Monday, December 03, 2007

Don't Know What You Got ('Til It's Gone)

I've recently had the opportunity to see what's lost when a team goes from Scrum to...something hard to define - general milestones and high level requests to get things done. I'll list the pain points.

What's Lost:

  1. Visibility. The primary stakeholder doesn't really know where the project is. That's why he's having to ask several people throughout the day what their status is. But what good is asking them how it's going? It's very difficult to be objective, and their attempts are relative. "It's going well." Compared to...where you were yesterday? The non-existent schedule? The estimates before all the late changes came in, or after? Missing the deadline by a mile, and now thankfully looks only by weeks? Scrum records status and progress daily and more importantly the use of burn down charts track the trend!
  2. Clarity. Are the people asked normally optimistic or pessimistic? Good estimators or bad? Ones who include code dept, deployment time, or just unit test and throw it over the wall? Our Scrum estimates were hammered out by group conscience (via planning poker) and we defined and standardized "done" via a "done is" checklist.
  3. Teamwork. The team is now divided and fighting against themselves due to individual developers getting pulled by different business owners for different projects. Developers either don't help each other, or if they do, are chided for not exclusively working on some other "priority" project. The real problem isn't the developers. Scrum provides a framework to help the business in defining THE priorities in sequence, as well as defining who the one product owner is whom can dictate where the resources (developer hours) should go.
  4. Motivation. All these issues combine to undermine motivation (a classic mistake, per Steve McConnell). Working towards a difficult deadline, without milestone deliveries to celebrate and foster hope, without real teamwork and interdependency, and without laser-like focus on the goal, motivation dries up. And then work becomes a grind, negatively breeds and a downward spiral of self-fulfilling prediction of an unreachable goal takes root and grows. Left alone, the business reaps nothing but failure for their investment, and the hours and days and weeks of people's lives are wasted on a harvest of the bitter fruit of failure.

Friday, November 09, 2007

What Is SharePoint?

Microsoft provides a set of functionality called Windows SharePoint Services, now on version 3.0, within Windows Server 2003 that is free to use. This free group of services provides document collaboration, information-sharing, list creation, Web page creation and related services. It is very useful for workgroups, departments and other small groups of users to work together on a set of documents, share information and otherwise collaborate.

Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 is the new version of SharePoint Portal Server (combinging Microsoft Content Management Server) and provides additional functionality for business intelligence, business process integration, enterprise search, enterprise content management, and personalization.

The most common uses of SharePoint that I've seen are:
  1. Creating team sites where only certain project team or department members can login, see, edit and add information and documents
  2. Creating lists of information that can be easily customized by adding new columns, value lists and multiple filters
  3. Setting alerts on information or document areas so that all team site users receive an email notice of information added or notified.
  4. Using issue lists that email the assignee of the issue of any change with a before and after summary of the change, as well as keeping a history of comments on the issue.
  5. Using document libraries (lists) that allow version histories of the documents, including checking in and out, creation of folders for organizing groups of files, and an Explorer-type view that supports drag-and-drop.

The types of business uses I've seen include:
  1. Tracking employee hours, including using a lookup of tasks to choose from so that information is always correct.
  2. Data entry of metric data that drives other graphical reports
  3. Letting teams have their own designated and central area for their documents and other information
  4. Creating a business process of several required steps
  5. Using the discussion functional to capture a conversation thread of multiple users on a document posted to the team site.
  6. Using a modified issue list to categorize, prioritize, track, assign and drive issues on a project, as well as quickly export the list to Excel and send to additional outside users.

There are Microsoft partners that run SharePoint Services as a hosted service, lowering the barriers of complexity and effort for small and medium business to try out the functionality and see if there a good return for the money.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Agile Project Estimation w Scrum Planning Poker

I learned this week that planning poker is a big return for the small investment. I could not find planning poker cards in stock anywhere in the world, until Mike Cohn just made them available again (

Besides all the great benefits outlined in Mike's great book on Agile Planning and Estimation, I found that the team interaction was good. There were great alternative views and just an overall good feeling of everybody's opinion counting.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Leadership Summit - Session 1 - A Vision to Die For

The Leadership Summit
Notes from Session 1 - A Vision to Die For, Bill Hybels

Vision must be owned. Ownership is the most powerful weapon in casting and maintaining vision for your organization. It's the painting of the picture that brings passion out of people. It ties into purpose – a sense of destiny beyond to 9 to 5.

