Should I use hours to estimate my tasks in Scrum?

My new recommended “starter” “complementary practice” for new Scrum teams is to simply create tasks and use the “number of tasks remaining” for a burndown.  (I also usually recommend that they try to make it such that the vast majority of their tasks are roughly 1 day or less) I encourage them more to focus on PRI (potentially releasable increments), Sprint Goals, and achieving a moderately consistent level of skill at meeting their Sprint forecasts (used to be called “Sprint commitment,” it’s been re-named in the Scrum Guide).  I also caution heavily against trying to achieve perfect forecast accuracy as that’s a fool’s errand in complex domains.

Using hours for tasks can lead down some really bad roads, most notably:  Former PM’s turned SM’s and other organizational members who try to apply PMI tactics (100% utilization, tracking actuals, etc) tactics to complex software development.  By preferring “sticking to the plan” over “responding to change”, they are completely violating Agile and Scrum.

This same bad road can also lead companies into think that “schedule/scope/cost” is an optimum model for software development.  As far as I’m concerned, schedule/scope/cost is a dead, failed model for software.

Now, using hours for tasks doesn’t have to lead down those bad roads — but in my experiences, they usually do.  Let’s not forget, Scrum used to require hours for task estimation, many years ago, but the Scrum experiences of the wider community over 20 years has spoken on the topic — hours is not always optimum.  I would go farther than that and say, at the Sprint task level, it’s usually NOT optimum.

Given the above, I’ll leave it as an exercise to others to describe where using task hours might not lead down those bad roads.

_____
Charles Bradley
Professional Scrum Trainer
Scrum Coach-in-Chief

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Breaking News!! Jeff Sutherland’s Scrum Inc introduces “Scrum At Scale” — see it at Agile 2014 session

I was lucky enough to get a preview of the “Scrum At Scale” approach from Scrum Inc a few days ago. In short, it’s a model for conversations around how to think about scaling Scrum in the enterprise. The model is modular, and it is very clear that this approach is more lightweight and flexible than other Agile scaling approaches that get a lot of attention. Alex Brown of Scrum Inc, the Product Owner for the model, as well as Jeff Sutherland, are very adamant that this this not some cookie cutter recipe or methodology to scale Scrum. It’s different than other approaches, in that it’s a model for conversations around inspecting and adapting toward success with Scrum at Scale.

I’m told that the slides for the presentation at the link above will be posted there within the next couple of days, and possibly sooner. The slides will add a lot of detail that the main graphic doesn’t give. I will also add that there is some nuance and detail not included in the slides either. As such, I recommend try to attend one of their live or recorded video presentations to get some richer nuance…. or….

They are also presenting on this topic at Agile 2014 next week. If you’re going to be at Agile 2014, I highly recommend you put their session on your “must see” list.

The model gives a “big picture” view of Scrum in the enterprise, but it also dovetails nicely with the many years of work that Jeff Sutherland and others have put into their Scrum Patterns efforts. As you may know, I’m also a fan of this Scrum patterns concept, and you can see an example of that work on my website — Daily Scrum Patterns.

It’s worth mentioning that I have no business relationship whatsoever with Scrum Inc, so I’m not in any way incentivized to advocate for their approach.  I’m only endorsing it because I believe in the approach and in it’s future.

I suspect that this work will be a game changer in the Scrum scaling space, which doesn’t surprise me, really. It *is,* after all, coming from a company run by the co-creator of Scrum! Nice work Alex Brown, Jeff Sutherland, and Scrum Inc!

Scrum and Agile Adoption: Backsliding into Waterfall Habits

It’s very common, when an organization is in the Shu level of learning Agile or Scrum, for it to fall into old, bad, waterfall habits.  Today I’d like to talk about two bad waterfall habits:  tracking so called ‘individual velocity,’ and tracking actual effort expended on a task or story.

