Posts Tagged ‘LinkedIn’

I get a lot of questions about how to start one’s own website because I am that sort of nerd. This is partially due to the fact that I have owned froggacuda.com for almost 20 years now, and have had a web presence at or around that domain / name / moniker / handle for just as long. As King Fantastic says, “I be go to hell before I fuck my brand up”. I have spent just as long trying to figure out not just what my brand represents, but what I stand for — it’s part of being a human being if you think about it. You have a brand; it is you. You’re unique in this world, and you’re the subject matter expert on you, so you’d better get to work figuring out what that brand is. Maybe you should write a manifesto. I’d just recommend that you do it privately so that you can see how goddamn hard it is to sit down and write a blog post with an audience of 001: you. Because nobody else is really going to care. Ever. Not like you care about it: you expressed yourself. Maybe even like Salt N Pepa.

Status messages, actually, are the new blog. Twitter defined the concept of value in 140 characters or less, and the platform totally suits the sound byte culture of ADHD that is the norm now. I seriously believe that having ADHD is actually an evolutionary advantage, not a “disorder” nor a “deficit”. The beauty of cheating at your blog or your website (they’re interchangeable terms now) is that you can plug your Twitter stream-of-consciousness in as a sidebar (there! module top left!) and it updates your site. That is, if you Twitter more than you blog.

Lady Gaga as Queen of Hearts

Lady Gaga as Queen of Hearts

Here is the fundamental rule for the 21st century: whatever it is you have to say, I’ll be interested if you add value to my life. This is an important concept to catch, because of its corollary rule: Content is King. Certainly, appearance and functionality is Queen, but without valuable content, you can go fuck yourself and your fancy interactive 3D website or application. It does not add any value to my life besides a fleeting and forgotten sense of “that’s sortof cool”. That is Milli Vanilli value — the sort of thing that one-hit-wonders are made of. I’m too sexy for my shirt. I’m on a horse. Where’s the beef?

Poet Philip Larkin

Poet Philip Larkin

Do you know why I write? Because I am fuckin’ good at it. My Mom tells me so. My friends tell me so. My stats, no matter how pathetic, tell me so, because random people are stumbling across my content and commenting on it, and “like” buttoning it, and retweeting it, because by definition, it is original content for free and these entities are finding value in it. One of the most consistently hit posts I have made is a poem imitating Philip Larkin’s “And The Wave Sings Because It Is Moving“. Don’t ask me why, because I have NO IDEA; it’s mediocre poetry for me and that’s ME commenting on my own work. Remember: you are your own subject matter expert. Isn’t that why you got an e-mail address, and a WordPress site, and paid for a domain name, and hosting for the website, and set up your Etsy or CafePress e-commerce, and got a PayPal account and an eBay storefront and a matching Twitter handle; your LinkedIn and Facebook custom URLs are configured to represent that same nickname or persona that you casually developed years ago?

Stats 2011-03-08 at 9.32.08 PM

Stats 2011-03-08 at 9.32.08 PM

So you think you can blog. Well, write something interesting. Post photos that are thoughtful. I want to giggle or WTF or click on your status message and go somewhere I wouldn’t have normally browsed to. Make me LOL, or say WTF, or go “dawww!” Contribute something to me that will make me appreciate you and your unique point of view. Otherwise, STFU; I have a cornucopia of other feeds and stimuli that are working harder to catch my attention. Which has a span of short. I can barely pay it.

Do you know who has a brand? Lady Gaga. I fucking adore her; she is unashamedly her own self-generated brand. She works really, really hard at maintaining that brand, and as a consequence, 40-year-old fans like me are wearing a glow-in-the-dark LGG rubber bracelet on our wrist. OK mine is special: it was given to me by my goddaughter Tyler Rae who commented that although she bought it for me, she didn’t think I’d wear it. I haven’t taken it off yet, not even to shower.  Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta acknowledges that she cannot leave the house without becoming Lady Gaga due to her role in the world at large; this construction is moving and inspiring my godchildren and literally millions of her fans – Little Monsters — worldwide and possibly throughout the galaxy if you’ve seen her latest video for “Born This Way“.  Hahaha! She presents her manifesto!

