Play it SAFe

It has been an interesting past few weeks in work, we have been planning our first SAFe increment as an experiment and as a change to our usual 6 week planning.

A great resource for me was “Pacific Express” by Alex Yakyma.  It is a Semi-Fictional take on how Alex brought SAFe, specifically the Agile Release Train to a large scale company.  The way that Alex describes the whole process from a Contractor point of view, having to find out the current issues, explain how SAFe can help improve or remove these issues alongside selling SAFe to the company was very helpful.

What really helped me was the way Alex broke down the events of SAFe, explaining each part of the increment planning, it’s purpose and what we expected to get out of it.  It helped me in my opening speech on explaining the events of the increment planning.

Well worth a read alongside the interactive SAFe diagram at Scaled Agile Framework

The Scrum Guide

I was recently watching a Scrum Webinar where they polled the audience on whether they had read the latest Scrum Guide or any version of the Scrum Guide.  77% said that they had read the guide with the remainder saying that they had not read it.  I decided to post this for anyone looking who has not read it or anyone who is looking to familiarise themselves with it.

Described as “The book of knowledge” by most people and as “The rules of the game” within the guide,  the guide has been written and updated by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland to give an overview of Scrum and is an important read for anyone currently using or looking to roll out Scrum to their organisation.

It has been updated on a few occasions since it was released in 2010 so it is always best to check the website to make sure you have the latest version.  I started my journey with Scrum in 2008 reading the “Agile Project Management with Scrum” by Ken Schwaber and whilst there was no guide at the time, this was my textbook my source of clarification and checking if I was doing things right or had a clear view of the roles and rules.  The guide is a quick way for people to check that they are on the right track and the beauty is that it will always be the latest version.

“Scrum is a framework for developing and sustaining complex products. This Guide contains the definition of Scrum. This definition consists of Scrum’s roles, events, artifacts, and the rules that bind them together. Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland developed Scrum; the Scrum Guide is written and provided by them. Together, they stand behind the Scrum Guide.” (

Scrum Guides websites

PDF Version Scrum-Guide-US

Distributed teams and Online Scrum Walls

There has been widespread debate around physical Scrum Walls vs digital Scrum Walls for teams for some time now.  I know that this totally depends on the situation of your teams as to which method you choose.  Personally, having used both physical and digital walls I feel at home using both.  Each has their benefits depending on what type of team you have, whether the team is collocated or distributed and the ease of locating space on a wall big enough to house your board.  As always I would say research both and pick which one is most suitable to your needs and way of working.  If you find that either is not working, don’t be afraid to change!

When I started with Scrum a long time ago now, our Scrum Walls were physical.  Lines drawn out with the iconic blue 3M tape adorned every spare piece of wall in our office.  No wall was safe!  Our development teams were based in one location, our Product Owner was based in another and the task of keeping the Wall up to date was a mammoth task.  It was easy for our developers to physically walk up to the board and move a task to the relevant position on the board once it was completed, but it was hard for our Product Owner to keep abreast of what was happening.  It was dependent on constant communication from the team to the PO to keep him up to date with how work was progressing.  It is easy for a PO based with the team to look at a wall to give any status reports, but it is more of a labored task for a distributed PO to see a physical board and quickly give an update to a stakeholder, so it was important for us to always keep the PO in the loop.  Sometimes the communication would fail and with that work slowed so I needed another solution.

This problem sent me on a quest to find a Scrum Wall that worked alongside our existing physical wall but made this available online without compromising the work of the team.  One that would make the wall available online but deliver notifications if tasks were assigned to the PO.  If you have read my previous blog post about the online Scrum Wall that used QR codes placed on our User Stories and tasks to plot them to an online Scrum Wall, then you will see how highly I rated this at the time (although, my teams didn’t rate it as highly as I did and I put this down to the inner tech geek within me that though QR codes were cool at the time).  It did seem as though it would work well in theory but in practice it was a logistical nightmare as you had to print the cards out, physically write on the cards, use a high definition camera to take a picture of the board and then upload the picture for the system to map out the points and move cards to their new positions by comparing it against the last photograph taken.  If you missed a photo or if sunlight was hitting the board the wrong way the picture would be spoiled and have to be run through again.  Even writing out that process makes me tired.

Eventually we opted for the tried and trusted method of pointing a webcam at the board and carrying out our Daily Standups.  It wasn’t without its problems but it worked for us.  Our teams then moved in house with everyone located in the same building and we concentrated on our physical walls and our efforts to move to digital were put to bed.