First, tracking some sort of metric like “individual velocity” is probably an excellent way to completely sabotage your project/product and it’s also a great way to kill your Agile adoption.  A key concept in the Agile Manifesto principles, as well as in Scrum, is team work and “self-organizing” teams.  Self organization is generally the ability for a team to create and execute their own plan of work(Sprint Backlog), as well as decide “How” to do their work.  Whenever there is a single entity (individual on or off the team, department, etc) who strongly influences or makes unilateral decisions for how a team works, there is, by definition, no self organization.  Tracking individual velocity, or any similar “individual incentive” (this can include raises, performance reviews, awards, etc) does not encourage team work at all.  In his book, Agile Estimating and Planning, Mike Cohn says it this way:

“If I am forced to choose between finishing a story on my own and helping someone else, what incentive does measuring individual velocity give me?  Individuals should be given every incentive possible to work as a team. If the team’s throughput is increased by my helping someone else, that’s what I should do. Team velocity matters; individual velocity doesn’t. It’s not even a metric of passing interest.”

Tracking actual effort expended is another really bad waterfall habit.  Tracking estimates and actuals is just another example of where Common Project Management Metrics Doom IT Departments to Failure.  Mike Cohn, an Agile and Scrum thought leader, and a former project manager himself, says this about tracking estimates and actuals:

“On a project, it is far more useful to know how much remains to be done rather than how much has been done. Further, tracking effort expended and comparing it with estimated effort can lead to ‘evaluation apprehension’ (Sanders 1984). When estimators are apprehensive about providing an estimate, the familiar ‘fight or flight’ instinct kicks in, and estimators rely more on instinct than on analytical thought (Jørgensen 2004).

Tracking effort expended in an effort to improve estimate accuracy is a very fine line. It can work (Lederer and Prasad 1998; Weinberg and Schulman 1974). However, the project manager or whoever is doing the tracking must be very careful to avoid putting significant evaluation pressure on the estimators, as doing so could result in estimates that are worse rather than better.

Additionally, keep in mind that variability is a part of every estimate. No matter how much effort is put into improving estimates, a team will never be able to estimate perfectly. Evidence of this is no further away than your morning commute to work. There is an inherent amount of variability in your commute regardless of how you travel, how far you must go, and where you live. If you drive to work, no amount of driving skill will eliminate this variability.”

In a later post on the ScrumDevelopment Yahoo Group, Mike summarizes it this way:

” I’d say you shouldn’t do it because it doesn’t add value commensurate with its cost. Don’t argue with your bosses that it ‘adds no value’ because
comparing what you originally thought a task would take with what it did take can help make you a better estimator.

But, it can be time-consuming to track actuals, especially for a full team where some on the team are probably already decent estimators.

Because Scrum already has solid mechanisms for monitoring whether all the work gets done in a sprint (high team commitment, daily burndown charts, daily scrum, and so on), Scrum does not have the same reliance on early and accurating estimating that a predictive or waterfall approach does.

So–the cost to gather actuals is the same in Scrum or waterfall. The benefit in Scrum is greatly reduced.”

So, be very careful when backsliding into old waterfall habits.  It usually happens in small doses, which is why many Shu level adoptions don’t notice it, especially if they don’t have a skilled Scrum Coach or highly experienced Scrum Master around.  The other thing to keep in mind is that, even if you do have someone skilled around, this old adage still applies:  “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make ‘em drink.”

What kind of backsliding into old waterfall habits have you seen?  What do you suggest be done about them?  Sound off in the comments below!

Kanban vs. Scrum: Kanban is NOT for Software Development, but Scrum is!

Last week I was a panelist at the Agile Denver meeting, where the title of the panel was Kanban vs. Scrum! The Big Smackdown!

If you click through the link, you’ll notice that the title was misleading, on purpose, as is the title of this article(“Kanban vs. Scrum…”).  However, I want to catch the attention of those who think that this is even a valid question or consideration.  The title also speaks to a common problem in the industry that has been around for several years, and won’t seem to go away.

There are a number of software teams and organizations that think they should choose between Kanban and Scrum as their software development process.  This is a GIANT and RISKY mistake, in my professional opinion.

It’s not an either/or proposition.  Scrum is about software development.  Kanban is about change management.

