Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Everyone Scrum!

By Joel Riddle

Scrum is exploding across the industry according to the latest annual State of Agile Survey. Yesterday I talked to Robert Holler, CEO of VersionOne, a maker of agile tools and the sponsor of the survey. He believes the most dramatic number is a 14% increase in people planning to implement agile projects in the future. That forward-looking metric coincides with an increase in the number of companies scaling Scrum (a 15 point up-tick.) Why the bump?

Holler attributes this increase to a decade of compelling evidence. Scrum has consistently shown to mitigate risk, accelerate time to market and effectively manage change, and the message has gotten out. Go agile, or go under.

Given the typical lifetime adoption cycle of new technologies, Holler predicts this year and next will be a tipping point for agile methodologies. In another decade, agile will be completely mainstream.

What’s Your Impediment?

According to the survey, Scrum Masters should be spending a lot of time mentoring Product Owners (POs) and executives. Of the over four thousand respondents only one percent found POs to be Scrum savvy. Executives faired slightly better with a whopping two percent. (Find out why managers need Scrum in our webinar.)

Not a big surprise. At Scrum Inc., we consistently see POs struggling to grasp what the customer really wants and translating that vision into a product backlog. The PO needs to understand the business value of multiple product features; meet customers’ unknown needs and prioritize the work in order to maximize return on investment (ROI). Those skills are hard to find in one person and even harder to execute. POs can be a real lynch pin in Scrum. A company that doesn’t value its POs isn’t going to get the most out of agile.

Who’s the Boss?

Executives get a bad wrap, and no doubt many in the C-suite may not appreciate the self-organizing nature of Scrum. However, given the strong up-tick in companies adopting and scaling Scrum and the recent emergence of management metrics in the Scrum community, executives seem to have caught on. The survey found that executive buy-in is the number one factor to successful agile implementation.

We are the World

The best news for Scrum Inc. is that 72% of all agile practitioners use Scrum or a Scrum variant. Basically, if you are adopting an agile method and want to have a well trained and knowledge staff, go Scrum.

View the cool survey info graphic here.

Friday, February 22, 2013

It’s important for Scrum Teams to re-evaluate their practices from time-to-time. Based on results from our online Self-Assessment, we know most of you are adhering to best practices and excelling.

Many teams do almost everything except for ‘that one thing.’ Leaving even one basic scrum principle out of the Team’s practice has a ripple effect on overall performance. That’s why this month we are getting back to basics!


Know Your Velocity! Despite being the most fundamental metric, about half of all teams don’t know their Velocity. Without it, showing improvements to management is difficult and approximating a release date is impossible. Estimate your stories, keep a record of how many points you complete each sprint, and get your Velocity.

Use Points, not Hours. Because measuring productivity in hours is so imbedded in our work culture, lots of organizations think it makes sense. It doesn’t. Humans are very bad at measuring things in time. If you are using hours, your Velocity is probably skewed.


The big snag seems to be the Retrospective. Retrospectives can be hard because they reveal uncomfortable truths. Team members don’t want to identify key impediments because they are worried about offending someone. As a result, the one thing that can improve your next Sprint is never identified. Be honest because continuous improvement is the point. Learn more about Retrospectives here.


Scrum Masters: remember you own the process. Your relationship with the team involves both support and rigor. Be supportive by removing impediments but be rigorous in your fundamentals. Hold Daily Stand-Up Meetings to 15 minutes, make sure the top priority is being worked on, and that things are moving to ‘done’.  Be both empathetic and disciplined and remember: put the responsibility back on the Team.

The importance of PRODUCT OWNERS can’t be overstated. They represent the needs of the customer and communicate the vision to the Team and management. Product Owners must keep management involved or they will have difficulty translating leadership’s vision into business value for the customer, and well-prioritized and defined tasks for the team.

Product Owners, remember the responsibility of the project is yours.  Make sure to talk regularly to team about the relative business value of the epics and stories. Engage your team in grooming the backlog and helping you clarify stories so that they include rigorous Definitions of Done. This will increase Velocity! (So will avoiding Product Owner common pitfalls!)


Scrum is based on the principal of Inspect and Adapt. If you are just getting started or are having a tough time showing improvement, get back to basics (Shu). Only then start tweaking Scrum so it works for your Team (Ha). Eventually some teams may reach Hyper-Productivity (Ri). Which state are you in?

Scrum Co-founder Dr. Jeff Sutherland will address these and other issues in his upcoming Webinar: Scrum Fundamentals: Back to basics. Sign-up here.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Work Less, Get More Done!

There was a really interesting Op-Ed in Sunday’s New York Times by Tony Schwartz at The Energy Project. As any good Scrum Master knows, finding a sustainable pace for the team is incredibly important to increasing velocity.

At Scrum Inc., we talk about avoiding Muri aka STRESS because when people are stressed they do poor work. (Last year, Jeff wrote a blog post about how eliminating overtime at his Venture Capital group increased Velocity by 160%.) We recommend that Team members don't work more than eight-hour days and that Scrum Masters avoid death marches. This isn't just out of kindness and respect for Team; it's because people get more work done if they aren't stressed out.

Swartz sites a number of studies:

Spending more hours at work often leads to less time for sleep and insufficient sleep takes a substantial toll on performance. In a study of nearly 400 employees, published last year, researchers found that sleeping too little — defined as less than six hours each night — was one of the best predictors of on-the-job burn-out. A recent Harvard study estimated that sleep deprivation costs American companies $63.2 billion a year in lost productivity . . .
In the 1950s, the researchers William Dement and Nathaniel Kleitman discovered that we sleep in cycles of roughly 90 minutes, moving from light to deep sleep and back out again. They named this pattern the Basic-Rest Activity Cycle or BRAC. A decade later, Professor Kleitman discovered that this cycle recapitulates itself during our waking lives.
The difference is that during the day we move from a state of alertness progressively into physiological fatigue approximately every 90 minutes. Our bodies regularly tell us to take a break, but we often override these signals and instead stoke ourselves up with caffeine, sugar and our own emergency reserves — the stress hormones adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol.
Working in 90-minute intervals turns out to be a prescription for maximizing productivity. Professor K. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues at Florida State University have studied elite performers, including musicians, athletes, actors and chess players. In each of these fields, Dr. Ericsson found that the best performers typically practice in uninterrupted sessions that last no more than 90 minutes. They begin in the morning, take a break between sessions, and rarely work for more than four and a half hours in any given day.

Taichi Ohno, the father of the Toyota Production System, referred to stress from overwork as unreasonableness. Check out Ohno’s other stress impediments at ScrumLab and read Schwarz’s entire Op-Ed here.

- Joel Riddle