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Interrupt Pattern

Scrum Inc. Interrupt Pattern

Interrupts happen. In computing, an operating system has to be able to handle interrupts or the machine will crash. It’s the same with Sprints. The key to handling interruptions is to expect them.

One of the core ideas in Scrum is that the Team is not interrupted during a Sprint. All the work that needs to be done in a Sprint should be laid out and prioritized in the Sprint Backlog during Sprint Planning

That’s the ideal. However, there are often times, when interruptions are unavoidable. Real time feedback can be essential for creating a quality product but it needs to be regulated to protect the Team from getting mixed messages and slowed down. In a perfect world, that feedback would be incorporated into the Product Backlog for future Sprints, but there are times when it simply isn’t possible to wait.

Here’s what to do: First, all requests for new or found work have to go through the Product Owner. The Product Owner should examine how many unplanned tasks come into a Sprint and then create a buffer that accounts for them. For example, if a team typically has a velocity of 200 points, but routinely gets 50 points worth of interruptions, the Product Owner should only allow the team to take in 150 points in any one Sprint and have a 50 point buffer. 

Second, when an unplanned task surfaces the Product Owner orders it in the buffer according to business value. The most important thing is to take a deep breath and realize that many requests can be put off to the next Sprint, but the critical interrupts that cannot wait go into the buffer. 

The Interrupt Pattern is a tool that protects the Team from unreasonable exceptions.  If it is obvious the interrupt buffer is going to overflow the Product Owner should immediately activate the Scrum Emergency Procedure, aborting the Sprint.  

Patterns:

Illigitimus Non Interruptus

 

Emergency Procedure

 

The Scrum Pattern Language of Programing : The PLoP movement codifies well know Agile practices that have been successfully implemented many times.

Papers:

Teams that Finish Early Accelerate Faster: A Pattern for High Performing Teams

 

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Is Your Company Agile?

Is Your Company Agile?

On my recent book tour in London, I was asked to appear on Sky News. They asked me to talk about why the United Kingdom’s productivity is less than other G7 countries. The hot topic of the day was earnings reports from U.K. companies and U.S. companies based in the U.K. They told me to be prepared to talk about productivity and how that affects earnings of specific companies.

I’ve done Scrum transformations in companies where the stop has doubled during the implementation for a large company (Medco) and quadrupled for a medium sized company (Pegasystems). You can read about Medco in my new book Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time. We wrote an IEEE Digital Library paper on Pegasystems: Hitting The Wall: What to Do When High Performing Scrum Teams Overwhelm Operations.

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Cultivating Continuous Transformation

Plants_growing_-_Google_Search

Recently, I listened to a presentation by a CTO of a large software company. During the presentation, the CTO talked about a common misconception that the farmer grows food. The fact is, he pointed out, that food grows itself. Plants have the power and ability within themselves to grow on their own. The farmer merely provides the best conditions for the food to grow at an optimum rate to achieve the best tasting crop.

The farmer who does not understand the power and capability of the plants he grows can set up a scenario where overuse of fertilizer or interference with natural growing aspects can destroy the crop. The farmer runs the risk of creating a crop that is overly dependent on the farmer’s intervention resulting in crop failure at the first sign of stress.

If the farmer understands what his plants need for optimum growth and maximum yield in a sustainable manner, the farmer can establish a well-run farm system resulting in a great harvest season after season.

This same pattern exists in terms of transforming an organization. The notion that executives and leaders transform their organizations by sheer will and brute force rarely works.   The most successful organizational transformations are the ones in which the leadership understands the strengths and weaknesses of their organization and uses that knowledge to create the right conditions for a transformation to take hold.

Leaders who prescribe a rigid step-by-step path, or try to implement changes without a strong base of principles and values, will de-motivate the organization and prevent it from establishing the deep root system needed for long term, lasting and sustainable transformation.

An organization is made up of people…typically smart people who possess the power, skills and motivation to transform the organization themselves. Like the farmer, leaders must set up the right conditions in the organization to enable the people to build and sustain a continuous transformative culture.

How can we cultivate a continuous transformation culture?

One of the biggest impediments organizations face during a transformation occurs when the organization views failure as…failure. Acceptance of failure and, more importantly, the notion that failure is an important aspect of learning, is a key characteristic of well-run Agile organizations.

Successful organizations understand that having a continuous transformation culture means they need to be in continuous learning mode. If the culture of your organization is such that failure results in firestorms and threats, the motivation to learn diminishes and teams merely work to avoid mistakes.

When failure is not embraced as a learning opportunity, teams will try to hide the warning signs of the impending failure. Once hidden, leaders will not have the information they need to facilitate the learning cycle. As disaster strikes, finger pointing occurs.

Crops in a field, on the other hand, have no fear of failure. Failure shows up immediately and the earlier the farmer sees the signs, the better the chances that the farmer can apply the right remedies so that the crops don’t collapse entirely. The farmer remembers the patterns that led to the failure and next season works to avoid them. Over time, the crops can evolve to avoid them on their own.

Well-run Agile organizations empower teams to abort sprints.  They insist teams conduct retrospectives regularly and teams embrace the discipline of evaluating their successes and more importantly, their failures with open, honest discussions. Teams own their improvements and come to see failure as the way to learn.

Agile organizations that adopt strong continuous improvement practices are never static. In other words, what makes sense to adopt in your Agile practices today, may not make sense tomorrow, and you need to be ready and willing to add or remove practices as things evolve.