There are several reasons why choosing Kanban as your team’s software development process is a mistake.

1.  You are applying Kanban to the incorrect context.

Would you use a hammer to insert a screw in a wall?  You can, but you’ll probably damage your wall in the process, and the same is true of Kanban as a software development approach.  David Anderson, the creator of The Kanban Method, has apparently said this over and over again since 2005, but no one seems to listen.

Don’t take my word for it, listen to David:

“Kanban is NOT a software development life cycle or project management methodology! It is not a way of making software or running projects that make software!” — David Anderson

“There is no kanban process for software development. At least I am not aware of one. I have never published one.”  — David Anderson

“It is actually not possible to develop with only Kanban.  The Kanban Method by itself does not contain practices sufficient to do product development.” — David Anderson*

(*The first two came from the “over and over..” link above.  The last quote was sent to me via email from someone at David’s company.  I think they just pasted in something David had already written)

I should also mention that others have mentioned to me that David talks out of both sides of his mouth about Kanban, Agile, and software development, perhaps trying to capitalize on the fame and success of Agile software development.  That may be true, but it may also be true that David has been saying all of these things for years and no one is paying attention to what he says, which is unfortunate.

2.  Kanban is modeled more after the assembly line and manufacturing.  Scrum is modeled more after creative product design.

Which do you think more closely resembles software development?  Laverne and Shirley on the assembly line at the Shotz Brewery? Or the group of NASA engineers on the ground who saved the lives of the Apollo 13 astronauts by coming up with a creative solution to a problem within a time-box?  If you think software rolls off of an assembly line, then I think that it is unfortunate that you’ve never worked in a creative software development environment — it’s AWESOME!

Maybe my Laverne and Shirley reference is oversimplified.  The reason to use Scrum instead of Kanban for software development delves down into process control theory, and the difference between a “defined process” and an “empirical process.”  In short, a defined process works better when the inputs and outputs to the process are well known and repeatable (like a manufacturing line).  An empirical process works better when the inputs and outputs to the process are less known and very difficult to repeat.  No two software features are alike.  This is why it’s darned near impossible to measure software productivity directly, even though some naive “bean counters” still try to.  Like the stock market, no one metric will predict it accurately, but a range of indicators can help predict it more accurately.  So, in summary, Scrum is based on empirical processes like product design.

One of the very key parts of empirical processes is the characteristic of inspecting and adapting the product.  Think of yourself making a pot of soup from scratch, without a recipe.  Think about all of the “taste-tweak ingredients-taste” experiments(feedback loops) you would need to get a pot of soup that tastes good.

Scrum has the frequent feedback loops built in, for a variety of audiences(Dev Team, Product Owner, Stakeholders, Users) , and for a variety of topics(process-Sprint Retro, product-Ordered Product Backlog, product-Sprint Review, product-Valuable/Releasable Increments).  Kanban has no such built in loops, but again, that’s because it wasn’t designed for software development!

3.  From a Complexity Science view, Kanban is for ‘complicated’ work while Scrum is for “complex” work.

I know the Kanban folks don’t like hearing this, but I think Ken Schwaber was right when he said this, and I think history will prove him right about Kanban as it was described in David Anderson’s book.  In short, the Cynefin model defines 5 domains, of which 2 of them are “complicated” and “complex” work.

‘Complicated’ work is best solved via ‘good practice’ and ‘experts’ who can find ’cause and effect’ fairly easily. When I think of ‘complicated’ work, I think of an the IT support person who sets up your computer or trouble shoots it.  Yes, you need an expert to solve these problems, and the vast majority of the time, the steps to solve these kinds of problems are fairly consistent and repeatable.  They are not exactly repeatable, just mostly repeatable.   If the steps were exactly repeatable then they would fall into the ‘Simple’ domain of Cynefin.

‘Complex’ work is best solved via ‘safe to fail experiments’ and one can only ascertain cause and effect after the fact.  Each Sprint in Scrum is a ‘safe to fail’ experiment because, while the Sprint increment is always releasable, the business side of the house makes the decision on whether it is safe/valuable to release it or not.  In the case of an increment that is un-safe, the team course corrects and comes back with an increment the next sprint that is hopefully safe or more-safe.  These safe to fail experiments can be repeated over and over again until it’s time to release the increment.

