How to Plan Software : Six Ways to Improve Your Scrum Planning Meeting

So many Scrum teams struggle with planning on every level. Whether it be creating initial stories, decomposing stories, estimating stories or breaking them down into tasks. There is a notion that planning should be easy because we are smart, but the reality is planning is just plain hard. Teams tend to focus on estimation and how it is bad, meaningless or just a waste. It leaves them begging for someone to help them learn how to plan software.

Sprint Planning

Copyright Antgirl

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Why do teams find things always take longer than expected? How can they spend an hour or even a full day planning one or two weeks worth of work to only find that they missed so much of the work necessary to actually complete the work? They scratch their heads because they just can’t seem to get better at planning.

Here are a few tips change how you plan software to become more effective and efficient.

  1. Draw. That is right, get up to a white board and draw out your thoughts. Not everyone thinks, understands or processes information the same way. Your brain works differently when it comprehends visually and when you express yourself through writing/drawing. Open up new neural pathways to think about the problems at hand.
    • Visualize the flow of how data, interaction or experience works.
    • Wireframe out anything visual so that there are concrete samples of how it works.
  2. Ask and answer the following questions. They will help guide discussion around easy to forget or often assumed interactions.
    • How do I get there?
    • What do I do when I am there?
    • What happens when I do it?
    • What happens if it goes right?
    • What happens if it goes wrong?
    • Where do I go when I am done?
  3. Verify that all the acceptance criteria/conditions of satisfaction have been covered.
  4. Task the work based on the information created in the above steps
  5. If you are estimating time on tasks make no single task greater than 2 hours.
  6. Commit as a team to the results desired from executing the plan

(ProTip: Use the above as a checklist before committing to each story)

Many people feel that planning is a waste. This may be true if there is no desire to understand the outcome or the path to get there. The more value placed on having some prediction of how things will play out, the more desirable planning becomes. It is important to note that all planning is a form of prediction. Predictions are not 100% reliable, but that does not render them useless by default.

The power of the plan lies the ability to commit to executing the intended results.  Not necessarily the path taken to do so.

“Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes; but no plans.” – Peter Drucker

In the end. Do what you feel is right.

Building Arizona’s Future: Jobs, Innovation and Competitiveness

This past April I attended the 96th Arizona Town Hall in Tucson Arizona.  The New Economy: A Guide For Arizona serves as background information on the event.  The result of the Town Hall was a set of recommendations (pdf).  Recently at Mesa Community College I was asked to speak about the experience and highlight my recommendations.  Below is my summary.

The Process

The process was good discussion, but it often felt that things were watered down quite a bit by the time they got recorded.  However, at the final session I saw the passion come back out and some good middle ground was found on a number of difficult issues.  If only our legislatures could come to agreement in this fashion.

Economic Development

Economic Development has changed.  It used to be about material resources and manufacturing infrastructure.  That is changing and now creative people are the most valuable resource.  Good companies move to where good people.  We must invest in human and social capital to be a player in the future.

Based on that I believe the following recommendations should have priority and we should concentrate on making them a reality.

Slide Rock

8. Preserve Quality of Life

We need to attract good people in the short term to fill the needs of growing companies emerging in the new economy.  Also, we need to retain the quality creators that are already here.  We can do this by preserving the quality of life.

a. Cultivate the arts, sports and other recreational amenities.

We need creatives to get involved with their local art scene.  Bring relevant programming to the great Performing Arts Centers many cities have.  Support existing programming and work to create new and diverse programs.  We need to convert empty buildings into Art galleries, centers for creation and music.

b. Preserve our natural and cultural resources.

We need to get the state legislature to restore funding to our State Park system and find ways to make sure it stays healthy.

c. Develop strong sense of place in our communities.

We need to encourage density and support third places that build a sense of place.

1. Education

We must start building our future now.  Our future lies in our youth.  We need to radically transform education to be a leader in how we restore creativity to schools.

a. Improve funding and rigorous statewide standards to meet workforce needs of business and industry.

It is time we get serious about funding schools and we restore learning to it’s roots and allow kids to explore and create.

7. Broadening the Tax Base

We need to have the proper way to pay for quality of life issues.  The best people want to live in a quality place.  We have to stop looking to be the Walmart of the world.  Low cost living, education and infrastructure attracts the people and employers that have bleak place in the future economy.

a. Implement a broad-based, diversified, and stable tax structure that does not rely disproportionately on sales tax.

We have to explore raising property taxes or finding other ways to balance providing necessary infrastructure.

11. Other Economic Development Actions

We need to grow businesses as much if not more than recruit them and then help them grow.  Jobs don’t create jobs.  Companies create jobs.  We need to focus on creating companies.

a. Fund business incubators, a competitive small grant program for start-ups and existing small businesses, and other small business assistance programs.

2. Strategic Planning

d. Address both recruitment of new businesses and retention of businesses and talent already present in Arizona.

4. Capital Formation

We need to have capital available for those companies as they grow.

d. Encourage AZ individuals, foundations, and industry to invest in an AZ “fund of funds” to provide venture captial for the early-stage development of new companies.

We need people to invest in seed funds to encourage creation of new businesses.

6. Infrastructure

We need a quality infrastructure to promote growth.

a. Create a networked business environment through advances in our transportation system and data connectivity.

12. Other Activities that Influence Economic Development

a. Pursue comprehensive, multimodal transportation planning and design programs.

Summary

Don’t wait on the state legislature, you can help do this RIGHT now.  Look to entrepreneurs to get the ball rolling.  Participate in your local government and start making a difference.  Simply voting can start to unlock necessary change.  Be active in our future!

Sunday Book Review: The Great Reset by Richard Florida

The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity by Richard Florida

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Richard Florida returns to form in this book. He is spot on in his assessments of our current crisis and what it means to future generations. While I am conflicted about the changes that are already occurring it is impossible to ignore them any longer. This is a must read to anyone caring about economics, government and/or education.

View all my reviews >>

Note: Trying something new other than the thumbs up/down reviews because Good Reads makes it so simple now.

Political Bites: Cubs Spring Training Subsidy

What do you think of Mesa’s decision to fund the Chicago Cubs’ spring training facilities?

Apparently Mesa failed to do it’s homework.  Lake Forest College studied 30 cities over 30 years and found that 27 experienced no significant impact from new stadiums while three cities experienced a negative economic impact.  Does a company that made an estimated $58 million in PROFITS in 2008 and sold for $845 million in 2009 really need a subsidy?  Maybe Mesa should be investing in local entrepreneurs instead?


Derek

Political Bites: Local Public Transit

What, if anything, can cities do to lessen the impact of transit budget cuts on residents?

Most cities are facing their own budget issues and probably are not in much of position to shoulder the impact on behalf of their residents.  Public transportation is critical to having a vibrant city and stimulating economic development.  However, it is also something that carries a fair amount of subsidization.  As such, it will impact residents.  Raising taxes, rider fares and/or partnering with employers are all options.

Arizona Town Hall Session I & II

Ran into @szylstra and @kimberlanning tonight at the Arizona Town Hall.  So here is the 10 second overview.  About 150 people are selected to participate in the Town Hall.  They are then broken in to groups by the organizers.  The key is diversity (political views, backgrounds, race, gender, physical location, etc)  Then for two days these groups sequester themselves into panels.  Each group is given the same list of things to discuss.  There is a recorder and chair to get final consensus for each  group.

At the end of everyday the recorders/chairs meet and merge all the recommendations of the groups together.  On the final day a merged document is presented to the entire Town Hall.  A plenary session is then done to reconcile anything the recorders got wrong.  This is then made into a final document.  One of the universities then make an official version that gets passed around the state as recommendation.

I feel that while I have my own strong opinions,  it is important to get as many people heard as possible at an event like this.  So  I will be posting the questions for discussion here in hope that you will respond back to them on your own blog and leave a comment pointing to it or comment directly here.  I will do my best to make sure your voice is heard even if it contradicts my own opinion on the subject.