Lady Gaga + Kermit the Frogg

Lady Gaga + Kermit the Frogg

This is the best example I can make of that ridiculous Supreme Court ruling that a corporation is a person. LGG should incorporate as a single owner ASAP to take advantage of this idiocy that is destroying America as I knew it: she could then hire lobbyists and really get to changing the world. If Arnold can win two terms as ‘Governator” of the most productive state of the union, then Lady Gaga can win the first female presidency. Because she has a brand, knows how to flaunt it, and then leverage the results, both good and bad. She just smacked Target to the curb because of a couple of questionable donations.

Lady Gaga is an over-the-top example because she’s…well, over-the-top. But that does not mean that her example should be lost or dismissed: she is representing herself, her brand, her persona, and — as a matter of fact — I know quite a few people who are actually representing themselves well on the wild blue yonder that is the Interwebz. Here’s a few of them; for other examples, check out any of the Blogroll to your left.

  • My Aunt Flo’s Etsy site, KnowYourFlo, a collections of totally awesome vintage sewing patterns that are one facet of an extraordinary woman
  • Valancy Jane’s CafePress site, Vjanity Faire, which features her signature phrase “hello pigeons” — I’m one of those too; the merit badge is proudly displayed next to my LGG Little Monsters one
  • Kristina Rose proves she’s more than just an “LA Face with an Oakland Booty” on her blog — not that we’re complaining about the latter two, but her street smarts and opinion are just as attractive
  • J.A. Huffman’s venture Surface Furniture, where one man takes visions out of his skull and crafts them in wood and metal and sustainability and dreams
  • J-Moon’s RX Earth consultation creation — he passionately believes we can heal this planet and shift the paradigms now rather than later by being smart about living
  • I also have a couple of other naescent projects up my sleeves that are vaulting on to the stage soon
Table by Surface Furniture

Table by Surface / photo: Jen Jansen Photography

You have no idea, unless you have done it yourself — or attempted to do what it takes to actually run, write, maintain, and promote a simple web address, much less run an entire brand by yourself. It is exhausting, and you can get lost in your perfection and never publish anything. I’ve been there, with a private folder full of ‘drafts’ and too scared that it wasn’t good enough to actually press record — in this case, go ‘live’ and throw some content out there. For an audience of, potentially, one. Everyone wants content, but I imagine that the average person struggles hard when actually trying to produce some. I am serious, this writing that you love takes a lot of love from me: let’s see you do it. I want to come back in a few weeks or months or years and read what I wrote just now and think that, like Eliza Dushku or another one of Josh Whedon’s Dolls, I was my best. What’s in your manifesto?

It is easy to set up a blog nowadays. It gets harder every day to find something worth reading, laughing at, or marveling over. But I think that part of playing things forward is the word-of-mouth status message to alert your peeps that this might be worth checking out. If anyone — even me — takes the extra time to turn it into a blog post, then we should consider this 21st century art. I salute anyone else who is actively participating in the stream of consciousness that is the tsunami of information that is online every second, constantly changing and continually being added to. I just have one request: don’t be afraid to throw some value into the maelstrom: become part of what is being created.

You can blog: now go do it!

At GreenHouse, where I am the Chief Technology Officer, I am in charge of bringing bleeding edge, revolutionary, creative and inexpensive business optimization tools to bear for all strata of the company in order to make my teammates and executives have productive and fun days doing what we are doing. Which, by the way, is changing the world for the better. Nothing, not even the iPhone, comes close to the wonders we have achieved with a $14 4′ x 8′ piece of tileboard and a $20 Expo Dry Erase System. That’s right, people: I am talking whiteboards. Again.

