Improving your scrum

Some bad behaviors you might find at a big bank (the kind Bernie wants to break up). Most likely, you’ll find them somewhere at any overweight Fortune 20 company with money to burn. Things to watch out for!

The standup is not a progress report.

It’s a football huddle. One person warns another “I’m going to do this today and hand it off to you”.

“I’m going to continue working on this — which gave me some trouble. I might need backup.”

Whatever the language — it’s about re-aligning each day towards a shared goal. And, it’s about laying the foundation for conversations that will continue throughout the day.

SMART user stories aren’t enough.

SMART goals are still the best kind of goals. And SMART user stories are the best kind of user stories.

As a coworker and Agile coach, Brian Rivera put it:

But SMART doesn’t account for alignment.

User stories need to be aligned towards a mission statement you have for each sprint. This is the Team Story distilled down to a sentence (if it isn’t already).

“The mission for each sprint should fit on a bumper sticker”.
-Brian Rivera

The Team Story, meanwhile, is to help deliver on a marginal business increment (MBI). This is like the MVP of a feature set. An MBI is the smallest piece of functionality that accomplishes the following:

  • Adds measurable value to the customers/stakeholders
  • Provides valuable feedback that we are building the right thing, the right way
  • Almost all of the user stories in each sprint should be aligned to that goal (with exception of bug fixes, etc).

2 pizza box teams

The team I was a part of all worked out of a large conference room. Shoulder to shoulder, we had 14+ people in the room, and 10 more people working remote. They called the room we worked from the “pizza box”, in reference to Jeff Bezos’ “two pizza rule”. However, we clearly weren’t adhering to the rule:

“If a team can’t be fed with two pizzas, it’s too big”.

That’s why, our daily SCRUM standup was never less than 25 minutes long (heresy, to disciplined SCRUM masters everywhere). And, you can’t possibly dedicate a team of 25 to a single discrete feature or team story — half the team would sit idle. Now, you have multiple Team Stories to achieve in each sprint, and half the standup is unrelated to any one person’s work (so everyone tunes out). Unfortunately, breaking up a team is anathema to managers at a big bureaucratic company like your average fortune 20 bank — it takes a decree from Jeff Bezos to avoid it at Amazon.

Disclosure: The quotes from Brian Rivera were provided after witnessing the way we were doing our daily updates. He is cofounder of AGLX Consulting LLC, an agile development consultancy based out of Seattle Washington.

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