Applying Kanban Correctly

Having said all of the above, there IS a time and place for Kanban — a correct context, if you will.  If you’ve been reading closely, that context is as a change management process, which is ‘complicated’ work, and requires that there be already existing processes in place.  So, if your software team is doing XP, Scrum, Crystal, Waterfall, RUP, DSDM, FDD, etc, then you can layer Kanban on top of it to help find bottlenecks and waste.  Also, for all of those teams out there that don’t use a software development process(framework, approach, etc) that is named in the industry, you’re probably doing cowboy coding, ad-hoc, or command and control project management — none of which is a software development process either.  So, layering Kanban on top of crap will still yield crap.

For those that want to apply Kanban at the enterprise level to monitor the flow of work through their Scrum teams (Or XP, Crystal, etc), or want to use it for IT support or Dev Ops, I say have at it and I hope it helps you.  I imagine just visualizing your workflow alone will help in those contexts.  I myself have recommended and coached Kanban for a couple of teams — but only because those teams exhibited the right context for Kanban to be successful.

Bottom Line

Having said all of this, just visualizing your workflow and the other Kanban principles is not enough for software development.  Software development has things like business value, technical complexity, and user experience/acceptance/adoption — all of which are not addressed directly by Kanban.  Scrum does address these areas, as I have shown above.  But hey, let’s not forget, the Kanban Method is “not a way of making software or running projects that make software.”  Would you criticize a hammer for not doing a good job of being able to insert a screw into a wall?

Related Articles

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Towards a Catalog of Scrum Patterns

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Scrum patterns.  To that end, I’ve drafted a conceptual model, which is depicted in the below image.  (You may want to click the image twice to see a bigger view of it)

ScrumPatternsOverviewOnePage

“Sprint Progress Monitor” is my term for what used to be called the “Sprint Burndown.”  In the 2011 Scrum Guide, Sprint Burndowns were no longer required but some way of monitoring sprint progress, via summing the remaining work, was still required.  In the Scrum Guide, it is made clear that these practices can be implemented using several techniques, and “techniques may vary” from team to team.  So, this is what inspired me to use the term “Scrum Technique Pattern.”  A Scrum Technique Pattern(STP for short) implements the intentional gaps left by the Scrum Guide.  Teams can inspect and adapt their technique patterns, while still fulfilling the Scrum framework.  Said another way, there are intentional “variation points” in Scrum, and the STP’s are different ways of implementing those variation points.

“Optional Scrum Patterns” are patterns that can be used in conjunction with Scrum, but are not specific implementations of Scrum techniques as specified or required in the Scrum Guide.  These can be just about anything, but they must follow and/or support Scrum principles in order to be considered as an Optional Scrum Pattern.

I also see the need for the ability to create a “mashup” of different Scrum patterns to create a set of practices and techniques for a particular team or context.  For instance, we might start out with a Scrum Starter Kit that includes things like:

  • Holding a Release Planning meeting every 2-3 months (OSP)
  • 2 Week Sprints (STP)
  • Using Story Points to estimate Product Backlog Items(STP)
  • Using Ideal Hours to estimate Sprint Backlog plan items(STP)
  • Doing a typical burndown chart to sum the remaining work for the sprint(STP)
  • Representing Undone Work(OSP)
  • Doing the typical “round robin” style of the Daily Scrum(STP)
  • Doing a fairly typical “Plus-Delta” retrospective analysis(STP)

Any of the above patterns could be interchanged with other patterns, and the Scrum implementation would still conform to doing correct Scrum.  Presumably the change to different patterns would be an attempt to improve a team’s ability to delight their customers and users.

Who writes these patterns?  Where do they come from?