Stick the clutch and change gears with me for a minute. As many of you know, I had a previous life teaching; college, high school, tutoring, Boy Scouts, by example… Due to the necessity of the ever-evolving requirements at our company, and the need to foster teamwork and agile communication, I have been teaching GreenHouse Scrum. Honesty, embracing change, active collaboration, knowing you have a team with you, daily standups, squeaky toys — all of the soundbyte stuff that sticks well in the mind. Meanwhile, a routine is being built; expectations are being set; issues bubble up to the surface instead of being swept under the rug or left for someone else to discover; you stop working in a vaccuum and one person can communicate what the rest of your Team is doing while you’re the only one of them going out to lunch with the business owners.

This started way back in history…when I moved in with Kleptus and brought a whiteboard, which I would occasionally would draw on to make a point about Delicious Cake. Or he would draw the islands of Hawaii and point out the Na Pali coastline. When we started working together at GreenHouse — in the office affectionately named “The Armpit” — I got two of the aforementioned sheets of tileboard, hijacked some underused dry erase markers, and a roll of paper towels for an eraser and we got busy:

  • Lists of Things to Do
  • Important Phone Numbers
  • John Galt is Talking to Me and My Head Will Explode if I Do Not Write This Down
  • Nature Is Pissed (a sticker at the top of one of the tileboards)
  • My Brain Hurts (a sticker on the other whiteboard)
  • Flowcharts
  • Tension Maps
  • Charts, Graphs, and Other Wildly Inaccurate Sketches
  • Treasure Maps
  • “-ISMS” (quotes heard ’round the office that stopped productivity for a minute or two due to uncontrollable laughter and repetition of the phrase)
  • Grand Schemes, Miscellaneous Plots, and Unattainable Goals
  • Etcetera

Here is the simple truth about whiteboards: If it is writ large upon the wall, it is semi-public information. Which makes you much more aware of whatever it is. Especially if it is your responsibility to get it done. Fact. Try it. Post your to-do list on a little whiteboard — or even a clipboard (easily scavenged office supply) on your office door or cubicle wall in plain sight, and see how uncomfortable you are with that often-trumpeted and rarely attained goal of transparency.

That is why, when Kleptus and I moved into what we dubbed “the War Room” from “the Armpit Office”, we made the most of it: we plastered tileboard EVERYWHERE. Add a conference room table, a bunch of chairs, and a leather couch, and we had a command center for GreenHouse Energy and Builders to operate in.

Then, we introduced Scrum.

Scrum is not — as it might sound — a new strain of Swine Flu; rather, it is an agile project management methodology. In my experience, Scrum is best applied with liberal whiteboards. My teams — which, by the bye, are kicking ass — have all their progress project-by-project slapped on the wall of the War Room every day. These notes are then photographed and inserted jumbo-size into the Google Doc of notes from the Daily Scrums. Business Owners can peer into these notes whenever they desire; they can’t, however, come interrupt a Daily Standup Meeting (though they do). Battle Plans are drawn. Logistical Nightmares. BHAGs. The best is when we as a Team can point at a couple square feet of wall and say “those were the stack-ranked priorities, and we got them all done”.

For my Scrum-certified sisters and brothers out there, who are undoubtedly gouging their eyes out with the edges of their Story-and-Task sticky notes, their velocity and burndown charts, and their accurate-information-filled Scrum boards, I say you this: results are the fruit of Scrum, and measurable, incremental, agile steps forward from the Sprint the week before are the hallmark of change management, not a wholesale paradigm shift. No organization has embraced Scrum as wholeheartedly as GreenHouse has, because the benefits are too numerous to mention — and too nebulous right now to say it is true Scrum traction. But daily communication, weekly due dates, and almost a month of proto-Scrum under our belt has produced phenomenal results, and I am very honored to be a member of the three Teams that I am a part of at my workplace. We get iiiissshhhht done.

