Three Thoughts From August’s DFW Scrum Meetup

This writeup comes from Quentin Donnellan who originally posted it on his blog on August 18, 2015. 

I’ve got a flight to Kansas City to meet the SpiderOak marketing team tomorrow morning, so I’ll make this quick! I just got back home from my first DFW Scrum meetup, and I highly recommend it to any software guys in the area (they meet on the 3rd Tuesday of each month, in Addison and Southlake concurrently).

I had originally planned to fly out to Kansas City late tonight, but a couple weeks ago I noticed that this meetup group was going to be hosting a talk on “Release Process” and figured, as I’ve been tasked with the role of release manager for the SpiderOak web team, this would be a hugely beneficial experience. It was.

You can find the presentation by William “RED” Davidson in full on the group’s Meetup page; I wanted to just mention a few things that stuck out to me during the course of the talk/discussion.

1. Jeremy wants to do…

One of the early slides Mr. Davidson showed us was a picture of some dude’s face, and this sentence below it: “Jeremy wants to do…”. The point was that when coming up with user stories, you shouldn’t put them in terms of some ambiguous “user” (i.e. User needs to select X from Y on page Z), but instead think about it in terms of what actual people need to do. “Jeremy needs to do this thing on this page”. And add a huge picture of a person’s face. Seriously; thinking of your “user” as actual people (with real faces) is powerful.

2. Sit down with your customer while they use your product.

One gentlemen in the room made the very awesome comment that, if possible, you should sit next to one of your customers while they use your product. That’s awesome advice. For those of us out there who build internal tools for our respective companies, this is a very simple thing to do. While I’m in Kansas City let’s see if I can’t get my team member to work on the CMS I built for them – just by watching how they interact with the thing will tell me more than any feature request ticket that they could come up with.

3. Three-legged stool

One of the big ideas from Mr. Davidson’s talk was that a release process (and the development process in general) is a 3-legged stool:

  1. Deliver Value & Delight
  2. Improve Product & Processes
  3. Develop the Team

His point was that if you focus too heavily on one of the “legs” (or not enough on one) then you stool become unstable. There was also a sage comment made by another member of the group that went something like this: it’s likely the stool will “wobble” – though it should be a goal to not let the stool fall over, as it were.

There were many comments from leaders among the group about how they were guilty of ignoring some/one of the legs themselves.

Wrap up

In all, I’m very glad I decided to take an early flight out tomorrow so that I could make the trek over to Addison to meet with the DFW Scrum group. I met some good people and definitely learned some valuable things. I highly recommend this group to area developers and will definitely be making it over to my next meeting.

Note: I don’t use Agile/Scrum currently – but I did get a ton of utility out of this talk.


Developing Your Facilitation Skills

I’ve been talking to a number of Scrum Masters recently, specifically about their retrospectives.  They don’t know how to handle the group dynamics comfortably or how to design a fun yet productive meeting or how to deal with the issue that no one wants to bring up.  And as I talk with them about ways to address these, I remember my own path as a Scrum Master and how I grew my facilitation skills: I had experience facilitating meetings from college, I took training workshops after I graduated, and I read and applied what I read intently for each retrospective over a couple of months.  Planning and executing retrospectives became part of my craft, and I am thankful that I learned it because it has paid off tremendously in helping teams and Scrum Masters get better.

If you want to develop your facilitation skills, the Agile Coaching Institute is offering its Agile Facilitator class in Dallas on November 12-13.  It’s a wonderful course that provides techniques and practice–I attended it last year and came away with some new ideas on how to plan meetings that has been really beneficial!  For more information about the course, please visit the Agile Coaching Institute website.

Technical Excellence Takes Discipline

Scrum is the most popular agile framework, and part of what I like about Scrum is that it is elegant in its simplicity and does a great job of making things visible. And after years of seeing Scrum implemented in various organizations and talking to others in the industry, it’s clear that technical excellence is too often neglected by Scrum teams. As an Agile/Scrum Coach, I think it’s important to talk to teams and managers about more than what Scrum alone defines–we must have conversations about other practices and ideas to address the stuff that Scrum has made visible.  Technical practices must be in those conversations, regardless of our own technical backgrounds.

It seems like teams can create technical debt faster in agile than they did previously if they are not following good technical practices. Practices that ensure we are building the code right so it is “rigid in the right places and flexible in the right places.” This is important because successful software may suffer from performance punishment: it did well, so now it needs to do more. Which means that the initial benefits provided by Scrum can come to a screeching halt months or years later if teams are not continuously focused on technical excellence. If Agile is about “embracing change,” then an Agile codebase needs to be able to “embrace change.”

