Agility, actually (is an organisational state of being)

Agility is an organisation’s state of high responsiveness, speed and adaptiveness. Agility is an organisation’s state of continual adaptation and optimisation, a state in which each status quo is challenged, by our own will or by external turbulence.

Agility is a state that is a natural fit for the unpredictability so common to the work of complex product delivery and to the markets that organisations operate within. However, it requires accepting that the work is unpredictable, a mental barrier to overcome. Agility is why teams and organisations adopt Agile processes. From that adoption agility increases, a new of working emerges, new organisational ways of learning, improving and constant adaptation, and restored respect for people, re-humanisation.

Scrum helps. The distinct rules of Scrum help. Scrum is actionnable. Agile and Scrum, actually, are two inseparable ingredients in a complex product delivery ecosystem. Scrum can be your foundation for agility. Sprints are at the heart of business agility in generating a regular flow of improvements, updates, learnings and various other sources of value. Organisations discover, experiment and deliver on opportunities from an end-to-end perspective in the fastest possible way. People develop new ways of working; through discovery, experimentation-based implementation and collaboration. They enter this new state of being, this state of agility; a state of constant change, evolution and improvement. Re-humanisation takes place. Innovation surfaces again.

The path of increasing agility via Scrum is inevitably bound to be a cobblestone path. It might take some time to accept that agility starts and ends with people, not with procedures or tools. It might take some time to accept that agility takes time, that agility need not be analyzed, designed and planned. It might take some time to accept that agility occurs:

  • Agility can’t be planned;
  • Agility can’t be dictated;
  • Agility has no end-state.

A time-planned way to become (more) agile introduces unfavourable expectations. Introducing Agile methods to increase agility causes significant organisational change. Several existing procedures, departments and functions will be impacted. There is no way of predicting what needs will be encountered at what point in time, how these will be dealt with and what the exact outcome will be in order to control next steps. It is a highly complex and unpredictable journey. There is no way of predicting the pace at which the state of agility will take root and spread.

Scrum and agility are much more about behaviour than about (following) a new process. A decision to adopt Scrum is a decision to leave the old ways behind. It is not only about accepting but about celebrating the fact that agility is living the art of the possible. It requires the courage, honesty and conviction of acting in the moment, acting upon the reality that is exposed by iterative-incremental progress information. Agility is about doing the best possible at every possible moment, constrained by the means we have and facing the constraints. A time-planned way ignores the essence of Scrum and Agile, that of dealing with complexity via well-considered steps of experimentation and learning. Time-plans simply extend the old thinking. In general a plan will even slow down the overall increase of agility, because serious delays and waiting times are incorporated.

Time-plans create the illusion of deadlines and a final end-state. Agility has no end-state.

Living the art of the possible engages people and accelerates a transformation as it shapes the future, thrives upon the future and what the future might bring. It’s a bright future for organizations that have the vision, the determination and the dedication.

These basic truths must be in the hearts and minds of every person managing, guiding, facilitating, hoping or striving for agility. And even then, it takes time for agility to settle in the hearts and minds of the people impacted. After all, people have been instructed in the wrong behavior of the industrial paradigm for 15 to 20 years, or more. Agility starts and ends with people, not with tools, procedures or games.

Agility (inconvenient truths)

 

 

The Agile Paradigm (who said it was going to be easy?)

Grafx - Paradigm shift (Industrial)The domination of software development by a paradigm of industrial views and beliefs, a copy-paste of old manufacturing routines and theories, got us in a crisis. The attempts to overcome this crisis by fortifying the industrial approach are without result. The flaws and problems are huge, known and well documented. The crisis largely continues to this day.

Grafx - Agile ParadigmThe seeds of a new world view were already sown in the 1990’s, and resulted in 2001 in the formal naming of ‘Agile’. A turning-point in the history of software development. A new paradigm for the software industry was born; a paradigm that thrives upon heuristics and creativity. A paradigm that restores the respect for the creative nature of software development and the intelligence of its practitioners.