So the point of this personal blog post — and from whence the title is derived — is the fact that I have a whole two bedroom, one bath house to myself, and I had this dream I had a formal dining room where I could have sit-down dinners and invite people over to enjoy themselves. You know, stemware, matching silverware, whorederves, etc. I just hung two framed whiteboards in my dining room. I think I will measure and install hidden screws behind them so I can take them down and quickly hang thrift store art in case I need to “be formal” in that room, but for now, my dining room is my personal War Room. Whiteboards galore. My laptop and a printer and broadband Internet. A conference (dining) table for six in case I need a bigger Team. What works at work is sometimes the best way to get things done at home. Personally.

BACKLOG OF THINGS TO DO:

  1. Use your War Room
  2. Feasibility Study and Stack Ranking
  3. Sprint

My Blog is — apparently — my Whiteboard. Keeps me honest, agile, and communicating!

Something about “being Agile” tends to make people think that productivity magically appears when you install Scrum as if it was some sort of speed boosting software optimization. This is not the case; it takes preparation, dedication to the methodology, and above all, discipline. Daily Scrums are a good case in point; many times I have seen participants show up to this critical forum without being prepared to transfer knowledge. The traditional Daily Scrum asks three questions to try to evoke the necessary intel from the Sprint participants:

  1. What did you accomplish yesterday?
  2. What do you plan on accomplishing today?
  3. Are you impeded?

There are two issues that arise from the Daily Scrum formula that I have encountered: one, the answers to these questions from each Team member don’t always get to the best information that needs to be shared; and two, Team members are not prepared to answer these questions with valuable 411. Both devalue the Scrum, and with a 15 minute timebox, it is critical to impart focused, specific information as fast as is productive to the Team. With this in mind, here are a few suggestions to keep Daily Scrums from becoming rote meetings that developers and other participants show up at, roll their eyes when they’re asked the same old questions, and — as one developer I worked with threatened — produce a simple audio file to play when asked the questions above.

Ask the right questions to get valuable answers:
Every project is different, and the questions asked of the Team should be designed to insure that knowledge is transferring properly between the Team members. This does not mean that you abandon the yesterday / today / blocked formula; rather, it means that the ScrumMaster should know enough about each Team members’ commitments to be able to help them with getting to the good stuff. The key here is to reinforce that the Team succeeds or fails by the estimation, communication, and hard work of the individuals that comprise that Team, as Clinton Keith adroitly notes on his discussion of Daily Scrums. The questions that are asked of the Team are not designed to be a simple formula so that you can repeat the same valueless information; that is why I prefer to use the term “accomplished” rather than “do”; this engages the Team member in a different way — it asks him or her to report to their Team members if they met their commitment from yesterday’s Daily Scrum. Keith makes a good point that the key to the first two questions is commitment: if a Team member commits to finishing feature x and does not, this is an impediment that is telling you a lot about the progress of the Sprint.

Be a Boy or Girl Scout; come prepared to the Daily Scrum:
Because Daily Scrums are usually timeboxed to 15 minutes, a lot of participants think they can just show up and answer the three questions and then get back to work. If this is what is happening in your Daily Scrums, you are in danger of having these crucial meetings become valueless and might as well let people play audio files to report their status. I found quite a bit of value when I insisted that Team members bring the ticket numbers for the Tasks that they were working on from whatever tracking system was in place was enough to make ’em prepare just a little bit before showing up to the Daily Scrum. This also had the side benefit that they would bring a pen and a piece of paper, which would at least have the materials present to make a note in case (shocking!) that something came up in the meeting that they were not expecting, such as “have a conversation with so-and-so immediately after this meeting to help them with impediment z”. Stacia Broderick has a wonderful phrase for a common symptom of Daily Scrum fatigue: DSW or Daily Standup Withdrawal. She prepares herself before each meeting; I don’t see why the same, short, focusing process shouldn’t be encouraged for each participant.

