Agile Victory over Status Reports

Let me start by saying I hate status reports. I don’t think anyone who writes them tells the truth, but rather they are painting a picture of how they want the reader to see the project. On the flip side I don’t think anyone bothers to read them unless there is some glaring RED boxes or type. There are better ways to see the health of a project, but none-the-less, they are a necessary evil in the corporate world.

I was asked to start performing this necessary evil for a new project I am working on. The Program Manager sent around this suggested template for all the project leads to use every week.

status-report-1

This is on top of a weekly meeting where we will discuss all of these updates. Talk about traditional waterfall overkill and meaningless reporting!

After I wiped my tears I noticed that in the email the sender asked for feedback on the template. Aha! If I have to do a weekly status report why not actually report what matters. I started thinking about what would make a better template and then inspiration struck and I thought of the Daily Stand Up. The result of my inspiration was this:

status-report-2.jpg

Look familiar to anyone? Current update = what I did this past week, Focus for Next Week = what I am doing next and Risk/Blockers, of course. One simple RAG for all.

I sent the template out and all the other workstream leads liked it as well so the Program Manager agreed.  Hooray!

I consider that a victory for Agile within a waterfall project.

Sweater Weather

It is finally getting cooler here in the Northeast and therefore it is time to bring out the warm sweaters.

landscape-1479399608-fair-isle-sweaters

I love sweaters, but I hate the process of changing over and organizing my closet twice a year because it always turns into a full day project with straggling things like dry cleaner trips and Goodwill runs left hanging on for weeks.

A few weeks ago I was preparing a presentation on Kanban so I was re-reading Kanban from the Inside by Mike Burrows. Those of you familiar with Kanban know that one of the main tenets of Kanban is to limit Work-in-Progress (WIP).  The reason for this is that there is a limit to the number of things you can do simultaneously and still do them well and get to done-done. This got me thinking about my closet. My problem is that I try to do it all at once.

So, this year I decided to limit my WIP. I made a list of things I wanted to do (tasks) to get my closet organized for winter, I gave them a size (as in effort) so I could decide what I had time for, and I tackled them one-by-one over the course of a few weeks instead of losing a full, precious weekend day in my closet alone with my clothes and shoes. I mean, I love my shoes, but I prefer when we are out together. I also employed the “1 Minute Rule” which helped with things like “I’m not sure if that fits me anymore” and “Are these shoes too worn out to keep?”

I got through my list of closet (and dresser) tasks rather painlessly this way and it was done in about 2 weeks not including the Goodwill drop-off.  I wish I had tried it sooner. I was able to do as much as I had time for at a single sitting. If I had an hour I chose a bigger task, but if I found myself with 15 minutes there were a good number of small tasks on the list as well. And throughout I never felt like I “lost” any time to the job.

Kanban is the quiet cousin of Scrum, but it really deserves its own show.  I love it.

Here’s the checklist I created for this exercise:

closet

Scrum in the Classroom

Using Scrum in the classroom is not a new concept. It has been tried in a bunch of different classroom settings and written about many times. One of the first articles I ever read about it was written by Jeff Sutherland and it has always been in the back of my mind since I first read it.

As I mentioned in my previous post I was lucky to have my friend Karen come for and extended stay this summer. Karen and I have known each other since we were in middle school so when we talk, we discuss anything and everything, including our careers. I was telling her about my blog and some of my career aspirations and she asked me a lot of questions about how Scrum works — especially the planning aspects and the retrospectives.  I mentioned some to her some of the classroom success stories I’ve read about as well.  We talked at length about how to run a retrospective because it was something she planned to use for a Teacher Inservice workshop.

Additionally Karen wanted met to talk her through the other Scrum ceremonies so she could apply them to a new class she would be teaching. Then time and life got in the way and we never had that detailed conversation (which I hope we still will!). Being the bright and resourceful person that she is, Karen went to my blog (this blog) and read my posts about the Kanban board I created for my daughter and she adapted the entire idea for her class.  The class is a new offering and it is a video production class. Karen said:

The kids came in and immediately wanted to start filming, but I told them there was a bit of prep work beforehand. So, I made them brainstorm and list what they needed for a successful broadcast.

We came back together and they told me their tasks. I wrote them on post-it notes and they decided how to prioritize them.