Yet, many say that Agile is too radical. They keep propagating, to this day, a gradual -if any- introduction of Agile practices into existing, traditional processes. Having witnessed several of such attempts, I am extremely skeptical about such a ‘gradual’ evolution, a slow progression to the Agile paradigm. Because:

  1. A gradual evolution only scratches the surface. New names are installed, new terms, tools and techniques imposed, but the fundamental thinking remains the same.
  2. The mentioned paradigms consist of fundamentally different concepts and ideas, and many are mutually exclusive. No meaningful introduction of Agile practices in an industrial paradigm is possible.

A gradual shift is factually a status-quo. The industrial paradigm remains. A permanent crisis is called upon us.

It requires honesty to accept the mismatch of the old ways, and courageous leadership to embrace the new ways.

Abandoning the old thinking will take time. Scrum helps. Its distinct rules help in getting a grip on the new, Agile paradigm. The limited prescriptions allow immediate action. They allow developing new ways of working; through discovery, experimentation-based learning and collaboration. It is worthwhile the giant leap.

I wish you a 2016 of determination and improvement. I congratulate you with the hard work you will have performed in a year from now.

(Note: much of the above was copied, with some editing, from my book “Scrum – A Pocket Guide“, providing context to my description of the Scrum framework, its rules and roles, and their purpose)

Done is a crucial part of Scrum, actually

If Scrum was to be reduced to one purpose, and one purpose only, that is the creation of a Done Increment in a Sprint. The typical term in Scrum to describe the state of software being releasable is “Done”. All that this state of releasability encompasses is captured in the “definition of Done”.

Done Increments are THE way to achieve agility through the empiricism of Scrum. 

Empiricism

The empiricism of Scrum, the process of regular inspection and adaptation, only functions well upon transparency. Transparency is having insights into reality but is is additionally upheld through standards and agreements, against which inspection and adaptation happens. The definition of Done is such a standard. The definition of Done is part of professional Scrum development. Other standards, like development and engineering standards, might even be derived from the definition of Done.

The frequency of the inspection and adaptation should be high enough to be able to act in the moment yet not too high to preserve the ability to get considerable amounts of work done.

The definition of Done serves empiricism

The definition of Done should be shared, explicit, clear and concise.

A Development Team will use the definition of Done to consider the amount of work to be pulled into a Sprint during Sprint Planning.

The evolution of an Increment is managed via collaborative inspection and adaption of the actual development work against the forecasted Product Backlog and the Sprint Goal; at least on a daily base, possibly sooner. A Daily Scrum assures that the people accountable for the actual development optimize their work plan against new insights and achievements. The definition of Done supports identification of work remaining to get the software to “Done”.

No later than at the Sprint Review, the Increment is collaboratively inspected and adapted with the stakeholders. This inspection opens up the opportunity of incorporating feedback from these stakeholders to identify what is most important to do next. Purpose is the open identification of what is important to do next, not hindered by unknown, unpalatable, unestimatable remaining work.

Releasing the software closes the feedback loop to the market and the users of the software. Releasing sooner is better in order to remain in line with external expectations and experiences. It is the only way to ultimately validate all assumptions (of functionality, and others) built into the product. Not being able to release an Increment at the end of a Sprint, or sooner, impedes agility. The decision of releasing an Increment by the end of a Sprint is a Product Owner decision, as the sole representative of users and stakeholders on the Scrum Team. The Product Owner’s shipping decision should not be constrained by ‘development’ work.

Undone software is best not released. There might be situations in which undone software is consciously released. An extreme crisis maybe? The least to do is make the undone work transparent via Product Backlog, knowing and understanding that any estimate of such corrective work is probably totally off and the nature of the work unplannable. This ‘registration’ does not render an undone release any more professional, and probably the crisis you are hoping to solve with the unrelease, will re-appear because an unrelease will not fundamentally solve it. Unreleases backfire. Probably better to Scrumble.

At the Sprint Retrospective, the Development Team might inspect and revise its definition of Done; incorporating new insights, new expectations, higher standards. Ownership over the Definition of Done lies with the Development Team. It is their accountability to develop software that lives up to the definition of Done. In many organizations the definition of Done is likely to be derived from organizational standards for development quality. A Development Team will enact them, expand them. If “done” for an increment is not a convention of the development organization, the Development Team will create their definition of Done, appropriate for the product.

Regardless, the definition of Done provides transparency over the state of an Increment at the Sprint Review, where this state optimally reflects ‘releasable’.

