scrum master with agile area rug

Agile Area Rugs- Covering Opportunities with Longer Sprints?

Will longer agile sprints or iterations cover up opportunities to improve and cause you to view these opportunities as unsolvable problems?

scrum masters with agile area rug

The typical agile sprint size is 2 weeks. What percentage of teams use 2 weeks?  I don’t have statistics on it, but I’d guess over 90%.  I’m working on a product where we are doing 1 week sprints.  It’s a startup and things are changing a lot so 1 week works well.  I also know some teams that use 3 week sprints and it is working for them.  I’m not saying it has to be a certain number of weeks – but please don’t kid yourself with what length will actually work for you.

I’ve seen situations where people are doing 3 week sprints, but then have a 1 week “hardening” sprint.  Personally, I’m not a big fan of hardening sprints.  I can see many “logical” arguments on why people need them, but in the 3+1 week sprints – I’d say stop kidding yourself.  You have a 4 week sprint!  Maybe that is the best you can do right now and you are ACTIVELY working to eliminate the hardening sprint – but if you believe you will always need one you are likely stuck.

Richard Lawrence has a great post (from back in 2011), where he discusses “Why Longer Sprints Probably Won’t Help“.  He outlines 7 specific underlying problems. Here are a few of them:  “You struggle to split user stories”, “It takes too long to get feedback”, and “Deployment (or merging or integration or whatever) is too hard”.  I like zooming in on part of that last one.  “Whatever is too hard.

Agile Opportunities or Agile problems

Got Agile Opportunities you need to cover up?

Last year, while onsite with a client, I was talking with a Scrum Master.  We got to talking about increasing the length of sprints, sprint size, and then naturally, area rugs.  Area rugs?  Yup!

Think back to when you were a kid. You spilled something on your living room carpet or damaged a wood floor.  That happen to anyone?  You try to clean it up or fix it, but are not sure how or what to do!  You think about asking for help, but then think you might get in trouble or who knows what else might happen?  Maybe you are not even at your house, perhaps it’s family friends or relatives.  You might even be embarrassed that you don’t know what to do.

What do you do?  Well, one option – and I know I’ve seen this in a movie or two, but can’t recall which one(s) – is you move some furniture over the stain or move an area rug over over it.  Maybe you move a rug that was in the room already to cover the stain.  Does that solve problem?  Is it visible?

What if in moving the rug, you see it was already covering some other stain?  Now what?  You have 2 marks on the floor and rug is too small!

Agile Area Rugs

Use an Agile Area Rug, a Longer Sprint, as a solution!

Fast forward to today.  We run into this all the time!  We identify an issue and we are not sure how to handle it.  Do we just buy an area rug, or create a longer sprint, to cover up the opportunity?  Yes – it is an opportunity!  Covering it up treats it like a problem.  It also makes it invisible – and the chances of focusing on it are zero!

We are adults, not kids (unless you are using agile in schools which is another topic – check out John Miller, aka @agileschools).

This is not just a problem for Scrum Masters.  It affects all members of an organization and all teams… Executives, formal and informal Leaders, Agile Coaches, Product Owners,  Team Members, Business Analysts, Software Developers, QA Gurus, and __{your role here}__.

Agile does a great many things, but one of my favorite things about agile is that it exposes opportunities quickly.  Agile gives us plenty of options to improve.

What do I do with this? What do you do?  What do WE do?

Don’t cover these opportunities with a longer sprint! Focus on taking advantage of them – even if it is just a little at a time.

If you believe you need a longer sprint:

agile team members with agile area rug

Don’t worry – Retrospective coming? We can cover up all the opportunities to improve!

