What Type of Client I’m Looking For. Maybe You’re Looking For Me

I know I’m on the edge. And I know I don’t fit everyone – both in style and approach. I prefer working with people who want to think, people who have confidence in themselves. People who are open to learning but don’t believe what they are told until they understand it. People who look for consultants to guide them – not direct them.

I believe frameworks have their place to provide insights on where to start and what to do but are a risk when just followed- which is what most promoters imply when they say “you have to do this until you understand.” I believe that statements says more about their ability to explain and points to a weakness in their framework than it does about who they are talking to.

I have always questioned stock answers, because I believe HL Mencken’s comment – “for every complex problem there is a simple, neat solution that is wrong” applies all too often. The quick fix might get you started but it might also be exactly what gets you even more stuck after just a little while.

I believe that a good approach provides immediate value. And if it doesn’t, then a better approach is available.

If you have similar beliefs, I believe you’d find me valuable to work with.

Test-Driven Development (TDD): The First Leg of Emergent Design

I am heartened by the surge in TDD training. To me, TDD is the second most important thing for devs to learn. ATDD is the first.

TDD is not just the automation of unit testing. It’s also intended to improve design and sustainability.

TDD’s formulation of tests, prior to code, drives design. High quality code is easy to test. The reverse is also true. Code that is easy to test is higher quality than code that isn’t. I labeled this quality, “testability,” in my book Design Patterns Explained. Test-First is a process where deciding on your tests before writing your code improves your design. Continue reading “Test-Driven Development (TDD): The First Leg of Emergent Design”

Shift Your View To What’s Important

One of the major tenet’s of Lean is to not focus on individual activities but to look at the flow of value from concept to realization. Focusing on people, btw, is not Agile in my mind. We should be trusting and respecting them – not judging them. They are doing the best they can. management must provide them with a great eco-system in which to self-organize in order to achieve the business’ objectives.

The challenges around velocity illustrate this. If one understood the goal is to shorten cycle time (the time from concept to realization) it would be clear that managing (not measuring) velocity has no value. Many of the challenges we have in Scrum and SAFe is because these frameworks have us subtly look at the wrong thing.

But these things sure look important so someone sometimes has to shake us up to look at the right thing. The beauty is, once we look at our present in the right way, we can reflect on our past and instantly get a lot of experience. This is why newbies don’t have to be patronized and told to just use things as they are. They can think for themselves with years of experience once they know what to look at. This is the difference between giving advice and giving a new way to see a problem. I prefer the latter.

The Insidious Side of Scrum and How I’d Fix It (and yes, I know it wouldn’t be Scrum anymore)

Scrum is based on empirical process control. If I understand this correctly, this means that we base our actions on what happens and inspect and adapt accordingly. Scrum is accordingly set up with a set of rules, roles, artifacts and events designed in such a way that if they are followed good results will happen.

I believe it to be true that if you in fact do what Scrum tells you to do you will get good results. But that’s not a huge endorsement. If you follow a financial advice system that says to buy stocks low and sell them high you’ll also make a lot of money. And if you don’t, it’s providers can always say you didn’t follow the method.  The question is not if Scrum’s practices will work if you follow them, it’s can you always follow them? And even when you can is it the best way to go? And, perhaps more importantly, does taking this attitude that you should learn how to be Agile by using Scrum defined exactly as it is the best way to go? Because we must remember, our goal is not to do Scrum. Our goal is to be effective.

Let’s look at the typical way teams are told to adopt Scrum. It is suggested that they follow Scrum’s rules, roles, artifacts and events. But what if the team has problems with doing this? They are told to keep at it until they can do this. Since many of the teams are new to Scrum and Agile they are told to trust their trainers and coaches (in other words, not trust their own thoughts about what might not be working but to do what they are told). Personally, I find this somewhat disrespectful. People know a lot about their jobs and as a coach I wouldn’t expect anyone to do something merely because I said it’s a good idea. If I can’t get them to see it’s a good idea then that’s a failing on me.

But there are two other problems here. One, it may not be possible to follow Scrum’s practices. And two, even if possible, it may not be desirable. I have seen many cases of this over the last 20 years of using Scrum. Yet, in 10 years of discussing this I have yet to have one CST (certified Scrum Trainer) admit to such a possibility even though I’ve given them dozens of cases. Instead they always claim if people were committed enough they could do it. In other words, they don’t acknowledge Scrum may be off, but rather people just are not committed enough to do Scrum (implying, of course, that Scrum is the right thing). But wait a moment, what if there is a better way? Why stick to Scrum? Is it really always the best way to become effective? Sounds like brand selling to me. And that’s not a bad thing – you wouldn’t expect a Chevy dealer to say a Ford is better.