Done is a crucial part of Scrum, actually

Although no official artifact, the definition of Done is a crucial part of Scrum in upholding transparency over the state of releasability of the software created. No transparency means no meaningful inspections, and no meaningful adaptations of Product Backlog through stakeholder feedback upon review or through user feedback upon release.

In the last updates to the Scrum Guide (most recent: July 2013) the definition of Done was given considerably more attention. Rightfully, as “Done” is absolutely crucial in Scrum.

Here’s how I stressed the importance of Done in my book, “Scrum – A Pocket Guide“:

The empiricism of Scrum only functions well with transparency. Transparency requires common standards to work against and to inspect upon. The definition of done sets the standard for releasable.

 and

The definition of done is essential to fully understand the work needed to create a releasable Increment and for the inspection of that Increment at the Sprint Review. The definition of done serves the transparency required in Scrum in terms of the work to be done and the work actually done.

Branching Done

I was recently contacted by a senior executive of a mid-sized company that is evolving their product development to Scrum. He explained a situation he had been in and wanted my opinion. He accepted me to share his story here (with some abstractions, and calling him Jim) in an open-ended way, inviting the reader -much like he did- to reflect on the purpose and accountability of the Scrum Master and how that role is needed for… well, many reasons still.

Jim’s company started out doing Scrum on some smaller, carefully contained projects with individual Scrum Teams developing clearly separated products and product areas. Through these projects they discovered how iterative-incremental product development increased transparency, and how disciplined engineering practices allowed them to excel. Where Scrum in the beginning was much seen as mainly for IT people, they soon found out the need for a mandated Product Owner representing the internal business and the user base to the teams. They felt that hiring a Scrum Master with three years of experience had been really helpful.

One of these early projects was recently expanded to two teams. Both teams work on the same product and draw work from one and the same Product Backlog. The Product Owner and the Scrum Master perform their roles for both teams.

Jim contacted me after he was invited to and attended the second Sprint Review after the expansion to two teams.

At this Sprint Review the two teams took 60 minutes each to walk everyone through the software functionality they had created. Each team showed the work from their separated code branch. By the end of the Sprint Review, Jim inquired about releasing the software, but got an unclear answer. In the end it boiled down to the teams promising they would have a look at it, and discuss it with the release department who hadn’t been involved so far.

Jim felt like not straining the teams more but an uneasy feeling had crept in. After all, one of the reasons why they started adopting Scrum were their long release cycles, and unclear release dates. It had led to many customer complaints and even losing a couple of important customers.

When he asked for my advice I told him only I was very interested to hear about the conversation I suggested he set up with the Scrum Master. He seemed a bit surprised when I started talking about the role of the Scrum Master.

How about you? If any, where would you situate the accountability of the Scrum Master in this?

Scrum, actually

Scrum, actually, has been around for a while. Scrum emerged in the early 1990’s through the work of Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber. They packaged their practices into a cohesive set of rules and roles and named the entirety „Scrum“. The term, actually, was inherited from the ground-breaking 1986 paper The New New Product Development Game. The reference to the game of rugby reflects the importance of team engagement.

Scrum, actually, has had a stable core since its first public presentation in 1995. The essential definition of Scrum was codified in the Scrum Guide in 2010. This definite body of knowledge describes all parts of Scrum, and the rules that tie them together. Scrum is defined as intended and designed, i.e. a cohesive set of rules and roles implementing empiricism for complex product development. The rules and roles described in the Scrum Guide gain full clarity when read as an expression of the Agile values and principles.

Scrum, actually, is intentionally kept low prescriptive. Scrum sets the frame for people, teams and organizations to create, maintain and sustain complex products. Scrum does not replace people’s intelligence and creativity, merely guides the work. Scrum’s basic rules are immutable. Flexibility comes from the zillion variations to apply the rules, selected and tuned to context and circumstances. Hacking the basic rules of the framework breaks the cohesion, and disregards one or more principles and foundations upon which Scrum is founded.

Hacked versions and implementations of Scrum are possible. Isolated use of Scrum’s terminology or practices is possible. They might work. They might be fun. They are not Scrum.

Scaled implementations of Scrum don’t change the fundamental rules and roles of Scrum, nor the underlying principles. They only require different tactics. Instances that change the core of Scrum are not Scrum.

