Why are we sprinting?


A few weeks back I asked this question on a very popular Agile and Lean LinkedIn Group:

10 years ago not many companies delivered value every month and Scrum really helped the industry with the concept of sprint. People started thinking in terms of vertical slices of value rather than systems and started to deliver value often, it was a great step forward towards agility.

Today most shops do 2 weeks sprints and it is commonly accepted that smaller batches are better than larger ones as they are less risky and also allow for earlier benefit realisation.

I understand how the concept of sprint has helped the industry become more agile and lean, but, and there is a but.

Why have sprints today? Why create artificial deadlines? Why create a minimum batch size, be it one week, two weeks or whatever it is?

If I am a mature organisation, I probably have cut delivery transaction costs and have a good strategy for continuous delivery and I am able to release whenever I want with little effort and risk. Why can’t I release when I have value to deliver?

Can anybody give me a valid reason for having sprints?

The topic became popular with a total of 35 thumbs up and 85 comments (including my replies)

Reading the answers, I am not only more and more convinced that sprints are unnecessary and dangerous artificial deadlines, but I am starting to think that in some agile practitioners thinking, the scrum guide has replaced the true reasons for agility.

If you have better reasons why we should always sprint, please add them as a comment, I am still hopeful I have missed something and want to learn.







Testers Prevent Problems, every day


Earlier Today, I read an article from the notorious tester Michael Bolton titled “Testers don’t prevent problems“. I would like to use an example to counter this assertion end expand the conversation.

Disclosure – I am a firm believer in prevention over detection in product/software delivery.

The Fact– In today’s news, we read that the ECB will be stopping the print of the 500 euro banknote because of its association with money laundering and terror financing.

(Source: The Guardian)

The Problem: According to the article, producing 500 euro bills was an error. It is a bug in the product “Euro currency bills and coins denomination”. In fact such bug has caused quite a lot of problems to our society according to what reported in the article.

Larry the tester – Let’s imagine that Larry, a tester, happened to be in the room where people where deciding the denominations of the euro notes. Let’s imagine he said “Hang on lads, this could be a problem as it would be easy to conceal large sums of money and smuggle them. Banknotes this valuable might help illicit traffic, should we stop at 200 or maybe even at 100?”

Let’s assume there were smart people in the room that decided to take the objection into consideration, made research to prove its validity and as a consequence decided not to print the 500 euro notes.

The Question – Could we say that Larry had helped prevent the problem?

I say yes, how about you?

What I like about Jeff Gothelf’s lean UX approach

Product development has been my focus (more like obsession) for the last few years. I have read all the books and experimented with many of the approaches from lean canvas to impact mapping to the 100 different ways of framing an MVP.

While experimenting I had some success, many failures but in general I have been left with an after taste of something missing. Sometimes I failed to engage by using the wrong language, some other times I failed to even get started because some people just don’t want to hear that they might be wrong and are threatened by experiments that might just show that.

I had the fortune to attend the workshop “Lean UX in the enterprise”  with Jeff Gothelf in Stockholm yesterday and I think I might have found a simple tool that can help me frame the conversations and get results.

Jeff is an excellent facilitator. During the workshop he gets teams of people to design a product. I was really impressed by the simplicity of the approach and the universality of the language used. But most importantly, at the end of the exercise, making decisions on what to build first becomes trivial.

His approach is linear, simple, easy to reproduce and will resonate with anybody with some understanding of lean and agile. I have to say this is a breath of fresh air in this space where some of the authors sometimes feel they are not great if they don’t introduce some new unnecessary term that creates ambiguity and confusion (but also a lot of discussion and website hits for them).

I am going to experiment with Jeff’s approach for the next product I see, I really look forward to it. Thanks Jeff!gothelf


What I learned about helping teams use WIP limits


The Work In Progress limit (WIP limit from now on) is one of the most powerful but counter-intuitive concepts I had the fortune to encounter in my work life.

When suggesting teams to introduce a WIP limit to their boards, I hear objections like “are you saying that doing less things at the same time is going to make you faster? You must be wrong? If I start 10 things I’ll finish earlier than if I can only do 2 at the same time!”

or “Working on one thing at the time only? That’s NOT efficient!

