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Archive for the month “November, 2013”

Planning For Your First Potentially Shippable Increment – Part 1

Written by Anu M. Smalley and William F. Nazzaro

In 2013 the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) appears to be the de facto standard for those organizations seeking to go beyond team agile and truly bring distributed, scaled agile adoption to their enterprise.  While SAFe has made quite the splash and many companies are seeking to adopt it, we would like to share some of our experiences both pro and con with assisting our clients in implemeting SAFe.

One area of SAFe that is incredibly powerful is the concept of a Potentially Shippable Increment (PSI) and the metaphor of an Agile Release Train (ART).

What is a PSI?

PSI provides the Program or Enterprise with a timebox in which iterations are then conducted.  The PSI offers the following: “a routine and continuous planning cycle, an aggregation of iterations value into larger piles of newsworthy value and a quantum unit of thinking, roadmapping, implementing and measuring.” [1]

What is an ART?

“The Framework’s primary scaling mechanism, the Agile Release Train (ART), is to the program what iteration is to the team. It follows the same pattern—plan, commit, execute, demo, and reflect—but at the Program Level (see Figure 1) where it produces system-level working software every two weeks, and full, potentially shippable increments of software every 4-5 iterations.” [2]

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Figure 1 – Agile Release Train

Although the PSI and Agile Release Train are very helpful for teams to focus the delivery of business value to their stakeholders the one concern we have with the current version of SAFe [3] is little to no mention on planning for your first PSI.  While this may be an oversight or intentional (and we acknowledge that SAFe is meant to be a framework and not a prescriptive process), we feel this lack of detail may actually catch those new to SAFe off-guard as they embark on their first Agile Release Train.

Why do I need to plan for my first PSI?

Many organizations new to SAFe are likely to conduct an Agile Release Train Quickstart.  This 5-day immersion program will bring together anywhere from 50 to 100 people into a single location with the sole purpose of identifying PSI 1’s features and objectives.  If the Quickstart is the first time that a company is thinking about teams, governance, value streams and features it could be quite costly and disappointing for those in attendance.

Therefore, we recommend planning for your first PSI and allow a Program and Enterprise the time to ask and answer these hard questions prior to bringing all of these people together.

Now that we’ve framed the problem, in our upcoming blog posts we will discuss and share what should be done prior to launching your first PSI.

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Individuation!!! What the heck is that?

A big part of building trust in a team is to get the team to know each other.  Focus your team on individuation.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

Definition of INDIVIDUATION

1:  the act or process of individuating: as

a (1) :  the development of the individual from the universal (2) :  the determination of the individual in the general

b :  the process by which individuals in society become differentiated from one another

c :  regional differentiation along a primary embryonic axis

2:  the state of being individuated; specifically :  individuality

Individuation is the process by which people differentiate themselves from others.  Without Individuation, your view of people will be based on what you have heard and not on what you know.  The only way to trust a person is to get to know them better.

It is important for a team to get to know each other.  What does each member bring to the team?  How does each member contribute to the team? What are the differentiators for the team members?

There are many games and exercises that can help with this; I would like to share a couple of games/exercises that I have used that have helped me help my teams in getting to know each other.

 Team Interviews

This exercise originated from Lencioni’s book, Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team: a Field Guide.  I have made a few minor modifications to suit my teams.

 Time Required: 15-25 Minutes

Directions:

Pair people in the team and have them interview each other to find three things they did not know about the person they are interviewing

Debrief: Ask team members to share what they learned about one another that they didn’t already know. This reinforces the purpose of the exercise and allows for a natural ending to the conversation.

Learning Points:

  • To help the team focus on individuation – helping them get to know each other based on facts and what they hear from each other, rather than from stereotypes.

Line Up

This exercise originated from Tastycupcakes.org and was posted there by Stefan Nijenhuis .   I have made a few minor modifications to suit my teams.

This is a simple and quick game that can be used as an energizer and get to know each other a little bit. It also gives you hooks to talk about acceptance criteria, self-organizing teams and process improvements

Participants: 4-50

Timings: 15-20 minutes

Materials: none

Instructions:

Round 1:

  • Ask everybody to stand up
  • Assign a ‘manager’ and ask him to make the group stand in a line, ordered by middle name (pick something that may not be common knowledge to all)
  • Wait to see what happens.
  • After everybody is lined up, check the result with them. Is the result ok? How can you do this faster?
  • Thank the ‘manager’ for his/her help.
  • Did the ‘manager’ specify the end result? Or was he/she managing the process?

Round 2:

  • Specify the expected end-result very clearly: “After I say ‘Go’, I want you to line up, ordered by the number of years you have been part of this organization, less than 1 year starting on the left to 5 plus years on the right”
  • Verify if the team understands the expected end result.
  • Say “Go”
  • Wait to see what happens.
  • After everybody is lined up, check the results with them. How can you check this? (E.G. make everybody say their tenure out loud). How can you do this faster?
  • Show that being clear about the end result (acceptance criteria) enables the team to self-organize.

Round 3:

  • Specify the expected end result very clearly: “After I say ‘Go’, I want you to line up, ordered by the month of your birth ascending, January starting on the left to December on the right”
  • Specify that the team is not allowed to speak to each other while doing this
  • Verify if the team understands the expected end result.
  • Say “Go”
  • Wait to see what happens.
  • After everybody is lined up, make everybody say his or her birth month out loud).
  • Show that being clear about the end result (acceptance criteria) enables the team to self-organize.

 Variations

Use some other to line up, like: years with this company, years in this business, travel distance, hometown.

Learning Points

  • Get some energy in the room
  • Get to know each other a little bit and let people speak up to each other
  • Show that if the acceptance criteria of the expected end result are clear to the team, they are able to self-organize
  • Length is an extrinsic value, so this can be used without talking. First name is an intrinsic value, so you have to speak and ask. Finally favorite hobby is an intrinsic value that’s really hard to guess, even in a group that knows each other’s first name.
  • See which roles people take. Who is taking the lead? Who is ‘freezing’? Who is easily led?

Who Dun it/Who is it

Time Required: 30-60 Minutes

Directions:

  • Ask every team member to write three things about themselves on three pieces of paper that they believe no one in the team would believe about them.  Put all the pieces of paper in a box.
  • Ask each team member to walk up to the box, pick a piece of paper, read it out aloud and then look around the room to see if they can figure out Who DUN it or Who is it.
  • They can ask the team members to help them as well.

Debrief: Ask team members to share what they learned about one another that they didn’t already know.

Learning Points:

  • To help the team focus on individuation – helping them get to know each other based on facts and what they hear from each other, rather than from stereotypes.
  • Get to know the team a bit and get them talking to each other.
  • Get some energy in the room

There are many more games and exercises that will fit your team.  You just need to find the right one.  Any activity that helps a team to get to know each other better is a step in building team trust.  You could try the trust game and see if the team is willing to fall backwards on blind faith, but they might be more willing to do that after they know each other better.

This article is a follow up on the previous article  – https://agilemethis.wordpress.com/2013/10/30/building-trust-not-just-a-cliche/.

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