Scrum, actually, in itself is not the purpose. Scrum is a tool. Scrum enables people to live the art of the possible, to make the most out of every single day constrained by their means, to maximize the value of their work in the face of uncertainty. Scrum can wrap many development and organizational practices, tools and techniques. Scrum creates the capability of continuous adaptation in a environment of constant change, regardless whether that change is caused by our own will or by external turbulence. Scrum turns complexity from a threat into an asset.

Scrum, actually, propels agility through releasable Increments of software. A releasable Increment is available by the end of a Sprint or sooner, not later. A Sprint takes no more than 30 days, and is often shorter. Frequently an updated, improved version of software can be made available to its users and consumers. Feedback from actual use can be gathered to drive changes, improvements, enhancements. Assumptions are turned into learnings, ultimately into a pivot if required.

Scrum, actually… is a means to an end, a tool designed for a purpose: people, agility, value.

Releasable in Scrum, actually

Scrum asks for a releasable Increment of product to be available ultimately by the end of every Sprint. A Sprint takes no more than 30 days, and is often shorter. A releasable Increment might be available sooner than by the end of a Sprint, not later.

The purpose of this rule of Scrum is to provide the Product Owner with the opportunity of bringing an updated, improved version of product to market every 1-4 weeks, or more frequent. It is how Scrum implements the first principle of Agile software development:

Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software. (source: Principles of Agile Software Development)

Replacing the past wording of ‚shippable‘ by ‚releasable‘ reduced the room to avoid the rigor of releasing to the market frequently, but just shipping an Increment within the organization, the avoidance that abates the benefits and agility needed. The Scrum Guide adds the prefix ‚potentially’, to clarify that Scrum does not say that every Increment must be released. I prefer to leave this prefix out, because ‚releasable‘ in itself is clear enough. Otherwise “Released” would be required as the Increment’s state by the end of the Sprint.

Scrum lays the actual release decision with the Product Owner, as the representative of all (i.e. internal and external) stakeholders. The Product Owner’s decision is not to be limited by technical or engineering aspects. The product Increment is useable. If released, it does not break. That is the accountability of the Development Team. The Product Owner is accountable for assessing whether the Increment is functionally useful.

The Development Team consists of professionals who do the work of delivering a potentially releasable Increment of “Done” product at the end of each Sprint. Only members of the Development Team create the Increment. (…) This Increment is useable, so a Product Owner may choose to immediately release it. (Source: The Scrum Guide)

A Product Owner, being an entrepreneur, understands that no release means no feedback from the market place, no feedback from actual product usage. It means no validation of the assumptions built into the product, reduced learning, postponement of much anticipated improvements. In a way, it blindfolds development.

If a Product Owner decides to release an Increment, it is released. Preferably instantly. No additional work remains to do so. All work that mirrors ‘releasable’ is captured in a definition of Done. Defining “Done” creates transparency:

  • Transparency when forecasting work deemed feasible for a Sprint
  • Transparency when inspecting an Increment
  • Transparency over development progress
  • Transparency regarding the daily work required to have the software in a state of Done

Scrum, as a framework, can wrap various development strategies that increase the capability of creating a releasable (“Done”) version of product in a Sprint; pair programming, test-driven development, ATDD, BDD, Continuous Integration, DevOps, Continuous Delivery, Continuous Deployment. (note: Scrum promoting the Product Owner as the gatekeeper to release might influence how Continuous Deployment is organized.) Feature toggling is certainly an architectural choice that enables higher Product Owner dynamism.

Software being releasable, no later than by the end of a Sprint, is Scrum’s gateway to (business) agility. By the end of every Sprint, or sooner, an updated, improved product can be released to its users and consumers. Feedback can then be gathered to be incorporated into the Product Backlog, and ordered against all other product ambitions.

In Scrum, actually… releasable means all work done to release to the market. Instantly.

Agile and Scrum, actually

In early 2001, with the creation of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, the adjective ‘agile’ obtained a specific meaning in the context of software development. The manifesto, commonly known as the Agile Manifesto, holds 4 value statements with 12 principles behind it. In these values and principles the signatories of the manifesto captured the mindset, the DNA, common to their approaches to software development.