It is indeed a counter intuitive concept, proven by the fact that most people object to it based on common sense.

You might say, why don’t you explain the reasons behind the value of WIP?

Don’t get me wrong, I am familiar with queuing theory, Little’s law and the relation between resource utilization and queue size, but these concepts are not something that can be explained easily every time that the objections are brought forward. Funnily enough, explaining them, is not really efficient.

I have been helping teams use Kanban and the Kanban method for a while now and I have used different approaches around WIP limits to identify the one that gives the best results for the teams.

I have come to the conclusion that the most efficient way to go about this is by (I hate the word) imposing the WIP limit at the very beginning of the adoption, as part of Shu in the Shu Ha Ri learning pattern.

The great thing about having a WIP limit is that it gives strong signals to the team

What’s the most important problem we have to solve now?
What’s the highest risk our kanban board is telling us about?

If your board has a WIP limit you will have to answer the questions and act, if you don’t have one, you can always pick the easy cop out of taking a new less important task
The questions posed by the WIP limit are uncomfortable ones, they won’t allow the team to take the easy option. That’s why I believe that teams will benefit from having them since day one.

I have seen WIP limits cause turmoil in teams, people initially feel uneasy. I believe, the feeling derives from the fact that team members don’t believe yet WIP limits will work, and this is due to their aforementioned counter-intuitive nature.

Eventually teams will internalise the fact that WIP limits help the team focus on delivering instead of retreating to more comfortable, less valuable tasks and it does indeed improve flow. But that’s after a while.

My point is, that if we don’t impose the limit at the beginning, the team might not get there on their own.

As I said before I tried many different coaching approaches, the one that worked for me better so far is this

a) A session with the team in which I go into the details of the mathematical reasons why WIP limits improve flow  (most people won’t believe everything but will have some context and hopefully some curiosity)

b) Get the team started with a system that includes a WIP limit initially set by me and low enough to be uncomfortable (see above)

c) Attend team’s standups, to discourage breaking WIP and ask the difficult questions I mention above if the team is not able yet to read them from the board

d) Facilitate a retrospective after 2 weeks of use and have a conversation around whether the limit is too low or too high

What was your coaching experience? Can you share alternative paths?

#WhyScope – Looking for better measures of success

I’m sick of it. Sick of hearing the scope of this, the scope of that, it’s in scope, it’s out of scope, scope creep, full scope, MVP scope, we need more developers to get the full scope in time, we need more time to get the full scope with these resources. Scope ad infinitum.

Why are you so upset, you might ask?

The reason is simple: thinking in terms of Scope, Time and Budget encourages bad behaviours.

For example, delivering a pot of crap filled to the brim within timeline and budget is considered a success! Yu’ve got to focus on timelines and accurate estimates, you are not required to give a shit about what the customers really need but just to make sure you deliver the full scope, to the brim.

Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 15.26.41

(Image from Claudio Perrone @agilesensei stolen from this beautiful piece of work that everybody should see)

Instead, if you think out of the box, happen to talk to the customers and understand that what you are building is actually a pot of crap that they don’t want, you have failed, your product didn’t deliver the full scope, you are a failure, shame on you!

I don’t want to work in an industry that thinks in these terms. Am I quitting? No? I want to change it.

Do you want to help me? Start thinking about ideas to shift the conversation from scope, time and budget to measures of success that are meaningful. How about value to customers? How about ability to adapt to their demands? How about development team’s happiness? How about <%add your idea here%>?

Tag these ideas #WhyScope and let’s discover a better way to describe success for a product delivery team.



#NoEstimates episode 2 – THE ANSWERS

noestimatesA normal person would expect that sharing free content doesn’t create controversy. Well this normal person is wrong. A couple of weeks back I shared a report on #NoEstimates based on my adoption experience in the last 2-3 years.

I got some thanks, some praise, but mainly aggravation. I had noticed this trend before when tweeting about #NoEstimates, when a group of individuals taunted me with replies and links to their articles that according to them clearly demonstrated that estimates are absolutely necessary and vital for the universe not to implode.