When I started with my new company I realised that my teams were distributed again.  But thankfully the days of everyone piling into a small room with a 2 megapixel camera, one microphone and a raft of background noise have passed.  The infrastructure now available for teams to communicate is out of this world compared to a few years ago.  We are currently using Skype for business (Previously Lync) and our systems are equipped with HD webcams and advanced conference phones with webcams to help our teams keep in touch.  This is a lot better than previous methods that I have used and it is a useful tool for distributed teams.

With an improvement in infrastructure, software tools have also come a long way since I started with my first distributed team.  Online Scrum Walls have become a lot more advanced and usable.  The main online Scrum Wall that I use is a tool called Kanbanize.  This is a tool that makes it simple to make online Scrum Wall’s or Kanban boards and allows you to tailor them to your specific team.  The god send for the Scrum Master is the ability to utilize Kanbanize to automatically import Bugs or PBI’s from Team Foundation Server or Jira when an item is created by the team.  When a PBI or Bug is created we have set Kanbanize to import the task to the relevant Scrum wall, complete with PBI/Bug number, description, link back to TFS and which Swimlane the task should reside in.  We then pull the PBI from the backlog to the Sprint backlog when it is needed.  So no more manual input and precious time saved!  It allows you to tailor the columns or swimlanes to match your physical Scrum Wall as shown below.


Tasks can be colour coded and each user can set their own avatar that will appear on each task assigned to them, mirroring our usual physical Scrum Wall.  With alerts being sent when a task is assigned or switches assignee or if a task is blocked it really is a useful tool for helping teams work together when they are not in the same location.  We share our board on screen as part of our daily Standup so it really is like we are meeting in front of our Scrum Wall every morning.

You can check out Kanbanize’s feature list here but it would be interesting to hear your views on Digital Scrum walls, your experiences or oven opinions on other tools that I should consider for a distributed team.

I will admit, I do love a physical Scrum Wall and I have created one in addition to our online Scrum Walls in our office.  You are probably thinking, why does he need this if he has them online?  Well, I find that it is a good information radiator for people working on the project or different projects.  I also find it useful for people randomly walking past and asking what the board is, what its purpose is and generally showing an interest in Scrum.  All of this is beneficial even though it does require a little overhead.  So there you have it, an example of finding what works well for you and making it happen.

Demonstrating Acceptance Criteria

I have found myself reading a lot of Agile books over the years.  I aim to take 2 or 3 pointers, minimum, away from each book to help challenge the way that our teams work with a view to making improvements.  I have found that this has taken me a little time, often rereading chapters to put things into context and then breaking things down into scenarios that I can use to demonstrate what I have learned practically.

I find that acting things out using scenarios is the best way for me to learn things and put things into action with my teams and I bet it is the same for a lot of people too!  There are a few demonstrations that I have encountered in Agile like the ball game that most of us will be familiar with from our CSM training or the Penny Game that Ian Carroll demonstrated at his Kanban talk during Lean Agile Scotland this year.

I find these type of exercises useful as there is always a scenario, an action that someone can take to improve things and a subsequent consequence of implementing the improvement that makes people think about how they do things.  These can then be compared to the way that teams currently work and improvements suggested.  I have always seen these exercises for teams in terms of improving estimation and velocity but had never seen a practical exercise for actual work items.

Tom Reynolds has created a blog post that got me thinking about Acceptance Criteria and how I can promote to my teams the importance of making their Acceptance Criteria meaningful and challenge themselves to push for improvements.  It is a simple method that explores the power of acceptance criteria by drawing a house.  Tom begins by asking everyone to draw a house whilst he draws his own house out of sight of everyone else.  Once everyone has drawn their house he will go around and inspect each house.  He notes that on the first pass everyone has drawn a house that does not meet his expectations as a stakeholder.  He then gives a set of detailed acceptance criteria regarding door placements, number of windows etc that allows each person to then go and redraw the house.

Once each person has redrawn their house he inspects them again, most are identical and some with slight differences but ultimately pass the acceptance criteria set, whereas the ones that are off spec are rejected.  This shows that when given detailed acceptance criteria, the likelihood of delivering what is needed is greatly improved.