Hybels referenced the book of John – Being an owner vs. just a hired hand.

"I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before himself, sacrifices himself if necessary. A hired man is not a real shepherd. The sheep mean nothing to him. He sees a wolf come and runs for it, leaving the sheep to be ravaged and scattered by the wolf. He's only in it for the money. The sheep don't matter to him." - John 10:11-13

Hybels challenged us to ask ourselves, "At my current workplace, am I the owner of the vision, or the hired hand?" Do I pray for it, protect it, volunteer for it. Owners of the vision will sacrifice deeply. They will be high capacity workers.

Hybels then referenced a group that was an owner of a vision. On March 7, 1965, a group of civil rights marches left Selma, Alabama for Birmingham. They made it as far as the Edmund Pettis Bridge. There they faced state troopers and county sheriffs armed with billy clubs tear gas and bullwhips. The lawmen attacked the peaceful protesters and drove them back to Selma. This event became known as Bloody Sunday. Owners of a vision will be willing to die for the cause.

Out vision is so important. It should be bold, faithful, honorable, and clear. But vision needs to be owned by the people in our organization.

How do we do this? For some Type-A leaders who live on blazing a trail and calling back to everyone to follow their lead, it's a four letter word: P-R-O-C-E-S-S. Without process, we defeat every one left out (which is everyone but the leader).

There are three steps in the process for vision ownership:
1. Vision Formation
There is the top-down approach (bad), or the team approach (good). The top down approach is so often taken because it is quick, but doesn't take, doesn't hold.

The recommendation on the team approach was to have an offsite, with the focus being the question "What should our organization look like in five years?" It may feel slow or inefficient, and to some quick-acting leaders like "swimming in peanut butter." But this builds community, value and more likelihood of ownership. The team members may not always have their way, but they at least need to know their ideas have been considered.

2. Vision Refinement
Make a first draft of the vision. This crystallizes it, even in draft form. Take this draft to the groups at the next level out, trying to get different types of groups, feedback. Ask what's clear, what's confusing, what excites you, what scares you. The goal is to come away with a crystal clear, compelling vision.

3. Vision Declaration

Introduce the vision in front of leaders first, asking if it is clear and compelling. The declaration is not a solo effort, but a team activity.

Great leaders know that more time in the vision casting process increases ownership. Vision leaks, but don't berate the workers for this. Use any tactics to keep refilling the vision. And remember to celebrate progress.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Meeting Rules for Daily Stand-Up / Daily Scrum

For the team:

  1. Arrive on time or early.
  2. Be ready to say what you did yesterday and what you plan to do today.
  3. Keep your report specific, precise and short in order to help the meeting end within 15 minutes.
  4. Listen to other team member's status in case it might relate to your tasks or impact you.
  5. Don't interrupt people when they are talking.
  6. Don't agree to decisions or action you don't understand. Ask questions and insist on answers when you need clarification.
  7. Note the tasks or action items you volunteer for.
  8. If you raise an issue or question that can't be resolved in a minute, ask to discuss with the parties involved after the meeting.
  9. For those calling in, be sure to start your report with "This is [your name]."


    For ScrumMasters:

  10. Be sure to have (or have access to) your relevant information (the sprint or product backlogs, the software being developed, or the project, requirements or design documents and code)
  11. Be sure to have (or have access to) the phone numbers of any team members who you are conferencing in.
  12. Be sure to have scheduled the recurring meeting and invited all appropriate people
  13. Be sure that the invitation includes the relevant information, such as meeting location, project site URL, and conference number.
  14. Be sure the invitation subject line is specific (for those involved in multiple projects).
  15. It is your job to keep the meeting focused and starting and ending on-time.
  16. It is your job to know why and how scrum works. Look for teachable moments in the daily scrum.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Why Scrum Works

Just finished the book Project Management with Scrum, and it is excellent.

