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Agile Project Management

Why do so many companies fail at scaling Agile?

A battle-scarred Delivery Director, I’ve been in the Agile world for a while now, and still the debate rages on; why is Agile so hard to scale successfully? And what if anything, can we do about it? Interview questions often focus on people’s experience using scaling frameworks such as SAFe and DAD. But not all experience has been positive and

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4 steps to solving issues in projects

In many different projects and organisations, I’ve seen people struggle with techniques on how to solve issues without creating huge issue registers that weigh down the project and takes an inordinate amount of time to manage, resulting in the actual problems often not getting the attention they deserve. There are lots of agile techniques for tracking stories and work, like

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Agile Project Management in a Larger Organisation – Video of my talk

I was recently asked to do a short talk and Q&A for an agile project management meetup in London. You can see the full video here: https://skillsmatter.com/skillscasts/7115-agile-project-management-in-a-larger-organisation Lots of great questions, so hope this gives you some useful insight that helps you with your own work. Kelly.

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Burning Down Hours is Anti-Agile Because Working Software is the Primary Measure of Progress

A burn-down chart can use anything for the units, such as hours or points, but originally Scrum’s burn-down chart tracked hours of work remaining in the iteration. Many people still use an hours-based burn-down chart as their primary measure of progress during an iteration. That’s a useful tool, but it is similar to tracking yardage in an (American) football game. It measures activity, but not accomplishment. After all, what percentage of a touchdown is 30 yards?
Working Software is the Primary Measure of Progress
One of the principles from the Agile Manifesto is “Working software is the primary measure of progress“. But burning down hours is measuring and reinforcing progress against a plan without any requirement to have working software until the end of the iteration. That’s pretty much the same as not having to have working software until the end of a waterfall release! This is one of the reasons that many people have moved away from burning down hours or supplemented it with other tools, such as burning up story points.
Burning Up Points to the Rescue

The Burn-up by points chart is one of the very best tools in Agile. It brings together many of the best aspects of Agile all in one place and gives you an instant heads up as to how you are really doing. The way a points-based burn-up chart works is simple.

For the iteration you are about to commence, total up the story points in all of the stories you have targeted for that iteration. Let’s say it made up of two 5 point stories, two 3 point stories, one 2 point story and two 1 point stories. That’s a total of 20 story points. Make a chart with an X axis that represents all of the days in the iteration from the first day to the last day from left to right. Let’s say it is 10 days. The Y axis represents the number of story points completed and in this case would go from 0 to 20 story points.

At the end of each day you tally up the story points associated with all of the stories that meet your definition of “done” and record the total on the chart. For instance, if you completed a 1 point story on the first day, nothing on the second day, and a 2 point story on the second day, your chart would have a 1 point bar for the first day, a 1 point bar for the second day, and a 3 point bar for the third day.

A points-based burn-up chart lets you see graphically day-by-day how much progress you are making towards your goal. It only records accomplishment, not activity, and allows you to see if you are on track or getting behind. To me, this is exactly what is meant by “Working software is the primary measure of progress.

Won’t The Chart be Empty Until the End of the Iteration?
At first you may think that the chart will show that you are behind for most of the iteration and catch up only at the end when QA is able to start testing and marking stories as done, but whenever the chart shows something other than a steady march to the end of the iteration, here are some of the questions you should be asking:

  • Are our user stories too big? Is that preventing QA from getting involved earlier?
  • Are people working on too many stories at once?
  • Are we unable to produce a stable build for QA to test?
  • Are developers producing a bunch of problems and then going on to the next story instead of helping QA resolve the problem?
  • Should the developers drop what they are doing and lend a hand writing automated tests?
Using a points-based burn-up chart gives everybody, from team to manager to the organization as a whole, an instantly understandable picture of the health of the project and team. It simplifies the life of the manager because if it indicates a problem anybody can stand up and say “hey team, we’re messing up, what are we going to do about it team?”
A burn-up chart reinforces the following ideas:
  • Use story points for estimation, it enables whole-team thinking such as this whole-team metric.
  • Make stories as small as possible to get them done as fast as possible to keep the focus on accomplishment rather than activity
  • Have as co-located and as cross-functional a team as possible to enable the fastest possible turn-around time on stories
  • Enable the team to work as a team and to manage more things on their own
Unlike Burning Down Hours,  Burning up by Points is Fully Automatic!
You may not be ready to give up burning down hours yet, but there’s no reason you can’t use both. And most Agile Project Management tools, such as Rally and Version One, will generate a points-based burn-up chart for you automatically.
There’s one more reason you may want to consider moving from burning down hours to burning up points, assuming your user stories are small enough in general and you are mostly getting stories done all the way through the iteration. In my experience, team members don’t really like having to enter their hours remaining for their tasks every day, often forget to do it, and it keeps the focus on activity rather than accomplishment. Also, the only manual step required is to mark the story done, which helps to make the whole process much smoother.

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Dependencies Break Agile

I’ve been running around lately telling people that the presence of dependencies break Agile. Just for the record, I want to explain what I mean when I talk about dependencies. Agile in general, Scrum specifically, is predicated on the idea that the team has everything it needs to deliver an increment of value. When the […]

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The Case for Project Management

How far ahead should we plan? I depends on what you are building, when you need to have it done… and if you aren’t going to get done… how soon do you need to know about it. If your goal is to build the highest value features possible, deliver continuously to market, get real time […]

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Who Owns the Risk?

Back in my late 20′s I was a project manager in a pretty good sized IT shop. I worked under a great VP that put me in situations that were really beyond my abilities.  He fundamentally believed that I’d do a good job for him. He trusted that I’d learn what I needed to learn […]

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Agile Project Management – Extending PMBOK

I have long held the belief that agile is only a part and a subset of the wider topic of project management.  I feel there are various aspects of project management that aren’t particularly covered by any of the most popular agile methods, or at least not by Scrum and XP (Extreme Programming). Therefore I have always been keen to

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PMBOK and Agile

When I was a project manager using more traditional project management methods, I found the PMBOK (Project Management Body Of Knowledge) really useful.  Unfortunately the PMI (Project Management Institute) charge for it now, but it was useful to me at that time, pulling together all of the most common project management practices in one place. The PMBOK is focused on project

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Discussing the Definition of Done: 8 Questions & Answers

Establishing an upfront, common understanding of “done” that suits the unique dynamics of each development project can be one of the most critical activities for Agile teams. With a consistent meaning of done, agreed to by the whole team, velocity or throughput becomes more stable – allowing your team to make and meet commitments, establish […]

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Agile Management Made Easy!

All About Agile

By Kelly Waters

“’Agile’ is one of the biggest buzzwords of the last decade. Agile methods often come across as rather more complicated than they really are. This book is an attempt to unravel that complexity. To simplify the concepts. This book breaks the concepts into small bite-sized pieces that are easy to understand and easy to implement and delivers the message in a friendly and conversational style. Allaboutagile.com is one of the most popular blogs about agile on the web. ”

Kelly Waters

Agile 101 is available to purchase. GAME ON!

Agile 101

Emma Hopkinson-Spark

“Whilst there are lots of ways you can vary the game depending on the teams you have and the learning outcomes you want, the basic flow of the game play is common to all.”
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