Here’s the problem. When Scrum is taught, the training almost always focuses on the framework. This makes sense. If it focused on the actual laws of software development there’d be no Scrum brand involved. In any event, Scrum isn’t based on the actual laws of software development. It’s based on  empirical process control. But that doesn’t mean that’s what it should be based on – this is just an a priori assumption that is always accepted. But Scrum is what it is. So when there are problems, there is no basis for figuring out how to solve them other than following Scrum’s rules. People intuitively know this is not quite right. So resistance is not uncommon. When things don’t work well, people often don’t like to keep doing what’s not working. Even if they try, if they are in a situation where Scrum is not ideal, at some point people will give up. But since they don’t know what else to do they will likely just drop a Scrum practice and voila you have Scrumbut. From Scrum.org’s site – ScrumButs mean that Scrum has exposed a dysfunction that is contributing to the problem, but is too hard to fix. A ScrumBut retains the problem while modifying Scrum to make it invisible so that the dysfunction is no longer a thorn in the side of the team.”

And now Scrum is off the hook because although the team is not getting effective, Scrum’s proponents can claim it’s not their fault because the team is not doing Scrum. Yes, the team is not doing Scrum. But Scrum’s definition is partly at cause. I believe what’s needed is to integrate how to remove dysfunctions into our Scrum training so that we have the opportunity to remove dysfunctions whether the solution strictly follows Scrum or not.

So what can we do instead? There’s a lot of evidence that taking an approach based on the Lean principles of systems thinking, just in time (reducing delays in workflow and feedback and in acting no new information) is more effective, Can we take the rules, artifacts, roles and events of Scrum and implement them within a Lean-thinking approach instead of an empirical approach? What would happen if we did this? Full-disclosure – doing this would result in something not Scrum. I’ll call it Lean-Scrum to differentiate. This is because The people who invented Scrum (Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland) have the right to define what Scrum is.

So how would Lean-Scrum work and how would people trying to adopt it manage the situation where Scrum doesn’t work well?

Lean-Scrum would essentially say to start with Scrum but consider its roles, rules, artifacts and events to be examples of what could be done. That each of these have an object. If the practice of Scrum works then great – do it. But if not, teams should feel free to find another way to do things. This must be done in a disciplined way. This can be accomplished with this four-step process:

  1. Are you having challenges with the practice because it is being done poorly? If Yes, then inspect and adapt and see if you can do it better. If No, continue.
  2. Is there something else in the organization that is causing us this problem? If Yes, then see how to fix that or at least influence the fixing of it. If No, then continue.
  3. Is the ecosystem that the team finds itself in causing the problem? That is, are people not collocated when they need to be or are required skills missing? Can you improve on this? If yes, do so. If No, continue to see if another practice that works within this ecosystem will work better (see next step).
  4. What else can we do that meets the same objective of the practice? If there is something else you can do, then try that. If not stick with the practice until you learn more.

Step 4 begs the question of telling if you meet the objective of the practice in a different way. This can be determined by looking at the underlying principles in software development. This is always in theory to some extent, because even if a change will improve things if made, there are often side effects caused by people not adopting the change that work against it. We therefore must always be diligent and validate any change we make.

The measure to use is the value stream impedance scorecard. In a nutshell, the VSIS indicates how much resistance the system will impose on work being attempted. It is based on what improves total value manifested. Lowering this resistance usually results in more value manifested.

Psychologically this is a much better approach. Now people have a solid starting point. But if they have challenges with it, they can think for themselves and come up with what they think is a better way without just going off the deep end.  Hence, they don’t resist and can self-organize in more effective methods. Scrumbut can be avoided because people will understand what they need to do. It also avoids the stigma of being taught Scrum but then having to abandon it. Staring with Scrum and then going beyond it feels wrong – especially to management who said the team is going to do Scrum and just paid for Scrum training.

We call this approach Scrum as Example because it considers Scrum as an example of what we could do and that we can do other things while still being effective.

I’ll close this article by asing why is it that people do Scrumbut? If we trust and respect people the only conclusion we can come to is that they don’t realize it’s a bad thing. So why don’t we give them the understanding to realize that? When you believe software development needs to be controlled by an empirical process it’s because there is no understanding of it – one can only see it by doing it. There is no model that could explain it. When you believe that Lean-Agile principles can explain it, however, then we show people why Scrumbut is a bad thing and how to avoid it.

INVEST is a goal, not a guide


This is almost universally used to teach how to write stories. But notice, it’s a goal, not a method. Goals are good, but in themselves, don’t provide much guidance to get to them (think “buy low sell high”).

A better way to learn to write stories is to take advantage of the discovery & specification phases of Acceptance Test-Driven Development (ATDD). While usually relegated to the 2nd or 3rd round of training we’ve seen light-weight ATDD integrated with initial Scrum training enables teams to write stories right out of the box and eliminates 3 of the major challenges most teams have adopting Scrum:
1) writing small stories
2) having clear requirements
3) understanding why testing cannot lag coding

This is the key to learning Agile- not just learning the end state desired, but using methods that actually help get you there. It is easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than think your way into a new way of acting.