One of the best ways to begin cultivating the culture is to start with a set of strong guiding principles. A transformation model based on strong principles and values will enable a continuous transformation culture.   In addition, the following ideas can ensure the right conditions are established:

  1. Establish a team of Agile-savvy people (from different levels) who will be able to maintain a steady focus on instilling the values and principles across the organization. This should be a team of “glue” people who have influence across a broad range within your organization.
  1. Instill a culture of experimentation by insisting teams hold retrospectives religiously and select improvement goals each iteration. Teach teams to experiment with improvements for a sprint or two and measure the results. Often times, a major impediment of change is the fear that a change will be permanent. If you teach them that change can be temporary and that changes will be measured for effectiveness each sprint, the fear usually goes away.
  1. Create avenues for socializing ideas, failures and successes across the whole organization. This establishes a vibrant and energetic community where there is a high degree successful practice convergence across teams.
  1. Practice a balance between patience & empowerment vs. accountability & delivery. Establishing clear goals around delivery and preaching the Scrum value of commitment to sprint deliverables (and a strong definition of done) will raise quality. Growing team skills around self-organization (via ownership), continuous improvement (via failure and learning) and collaboration skills will empower and motivate teams.
  1. Instill a sense of urgency around impediment removal. Give power to individuals to solve problems quickly without having to convene a council meeting to “run things up the flagpole”. Hold managers accountable for helping teams to remove difficult impediments quickly.
  1. Insist on attention and prioritization around technical excellence. If the organization does not view the team as a stakeholder and hold quality in high regard, the pressure to deliver functionality may lead to shortcuts (technical debt) and poor quality. Eventually this will render your products unmaintainable.
  1. Teach teams to have a strong sense of curiosity such that they constantly evaluate the data that their teams produce as a by-product of delivering working software increments. You want the teams to be intensely curious as to how they are doing and how they might do better.

These seven ideas are no big surprise. Like Scrum, they are easy to understand because they represent common sense. However, they can be hard to implement because they may run counter to an organization’s culture.

As you embark on cultivating a continuous Agile transformation, you need to keep asking yourselves detailed questions such as:

  • Is it easy for a stakeholder to know the state of a product roadmap?
  • Can we easily tell if a team is happy and producing at a good rate?
  • Are the product owners and product managers happy with the productivity of their teams?
  • Are the teams meeting their sprint goals regularly?
  • Are the right teams talking to each other as needed to handle dependencies and integrations?
  • Are the long-term goals, technical debt, and quality goals being met?
  • Are the teams continuously integrating software and regression testing regularly?
  • Are stakeholders needs being evaluated constantly?

So remember the lesson: The farmer does not grow food, but rather provides optimum conditions for the food to do what it knows best…grow. The farmer cultivates his fields in order to sustain optimum growth and a maximum yield year after year.

Likewise, good leaders do not transform organizations. They understand that its best to establish a continuous transformation culture by providing the right conditions for the team members to do what they do best…evolve, learn and innovate, own and build, and deliver high quality, world-class software.

David Sallet, October 28, 2014
David Sallet is a Senior Program Manager and Enterprise Agile Coach at Autodesk. He has successfully trained and coached Agile teams as well as management teams in 15 countries around the world over the last 8 years (Scrum, Kanban, Lean, XP, etc). David teaches a principle, technique, and value-based system that allows organizations to realize the full benefits of an agile approach.

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Do You Need a Transition Team?

Do You Need a Transition Team?

We recently assessed a young Scrum implementation and our observations led to a lot of discussion around the office. We saw excited teams, a stable cadence of meetings, and leadership eager to support the implementation — in other words, a very promising start. Yet the teams had hit a wall and the organization was struggling to understand why. Our answer: You need a transition team.

As we dug deeper to find the root cause of what was stalling the implementation, it became clear that the teams were all struggling with the same organizational impediments. (We use the term “organization impediment” to refer to impediments beyond a team’s sphere of influence.) Yet there was no one in the organization accountable for, or empowered to, address those impediments.

Why a Transition Team?

Scrum fundamentally changes the way teams interact with the organization. This change uncovers many impediments that, if not addressed at the enterprise level, often limit teams to a fraction of their potential. A transition team is tasked with coordinating between the teams and the enterprise in order to identify and remove organizational impediments.

A well-run transition team will own the process of moving to Scrum and be held accountable for supporting its success. To do this it must be empowered to resolve impediments that cannot be addressed at the team level.

How it works:

Ideally this will be one of the first Scrum teams your organization launches, so that it can support the implementation from day one. Who should be on the transition team depends largely on context. The team’s success requires it to be cross-functional and empowered — meaning it possess the diversity and authority to lead the organizational change necessary. The team’s roster may evolve as the Scrum implementation matures and the organizational impediments begin to change in nature.

The transition team works closely with the Scrum teams to discover common impediments that are slowing them down, but that are beyond the teams’ sphere of influence. These impediments come in many forms such as the need for more training, a more agile approach to product planning, better testing infrastructure, more agile tooling, etc. The transition team adds these impediments as stories to an organizational impediment backlog, which it prioritizes in true Scrum fashion. The team paves the way for agile success by working in sprints to tackle the impediment backlog at the top of the backlog. Just as importantly the transition team makes these impediments and their velocity against them visible, serving as the key success metric for the agile transformation.

The ultimate goal of a transition team is to instill a culture of continuous improvement not just within the teams, but also from top to bottom. When the transition team has achieved a relatively mature Scrum, it should not be disbanded but rather repurposed with a charter to support the organization’s continued agility. At this stage the team becomes the go-to support center for teams that need coaching, training for a new member, or ideas on tackling an impediment.

Looking for more ways to work better? Contact us to speak about your goals. 

 

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