Sounds a lot like Sprint Planning to me!

Here’s her board:

img_1249

Karen went on to say:

The discussion was amazing. I did nothing but facilitate.

Those kids are not often given the chance to do something like that. They rose to the occasion beautifully.

I was so pleased to hear this. I suggested that they do a retrospective as they complete each video so they can see how they can try and makes things better each time. I think the kids will like the format where instead of being judged just by the teacher, they all get to discuss and work on improving.

Another idea for them was to  create a full backlog of video ideas, in other words a product backlog. I cannot wait to hear more from Karen on how this continues to work in her class. I promise some updates along the way.

As we are very busy getting ready to start a new school year at my house I am readying our Kanban board again, I am even more motivated to keep this going.

P.S. Karen – I still owe you some more materials on Scrum. They are coming your way next week.

Not Quite Back-to-School Yet

Despite my work schedule not really changing summer always feels like a time of slacking off. I guess that explains the lapse in my blog posts. Plus the fact that my favorite person to experiment on has been away at sleep away camp for the last 4 weeks.  As you can see here, she’s been enjoying!

img_1224-1

However, I have not been completely idle. I was lucky enough to have an extended visit from a teacher friend and we had several interesting conversations about applying agile practices in the classroom. She took away some ideas to try and now that school is starting up she has promised me some feedback on how they are working for her. Specifically she is going to try a retrospective format for teaching teachers a new way of getting reading concepts across. And she’s going to try some Scrum ideas with a video production class she’s starting up. I can’t wait to hear how these work out and sharing with everyone.

I’m also exploring some ideas I have on managing personal goals. The Bullet Journal is a great tool for this, but I am finding it needs some more structure. More to come on that as well.

Hope everyone is enjoying the rest of the summer!

 

 

Bullet Journaling

I’ve been using, or trying to use, my bullet journal for almost 3 weeks now.  Like any change in routine, it has been really good, but it also has its challenges. And without further ado, I will jump into the bullet points.

The Challenges:

  • Before I got my bullet journal I was using 2 notebooks and I haven’t been able to give either of them up yet so now I am carrying around 3 notebooks. That is at least 1 too many notebooks.
  • At work I tend to use my notebook for notes and to do lists and whatever else I need to write down. My bullet journal is too “fancy” and too specifically organized for that. I fear I will never get away from having at least 2 notebooks
  • I haven’t yet found the future logs to be very useful. Maybe that will come with more time?

The Good:

  • I’ve combined my work and personal life to do lists in my bullet journal and that has definitely made me more efficient. If there’s a small thing on my personal list it is right in front of me when I’m eating lunch or something and I can just get it done instead of forgetting it.
  • This type of journaling provides a delicious sense of accomplishment
  • I’ve gone onto to YouTube and looked at some videos of the really creative things people are doing with their bullet journals. Wow, some people take bullet journals very seriously! While I am not up to design themes for each month or much artwork I have added a few other trackers into my journal and I am enjoying seeing my progress in those areas too

Like any good Agile practitioner, I will keep on refining my process with the bullet journal.

My first goal is to get down to no more than 2 notebooks.

When the going gets rough

Up until this point I have been writing about Agile practices outside of work, but today I am going to focus on agile at work. Specifically on trusting the Scrum process — especially when crises occur.

a-panic-button-3-crisis-survival-lessons-for-the-social-media-age-c3c74ec3fe

My place of employment has been going through a lot of transition in the last few years and it has led to all kinds of frustration. Change always does that. As a result of the organizational changes both of my Scrum teams now include new developers and there are fewer of them. Some of the new team members are good, and some are not up to the same standard that we are used to. It takes time to build a good team.

As a result of these changes to my teams, work has been proceeding at a slower velocity. We are working on that in various ways, but recently I have had a couple of urgent requests from stakeholders come my way where the requestor specifically asked if we could do something “outside the sprint.” When I have asked what that means, I don’t get an answer.

I do know what that means, actually, but no one wants to say it out loud. It means I need this other thing (this unplanned thing) done ASAP and I don’t want to have to give up any of the other work that is already in progress and it cannot wait. It also means I don’t want to think about reality.

I understand urgent requests and am all for responding to changing needs (of course!), but I cannot advocate trying to work around or outside of the Scrum process. In my opinion the only thing that can happen is that all the work goes even slower causing even more frustration.