In general, if a team are given acceptance criteria that is open to interpretation, the delivered item may not be exactly what is expected to be delivered by the Stakeholder.  We must encourage our teams to review acceptance criteria and challenge it as part of our refinement sessions if there is not enough detail there.  That way we can make sure that we are delivering exactly what is needed consistently.

Blog update!

Hi everyone and welcome to my blog!  It has been just over 6 years since I have last used this blog.  I have given it a fresh lick of paint by moving to a wordpress setup which should make it easier for me to update.  In doing this I have imported all of my old blog posts which should make for interesting reading 🙂

I was commuting to work the other day and overheard 2 young people having a conversation about writing a blog.  The first thing that they said was “you need a catchy name and a good URL” before you even get started.  This started me off, as I remembered that I had the “thedailyscrum” URL that was currently pointing towards a lot of targeted Scrum links as it had remained untouched for quite some time.  I also had the”thedailyscrum” twitter name too that had been sitting gathering dust.  So I thought I would put both to good use again.  Unfortunately I was too busy thinking about blog themes and what to write about that I didn’t catch what the other areas of good blog writing were, so please forgive me 🙂

A lot has changed since I last wrote a blog post.  I have changed industries from Social Networking and Mobile Applications to working in Pensions and Investments.   It was a strange transition at first.  Even though the industries were polar opposites the technology and the Scrum fundamentals were the same.  It did take me a little while to get my head around this but once I was able to break things down and think about how things were done I quickly got my bearings.

The company have also given me time to grow in experience and as a professional, working on a vast array of projects of different sizes involving multiple areas of the business.  This has given me the chance to work with different people from all different backgrounds and coach our teams to improve using agile methods.  I have also been given the time to gain my Certified Scrum Professional (CSP) and Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO) to add to my Certified Scrum Master (CSM) credentials.

Alongside this they have given me the chance to work with colocated teams as well as distributed teams using some of the latest technology on the market.  So hopefully I should have some interesting topics to write about but for now, my main task is to get my blog theme as pretty as possible.

Scrum Software on the iPhone.

Our Scrum Team recently gained a new member and I came to the stark realization that everyone in our team has an iPhone!  How awesome is that!!  (Yes, the sceptics amongst you who have not converted to the Church of Apple may scorn all you want! but we don’t care :D)

First up is Planning Poker.  Gone are the days of having to sort your Poker Cards into each individual set so that every member of the team has their own set of cards.  Only for someone to shuffle them before you use them (Yep, weve all done it).  There are a few software developers who have taken Planning poker into the future.

James Williams has created a pretty little application for the iPhone to mimic Planning Poker called Agile Poker.  The user is presented with a really easy user interface and coupled with the touch screen on the iPhone it couldn’t be easier to select your estimate.  The nice graphics and slick animation that is shown when a card is selected is pretty cool too. Available Free on iTunes here

Options ScreenCard UI

Card SelectedCard Selected

Next up us Planning Poker from Francois Baronnet.  A similar Planning Poker application but it is a little more bland graphics wise and a little cluttered.  The user interface is a little more complex too with the user having to tap twice on a card to select it.  There are 2 modes to display your chosen card.  Fast, which shows your chosen card instantly or there is the “Flashy” method, which turns the card from face down to face up.  Overall, it is a little complex but it does what it says on the tin. Available Free on iTunes here

Planning PokerWelcome ScreenCard SelectionCard Shown

Agile Poker by Hortis is a silverlight looking application that offers a good help section with some tips on carrying out Planning.  The application its self is different from any other planning application on iTunes.  It has all of the cards in a straight line that the user must scroll through.  The sensitivity of the scrolling mechanism is a little high and selecting a card can be a bit of a chore (you often skip the one you want).  The animation is pretty slick, but the way that the card is displayed really lets the rest of the app down.  It does what it says on the tin though. Available Free on iTunes here

Start Screen

Card Chooser

Help ScreenCard Selected

Planning Poker by Unboxed Consulting is a pretty good Planning Poker Application.  It has a simple layout and easy one touch card selection which triggers a simple but effective animation.  The only thing is that you need to shake the iPhone to cancel your card selection in order to continue (this is a setting that you can switch off tho).  This application also has a configurable timer that allows you to time your planning session.  It is also tailorable to suit different types of planning, from the fibonacci to Binary.  This is a very effective application. Available Free on iTunes here

Home PageCard SelectionTimerOptions

Last but not least for the Agile Planning Poker Apps is an app by Greg Paterson called Agile Planner.  The user selects an estimate from a scrollable list and then clicks hide  This then hides the estimate from view.  The user then has to click flip to show their estimate.  Its pretty basic.  But I don’t see why it couldn’t be used. Available Free on iTunes here

Main PageChosen card

I also found an app from Scrum wall that lets you control your agile project by using Scrum Wall.  I will need to look into how this works and update you all later 🙂  But it is Available on iTunes here if anyone wants to look.

