Effective Solutions Through Partnership

7 Smart Ways to Make Your Sprint a Success

Agile, Best Practices, Certified ScrumMaster (CSM), Corporate Training, KAIP Academy, Learning, Project Management, Project Management Professional (PMP), Sacramento, Scrum, Training, Waterfall

By Michael Bosch, CSP, PMI-ACP, CSM, CSPO

KAI Partners is excited to share a guest blog post by Michael Bosch, Agile Services Director of Brightline Solutions, Inc., a locally-based firm offering Agile Delivery and Change Management Services to public sector organizations and private sector firms.

Remember, KAIP Academy offers Certified ScrumMaster® (CSM) training courses! For more information or to register your team and take them to the next level, click here.

Establishing all the components of an Agile framework (even a lightweight one) can be a daunting task for any organization. If yours is one that has decided to take the transformation plunge, then you’re likely planning (or have already started) your iteration cadence.

Timeboxed development periods, known as iterations or sprints (the latter promoted in the Scrum methodology), are the foundational rhythm to the “groove” of Agile. Supported by other elements such as roadmapping, release planning, demonstrations, and retrospectives, sprints are the dominant architectural feature of the Agile framework. And for good reason:

Sprints are where all the work is performed and where the innovation occurs.

The best sprint lengths are one to three weeks. If multiple Agile teams are working in your organization, the common wisdom is to have them running on a synchronized sprint schedule. The most critical aspect of running an iteration is that the team is formed in such a way that it can perform the work foreseeably asked of it, that the team is empowered and entrusted to a sufficient degree, and that the entire product community (not just the team, but everyone involved in its work) understands the mindsets, roles, and expectations required in Agile.

With that foundation in place, you’re ready to start looking to optimize your team’s sprint so that success becomes predictable. Below are seven things high-performing Agile teams do that you can use to ensure your sprints are optimized for business-driven delivery.

1. Create and Promote a Sprint Theme or Goal: One of my favorite ways to focus a team on the sprint is to ask the members to put together a headline of what is to be produced, accomplished, and attained in the upcoming iteration. I’ll ask, “If this next sprint was a newspaper article, what is its headline?” This technique allows the team to:

  • be concise and pithy,
  • create understanding amongst themselves,
  • share insights; and
  • have fun putting a “brand” on their effort to keep a sharp focus on what’s being delivered and why.

2. Encourage the Product Owner and Sponsors to Address the Team: Another stand-by technique to promote success in a sprint is to allow time for the product owner, sponsor, or both to speak to the team about why the planned work is important. Have them speak about the features that will be created and why these are important to the organization, its customers, and their users. I once had a sponsor talk to a team before a sprint about the importance of the new feature set to the world—you have never seen such commitment as I saw in that team in that timebox. Have your sponsor and product manager make the visit—the time invested can translate to delivered value.

3. Establish and Drive an Effective Product Backlog Grooming Process: Disaggregation (a term Agilists use to describe the defining a set of items that will result in the production of the whole) of the product into logical components, commonly referred to as “epics,” and the subsequent disaggregation of those epics into producible items (or “stories,” in Scrum) is the chief responsibility of the product manager (“product owner” in Scrum). This role works in close coordination with the development team, usually working with the Agile Coach (in Scrum, it may be the ScrumMaster) and/or other team members to prioritize the items listed in the product backlog, or PBL, prior to each sprint as part of its planning process.

There are several techniques that can be employed to support and mentor the work of a product manager (stay tuned for future blog posts on this topic!) and there are multiple resources on the Internet to get a good PBL up and running. The take-home message:

Make sure there is a close, communicative connection between the development team and the product owner throughout product development, and that the PBL is the central point of that connection.

4. Champion and Facilitate both Individual and Communal Commitment: A critical component of the translation of items from the Product Backlog to the Sprint Backlog (SBL) is a clear understanding on the team’s part of what each item is, how it will be produced, the criteria of satisfaction for its acceptance, and how it fits into the larger whole. As discussed above, this is fostered by a sufficiently-groomed PBL; another way to help facilitate this understanding is promoting a team-level mindset.

