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Focus the Agile Standup Conversation

Over the past month I had a pleasure of working closer with a team that had a bit of a problem completing everything in their 2 week sprint plans.  Together we introduced a change into how we were doing standups and the same 4 engineers started getting more predictable results and higher throughput.  If you are not already doing these practices they might help your scrum team too.

In order to show you the results of the change I wanted to show you some data.  Below is a chart of the completion rate of each sprint over the last several months:



This is a total number of work done as measured in scrum points.


As you can see the performance improved in both the total output and predictability.  Here are the four changes we introduced in our standups:

#1 Use the board

The first thing we changed was focusing on the scrum board. The team used to meet in an area without a screen or a whiteboard.  They sat around their desks without getting a visual sense of the sprint backlog and how the tasks were moving through.  As a result, they never really got a sense if they were behind or that there was a bottleneck in the process.

We moved the daily standup meeting to an area with a big screen TV where we could project our JIRA board.  Immediately the team started seeing the overall progress of the sprint and started getting a sense of where tasks were piling up.

#2 Focus on the tasks instead of just going around the room

The team used to go around the room and just get an update from everyone in the form of “what are you up to now.” The attention dissipated to activity in general instead of focus on getting the tasks that were in progress or on the backlog. We switched the process to going through the tasks and seeing who could help out with moving things forward.  Instead of “Jenny, what are you going to do today”, we switched to asking: “DFS-1234 is ready for testing, who is able to get this bug verified?” and “the next highest priority task is DSF-5678, who is available to pick it up and start working on it?”

We had fears that maybe we wouldn’t call on someone, but in a usual scrum team of 4-8 people it’s not hard to remember if someone has not had an opportunity to speak yet.  It turned out not to be an issue, but the focus on the tasks and helping each other out to get the tasks done has made a huge difference.

#3 Ask the team when the task is going to be complete

We added another important question to the the standup: “when do you think you are going to be done with your task?”  This added focus on moving things through the pipeline and also added a bit of personal responsibility for delivering things on the agreed upon dates.  Engineers felt more accountability to each other to deliver tasks and raise a flag when things were not going according to plan.  In cases where tasks were passed from one engineer to another the receiving party could plan on when to get ready for those tasks and made the handoff smoother.

#4 Account for downstream processes

Another key question we asked the entire group is looking at the entire sprint backlog as well as individual tasks and asking what it would take to actually get the entire plan done.  This forced everyone to take into account downstream processes and very rapidly we started scheduling and orchestrating work within sprint with a goal of getting everything done to complete the entire task.  I started asking about the lead time that downstream processes need, it turned out that the engineers were very knowledgeable in what was needed.  Everyone attention was focused on the fact that just doing the check into source control, right before the sprint ended was not going to get a task complete.  Over several sprints the team got better and better at scheduling and planning their sprint execution, by the end doubling their throughput.

Conclusion


Getting your team to stay focused and complete the sprints is key to getting predictability and ensures that customers get features and fixes on time. I hope these tips help your organization with your agile processes.

If you liked this blog post check out a few other posts on agile project management:
1) Good Bye, Spec! Hello Direct Contact to Customers! http://www.mikebz.com/2015/10/good-bye-spec-hello-direct-contact.html
2) #1 Mistake in Agile Project Management: http://www.mikebz.com/2014/07/the-1-mistake-in-agile-project.html

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