How To Visualize Your Work And Be More Productive

Take Control Of Your Time

Do you find yourself saying, “if only there were more hours in the day?” There’s plenty of high-profile articles and advice by industry leaders like Warren Buffet advising us to, “keep control of your time.” If only it were that easy, right? I know I could do a better job of managing my time, but over the past few years I’ve gotten better at it. I started applying some of the principles I’ve learned in Agile to help me keep organized at work and in life. Here’s my advice to those out there who may be struggling to keep control of their own time.

Steps To Take Control Of Your Time

  1. Wrap Your Arms Around Your Work. The first thing I started doing was taking an inventory of all the work I was doing. It started in a simple excel sheet. It was a mess at first, but I kept adding things to it as stuff came up and I started to get a handle on what my time was being spent on.
  2. Classify and Categorize. I started taking 15 minutes during my lunch break to identify trends in the spread sheet. I started putting different things into “buckets.” I kept these buckets fairly high level. I borrowed from a book I read called The Phoenix Project. One of the lessons it teaches is that there are only four kinds of work we do in IT.
    • Business Projects – projects that generate revenue and crosses other departments.
    • Internal IT Projects – projects that your organization doesn’t typically “see” but is impacted by; like upgrading that database from SQL Server 2008 to 2016.
    • Changes To Production – operations. This can be something like pushing out new group policies to end users.
    • Unplanned Work – a time suck. We know this work well. Fire-fighting because it’s extremely urgent and important. Those familiar with Stephen R. Covey and his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People know this as “living in quadrant 1.” 
  3. Find A Tool That Fits Your Needs And Get Organized. I’m a millennial, and keeping an excel spreadsheet up to date is difficult. On top of that, I prefer using tools that work on any device I choose. I use my iPhone, laptop, or desktop interchangeably throughout the day. I need a tool that works for me no matter where I am. That’s why I settled on two tools:
    • Microsoft Outlook – I use Outlook because it’s the primary calendar tool we use at work. It also gives me the ability to create separate calendars.
      Associate colors with projects, teams, or categories of work in Outlook

      I work full time during the day, I write, I blog, I’m helping a family member launch their business online, and I’m also taking 4 classes at the graduate level. Needless to say, I’m extremely busy. Not only do I have separate calendars for different parts of my life, I also color code things using the “categorize” option. I associate these colors with teams, projects, and my “categories of work.” Microsoft has a free app for outlook and allows you to connect multiple email accounts too. It’s perfect for someone like me who has 4 email accounts.

    • Trello – I use Trello because it allows me to organize my work at the task level. It has a simple and elegant interface on both desktop, web, and mobile. It updates immediately no matter where you connect. So I can add a task during a meeting and see it when I get back to my desk. The idea is to create “boards” for your projects and fill them with cards for your tasks. You can also add checklists, tags, and color code your cards too. My capstone group ran an entire software project on Trello and it worked like a charm. We created a drink recommendation app called B.A.R.T.E.N.D.E.R. — it’s still up but hasn’t been maintained since graduation. Trello also allows you to add due dates and to collaborate with multiple people. I set up my own personal board as a Kanban board and use it daily because it allows me to prioritize and keep my arms wrapped around my work.
  4. Start Saying, “No.” You are now armed with visual information about what your work load looks like. You’re likely juggling way too much that’s marked as “In Progress” and barely making headway on anything meaningful or important. You’re armed with empirical evidence that you’re over capacity and over committed. It’s time to start saying, “no” to things. Be respectful with your co-workers and managers and let them know that until you can start moving things to “done,” you currently don’t have the bandwidth to take on any extra work. Radical idea, I know. But did you know that your manager wants to hear these things? They may not take you seriously at first but you can easily show them. Let them know that if any new items land on your plate that is considered a high priority, they’ll need to move something else that’s “in progress” to the back burner and extend that deadline to accommodate the new task. If there’s a trend with things being swapped in and out of “in progress” and never getting “done,” then I’m willing to bet your manager needs some help staying organized themselves. That’s another conversation though. If you’re bombarded with meeting invites without an agenda, follow up and ask for one. If no one gets back to you, decline it. My philosophy is, “how can I come prepared and what will the action items be?” If I don’t get an answer, they probably didn’t need me. You can also ask if there’s anything that can be done without the meeting. A quick message on Skype or a few short email exchanges can make meetings avoidable all together.
  5. Find Ways To Streamline The Repeatable Tasks. Anything that is reoccurring can be scheduled around or automated in some way. You’ll need to research how to do this, but invest some time or find ways to cut out tasks that aren’t valuable. Eliminate the waste. If you’re a knowledge worker like me, using a programming language can help. One book I picked up a while back, Automate The Boring Stuff With Python, contains a wealth of information and ideas, and there’s an accompanying course on Udemy as well.
  6. Invest In Yourself. Many of my peers and colleagues think I’m crazy for how “busy” I am. But, I’m busy doing the things I enjoy. I’m investing time in myself and getting my Master’s degree. I write and I blog. I have a social life. I even mark of a few hours a week on my work calendar for training and development. I wouldn’t be able to do these things if I wasn’t taking control of my time and doing the things that truly matter.

Thanks for taking the time to read. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you stay organized! If you’d like to have a discussion, leave a comment below or contact me. I’d love to connect on social media as well!

Photo Credit: Pixabay






Side Stepping Landmines: Managing Risk With Sprint Futurespectives

Risks Are Landmines

Risk and project issues are one of the roots of poor project performance. There are three areas that we measure regarding the success or failure of a project; these three areas are what we call in project management, the triple constraint. The triple constraint consists of scope, budget, and time.

The interactions of these three areas are a lot like Newton’s third law of motion. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Was there a decision to increase the scope? You’ll likely need more time and money. Has there been a cut to the project’s budget? There most likely needs to be a cut to the scope. Has the schedule been crashed and we need to get to market in two months instead of the planned six? Better give me more money and be prepared to cut some of that scope down to a “minimal viable product.” I think you get the idea.

The triple constraint consists of scope, budget, and time. The interaction of these three areas are a lot like Newton’s third law of motion. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

This is why scrum is so effective. It allows for business agility via quick decision making from the Product Owner and iterative delivery of working software from the team. Scrum deals with actions effecting the triple constraint rather well. Project issues concerning the budget or schedule can quickly be addressed by everyone and the Product Owner can assess the business impact to make a decision that usually concerns scope.

However, when a team starts off on a new project that has a medium to high amount of risk and uncertainty, I recommend allowing teams the time to mull over possible risks and to perform some pre-planning. Otherwise, the project can blow up in their face or decisions will be made for them by the changed environment. We address this with risk planning — we don’t send our soldiers into a battlefield knowing land mines exist. So how can scrum teams plan for risk?

Risks are landmines. Some we know about. Some we don’t. Creating a plan to navigate and manage the consequences of a triggered mine is the only way to help us navigate a minefield responsibly.

Conduct A Futurespective

Thinking ahead and talking can help, but writing down potential risks and plans to address them is even better. This is the point of the “Futurespective;” To conduct risk planning at the start of a project or product enhancement and to give the team some time to do some planning before stepping on a potential minefield. It’s an activity outside of the typical scrum events and because of that, it should not be done before each iteration. Instead, it should be done provided select circumstances:

  • Just before beginning a new effort (i.e. Sprint Zero);
  • Just before a critical milestone (i.e. a new feature release to Production);
  • A significant change to a project constraint is anticipated (i.e. change to schedule, scope, budget, or quality). 

