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How Do You Reward Achievement Within a Team?

by Ken Whitaker

With the shift to a more agile, team-centric organizational structure, singling out individuals can become a cumbersome and stressful task for even the best and most experienced managers. In this article, we cover how rewards can actually backfire--and give you three rules of thumb for rewarding your best performers.

Topic Teasers Vol. 24: Improving Agile Velocity

by Barbee Davis, MA, PHR, PMP, PMI-ACP

Question: Is there a way to improve velocity of an agile team? There seems to be a lot of advice not to change estimates, overpromise and not to overwork team members. But sometimes there just needs to be a way to jump start productivity.

A. There is no sense in “falsifying” estimates to give the appearance that you will increase team velocity. It just moves you back to more traditional practices where you don’t meet the project timeline goals. Velocity cannot be improved.
B. Even though you don’t want to change estimates arrived at honestly, there are some team tune-ups that have a good chance to increase agile team velocity.
C. Since velocity is based on the performance of team members, if you reduce each person’s estimates by the square root of the velocity of the last iteration you will eliminate slack and increase motivation, resulting in increased velocity.
D. Add 15% to the velocity each sprint or iteration. That way the team slowly learns to work faster and the speed with which projects are completed will be affected positively.
Pick your answer then Test Your Knowledge!

Constant Velocity is a Myth

by Andy Berner

Is your agile team’s velocity constant from sprint to sprint? No? That’s not a surprise. Many teams assume that their velocity will be constant. In this article, we’ll see why that’s not the right expectation--and how that affects how you use this metric.

Topic Teasers Vol. 22: Agile Procurement

by Barbee Davis, MA, PHR, PMP, PMI-ACP

Question: Since our agile team is self-managed, we have recently received notice that we can also oversee procurement on items that would not be commonly used by the rest of the organization. None of us has a background in this area. How do we make good buying decisions?

A. People who are agile should not be buying things. That slows down software development. Tell management you will need a Procurement Department to make purchases so you are not involved in this low-level process in any way.
B. Agile projects do not need anything except enthusiastic and inventive people to create success. Leave any procurement issues to those who follow traditional project management processes.
C. If your team is often short of money to add all the extra bells and whistles to the project, being in charge of procurement gives you the opportunity to ask prospective vendors for free merchandise to use for the project or for team incentives.
D. There are some common questions you can ask to help the team make better procurement decisions. It is a positive move to gain procurement responsibility since you are in the best position to evaluate buying options and get the features you really need to optimize your project success.
Pick your answer then Test Your Knowledge!

Slowing Down to Go Faster

by George Dinwiddie

It's hard to know if we're producing systems as fast as we could produce them. We can, after the fact, always identify ways in which we "wasted" time without contributing to our desired outcomes. But why can't we identify which will be waste before the fact? Because we want to go as fast as possible!

Keys to Chartering an Agile Project

by Johanna Rothman

When you’re a project manager for a traditional project, it’s easy to write a project charter. On an agile project, is that the right thing to do? Should you even use the same template? Here are some fundamental steps to get your project or iteration started on the road to success.

Topic Teasers Vol. 20: QA, QC and Testers

by Barbee Davis, MA, PHR, PMP, PMI-ACP

Question: I’m so confused. I was a Quality Tester at my last job, but here the employees seem to use the titles Quality Assurance, Quality Control and Testing interchangeably. I started out in a more traditional organization, but now I’m a tried and true agile believer. Since I have no job description, what are my responsibilities?

A. The three concepts are often used interchangeably. Ask what it means in your new organization and accept that as your role in your workplace reality despite the real definition.
B. Find the specific meanings for each term from a university professor in the town where you work. Use that information to correct the organization so that they use proper terminology.
C. Once you learn your job description from Human Resources, create a new title for yourself so that others can understand what you do. Perhaps Defect Engineer would be apt.
D. Since agile teams work without formal processes or documentation, there is no need to answer to a particular title. Everyone on the team is merely a team member.

Ready, Set, Go...and Ready Again: Planning to Groom the Backlog

by Andy Berner

For an agile project to progress smoothly, the backlog must be groomed and ready for each sprint. That work must be included in your project plan. This article gives you five points to consider when planning that work.

What to Do When Milestones Don’t Easily Get to 'Done'

by Ken Whitaker

One of the most complex issues in project management to handle is when a team struggles at getting to “done” at key milestones. This article presents the problem along with suggestions on how to combat it.

Is Agile Your Solution or Your Problem?

by Kevin Aguanno, PMP, MAPM, IPMA-B, Cert.APM, CSM, CSP

Are agile practices themselves ever so rigid that they become stifling rather than liberating? Sometimes, strict adherence to an agile framework can cause problems for project teams. Be on the lookout for these issues...

Topic Teasers Vol. 18: The Agile BA

by Barbee Davis, MA, PHR, PMP, PMI-ACP

Question: Today a person appeared at my desk saying he was the new Business Analyst for the team and he set up a meeting with me for next Tuesday. I didn’t want to appear stupid, so I just said okay. We’re an agile team, so is he replacing me as ScrumMaster, or what? Should I be worried about my job?

A. The Business Analyst (BA) certification is the replacement credential for the old Project Management Professional (PMP), but with an agile flavor. Check online to see how quickly you might get this new certification if you hope to continue on with your organization.
B. Rather than replacing a project manager or ScrumMaster, the BA is the representative of the Customer or Product Owner who is funding or authorizing your project. He will benefit the team, as he may have more availability than the actual Product Owner.
C. The BA is a junior version of a Quality Assurance team member, and can help you finish your projects more quickly since he does not have the test backlog of a seasoned QA person.
D. The ScrumMaster reports to the Functional Manager whose department will benefit most by the completed project deliverable. Perhaps the BA made an error in contacting you.