Handle diverging conversations immediately:
As a CSM, I have always found that the most memorable part of teaching Scrum to people is using squeaky toys to prevent Daily Scrums (or other meetings, for that matter) spiraling out of control into technical discussions, impediment removal, or other unfocused diatribes. Scrum is full of animals, starting with Jeff Sutherland’s Pigs and Chickens, but I can still remember the rubber rats from my CSM training with Dan Rawsthorne when he handed them out and thinking “what the hell are these for?” Since then I have used a front desk bell, a squeaky dog bone, and even threatened an air horn with a particularly garrulous group. The squeaky toy almost becomes like the conch shell in Lord of the Flies with some groups; even reaching for the talisman has an instantaneous effect on someone who is off on a soliloquy once they know what it means. This does not mean that you should be a heavy-handed ScrumMaster; on the contrary, it is the sign of a good Daily Scrum when a Team diverges to try to solve a problem. In this case, I take a page from XP and shut it down by providing a concrete way forward, such as “ok, you three obviously need to have an offline discussion about this; how about right after this meeting for 15 minutes and somebody be responsible for communicating the resolution?” This prevents the squeaky toy from becoming something to be feared and restores it to what it is for: focusing the Daily Scrum.

Provide concrete output from the Daily Scrum:
Whether it is on stickies, a quick set of notes, or directly updating the community Scrum Board, make sure that there are tangible results coming out of your Daily Scrums. The most important thing is definitely in the heads of the Team members, but it is highly valuable to have some sort of record of what went on yesterday today. This is a prime way to ask those extra questions suggested at the top of this list if necessary — review what the commitments were from yesterday and insure that each Team member is answering whether or not they accomplished what they set out to get done. These notes also become a key starting point for Sprint Retrospectives, when I have found there is naturally a lot of brain fade after a successful delivery. Like most everything else in Scrum, find what works for you; I have provided concrete output from Daily Scrums a variety of ways, but it is another Scrum operation that can be shifted from person to person, or combined with the Scout rule above — if Team members know that there is concrete output from the Daily Scrum, they are more likely to come prepared. These types of notes, especially in an electronic format such as a shared document or an e-mail update, also provide the added benefit of being able to communicate Sprint status on a daily basis to other interested parties, such as business owners and / or stakeholders, if necessary.

As usual, these are my observations from practicing Scrum at several different organizations, and I would be interested in any feedback about how you focus your Daily Scrums to prevent DSW, insure effective knowledge transfer, and make your Daily Scrums something that people look forward to because they provide help and value to the contribution of the Team to the Sprint.

The popularity of Agile project management has come with a lot of people saying that they “do Scrum” or “we Scrum” or “we be Sprinting” or any other combination of buzzword + us. This is known in the community as doing “Scrum but” because it inherently identifies that agility has not been fully embraced. This leads to three things:

  1. Poor results
  2. Frustration
  3. Anger at Scrum / Agile methodologies

Introducing Agile methodologies into a company is a subject for future blog posts, and won’t be covered here. Suffice it to say that without understanding and embracing, at least for the duration of a medium-sized project, an Agile tech completely, you’re going to be disappointed with the results. “Scrum but” begets butt results — just remember that.

I could go on and on with the metaphors that might explain how doing “Scrum but” is a terrible idea (it’s like thinking one or more tires on a car are optional to go on a road trip; it’s like trying to grill steaks with no propane; it’s like trying to land a job with no resume) — it all rolls up to three issues:

  1. Doing Scrum because it is cool / a buzzword / makes you feel cutting edge
  2. Believing that Scrum is a la carte rather than a whole methodology
  3. Unwillingness to let go of old Waterfall habits

Let’s discuss these three points.

One: Scrum / XP / Lean / Agile may sound cool — and done right, providing clean, measurable results, it is — but that is not the point. The point of Scrum is to force participants to think outside the box and provide continuous feedback on specific deliveries to insure that nobody is working in a vaccuum. The agile part of Scrum is reducing the battleship to a PT boat; it is able to turn on a dime rather than lumber around to a new heading. I believe that some of the attraction of Scrum is due to the flexibility of the methodology; however, when Teams start skipping Scrum Retrospectives because they have to rush to the next Sprint, or the Sprint Stories are “close enough” or “placeholders” or “XP Style” (a note to have a conversation about this later on), or there are other shortcuts taken in the process, you are accumulating Tech Debt which is guaranteed to bite you in the ass like a rogue wave (or a rogue VP). I am not arguing against the coolness of Scrum or any other Agile PM; again, they ARE cool, but it’s not in the name, it’s in the results of using Scrum effectively, and that means the whole enchilada.