Just Before A New Effort – The Sprint Zero As A Futurespective

The Sprint Zero is an activity I’ve seen successful teams use when they conclude one effort and move to another. There is no such thing as multi-tasking and that is why we should frown upon teams who work on multiple projects at once. What they’re really doing is engaging in “task-switching” or inefficient “serial-tasking.” Instead, we encourage the team to wrap up a product feature and release it to production for general use before moving onto another product.

The Sprint Zero is the time between efforts that allows teams to assess what the new project or product enhancement is. If they’re cracking open the code for an existing product to add a new feature set, they should be allowed up to two weeks depending on the complexity of the code. For older, more monolithic applications, carrying large amounts of technical debt, I’d recommend no time-box on this activity. Let the team take their time getting familiar with the product, the code, and documentation (if it exists or is up to date). If there is no documentation, stress the importance to managers that they should not be rushed into starting the project until they are ready. Let the team decide when they’re ready to begin and use common sense.

If the team is about to spin up a new project and create a new product from the ground up, there should already be a product backlog and roadmap ready for them to review. The Sprint Zero is a great opportunity for the team to familiarize themselves with the backlog, Product Owner, Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), and stakeholders of the new product. The team should be conducting working sessions to create better acceptance criteria for user stories, sketching wireframes, and getting a better understanding of what they are going to build. Encourage them to seek continual feedback on their wireframes and designs. Make it an iterative activity. Teams may also take some time to engage in training if they will be developing in a newer development framework. Again, exercise common sense and decide on a reasonable time-box before kicking off the project.

Just Before A Critical Milestone – Release Planning As A Futurespective

Usually a sprint or two before releasing a larger feature, the team should have a handle on the stability of their product. Testers have been giving Developers feedback on the quality of their code via Integration & Performance Testing and of course, Bugs. The Product Owner is busy preparing, coordinating, or wrapping up User Acceptance Testing (UAT).  The Scrum Master is busy assisting everyone with Impediments and UAT. It can be chaotic or running smoothly… sometimes too smoothly…but, maybe I’m just naturally pessimistic?

I find this is a great opportunity to use the time normally allocated for a Retrospective as a way to plan for risk and get everyone together for the release plan. Of course, the need for this will eventually disappear as practices become better and code is pushed into production more rapidly via continual integration and continual deployment, however, I recognize that it can take a while to get to this point.

The need for this will eventually disappear as practices become better and code is pushed into production more rapidly via continual integration and continual deployment.

There are multiple ways to conduct a Futurespective and each one could use their own article. However, it’s a good idea to invite the Product Owner and SMEs to this event. To be concise, I’ll give you the meat and potatoes of what makes a good Futurespective.

  1. Identification of plausible risks regarding the release
  2. Statement of assumptions about the release
  3. Statement of the issues currently occurring (problems & challenges the team is experiencing).
  4. Identification of dependencies effecting the release (technical or cross-team dependencies the team or organization has). 
  5. Written mitigation plans that is developed by the team and Product Owner.
  6. Assignments/Owners for each plan (“if risk 2 is realized, who is the person responsible for leading the plan?”). 

A Significant Change To A Project Constraint

When a business priority changes and the project’s budget, schedule, or scope, is effected, the Product Owner may decide to stop the iteration and cancel the sprint. The Product Owner should call the team together and appraise them of the situation and call on the team for advice. Ultimately, the Product Owner will likely make some tough decision about cuts to the product scope. The Product Owner should use her Subject Matter Experts, stakeholders, and Delivery Team to make the most informed decision possible. It’s a great opportunity for everyone to brainstorm with the Product Owner about the best way to continue moving forward and exercise business agility.

Prioritizing the Product Backlog and refining user stories that were in the “freezer” takes a lot of effort and planning. Schedule as many backlog grooming sessions as needed and run a Futurespective before proceeding.

Thanks for taking the time to read and I hope you found it useful. I’d love to hear your thoughts on risk management or any experience you’ve had with Futurespectives. If you’d like to have a discussion, leave a comment below or contact me. I’d love to connect on social media as well!

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Related Posts

The Scrum Product Owner Chooses Business Value

The Product Owner Steers The Ship

Urban Legends In Our Organization. Listening To Our Naysayers, Seers, And Jaded Sage

Ditch “The Three Questions” And Adopt The Agile Mindset Already

Ditch “The Three Questions” And Adopt The Agile Mindset Already

Scrum teams that have been using Scrum for a while are most likely settling into the new framework. The chaos and dust from the change has settled and things are normalizing a bit. However, each team has their own unique way of doing things and, from the outside, managers may be holding onto their “command and control” mindset. Shouldn’t a process, like the daily scrum, be repeatable and look the same for all teams? Perhaps their mentality is that Scrum is a “methodology” and it should be strictly adhered to vs. a light weight framework in the “Agile toolbox?” Maybe they’re too focused on accountability of individuals vs. team autonomy? Whatever the cause, the Agile mindset just hasn’t quite set in yet. With a little bit of coaching, they’ll get there. Exercise patience.

One thing I’ve observed from leaders who haven’t quite fully adopted the Agile mindset yet is their insistence on strict adherence to “The Three Questions” during the daily scrum. There exists a feeling that “Vanilla Scrum” is the best way to do Scrum (There’s no such things as ‘Vanilla Scrum’ by the way). There’s a perception that the best way to do Scrum is to make everyone answer the three questions:

  1. “What did you do yesterday?”
  2. “What will you do today?”
  3. “Do you have any impediments?”

While I agree that the scrum guide can be prescriptive at times, the three questions listed above are not, in fact, mandatory. Seriously, read the section on the Daily Scrum and then come back.

Welcome back. So now that everyone’s educated, let’s talk about creativity. There’s a lot of room for creativity from each team and every individual. The Scrum Guide tells us “What we should do,” however, each team is left to figure out “How best to do it.” The format of the daily scrum is no different and there’s a lot of room for creative and constructive discussion questions. Strict adherence to the three questions can become an impediment to communication.

When speaking to your leaders, it’s usually not a good idea to open the scrum guide and show them where they’re wrong. It’s not very tactful and you miss a great opportunity to make the conversation a teachable moment.

When discussing this with leaders, start by asking some simple questions. I usually start with, “what does ‘vanilla scrum’ look like to you?” Their answer will likely reveal one of two things.

  1. Focus on the process; or
  2. Focus on individual accountability.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? As a manager, their ability to reliably deliver products, services, or projects is a reflection on their ability to lead their unit. Managers are accountable to stakeholders, customers, and their bosses. Yes, managers have bosses too. It’s pretty simple when we put ourselves in their shoes and I think we can empathize with their position. It can be a great deal of stress. Management isn’t for the weak of heart.

Yes, managers have bosses too.

Creativity Over Strict Processes

Command and control via processes can be effective. Set up a process. Follow the process. Repeat. But at what cost? I’d argue at the cost of creativity. I’d argue at the cost of low employee engagement. I’d argue complete and utter mediocrity. Of course I’m not advocating for zero processes either. That would be irresponsible. The people and process dependency is a balancing act, but let’s not rehash that discussion.

