During a recent webinar I gave on Seven Questions to Determine if Your Organization is Agile-Ready, we received a number of questions that we didn’t have time to cover. Following, read the questions and my answers and get a quick summary of some key points. The entire webinar recording is also available – you can view the recording, too.
Q: Sorry, I missed the point you made about team members being “present”, I am guessing that this doesn’t mean that there can’t be remote members on the team?
A: “Present” is slang meaning fully engaged. Yes, indeed, you can have virtual team members, as long as they are fully engaged.
Q: Will the BA roles differ much in different environments? Like waterfall, agile etc.?
A: Should they? No, there should be very little difference. Will they? Perhaps, depending on how that role is fulfilled in each organization and the processes the organization follows.
Q: The Business Owner is not ready to be a Product owner? Please advise.
A: Rarely is the business owner the PO in medium or large companies or on medium and large projects. The business owner is probably at too high a level in the organization to be dedicated to one project.
Q: As a consultant, how do I explain to the organization about the importance of a Product owner?
A: Rarely these days do BAs or PMs work in a vacuum without getting input from the business. The importance of the PO is to supply the business decisions on what the product is, what its features are, and what the priorities are of the features and functions that characterize the product, etc. The danger of not having the business do so is the risk that the business will resent the team who built the product without getting their input and not use the product, that there will be a lot of rework, and that the team will end up owning the product.
Q: Why do all of the sprints have to be the same duration?
A: For planning purposes, as well as to meet expectations. There is no other good way of determining velocity, or productivity rate, which is needed to plan how much (how many stories) can be completed in each iteration. It’s an integral part of the planning process and allows us to track and improve
Q: Why did Elizabeth use terminology that is different from the norm? For example, impediments, retrospective, sprints, etc. I wasn’t sure if these were the documented names per the BABOK or PMBOK, but they were not ones that I was familiar with prior to the webinar. Perhaps Agile just has its own language.
A: I used standard Scrum terminology per the Scrum Alliance. The PMBOK and BABOK use general terms. For example, the PMBOK refers to an iterative phase-to-phase relationship, not Agile; the BABOK refers to change-driven rather than to Agile. Retrospective is in the BABOK glossary, but it is cross referenced to lessons learned, a term that is more widely used outside of Agile.
Q: How long have you been using AGILE at Watermark, and how has it gone? Can you give a concrete example of a successful project?
A: We have been using a form of Agile for about two years. I say a form of Agile because we have fewer than 5 delivery team members on all our projects, and with Scrum the team should have at least 5 team members. Knowing what I know today, we would have been better off trying Kanban than Agile. And yes, our implementation of an online authorization for our exam subscriptions was highly successful.
Q: Is Agile applicable for small businesses where a “dedicated” scrum master is not always possible?
A: See above. In many small businesses like ours it will not be possible to have a dedicated scrum master, product owner, or delivery team. As noted above, such organizations (like Watermark) cannot expect to get the benefits of Scrum or Agile that we would if we were large enough to have dedicated resources.
Q: how does a small team of 5 developers supporting an organization with different units adopt agile and still be able to support users’ daily support and stay focused?
A: Great question, but I don’t have a great answer. I don’t think we can. We can still follow some good Scrum principles, like collaboration, working together with the business, quality pieces like retrospectives, but I don’t see how time-boxing and all that goes with it (estimating, meeting expectations with what will get delivered when) can work.
Q: Any suggestions for small companies that don’t have enough staff to dedicate teams to specific projects? Our IT and BA staff are nearly always working on numerous projects and production issues as well.
A: As noted above, it is common for small organizations with small staffs to work on multiple projects wearing a variety of different hats. I recommend implementing the pieces of Scrum that make sense in your particular organization (see above).
Q: Can you provide more definition on the use of Time-boxing Iteration versus scope management?
A: Time-boxing is one technique that can be used to manage scope. Scope management is far broader than this one technique.
Q: When replacing a large application, how can Biz Team tolerate a constant flow of change with such small/frequent releases?
A: I don’t think they can, since there is too much risk to the production environment. It may be better to implement releases, rather than product increments.
Q: Is there any good material to read it?
A: There are wonderful books and articles on Agile, Scrum, transitioning from traditional project management to Agile, mapping the PMBOK to Scrum etc… One of my favorite books on Agile for those with project management experience is The Software Project Manager’s Bridge to Agility by Michele Sliger and Stacia Broderick. However, I am not familiar with any that talk about Agile in relation to organizational readiness
Q: How can Scrum be successful in an off-shore environment?
A: The further away the team members, the harder it will be to communicate and the longer that communication will take. Nevertheless, many organizations have been successful adopting Scrum. I have seen successful projects when the scrum master (SM) and product owner (PO) are in one location and the delivery team is off-shore. Harder is when layers of the virtual team are added. For example, it’s harder when, let’s say, the SM and PO are in one location, the SMEs are in another, the delivery team is in yet another, and there are consultants and contracts involved. In that case, Scrum might work, but it will be much harder and the iterations will probably take longer.
Q: Have you seen Agile used successfully in an environment where third-party off-shore providers are used? How does the work get scoped & proposed with pricing in an Agile paradigm?
A: I have heard of off-shore teams that have been very successful using Agile methods. I have personal experience using iterative development with third-party off-shore providers (not Scrum). We did our scope statement for a major release. Using Scrum, it will be important to provide a roadmap during release planning, so that the off-shore resources are not released too soon.