I am assuming that you, the reader, have a good understanding of Agile and some experience in software. So you may recognize what's below: certain factors that I have seen not only slow teams down but even stop them in their tracks. As the title suggests, you need to walk your Agile "pets" or they will get out of shape and slow you down. Our "pets" are these:
- Product owner
How many of us currently work with product owners who are too busy, unqualified, or even hostile? I feel like I want to shout with joy when I have an engaged product owner who spends enough time to support the team. Compare a train that is not moving with a train that's moving at 50 mph. If the train is not moving, all you need is a small block to keep it from moving forward. However, a train that is moving at 50 mph can go through a brick wall. How can we get our product owners moving before the grooming sessions start?
Take the time to design ahead of time.
If you know what is in the backlog but need more detail, take some time to create several mock-ups, work flow diagrams, and acceptance criteria. Make sure to keep tight timeboxes, because changes will happen.
Make the most out of each session.
If the product owner doesn't have a lot of time, be sure to get to your grooming sessions early, and have everything set up so that you are not wasting five to ten minutes with informalities.
Ensure that the backlog is clear and concise.
Regardless of the tool or method used to manage the backlog, ensure that it communicates what the product owner wants, that it can be changed easily, and that it is easily understood by the team.
Spend time with the product owner.
Try to spend some time with the product owner to better understand the difficulties he or she is facing. Maybe they have impediments that you can help remove. Also, building the relationship with the product owner (outside of Scrum activities) will help in the grooming process because you are building a relationship with the person.
Companies are all over the map on the environment issue. Some spend tons of money on creating collaborative spaces, while others have us in offices from an old insurance company built in the 1950s. One important aspect is that we are trying to understand how teams work best and then provide work spaces that support an optimal environment. I am going to say something that many might find shocking to hear: I don't like teams hunkered down in the same room 24/7 working on a project. There are many times when one or more team members need a place to really concentrate and work through some problems. I know that when I am designing, I need to just get away, get the headphones on, and think.
What we need are spaces that can support both dichotomies, but ultimately the team needs to decide what works for them. I have a team that sometimes has to jam in a collaborative space for a few hours and then spend the rest of the afternoon working independently. Sometimes they need to split into pairs while maintaining privacy. Also, having extra monitors, docking stations, and easy power outlets helps.
The key is figuring out what works best for your team. Then work to help get the best environment for the team.
The 9th Annual State of Agile™ Survey
from VersionOne shows that many people are leveraging tools to help facilitate the Agile process. However, what I see most people struggle with is how to use the tool. For instance, I have a team that uses JIRA. Two team members love it, and everyone else either hates it or is constantly asking for training. In another instance, a fellow team member was using VersionOne. During grooming, I was entering stories, acceptance criteria, and tasks, and he looked over and was amazed at how fast I was entering the data into VersionOne. I asked him to show me how he
did it. Let's just say it was probably the slowest way possible. I was, on average, twice as fast as he was.
The point here is that selecting an Agile tool is only half the battle. It is important to have a change agent within your company or a trainer from the vendor who will help your team use the tool, especially if you are paying for it.
Remember to work with your team and look for ways to improve within your retrospective process. I hope one or more of these items has been helpful. Remember, "Stay calm and Agile on."