Here a great overview quote from the forward:

"Gary Convis notes that Toyota's sustainable success comes from an 'inter-locking set of three underlying elements: the philosophical underpinnings, the managerial culture an the technical tools. The philosophical underpinnings include a joint [worker] , customer first focus, an emphasis on people first, a commitment to continuous improvement...The managerial rooted in several factors, including developing and sustaining a sense of trust, a commitment to involving those affected by first, teamwork, equal and fair treatment for all, an finally, fact-based decision making and long-term thinking.'

Scrum works for all the same reasons. Its philosophical underpinnings focus on empowering the development team and satisfying customers. Its managerial culture is rooted in helping others achieve their goals. Its technical tools are focused on making fact-based decisions through a learning process. When all of the factors are in place, it's hard for Scrum not to succeed. - Mary Poppendieck"

From Agile Project Management with Scrum (Microsoft Professional).

Friday, July 27, 2007

Summary of Marcus Buckingham's Strengths Movement and its Value to Business

A few months back, I wrote a summary of the strengths movement – personal strengths, or employee strengths if you're a manager, according to the work done by Gallup and Marcus Buckingham (previously misspelled Markus Buckingham on my blog).

I've since found myself forwarding this email numerous times to others to give them a quick overview or primer with a focus on the value to the company. This post is the same content and formatting for easier reference.

Overview- Why and How

"Our people are our greatest asset." Correction - your people's talents are your greatest asset, or more precisely "Aligning our people's talents to their tasks so that they play to their strengths the majority of each day is our greatest asset."

The premise of strengths-based teams is that the most effective method for motivating people is to build on their strengths rather than correcting their weaknesses. People don't change that much, and the effort to remediate their weaknesses is much effort for minimal return. Researchers at the Gallup Organization have analyzed results of interviews of over 1.7 million employees from 101 companies and representing 63 countries. Less than 20 percent of employees stated that they were using their strengths every day. And there is no relation to type of work, skilled or unskilled, industry or even within company. In fact, more disparity existed within companies than outside, showing that there is no such thing as "great companies," only great teams within those companies.

One must purchase a book (noted later in this post) in order to get access to the test which reveals their strengths. Once they learn their profile, a manager can begin a process of how to capitalize upon each person's unique traits, aligning them with the goals of their team and the company, resulting in better performance and employee satisfaction.

Summary of Strengths Books by Buckingham and Gallup

For background, here's a summary of the related books. In "First, Break All the Rules," strengths are mentioned as one of the levers that great managers can use to get the most out of their employees. In fact, it trumps all the other tools a manager can use. Then, in "Now, Discover Your Strengths," aimed at management and business, the authors focused on solely on strengths (because it is the greatest single lever to increase team performance), listed all 34 strength types, and gave cases studies and examples. The book includes a code to take the strengths profile test. The new "StrengthFinder 2.0" book is geared more for the individual, and contains a slightly newer version of the test with a bit more guidance on the next steps of how to apply your strengths. Finally, in the new "Go Put Your Strengths to Work," Buckingham explains (and gives great, practical tools) on how to take personal responsibility in turning knowledge into action, because just knowing your strengths alone doesn't change a person into someone who leverages their strengths the majority of the day.

Supporting Facts

Here's an edited down snippet from a Gallup white paper on the results of their strengths study:

Definitions of performance vary, but typically include indices such as productivity (revenue in business), profitability, employee retention, customer loyalty, and safety. Substantial predictive validities have been established between structured interview measures of manager "talents" and future manager performance (Schmidt & Rader, 1999). In a recent study of more than 2,000 managers in the Gallup database, Gallup researchers studied the responses of managers to open- ended questions related to management of individual talents versus weaknesses. In comparison to poor-performing managers, top-performing managers (based on composite performance) were more likely to indicate that they spend time with high producers, match talents to tasks, and emphasize individual strengths versus seniority in making personnel decisions. Success was 86 percent greater for managers with a "strengths versus non- strengths " approach (Gallup Organization, 2002). Managers with a strengths-based approach nearly double their likelihood of success.