My recommendation would be to challenge the manager’s perspective about creativity and engagement. They may say they value it, but their actions may speak differently. Perhaps they view the daily scrum as a status report? That’s an anti-pattern you don’t want to have. Trust me. Been there. Done that. Got the t-shirt.

Scrum shouldn’t be “standardized across all teams.” If the pain point of the organization is variable quality and unreliable delivery, Scrum won’t fix that for you. But if you allow creativity to happen, then your employees will become engaged. And engaged employees who are empowered can move mountains. They’ll fix things on their own because at the end of the day, everyone wants to go home at five thirty, have a beer and spend quality time with their family. It’s the mindset, not the framework that we should strive for. Intrinsic motivation, not another carrot.

Responsibility Over Individual Accountability

I’m not advocating for zero accountability. Again, that would be irresponsible. But, the need to hold people accountable for their actions is another “command and control-ism” and it makes people fearful for their jobs. As a result, it stifles creativity and people will do just enough to stay of the RADAR and out of trouble. This is a much tougher problem to address because a manager focused on “holding people accountable” likely suffers the same from their own management. We can all empathize with our managers on this. Just like us, they’re subject to the same influences of organizational culture. As a coach, you must be courageous enough to address this with everyone in the organization, especially when another witch hunt is just around the corner. Are we trying to figure out who put crappy code into production? Or are we trying to figure out how crappy code got into production? You see the difference? The first question is about assigning blame. The second question is about addressing a problem. Stop with the witch hunts. People make mistakes. It’s a part of doing business.

My recommendation would be to re-frame the conversation around responsibility. Accountability is for Product Owners who must own the success or failure of a project. They are the single wring-able neck. However, responsibility can be shared and is something reserved for teams who share the responsibility of managing risk, keeping on schedule, staying within scope, and producing quality work. Product Owners are accountable for the overall performance of the project and guiding the team with a product road map. The Product Owner provides the what. The Team provides the how.

Stopping the flow of communication so they neatly fit the mold of the three questions can introduce risks into the project. It jeopardizes the quadruple constraint (Scope, Schedule, Cost, and Quality). So let your team discuss the sprint goal. Let your teams talk about the future beyond the next 24 hours. Let them self-organize in a way that’s most comfortable for them. They’re responsible for delivery — have the courage to step back so they deliver.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the daily scrum or the anti-patterns you’ve recently spotted. If you’d like to have a discussion, leave a comment below or contact me. Feel free to connect with me on social media as well!

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Related Posts

Scrum Anti-Pattern: Daily Stand-Up As A Status Report

The People and Process Balancing Act

Agile Leaders Understand Customer Service And Culture

A Story On Anti-Patterns

The Anti-Pattern

In one of my past posts, I asserted that the Product Owner Steers The Ship and that as a coach, we don’t want to make assumptions about the anti-patterns our Product Owners may have inherited from their previous roles. After a few conversations I had with people, I decided to expand a bit on the topic of anti-patterns. There are multiple areas in Agile that need their own list of anti-patterns and context. But isn’t that true in life? I think so. So for this post, I’m going to dive into anti-patterns as a behaviors and a mind-set and treat you with a story. Enjoy!

“An anti-pattern is a common response to a recurring problem that is usually ineffective and risks being counterproductive”

-Andrew Koenig

Design Patterns


Figure It Out, Larry!

Samantha is a District Manager for a manufacturing company and she’s dealing with a new employee, Larry, who isn’t quite performing up to par with the rest of her team. For the third week in a row, Larry has submitted “sub-par work.” The numbers and calculations in his reports are way off from the previous ones she’s used to seeing. It’s obvious to Samantha that Larry isn’t following the templates and checklists correctly. But, she can’t figure out how to get through to him. She doesn’t want to start micro-managing his assignments, but she and her team have been so backlogged that she expected him to follow all the documented procedures and figure it out. He seemed so bright on paper. Maybe she was wrong about her newly hired employee?

After reviewing his first report, she made a passing comment, some thing along the lines of, “you really must have grinded this out at the last minute, Larry?” It was meant as a half-serious joke. She doesn’t really know Larry that well, being that he’s new to the team, but she’s known for being sarcastic in the office and most of the team dish it right back at her. His first day on the job the team had a particularly rowdy meeting. He knew what was up and that no one took the jabs seriously. She has a healthy working relationship with her team, despite what it looks like on the outside. She has full confidence in her staff and she chooses to be hands off with them. Everyone is brilliant. Except maybe one?

The second report came in and she was a bit agitated. She decided to remind everyone at the next staff meeting about using the correct template and the expectation of “quality work from each individual — everyone is busy with their own projects and programs and is expected to pull their weight.” She made eye contact with Larry, letting him know that the message was meant for him. Larry didn’t hold her gaze for long. It was clear he got the message.

After week three, Samantha lost it when she got Larry’s report. Not only was the report turned in late, but Larry was no where to be found. Who was Samantha going to yell at? Samantha immediately navigated to the HR SharePoint page and downloaded the Word document titled “formal written reprimands for employees.” It was time to send a message to Larry, “it’s time to shape up or ship out” she thought to herself. Three weeks and he still hasn’t figured it out.

Samantha went through the report closely and began documenting discrepancies like formatting and the fact that the report wasn’t turned in first thing in the morning — she noted each item on the reprimand document. She combed through it more closely than she had in the past few weeks and saw that Larry added a section titled, Raw Material Rework & Waste. “What is this?” Samantha asked herself. She went on to read the report, “each plant has had a remarkable spike in waste due to poor raw materials after switching to the new South American supplier, Corpo Corp resulting in 18% of  all finished products requiring rework and 2% of finished products un-shippable and designated as waste.” If this was true, Samantha had a serious problem on her hands. This was a multi-million dollar problem. It could end the career of the plant manager.

Samantha saw that Daniel Ramon, one of her plant managers and a close friend, was listed as a reference on this part of the report. She quickly pulled out her phone and called his personal number.

“Samantha, to what do I owe the pleasure?” Daniel’s booming voice broke through the noise of the factory in the background.

“Hey, Daniel. I’m just reading Larry’s report here and I had a few…” Samantha was abruptly interrupted by Daniel.

“Larry saved our butts, Sam! I tell you, you got an eye for talent! He’s here with that intern from upstairs helping us out! I tell ya’, since we switched to that new vendor, Corpo Corp or whatever they’re called, the materials we’ve been getting in have been shit, Sam! I can’t believe this! Larry is just finishing up over here, do you need him?”

“Finishing up with what?” Samantha’s heart was beating hard.

“He helped us re-organize the plant lay out so we can do re-work without missing our ship dates! Ain’t you know what your boy is up to out here?” Daniel laughed.

“You don’t say… uhm.. No, I’ve been so behind… I was just checking in… honestly, no I haven’t looked carefully at his reports until just now,” Samantha admitted and felt a weight on her chest and she was suddenly felt with grief. She was getting ready to write Larry up, to begin his journey to termination, and he was busy saving her ass. Saving Daniel’s ass.

“That’s okay, Sam. Larry didn’t say much about what’s been going on between you two but I heard through the grapevine. Anyways, I scheduled a meeting with some of the big wigs in two weeks. I want you and Larry to present his results to those penny pinchers up-stairs, you got more pull upstairs than anyone and it’s a good way to introduce Larry to the new CEO. You let them know that switching over to this cheaper vendor is actually costing us money in OT, re-work, and useless product,” Daniel exclaimed.