In a word, anywhere.  I’ve seen dozens of them on the internet and in books.  I’ve documented a few original ones myself(though many of mine are adapted from others, and I would make every reasonable attempt to give credit where credit is due).  I would not be attempting to create all of these patterns, but to assemble them and label them so Scrum practitioners can easily understand which of them are optional, and which are fulfilling required practices of Scrum.  Of course, it will also become helpful to understand where these patterns fit into the grand scheme of Scrum, and I have some ideas along those lines, too.

I will keep iterating on this concept, and I hope to get back to you with more on this topic in the future.

My Preferred Agile, Scrum, and XP Resources

If you’re printing this post, it can be found online at: http://www.scrumcrazy.com/My+Preferred+Agile%2C+Scrum%2C+and+XP+Resources

A friend recently asked me this question:

What would you recommend in terms of the best book(s) to learn about Agile (Scrum) with XP practices? That is, if you had a team of developers who were newbies to Agile, Scrum, and XP, what books/articles would you give them to bring them up to speed on what they should be doing and how they should be doing it?

This question from my friend is a very tricky one, in that it is very broad and generic, and my friend gave me no extra team or organizational context to go on, so about all I can do is give a generic answer, and that is what I’ve done below. If you’re looking to combine Scrum with XP practices, be sure and see Kniberg’s book under “Scrum” below.

Don’t have time to read all of these? Well then, read the first couple from each category, and then continue working your way down each list.

My Preferred Resources

All are in order of my personal preference in each category.


Scrum

  1. The Scrum Guide (Must read for all)
  2. Deemer, et al. “The Scrum Primer”
  3. Cohn’s _Agile Estimating and Planning_ (Must read for Scrum Masters)
  4. Pichler’s _Agile Product Management…_ (Must read for Product Owners)
  5. Cohn’s _Succeeding With Agile…_ (Must read for Scrum Masters once they have a few Sprints under their belts)
  6. Kniberg’s _Scrum and XP From the Trenches_ (Note that there is a free PDF download of this book if you register with InfoQ – something I recommend anyway)
  7. Derby/Larsen’s _Agile Retrospectives_

XP (Extreme Programming)

  1. Jeffries’ “What is Extreme Programming?”
  2. Jeffries’ _Extreme Programming Installed_
  3. Koskela’s _Test Driven…_
  4. Martin’s _Clean Code_
  5. Feathers’ _Working Effectively With Legacy Code_
  6. “The Rules of Extreme Programming”
  7. Wiki entry on XP Practices

Agile/XP Testing

  1. Summary of Lisa Crispin’s Presentation to Agile Denver on Test Automation
  2. Cripin’s “Using the Agile Testing Quadrants”
  3. Crispin/Gregory’s _Agile Testing_
  4. Crispin/House’s _Testing Extreme Programming_
  5. Cohn’s “The Forgotten Layer of the Test Automation Pyramid”
  6. Osherove’s _The Art of Unit Testing_

User Stories (which originated in XP)

  1. My “User Story Basics” article and all of the links at the bottom of that article
  2. Cohn’s _User Stories Applied_
  3. Cohn’s _Agile Estimating and Planning…_ (Chapter 12: Splitting User Stories)
  4. Lawrence’s “Patterns for Splitting User Stories”

Special Agile Topics (if applicable)

  1. Deemer’s “The Distributed Scrum Primer” (If some of all your team is remotely distributed)
  2. My article entitled “The Role of Managers In Scrum” and all of the links at the bottom of that article
  3. Larman/Vodde’s _Scaling Lean Agile…_ (If your Agile transformation involves a very large organization)

Steve Denning – Rattling the Cages of Command and Control Managers on Forbes.com

Are any of you following Denning’s recent articles on Forbes?  He is “killing it” for Agile.

I especially like the bottom link…

http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2011/04/29/scrum-is-a-major-management-discovery/

http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2012/04/09/the-best-kept-management-secret-on-the-planet-agile/

http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2012/04/11/why-cant-the-c-suite-grasp-agile-management/

http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2012/04/17/the-case-against-agile-ten-perennial-management-objections/

Anyone have opinions on Steve’s work?  I’m not familiar with it other than passing references to his book.

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