Friday, 3 October 2014

Mob Programming at the September Agile South Coast Bournemouth meeting

At September's Agile South Coast Bournemouth meeting we discussed mob programming — think of it as pair programming turned up to 11 where the whole team shares one keyboard.

Woody Zuill discovered the technique with his team — and has been writing about it on for for a while. Woody kindly agreed to join us remotely via Skype (sorry — no recording!).

You can watch Woody talk on mobbing from ├średev 2013:

Along with a time-lapse of a day of mob programming with Woody's team here:

Woody summarised mobbing as:
All the brilliant people
Working on the same problem
At the same time
On the same computer
Some of the points we discussed were:

  • How mobbing helped alignment within the team
  • How it removed the necessity of some "standard" practices (e.g. you don't need stand ups because everybody already knows what everybody else was doing)
  • How mobbing helped foster a sense of safety since everybody was always aware of how decisions came about.
Give the talk a watch — it's worth your time.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Scrum Team Building Across Multiple Continents

Scrum Team Building Across Multiple Continents

I have been recently working with a Scrum team that is spread between 2 continents at first I was doubtful of how successful a team with so many differences could be. During the Southampton meet I had the opportunity to ask for some help.

We came up with the following 5 ideas during a lean coffee session.

Send Ambassadors
 Nothing can replace face to face contact, try to send different members of the team and make sure it’s not just one-sided. The time spent with the other half of the team will be invaluable. They will hopefully go back to their home office understanding the team more and being able to share this with the other team members.

Use video
When face to face contact isn’t possible then always strive to use a video chat over voice only. The market is saturated with video conferencing options so there really isn’t any excuse. For that extra edge try installing a permanent link between the 2 offices so that members of the team can be contacted real-time.

Start the daily stand up with a chat
Just like the initial hello you have with colleagues in your own office it is important to ask the other office how their evening went. It is also nice to do a bit of research on upcoming festivals and perhaps even do a themed day in the office to really get in the spirit.

Team building exercises
Team building is key to any successful scrum team but even more so when the team isn’t collocated. Some nice little games can be found here however my favourite is a game of speed dating. This can be done to cover personal or work related information. A summary of the latter can be found here.

Get others to facilitate some of the meetings
Try mix things up a little get members of the offshore team to be stand in Scrum Master during holidays or run one of the retrospectives or reviews. This can be a good way to get everyone to feel equal and equally involved in the success of the team.

Working with a Scrum team that is not co-located is always going to add an extra challenge. However through the use of technology it is easier than ever to perform Scrum team building exercises that will help make a success of what most would agree a difficult situation.
Scrum Team Building
Scrum Team Building

Written by John Barratt Director of

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Upcoming Agile South Coast events: July 15 and July 22 2014

Next Southampton Event is 7pm, July 15 at the OS HQ 

There's a change to the normal rolling schedule of the Agile South Coast meetings in Southampton this month, and so we'll meet up on July 15 at 7pm at the OS office (the usual venue). Register with the (one off) Eventbrite registration (replacing the normally rolling event):

Next Bournemouth Event is 7pm, July 22 at Unicorn Training

In Bournemouth the plan is to meet on the third Tuesday of the month, as usual, at Unicorn Training. Again, register for this via the Eventbrite - Stuart has offered to set up a Google+ Hangout for people who would like to join in remotely (and miss out on the pub chat afterwards!)

The link to use to join the hangout will be
Please test your computer can handle this by clicking the link to join the hangout in advance (try it now!)


Suggest topics for either event either here in the comments, or over in the LinkedIn discussion group:

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

The Future of Agile according to Uncle Bob Martin

The Future of Agile (If Any) - "Uncle" Bob Martin

Thank you to everyone at Skills Matter who put on a really nice free session with "Uncle" Bob Martin at DigitasLBi in London last night. And of course to Bob for giving his time for this!

I've never been up to any Skills Matter events or training before, but after the conversations last night I'll be looking for opportunities. Also the venue was excellent - relaxed, convenient and informal, for a group of (my guess) over 100 attendees to learn and discuss the seemingly "eternal" problems of software development.

This wasn't an event on the Agile South Coast calendar, but there were at least two of us up there. I know that when he's been speaking in London previously the Dev South Coast crew have managed to tempt Uncle Bob as far as Southampton for speaking, and the delights of the Cowherds pub. Maybe we missed a trick in not asking him down on this visit - let's keep an eye on his diary!

Uncle Bob Martin describes the Agile Software Development Process in Rings

Serious Flaimbait?

