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Giving teams the best start

How you kick-off a team is important!   In fact it’s so important, that when you get it right your team can perform up to 30% better. That's what research by J. Richard Hackman tells us and it’s certainly consistent with my own observations.   What exactly is a kick-off? A kick-off...

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Agile Project Inception with a Press Release

I really like Jonathan Rasmussen’s project inception deck as a simple, quick and cut-to-the-chase way of kicking off projects. Overall, I pretty much stick to Jonathan’s content and flow, but sometimes, I use a press release exercise instead of a product box. The idea of refining a product vision through writing a press release has originally been used by Amazon.com as a mechanism to determine whether a product or service should be built.

Utilisation, Teams and “Resources”

In many companies, especially those who provide services to external clients, the main focus from a project management perspective seems to be on resource allocation and utilisation. People are viewed as individual “resources” and an important goal is to maximise people’s utilisation (Before you say this is not true, think about how important this metric is at your company and that people tend to optimise what is being measured).
 
I know that especially for vendors who often charge by the hour or have to keep cost down in a fixed price and scope scenario, utilisation is hugely important. That’s fair enough. However, making utilisation the main driving factor, will backfire and ultimately lower utilisation. 
 

Why is this a problem?

 
By foregoing the team approach, aiming to maximise utilisation and piecing together projects through dynamically allocating and re-allocating people we:

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Checklists

Checklists have a somewhat bad reputation in the Agile world, probably because they “smell” of too little self-organisation and too much process. I find this reputation is entirely undeserved as they can be extremely useful as a memory aid, or to visualize a workflow. 

Checklists play an important role in areas where missing steps can have disastrous consequences, such as in hospitals or airplanes; or in situations where people are likely to forget individual steps, such as when they’re stressed and tired; or while learning a new process or way of working. 

At work we mainly use checklists when we want to introduce a new workflow and need to make sure we don’t forget about the process or any of its steps. 

Here’s an example of our checklist for the sprint workflow and working with user stories:

Why being a Scrum Master is a full time job

An adequate Scrum Master can handle two or three teams at the time; a great one can only handle one”. (Michael James – An Example Scrum Master’s checklist)

I found that organisations, teams and new Scrum Masters (even freshly certified ones) often aren’t sure what the Scrum Master role entails and what value it provides. 

Here is my attempt to summarize what a good Scrum Master does:
 

The Scrum Master role

Some teams are like symphony orchestras, so they need a leader who keeps everyone on the same sheet of music. Conductors have to be deeply familiar with each instrument and with the music, yet they don’t play in the band or tell the musicians what to do. They let the music provide detailed guidance; their job is to bring out the best in the musicians, both individually and as a group.” (Mike Cohn – Succeeding with Agile)“A Scrum Master is like a conductor coordinating the efforts of musicians, helping them to play together. Some teams are like jazz bands, so they need a leader who encourages improvisation.


 In general the Scrum Master …

 

  • makes sure the team is running (good) Agile development
  • assists team members in adopting and improving Agile Development
  • helps the team maximise throughput and to work in the best possible way
     

How to pick a Scrum team

I was recently asked by a friend how to pick an Agile team. 
 
My friend is a project manager within a New Zealand government department and to deliver an important project he was given complete freedom of choice with regards to project methodology and people.
 
He chose Agile and Scrum as a delivery framework and needed 8 people to form his dream team. The big question was which people to pick and which skills to focus on. 
 
I’ve never been fortunate enough to pick my own scrum team. Normally, I get a certain degree of choice and then a combination of who happens to be available and people who I really, really fight for. And sometimes I fight to avoid getting someone on the team.