Over the years to follow, Agile became a proper noun, capitalized, pretty popular and ultimately big business as the methods for Agile software development were increasingly adopted. Success obfuscates and diminishes actionability, it seems. Today “Agile” is all over the place; coming in many flavors, wrappings, definitions, interpretations, and discounted. “Agile” sells. It is probably the most used prefix for roles, jobs, positions, functions and phases found in the software industry. The fact that Agile is a set of values and principles is easily ignored, as are the actual values and principles themselves.

Correlating ‘scaling’ to Agile has a similar neglect. Tactics change with scale. Strategies change with scale. Values and principles don’t change with scale. Claims and statements on the need, the ability, the inability, the whatever to scale Agile are plainly besides the point. Values and principles are agnostic of scale.

Agility, as an extension of Agile, refers to the state that people, teams, organizations hope to achieve by adopting Agile development processes. Agility, as such an extension, is a state of high responsiveness, speed and adaptiveness; a state of constant invocation of change, evolution and improvement. A state of agility enables people, teams, organizations to better deal with the natural complexity and unpredictability of the work of software development itself, the organizational context within which it happens and the external circumstances faced. The adoption of Agile indeed is an important foundation for this (business or enterprise) agility.

Scrum emerged in the early ’90s from the work of Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber. They formalised and turned Scrum into a cohesive set of rules and roles for complex product development, that was formally presented to the public for the first time in 1995. The definition of Scrum, its rules and roles are described in the Scrum Guide. Both co-creators of Scrum are signatories of the Agile Manifesto. The values and principles of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development underpin the Scrum framework which thrives on empiricism and self-organization. Scrum is better understood when seen through the lens of the Agile Manifesto.

As with Agile, the Scrum Values and Scrum’s fundamental roles and rules as described in the Scrum Guide don’t change with scale. But scaled implementations of Scrum require different tactics in implementing the rules.

In Scrum, actually… Agile is the DNA driving the behavior throughout the software development ecosystem.

Agile and Scrum, actually, are two inseparable ingredients in a software development ecosystem.

Meetings in Scrum, actually

Scrum has no meetings, actually. What we call ‚meetings‘, even in the Scrum Guide, are planned occasions at which people meet, where meeting (the activity) takes place.

Scrum’s meetings are not about reporting, status, bureaucracy, spilling ink, documenting the past. Scrum’s meetings have a purpose. Scrum’s meetings are about collaboration, discovery, opportunities, conversation, ideas, constructive disagreement, looking forward to the (near) future. It’s why Scrum offers opportunistic events more than obliges (what we generally know as) ‘meetings’.

Scrum’s events provide people with an opportunity to incorporate change into the daily work, instead of locking it out. The old notion of ‚change’ dissipates. Change becomes natural, the regular way of doing business, even a welcome source of ideas and innovation. Change is used in a team’s or an organisation’s advantage.

Scrum’s events serve the empiricism that Scrum brings to software development. Empiricism thrives on inspection & adaptation. Inspection & adaptation happens at a frequency, in regular intervals. Adaptation only makes sense when inspection is done against reality, when the actual situation is made transparent.

  • Scrum’s events define the frequency at which inspection and adaptation takes place.
  • Scrum’s artifacts hold the primary information to inspect and adapt.
  • Scrum’s teams are the inspectors, the people accountable for performing the inspections and adaptations.

Empiricism in Scrum

In Scrum all work is organized in Sprints. Sprints deliver releasable Increments of software. A Sprint is a time-boxed feedback loop in itself, a container event containing the above Scrum events.

Deciding over Sprint length is a different decision from the perspective of inspection and adaptation. The Sprint length determines the frequency at which stakeholder input is formally gathered and shared with the full Scrum Team. It’s the minimal frequency at which organizational or market changes can be incorporated, the last possible moment to decide on releasing software to collect feedback so it can be adapted to, to decide what the most valuable work is to work on next. When Sprints are too long, important opportunities that require adaptation may be missed. When Sprints are too short, the ability to get significant work done might be lost.

The time-boxes for all events, as set by Scrum, provide focus. It avoids the creation of waste. It focuses people’s minds on collaboration and importance.

Scrum frames the creativity of people. Scrum provides boundaries that re-inforce self-organization. Scrum says not how to run the events. Scrum defines the input to the meetings, the expected outcome and a timeframe.

In Scrum, actually… meetings are opportunities where people meet to change their mind.