“Of course, Dan. If you don’t mind me asking? When did Larry first start helping you out at the plant?”

“About three weeks ago, I ‘reckon! That boy came down here on his own for a tour of the plant. Don’t you usually bring the newbies down here? Oh, right. Too busy. Anyways, after about twenty minutes of my showing him the place, he had the audacity to tell me that ‘there’s too much waste.’ Can you believe that, Sam? Lecturing me! ME! ABOUT WASTE! I’m the Six Sigma trainer over here and have been the plant manager for going on eight years! I reckon..” Daniel was known for swearing like a sailor and long winded rants. Samantha quickly interrupted before he could take another breath and continue.

“So he tried to tell you how to do your job?” Samantha interjected with a question.

“Nah, not really… Maybe I was bein’ too defensive with the young gun. I had a busy morning fighting fires and I could tell he didn’t mean anything by it when he started blushing and pulled out his binder and reports from purchasing, payroll and sales. He showed me the data and pointed down to the plant where we had bottlenecks and piles of work building up. He showed me there’d been no increase in sales or large volumes of material from purchasing, but our payroll has gone way up in over-time. I wouldn’t have caught it for another two weeks from now because we’ve been practicing lean and Six Sigma for so long that I usually only need a monthly report anymore,” Daniel lowered his voice and took on a serious tone.

“I dropped the ball on this one, Sam. I didn’t have the feedback loops in place to catch this. We would have been screwed royally this quarter if it weren’t for your boy Larry. We still have to deal with the re-work until we can get our old vendor back, but we’ll have minimal overtime and we should be able to meet all our ship dates with Larry’s re-design. I told sales not to run any discounts so we don’t have any large swings in production just to be on the safe side. We’ll break even this quarter but we need our old vendor back,” Daniel finished.

“Of course, I’ll get with Larry and we’ll make sure HQ knows what’s going on, Dan” Samantha assured her long time friend.

“Thanks, Sam! And hold on to Larry, he’s a rockstar! I’m taking him and that intern out for a few drinks tonight after we wrap-up over here. Meet us at AppleBee’s around quittin’ time if you ain’t got any plans for tonight,” Daniel finished and hung up the phone.

“I’ll be there,” Samantha said quietly to herself. She owed someone an apology.

That evening, Samantha walked into AppleBees. She spotted the two at one of the tall tables in the bar area, but she knew where to look because she could hear Daniel’s loud and booming voice over the chatter that filled the crowded restaurant. She ordered a martini and two more drinks for Larry and Daniel before making her way to the table to join them.

“Sam, I’m glad you made it! I was just telling Larry here about the company barbecue and the finer points potato sack racing!” Daniel boasted with a hearty laugh.

“Dan, are you trying to recruit poor Larry here so you can reclaim that trophy? You know My hubby and I won’t be giving it up this year,” Samantha smiled over at Larry who was looking down at his feet.

Daniel looked over at Larry and then at Samantha who was looking ashamed. He excused himself for a much needed restroom break so the two could have a moment together.

“Larry, I owe you an apology. I’m so sorry for the way I’ve been treating you. You saved us from a disaster,” Samantha met Larry’s gaze as he looked up with an embarrassed smile.

“It’s okay, water under the bridge,” Larry said lightly.

“No, it’s not okay. Just like how Daniel didn’t have the appropriate feedback loops in place to catch the re-work issues, I don’t have the appropriate feedback loops in place to see that there’s something wrong with the way my team is running,” Samantha said with sincerity. “Help me out, please?”

“Okay, then can I give you some honest feedback about some of the anti-patterns I’ve seen?” Larry asked tentatively.

Samantha hadn’t heard that term in a while. Anti-patterns was something she remembered during her Lean training last year but could never think of an instance that it applied to her so she forgot about it. He paused and then went on when Samantha nodded her head and smiled; signaling for him to continue.

“Well, I sense there’s little room for outsiders in your group. When I first joined your team, I felt like I an outsider looking in. The first meeting I was in, there was a lot of inappropriate joking and the team engaged in put downs. I don’t know if I can fit in with a culture like that. I believe it’s important to treat each of my team mates with respect and to act professionally,” Larry went on.

“We all respect each other, Larry. There’s so much trust in our group that we can do that and there’s no hard feelings,” Samantha countered.

“Right, I know that. I don’t mean to imply that the group isn’t tight. It’s obvious you are — but, there’s a consequence when those types of behaviors occur. New people feel like outsiders and communication is effected,” Larry said firmly.

Samantha thought on this and saw his point. “Okay, what else?” Samantha asked.

“Well, I observed that everyone on the team is really wrapped up in their own work. People don’t pair up on work or double check things for each other,”

“That’s only because everyone is so swamped with work. Even I put in late nights and weekends just to stay ahead,” Samantha said matter of factly.

“Right, but taking the time to double check each other’s work ensures quality and protects us from mistakes. Pairing up on projects and special tasks ensures the highest quality of work is produced. It’s just like in the factory. We can churn out product quickly, but if we’re doing rework constantly, then we’re really not as productive as we would like to think. It’s no different in the office.” Larry explained.

“True, but that’s why we have established processes and procedures,” Samantha answered.

“Yea… when’s the last time those were updated or even audited?”

Samantha closed her eyes and thought to herself. She couldn’t recall. She opened her eyes and saw Larry starring at her with a look that said he already knew the answer. “I guess it’s been a while.”

“Right, why do you think I made those changes to that report? It was dated and wasn’t fitting our needs anymore. Always be ready to adopt sensible alternatives to fit your needs; otherwise, you’ll be too busy doing work that isn’t adding value. Or worse, people stop thinking and blindly follow a process,” Larry said softly to soften the feedback.

“But, we spent weeks creating that process,” Samantha recalled working on it when she first took over as the District Manager.

“Simplicity. Focus on the most simple and direct solutions possible. I know it can be hard to kill a process that you worked hard on. But if it’s complex and hasn’t been updated in a while, it probably isn’t really being followed anymore or needs to be removed.”

Samantha started to feel the weight on her chest again. She knew deep down that everything Larry was saying was right. It was all so painfully obvious but she had failed to see it. Even after starring it in the face for so long. She must have been deep in thought because she didn’t notice the server take her empty glass away and return with another drink.

Daniel’s hearty laugh finally snapped her out of her haze and she looked up and saw him returning to their table. She looked back to Larry and smiled. “Larry, I’m glad I hired you. I guess I need to make some changes.”

Larry smiled back, “one step at a time; we’ll figure it out.”

Anti-Patterns Are Hard To Spot… Even When You’ve Been Starring Them In The Face For A Long Time

It’s hard to spot anti-patterns. Mainly because we, as humans, are a collection of past behaviors, our genetics, and the environment which acts upon us. Of course, we’re not just behaving creatures, we feel and think as wellMany times, we are unaware of the secondary effects of our behaviors. We start with a certain intention and behave in ways that are similar to our past; however, there can be unintentional consequences that impede the results we initially wanted. This is an anti-pattern.

Just as Larry explained above, Samantha never intended to foster a team culture that made outsiders feel unwelcome. In fact, she felt her team culture was one of trust. But her new employee was unwilling to speak up for himself. Team members were unwilling to pull themselves away from their work to help out a new team mate. It was clear that everyone on that team, even Samantha, was using the same anti-pattern.