Examples are… People talking to each other by replying to my tweets as if I wasn’t there:

Others saying that what I did had no value and I was trying to sell something😦

Apparently all this because while looking into my crystal ball I didn’t predict I had to answer this plethora of questions:


Even though Mr. Kretzman refused to explain why I should answer those questions as part of a free experience report, today I feel generous and I am going to answer them, ONE BY ONE.

Q1: What do you specifically mean by NoEstimates in your case?

I mean that our development teams don’t lock themselves in a meeting room shooting numbers after perceived size of a piece of work, they save that time and focus on breaking the work down in less complex pieces.

 Q2: What were the details of the domain and situation (value at risk, type of project, technologies employed, size and duration of effort, governance model, industry, team size)?

The domain is sports betting and gaming. The value at risk is the value of a bookmaker with well over 8 billion euro turnover. The type of project is all projects, from a simple web site to a complex trading platform. Technologies are web and mobile. All sizes and all durations, from a one day job to a never ending one. Governance model? What’s got to do with estimates? Industry as above, sports betting and gaming. Individual delivery teams are normally from 5 to 12 people, more than one team can work on the same product.

Q3: Was this one team among many in the company?

We started with one team, when we saw it worked we adopted it to one department, then to the whole company. Experiment, measure, learn.

Q4: Was it working on a mission critical product?

Yes. And now on every product.

Q5: When stories were chosen, how’d that process actually work? When stories were sliced, how’d that process actually work?

Defining a meaningful vertical slice of value to deliver and breaking down its user stories are challenging exercises that take time and practice to master. Our teams are always improving using good practices and discovering new ones. As you can imagine I can’t explain it to you in 2 lines on this post, but if you are interested I believe that in a couple of months I can get one of your teams going. My special fee for you is $850/hr expenses excluded.

Q6: Did you forecast completion dates at all or keep slicing and delivering chunk by chunk?

We try to educate our business partners that it is not about scope, time and budget, but about delivering products that matter. Scope is meaningless, we try to talk in terms of customer value discovery.

To facilitate the conversations with our partners we also show trends that can be used as forecast.

#NoEstimates a simple experience report

Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 11.41.20I’ve been practicing #NoEstimates with my teams for the last 2-3 years if you want to know how it worked for us, read below.

First of all an answer to all the people that in these years have been telling meYes, but if you are breaking user stories down, then you are estimating

Not at all #1: There is a fundamental difference in the the way we think when we are estimating a story and when we are trying to break it down into simpler ones. In the first case we focus on “how big is this?” in the second case we focus on “let me understand this well so that I can identify simpler sub-entities”. The result of the second exercise is improved knowledge, in the first case this is not necessarily the case.

Secondly an answer to the people that in these years have been telling meBreaking down user stories is dangerous, you will lose track of the big picture

Not at all #2:  We haven’t lost the big picture in 2 and 1/2 years, I am not saying that it is not possible but I would argue that my factual experience on the field is more valid than your hypothetical worry. And on top of that, there are 2 very underrated but positive effects that comes from breaking down user stories into their smallest possible pieces. Number 1 is the fact that we end up with much simpler user stories; less complexity implies less errors hence less rework. Number 2 is that smaller stories mean smaller size/complexity variability hence higher predictability.

Now don’t get me wrong, breaking down user stories is not easy at first. It takes a lot of patience and perseverance, but once you get good at it, you will see that the benefits strongly outweigh the effort.

Finally an answer to the people that kept telling mePredictability is important, #NoEstimates doesn’t make any sense

Not at all #3: Believe it or not but if you get good at #NoEstimates, due to the practices used in points “Not at all #1 and #2” above your forecast becomes much more accurate. In fact, points 1 and 2 make your delivery more predictable.

NOTE for scrummers: I can understand the frustration of people trying to do #NoEstimates with points 1 and 2 while doing scrum. If you try to break down a large number of stories the further in the future you go the more you will stumble upon unknowns. I practice lean software development and would break down user stories Just In Time. This allows me to work on the next most important thing only (I don’t need to fill up a sprint) We use the learnings from the stories we have just completed trying to reduce speculating on unknowns that will be discovered later.

So I suggest:

1) Delay the break down of user stories at the last responsible moment
2) Stop predicting, be predictable
3) Have fun!