  • Determine if this is to improve and taking advantage of an opportunity or if the goal is to avoid something.  It might be okay to avoid 1 issue to solve others that will add more value right now (but not forever).
  • Clearly identify why people (or you) want longer sprints – and let everyone know.
  • If you believe – REALLY- that you need longer sprints, be VISIBLE and VOCAL about why that is and how long you will do it!
  • Realize what OTHER opportunities might get missed with a longer sprint and plan retrospectives mid-sprint if your sprints are longer – you do not want to wait 4 weeks to have a retro!
  • I like to ask, “What if an extra week does not cover the “problem?”  Will we add another? When would we stop?
  • Need some agile comedy? Want to have a little fun? The next time someone says they want to change the length of the sprints (say they have 2 weeks now).  Quickly respond with “I totally agree, I think going to 1 week sprints is a great ideas as well!” Not sure where I heard that the first time, might have been Brad Swanson.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one and what you have experienced.  Agree or disagree – it’s all good (as long as you leave a comment!)

Professional Coaching is the Key to Learning and Finding New Information

Thoughts on Professional Coaching

I get a lot of questions about coaching – what is it, what do you mean by the word ‘coach’, is it the same as mentoring, is coaching just asking questions… and many more.

Professional Coaching is the Key to Learning and Finding New Information

Who do you coach? I coach people.  :)   These may be individuals, pairs, couples, teams, organizations, or systems.

Can you tell me more about what the word Coach means to you? The word ‘Coach’  tends to have a lot of different uses.  When I talk about coaching, I am referring to professional coaching, which in the US, tends to be associated with standards laid out by the International Coaching Federation (ICF).  I view coaching as helping people find the internal wisdom to achieve their goals by moving beyond whatever is stopping them or slowing them down.  Coaching is NOT about telling people what to do or judging them - the coach may be an expert on “coaching” but is not the expert on the person or the goals they have.  This is concept is misunderstood by a lot of people.  A coach is not the person who says “do this” or “don’t do that”!  Coaching is always about the clients agenda – NOT the coach’s!   The coach relies on the client being fabulous, amazing, and wanting to move forward toward a goal!  That sounds over the top to some, but it really isn’t, it’s about having faith in the person!   The key is that as a coach, I need to fully believe that the person (or people or system) I am coaching has the wisdom to solve their challenges.  They might need some help in finding or accessing that wisdom or working through different options, but they can access the information to let them move forward!  This is not always an easy place to stand, but believing in the client is a fundamental part of professional coaching. It does not work without it.

As a point of reference, looking up ‘What is professional coaching?’ on the ICF Coaching FAQ to compare to what I wrote above (which was off the top of my head):

“ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential, which is particularly important in today’s uncertain and complex environment. Coaches honor the client as the expert in his or her life and work and believe every client is creative, resourceful and whole. Standing on this foundation, the coach’s responsibility is to:

  • Discover, clarify, and align with what the client wants to achieve
  • Encourage client self-discovery
  • Elicit client-generated solutions and strategies
  • Hold the client responsible and accountable

This process helps clients dramatically improve their outlook on work and life, while improving their leadership skills and unlocking their potential.”

Is Coaching the same as Mentoring? Sometimes people use the terms coaching and mentoring interchangeably and (more…)


Top 10 Reasons Why I Don’t and Shouldn’t Write Blogs

I need to write blogs.  Everyone knows that.  Everyone has to write blogs.  Really?  What if I don’t?  What does it say about me?  What I know? What I don’t know? Or am I just busy?

This is not a motivational tale.  No happy ending. Enjoy.

So what are my Top 10 Reasons Why I Don’t and Shouldn’t Write Blogs?

1. It’s already been written.  Of course it has.  It’s 2014, I mean what can you write that has not been written? Leadership coaching? Agile leadership programs?  A blog on estimation? Get in the battle on scaling agile?  How about professional coaching?  ORSC?  Being a Scrum Master?  I mean, we have years and years of people blogging and writing books and presenting on this stuff.  Are there REALLY any unanswered questions? {Note to Self: If I do find a topic that has not been written – see #2-#10! }

2. Is it really worth wasting someone’s time? You know the posts – you read them and think “damn, I’ll never get that time back!”.  Wow, what if now that I put that here – I actually write a post (oh wait, this is a post) – someone puts that in the comments… I guess I can mark that as spam right?

3. I might miss something.   This is a great one.  I mean, of course I’ll missing something.  How could I not? A blog post that covers it all – good luck.  This seems like a great one to fall back on.  I certainly have a lot of partial blog posts written – just never quite got to the finish point (see #4).