Larry also went on to explain that there is too much work on everyone’s plate. So much so that old processes have not been updated and that the quality of work being produced by Samantha’s team was probably questionable. Did you know that putting more paper in the printer doesn’t make it print any faster? There’s only so much we can do in a given work day, and we should ensure quality is a part of our ever day work routines.

Producing quickly should not be the goal of a team. It’s not efficiency either. It’s stability and effectiveness. How long do you think Samantha was receiving that report without really questioning the quality? Without questioning how effective it was anymore? It wasn’t until Larry came along and started doing things effectively that Samantha even noticed.

Putting more paper in the printer doesn’t make it print any faster. Producing quickly should not be the goal of a team. It’s not efficiency either. It’s stability and effectiveness.

One quality of an effective leader is the ability to prioritize work. Not everything is “priority 1.” That sort of defeats the purpose of the word ‘priorities’ and if that’s your management style… Well, your employee turn over rate is probably high and employee satisfaction is likely low. Just saying. Figure out what’s important and let your team know. Only change the priorities after a business need exists. Command and control the priorities, not the people. People can’t produce quality work if they’re constantly being pulled in multiple directions by several priority 1 projects.

One quality of an effective leader is the ability to prioritize work. Command and control the priorities, not the people.

Anti-patterns are not unique to Agile. Or business. They exist in every day life. They can have an impact on our relationships, finances, diet, and our health. That’s why it’s important to constantly seek feedback. Challenge yourself to get perspectives from the highest level and all the way down in the weeds. Challenge your own perspective and poke holes in your logic. Why do you think so many successful leaders read books? Why do you think they take time to meditate? Or take classes or take up new hobbies? It’s because these kinds of activities shape perspective. They help us learn new behaviors and ways of thinking about the world. They help us spot those anti-patterns. They make us better leaders and people.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on anti-patterns or the ones you’ve recently spotted. If you’d like to have a discussion, leave a comment below or contact me. Feel free to connect with me on social media as well!

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Related Posts

Urban Legends In Our Organization. Listening To Our Naysayers, Seers, and Jaded Sage

Agile Leaders Understand Customer Service And Culture

The Five Levels Of Conflict

The People And Process Balancing Act

The Agile Manifesto Teaches Individuals and Interactions Over Processes and Tools

There’s a common misconception, especially among those new to Agile, that the relationship between people and processes is one of friction — that it’s a dichotomy. The subtlety of the language used, “individuals and interactions over processes and tools” implies that both need to exist. The framers of the Agile Manifesto even state, “while there is value in the items on the right (Processes and Tools), we value the items on the left more (Individuals and Interactions).” I agree with this and would also argue that processes and tools are an input to productive interactions among individuals. We know what is more valuable according to the Agile manifesto but, which one is most important? People or Processes? Maybe we’re thinking about it all wrong?

Chinks In The Armor

Asking, “what’s more important, people or processes?” is a fair question to ask when you’re new to Agile. Especially since most organizations looking to “go Agile” start with Scrum (by the way, practicing Scrum does not mean you are Agile. It’s a great start as long as the leadership team continues to stay open minded and doesn’t limit the organization to just Scrum). Usually, a handful of developers, project managers, business analysts and line of business managers are sent to a two-day class scrum class; they receive a certificate dubbing them newly minted “Certified Scrum Masters/Product Owners/Developers” and are given a small project to show a “proof of concept” with the

storm trooper
Scrum Reveals The Chinks in the Armor

new framework. It’s chaotic and exciting at the same time; however, the organization’s weaknesses begin to show up (Scrum has a way of shedding the spot light on the problems that have existed in the organization for a long time). I call these the “chinks in the armor.”

The biggest chink I’ve seen most teams discuss in their retrospectives are the People vs Process Dependencies. Invariably, team members and managers dig in their heels about which one is better. This is because people default to what they know best. They use what has worked for them in the past. Change is hard, even when there’s clear evidence that what they’ve been doing will not work anymore because of changes in the business environment.

As a coach, it’s important to understand the pros and cons of the people and process dependencies. It should be explained clearly with not only your teams but, with the management team too. The organization will have to move past striking a balance and figuring out which areas need the most improvement. Instead, they should assess the parts of each dependency and figure out what works best for them today. Below are some extreme examples of each dependency to illustrate the pros and cons of both.

People Dependency


  1. It gives workers satisfaction – employees feel satisfied when they know they are valued
  2. Flexible – employees are empowered to perform work in the way they feel is best
  3. Adaptable – the ability to pivot and make changes is the hallmark of business agility
  4. Efficient – unnecessary steps in a process are avoided
  5. Helps to retain high-achieving, confident, people – people stick around because they know they are important and are good at their job


  1. Less repeatability – changing processes are not repeatable and leads to waste
  2. Makes customers nervous – customers feel comfortable when there’s visibility on the process
  3. Can provide a “false sense” of a high degree of control – processes are measurable. What get’s measured gets done. When managers rely solely on the self-reporting, certain messages may get filtered and there is no data to verify.
  4. Turnover impacts are much greater – institutional knowledge can walk out the door or get hit by a bus
  5. Higher risks – for the reasons listed above

Process Dependecy


  1. Repeatability – repeatability helps with predictability
  2. Easier to improve – a documented process is easier to improve with less risk to the organization
  3. Less people dependent – automation of easily repeatable tasks frees up resources for more value added activities
  4. Predictability – it can be measured objectively and relied on as a lever for control in the organization
  5. Brings new personnel up to speed faster and with less risk of poor performance


  1. Paperwork can overshadow the task – processes that are overly complex distract from value added work
  2. Resources must be spent enforcing or ensuring compliance – managerial debt is incurred. Managers spend less time removing impediments and more time micromanaging processes.
  3. Someone must own and manage the process
  4. Less “thinking” is needed – employees and managers can become complacent if there’s no impetus for process improvement. This leads to waste. 

Processes Come First But They Should Not Be Valued

I know I’m going to rub a few people in the Scrum community the wrong way (and probably piss of a few of the business process analysts too) But, processes should come first but they should not be valued in the same way we value our people and interactions. It’s easy for managers to regard processes as instruments for control. Some managers finely craft their business processes. They labor over them and build complex systems for the organization. But only effective processes facilitate people. Not complex ones. If you require a practical rule of me, I recommend you murder your darlings.

“Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it — whole-heartedly — and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings”

— Arthur Quiller-Couch,

On the Art of Writing

vintage scale.jpg
People and Processes Are Not Equal

I argue that people and processes should not balance each other. Many representations of this balancing act builds a false dichotomy. It implies that they are of equal value. Like the framers of the Agile Manifesto, I do not value them the same way.

Processes should support our people and facilitate their interactions. Processes are either operational, supporting, or management oriented. If they do not provide value. Murder them. It’s up to the teams to decide which processes they need most and which ones can be forgotten. Each organization is different. Each darling should be judged accordingly — but retain the ones that still add value. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Don’t assume that just because you’re “doing Agile” that processes no longer needed to exist. No, processes are still important. They unlock your people’s ability to work at a higher level. But it’s time to end the love affair with processes and value your people.

Share your thoughts in a comment below. If you’d like to have a discussion, please contact me or connect with me on social media!