I guess the title of the talk fits nicely in to the series of recent on-line debates that I've been learning from recently like "Agile is dead, long live agility", and the more contentious "TDD is dead". Last night Bob reminded us that the problems that the original authors of the Agile Manifesto set out to solve are still hurting us in many of our software projects, and that software is invading (or supporting) our lives in more diverse, and more serious, ways.

Bob's first-hand history of the Agile movement and stream of challenging and forceful statements in support of XP practices kept it lively.

My views were challenged from many directions, but walking away I can't find much that I'd argue against. Perhaps just one thing - Bob warned us that Scrum has no interest in technical practices, and is weaker because of that: it is too easy for a software team to claim to be Scrum but not follow important software development practices. I think that Scrum is open and deliberate about this:
Scrum is not a process or a technique for building products; rather, it is a framework within which you can employ various processes and techniques. Scrum makes clear the relative efficacy of your product management and development practices so that you can improve. 
The Scrum Guide, Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland

In my experience, when a team starts work towards creating releasable increments at the end of every regular iteration they will need to reach out for the practices to support that.

However, Bob called out an unintended consequence of splitting out the technical practices from Scrum: it has become a tool for project managers. And because Scrum has become synonymous with "Agile" in many peoples' heads, the Agile conferences and discussions are dominated by Project Managers. Perhaps as a reaction to that, developers have re-grouped in to the Software Craftmanship movement. Two groups with the same aim are now divided by discipline.

The original "Lightweight Processes" that banded together under the Agile umbrella have offered us solutions to enable trust and communication between the business and the development teams. Are we building up that divide again? Good practices and effective understanding of business requirements have become more important than ever because software impacts so many aspects of our lives. Will there reach a point where software is implicated in some disaster so horrendous that the whole world will look to software professionals and ask "How could you let that happen?" How would we respond?

Hopefully not with manual test plans that look like this :)
The hands of a QA Manager: "Which half of the plan should I skip?"
I really enjoyed the session, and if you ever get the chance to hear Bob Martin speak I'd grab it - very engaging, just be ready for the pattern interrupt at the beginning ;)

All done

It was great to be able to head out to the session with a diverse range of my NewVoiceMedia work colleagues (2 developers, and  *no* project managers in this case).
Agile South Coast's Clive Skipper spotted me at the end of the session and we headed home with a fellow attendee, keeping the agile thinking going on the train. Awesome evening.

I missed the train home but discovered Mi Casa at Waterloo. Every cloud...

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Retrospective Game: Turn the Tables

Southampton Games Night - 10/06/2014

As part of the Southampton Games night I hosted a 30 minute session on a retrospective game that i have had some success in the past with called turn the tables.  The retrospective was based on the previous activity 'The User Story Game' to add to the mix the facilitator of that game was also taking part.

The Game is separated into 3 steps:

Step 1 - Write 2 Good points on green post it notes and 2 Bad points on red or in this case pink post it notes. The catch is you can only write a maximum of 2 words on each sticky.

Step 2 - Pass the green post it notes to the left and the red post it notes to the right.

Then comes the twist.  Starting with the green sickies each person has to try and explain what the person who wrote the sticky meant from the two words written down. The original author then marks them out of 5 for how accurate the description was. Once all the green post it notes have been done they can go into the middle of the table and the same activity is done with the red post it notes.

Step 3 - Pass the red post it notes to the right again and this time the person with the post it note has to try come up with ways of  improving the bad point. Once that person has given it a go the rest of the team can help out.

Below is a picture of the list of improvement ideas that came from the game

Why I like the game:

  • Its fun to play and your  guaranteed to have at least a  few laughs
  • It gives good results (in this example 11 improvements)
  • The turn based approach means everyone gets an equal say
  • It gives you a measure of how well the team know each other

Special Thanks

Original game

The book that changed how I view retrospectives - Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great (Pragmatic Programmers) 

It would be good to hear what others thought of the game? Have you tried it in your teams yet? How did it go?

Friday, 6 June 2014

Games and Activities Night at Agile South Coast in Southampton

Agile Games and Activities: Planning and Retrospectives

Coming up on Tuesday June 10 2014 at Ordnance Survey HQ in Southampton

Agile teams are big on collaboration, both inside and outside of the delivery teams, and often use "games" to kick start the hard work. A game that most Scrum or XP teams will be familiar with is Planning Poker, which helps team members agree on estimates for the relative complexity of stories in the Product Backlog.