4. Hello!  I have a job!  tick tick tick…  I actually have clients and can’t just sit around and write blogs people!  I mean really – you folks who blog all the time – what’s the deal?  You trying to make the rest of us feel bad?  You know who you are!  It’s like you’re pathological about it.  “Gotta write my weekly blog!” WHY?  You are driving us nuts – especially if its a good post or a topic I thought about writing a month ago (okay, that does not happen that often – BUT it could!).

5. I might say something stupid. Well, that seems like a good bet.  I mean, anytime you are writing something that interests you and you have passion for (that is the advice, right?) – you are bound to get a bit fired up and perhaps take something a bit too far (see #6 as well!).  And no one else has ever said anything stupid, so that makes you look even stupider.  Is stupider a word? I guess so, spell check did not catch it – but it does look weird!  So, ya, I guess I could misspell something too! (more…)

Agile Open Jam - Analysis and Product Management in Agile

Agile Alliance Analysis & Product Management Program

The Agile Alliance approved a new program – Analysis and Product Management in Agile!  I included the full announcement below.

Based on this, we have a great group who we are going to be running an Agile Open Jam at the BBC Conference in Las Vegas in a few weeks.  If you are heading that way – check it out!

Agile Open Jam - Analysis and Product Management in Agile

A bit of the Background

Kent McDonald has a great summary how things happened on his blog as well – beat me to the punch! I’m glad you mentioned the comic sans discussion!

My recollection… and some links to Twitter for any of these fine people you may want to follow (HINT HINT).

There has been a lot of things happening over the last 6 months – including an unconference organized earlier in the year in New York by Gojko Adzic (@gojkoadzi).  There were a number of great folks who attended.  Lots of learning and exploring in the product space.

From there things have moved in a few directions and I’m 100% sure I do not know all of them!  A few of us found ourselves up late one evening at the Agile 2013 Conference in Nashville – and the topic of what is next came up.  That group was Kent McDonald, Jeffrey Davidson, Inger Dickson, Kupe Kupersmith, and myself.  Then more conversations went on with Chris Matts (highly recommend his book Commitment BTW) and Leslie Morse.

Kent and Ellen Gottesdiener (update: Read Ellen’s Post on the Agile Open Jam at #BBCCon) really got this nailed down and finalized – so thank them if you run across them in your travels or tweeting.  I’m sure I am missing others as well.

If you can’t make it, we will be posting updates via Twitter and a Google+ Community we are using.  Feel free to join in! (more…)

The journey, beginning, again

The Beginning, Again…

The journey, beginning, againWe are all on a journey or likely a number of journeys!  As I write this, the new Agility Street website is nearly done, and this will be the first “new” post on the blog.  One part of the update is to (more) clearly represent what we do.  A second part is to have a better home for discussions, updates, and writing.

Writing has always been a challenge for me.  While part of the challenge is in getting the words down in a concise way to make your point, another seemingly larger part is more about being bold enough to throw out your thoughts and ideas.   This is not a problem when working with people – just when I go to write it all down. I have a number of new posts and some new ideas coming.  A few are certainly on the edge – so I expect to get some dings – but of course, if you are not getting comments, you may not be saying anything interesting!  While I hope to see some discussion (my high dream), I also considered how to handle trolls aiming to start a flame war.  [If this last sentence makes sense to you without reading more - I'd love to hear what you recall!] (more…)


Always Learning & Improving

We know there is always more out there.  More to learn, more to share, more to improve!  We started this page as a place to keep track of many of the ideas we would like to add to the site. While we know we can’t include everything on our website, based on questions we get a lot, we are always adding and improving.  If any of these topics interest you, please add a comment… or add additional ideas as comments.


Leadership Development & Organizational Change

  • “I’d love to hear more about organizational systems and Relationship Systems Intelligence (RSI™).”
  • “Is there a difference between product managers, product owners, and business owners?”
  • “Can you explain more about The Leadership Circle,  how can an assessment help?” (more…)