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Related Posts

The 5 P Pyramid Model. Assessing Policy, Process, Procedure, People and Personalities In Scrum

Improving Agile Retrospectives With SMART Goals

Six Elements of An Effective Strategy




Scrum Product Owners Part 2

The Product Owner Chooses Business Value

As the “single wring-able neck,” the Product Owner is tasked with maximizing business value and setting the direction for a new or existing product. She shares the guiding view into the future and collaborates with customers, stakeholders, technical teams, and supporting roles to steer the product to the desired end-state. In this article, I would like to share my favorite two value areas that effective Product Owners understand.

  1. Customer Service
  2. Operational Efficiency

1. Customer Service

An organization is nothing without it’s customers — they are either external or internal customers. Customers are the people who use the product to fulfill a specific need. A product that is easy to use and accurately fulfills a customer’s needs is valuable to the organization. Design considerations like User Interface and User Experience need to be considered when crafting user stories, however, the main consideration is, “how are we best serving our customer with this feature?” 

External Customers look to “exploit artefacts[sic] produced by the organization with specific requirements and specifications” (Hobbs, 2016). External customers are essential to the success of the organization as it operates to produce the artifacts specified by external customers.

Internal customers are all members of the organization who rely on assistance from each other to fulfill their duties in the production of artifacts specified by the external customers.

“If you build a great experience customers tell each other about that. Word of mouth is very powerful.”

— Jeff Bezos, Amazon

2. Operational Efficiency

An organization is unable to best serve it’s customers if it’s inefficient. While running the air conditioning in the middle of winter is wasteful, Product Owners go beyond the obvious to make operations more efficient. Below is a list of operational efficiencies in a ‘lean’ context that Product Owners should consider in their user stories. Product Owners should start with, “how does this feature improve our operations or reduce waste?”

  1. Reducing defects – features aimed at reducing defects strive to reduce errors, mistakes, rework, and preserve data integrity of internal and external customers.
  2. Reducing motion – features directed at reducing motion strive to automate a formerly paper-driven process. This helps improve efficiency and standardizes the quality of those processes. Additionally, frees up resource capacity so internal customers can engage in more technical work.
  3. Creating a common language – features sighted on centralizing information in a common place creates a lexicon synonymous with the organization. It simplifies the way information is shared and understood throughout the organization. Internal customers are all speaking and sharing the same meanings and when extended to client-facing applications, external customers speak the language too.
  4. Improving decision making – features trained on increasing transparency allow internal customer to make decisions quickly — ultimately helping organizations exercise business agility and ‘pivot’ when the internal or external environment prompts for it. 

Leave your thoughts on Product Ownership or Business Value in a comment below. If you’d like to have a discussion, please contact me or connect with me on social media!

Photo Credit: Pixabay


Hobbs, B. &. (2016). Projects with internal vs. external customers: An empirical investigation of variation in practice. International Journal of Project Management Volume 34, Issue 4, 675 – 687.

Related Posts

Scrum Product Owners Part 1: The Product Owner Steers The Ship

The 5 P Pyramid Model. Assessing Policy, Process, Procedure, People and Personalities In Scrum

Six Elements Of An Effective Strategy

Agile Leaders Understand Customer Service and Culture 




Scrum Product Owners Part 1

The Product Owner Steers The Ship

The Product Owner can be described as the “single wring-able neck” in Scrum. They are responsible for maximizing value and setting the direction for a new or existing product. They work with development teams, stakeholders, groom & prioritize their backlog, and share a guiding view into the future. The Product Owner is the most important role in the organization and only a special kind of person volunteers for it. The rest are usually ‘volun-told.’

Intention and style shape the effectiveness of a Product Owner. Like all of us, Product Owners come from different backgrounds or roles. Angela Druckman, of the Druckman Company has a wonderful series on Product Ownership and I have personally worked with her and attended her Certified Scrum Master and Certified Scrum Product Owner courses during our Agile Transformation at the Nevada Department of Transportation.

As a coach, we don’t want to make assumptions about the anti-patterns our Product Owners may have inherited from their previous roles.

“An anti-pattern is something that looks like a good idea, but which backfires badly when applied.”

-Jim Coplien

Never assume that an ex-project manager uses “command and control” with their teams or that ex-business analyst will struggle with emotional intelligence. Leave all judgement to Judge Judy. Your job as a coach isn’t to fix anti-patterns. It’s to tap into people’s potential. Anti-patterns will extinguish as each person’s potential is unlocked and the agile mindset becomes a part of who they are. 

Captain & First Mate: Product Owner & Scrum Master

The first thing I want to stress is the relationship between a Product Owner and Scrum Master. These two roles, when combined with the Delivery Team, are a lot like a Project Manager and Delivery Team. Let’s take a 30,000ft view of the 10 Knowledge Areas of Project Management and see where the Product Owner and Scrum Master have responsibility in regards to traditional project management and its’ relation to iterative product development.

  • Integration Management
    • Traditional: This responsibility falls onto the Project Manager via a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) and Gantt Charts.
    • Scrum: This responsibility is shared among the Delivery Team, Product Owner, and Scrum Master via collaboration and iterative development.
  • Scope Management 
    • Traditional: This responsibility falls onto the Project Manager and Change Control Board via the Scope Baseline and Change Management Process.
    • Scrum: This responsibility is the Product Owner’s via collaboration with stakeholders, prioritizing business objectives, and the product backlog.
  • Cost Management
    • Traditional: This responsibility falls onto the Project Manager via the Cost Baseline, budget, and Change Management Process
    • Scrum: This responsibility is the Product Owner’s via iterative delivery, business objectives, and budget.
  • Time Management (formerly Schedule Management)
    • Traditional: This responsibility fall onto the Project Manager via the Schedule Baseline, critical path, and Gantt Chart.
    • Scrum: This responsibility is shared among the Delivery Team and Product Owner via iterative releases.
  • Quality Management
    • Traditional: This responsibility falls onto the Project Manager and delivery team via Quality Assurance (QA), Quality Control (QC), and User Acceptance Testing (UAT).
    • Scrum: This responsibility is shared among the Delivery Team, Scrum Master, and Product Owner via Quality Assurance (QA), Quality Control (QC), Sprint Reviews with stakeholders & Product Owner, Scrum Master resolving impediments during the daily stand-up, and Agile Retrospectives.
  • Procurement Management
    • Traditional: This responsibility falls onto the Project Manager and stakeholders via the organization’s Project Management Office procurement Policies, Processes, and Procedures
    • Scrum: This responsibility is not defined in Scrum, however, the organization’s Policies, Processes, and Procedures should be followed. A Scrum Master or  Product Owner should work closely with the Project Management Office.
  • Stakeholder Management
    • Traditional: This responsibility falls onto the Project Manager via the stakeholder management plan.
    • Scrum: This responsibility is shared among by the Product Owner and Scrum Master. The Product Owner elicits requirements from stakeholders and the Scrum Master insulates the Delivery Team so they can focus on the product.
  • Communication Management
    • Traditional: This responsibility falls onto the Project Manager via the communication plan.
    • Scrum: This responsibility is shared among the Delivery Team, Product Owner, and Scrum Master. The Delivery Team meets daily and communicates progress and impediments. The Product Owner manages stakeholder expectations. The Scrum Master can assist with managing stakeholder expectations, facilitates the Daily Stand-up, Sprint Planning, The Sprint Review, The Sprint Retrospective, and coaches the principles of Agile to everyone in the organization.
  • Resource Management (formerly Human Resource Management)
    • Traditional: This responsibility falls onto the Project Manager via the Resource Management Plan.
    • Scrum: This responsibility falls onto the Delivery Team and Scrum Master via iterative planning sessions, capacity planning for each iteration, and relative estimation and using past performance to forecast velocity.
  • Risk Management
    • Traditional: This responsibility falls onto the Project Manager via the Risk Register, Risk Management Plan, and Contingency Reserves.
    • Scrum: This responsibility is shared among the Delivery Team, Scrum Master, and Product Owner. The Delivery Team and Scrum Master use retrospectives to address risk and improve how they work. The Product Owner sets the guiding view into the future, sets the priorities for each iteration via the backlog, and makes informed decisions based on the technical expertise of the team and the strategy of the organization.