The ROI of Employee Engagement

The employees who say they "have the opportunity to do what they do best every day" have substantially higher performance. In a study of 308,798 employees in 51 companies, teams scoring above the median on this statement have 44 percent higher probability of success on customer loyalty and employee retention, and 38 percent higher probability of success on productivity measures (Harter & Schmidt, 2002). "Success" is defined as exceeding the median performance within one's own company, across work units. Managers who create environments in which employees have a chance to use their talents have more productive work units with less employee turnover.

The ROI of Strengths Development

Gallup researchers has performed studies of talent identification, feedback, and strengths development activities with a "study group" and a "control group" who were administered the "StrengthsFinder" assessment and given feedback, both individually and in group sessions, with follow-up. Post-intervention measurements of employee engagement in productivity were conducted six months later. Results indicated that the study group productivity grew by 50 percent more than the control group did.

Taken from

Other links:

Gallup's StrengthFinder Center:

Marcus Buckingham's site:

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Do We Need to Manage People?

Going through Good to Great again, and was struck by Jim Collin's statement that the best companies hire self-disciplined people who don't need to be managed, and the leadership manages the system, not the people.

One of Scrum's principles is that the teams are self-managing. But I can see now that that principle depends on having the right people on the team – disciplined people. Just because I'm running scrum doesn't mean that someone on the team who wasn't previously self-managing or disciplined suddenly becomes disciplined. The opportunity is there for them, and hopefully peers around them to model after, but the brutal facts might be that there are team members who will never become self-managing, self-disciplined. Perhaps the team manages these people off their team, but if the team and process doesn't gel immediately (average of several sprints before typically gelled and consistent), then it is likely the ScrumMaster may be the first to deal with whether a person is right for the team.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

David Maister on Passion, People and Principles

David Maister is so straight on with his post on Passion, People and Principles (posted here).

Over and again on projects and teams and in companies, I see these truths and consequences lived out. Throw in embracing a paradigm of servant leadership and an understanding of strengths, management and leadership, and I believe every person who wants to be successful, can be. But from what I've seen, many people aren't willing to give up what they want, even for better long term, or if it hurts the company, themselves or others. Like the monkey who can't get his hand out of the jar because he won't let go of the banana inside, these people get what they want but trap themselves in the end.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Agile, Operations and Strategy

From a management point of view, you want to know that you are getting the top return on investment for all of your IT efforts. Scrum makes this clear, visible and in the control of the product owner, who is often funding the effort.

But what about all of the other time and effort by IT personnel whom are not on agile projects, those who are most often "putting out fires" or working on short-notice market-driven system changes? Without a lightweight method to track these efforts, funding could be misspent and neither CIO's nor CEO's would know. Worse than money wasted on effort not making a difference, it is money that could have been spent on something that would have improved the company and\or IT.

This IT request tracking should give visibility to requests, timeframes, the requestor, estimated effort and status. It should be visible to all IT and company management and proactively alert key stakeholders, and also provide summary reports of effort so that management can regularly easily see a high-level view of all effort and knows how money is being spent.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Notes from Sprint Planning Observation

Watched a veteran ScrumMaster do sprint planning for a team's 16th sprint. Below are some practical notes.

  1. This team of 10+ found that 2 week sprints worked best.
  2. A 'Done Is' list (unit tested, checked in, code debt noted, integrated into staging environment, smoke tested, etc) was handed out at the beginning of the meeting. Later, when estimates were given, the ScrumMaster would ask "Does that estimate include everything from the Done List?
  3. They have a theme for each sprint. For this sprint it was roughly "Major focus is on user experience and usability issues."
  4. Ramp-up time for new team members or members taking on new roles was noted, but not explicitly assigned hours. Instead, the weight of ramp was factored in to any given related task.
  5. The sprint tool was Excel, and the estimated line items were grouped (using Excel's grouping functionality) by Feature or Activity.
  6. Each feature had a team member assigned as Lead (noted in Lead column) who was responsible for 'cracking the whip' if need be.
  7. Each task still had a specific assignee.
  8. Meetings had line items for each person that was scheduled to be in the meeting with planned meeting length assigned.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Applying Your Strengths Where You Are

After attending Yelo, I had a chance to ask a question of Erwin McManus that has been on my mind for a while. I know my strengths, but what is the next step in moving toward working in my strengths more of each day as well as developing those strengths putting them to work right where I am? When we are not working in our strengths, work is harder, draining and we are less successful.