At the next Agile South Coast meet up we're going to take the chance to try out some new games, as well as the usual chance to network and swap insights in our friendly Agile community.

The planned activities include a learning game that illustrates the benefit of conversation over documented specifications, and two activities to help during iteration retrospectives. I've been playing one of them at home with my children and they love it - lets see how it plays with the software delivery professionals of the South Coast as they retrospect on the Agile South Coast meet up next Tuesday :)

As usual for the Southampton events, register via the rolling Eventbrite link:

The Ordnance Survey building is easy to get to from the M27 by car, but I've found it's an easy cycle across town through Southampton too.

View Larger Map
Do you have any games or activities that you find useful in your work? Comment here, or even better, come along and show us (if it can fit inside a 30 minute slot!) See you there?

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Virtual Attendee Options for Agile South Coast?

Virtual Attendee Options for Agile South Coast?

Some of the Agile South Coast crowd in Bournemouth
Thank you to Stuart Jones for getting me remote video conference access in to the most recent Agile South Coast meet up at Unicorn Training HQ in Bournemouth last week!

I'm not sure if this would be a regular option, but it worked well for me as the only remote participant. If Stuart wants to invest in a webcam to stick above the big screen in the room it would probably be possible to see everyone at the same time!

Obviously I missed out on the pub discussions afterwards, but it was an interesting evening of on-line chat.

On the evening we spoke about when to re-estimate story points (in Scrum), and then about the advantages of integrating Lean ideas in to an Agile development process. (I'll try to summarise our conclusions on that separately.)

Making this a regular option might mean that fewer people travel out to the venue, but if the overhead of running the on-line option is small, then it could be worth continuing.

What do people think? Has anyone got any experience running a user group and allowing on-line attendance, is it useful, or too much hard work?

Monday, 26 May 2014

Upcoming Events: May 29 and June 10

Upcoming events for Agile South Coast...


May 29 2014 is the next meeting at the Unicorn Training HQ in Bournemouth. It will be a Lean Coffee session, and I'll be coming along hoping to talk and learn about Lean ideas in Agile. I'm sure that Adrian H will correct me on my terminology every time I confuse Lean, Lean Startup, and Lean UX!

I'd also like to talk about story points in Scrum. If you work in a Scrum team and you estimate stories in Points (or "Ideal Days"), do you re-estimate the points for a story that starts to look time consuming when you look at it in detail during sprint planning?

If there's anything Agile that you'd like to share or ask about, just register (free) via the EventBrite link and come along!

Free registration via EventBrite:


In Southampton Dave Mace suggested that we should run a Games Night at the next ASC session at the Ordnance Survey HQ. We're going to try out some collaboration activities and learning activities that should be a lot of fun and good to take back in to our own teams. 

That's on June 10, select the right date in the drop down on this page to register for free: 


Finally, here's one that's likely to be of interest to people here: an Open Space Discussion on the #NoEstimates ideas that started on Twitter. That's in Basingstoke on May 27. A busy couple of weeks!

Sunday, 25 May 2014

What is a Servant-Leader? [ASC Southampton 2014-05-13]

What makes a good Servant-Leader?

The final topic of three discussed at the Agile South Coast meet up at the Ordnancy Survey HQ in Southampton on May 13: What makes a good Servant-Leader?

Scrum Masters are often described as "Servant-Leaders to the Team", but the question doesn't directly reference scrum masters, so our discussions weren't constrained to the Scrum Master role. 

First up is to agree that what Servant Leadership is! "Leadership without authority", or perhaps "Leadership without exercising power" seem reasonable.

Commonalities from our discussions were that a good servant leader would be
  • Humble (seeking to collaborate and serve)
  • Available (present and approachable)
  • Inspiring and Influential (charismatic, well connected)
  • Empowering (coaching and mentorship)
  • Knowledgeable and Experienced (able to provide direction and vision)
Check the white-board photos for the full range of ideas from the group on the night. Also, see this great link that John Barratt found after the event: The Best Leaders are Humble Leaders

Are you a servant leader? How does it guide the way that you work with the people in your team? 

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Do You Need an Agile Coach to Become Agile? [2014-05-13]

How to Introduce Agile Processes and Practices Without an Agile Coach

We met in the smart new Ordnance Survey HQ in Southampton
Here are my thoughts on the second of the three topics discussed at the May 2014 Agile South Coast meet up in Southampton. Three groups of 5-7 discussed this separately, and spent a few minutes presenting conclusions back to the full group at the end of the evening.