To all you stakeholders and product owners out there who get feel that Scrum doesn’t work in a crisis please try to remember:

  • Scrum is all about getting the highest priority work done first. If the focus changes from one goal to another sprint-to-sprint to resolve urgent issues, that is just fine. The process is designed to be flexible that way.
  • There are a lot of ways to work on improving velocity, but sacrificing the Scrum process is not one of them. You will end up waiting longer for everything instead of solving your urgent needs and the team will never improve.
  • Developers are not like coat hangers – you can’t go out and buy more or borrow from someone else’s closet just because you have more coats than you usually do. Developers need ramp up time on any project. QA is important.
  • In a crisis it is better to solve the problem than to create more with a band-aid.
  • It takes time to build a good team.

Bullet Journals are Agile

bullet_journalHave you heard of a Bullet Journal? If not, the Bullet Journal site will explain it all to you in detail, but here is my summary:

A Bullet Journal is a personal version of Scrum.

If you are familiar with Bullet Journals or have one yourself you may already have realized the goals and potential benefits of keeping one, but if you’re also a Scrum Nerd like me, you may have also realized how the techniques also line up to The Scrum Guide and the Agile Manifesto.

The Scrum Guide’s statement on Scrum Theory says:

Scrum Theory:

Scrum is founded on empirical process control theory, or empiricism. Empiricism asserts that knowledge comes from experience and making decisions based on what is known. Scrum employs an iterative, incremental approach to optimize predictability and control risk.

Three pillars uphold every implementation of empirical process control: transparency, inspection, and adaptation.

-The Scrum Guide

Transparency, inspection and adaption is exactly the process one follows when keeping a bullet journal.

Additionally Scrum is described as being:

  •  Lightweight
  •  Simple to understand
  •  Difficult to master

Again, I would say this is all also true of Bullet Journals.  It is a simple concept that takes time and refinement to employ in a way that is truly effective on an individual level.

Bullet Journaling is described as:

Bullet Journaling lives at the intersection between mindfulness and productivity. A system that adapts to your life every single day. The Bullet Journal is a customizable and forgiving organization system. It can be your to-do list, sketchbook, notebook, and diary, but most likely, it will be all of the above. It will teach you to do more with less.

– bulletjournal.com

Let me explain my thinking:

  • Rapid Logging is the first instruction in getting started with Bullet Journaling. Rapid logging is the technique used and it consists of four components: topics, page numbers, short sentences, and bullets.
    – In other words it contains just enough information as is needed.
  • Future Logs and Monthly Logs are used to help establish the daily log
    – Sounds like a Product backlog and a Sprint backlog to me
  • The Daily Log and Migration – the daily log is established the night before for each day and tasks or items from the day before are migrated to the new day.
    – Daily Stand Up anyone?
  • Refinement – the process of bullet journaling requires constant refinement. Indexes and symbols and habits need to be established over time to make it work on an individual level. This requires practice and reflection regularly.
    – Refinement of the process is an important goal of the retrospective
  • Goals – Just like a sprint, Bullet Journals help users establish and keep track of their progress towards defined goals. Those goals are personal.

I made an attempt at bullet journaling about a year ago. To be frank, things in my work life became so haywire that I abandoned a number of practices and am now establishing new ways of working for myself. I have decided to re-start my bullet journal to see how it aligns with my agile practices both at work and at home. I will periodically post on my progress.

Anyone who’s interested in hearing more about Bullet Journaling should definitely visit the website, but also watch this great TED talk by Bullet Journal creator Ryder Carroll.

Summer Kanban – Zoe’s POV

At the end of week one I held a short retrospective with Zoe.  I kept it simple and asked 3 questions:

  1. How do you feel about using the board overall?
  2. What do you like about it?
  3. What don’t you like about it?

Despite some complaining I got at the start of the conversation when we were setting up her tasks for the next day, her responses to my retrospective questions were largely positive. Here’s my summary of what she had to say.

