Agile

How fast can you react to an opportunity?

My favoured Agile methods for getting to market faster:

Agile to me is a set of tools you can use how and as you please to shape your product and speed up delivery.
Therefore it is perfect if you spot an opportunity or have to react quickly to change.

I gained my Scrum Alliance Product Owner Qualification at the end of 2018 and have been part of 3 international Agile project teams of 100+ down to ~20.
Using both Agile and Scaled Agile (SAFe) methods.

Most of my Agile experience has been focused on front end design for digital and customer-facing projects.
I am not going to explain everything about Agile but I will add some useful links at the end of the page.

If you want help getting started or have reached a sticking point in your project get in touch and let’s see how I can help you.

On this page I will discuss:

  • Sprints and how to make the best of them
  • Ceremonies and what works
  • Story writing frameworks and scoring
  • Calming down the launch

Sprints:

Sprints are usually split into 2-week blocks. The sprint team is led by the Product Owner (me).

At the start of the sprint, you agree what the aim of the sprint will be, what stories you will work on and how you will measure and test the output.

This then leads to a goal statement that you can go back to during the sprint to check you are fulfilling the intent of the sprint.

Sprints are not fixed so you can adjust mid-sprint if you hit a problem or finish early.
Simply adjust the scope of what you are going to deliver and share that information with all of your stakeholders.

Here is my template for organising a sprint.
It asks you some key questions to help the team to decide what to take into the sprint and how the sprint contributes to your project.
It also explores what might trip you up along the way.
When it comes to the assumptions, failure points and the risk this is the Products Owners job to solve, avoid and manage.

Ceremonies:

Sometimes Agile can feel like a cult with its secret ceremonies and some of them are super awkward but you get used to them.

Here are my favourites:

Name Time WhatWho
Daily stand-up 15 minsLike the name suggests this is a stand-up meeting.
You all gather around your project board to discuss what you achieved yesterday,
what you plan to achieve today and any blockers you have in your way.
Everyone must speak in turn, uninterrupted and unchallenged if you do not agree with them pick it up afterwards.
All
Sprint planning 45-minsSee the sprint planner cited above. This meeting sets the next 2-week sprint. Sprint team
Sprint review Max 1 hour A chance for the sprint team to showcase and demo what they have managed to create
in the last sprint to the whole project and any interested 3rd parties.
Make it an event and get creative. Leave time for a QnA and do put people on the spot for feedback.
Open to all
Sprint retrospective 30 minsThis is used to asses how the team performed vs the sprint plan and during the sprint.
All ideas are welcome and will be captured and tested to help future sprints run smoother
and ultimately deliver a higher output improving the teams aka “velocity”
Sprint team
Sprint ceremonies

Stories and story points:

In Agile stories are used to break down a large deliverable in to bite-sized chunks. Writing them becomes a bit of an art as you learn to focus on the tiny details of what you are trying to create.

They use a standard framework shown below. You can use excel to create your backlog but if you are on a large project you will need something like “Jira” to help you manage, organise, report and collaborate on your stories. Trello can be used as a good halfway house.

I would try and write your acceptance criteria at the same time but sometimes this is best done during the scoring process when you have everyone together to agree.

Remember you need to make these as small as possible and sometimes open to interpretation. You should not come up with the solution. This can come later from the story refinement sessions and discussions with your developers or UX team.

For example:

“As a customer, I want to log in, so that I can manage my account”.
This is too big and is more like a “Feature” or even an “Epic” becuase there is a lot of work to do to make this happen, such as:

Creating a user name, user name validation, creating a password, resetting a password, preventing robot attacks, account activation email, online account home page screen and so on.

Each of the above could even be broken down smaller to include things like password length, need for special characters, remember me and robot checkers.

Scoring stories:

The whole point of making them small is to be able to see the real size of the task. You can do this via scoring and playing planning poker. Here is a useful app to use.

  1. The concept is simple, you read out the story then each of you secretly assigns it a score based on its time to build.
  2. Then you reveal your scores.
  3. Next, the players who show the highest and lowest scores explain why it is so hard or easy. Then as a group to decide and log a final value for that story.
  4. Repeat until you can fill 3 sprints. Giving you ready scored stories to trade in and out if you them.

Next you agree a maximum number of points you will take into each sprint which helps you find the stories which are too large and always missing out. Over time you review the number of points you allow into each sprint as you find out the teams true “velocity”.

It’s important to mention that disagreements are a good thing at this stage. They help to gain more clarity and create a common understanding of what is being asked for.
Also the scores you give are only relevant to your internal project and team.

Calming down the launch:

Everyone gets caught up on the “MVP” then “business readiness” and they get crazy about the launch. It ends up feeling like a big bang!
Here are my tips to help calm everyone down and phase your launch to take as much risk out of it as possible.

I originally wrote about this on my blog about lessons learned from a failed corporate Start-up.

Jim Leafe, January 2019

Stage 1; Test launch. in this phase, you run a dummy customer through your experience to see if the front and backend work together. That’s it, one fake customer.

Stage 2; Web launch. Simply send your website and social estate live but do no marketing. Don’t worry the internet is a big place and no-one will know you are there. This allows you to index your site and play with social media. You could even prevent it from indexing if you are worried about someone stumbling across it. Or go further and only allow your office IP address access.

Stage 3; Brand launch. Now start generating some traffic with some organic social posts and get your team to share it with their own networks.

Stage 4; Super-friendlies. Get your colleagues, friends and family to go through the experience so you can get direct feedback, test and learn and most importantly have a friendly customer to deal with if anything goes wrong.

Stage 5; Market launch. The main event you are open for business to your intended audience.

If you want help getting started or have reached a sticking point in your project get in touch and let’s see how I can help you.

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