It was explained by both Erwin and, later on, another strengths coach that applying our strengths where we are is a matter of viewing the same tasks from a the perspective of our strengths.

At times I am overwhelmed with the details of numerous project management tasks. I am not by nature a detailed person or driver (Achiever, Command). But rather than look for other roles to apply my strengths of Strategic, Maximizer, Input, Relator or Connectedness (see below for definitions), I can view these same tasks through the lens of my strengths.

What I've done this week is:

  1. Step outside myself and view my role and situation as an objective Maximizer. My immediate response is "We've got to clean these projects up: close the open items, push through the obstacles, provide clarity and direction for all those involved." What was stressful and exhausting when sitting in the office chair now becomes energizing and empowering while sitting in the Director's chair, even though the only actor on the set is myself.
  2. Also, previously I viewed most of my team and task efforts as moving things forward for the sake of 'closing' them, but 'closed' didn't always mean that a task's destination was the best. Often it was good enough, or a customer-requested compromise of functionality and cost. Now from the Maximizer perspective, I can see that these task and project destinations truly are the best that I could do from the customer and my PMO's point of view (which should be my point of view as well) - that's what they're asking for. Now I'm driven to move these customer and organization requests from good to great.
  3. Seeing my tasks and daily to-do's from the viewpoint of Strategic. When I did this, I felt a sudden, strong drive to get control of my day-to-day worklife because I was sure there were opportunities, inefficiencies, and broken processes all around but I couldn't see them because of the overgrown brush and weeds of business, overload and living in reaction mode. I could smell opportunity like Yukon Cornelius could smell gold, and I desperately wanted to clear out this overgrowth in order to get to the real treasure - strategic opportunity.
  4. Considering, as someone who has the Input strength, all the valuable information that I'm not collecting because I'm too hurried. I was more motivated to get my projects and tasks under control so that I can not only collect data and information for the sake of proving useful at some later date, but also the opportunity that this information might provide in making more connections with people, projects, and initiatives.

These were the strongest results I had from trying to apply my strengths right where I was in my current role and responsibilities.

Definition of Strengths Referenced

  • Strategic
    People strong in the Strategic theme create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, they can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.
  • Maximizer
    People strong in the Maximizer theme focus on strengths as a way to stimulate personal and group excellence. They seek to transform something strong into something superb.
  • Input
    People strong in the Input theme have a craving to know more. Often they like to collect and archive all kinds of information.
  • Connectedness
    People strong in the Connectedness theme have faith in the links between all things. They believe there are few coincidences and that almost every event has a reason.
  • Relator
    People who are strong in the Relator theme enjoy close relationships with others. They find deep satisfaction in working hard with friends to achieve a goal.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Reasons Vision Doesn't Stick - Success

I was listening again to Andy Stanley's presentation from The Leadership Summit 2003, and was struck by this statement:

Vision doesn't stick when you're successful because when you are successful, you have options and if you have too many options you get unfocussed...You wake up one day in a large organization and the largeness has made it complex, and complex organizations are stupid organizations. The smartest [my organization] has ever been - unbelievably efficient - was when there was just six of us.

But as you are successful, you become complex, and complexity is the enemy of efficiency and complexity is the enemy of vision. It could be that you're in a successful organization, but the vision hasn't stuck. Everybody's busy, but you've lost the connection.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Resources from Code Camp Presentation

Below are the resources related to accelerating your career by focusing on strengths.

Both Gallup's work and the MBS strengths are mentioned elsewhere in this blog.

Sweet Spots
If you don't find meaning in your work--or you're one of the 80 percent who don't believe their talents are used, what can you do? Finding your "sweet spot" is part of the Cure for the Common Life.

MBS Strengths (colors):
My MBS profile
How to Work with Scott
MBS Profile Comparison

Gallup's Strengths:
My Signature Themes
My Strengths Guide

Private Victory:
Be Proactive, Begin with the End in Mind, and Firt Things First are the first three of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
FranklinCovey's training and resources website