Hopefully I have given you enough insight into making your planning more effective and fun at the same time.  If you don’t have an iPhone.  Go get one!


Online Scrum Wall

This is my first blog post in a while.  I have been taking part in some really interesting Iterations recently that have pushed the boundary of what I have learned and really pushed me to learn more.  The one thing I have learned about Scrum is that you don’t stop learning about Scrum 🙂

I work as part of a team that are based in different locations.  Our Product Owner is based in Boston and our team are based in the UK.  One of the main problems that was highlighted at our retrospective was that the Product Owner could not see our Scrum Wall and therefore did not have a guage of how things were going.

We communicate with our Product Owner through webcam using Skype at the moment.  Unfortunately the webcam that we use (which is pretty high spec) cannot focus in on our Scrum Wall and therefore he cannot read the tasks.  I then set myself a task to investigate an online Scrum Wall application that would allow our PO to view the wall.

I investigated all of the different types of Scrum Wall.  Some were paid for, some were free but insecure.  I found one site that offered an online Scrum Wall here Scrum Wall.  The product is in Beta at the moment with trialists recieving a free 6 month trial after the product has been launched.

This should give me enough time to investigate whether our product owner will actually use this product and to find out how useful it is to him, without spending any money.

It is really basic and easy to use with clear graphics.  We will contunue to investigate this software and I will post back any other software that I find.



Tips For First Time Scrum Masters

Tips For First Time Scrum Masters

I find this part of the article interesting.

Plan the demo and demo the plan

If you happen to be the ScrumMaster of a team that is ushering in agile to the organization, your sprint plannings, standups, reviews, and retrospectives could garner interest and attention from many quarters. You may even have distinguished members of the organization sit in such activities occasionally. This is definitely good news, an indication that the organization is taking this new approach seriously. At the same time, though, it puts a little extra pressure on you to have your meetings, and especially your demo, go smoothly.

Just as actors have rehearsals before a performance, your team may need to practice before the live demo. Planning and rehearsing the demo would also help to uncover problems before they happen in front of a live audience.

Clearly, a rehearsal would be nice, but you do not want to spend much of the team’s valuable time on just this activity. They are busy executing the tasks in the backlog, right? So, spend some of your own time chalking out a plan for the demo. You have the backlog items already. Arrange them in a sequence you thing fit. Help setup a demo machine yourself, if need be. Then let the team members for each backlog item decide who will demo that feature. Since the members of a backlog item know the feature the best, they would hardly need any more time to prepare for the demo. You need to keep control on the sequence of the demo, the setup and the support. We have found a short plan that shows the list to be demonstrated and a quick meeting the day before the demo makes the review session a reasonably smooth sail. Also, keep backup plans, in case something fails at the eleventh hour (the “demo effect”).

Yesterday I was busy working alongside the Product Owner and the team evaluating the stories for next iteration, that we forgot that we had a Sprint Review.  We were ill prepared because we had not planned anything.

I have now taken steps to factor in a “Rehersal” meeting that will allow us to prepare thoroughly for the Sprint Review so that this does not happen again

Incrimental Agile QA

An Article on how QA. Incremental QA is highly desirable in Scrum. Scrum does not distinguish between development and QA as in waterfall model. It expects that the product feature you are working on is designed, developed and tested by the end of a sprint – One sprint does it all.

This article touches on the background that all Development and QA should happen within the one sprint. I can relate to some of this article. I have found that by using scrum we in QA are involved in close communication with developers on how products are progressing through the Daily Scrum and being part of the team alongside the developers rather than being a separate entity as we were before. We communicate better with the developers, find out which areas of functionality are available for test and any areas require special attention.

By working as part of the team we are also able to start our automated tests earlier. We previously used QAWizard for this but we have progressed to selenium which is more efficient and better suits our needs.

 I would say that a lot of the good points that are highlighted within the article are evident in the way that we work as a team. See how much this relates to your team.

Incrimental Agile QA