Why Agile Teams Should Estimate at Two Different Levels

It is very common for agile teams, especially Scrum teams, to estimate both their product backlog and sprint backlogs. In this article, Mike Cohn will address:

  • Why estimating both the product backlog and sprint backlog can be useful even though it seems redundant
  • Why teams should estimate the two backlogs in different units
  • When teams should estimate
  • Whether all teams should estimate

Although I think you should not try to use hours for estimation, I agree using different valuations for an estimation is best. I find using T-shirt sizes for PBIs and Story Points for SBIs work well.

Read the complete article here, and also take note of some excellent comments at the bottom: https://www.mountaingoatsoftware.com/blog/why-agile-teams-should-estimate-at-two-different-levels

Kick-start 3 Scrum Teams with a string of Liberating Structures

Christiaan Verwijs wrote an excellent article about how he kick-started three Scrum Teams using a string of Liberating Structures. The complete article can be found here: https://medium.com/the-liberators/we-kick-started-three-scrum-teams-with-this-awesome-string-of-liberating-structures-19b4a409cb8d

Steps he took:

  • Defined a clear goal (purpose) of the workshop
  • Used Impromptu Networking to introduce a little fun which would make it easier to make a personal connection with each other.
  • Used Appreciative Interviews to let them discover what they would need to become a successful team.
  • Used Nine Whys to discover both their individual purpose and business reason for the team’s to exist.
  • Used What I Need From You to express their needs from each other.
  • Used Min Specs to identify team needs and created a team manifesto.
  • Used 15% Solutions to identify what the first step would be for everybody to start working effectively with Scrum.
  • Used Social Network Webbing to close the day in a positive vibe.
  • Used a number of energizers and punctuations to take a break from the intense interaction of Liberating Structures.

Scrum Foundations Videos

This video series is the perfect introduction to Scrum as Mike Cohn explains the fundamentals of this framework starting with the five values. It covers the different roles as well as the different ceremonies that are crucial to making Scrum work like the Daily Scrum and Sprint Planning. You’ll also learn about artifacts such as the product backlog. Finally, you’ll understand how Scrum helps you improve efficiency & quality with timeboxing, definition of done, and backlog refinement.

You'll need to sign up to get access to the videos here:
https://www.mountaingoatsoftware.com/exclusive/scrum-foundations-available-now

Nine Questions Scrum Masters and Product Owners Should Be Asking

In the following article Mike Cohn shares his favorite questions to ask: https://www.mountaingoatsoftware.com/blog/nine-questions-scrum-masters-and-product-owners-should-be-asking

Two Questions about Estimates

  • I’m not looking for an estimate. But if I asked for an estimate, what unit pops into your minds: Hours, days, weeks, months, or years?
  • How confident are you in that estimate?

Three Questions About Team Decisions

  • What are three other options you considered before making this decisions?
  • What’s the worst thing that could happen if we pursue this direction?
  • What has to go right for this to be the best decision?

Two Questions about Meetings

  • Do we need everyone who is here now?
  • Should anyone else be here?

One Question to Ask When Wandering Around

  • Does anyone else need to know about this?

One Question to Ask During Daily Standups

  • What do you know that I don’t know?

The best retrospective for beginners

Copied this post from: https://retromat.org/blog/best-retrospective-for-beginners/

Positive & True
Why: Create a positive vibe and give everyone an opportunity to speak.
How: Ask your neighbor a question that is tailored to get a response that is positive, true and about their own experiences, e.g.

  • What have you done really well in the last iteration?
  • What is something that makes you really happy?
  • What nice thing did you do for someone else last iteration?

Then your neighbor asks their neighbor on the other side the same question and so on until everyone has answered and asked.

This will give everyone a boost and lead to better results.

Learning Matrix combined with Lean Coffee
Why:
Learning Matrix is a great multi-purpose method that has “appreciation for others” built-in. I use it to gather topics and then use Lean Coffee to structure and time box the conversations about these topics. I rely on Lean Coffee a lot!
How: Show a flip chart with 4 quadrants labeled ‘:)’, ‘:(‘, ‘Idea!’, and ‘Appreciation’. Hand out sticky notes.

  • Let team members silently write their ideas for all the quadrant onto sticky notes – 1 thought per note.
  • Go around the team and let everyone put up their stickies on the flipchart. The person also  describes their topic in 1 or 2 sentences. Cluster stickies that are about the same topic.
  • Hand out 5 dots for people to vote on the most important issues, i.e. the ones they’d like to discuss. They can distribute the dots any way they like, i.e. they can put them all on one topic  or five different ones and everything in between.
  • Order the stickies according to votes.
  • Say how much time you set aside for this phase and then explain the rules:
    We’ll start with the topic of highest interest. We’ll set a timer for 10 minutes. When the timer beeps, everyone gives a quick thumbs up or down. Majority of thumbs up: The topic gets another 5 minutes. Majority of thumbs down: Start the next topic with 10 minutes on the clock.
  • Stop when the allotted time is over.