Two: Scrum is not a buffet line, where you take a few Sprint sausages, some scrambled egg Stories, and a tall glass of Tasks, passing on the perceived parsley of a complete Planning Scrum and the dubious gridwork of well-formed Retrospective waffles. If you are going to try this approach, you might as well skip the plate while you are at it. There is a reason that CSMs are certified: it’s because Scrum is a methodology, and although Scrum purists will dislike that I point this out, there is a 1-2-3-4 to Scrum. It works best if the tech is embraced fully, even if you don’t understand why right off of the bat. Reusing the food metaphor, eat your veggies; it makes for a properly balanced diet. Try it, you might like it. Three pain points that I have found while implementing Scrum into businesses are the following:

  1. Planning Scrums are not prepared for (Stories ready, Backlog prioritized, etc.)
  2. Sprint Retrospectives are skipped (gotta get going on the next Sprint — no time!)
  3. Daily Scrums are not transferring knowledge properly (usually not asking the right questions)

A list of things to do is not a Backlog; an ad hoc 5 minute “how’d that Sprint go?” is not a Retrospective; “what’d you do yesterday? how bout today? are you blocked?” is not a Daily Scrum. Feel free to try to fool yourself and your organization that this is adding value, but see the first ordered list in this post for the results.

Three: As a veteran PM, I have ridden the inner tube of Waterfall-style project management, and it really isn’t all that bad if you are working for a huge company with lots of specialists and compartments, have all the time in the world to complete a project, and you are employed by the government. Even software development with ever-changing requirements can be successful with the right amount of documentation, change requests, and a battery of people willing to trade speed for bulk; i.e., the battleship. I would, however, like to point out that the dreadnought became extinct in World War II, when the strategic air power of carrier-based fighters and bombers sunk the Yamato in port in ’45. It couldn’t hide from a swarm of agile aircraft. The introduction of Scrum / Agile into a business is always fraught with the dangers of incorporating Waterfall-style PM into the process. “The Tech Spec IS the Backlog” is one I have heard countless times, and this leads to skipping the work of creating the needed pieces to properly Sprint. “These meetings are a waste of time; get back to coding!” is another one, typically from Business Owners who are trying to buffet their way to agility, usually because Waterfall — “we’re in development phase!” — is how they understand the surface of the project and because saying that the company is “Agile” or “does Scrum” is some sort of competitive advantage jargon. One of the reasons that Scrum is flexible is to be able to USE Waterfall-style documents to create solid, prioritized, accurate Backlogs, well-formed, spot-on Stories with full doneness requirements, and to provide developers with all the information that they need to Task out the Sprint to a high degree of initial accuracy, which provides a framework to embrace the inevitable changes that will come down the pipeline.

Overall, Scrum (and other Agile methodologies) suffer from the coolness factor, the buffet line, and the grandfathering-in of Waterfall thinking. Observation of anything along these three lines should be cause to stop, drop, and re-evaluate. Anytime I hear “we do Scrum but…” I always inquire if the organization has done Scrum with no But. That is the only way to understand how the pure methodology works for you, and from that foundation comes tuning and refinement, THROUGH Scrum, not around it.

Everybody knows that the economy sucks; the October Jobs Report is about as dismal as it gets, especially when you shovel into it and understand that:

“Not only did the economy lose a massive 240,000 jobs in the non-farm sector, but the previously reported declines of 159,000 in September and 73,000 in August were revised sharply lower to 284,000 and 127,000 respectively as well. As a result, the economy has now lost a total of 1.2 million jobs since the beginning of the year, with nearly half of those losses occurring in the last three months alone, pointing to an acceleration in the pace of erosion in labor markets.” -Anthony Karydakis, Fortune

Being part of such a massive bunch of horrifying statistic and having no job myself is, actually, quite exhilarating; the big question is how to keep myself from going stir-crazy without an unexpecting company to throw my heart and soul into, day in and day out including weekends and nightmares.