Our July Dallas meetup was titled, “Technical Excellence Doesn’t Just Happen-Igniting Craftsmanship Culture.” Mike Rieser and I co-presented our experiences with Flaccid Scrum and shared how we partnered as coaches to help an organization through a technical turnaround with some tips for others who need to do the same. In our experience working with multiple teams in a single codebase, developers can feel victim to a legacy codebase if only a few people are writing clean code or refactoring; guiding them on how to decrease technical debt while delivering their projects helps “unstuck” their other agile practices.  If you’re interested in learning more, tweet Allison or Mike.

About More with LeSS: A Decade of Descaling with Large-Scale Scrum

We were fortunate in June to have Craig Larman, co-creator of Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS), speak to our group. The main goal of LeSS is not to enable traditional big groups to “meet their commitment” more efficiently—it is to see the ineffectiveness of traditional large-scale organizational design and to change it, by descaling with LeSS towards a simple model for multiple teams that optimizes for agility (flexibility), learning, and flow of value. Change the organization before you expect workers to change.

LeSS is scaled Scrum. It is about applying the principles and ideas of Scrum to many teams working together on one product. These include empirical process control, shippable product every sprint (which heightens transparency, creates a strong feedback loop, and allows early delivery of value), and self-managing teams — including self-management between the teams that are working together on one product. LeSS, like Scrum, contains very few elements. This is very intentional. Because of the need for strong empirical process control and learning, and the vast array of situationally different groups, a one-size-fits-all or detailed prescriptive framework doesn’t really address the root issues. So there’s more learning and adaptation with less defined processes, and that’s a good thing. Hence the slogan, “More with LeSS.”

To learn more about Large-Scale Scrum, visit Our members found Craig’s presentation to be thought-provoking, and it gave them new ways of looking at organizational agility.  Our conversations have been greatly influenced by the ideas shared, and at least a few took ideas back to their own organizations right away–signs of a great user group meeting!

April Dallas Recap: What Makes a Good Team Room?

A big thank you to everyone who attended and contributed to this meeting!  This session was all about sharing our experiences with team rooms—the challenges in creating them, characteristics that make for good team rooms, and even having breakout spaces where team members can work solo or in smaller groups as needed.  A few members shared photos of their team environments, and Ty captured notes on the whiteboards of the group discussion:

March Dallas Recap: Building Continuous Delivery

Allen Moore, QA Strategist

Allen Moore, QA Strategist

Continuing on a theme of QA/testing, in March we had DFW Scrummer Allen Moore share his experience in implementing continuous delivery.  The full title of the session was “Building Continuous Delivery: A Retrospective (or how a QA Strategy succeeds without any “QA” personnel).  His story is particularly interesting as he is the only person with “QA” in his title at his company—Allen is a QA Strategist and defines the quality processes, cultivates a culture of quality, builds continuous delivery and automated testing frameworks and educates the team in testing practices and habits.

For the past two years Allen has worked with a great team to define and implement continuous delivery, and his presentation reflected what worked well and what he would do differently next time.  It was a great example of how people can work together to learn new skills, implement new technologies, and improve processes to deliver higher quality product to better serve customers’ needs.  Thank you, Allen, for sharing your experience and expertise with us!

February Dallas Recap: Discover the Power of Pair Testing

In February, we were fortunate to have DFW Scrummer Pradeepa Narayanaswamy present at our Dallas meeting. Agile teams are expected to deliver high quality product, and team members become more cross-functional and take ownership of quality. To address scarce testing talents within a team and an effective way to become more cross-functional, team members can pair up on testing efforts to ensure the shared eye on quality and learning.

Pradeepa talked about several pairing options and opportunities between various specialties in an agile team:

  • A programmer and a tester pairing can lead to clearer unit test names in plain English
  • Two testers pairing can lead to more comprehensive tests
  • A Product Owner and a tester pairing can lead to better acceptance criteria on product backlog items
  • A tester and operations pairing in a DevOps context can lead to better sanity tests/release testing for a smoother deployment
  • A UX person and a tester pairing can lead to better design of non-happy path scenarios

That’s a lot of greatness that can come from having a tester pair with someone! Each pairing greatly supports providing faster feedback and producing high quality product as a team. And to get started, Pradeepa shared a couple of tips:

DFW Scrum February