Worked Well, Do Differently
Why:
Keep track of suggested action items
How: In preparation for the retrospective head 2 flip charts with ‘Worked well’ and ‘Do differently next time’ respectively. Write down suggestions for actions that people mention during Lean Coffee. State clearly that these are only suggestions for now. The team will vote on these later.

When all Lean Coffee time is talked up, ask if there are any more suggestions for actions. If so, let them write in silence for a few minutes – 1 idea per sticky note. Let everyone read out their notes and post them to the appropriate category. Lead a short discussion on what the top 20% beneficial ideas are. Vote on which action items to try by distributing dots or X’s with a marker, e.g. 3 dots for each person to distribute. The top 2 or 3 become your action items.

AHA
Why: Demonstrate the usefulness of retrospectives by asking for lessons learned
How: Throw a ball (e.g. koosh ball) around the team to uncover learning experiences. Give out a question at the beginning that people answer when they catch the ball, such as:

  • One thing I learned in the last iteration

Depending on the question it might uncover events that are bugging people. If any alarm bells go off, dig deeper.


You need at least 1 hour of time.

Ways to engage unwilling participants

This article is copied from the email I’ve received from Corinna of Retromat. Subscribe to her newsletter here to get more of these useful tips.

“I just can’t get her to engage!” – Ways to engage unwilling participants

A Scrum Master from the financial industry shared a problem with me:

“My gnarly problem is that I have one member of my team that doesn’t like to participate in our ceremonies. Her body language shows it, but her words never do. She doesn’t really talk during any of the ceremonies, just tells our manager that she thinks they are a waste of time.

I keep trying to play games and spice things up and I’ve tried the boring, to the point method of: works well, not so well, and needs improvement …

I just can’t get her to engage! Any help on this?”

This seems to be a very common problem. I’ve certainly had it. Here, I’ll try to keep a focus on retrospectives although it seems to be a larger problem.

In a live coaching situation there are loads of good questions to ask: How does the team react? Was there ever a retrospective during which she was engaged? What is she like outside of the retros?

Without knowing many of the specifics, here is some generic advice.

Prologue: We can’t force agile on people

In general, I’ve stopped forcing people. As Marshall Rosenberg said, you cannot make people do anything. We certainly can’t make them “be agile”. If she doesn’t want to be there, she won’t engage. What would happen if she didn’t have to come? How would that affect the team? How does it affect the team now that she’s not engaging?

I’ve often seen teams invest a lot of energy trying to include someone who didn’t really want to be part of it. Not everybody is cut out for agile. Not everybody can be won over. That’s okay. Time will tell if she wants to work in an agile team or not. Sometimes it’s best for everyone if someone leaves the team – As graciously as possible: Let everyone save face. Certainly no mobbing!

But we’re not there yet. Everybody deserves a fair chance and we’re trying to include someone.

Make it worth her time

She gave a reason for her disengagement, at least to the manager. And it’s a valid reason. Veronika Kotrba and Ralph Miarka taught me: “Everybody is the expert for their own situation”. If she thinks it’s a waste of her time, then it’s a waste of her time. Period. The question is: What would make it worth her while?

What is your relationship like? Is that something that you can ask her? Without being defensive or reproachful? With a curious mindset because you would honestly like to know? That would be my preferred route. And you can phrase it very positively: “What would you want to have happen that would make the retrospective a good use of your time?”

If you feel like you cannot approach her directly, you could try Outcome Expectations. Maybe she will tell what would make a retrospective valuable to her.

Make people speak up early in a meeting

In the Retromat ebook there is a passage about quiet people. Quiet as in “shy or introverted”. It’s not the same as an unwilling participant, but the following tips might help:

1) If people don’t speak early on in a meeting it gives them silent permission to stay quiet. It’s part of the duties of the “Set the Stage” activity to give everyone the opportunity to speak within the first 5 minutes.

2) You’ve already mentioned body language. What about her position in the room relative to the other participants? A lack of involvement might manifest in sitting outside of the inner circle. Luckily positions also work the other way around: If I can coax a person to join the inner circle they will often also engage more.

For the future: ESVP

When I start with a new team I often run ESVP in one of the first three retrospectives. I’m fully prepared to let Prisoners go. I’ve only ever had Prisoners once (in a retro with 25 people). I invited them to change their minds and then gave a 5 minute coffee break to let them slip away quietly. (ESVP was anonymous, of course. I honestly can’t remember if everyone came back or if the 2 prisoners stayed away.)

I assume your team is not that big and it would be obvious who the prisoner is anyway. Plus, you’ve already worked with that team for a while. That’s why I wouldn’t use ESVP here, unless you think it might surface some other, less obvious Prisoners.

ESVP is something you might consider for a future team.

Phew, that’s it.

tl;dr Don’t force her. Find out what would make it worth her time.