When Estimates Go Wrong

by George Dinwiddie

Custom software development is notoriously difficult to estimate. We start with vague ideas of what we want, expecting to fill in the details later. We’re usually doing something a little different than what we’ve done before, or completely different. How can we act more productively?

How to Stay Agile

by Michael Aucoin

How does one stay agile over time? It’s an important question to address for those of us who must deliver agile projects again and again, perhaps over years. There are at least three reasons for this tendency toward sluggishness...and two ways to cure it.

Understanding the PM's Role During and After a Transition to Scrum (Part 2)

by Chris Merryman

We've covered certain challenges a project manager is likely to face when a Scrum transition is first being evaluated, and a comparison between Waterfall and Scrum methodologies. Part 2 of this article covers the ScrumMaster and Product Owner roles in the Scrum environment--and also addresses the project manager’s role during and after an organization's transition to Scrum.

Can Agile Projects Self-Organize with a Fixed-Price Mentality?

by Sachin Dhaygude

The answer is “yes”, even though the typical fixed-price mentality violates the values stated in the Agile Manifesto. But fixed-price contracts are necessary for the market, so agile projects will have to adjust and offer a workaround.

Topic Teasers Vol. 16: Negative Agile Teammates

by Barbee Davis, MA, PHR, PMP, PMI-ACP

Question: We have a person on our team who is annoyingly and consistently negative. It is having an impact on our team morale and also our productivity, but since we are agile and self-directed we have no manager to deal with him. What should we do?

A. Inappropriate team members are always a possibility with agile teams. Suggest to management that your team revert back to a more formal project management approach.
B. Meet with your teammates, minus this negative person, and arrange for a team intervention. Explain to him that he is damaging the throughput and morale of the team and ask him to be a more positive person.
C. Go to the Product Owner or customer and alert him/her that the negative person is impacting the delivery schedule. Perhaps he or she will intervene with your teammate.
D. Grin and bear it through this iteration, then ask for a change in the team rules at the next retrospective.

Is It Bigger than a Breadbox? Getting Started with Release Estimation

by Andy Berner

How can we estimate a project in advance while still maintaining the ability to manage the backlog in an agile manner? In this article, we’ll answer that question, compare release-level estimation to the techniques used for iteration estimation, and give some pointers on getting started with release estimation in an agile environment.

Agile and Lean: Helping a Marriage and Getting Kids to Do their Homework

by Gabrielle Benefield

Rather than force people to do their work, why not create a system and a structure that allows people to manage their own work? Agile techniques used by software developers can also be used at home to create a positive, motivating environment where progress can be tracked visually. In this article, we’ll show you how you can set up a simple tracking system that you can use to manage your family, or your kids’ homework, more effectively.

Using Release Trains to Get on Track

by Johanna Rothman

One problem when you have a program with agile projects and non-agile projects is how to marry the two parts. The agile projects deliver value every couple of weeks. The non-agile projects? Well, it’s possible they don’t deliver value for months to years. Release trains to the rescue!

How Successful Are Virtual Project Teams?

by Ken Whitaker

The software development industry has migrated more and more to a virtual, telecommuting industry. But recent headlines have solidified the battle lines regarding virtual teams. Are they good or bad for employee morale and productivity?

Making Project Management Information Systems Agile

by Kevin Aguanno, PMP, MAPM, IPMA-B, Cert.APM, CSM, CSP

When one PM was asked to list the key requirements for a PMIS that would enable it to better support project and organizational effectiveness, he thought about past project, portfolio and program management experiences. The result? A “dream list” of features for a PMIS to support large, traditionally managed projects...a list that was surprisingly agile.

Topic Teasers Vol. 11: Agile Slackers

by Barbee Davis, MA, PHR, PMP, PMI-ACP

Question: I love working with my agile team. All the personalities are great, and everyone gets along fine. The problem is one person who we can’t rely on to finish her tasks on time. With no project manager to keep tabs on people, how do agile teams deal with slackers?

A. Ask the ScrumMaster to perform the project manager’s task of keeping tasks coming in on time and disciplining non-producing team members. He or she is responsible for team member actions.
B. No one is expecting agile teams to estimate accurately, so allow the person whose work is not done in a timely way to continue at her own pace. Team harmony trumps speed.
C. With a self-directed agile team, the team members must confront the non-performing members to keep the flow of iteration work on track. Agile doesn’t mean “no accountability”.
D. Allow the slower team members to choose the latest tasks in the dependency chain, so that they don’t hold up the team.

Topic Teasers Vol. 9: Story Points or Hours?

by Barbee Davis, MA, PHR, PMP, PMI-ACP

Question: My team prefers to work in Story Points, but it sometimes becomes hard to deal with the realities of how to estimate a first iteration and how to deal with the availability of the team members. How do experienced agile teams handle these realities?

A. If you want to be agile, you must estimate in Story Points. Nothing else will really work for a team once they begin to do the work of the project.
B. Neither is the correct approach. Estimate your Product Backlog in Ideal Hours, and then they will transfer over easily to the iteration work of the team.
C. If you create software, use Story Points. If you use agile for any other type of project, estimate in work hours, which you can input into MS Project.
D. Use Story Points for the Product Backlog, but actual hours for the Iteration Backlog.

Agile: What’s in It for the Project Manager? (Part 2)

by George Dinwiddie

Making a transition from what you’re currently doing to an effective agile process is a project in itself--but it can easily be worth it. Let’s look at what we can gain by adjusting our approach--our concluding installment looks at interpreting requirements and tracking progress, and offers some further caution and advice.

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- Frank Lloyd Wright