While the above is a high-level, “vanilla,” list of the shared responsibilities and activities, it illustrates my point. The Product Owner and Scrum Master are a lot like a Project Manager split into two roles. This allows them to share responsibilities and specialize in select areas — making them more effective and increasing the chances of success. As a coach, we need to make sure these two stand as a united front. The Product Owner steers the ship and the Scrum Master is the first-mate.

Leave your thoughts on Product Ownership, Scrum, or Project Management in a comment below or if you’d like to have a discussion, please contact me or connect with me on social media!

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Related Posts

Improving Agile Retrospectives with SMART Goals





Improving Agile Retrospectives With SMART Goals

Soccer goal on an green field

Improving Agile Retrospectives With SMART Goals

Agile retrospectives are one of the best feedback loops built into Scrum. It allows delivery teams to pause from their day-to-day work to inspect and adapt their way of doing things. One of the final deliverables of an effective retrospective is a plan to implement improvements on how they build their products. Some of the things a delivery team may choose to look at are:

  • Tools & Techniques,
  • Processes & Practices,
  • People & Communication,
  • Quality & Risks,
  • Project Scope & Schedule,
  • Technical Debt & System Architecture,
  • Organizational Culture & Priorities.

A Caution For New Scrum Masters

While the above listed topics usually elicit deep, and sometimes passionate discussions, new teams may fail to actually develop and implement an effective plan to address the insights they generated. When I first started running my Agile retrospectives, my delivery teams would generate valuable insights, have deep and meaningful conversation, and then leave feeling a bit exhausted but generally glad that some dirty laundry was aired.

The result was mostly positive. Team members would develop better working relationships with each other and be more open to practicing empathy on a day-to-day basis. However, after a while, I observed that the discussions kept gravitating towards the same things over and over again. I realized some teams weren’t developing and implementing any plans to improve themselves.

As a scrum master, I was letting my teams down. I was facilitating great discussions and watching the teams develop better working relationships. Of course this was an accomplishment, however, that accomplishment was blinding me to the fact that the teams were maturing and ready to tackle process related problems. They moved past their interpersonal differences and were ready to tackle deeper issues. It was easy to recover from that fumble and SMART Goals helped me do it.


A SMART goal is an acronym based goal setting guide. It stands for: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. It’s simple to use and forces teams to think, plan, clarify, and begin measuring their goals. To help your team set a SMART goal in a retrospective setting, I recommend allocating the last 20 minutes of the retrospective and writing the following quote and the word “SMART” on a white board.

“A dream is just a dream. A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline.”

– Harvey Mackay

S – specific

We want to be as precise as possible with what the team is trying to fix or improve on. One tool I use comes directly from scrum — I have the team write a user story.

As a <delivery team> we want to <address some issue> so that we can <some improvement to be made>.

This should be done in an iterative fashion if the user story is not specific enough. Asking the below questions will help the team zero in on the specifics of their SMART goal.

  • Why do we want this?
  • Who is involved?
  • What resources are constrained?
  • Why is the goal so important to us?
M – measurable

What gets measured gets done. Think of this portion as the acceptance criteria of the user story. The measurements will be unique to the goal, but try to use quantifiable items. Ask questions about the desired end state. If the SMART goal is centered around the project you can use the 10 knowledge areas

  • Project Integration Management
  • Scope Management
  • Cost Management
  • Schedule Management
  • Quality Management
  • Risk Management
  • Resource Management
  • Procurement Management
  • Communication Management
  • Stakeholder Management
A – attainable

This is our first check point — the team should reflect and assess if their SMART goal is realistic. Like effective user stories, we need to check if the SMART goal is independent and free of dependencies. If the SMART goal isn’t free of dependencies, the team may need to return to the Specific portion of their SMART goal and address any dependencies that exist.

R – relevant

This is our second check point — the team should reflect and assess if their SMART goal is germane to the insights discussed during the retrospective. As a Scrum Master, you can ask questions like:

  • Is this a worthwhile effort?
  • Are we the right group of people to take on this effort?
  • Is this the right time to address this effort?

Again, if the team doesn’t define the SMART goal as worthwhile or discovers they are not the right group of people to take on the effort, they should return to the Specific portion of their SMART goal and identify something within their span of control.

Note: if the team discovers that another group is more suitable to address the issue discussed, the Scrum Master should take the generated insights and work with that group after the retrospective adjourns. 

T – time bound

The final step is to establish a target date. Teams tend to work better when there’s a deadline in place. The team, armed with the specifics of their SMART goal, defined metrics, and an ideal end state should be able to set a realistic date. In my experience, the date should be no more than 2-iteration lengths (4-weeks total assuming 2-week iterations).

Leave your thoughts on Agile retrospectives or SMART goals in the comments below or if you’d like to have a discussion, please contact me or connect with me on social media!

Photo Credit: Flickr

Related Posts
For more on:

The 5 P Pyramid Model. Assessing Policy, Process, Procedure, People and Personalities In Scrum.

The 5 P Pyramid Model.

I recall my first software development project as both exciting and nerve racking. Luckily, I was paired with an extremely talented Business Process Analyst who’s approach to requirements gathering was both methodical and like watching an artist at work. He introduced me to several ways of thinking about organizations — what I now call the 5 P Pyramid Model. This model has helped me analyze business processes and has been a wonderful tool for change management and exercising business agility. I continue to refine his ideas and accumulate my own knowledge, however, I would like to share his lessons with you by using the Scrum Process as an example.

“When eliciting requirements or attempting to document information from your stakeholders, keep the following items in mind:

The 5 P Pyramid Model
  1. Policies,
  2. Processes,
  3. Procedures,
  4. People, and their
  5. Personalities”


Policy is about understanding the landscape you operate in and those affected by your decisions. Policies guide decisions and provide rationale for their existence. Well written policies describe the what — they do not describe how an organization will fulfill the requirements of the policy. Generally, you can bucket your policies as external and internal. Internal policies also have two characteristics: De jure and de facto.

  • External policies are the laws and industry standards your organizations must adhere to. These include international, federal, and state laws you must adhere. In the case of Scrum, a government agency has policies regarding purchasing. Here is a great article regarding public-sector purchasing using Agile.
  • Internal policies are the policies related to the organization’s vision, mission, and goals. Whether undergoing business projects or internal IT projects, policies regarding how products and projects are delivered also exist. In the case of Agile, an organization’s policy describes the use of iterative and incremental development techniques vs. gated and sequential development.
    • De jure internal policies: Have been formally evaluated, approved, and adopted by the organization. Usually, they are easily accessible, understandable, and “written in stone.”
    • De facto internal policies: Have been widely adopted and accepted by the organization, however, they are not written and documented — leaving room for interpretation. Finding and documenting these policies can be difficult. At times it can feel like you’re on a journey to find the tribal leaders who can teach you the “song of the tribe.” It becomes increasingly difficult to find the tribal leaders to teach us their “songs” as more people retire and the trend for job hopping continues to grow.


