Project Management Archive

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Could a Patent Troll Kill Agile?

patent trollPatent Trolls

I don’t personally own any patents but perhaps I should reconsider.  If you own a patent, you can sue people for infringing on it.  You don’t have to actually create anything valuable. You just sue people and make money.  You’d think it sounds crazy but it’s happening!  People known as “patent trolls” are buying patents for the sole purpose of suing others.  One guy in Texas owns a patent and sent out 9,000 letter demanding $1000.  The violation?  He claimed to have patents that cover any networked “scan-to-email” function.

Patent That Could Kill Agile is for Sale

On December 8, Penn State is looking to sell a few patents it owns.  One of the patents for sale is US Patent No. 8,442,839, entitled “Agent-based collaborative recognition-primed decision-making.” The lead inventors are PSU professors John Yen and Michael McNeese. The patent essentially describes different ways that people work together to solve a problem.

Patent Abstract

Collaborative agents for simulating teamwork (CAST) are provided with a recognition-primed decision (RPD) model, thereby enhancing analysis through linking and sharing information using knowledge and experience distributed among team members. The RPD model is integrated within a CAST architecture to the extent that agents can proactively seek and fuse information to enhance the quality and timeliness of the decision-making process. The approach, which is applicable to both human assistants and virtual teammates, can approximately track human’s decision-making process and effectively interact with human users…

Thoughts

So, at the low cost of $5,000, you could theoretically buy the patent and then sue anyone using a collaborative agent (could be software or even physical boards) that helps people make better decisions and share information with team members.  Essentially, you could require all Agile teams to pay a licensing fee.

Questions

  1. Should Agile Alliance, Scrum Alliance, PMI, or some other body buy this stupid patent?
  2. Should VersionOne, Rally, and Microsoft join forces to share this patent?
  3. What would you do?

 

Image: Pictofigo

 

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Time to Replace Backlog Grooming

The Problem

backlog groomingOver the last few years, I’ve worked with numerous teams. One thing they all struggle with is backlog grooming.  They all know they need to do it.  Unfortunately, they all seem to struggle with when to do it or who should do it.  The most interesting struggle with backlog grooming happened two years ago.  The “story time” meetings took place at the beginning of a month-long sprint. The manager stated, the work to be completed and delivered during that sprint had to be refined within the same sprint.  This helped explain why the team thought they needed month-long sprints.  When I asked why they would try to refine work the first two weeks of the sprint and then complete that work the second two weeks, you know what their answer was?  “It said to do it like that in the Scrum Guide!” After I clarified their misunderstanding, we established a cadence to continuously mature the backlog.  A rotating selection of people would participate in the scheduled meetings.  We would reserve capacity from each sprint to get that work ready for future sprints.  The team was able to shorten their sprints to 2 weeks.  They more than doubled their delivery rate without increasing defect rates.  With that as an example, over the last few years, I have evolved my practice of backlog grooming.  Let’s look at some key dates in the evolution of backlog grooming.

Evolution of Backlog Grooming

2005: “grooming the product backlog” is mentioned by Mike Cohn on what is now the Scrum Users Yahoo Group;

I always have teams allot some amount of time to “grooming the product backlog” to make sure it’s ready for the next sprint.

2008: A formal description of “backlog grooming” is given by Kane Mar, under the name Story Time, and recommending it as a regular meeting

I call these meetings “Story Time” meetings….Although they are not a formal part of Scrum, I’ve found that Story Time greatly improves project planning and reduces confrontational planning meetings, which are all too common for many teams.  A Story Time meeting should be held at the same time and location every single week and involve the entire team, including the Product Owner and ScrumMaster. The sole intention of these weekly meetings is to work through the backlog in preparation for future work.

2011: The practice of “backlog grooming” is called “backlog refinement” and promoted to an “official” element of Scrum with its inclusion in the Scrum Guide

Product Backlog refinement is the act of adding detail, estimates, and order to items in the Product Backlog. This is an ongoing process in which the Product Owner and the Development Team collaborate on the details of Product Backlog items. During Product Backlog refinement, items are reviewed and revised. The Scrum Team decides how and when refinement is done. Refinement usually consumes no more than 10% of the capacity of the Development Team. However, Product Backlog items can be updated at any time by the Product Owner or at the Product Owner’s discretion.

2014: Derek Huether from LeadingAgile evolved the practice of backlog grooming with one of his clients, to allow the practice to work better at scale, calling it a “Progression” workshop.

When operating at scale, my client deals with different problems than a standard Scrum team.  They’re dealing with separate lines of business. They’re dealing with multiple delivery teams for each line of business, to include external vendors. They’re dealing with a portfolio roadmap that has annual plan items and budgets. Our strategy encapsulated the entire product delivery value stream, while ensuring we had enough architectural runway. We progressed work to be consumed by delivery teams, via a series of workshops.