One of the steps in translation of items from PBL to SBL is the volunteering of team member(s) to perform the work involved in the item. This is the individual commitment necessary to produce the work. Great Agile teams, though, don’t stop there: They also commit communally as a team to all individual commitments.

To promote this, have the person(s) who has taken responsibility to produce the feature or component discuss:

  • how the feature will be produced (remember W. Edwards Deming, the father of modern quality management: if you cannot describe what you’re doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing)
  • what impediments may be encountered
  • what information gaps needs to be filled, and any foreseen dependencies, risks, or issues.

Then have the team ask questions, give feedback and suggestions, and (if warranted) recite back the work as described. This will ensure a critical common understanding: Not only do the persons doing the work have a clear plan, but the team also understands—and can help if needed. This adds surety that all the work the team committed to in the sprint gets done, which is one definition of a successful iteration.

5. Coach the Team in the Beginning, Coach the Individual in the Middle: As Lyssa Adkins points out in her book Coaching Agile Teams, interruptions—even in the form of well-intentioned but ill-timed coaching—can seriously impact a team’s flow during a sprint. One way to ensure this doesn’t happen is to prevent ad-hoc “mini-retrospectives,” “team teaching sessions,” and other events from occurring during the iteration. You should save that type of teaching for the planning sessions and lessons learned reviews that bookend it (see #6 for more on this topic!). While the sprint is active, it is best to keep coaching at the individual team member level, and even that should be limited to directly supporting an immediate need in the sprint.

6. Leverage the Opportunities for Retrospective: Keep your retrospectives fresh with some easy modifications: Change up the agenda, location, facilitator role, and other elements to keep your team interested and engaged. Come prepared, but be flexible—I usually come to a retro with an agenda in mind (for example, something observed during the sprint that indicates a need for review of an Agile principle), but I check with the team first to see if there’s something they’d rather review. Check with the team on where in the Sprint cycle they’d like their retrospective. Many teams like to hold it directly after the review, some like to do it just before, still others like to wait until just before the beginning of the next iteration. Find what works for each team, but continually impress the importance of the retrospective. It is more than mere ceremony—it is a vital step to allow your team time and space to reflect on the past iteration in order to improve future ones.

7. Foster Urgency and Fun: One of the most productive aspects of an Agile production environment is the consistent, predictable, confining nature of timeboxed development. It creates a sense of urgency that can almost be sensed, like a feeling in the air. The regular performance of sprints helps with this—it creates the downbeat that helps everyone stay (or get back into) rhythm. It is the chassis on which the other elements of the Agile framework are attached (as they owe their intrinsic value to the sprint itself).

Foster that sense of urgency in your teams, but balance it with the need to maintain a sustainable pace. Moreover, make sure that your team is having fun! Agile is fun—getting things done that provide needed value to our customers quickly is intrinsically rewarding. Let that shine on your team in whichever way you find works—they will reward you with sprints jam-packed with innovative product delivery!

About the Author: Specializing in transformation and disruption services for companies looking to improve, Michael Bosch has been providing high-value delivery services for more than 15 years. An Agilist with more than 10 years’ experience in the incremental development of complex digital solutions, Mr. Bosch has served as a Scrum Master, developer, and Agile coach for multiple sectors and lines of business, is a recognized Agile services technologist, product developer, and staff development expert. He specializes in creating breakthrough, team-empowering, lightweight communication and delivery frameworks for organizations of all sizes. Mr. Bosch is a Certified Scrum Professional (CSP), an Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP), a Certified Scrum Master (CSM) and Product Owner (CSPO), and an accredited Project Management Professional (PMP). He holds multiple degrees, including a masters in computer information systems. He has served as a professional trainer and speaker for more than a decade and is a published author and regular contributor to multiple information sources.