  1. How do you feel about using the board overall?
    She said she really likes it. She felt it made her less likely to procrastinate and helped her avoid having to do everything in one day. She said that as a visual learner and someone who likes hands on, this was was right up her ally.
  2. What do you like about it?
    Zoe said she felt it made a long to-do list a lot less overwhelming and more organized. It helped her to plan each day and served as a good reminder.  She also said it was fun and felt good to move the post-it notes over to the done column.
  3. What don’t you like about it?
    Zoe’s biggest dislike was she felt it was a little overwhelming and it was hard to know what to start first. She thought she might like it broken down more, but as we talked about it we came to the conclusion that what was missing was priorities. She also felt she might want the board to be online, but as we discussed that further we agreed that having it in the kitchen where we can all see it was better because we couldn’t forget about it.

 

Action items I took away from our discussion were:

  • Add priorities to tasks once they are moved into the “Doing Today” column
  • Don’t overload the “To Do” column – more stuff can be added as needed
  • Press on despite moments of complaining or eye-rolling

 

We started the new week with priorities as you can see…

zoekanban3

Zoe also found a creative way to indicate something was partially done – see “Clean Room”

As you can see from the “Done” column, Zoe is off to Cape Cod for a few days. She didn’t bring the boar with her so I guess all these other tasks will have to wait while she’s at the beach. Fair enough.52028331865__A6B678BA-7617-4F16-AA54-C8289F16F212

Summer Kanban – Week 1

I created the board very simply using posterboard, tape and, of course, Post-it notes. My daughter, Zoe, was much more receptive to this entire idea than I thought she would be which really pleased me. We sat down together and came up with some tasks for the To Do section.  It was one task per Post-it so we repeated a few like “Go for a run.” The tasks were a mix of school work (summer math, reading, etc.), chores, and workouts to help her meet her fitness goals.

Here’s how our board looked on Sunday:

kanban1

I reviewed the “rules” with Zoe and my husband, Rob, on Sunday. Because I was heading out of town on Sunday night, they were going to have to manage the board while I was gone.  I asked them to send me pictures each day and when I got home on Wednesday night we talked about the progress.  I was happy to see that they had mostly followed the plan.

As expected Zoe selected too many tasks on the first day so she was unable to complete them all. Day 2 was smooth and everything moved from Doing Today to Done. On Wednesday night I noticed there were a couple of items stuck in the Doing Today column so I asked Zoe about them. She said it was raining during the time she set aside for weeding so she was unable to complete that task. I agreed that was reasonable so we indicated that task was blocked. I’m not sure why she was blocked on cleaning her room, but as a parent of a teenage girl, I’m just glad that one got moved over at all.  I’ll let it linger a bit.

kanban2

Observations:

  • Overall it has been a successful first week.  As you can see in the Done column, a lot of things made it there which made me happy. I didn’t nag Zoe and I think that made her happy.
  • She did not regularly finish all the tasks for a given day for various reasons – some unavoidable, some avoidable.  I believe potential velocity is something that needs to assessed on a daily basis.
  • I intend to do a short retrospective on the activity with her tomorrow and I’ll publish her point of view next.

Summer Kanban Experiment

My 15 year-old daughter is very active and good about getting her homework done, but when left at home for a day with nowhere to be, she can easily lose the entire day in her phone or Netflix. As you can imagine, it drives me crazy when I get home from work and ask: “Did you do your reading?” or “Did you clean your room as I asked?” or even “Did you eat lunch today?” and instead of the “yes” I am hoping for I get “no” or worse yet, a blank stare.

This summer my daughter is going to 3 different camps, but she will have a total of 4 weeks at home with no real plans. She has things she wants to do with that time like start  running, get her summer reading done, get ahead on chemistry for next year. And I have things I want her to get done like cleaning her room and doing her summer math packet. She also, understandably, wants to have time to do nothing.

In the past I have helped her manage her homework and other chores by using a weekend backlog which we prioritize together. This has been successful for us both because we set the expectations and both agree and then I leave her to it. We check in occasionally but I don’t worry that she’s forgetting something and she doesn’t have me nagging her. I will post more on this later. But for the 4 weeks of summer I think we need something more so I am going to try making a Kanban board for her.

I explained it to her today and we talked about a good spot to keep the board and we listed out some tasks. She leaves for her first camp tomorrow and I will get the Kanban board set up while she is gone. Additionally while she is gone I will also be thinking about:

  • Ways to estimate tasks
  • How many tasks she can reasonably get done in a week (what is a good starting velocity?)
  • How we will check in daily (daily stand up)