Daily Stand-Up Meetings for Distributed Teams

Distributed Agile teams require a different level of care than a co-located team in order to ensure that they are as effective as possible. This is even more true for a team that is working through their forming-storming-norming process. Core Agile concepts are the team and communication, and these are key for the success of distributed Agile teams. Daily stand-up meetings are one of the most important communication tools for teams using scrum or other Agile/Lean frameworks, so it’s important that they function properly.

Here are some tips for making daily stand-ups work for distributed teams:

  1. Deal with the time zone issue. There are two primary options to deal with time zones. The first is to keep the team members within three or four time zones of each other. Given typical sourcing options, this tends to be difficult. A second option is to rotate the time for the stand-up meeting from sprint to sprint, so that everyone loses a similar amount of sleep (share the pain). One solution for when distributed teams can’t overlap is to have one team member (rotate) stay late or come in early to overlap work times.
  2. Identify and attack blockers between stand-ups. Typically, on distributed teams, all parties do not work at the same time. Team members should be counseled to communicate blockers to the team as soon as they are discovered, so that something discovered late in the day in one time zone does not affect the team in a different time zone (where they might just be starting to work). One group I worked with had stand-ups twice each day (at the beginning of the day and at the end of the day) to ensure continuous communication.
  3. Push status outside of the stand-up. A solution suggested by Matt Hauser is to have the team answer the classic three questions (What did you do yesterday? What will you do today? Is there anything blocking your progress?) on a WIKI or similar shared document for everyone on the team to read before the stand-up meeting. This helps focus the meeting on planning or dealing with issues.
  4. Vary the question set being asked. The process of varying the question set for each meeting keeps the team focused on communication rather than giving a memorized speech. For example, ask:
    1. Is anyone stuck?
    2. Does anyone need help?
    3. What did not get competed yesterday?
    4. Is there anything everyone should know?

This technique can be used for non-distributed teams as well.

  1. Ensure that everyone is standing. This is code for making sure that everyone is paying attention and staying focused. Standing is just one technique for helping team members stay focused. Other tips include banning cell phones and side conversations.
  2. Make sure the meeting stays “crisp.” Stand-up meetings by definition are short and to the point. The team needs to ensure that the meeting stays as disciplined as possible. All team members should show up on time and be prepared to discuss their role in the project. Discussion must include the willingness to ask for help and to provide help to team members.
  3. Use a physical status wall. While the term “distributed” screams tool usage, using a physical wall helps to focus the team. The simplicity of a physical wall takes the complexity of tool usage off the table, so that the focus can be on communication. Use of a physical wall in a distributed environment means using video to show the act of someone on the team physically moving tasks on the wall (after the fact a picture can be provided to the team). If video is not available, use a tool that everyone has access to. Keep tools as simple as possible.
  4. Don’t stop doing stand-ups. Stand-up meetings are a critical communication and planning event; not doing stand-ups for a distributed team is an indicator that the organization should go back to project manager/plan-based methods.

Like any other distributed team meeting, having good telecommunication/video tools is not only important, it is a prerequisite. If team members can’t hear each other, they cannot communicate.

Stand-ups are nearly ubiquitous in Agile. However, despite their simplicity, the added complexity of distributed teams can cause problems. The whole team is responsible for making the stand-up meetings work. While the scrum master may take the lead in insuring the logistics are right or to facilitate the session when needed, everyone needs to play a role.

Tom Cagley
VP of Consulting & Agile Practice Lead

 

 

Written by Tom Cagley at 05:00
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What Does An Agile Coach Deliver?

Tom CagleyI am an Agile Coach, and I'm often asked about the role that Agile Coaches play in an organization. On the most basic level, Agile Coaches help teams and organizations embrace Agile and help maximize the delivery of business value from development. We use terms like "enable" and "facilitate" to describe how we help organizations and teams transform. But what does an Agile Coach actually do? Well, it's a variable mix of activities that includes: consulting, cajoling, training, arbitration, and mentoring.

Consulting

Coaches sometimes act as consultants. A consultant will actively involve him or herself in the game. Sometimes an Agile Coach will have to actively participate in performing a task or activity so that the team can see the technique in action.

Cajoling

Coaches cajole, with gentle urging or coaxing, the team or organization to change behaviors that don’t live up to Agile principles and values. In many cases, this cajoling is underscored by the war stories a Coach can deliver about the trials and tribulations that will ensue if certain behaviors are not corrected. The experiential base is important for the Coach to be able to hold the moral (metaphorically speaking) high ground needed to persuade the team or organization.

Training

Coaches deliver training. Training comes in many shapes and sizes. Coaches will be able to deliver training on a just-in-time or ad-hoc basis based on their own observations of how work is being done.  The goal of ad-hoc training is to ensure that the team or teams understand how to apply specific techniques as they are applying them. I liken this to a form of just-in-time training, which leverages a principle from adult learning that holds that adults retain knowledge better when it can be immediately applied. This does not exclude leading and organizing training as part of the more formal organizational change program.

Arbitration

Coaches arbitrate conflicts and difficult decisions. Projects, whether to transform whole organizations or to implement a set of simple user reports, always include the need to make decisions. Coaches help organizations make decisions so that they can move forward with a minimal loss of inertia. Facilitation for an Agile organization is a skill that is part art and part science – think emotive negotiation (or as a friend of mine calls it “family counseling for teams”).  The best Coaches teach the team or organizations they are working with these skills.