So I have decided to put myself on a writing regimen; I think I’ll do what any Gen-X, social network addicted, thirty-something who used to be an English teacher would do: I’ll WordPress all about it. Instead of trying to come up with some sort of literary masterpiece when I craft this nonsense with an audience of one, I think I will try to write every weekday that I am searching for a new career and try to find the humor and interest in the job of finding a job. I had a recruiter tell me to “enjoy my unemployment; with a resume like that, you won’t be for long”. It is this nugget of wisdom that I’ll try to take to heart as I blog and social network my way to some more pay-to-play project management. See you tomorrow.

Honesty is not only the best policy; in Scrum, it is the ONLY policy. There is a pseudo-phrase that is used in Scrum training to describe the appearance of Impediments: they ‘bubble up”. This only happens when Team members are honest — with themselves, with each other, with their ScrumMaster. The ScrumMaster is a facilitator and a communicator. It is the job of a well-trained and courageous SM to prod, poke, investigate, cajole, bribe, berate, beg, reward, entice, and otherwise convince both the Team as a unit and individual members to communicate impediments — no matter how large or small they may seem — by “bubbling them up” to the surface. The brave ScrumMaster then takes the Impediments and communicates them to the rest of the Team, the Product Owner; if necessary, the Business Owner, and possibly even the Stakeholders (read: Clients). Good ScrumMasters are always in jeopardy of having their heads ripped off because many times they are the bearers of bad news. Agility is also helpful in dodging thrown staplers, monitors, and other heavy, close-at-hand office items.

Honesty leads to Agility in this manner: the communication should be like greased lightning. Every employee at Achieve has seen me absorb some information and immediately turn around and start communicating it to someone else. Whether this is by walking into someone’s office, picking up the phone, crafting an IM or an e-mail, creating or refining an Unfuddle ticket, or driving between offices, you have witnessed the lengths I go to insure that communication is happening quickly, effectively, and honestly. Scrum — and I would suspect most Agile methodologies — completely falls apart if the channels to move information slow down or become clogged. Lack of transparency to the Client is the bane of Waterfall, where you work in a bubble on a project for a segment of time only to find out at delivery that this is no longer what the end user wants. It is better to confront a known Impediment than to pretend that there isn’t one or that there is nothing that you can do about it; ignorance is NOT bliss; it is cowardice.

The central strength of Scrum is that everyone is in the loop all of the time. Developers should raise impediments as they appear, not after they have been trying to solve it for an hour. Lead Developers should be ready to (and encouraged to) step in to team program around a thorny issue — after they tell their ScrumMaster that something has come to their attention in this vein. ScrumMasters should be central communication hubs that are constantly talking to the Team and the Product Owner to keep everyone appraised of progress and Impediments, all the while shielding their Team from outside interference. Product Owners should be speaking with their Clients daily in order to provide their feedback to the Team and to tell them of both good news and bad. This is colloquially known in Scrum as “swarming” and it is fantastic when it happens. Transparency may lead to Agility, but transparency comes from being honest.

[snip]

“…about three bad bullet points you may not know so well.”

# INVEST in the Creation of a Good Story:

Anyone who sits down to write a Story should not just dash something off to get the project / feature / defect / doohickey started because you want it now. Although Chris has mentioned the INVEST acronym before, it bears repeating.

* INDEPENDENT
* NEGOTIABLE
* VALUABLE
* ESTIMABLE
* SMALL
* TESTABLE

Nothing helps create a good Story like keeping it small. I have overheard discussions where people say that it is too small to make a Story out of it. I profoundly disagree — creation of the Story IS the Discovery phase of the Achieve Approach. Investment in a Story is more than the acronym itself; investment also means to put some critical thinking, time, and effort into writing a good Story. A Story in time saves nine, my friend.