Business processes are the high level activities that an organization accomplishes in order to fulfill policies. They can and should be analyzed at different degrees of resolution. Think about the saying, “Give me the 30,000 foot view” vs. “At the ground level.” They should be assessed and dropped into three different categories:

  1. Operational processes are the processes related to an organization’s value chain. They are the core business activities that organizations engage in to deliver their goods and services. Using the processes that our Scrum teams use, we can see that the Sprint Review and Pushing Code to Production directly add value to our customers because this is where our stakeholders review and accept the code (sprint review) that was developed during the iteration and the delivery team makes it available to for use (delivery of shippable code).
  2. Supporting processes are the secondary functions that exist within the organization. They support the core business processes but do not provide value to the customers directly — Sprint planning and the daily scrum is where our delivery team plans what will be worked on (planning) and discusses the work being done over the past 24 hours to address any impediments to meeting the sprint goals (daily stand up). 
  3. Management processes help coordinate the operations and supporting processes. They drive for business efficiency and success. The sprint retrospective is used by the delivery team to inspect and adapt their daily work to improve efficiency and product backlog grooming is for prioritization, addressing dependencies, and writing effective user stories before the next planning meeting.


Scrum Process Diagram
A 30,000ft view of the Scrum Process

Procedures & People

Procedures are the steps that need to occur in each process to reach desired outcomes. They are normally fulfilled by a combination of people & technologies and are sometimes referred to as standard operating procedures. Let’s look at the procedures in our Scrum processes as an example and identify the people involved.

Sprint Planning
  1. Scrum Master: Opens the planning session, sets expectations, announces the agenda, and enforces a “time-box” throughout the planning session.
  2. Product Owner: Presents a prioritized and groomed product backlog to the Delivery Team and states what business objectives the stakeholders want attention during the iteration.
  3. Delivery Team: Examines the high priority user stories, asks clarifying questions with the Product Owner, identifies potential risks & dependencies, and helps refine acceptance criteria.
  4. Scrum Master and Delivery Team: Reviews the velocity from the last few iterations and plans their capacity for the coming sprint.
  5. Delivery Team: Uses relative estimation to size the user stories.
  6. Delivery Team: Uses their past velocity to benchmark how many user stories should be responsibly committed to.
  7. Product Owner and Delivery Team: Finalizes the Sprint Goal together.
Daily Scrum (aka. Daily Stand-up)
  1. Scrum Master: Ensures the meeting occurs, ensures no management interference on the free flow of information and discussion, and enforces a 15-minute “time-box” on the Daily Stand-up.
  2. Delivery Team: Conducts the meeting and discusses the progress towards the Sprint Goal.
  3. Product Owner: When available, attends the meeting to answer questions for the Delivery Team and makes decisions when needed.
  4. Scrum Master: Makes notes of any impediments that the Delivery Team is facing and immediately takes action following the Daily Stand-up to resolve impediments.
Sprint Review
  1. Scrum Master: Opens the Sprint Review, sets expectations, announces the agenda, and enforces a “time-box” throughout the review.
  2. Delivery Team: Presents their work in accordance with the acceptance criteria agreed upon during the planning meeting to both the Product Owner and any stakeholders invited to the meeting.
  3. Product Owner & stakeholders: Once the Delivery Team has finished presenting their work, the Product Owner and stakeholders are invited to ask clarifying questions and interact with what was built.
  4. Product Owner & Delivery Team: Takes notes of any issues, risks, or concerns from the stakeholders related to what was built or will be built in the near future.
  5. Product Owner: Accepts or Rejects each user story the Delivery Team worked on during the sprint.
Delivery of Shippable Code

Teams and organizations have their own way of pushing their code into their production environments. Due to the various best practices that exist, a separate blog post will be posted to address this at a later time. Seriously! This could be a ph.D thesis!

Sprint Retrospective
  1. Scrum Master: Facilitates the meeting, enforces a “time-box” and “sets the stage” –all information shared during the Retrospective stays within the meeting. I call this the “Vegas Rule” because what happens in Retro stays in Retro.
  2. Scrum Master: Starts with an ice-breaker if the Delivery Team is new and reviews past velocity with the team. The Scrum Master may also reminds the team of all the impediments that occurred during the sprint if the Delivery Team faced any during the sprint.
  3. Scrum Master and Delivery Team: The Scrum Master facilitates “Data Gathering” activity and the Delivery Team produces the data.
  4. Scrum Master and Delivery Team: The Scrum Master facilitates an “Insight Creation” activity and the Delivery Team creates the insights.
  5. Scrum Master and Deliver Team: The Scrum Master facilitates a “Prioritization” activity and the Delivery Team prioritizes what they want to improve.
  6. Scrum Master and Delivery Team: Decides how they will improve their own processes (either operating, supporting, or managerial processes) and creates a realistic plan to execute on. Scrum Master may need to coach new Delivery Teams about developing SMART Goals or some other goal setting techniques.
Product Backlog Grooming
  1. Product Owner: Prioritize the Product Backlog based on business objectives.
  2. Product Owner and Scrum Master: Gathers the requirements from stakeholders and writes preliminary User Stories and Acceptance Criteria
    • User Stories: As a <some role or person>, I want to <some procedure>, so I can <achieve a business outcome>.
    • Acceptance Criteria:
      • Functional
      • Non-Functional
      • Performance
      • Security
  3. Product Owner, Delivery Team, Scrum Master and invited stakeholders: Scrum Master and Product Owner facilitates an activity for the stakeholders and Delivery Team to refine the user stories and acceptance criteria.


The personalities of our employees influences their effectiveness for their role(s). Selecting the right people with desired personalities ensures that the procedures and processes are completed correctly and in a manner that matches the organizational culture. While I won’t go into the different “types of personalities,” I will speak to the types of characteristics and traits that make an effective Scrum Master, Product Owner, and Delivery Team member.

  • Scrum Master
    • Ability to coach others with empathy.
    • Ability to resolve conflict and communicate with empathy.
    • Deep understanding of Agile and Project Management.
    • Facilitation skills and creativity.
    • Servant Leadership.
    • High level IT skills and knowledge.
    • Business acumen.
  • Product Owner
    • Strong leadership.
    • Ability to prioritize work and competing demands.
    • Ability to make decisions independently.
    • Ability to gather business requirements and elicit information from stakeholders.
    • Understanding of Agile and Project Management.
    • Domain knowledge.
    • Tactful communication skills.
  • Delivery Team Member
    • Ability to work well with others.
    • Openness to coaching.
    • Strong communication skills.
    • Strong technical skills.
    • Ability to analyze and solve problems.
    • Honesty and integrity.
    • Understanding of Agile and Project Management.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the 5 P Pyramid Model in the comments below or if you’d like to have a discussion about Business Process Analysis, please contact or connect with me on social media!

Photo Credit: Flickr

Related Posts
For more on: