Welcome to my blog! Please keep these three things in mind:

1. Everything on my blog is my point of view and does not represent the view of any company I've worked for, past, present, or future. 
2. If you want to respond to anything I've written, use my Contact form. 
3. The previous version of my blog is partially available online, but I put the best parts of it in my first book, Minority Tech: Journaling Through Blackness and Technology. You should buy it. It's fun.

Fixing Sprint Fatigue

posted May 19, 2015, 11:28 AM by Anjuan Simmons   [ updated May 19, 2015, 11:30 AM ]

A person in one of the Agile forums I follow asked this question:

In a casual conversation with a new client in the throes of implementing "scrum", one developer mentioned that they ran into "sprint fatigue" with several others from that team nodding in agreement. A member of another team sitting nearby also agreed. The fellow said that he was referring to the "routineness" of the sprint activities and that it was 'boring".

The term was expressed as though the malady is a common thing in agile or at least in Scrum, but I had not heard the phrase. Is anyone else familiar with the malady and can enlighten me about it's symptoms, causes and cures?

Here was my response:

I have encountered a number of organizations that have stated "Scrum isn't working for me" or "We're tired of Scrum". More often than not, these organizations are not really practicing Scrum. When I inquire into the length of their sprints, their Definition of Ready, what's the Definition of Done, how is the Product Owner performing, etc., I get a sense of the real problem. Scrum, by definition, is not a methodology and can absolutely be modified to fit the reality on the ground. However, at some point, an organization ceases to practice Scrum. Many never practiced Scrum in the first place.

I recommend taking a team through the Agile Values and Principles and asking if the team still believes in them. I would also ask the team if they are fatigued by taking complex work, breaking them down into user stories, and delivering features that have a high probability of being valued by customers. Are they tired of managing their work and directing their destiny?

I also recommend doing a Retrospective strictly on how the team has practiced Scrum. You can pull up the Scrum Guides (http://www.scrumguides.org) and do a simple compare and contract. You may solve a lot of this Sprint Fatigue by simply improving how the team practices Scrum.

What Agile Tool Should Be Used?

posted May 18, 2015, 3:46 PM by Anjuan Simmons

A member of an Agile group I follow on Linkedin asked about what Agile tool should be used to manage and report the work of the Development Team. The person who asked the question felt that Post-it notes and index cards on a whiteboard were best, but he has seen several Agile Practitioners advocate online tools like Jira, PivotalTracker, Trello, etc.  Here is the answer I posted:

As some have said, I think that the tool you use is considerably lesser in importance than how the team uses the tool. Even post-it notes or index cards that move on a physical board between lanes can be ineffective if the team does not use them well. Regardless of tool, I recommend that the following practices are in place:

* Everyone knows where the tool is and has access to it. This is a requirement for the members of the development team but is also suggested for the entire organization.
* Everyone understands how updates are made to the tool and who can make each type of update.
* Everyone rigorously keeps the data in the tool fresh. This usually requires daily updates.
* The tools should be the single source of truth for the work done by the team. Any other sources of information (Slack, FlowDock, memory, etc.) should be deprecated in favor of the tool.
* Any information those outside of the Agile team request beyond working software is provided in the minimum acceptable format. Efforts should be made to discard the reporting and replace with working software as soon as possible. This is often done through frequent demos of working software at the end of the sprint, but preference should be given to conducting a demo whenever a user story is done.
Put these practices in place and you'll increase the value of whatever tool you select and implement.

The 10 Planning Poker Commandments

posted May 1, 2015, 7:04 AM by Anjuan Simmons   [ updated May 5, 2015, 6:44 AM ]

In my role of ScrumMaster, I have coached several teams in how to use Planning Poker to size user stories. So, with tongue firmly planted in cheek and mea culpas prepared in advance, I have distilled the lessons I have shared with these teams into a crisp list:

“I am the ScrumMaster, who brought you out of Waterfall Development, out of the house of slavery."

  1. "You shall bring no time estimates to Planning Poker."
  2. "You shall not take for yourself a user story that does not match the likeness of the Definition of Ready. You shall not discuss or size such a story, for the software we build is jealous, visiting the iniquity of Un-Ready work on Developers, on the third and fourth sprints of those who size such work, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who heed the Definition of Ready, to those who want to get work to Done within a Sprint."
  3. “You shall not take the Definition of Done in vain, for the work will not leave Developers unpunished who size ignorant of the Definition of Done."
  4. “Remember completed stories, to keep them holy. You completed stories of various sizes in previous sprints, and you should use those as a relative guide for estimating. You shall not size without considering completed stories, you or your son or your daughter, your tester or your designer or your programmer or the manager who stays with you. For in previous stories the team made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and sized them all; therefore the work has been made shippable and made holy."
  5. “Honor your fellow estimators, that your work may be Done in the upcoming sprint."
  6. “You shall not allow anyone to size stories who will not do work in the upcoming sprint".
  7. “You shall consult with the Product Owner."
  8. “You shall not steal the estimate of another."
  9. “You shall not prematurely show your estimate. That is an abomination."
  10. “You shall not base your estimate on how you think other estimators size cards. You shall not base your estimate on how little or how much work you think the team should do during the sprint. You shall only base your estimate on the merits of the story and on the merits alone."

Cross-Functional and Cross-Fungible Scrum Teams

posted Apr 27, 2015, 1:42 PM by Anjuan Simmons   [ updated Apr 27, 2015, 1:47 PM ]

One of the hardest aspects of Agile Software Development is the alignment of design and engineering. This is because design is usually seen as purely a creative exercise while engineering is formal and structured. Of course, most people who have been exposed to both the design and engineering aspects of software development understand that creativity and structure exist in both competencies.

Scrum outlines a "cross-functional" Development Team that, at the minimum, has all of the skills needed to move a feature from user story to working software. However, a higher level of "cross-functional" is "cross-fungible". That means that members of the Scrum are interchangeable and everyone can perform UX, visual design, software development, testing, etc. However, it takes most Scrum teams months to reach cross-fungibility. In the interim, tight integration between roles is the next best thing.

I constantly strive to help my Scrum Teams become more tightly integrated, especially by aligning design and engineering. Here is a good article about that:

How to Create a Winning SXSW Panel Proposal

posted Apr 24, 2015, 3:07 PM by Anjuan Simmons   [ updated Apr 27, 2015, 1:48 PM ]

I had the honor of serving on the Advisory Board for the 2015 SXSW Interactive festival. In fact, you can read my tips about how to make the most of SXSW Interactive here.

As an Advisory Board member, I was responsible for evaluating 200 panel proposals, and I saw so many amazing ideas! However, I was only able to vote for a small percentage of these submissions so I saw firsthand how hard it is to get an idea accepted into Interactive. Having gotten four panel proposals successfully accepted in previous years, I knew how to create a winning proposal. However, evaluating proposals provided me with newfound insights.

Here is my advice for creating a SXSW panel proposal with a maximum chance of being selected for presentation:

  • Create a catchy title that is focused and specific. Combine ideas to express them in new ways.  "What Captain Picard Taught Me about Public Speaking" is better than "Rock Your Next Speech!". Also, be careful about using current events in your title because those events may be obsolete by the time March comes around.

  • Attach a well produced video that matches the context of your title to Supporting Material section of the PanelPicker. Ideally, the video should feature the speaker (if a solo panel) or several of the panel members (if a dual or panel presentation) listed under Proposed Speakers. It's even better if the video shows the speaker(s) talking about the topic of the panel. Remember, you can link to several videos!

  • Make sure that Company links for the Proposed Speakers link to a page that says something about the Speaker. Don't just say that he/she works for Google and include a link to Google.com. Link to a sub-page at Google.com that lists them. You can label the link Google.com but have it actually go to their sub-page. If such a page isn't available, then it's better to link to the About Me page on their personal website.

  • Write a focused Description (specific is better than general). This is especially important for a panel discussion because it can be difficult for multiple people to address a topic with the appropriate amount of depth if it's too broad.

  • Beef up your Questions Answered! A lot of the fields in the PanelPicker have strict limitations on the number of characters you can type. However, there is quite a lot of space available for the Questions Answered section, and you can use that space to include things you had to cut from your Description due to space constraints. In fact, use the Questions Answered space to introduce a topic you'll cover in your presentation and then frame it in the form of a question.

  • Generally, fewer speakers are better.

  • Generally, advanced topics are better than beginner.

  • Don't neglect your tags. They can help evaluators understand the positioning of your panel with a deeper level of granularity than the Theme alone may allow.

  • Grammar and spell check your proposal. Multiple times. By multiple people.

  • Include slides showing that you have talked about the topic (or a similar topic) under Supporting Materials using tools like SlideShare.


Ready to Burn

posted Apr 13, 2015, 12:40 PM by Anjuan Simmons   [ updated Apr 27, 2015, 1:48 PM ]

I've been holding out on my Development Team. However, I've been doing it with a purpose in mind. Often, the best way to learn something is to experience life with the absence of that learning. Take programming for example. If you're teaching someone who has never programmed before, you may want to jump into teaching them about object oriented programming. However, as their eyes glaze over, you realize that you are confusing them more than educating them. So, you help them understand relatively easier concepts like variables, strings, input/output, reading files, functions, conditionals, and loops. Maybe you'll tease them a little with lists and dictionaries. You'll pat them on the head and send them of to try building a few programs. You smile as they create a few choose-your-own-adventure type games using lists and functions. Then you wait. You wait for them to come back to you and complain about having to update their code in multiple places just to make a small change. Their code is so complex and unreadable that they are thinking about giving up. Then you say, "Ah ha!". 


Photo Credit Paramount

You show them how to use classes and methods. They marvel at how they can clean up their code. You teach them constructors, and they squeal with delight. You barely finish explaining inheritance before they start cackling with glee. Understanding object oriented programming was something they could grok and appreciate because they had experienced what its like to try programming without it.

Similarly, there are several aspects of Scrum that I haven't explained yet because I wanted the Development Team to experience practicing Scrum without them. Also, I would have to stop the team for several days if I tried to explain everything I think we need to understand about Scrum. So, I'm taking an iterative approach to improving our practice of Scrum by doling them out in digestible chunks. Based on the Sprint Retrospective feedback, I think we're ready to understand the Definition of Ready and the Sprint Burndown chart. 

The Definition of Ready

We've covered the Definition of Done (DoD), and the Definition of Ready (DoR) is a similar concept. Like many aspects of Scrum, the DoR is just a checklist. However, the DoR is used before the sprint even begins. All user stories must meet the DoR before they are analyzed during the Sprint Planning meeting. Like the DoD, the DoR is collaboratively created by the Product Owner and the Development Team.

The DoR evolved in Scrum to address the same concerns shared during the last Sprint Retrospective. This includes items like:
  • "Feel like there needs to be more time spent on cards before they hit planning poker (UI work, QA, OPS, Documentation)"
  • "Trouble splitting work for stories, caused us to pull in more points"
  • "I think we may have moved too quickly to bring in more work at the beginning of the sprint"
  • "I feel like cards not matching the DoD at the end of sprints will be common and that we need well defined process here" 
Teams often look to the DoD for guidance in creating the DoR. This is reasonable, and you can find our current DoD here. However, a more useful guideline is the INVEST criteria for user stories. INVEST is often useful for splitting user stories, but it also provides good characteristics for user stories of any size. The INVEST criteria recommends that users stories are:
  • Independent, not tied to another user story
  • Negotiable, based on what we now know and open to change (before the sprint starts)
  • Valuable, based on the desires of the Product Owner
  • Estimable, able to be sized
  • Small, able to fit in a sprint
  • Testable, able to be translated into QA assets.
The ultimate goals is to not let anything into our sprint that is not Ready and to not let anything leave our sprint that is not Done. We'll further discuss the DoR during our next Sprint Retrospective.

The Sprint Burndown Chart

The Sprint Burndown Chart is far more canonical to Scrum than the DoR, but it can be a discouraging artifact because it often shows problems before it starts showing success. This is because the Burndown Chart is often a lagging indicator of the team's success at practicing Scrum. In other words, the Development Team is often better than what is currently being shown by the chart.

Ideally, the chart is self-explanatory. The ideal line is formed by dividing the story points we committed to in this sprint by the number of days in the a two week sprint. So, if we completed roughly an even number of story points per day to finish by the morning the day after the sprint, then our work would follow the ideal line. 

I should pause here to say that we will never match the ideal line. Never. Ever. It is just a guideline.

The blue bars show the amount of work that is left to be done in the sprint. Every morning I update this chart for the previous day. Any cards in the Done lane are deducted from the blue bars based on their point value. So, this chart will be updated for what happened today sometime tomorrow morning. That is because the blue bar should represent a full day's worth of work.

So, that's the DoR and the Sprint Burndown Chart. I'll share more techniques when the team is ready for them.

Meeting Investors and People in Tech

posted Apr 9, 2015, 1:11 PM by Anjuan Simmons   [ updated Apr 9, 2015, 1:12 PM ]

A friend recently asked me this question:

Hello, Anjuan! I'm in a bit of a pickle. I went to law school and in law now but want to pursue tech. As such, I'd love to attend networking events with other entrepreneurs, angels and VCs but haven't a clue where to look and where to RSVP. I want to meet other amazing people in tech and get my product out there for feedback and possible investment! Can you possibly suggest a starting point?

Here's my response:

First, use sites like Eventbrite and Meetup to find networking events centered around a topic of interest. There are many technology and entrepreneurship based events happening, and they are probably only a few miles (or, right around the corner!) from where you live or work.

Second, once you get a few events that you find useful enough to regularly attend, I advise getting "behind
the scenes". Get to know the organizers of these events and offer to help them find speakers and plan meetings. I think a heart to contribute to networking events and not just take from them is a great way to meet investors, partners, and possibly customers.

Third, I recommend writing content about your area of speciality. You can do this on your blog and also contribute to other publications. I'm a fan of public speaking so I highly recommend speaking at events that tie to your product. This is a great way to get exposure and establish yourself as an expert and increase the visibility of your product. Often, visibility is the key to viability.

I hope this helps!

Should Bugs Be Sized?

posted Apr 9, 2015, 12:59 PM by Anjuan Simmons

A user in one of the Agile Linkedin groups I follow posed this question:

Could some one provide me the information about story pointing bugs? Is it right way? or when can we?

Here's my answer

Here are the principles I apply to this:

* Nothing goes into the sprint until its Ready. So, user stories should be properly detailed and sliced as needed. They should also be sized. If you slice the stories properly, you should get an idea of other similarly sized stories in other parts of the application and also get an idea of how many bugs you can expect. So, the size of the story should be relative measure of getting it to done (code complete, code reviewed, debugged, etc.). Also, the Definition of Ready should include any information about the bug history of that part of the application that should be recognized by the Development Team.

* The Definition of Done should include everything needed to get a story in a state that could be released to the customer. This includes the fixing of bugs.

* Nothing is worked on unless its in the Sprint Backlog. If, in the act of creating a feature, one or more bugs are generated, then the point value of the story should reflect fixing the bug.

* So, nothing enters the sprint unless its Ready. Also, nothing leaves the sprint until its Done. Bugs should be taken care of through Readiness preparation and Doneness completion.

Should Scrum be Taught to Management Students?

posted Apr 8, 2015, 11:45 AM by Anjuan Simmons   [ updated Apr 8, 2015, 11:50 AM ]

I was recently asked a question by a colleague who is a professor at AACSB University. Here it is:

Hi Anjuan,

I hope this message you doing well! I read the information on the link you provided. I am interested to know if you think SCRUM should be taught to management students? I was thinking about adding this practical application of problem solving and management to design thinking To foster creative thinkers and problem solvers – people who will have to tackle complex challenges like the ebola epidemic, data security breaches, climate change...

Here's the answer I sent to her:

I absolutely think that Scrum should be taught to management students. While Scrum is primarily used in software development, the principles behind it have been applied to building things from cars to fighter jets. If you're involved in tackling any complex problem, then Scrum is a great tool to understand.

I'm reading Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland, one of the creators of Scrum. I think this would be a great textbook for management students studying Scrum.

The Referee/Coach Scrum Master

posted Mar 26, 2015, 2:54 PM by Anjuan Simmons   [ updated Mar 26, 2015, 3:00 PM ]

When people ask me what a Scrum Master does, I often use the analogy of a referee. In any sport, the referee is not the center of attention and often disappears into the mechanics of the game. However, the impact of the referee is present in every play. The role of the referee is to make sure that everything happens in accordance with the guidelines of the game.

Scrum Masters do the same thing. We make sure that the Scrum Development Team works in accordance with the guidelines of Scrum. That means that we actively remove practices that are against the guidelines of Agile Software Development (specifically, Scrum). 

However, Scrum Masters are more than just referees. We are also coaches. We coach the Product Owner about ways to manage the Product Backlog. We coach the Development Team in how to practice Scrum more effectively. Also, we coach the organization by tailoring other Agile methods to the needs of the company.

Here's an email I received from a client asking for clarity about how the Development Team would practice various aspects of Scrum. I've removed any identifying information from the exchange, but it's a good example of an email driven coaching session:

Great questions! My answers are below:

Below I have summarized what I believe is true for a sprint-would you mind giving it an eye and then correcting any confusion that I have or adding to it?  I would greatly appreciate it.

1.  Planning- sounds like what it is- getting together to determine what cards to current sprint board

Yes, we get together with the Product Owner and take cards of the top of the Product Backlog, solve them, size them, and then see what we can commit to for the Sprint Backlog.

2.  Tasking- This where you will assign cards to me for testing in addition to ad hoc testing for this sprint

-during this time after tasking is where we are testing, reporting, and documenting

-half way through the testing is the next meeting

Tasking is the process of taking the cards that were sized during the Sprint Planning meeting and breaking them into tasks. These tasks are the things that need to be done for the card to meet the team's Definition of Done.

3. Backlog Refinement- Where the entire team reorders, reassess and then line up the next important cards in the backlog for the next sprint? 

Yes, this is similar to Sprint Planning, but it is for the next few sprints. This makes the next Sprint Planning meeting more efficient and effective. 

4.  Review and Retro-  Reflection meeting- what we did well, what we can do better.

Yes, the Sprint Review is where the team reflects on the work that was done (with the Product Owner) and the Sprint Retrospective is where the team reflects on the people and processes (the Product Owner is not required to attend).


When do we release into production?

This is still being determined. We are currently looking at a few Release Candidates that will happen every few sprints. Stay tuned! :-)

Once we release, did we build in a cushion to address customer support issues?

We size customer support issues into every sprint, and we probably should plan for more than usual after a release.

As always, thank for your help and insight.

Thanks for these great questions!

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