# Good Stories are SMART:

SMART Stories also consider another clever acronym to keep Storytelling focused and to the point::

* SPECIFIC
* MEASURABLE
* ACHIEVABLE
* RELEVANT
* TIME-BOXED

One crucial concept in SMART is “Time-Boxed” — a fancy way of saying that the Sprint is a non-negotiable timed event. Time is one of the three sides of the Project Triangle (ding! ding! ding!) and is one of those things that is tweaked as a factor throughout project life cycles in order to make the other sides (Quality, Cost) look better to a Client. Time-boxing a Sprint stops moving the goalpost on this aspect of working, and it really makes a difference when you know that you must deliver working code by a fixed date.

# Well-designed Stories SELL:

Once upon a time (last week), with a Client far, far away (ok, up in LA), there was an IT Manager who was trying to explain what he wanted to do with his website budget. After several frustrating meetings with the holders of the purse-strings while bandying around phrases like “anonymous user caching performance tuning”, “multi-vertical expletive parsing modules”, and “discombobulation of dilithium crystal flux capacitor obfustication”, a certified Achieve Internet Product Owner wrote some Stories to explain what he was really wanting to do. These Stories had a formula:

### OVERVIEW:
[general summary goes in here]

### BUSINESS GOALS:
[business value / reasoning goes in here]

### BUSINESS LOGIC:
[logical flow goes in here]

### REQUIREMENTS:
* [bulleted list of “doneness” requirements / use test cases]
* xxx
* xxx

### QUESTIONS:
* [bulleted list of questions for PO to ask Client if needed]

### ASSUMPTIONS:
* [any assumptions being made by the Client or Achieve relating to this Story]

By following this formula (and attaching a quick table of phases with time estimates), the Product Owner followed the Achieve Approach and Scrum. However, this is normally an internal process; in this particular (and highly educational) case, providing the Stories to the Technical Contact at the business armed him with the ammunition needed to succinctly explain what he wanted to do with his budget! In short, writing Stories in this fashion sold the services because they were comprehensible to the Business Owners at the Client.

This is truly value-add for Project Management at Achieve, and I believe it is an eye-opener for our massive and talented Sales and Marketing divisions. Writing good Stories lays out the proposed solution (read: expenditure of money) in a clear, concise, organized fashion, and leverages the Client’s own business goals and logic to justify the project. When a Client can read that this money spent will do x, y, and z right next to “our business goals are x, y, and z”, they are much more likely to make the connection that will turn that light bulb on over their head and produce their checkbook.

But wait…there’s more (besides not being sold in any store)…in addition to Client comprehension, the inclusion of Stories also plays it forward by being the foundation for Scrum and the Achieve Approach within our own Company. This will allow a formatted vehicle for true Client communication all the way through our enterprise in a procedural, Agile fashion. A Story that has been approved by a client-side decision maker allows the Product Owner to get that signature line that says “this is what we are going to deliver for you”. The Lead Developer, ScrumMaster, and Team now have an official from-the-Client document that can be negotiated with the Product Owner, then tasked out effectively, and delivered to the Client to their own specification of “doneness” (the bullet list of requirements above). This will enable everyone — from the Client to the PO to the Team to the Business Owners) to all have a central agreement to refer to. At least to me, this seems a heck of a lot more Agile than arguing the meaning of paragraph 5, page 215, of the Technical Specification document version 1.13 referring to Wireframe #522.

As a Certified ScrumMaster at Achieve — and the Scrum evangelist — I take a lot of crap from my beloved Lead Developers because everything I do or say has to embody Scrum in it’s highest form. Now, no matter what I ask of them, large or small (could you remove my unpublished blog from the published blog list please? could you PDF this web page for the CIO please? Are you ever going to pay me back my two dollars?) the response I always get is…

Story please!