5 Steps to Building a Successful Agile Development Culture

Agile, Certified ScrumMaster (CSM), Corporate Training, Healthcare, KAIP Academy, Learning, Project Management, Project Management Professional (PMP), Sacramento, Scrum, Training, Waterfall

By David Kendall

Software, and for that matter, product development of any kind, has historically been described as a conflict between three primary constraints: Time, cost, and quality.

The missing component to this description is the labor, i.e. the people involved throughout the product development lifecycle: There is a business need identified by the customer, an analysis is required to be completed by an analyst to convert the business need into a product solution, an engineer needs to convert that conceptual solution into some type of prototype which is then tested by another engineer or analyst, and finally an implementation specialist needs to ensure that risk has been mitigated to an acceptable level to present to the customer. Oh, and let’s not forget the customer needs—to experience business value once that product begins production—especially when evaluating the cycle success criteria.

All steps towards building a successful Agile development culture, including those outlined below, require that people be involved, engaged, transparent in communications, and aligned in their expectations.

The irony is that the conflict between time, cost, and quality cannot be optimized unless the culture that the people involved are working in empowers each of them to do their best work, to be accountable for their actions, and to do it in a timeframe that delivers business value throughout the product development lifecycle.

Rigorous application of the Agile principles and values through culture development is a powerful approach to empowering your workforce to do their absolute best work. Below are some of my tips to building a successful Agile development culture in your organization:

Step 1: Decide why (and when) you need Agile Methodology. The “why” part is straightforward: Agile will help you deliver your organization’s highest priorities faster—and more efficiently—than the conventional waterfall methodology. The overall Agile approach eliminates the need for finishing a project or product completely before moving on to the next iteration or dependent deliverable, allowing you to be more flexible with your input and output processes, and facilitating activities in shorter time frames that are much better suited to anticipating and mitigating changes along the way.

Agile methods work best when you are looking to break development down into small increments to shorten or skip up-front planning and design review processes. These small increments or sprints, as they are known in Agile circles, are typically set in one to four-week periods.

Step 2: Set goals for your organization that are compatible with Agile Methodology. If you don’t need the project or product urgently, then Agile methods should not be necessary. Of course, defining what is urgent isn’t always easy—especially when mission-critical operations or contractual obligations are factored into the schedule. Regardless, goal-setting can only be successful with disciplined and prescriptive analysis in hand. And ranking the highest priorities for your organization requires real-world experience as well as well-trained support staff.

Step 3: Equip and empower your Agile Methodology team. Once you have decided that you are going to use Agile Methodology and set the goals that it will help you achieve, you need to equip and empower your staff with the training and tools necessary for them to be successful. For example, investing in Certified ScrumMaster® (CSM) training for the members of your project management and product development teams ensures a common understanding and the practical application of a rapid-process development cycle, which will pay dividends in the form of production efficiency and time-savings.

Remember, KAIP Academy offers Certified ScrumMaster® (CSM) training courses! For more information or to register your team and take them to the next level, click here.

Step 4: Establish performance metrics and review your Agile Methodology practice continuously. Agile Methodology is designed to drive processes efficiently. Sprints are designed to help teams work collaboratively. Scrum teams are designed to create learning opportunities for individuals to prepare them to adapt to change—quickly. All outcomes from the Agile activities should be measured to ensure that the organization is optimizing the investment of training and tool sets on a continuous basis.

Step 5: Promote Agile Methodology with your staff, clients, and within your vendor community regularly. With purposeful planning, policies, procedures, and processes, Agile Methodology will become an integral part of your organization. By adding thoughtful and regular communication—promoting and reinforcing of the rapid-process development cycle principles and benefits—to both internal and external stakeholders, Agile Methodology will also become a pillar of your resource planning, new business strategy, and partnership programming. In short, it will become an integral part of your culture.