Mentoring

Coaches mentor. A mentor is a trusted counselor who provides guidance, advice, and training, usually at an intimate (one-on-one) level. A mentor needs to be dependable, engaged, authentic, and tuned into the needs of the mentee, so that the transfer of guidance is safe and efficient.

So, when we say that an Agile Coach enables and facilitates, what that really means is that they  consult, cajole, train, arbitrate, and mentor. The art of being a good Coach is knowing what mix of these activities is appropriate for any specific situation. And, as many readers probably are aware, a good Agile Coach can make or break an Agile transformation.

Tom Cagley
VP of Consulting & Agile Practice Lead

Written by Tom Cagley at 05:00
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Agile Storytelling

Philadelphia IIBA

We recently attended the Philadelphia chapter of the International Institute of Business Analysis' (IIBA) Professional Development Day. The event brought together a collection of speakers from local consulting firms and internationally recognized organizations to discuss topics related to business analysis. 

It was a great event, with about 70 attendees. We always enjoy any chance to connect with others from around the Philadelphia region, where our home office is located, and this event was no exception. Agile, DevOps, mind-mapping and even improvisation were covered in the presentations.

Tom Cagley, our VP of Consulting and Agile Practice Manager, and Tony Manno, our VP of Outsourced Services, co-presented, "Backlog Development by Storytelling."

One of the dilemmas most Agile teams face is how to generate an initial backlog. The best way to do this is by assembling a cross-functional team and using facilitated storytelling to generate a set of scenarios, which are then decomposed into features, epics, and user stories using standard grooming techniques. This process not only provides the team with the information needed to create user stories, but also provides context for what is being built.

Download DCG's presentation on Agile storytelling. Learn how this process works and how it can implemented in your organization - and to what benefit.

Download

 

Written by Default at 05:00

Agile Testing: Budgeting, Estimation, Planning and #NoEstimates

QUEST

We're a broken record when it comes to software testing. As we've made clear time and time again, testing is undervalued in IT. It is one of the most important steps in the software development process, yet it's often a hurried step, in an effort to produce a final project. As Agile adoption continues to increase (which it will), it's even more important to emphasize the value of testing.

But, testing is routinely overlooked, or organizations don't understand how to prioritize testing within the frameworks in use, like Agile. This is what Tom Cagley, our VP of Consulting and Agile Practice Manager, spoke about at this year's QUEST conference: How to utilize Agile in testing environments. He discussed the difference between budgeting, planning and estimation as applied to testing in an Agile environment - and when they make sense, when they don't and in what combination for testing. He also explained the #NoEstimates movement and its role in Agile testing.

You can download his presentation, "Budgeting, Estimation, Planning and #NoEstimates - They ALL Make Sense for Agile Testing!," here. If you have any thoughts we'd love to here them; just leave a comment below or contact Tom directly.

Download

 

Written by Default at 05:00
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May Conferences with DCG Software Value

Last month we spoke at QAI's QUEST Conference and ITFMA's Financial World of IT Conference. Both conferences had a great turnout, and we are happy to report that we had engaged crowds for our presentations. Now we're looking forward to May. Here's where we're headed:

STAREast

STAREast is a TechWell conference focused exclusively on software testing and quality improvement. The conference runs May 1-6 in Orlando, but you can see CEO Mike Harris' presentation on May 4th at 1:45pm.

 

His presentation, "Budgeting, Estimation, Planning and #NoEstimates - They All Make Sense for Agile Testing!," shares a case study that provides an approach that “checks the box” for standard corporate estimation requirements, while staying true to the Agile planning and estimation processes. Using the Agile Planning Onion popularized by Mike Cohn, this approach includes team and project-level implementations of #NoEstimates concepts. Attendees will take away an approach that can be applied to testing for both small and large Agile efforts.

 

We've attended this conference several times, and we're interested to see what the hot topics are around testing this year.

 

CMMI Conference


CMMI's Capability Counts conference, May 10-11 in Annapolis, MD, is a must-attend for capability and process improvement enthusiasts. The conference has really broadened its focus to more than just the CMMI framework, allowing for more individuals to find value in attending.

 

For example, Tom Cagley, Vice President of Consulting, will be presenting on estimation. His presentation, "Budgeting, Estimation, Planning, #NoEstimates and the Agile Planning Onion - They ALL Make Sense,” part of the the “Advancing Your Capability” track, will discuss the many types of estimation, why they all have value and when they should be used (and in what combination).

CIO Forum

May 15-16 you can find Mike Harris back in Florida - this time in Miami - for The CIO Forum, which brings together senior-level IT executives to discuss critical, timely IT issues. Mike was invited back as a speaker for the conference (last year he spoke on the Value Visualization Framework). His presentation, "Portfolio Software Value Management," will discuss the strategic steps necessary to implement software value management at the portfolio level.

 

IIBA Philadelphia

 

Finally, if you're a member of The Greater Philadelphia Chapter of the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA), you can catch Tom Cagley and Tony Manno, Vice President of Outsourced Services, presenting at the May 20th meeting on Agile Story Telling.

 

As always, we'll share links to these presentations once the conference are over. If you're attending any of these events, let us know - we always enjoy catching up with old friends or meeting new ones!

Written by Default at 05:00
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"It's frustrating that there are so many failed software projects when I know from personal experience that it's possible to do so much better - and we can help." 
- Mike Harris, DCG Owner

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