It was another topic suggested in advance via the Agile South Coast LinkedIn Discussion Group.

How could you introduce agile to your organization without an Agile Coach or agile experience in the organization? (Give specific examples.)
Although it would be interesting to understand why the question says that there is no Agile Coach, we couldn't get clarification. In my discussion group there was a response that the obvious solution was to get an Agile Coach :)

If we admit defeat on that (perhaps if the upfront cost is too big), at least one person in the organization is going to need to become an Agile Coach. And I suppose we have to rule out paid training for that person or people too! That was pretty much my first experience introducing agile processes in to the software development team inside a growing Enterprise Content Management company. It was not supported by any (paid) Agile Coaching or consultancy, and it was a difficult experience!

Looking back, I maybe didn't realise that I would need to become an "Agile Coach", I thought that I could just tell my colleagues about some cool new practices that I'd learned about, and off we would go. Another unexpected challenge was not realising that others in the business were learning about Agile and looking to reorganize us developers - a little lack of communication leading to friction there.

So with the benefit of the insight of the Agile South Coast participants, here are our suggestions for introducing Agile to an organization without paying for an external Agile Coach:
  • Find the people in the organization who are interested in change, or becoming agile, and discuss what you want to achieve
    • Identify your start point
    • Identify where you want to be (clear goals)
    • How broad and deep is the organizational buy-in?
  • Find people who will become the agile coaches, people capable of coaching and with time to research and understand the challenges and approaches
    • Self-aware, servant-leaders
    • Keep discussing what you find, and relate it to your own context
    • Consider your organizational culture
      • Delegation is good
      • Remove negative influences
  • Just do it!
    • Find on-line resources, great content is free on YouTube and elsewhere
      • The short Agile Manifesto gives you 4 values and 12 principles to judge your process by
      • The free 13 page Scrum Guide pdf - Scrum is a very common starting point, and many people can't distinguish Scrum and Agile - it's helpful to know what Scrum is
      • I keep a little YouTube playlist of some of the Agile Process presentations that I've found useful - some really excellent content in there!
    • Read some of the great books on Agile and related processes and practices
      • I got great value from the book 'Agile Estimating and Planning' by Mike Cohn; also 'Agile Retrospectives' by Esther Derby, but there are many other great books and in a field of continuous improvement, more great ideas being shared constantly
    • Pilot project or team as champions or a "beacon"
    • Extreme Programming (XP) Practices
      • Co-location
    • Introduce ideas through games: XP Game; Lean Game
    • Make changes in small steps
      • Kanban process improvement ideas: start from what you have and make small evolutionary changes
If you think we missed anything (or I didn't pull out any particular idea from the session), let me know in the comments. Thank for your time reading this, and thank you to everyone who comes and shares their views, knowledge and experience at our Agile South Coast meetups!

Here are the three flip charts created by each of the groups on the night...

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Scrum Master: Selling the Role [ASC Southampton 2014-05-13]

Elevator pitch for the role of Scrum Master

Disclaimer: These are my notes on a topic from the Agile South Coast meet-up in Southampton in May 2014. They are unlikely to represent the views of other attendees, and by the time you read this, they are possibly no longer my own views either!

We met in the smart new Ordnance Survey HQ in Southampton

Topic 1 of 3 up for discussion was the following question and challenge:

What responsibilities does a Scrum Master have? Explain this to a non-Agile trained CEO or Marketing professional 

As usual we split to smaller groups to discuss each question, and summarised our views back to the full group at the end of the evening.

I've put pictures of each group's flip charts at the bottom of this post. Because the person who suggested this topic was not in our group to explain it we decided to interpret it as "Give your 30 second 'elevator pitch' for selling a new Scrum Master role to a busy CEO." We didn't quite get to that stage on the evening, but  here's my elevator pitch distilled from what we spoke about:

Scrum is a process framework that provides transparency in software development, and enables better predictability and efficiency in delivering valuable new features to customers. In order to do this the development process will change, and the organization will change to support this. 

As a Scrum Master I will coach the delivery team and business in fostering an Agile culture of continuous improvement. Day to day I will facilitate the planning and collaboration necessary for the team to estimate the effort required to deliver new value, learn from the work that they do, and respond to learning and changed requirements during their work. 

(The words above do assume that a Scrum Master is intending to follow the Scrum process framework, and that the business in question delivers value by creating new software - neither are necessarily true.)    

What would your 30 second executive elevator pitch be?

Here are pictures of the flip-charts from each of the 3 groups that discussed this topic: