all but a few nation states and whose capital investment decisions will lock in much of the underlying infrastructure and technology choices that will define the quality and scale of the “global economy” of the future.  This reality exists despite the fact that these global actors employ only a small minority of the world’s population, even after three decades of “globalization.”

Regenerative Capitalism has two components: first, a shift to a “regenerative paradigm,” and second, an evolution to a more complex understanding of what we need to understand as “capital” if the economy is to be ecologically sustainable and also promote shared well-being.

The regenerative paradigm is adapted from the leading edge of the design field.  It demands a profound shift from the mechanistic and reductionist worldview of the industrial age, to a holistic, living systems or ecological worldview, consistent with our latest understanding of how the universe (including life on this planet) actually works.  It understands the economy as embedded in – not separate from – culture, and embedded in the healthy working of the biosphere.  In this worldview, social ills and the environment are not “special interests,” separable from the whole, anymore than a healthy circulatory system is separable from a healthy person.

Leading systems thinker and corporate consultant Carol Sanford presented the conceptual framework for a regenerative paradigm at our June convening.  Carol says this new paradigm requires a new kind of thinking, allowing us to reconnect with essence at the level of the individual, at the level of institution, and even at the systems level.  View her talk here.

I then presented ideas within my “Regenerative Capitalism” white paper, including the eight elements of a regenerative economy and the eight elements of regenerative finance.  My presentation can be viewed here.

Attendees also had an opportunity to engage with the entrepreneurial leaders of our Field Guide project, and to see elements of the regenerative economy manifesting in their transformational and scalable models.  Our discussion thus integrated theory with practice, as these visionaries described how they have infused theory into their everyday operations.  At the same time, their practice has informed the theoretical framework developed in the white paper.

A premise of Capital Institute is that the transformation of finance is a necessary enabler for the transition to a regenerative economy.  Participants of our convening began to explore what this transformation might entail, particularly focusing on the important role of investment in economic transition.

The convening provided a rich deepening of understanding, some heated debate, many new or under-represented perspectives, and a realization of how difficult and unknowable a paradigm shift of the magnitude contemplated is likely be.  We will be revising our white paper over the summer based on the invaluable input from the convening and other generous and thoughtful readers of the white paper.  A second draft will be posted on the website for public comment prior to final publication.

Like the unexpected fall of the Berlin Wall, or the seemingly unimaginable end of Apartheid, the emergence of a new economic story that will succeed our present unsustainable “Finance Capitalism,” whether it’s Regenerative Capitalism or something quite different, is likely to seem inevitable only in hindsight.  But the work of its emergence is well underway, as the subjects of our Field Guide and many other regenerative projects make clear.

In the face of overwhelming distraction from powerful, entrenched interests of the old story, our challenge at this time is simply to see what is emerging before our eyes.

We will be posting more video highlights from the event, including discussions with our Field Guide partners and other thoughtful participants, soon.
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ScrumMaster™ in Action

Here’s how ScrumMaster tools manage Agile projects.

ScrumMaster IS Agile

The tools and project management cycle. WiFi connects the Scrum Master to team members using Agile Story Sizing Cards™.
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Zap Your Own Brain! Headset

The headset passes a small electric current (<2.05mA) through the prefrontal cortex of the wearer.

Apparently Frankenstein and institutional electric shock therapy from the 50s has evolved into tDCS (transcranial direct current stimulation)… for improved gaming.   Medical uses, I get.   The better to fly drones, I reluctantly get.  But gaming?  ‘Safely’ overclock your own brain? 

Anyway, in spite unknown, long term risks on the body, some 250 brave souls have volunteered to play on this cutting edge!  Would you?

Check out the ExtremeTech article below. The first commercial tDCS headset that lets you safely overclock your brain tDCS headset

After an interminable wait, the first brain-boosting tDCS headset has finally received FCC approval and will begin shipping in the next few days. Dubbed the, the headset jolts your prefrontal cortex with electricity, improving your focus, reaction time, and ability to learn new skills. The is being targeted at gamers looking to improve their skillz, but tDCS has the potential to improve — or more accurately to overclock — almost every aspect of your life.

To give its full name, tDCS stands for transcranial direct current stimulation. Transcranial simply means that the direct current (i.e. from a battery rather than the AC mains) is passed across a region of your brain. In the case of the, the direct current passes between the cathode and anode, which are placed over your prefrontal cortex. Basically, by pumping electrons into your brain, your neurons, which communicate via spikes of electricity, become more excitable. This means that they can fire more quickly, improving your reaction time. Furthermore, when you remove the current, your neurons are imbued with additional neuroplasticity — in other words, they more readily make new connections, improving your ability to learn new skills. headset iOS appThe amount of current used is very small — on the order of two milliamps, much less than the current a 9V battery delivers — and in theory there’s very little risk. The website says you shouldn’t use tDCS if you suffer from epilepsy, and that you shouldn’t use tDCS to treat any medical conditions.

In reality, tDCS has no known short-term risks. Early studies have shown that tDCS, which can also be used to stimulate regions of the brain other than the prefrontal cortex, such as the motor cortex, can provide therapeutic effects to people suffering from Parkinson’s, stroke patients, and more. DARPA has already used tDCS to reduce the time it takes to train new snipers, and university research groups have used it to improve the performance of gamers. In less formal settings — i.e. DIY enthusiasts — tDCS has been used to improve almost every area of cognition, or to release the brain’s most powerful opioid painkillers.

9 volt battery brain

If the gains from tDCS really are as amazing as these early reports suggest, there could be some serious ethical considerations if tDCS becomes widespread. Should students be allowed to use tDCS to improve their studies or to pass exams? What about professional e-sports gamers? If one team starts using tDCS to improve their reaction time and actions per minute (APM), other teams will have no option but to start using it — unless tDCS becomes the electronic equivalent of doping and is quickly outlawed, of course.

The headset costs $249 (£179), and is available in the US, UK, most other English-speaking countries, Russia, and the rest of continental Europe. Pre-orders are being shipped now, and new orders should be fulfilled in August. iOS users can use a free app to control the headset via Bluetooth (pictured above), while Android users are currently out of luck.

Now read: What is transhumanism, or, what does it mean to be human?

Another piece of tech that is evolving the answers to that question!
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Dilbert on Project Management

Project planning, resources, and reality.

Dilbert on Project Planning Resources and Reality

Dilbert needs help.  Dilbert needs ScrumMaster™.   😉

How long will your project take?

Using ScrumMaster’s interactive burndown chart, change Target Velocity (two people’s worth?) to see impact on end date.

Dynamic Burndown Target Velocity Analysis

ScrumMaster’s Burndown graph is dynamic. Make a change to Target Velocity and a new end date displays.

Make confidence adjustments, +/- 0-20%

What is the likelihood that ‘The Boss’ (or dev realities) will add more backlog?
Estimating Backlog Variables

Report out

Take a snapshot of the Burndown graph or export the results as Project Status or Burndown reports.

ScrumMaster Project Reports for Export

ScrumMaster Project Reports export to Word, Excel, and PDF formats… ready for you to customize to best suit your needs.

Now add back the new team member complexity and drama factors!
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A hike is to project planning as…

If you haven’t seen this before, Michael Wolfe’s software development analogy to a hike that seems so simple in concept is worth it for the laughs… because we all have been there before.  In fact, we deal with this every day.  Posted on Quora and below, in case you have difficulty seeing the article.

Engineering Management:
Why are software development task estimations regularly off by a factor of 2-3?

Michael Wolfe, Startup founder

Let’s take a hike on the coast from San Francisco to Los Angeles to visit our friends in Newport Beach. I’ll whip out my map and draw our route down the coast:

The line is about 400 miles long; we can walk 4 miles per hour for 10 hours per day, so we’ll be there in 10 days. We call our friends and book dinner for next Sunday night, when we will roll in triumphantly at 6 p.m. They can’t wait!

We get up early the next day giddy with the excitement of fresh adventure.  We strap on our backpacks, whip out our map, and plan our first day. We look at the map. Uh oh:

Wow, there are a million little twists and turns on this coast. A 40-mile day will barely get us past Half Moon Bay. This trip is at least 500, not 400 miles.  We call our friends and push back dinner til Tuesday. It is best to be realistic. They are disappointed, but they are looking forward to seeing us. And 12 days from SF to LA still is not bad.

With that unpleasantness out of the way, we head off. Two hours later, we are barely past the zoo. What gives? We look down the trail:

Man, this is slow going! Sand, water, stairs, creeks, angry sea lions! We are walking at most 2 miles per hour, half as fast as we wanted. We can either start walking 20 hours per day, or we can push our friends out another week.  OK, let’s split the difference: we’ll walk 12 hours per day and push our friends out til the following weekend. We call them and delay dinner until the following Sunday. They are a little peeved but say OK, we’ll see you then.

We pitch camp in Moss Beach after a tough 12 hour day. Shit, it takes forever to get these tents up in the wind. We don’t go to bed until midnight. Not a big deal: we’ll iron things out and increase velocity tomorrow.

We oversleep and wake up sore and exhausted at 10 a.m. Fuck! No way we are getting our 12 hours in. We’ll aim for 10, then we can do 14 tomorrow. We grab our stuff and go.

After a slow slog for a couple of hours, I notice my friend limping. Oh shit, blisters. We need to fix this now… we are the kind of team who nips problems in the bud before they slow our velocity. I jog 45 minutes, 3 miles inland to Pescadero, grab some band-aids, and race back to patch up my friend. I’m exhausted, and the sun is going down, so we bail for the day. We go to bed after only covering 6 miles for the day. But we do have fresh supplies. We’ll be fine. We’ll make up the difference tomorrow.

We get up the next morning, bandage up our feet and get going. We turn a corner. Shit! What’s this?

Goddamn map doesn’t show this shit!

We have to walk 3 miles inland, around some fenced-off, federally-protected land, get lost twice, then make it back to the coast around noon. Most of the day gone for one mile of progress. OK, we are *not* calling our friends to push back again. We walk until midnight to try to catch up and get back on schedule.

After a fitful night of sleep in the fog, my friend wakes up in the morning with a raging headache and fever. I ask him if he can rally. “What do you think, asshole, I’ve been walking in freezing fog for 3 days without a break!” OK, today is a loss. Let’s hunker down and recover. Tomorrow we’ll ramp up to 14 hours per day since we’ll be rested and trained… it is only a few more days, so we can do it!

We wake up the next morning groggy. I look at our map:

Holy shit! We are starting day 5 of a 10 day trip and haven’t even left the Bay Area! This is ludicrous! Let’s do the work to make an accurate estimate, call our friends, probably get yelled at, but get a realistic target once and for all.

My friend says, well, we’ve gone 40 miles in 4 days, it is at least a 600 mile trip, so that’s 60 days, probably 70 to be safe. I say, “no f–ing way… yes, I’ve never done this walk before, but I *know* it does not take 70 days to walk from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Our friends are going to laugh at us if we call and tell them we won’t see them until Easter!

I continue, “if you can commit to walking 16 hours a day, we can make up the difference! It will be hard, but this is crunch time. Suck it up!” My friend yells back, “I’m not the one who told our friends we’d make it by Sunday in the first place! You’re killing me because you made a mistake!”

A tense silence falls between us. The phone call goes unmade. I’ll call tomorrow once my comrade regains his senses and is willing to commit to something reasonable.

The next morning, we stay in our tents till a rainstorm blows over. We pack our stuff and shuffle off at 10 a.m. nursing sore muscles and new blisters. The previous night’s fight goes unmentioned, although I snap at my idiot friend when he leaves his water bottle behind, and we have to waste 30 minutes going back to get it.

I make a mental note that we are out of toilet paper and need to stock up when we hit the next town. We turn the corner: a raging river is blocking our path. I feel a massive bout of diarrhea coming on…

Good to know it’s not just your life, eh?  Honestly, some of these issues are exactly what drove us to create the ScrumMaster application.  It’s reality.  And not just for our tech world, the human world.  We’ve come to believe it’s normal.  So let’s just deal with reality and find some better ways to work together and get the job done.

For Agile Story Sizing Cards, not so much… that was more about boring, way-too-long meetings.  What better way to deal with them than to let your mind wander down the, ‘Gee, wouldn’t it be much cooler to be doing this on my phone.  Hmmmmm.’   Solved another problem too: Where did I put my poker planning cards!?!
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