For more information on putting Agile Methodology to work for you, check out the following links:

Values and the 12 Principles of Agile
Agile Model & Methodology: Guide for Developers and Testers
3 REASONS WHY AGILE WORKS

When not to use Agile

About the Author: David Kendall is the President and Managing Director of KAI Partners, Inc. A Senior Information Systems professional with 30 years of experience leading Information Technology (IT) program and project teams focused on enterprise-wide solutions, Mr. Kendall began his career as a member of the United States Air Force working in Electronic Warfare. With an honorable discharge and a degree from the University of Maryland in Information Systems Management, Mr. Kendall moved into the Health and Human Services sector performing roles with increasing responsibility and complexity within the health care field. Mr. Kendall’s current work includes advising one of California’s health care agencies as a Senior Project Manager and Program Integration Manager.

Get Ready for the Internet of Things

Information Technology, Internet of Things, Technology

By Jason Hardi

Now more than ever, there is a buzz surrounding the “Internet of Things.” What is the “Internet of Things”? It’s a fast-evolving planetary infrastructure upgrade that is capturing and analyzing more data than ever.

More specifically, the Internet of Things, or “IoT,” involves an infrastructure move towards increasing machine-to-machine communication (called M2M) built on cloud computing, IPv6, 5G networks, and billions of mobile, virtual, and instantaneous connections to computer “smart devices.”

Just how many devices can IPv6 handle? According to Wikipedia: The length of an IPv6 address is 128bits, compared with 32 bits in IPv4. Therefore, the address space has 2128 or approximately 3.4×1038 addresses. Doing the math, this translates to 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456 potential devices, each with a unique IP address. Read aloud this number:

340 undecillion, 282 decillion, 366 nonillion, 920 octillion, 938 septillion, 463 sextillion, 463 quintillion, 374 quadrillion, 607 trillion, 431 billion, 768 million, 211 thousand and 456

We live in a word where “smart devices” are everywhere, and with the IoT, smart devices will become ever-present: Always there, always on, and always exchanging data 24/7/365.

While the foundation of the IoT focuses around “smart devices,” in reality, these are nothing more than sensors and reporting devices that report data to the cloud, which supports “Big Data” algorithms and research.

Cloud-based applications leverage the data and enable real-time meta-data analysis on everything from tracking where you are, your purchases, airplane data, and more—all of which comes from sensors enabled by the push to build the next generation 5G network. The cloud enables the sensors to capture data anytime, anywhere.

Real-time examples of how this emerging technology can save lives include adding “smart sensors” to bridges to measure real-time stress, weather-related issues such as ice, cracks, and movements that can predict failure. Such information has the tremendous real-time advantage of saving lives before failure ensues.

The IoT has allowed real-time software updates of the next generation of electric cars: The Telsa. Now, instead of taking your car in for service, it is automatically updated at night when you sleep—always evolving and always updating.

According to Fool.com, major corporations have been investing in IoT for years. Monsanto and other agriculture companies use IoT to make planting and harvesting food easier, faster, and more efficient by utilizing data from sensors on farm equipment and plants, satellite images, and weather tracking in order to increase food production.

General Electric (GE) is using IoT to help liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants decrease their downtime by pinpointing potential problem areas before they become major issues—a savings of up to $150 million a year, according to MIT Sloan Management Review (Sloan Review, Big Idea: Competing With Data & Analytics Research Highlight October 21, 2016).

With the IoT comes ubiquitous real-time monitoring that can improve our lives and help make the world a safer place. While the possibilities are endless, they do involve a degree of discernment over just how much monitoring should be allowed when looking at practical considerations involving privacy of our lives and the ethics related to big data tracking.

At KAI Partners, we specialized in these highly complex integrated projects, where cross-functional technologies provide leading solutions in the cloud, complex network architectures, and highly evolved leading edge architectures.

About the Author: Jason Hardi has been in the Information Technology field for over 25 years. Prior to that, he started his working life as a Marine Biologist. As a Marine Biologist, he saw the need to develop an early advanced statistical analysis program for biologists. The application, formerly called “Hyper Stats,” was subsequently marketed and sold at colleges across the country. Following this, Mr. Hardi entered the Information Technology field as a System Operator working in mainframe shops and has enjoyed advancing from entry-level positions up to Project Director and Advisor.