Progression Workshops

Our progression workshops differ slightly from the story time meeting detailed by Kane Mar and the refinement meeting mentioned in the Scrum Guide.  Counter to Story Time, we don’t invite the entire team. Instead, we have elevated the workshop to a group some have come to know as a Product Owner (PO) team.  The group of people within the PO team will vary, depending on the line of business.  Yes, there will be a Product Owner (Product Lead) and facilitator, but from there we’ll include the development lead, testing lead, and an architect.  We’ve found two key challenges when operating at scale. First, is there a well defined backlog that is ready enough to be consumed by different delivery teams?  Second, is the work being queued up to the delivery teams free and clear of other teams.  That is, have we decomposed it in such a way that we’ve minimized dependencies on other teams? Beyond that, in order to achieve some degree of architectural runway, we continually refactor existing platforms. Architectural changes are not only made incrementally but we require an architect to be present at every progression workshop.

Counter to the Scrum Guide, I’m not going to be proscriptive as to how much capacity the PO Teams do/should commit to progression workshops.  The goal is to have enough work ready for delivery teams to consume for a few sprints.

When progressing work, we do expect some artifacts to be generated, to contribute to the teams understanding of what will be developed, tested, and delivered. Below is a partial list of potential artifacts. To be clear, we do not expect all of these to be generated.

Potential Deliverables

  • System Context Diagram
  • Dependency and Risk Work Items
  • System Architecture Guidance Acknowledgement
  • Use Case Diagram and document
  • Business Process Flow
  • Known Business Rules
  • High Level Technology Alignment
  • Architecture Backlog for Planned Work
  • As-Is Data Contracts
  • Feature Work Items Assigned to Delivery Team
  • Feature Business Value and Acceptance Criteria
  • Feature Stack Rank
  • Test Strategy

So, that’s the high-level view of the Progression Workshop.  Most of the time, a feature will require two or more progression workshops before work is ready to be consumed by a delivery team.  Once features progress to a defined level of shared understanding, the delivery teams assist in the decomposition of features to user stories.  In this way, work is decomposed to the right level of detail for each delivery team.

I’m curious, how have you scaled feature development and backlog grooming in your organizations? What mechanics outside of the standard Scrum process have you found useful to refine work to be completed by delivery teams?  Have you evolved Story Time or backlog refinement?

Image Credit: Pictofigo.com

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Lean Coffee Baltimore Topics for August

lean-coffee-aug

Lean Coffee Topics in dot-voted order

Lean Coffee is a structured, but agenda-less meeting. Participants gather, build an agenda, and begin talking. Conversations are directed and productive because the agenda for the meeting was democratically generated. We met at Mad City Coffee at 07:30 . We enjoyed an hour and a half of coffee and conversation.

August Topics

Distributed Teams

When everyone in your company is distributed, what are some ways you can stay connected?

Paired Programming

How do you sell paired programming to your organization? Management sees it as one for the price of two.

Test Driven Development

How exactly does it work?  We hear that it’s a good thing but why?

Method Turf Wars

Coaches and consultants get so passionate about the frameworks they promote. It used to be Waterfall against Agile.  Now it’s seemingly SAFe , Scrum at scale, enterprise Kanban and Lean… For the customers, do they really care? They just want stuff to work!

Meetups and Conferences

Have you been to any good meetups or conferences lately?  Do you know of any upcoming events?

Conversations

We had some really good conversations around the topics. Rather than bullet them out here, I’ll respond in the comments to encourage a little conversation.

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Follow the Process

A process isn’t a process if you don’t follow it

I’ve been on the National Yellow Pages consumer choice opt-out list for 4 years.  Since registering, how many times in the last 4 years do you think I have received a Yellow Pages phone book?  That’s right, 4 times!  Each year I receive a phone book and promptly throw it into the recycle bin; each year I promptly submit a complaint to the website. Within 24 hours, I get a notification that they will notify the distributor of the error.

Why does this process fail?

  1. The people who are supposed to follow the process just don’t care.  If the job is to deliver phones books quickly, I wouldn’t be surprised if they dumped the entire annual delivery at the local recycling center and nobody would even care.
  2. The feedback loop is annual.  I doubt someone chooses a career in phone book delivery.  Even if they do read the non-delivery address list, they’ll be out of there before the next annual delivery.
  3. Nobody is held accountable. If they were, I would have complained once. Still, it’s not worth a class-action lawsuit. I’ll just blog about it.

opt-out

 

proc·ess

/ˈpräˌses,ˈpräsəs,ˈprō-/

noun

1.
a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end.
“developers not unit testing their code could derail the application development process”
synonyms: procedureoperationactionactivityexercisejobtaskundertaking More

verb

1.
perform a series of mechanical or chemical operations on (something) in order to change or preserve it.
“the various stages in processing the change request”

Still getting a phone book? Tell me why! I’m sure it took a while to phase out buggy whips when the automobile came along. I’m still scratching my head on the whole phone book thing.


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Busy Summer

User StoryThis summer, things come in three’s.

One

I’ll be hosting Lean Coffee Baltimore on July 11 at Mad City Coffee. >> Register Here >>

Two

I’ll be presenting at Agile2014 in Orlando on August 1. >> Register Here >>

Three

I’ll be conducting a 2-day user story workshop on August 14-15 in Bowie, Maryland. >> Register Here >>