Team size in Scrum, actually

Self-organization is an essential management principle of Scrum. Yet, its importance and potential are only seeping through slowly. Despite the wide adoption of Scrum.

The most basic form of self-organization in Scrum holds that Development Teams organize and manage their own work within a Sprint, autonomously, against a forecast and a Sprint Goal. Where acceptance of this practice grows, few organisations take it a step further. Few teams are supported to figure out their own team size in order to best collaborate towards the creation of a releasable Increment of product in a Sprint. Understanding that the foundations for great work are commitment and motivation, Development Teams should be able to also create and re-create their structure and composition across time.

Collaboration is key. From collaboration performance emerges. Teams have the highest cohesion, the deepest trust and the most effective interconnections when the size of the team is around seven. Scrum used to have the rule known as 7 +/- 2, meaning a Development Team was expected to have at least 5 people, and 9 at most. The Scrum Guide has evolved this guidance to 3-9 people. This is confusing when looking for academic exactness, less confusing if this is seen as guidance against the goal of being “small enough to remain nimble and large enough to complete significant work within a Sprint“ (quote from the Scrum Guide).

Although the Scrum Guide sets an expectation for the size of a Development Team, there’s no formal process needed to really enforce this if self-organization is enacted. Through self-organization a team will adjust its size autonomously for optimal performance. Rather than instructing a team on their mandatory size, help a team discover what works best for them, including what team size maximizes the communication bandwidth. No external body can do this better. No external body can assess the combined effects of team dynamics, being co-located or not, availability of people and resources (tools, infrastructure), and all other parameters better than the people actually doing the work.

Try something you believe might work for you. Inspect it, adapt to your findings. Repeat. When heavily constrained in doing this, sticking to the guidance of having 3-9 people in a Development Team is a good idea.

In Scrum, actually… team size is a team decision.

Tactics for a Purpose – The Daily Scrum’s questions

In my book “Scrum – A Pocket Guide” I distinguish the rules of Scrum from tactics to implement the rules.

  • The rules of Scrum reflect the principles, values and empirical foundation of Scrum. They provide boundaries and a frame to augment self-organization.
  • Tactics are possible good practices. A tactic should be selected, tried and tested, made right-size and fitted to context and circumstances, or be rejected.

Over the years the basic elements of the Scrum framework remained the same, as did the principles and rules that bind them together. But the mandatory prescriptions of Scrum grew… lighter. The focus shifted toward describing ‘what’ is expected as opposed to instructing ‘how’ to achieve that outcome.

There are many tactics to use within Scrum. Good tactics serve the purpose of Scrum. Good tactics re-enforce the Scrum values, rather than undercut them.

The Daily Scrum is a mandatory event in Scrum, a daily inspection of the team’s reality to adapt the Sprint plan to it. The Scrum Guide suggests that in the Daily Scrum every Development Team member answers three questions with regards to the progress of the team towards its Sprint Goal (Done? Planned? Impediments?).

Does that necessarily assure a great Daily Scrum?

Everybody might just answer the questions mechanically, as a personal status update, not opportunistically looking for the best way forward for the next 24 hours. They might be talking to the walls or to the Scrum Board, not exchanging information with the other team members. They might just make sure that they simply -well- answer the three questions, possibly just because the Scrum Guide says they must. The rules are formally followed without understanding the ‘why’ of the rules.

Is the team merely seeing Scrum as a methodology? Or is the team using Scrum as a framework for creativity, discovery and collaboration? Maybe the Daily Scrum event is only seen as an obligation, a meeting with a reporting purpose? Maybe the team feels pressured to make sure all their micro-tasks are logged, and they use the Daily Scrum to cover themselves against possible blame. It doesn’t help much when the three questions are merely formally answered, if the people involved don’t actually talk to each other. It doesn’t help much if no information is revealed that helps the team optimize its shared work plan for the next 24 hours against the Sprint Goal. The event turns into a missed opportunity to gain insight in the real situation, to inspect it and to adapt to it.

The goal of the Daily Scrum is to share information, and to re-plan the Development Team’s collective work so that they progress in the best possible way towards the Sprint Goal. That should be the background from which the Daily Scrum runs, not to blindly answer 3 questions from a ‘best practice’ stance.