ATDD has the dev team focus on identifying and validating (Testable) Small chunks of Value by “Negotiating” with the PO. Part of ATDD is to decouple (make Independent) the stories. Since these stories are now understood, they are also Estimable.

We need disruption in Agile Training and Coaching

Certifying bodies promoting a particular brand have changed the industry for the better in many ways.

But they are businesses. And their model is selling training. As much as possible, as you’d expect from any business. And the people they support’s model is training and placing coaches.

Brands compete – so it’s not surprising to see a focus on the brand in workshops instead of activities everyone needs to learn. If the focus were on the work much of Agile training would look similar.

Training today is not that dissimilar to what it was 20 years ago – intense workshops with follow up coaching. The first is inefficient (people don’t retain much from workshops) and the second is expensive.

We need a disruptive force here. But don’t expect the certifying bodies to provide the disruption – they have no incentive to make things more efficient. Expect the disruption to come from somewhere else.

Agile Developer Habits 101 – Focus on Finishing to Manage Work in Process

Kanban suggests we manage work in process (WIP). Many people interpret this to mean add WIP limits on queues. But that’s not the only way to do it. And it often takes a very disciplined team to do that.

An easy way to start managing WIP is to simply build a habit of looking to finish something before starting something new.

Habit – manage Work in Process

Trigger: When you complete a task.

Action: Look to see if there’s another task that’s already been started that you can finish. If it’s yours, just finish it. If it’s someone else’s see how you can help them.

Intention: Avoid increasing WIP above capacity without having to put a lot of effort on it while also creating opportunities for cross-learning and collaboration.

Agile Developer Habits 101 – How Will I Know I’ve Done That

I have learned that developing good habits is key in improving my abilities. A series of good small decisions can often prove to be better than infrequent good ones. The most effective way to develop a habit is to have a trigger for it. That is, when an event occurs, do the thing you want to. Otherwise good habits just devolve to good ideas that don’t happen.

One good habit is to validate you understand something that someone has requested of you. In this case our trigger can be a request. The habit is to validate it by asking them what their acceptance criteria is. This doesn’t mean that they are right in their criteria – people often ask for the wrong thing. But a critical first step is to ensure you understand what they asked for.

Habit – validate understanding.

Trigger: When someone asks you to do something.

Action: Ask – “how will I know I’ve done that?”

Intention: Validate that what they say matches what you heard.

Habit – understand their why

Follow up Action: Ask – “and why do you want that?”

Intention: Validate you understand their objective as their might be a different way to achieve that.




The Differences Between Scrum and Kanban

Looking at differences between Scrum and Kanban can help us see which will work better for us.

1) Scrum requires planning the sprint ahead. You can plan in Kanban but it’s not necessary and normally isn’t done.

2) Scrum requires cross-functional teams, a good thing to have. Kanban doesn’t but this often misses the opportunity for team structure improvement.

3) Scrum requires starting with its roles, practices, events & artifacts. Kanban allows you to start where you are & provides a transition model for improvement.

4) Scrum improves by removing impediments. Kanban improves by focusing on shortening cycle time.

Teams that don’t like to be told what to do may resist Scrum. Kanban requires more discipline from the team than Scrum.

Factors to consider when deciding which to use:

* culture – including resistance to being told what to do and attachment to roles

* nature of work being done (plannable?)

* ability to create cross-functional teams

Note that executives can better relate to Kanban’s focus on flow. Combined with its insistence on visibility, executives can better understand the importance of managing workload.

In few cases is one clearly superior to the other. Taking a blend of the two often makes sense. Doing this is not difficult. 

Why I Believe My Advanced SM/Kanban On-the-job Online workshop is my biggest contribution to Agile

Given I’ve written 5 books, delivered 100s of courses/talks/ webinars, influenced Scrum, Kanban & SAFe, that’s a big statement. I think it’s true because I hope its introduction of proven methods of training/coaching developed at Harvard will prompt the Agile industry to improve current methods which I believe are outdated and one of the biggest impediments to the widespread adoption of effective Agile.

• Common training formats are ineffective and expensive. Intensive 2-4 day workshops have been shown to be the least effective method of conveying skills. These also incur the cost of lost days and possibly travel to take. Flipped classroom methods are both more effective and much less costly to deliver and incorporate follow up coaching
• Content. Being effective requires both Scrum and Kanban. Each are selective views of Lean, which is now recognized as a critical component of Agile beyond a team.
• Lack of a support system. There are patterns of challenge and solution which should be provided to students so they get assistance in solving problems on their own

Bottom line – this method can increase the effectiveness and content of a course while dramatically reducing real cost

You can learn more about this course here.  Take the overview box (mostly black) for a 28 minute overview of the class that explains both content and format.