Session I – Evaluating Arizona’s Current Economy

  1. What general factors have most significantly shaped Arizona’s current economy?  What are the greatest strengths of Arizona’s statewide economy?  How do these strengths differ among the various components of the economy, including rural, urban and tribal communities?
  2. What are the most significant weaknesses of Arizona’s economy?   What actions has Arizona taken to address these weaknesses and change the economy?  What actions have stakeholders in Arizona’s economy taken to grow, change, or sustain the state’s economy and to attract investment, jobs and business activity?
  3. To what extent is Arizona’s economy affected by national and international economic conditions?  What unique assets does Arizona have that may enhance its competitiveness in the global economy?  How does Arizona’s economy compare with other states, and with communities throughout the world, for investments, jobs and business activity?
  4. What specific factors present barriers to the optimal development and functioning of a vibrant and competitive economy for the entire state?  How do these factors vary by region of the state?  What strategies is Arizona currently using, statewide and locally, to retain, grow and attract businesses and jobs?

Session II – Developing a Vibrant, Innovative & Competitive Economy

  1. What guiding principles should shape efforts to grow, change or sustain Arizona’s economic activity?  What efforts and activities influence the future development and operation of Arizona’s economy?  What factors should be considered in connection with such efforts and activities? Consider: global competitiveness; the interaction of various state and local economic systems and how they enhance or compete with each other; diversification and quality of jobs; factors unique to Arizona such as its environment, weather, population demographics, and the large proportion of federal, tribal and state land trusts.
  2. In what ways do stakeholders work together to influence Arizona’s economic development and to grow, change or sustain economic activity within Arizona?  Consider governing bodies (federal, state, tribal, regional, county and local), private industry, nonprofits, chambers of commerce, economic development organizations, universities and private think tanks, workforce development groups, and the general public.  What would optimize the cooperation of these groups?
  3. How do market forces and government interact to affect Arizona’s economy?  How are the fiscal challenges of national, state and local governments affecting the development of Arizona’s economy?
  4. Considering the factors identified in your response to the previous question, what strategies should be implemented to best meet Arizona’s economic goals?  Which of these strategies do not require additional funding and how viable are they?

If they get me back the data on the consolidated answers to these every night I will transcribe and post them here.  I urge you to please participate.  If for no other reason than to start thinking about these issues. :)

Sunday Review: Practices of an Agile Develoeper by Andy Hunt

I have decided to do a dead simple book review every Sunday. Some of this is to just share what I’m reading. Rather than go with some complex rating system a book will either be a thumbs up or a thumbs down. Thumbs up means I highly recommend reading the book. A thumbs down means read something else unless you have free time on your hands. I will then do a one or two sentence at most comment on the book.
thumbs-up
Take Away: This is a great look at the spirit of Agile from a developer’s perspective.  The angel/devil reminders are a great re-enforcers of good/bad habits.

The New Economy: A Guide For Arizona

Getting ready for the 96th Arizona Town Hall, I am reading their report Building Arizona’s Future: Jobs, Innovation & Competitiveness.  It references a 1999 paper from the Morrison Institute The New Economy: A Guide for Arizona.  It lists eight principles that underpin the new economy…

  1. Technology is a given
  2. Globalization is here to stay
  3. Knowledge builds wealth
  4. People are the most important raw material
  5. There is no such thing as a smooth ride
  6. Competition is relentless
  7. Alliances are the way to get things done
  8. Place still matters

Those  items in bold are the very thing that Gangplank espouses and I will be reminding the Town Hall the importance of them.  Most importantly, I will remind them that good and talented people are the key.

Five foundations found to be critical based off this study were

  1. Connecting (telecommunications infrastructure)
  2. E-Government (getting government on-line for faster/better service)
  3. E-Learning (distance learning and technology in classrooms)
  4. Creative Communities (amenity-rich communities with strong quality of place)
  5. Knowledge leaders, entrepreneurs and capital (higher education, R&D, tech transfer, incubation and VC)

Again those items highlighted are the essence of Gangplank.  We are proud that the City of Chandler is standing as a strong supporter in providing ALL of these things and why we think they will be the CORE of the Sun Corridor.

Please leave comments to tell me I’m wrong, stupid and idiotic.  I am looking for motivation.

Sunday Book Review: User Stories Applied: For Agile Software Development by Mike Cohn

Thumbs up means I highly recommend reading the book. A thumbs down means read something else unless you have free time on your hands.

thumbs-downUser Stories Applied: For Agile Software Development (The Addison-Wesley Signature Series)

Take Away: Best book on the market about writing user stories. Mike makes agile easy to consume and understand.

Dysfunctions of (Agile) Teams

Over the holiday break I read Patrick Lencioni‘s “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable“.  The premise is that each dysfunction builds upon the dysfunction before it.  Much like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.   Below is an illustration of the dysfunctions with absence of trust being the building block of dysfunction.

Running multiple organizations and being part of an agile team gives me ample time to see team dynamics and participate in them on a regular basis.  This book really made me think a lot.  The information wasn’t particularly new, but it reminded me that much like agile, leadership of a team can be simple yet insanely difficult at the same time.

Absence of Trust
For some reason most teams think that if they all get along they have some super team work trust going on, but if there is any conflict what so ever that the team is some how not in harmony and that all is wrong with the world.  I remember early variations at Integrum where this certainly was the case.  The truth is that Trust is all about comfort in being vulnerable.  On an agile team this vulnerability is necessary because the only way to continually improve towards excellence is to be honest about your deficiencies.  If someone doesn’t feel they can be open and honest in their weaknesses and mistakes this can never happen.  What is your team doing to build trust and encourage vulnerability?

Fear of Conflict
The biggest smell of a dysfunctional team to me is one that agrees on everything and never has conflict.  Without conflict there are things being left unsaid.  In the end this is just unhealthy.  Willingness to have healthy conflict allows unfiltered and passionate debate about new and innovative ideas.   A good agile team is a “noisy” team.  I think the same goes for pair programming.  If a pair isn’t regularly in heated debate they probably aren’t trying very hard.

Lack of Commitment
I am starting to think that commitment is one of the most powerful words in agile software development.  Healthy teams don’t make excuses.  They don’t blame or shirk responsibility.  The get on the same page and drive towards completing the goal.  Deciding on what to commit to and then measuring to that commitment is key in building a strong team.  I have long thought that accountability was a major problem with no solution, but I am reminded that it’s probably a lack of commitment to blame.

Avoidance of Accountability
This is so so so so difficult.  As calling peers out feels so unnatural.  Who am I to tell you what or how to do something?  What authority do I have over you?  In reality if we have a shared commitment, I am doing both of us a disservice if I don’t speak up and hold you accountable.  It just never feels that way when it’s time to step to the plate and do it.  Recently I was told by someone to RTFM (Read The Fucking Manual) and it kind of stung.  It made me realize that I demand a lot, but at a bare minimum I wasn’t able to perform a basic function of one of the teams goals towards quality.  How embarrassing.  I wasn’t angry.  I was glad.  Their commitment to the goal and trust that I wouldn’t blow up over such a conflict ultimately improved what I was doing.  That’s how agile works right?

Inattention to Results
So often in the past people on our team were driven by ego, career development or recognition.  I childishly called them the “What about me’s?”.    Ultimately the one to blame is not them, but myself.  Failure to give them goals to commit to, left them no choice but to think selfishly.  It’s something that I painfully work on in everything that I am involved in, because frankly it’s hard work.  Guess I need to quit making excuses.

Patrick’s observation in the final summary seemed too fitting for an agile team to not share…
Ironically, teams succeed because they are exceedingly human.  By acknowledging the imperfections of their humanity, members of functional teams overcome the natural tendencies that make trust, conflict, commitment, accountability, and a focus on results so elusive.

For the first time I feel like Integrum has a team that is human.  It might just be that we are starting to achieve that right level of imperfection to function as a committed team.  Makes me feel pretty lucky and excited!