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!

Great 2 Minute Video on the Product Owner Role in Scrum

SSW of Australia has just put out a great two minute video on the role of the Product Owner in Scrum.

Check it out here(might take a minute to load):  http://tv.ssw.com/3244/what-is-a-product-owner

I’ve added it as #4 under Scrum on the ScrumCrazy.com’s list of preferred Scrum resources.

Great blog post on why the Scaled Agile Framework is “Scaled Amateur Hour” and definitely NOT Agile –

Scrum trainer Dominik Maximini has written an excellent, objective, but critical article on the Scaled Agile Framework.  While my own criticisms would probably be both somewhat similar and different to Dominik’s, he’s done an excellent job of laying out the case against SAFe, and I agree with all of his conclusions.

I highly recommend you give it a read.

New and Improved User Story Lifeycle Diagram — Free Creative Commons PDF download!

I had a designer friend update my User Story Lifecycle diagram, and she did a fantastic job!  You can download the PDF here:  http://www.scrumcrazy.com/lifecycle

New and Improved Diagram:

UserStoryLifeCycle_final_lg

The Older Diagram(also still available at the above link):

UserStoryLifecyclexm

Other Good User Story Links

The Summer of Scrum: Ken Schwaber Announces New 2013 Scrum Guide

Ken Schwaber announced today that a new Scrum Guide is coming in the next couple of months.  In my position as a Professional Scrum Trainer certified through Ken’s Scrum.org, I was aware of this earlier this year and I have to say… the Scrum nerd in me is excited!  It’s so great to see that Scrum is evolving, because this is one reason many of the past methodologies and frameworks died out.  It’s also very much in line with the “inspect and adapt” nature of Scrum, so it’s wonderful to see Scrum’s founders and shepherds leading by example.

I also want to drop another hint.  There are some other interesting things happening in the Scrum world this summer that I cannot yet talk about.  Subscribe to my blog to stay tuned!

Scrum On!

Other posts you might be interested in:

It’s Difficult to Give User Story Advice over the Internet

I often get and see questions on internet forums related to helping someone slice their User Stories or Product Backlog Items. This can be very difficult to do, because the slicing conversation really requires so much context around the parties/teams involved, the nature of the business domain, and the technical structure of the system under development. Due to this complexity, this is why I always recommend that Product Owners and Development teams do slicing together in Product Backlog Grooming sessions.

Another problem with trying to provide the needed context to give good advice is that most people work at organizations that have some sort of information security policy that would be violated by providing enough context.

The best route that I’ve seen is trying to come up with a fictional story/PBI/context that demonstrates the key challenge that you’re having without improperly offering too much confidential information.

Another approach would be to have you and your team try Richard Lawrence’s User Story Splitting flow chart.

Anyway, I wish you well, and think about trying some of the suggestions above!

Other Good User Story Links

Daily Scrum Patterns: The Sprint Backlog at the Daily Scrum

This blog post is part of a series of blog posts on Daily Scrum patterns.  For some background, you might find it useful to read my previous article on a simple Scrum Patterns framework.  Daily Scrum Patterns fall under the category of “Scrum Technique Patterns”, as introduced in that article.

Today we’ll talk about “Obstacle Resolution Patterns”

Notes:

“The Sprint Backlog at the Daily Scrum” Patterns

While it’s a popular and proven practice to <View the Sprint Backlog at the Daily Scrum>, it’s a controversial practice to <Update the Sprint Backlog at the Daily Scrum>, as the updating can detract from the true objectives and focus of the Daily Scrum in some situations.

Also, don’t forget to be creative and <Create Your Own Pattern>, and don’t ever hesitate to use a technique that is not described by a documented pattern.

The Sprint Backlog at the Daily Scrum Patterns:

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