What the KAI Partners Team is Thankful for in 2017

Communications, Data Management, Employee Engagement, General Life/Work, KAI Partners, Organizational Change Management (OCM), Project Management, Project Management Professional (PMP), Prosci, Sacramento, SAHRA—The Sacramento Area Human Resources Association, SHRM, Small Business, Team Building, Training


From the KAI Partners team to yours, we wish you a happy, healthy, and stress-free Thanksgiving holiday.

Applying your Prosci Certification in the Real World

ADKAR, Best Practices, KAIP Academy, Learning, Managing/Leadership, Organizational Change Management (OCM), Prosci, Training

By Elizabeth Long

Having a certification like Prosci is valuable in terms of provide knowledge and framework around the Prosci ADKAR® Model. It’s also a great way to show your credibility as a practitioner of change management.

While the certification provides a good foundation—and is something I recommend my fellow change managers think about obtaining themselves—much of the work happens when you get onsite and observe and evaluate the organization with which you’re working.

I’ve seen my share of people come in to an organization with various degrees and certifications and while they can provide a lot of strategic or academic talk, their ability to recommend and implement the tactics is lacking.

If you simply take the methodologies and apply them in a cookie-cutter way, your chances of change management success are slim. Every organization or client is different. The people differ, the company culture differs—you need to be able to take these always-different environments and connect with people on a human level. That is when the action really happens.

So, with certification in hand, how do you integration that human connection into your work, so that people feel connected and valued (i.e., open to change?) Here are some of my best practices:

  1. Build Relationships. Determine who your primary stakeholders are and build relationships with them. Through these relationships, you’ll learn about the organization and its challenges; plus, these folks will also help guide you to determine which methodologies you should recommend to implement. By understanding what the organization needs, you can determine how to best apply the changes. Remember, nothing is cookie cutter.
  2. Be Authentic. You need to genuinely want to develop these relationships and get to know people. If you honor your word—when you say you’re going to do something, do it—then the people in the organization will see that and be more likely to take your recommendations and provide you the opportunity to do your work. Authenticity builds trust with your partners. The recommendations you make will be much more well-received if you have trust—trust that is gained by being authentic.
  3. Be a Leader.I’m currently reading the book, “Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win,” by Jacko Willink and Leif Babin. Among other things, it’s about a Navy SEAL platoon and how they develop leaders within the SEALs. The ‘leader’ is a role on the team, everyone plays a critical role—it is the leader’s main job to communicate the ‘why’ of the mission and explain each person’s role and how it is critical to accomplish the mission. This helps the team develop a belief in the mission. While on a much smaller scale, change management works similarly. The most critical thing a leader can do is share the vision and the mission—the WHY we are doing something. (In Prosci terms, this is referred to as developing the desire.) Being a leader is learned from putting your certification knowledge into action in the field. Leaders make realistic assessments, acknowledge failures, take ownership of issue, and develop plans to improve. Prosci is the framework, but your experience is the engine that will drive your success on the ground as a Prosci leader!

As you begin applying your Prosci certification in your work, remember that it is a guideline—the desire to change and understanding the people you’re working with goes beyond methods and is all about understanding the real-world application.

About the Author: Elizabeth Long is a professional Organization Development Consultant and Curriculum Developer/Trainer. She received her Certification in Organizational Change Management from Prosci and is certified in e-learning development from Langevine Learning Center. Elizabeth has worked in many industries: High tech, healthcare, and state and local government. Currently, Elizabeth works as an Executive Consultant with KAI Partners, Inc. as a contractor working in a variety of California State Departments. Elizabeth has lived in Sacramento for the past 17 years and appreciates the history of Sacramento as well as its convenience to many well-known destinations like San Francisco, Tahoe, and Reno.

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