Sunday, February 28, 2021

Requirements Tree: Focusing your efforts on the highest value work

Requirement is a nebulous term.  It can mean something large like a strategy, to smaller items like features, user stories, or tasks. People often throw around the word requirement without a strong sense of the type of requirement it is or the level it belongs. It is important for clarity and common understanding across organizations and teams. Otherwise, it can be quite confusing as to which level people are discussing. 

To gain this common understand of the various levels of requirement, I recommend starting by establishing a requirements tree.  It is a structure that represents the relative hierarchy amongst various requirements elements within your enterprise. It makes it clear how requirements levels are connected. For example, a feature is a requirements element that is at the larger than a user story, so I would expect to find multiple children (aka, user stories) to the build a feature.  Think of it as your requirements lineage. 
What are advantages of creating a requirements tree? First, it ensures that requirements elements at the lower level (aka., the children) are aligned to higher level and presumably high value requirements elements. This ensures that you are putting all of your company’s effort on the highest value work. Second, it helps you determine if there are random requirements that made their way in through a back door.  Third, the requirements tree provides context of the level of requirement being discussed and traceability in the hierarchy.  

What are the various requirements elements and hierarchy? There is no industry standard group in either and they can vary from enterprise to enterprise. The key is to establish yours.  I like to start with corporate strategy and end with tasks as illustrated in the figure. 

Once you establish the levels of your requirements tree, it is important to craft a definition to describe each level.  Using the requirement levels from the figure, here is how I describe each level.  A strategy sets  direction for the enterprise.  An idea is a high customer value and outcome-based opportunity.  An increment is an end-to-end slice of the idea to provide value and validate of the idea.  An epic is a function or feature.  A user story is a requirement that fits into a sprint of a week or two and has one persona.  A task is a very small unit of work that incrementally builds the user story. 

In addition, when you have the requirements tree and definitions of each level, you can align roles of who should be working on those levels with expectations and outcomes of each level. 

You may notice that instead of putting the strategy on top, I place it on the bottom.  I do this to represent the strategy as the trunk of the tree as this should provide guidance for how the smaller requirements elements (e.g., ideas, increments, epics, user stories, and tasks) should grow. While your strategy may adapt over time based on customer feedback and the changing marketplace, it should guide the type of work you may consider working on. 

The key to your requirements tree is for you to establish one that makes sense for the type of work you do.  For example, if you only have one division in your company, then a division strategy isn’t necessary.  You may also work with business requirements so place them in the right level for your tree. Those that may consider creating a requirements tree are a combination of executives, portfolio, product owners, and team members.  Once crafted, it should be shared with everyone for a common understanding and a way to validate that the work at the team level is aligned with the highest value work.

Note: For more information on the Requirements Tree, read Chapter 15 of the book "The Agile Enterprise". 


Sunday, January 31, 2021

Rose Retrospective - A Rose by any other Name

Many Retrospectives in the Agile world tend to follow the “what went well”, “what problems did we encounter”, followed by actions for improvement. I call this the WWW (what went well) retrospective. While this serves as a practical retrospective, did you know that there is no one specific retrospective practice expected by Agile? The Agile principle only asks that “At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.”  Even Scrum is not specific.  Per the Scrum Guide, it suggests that a retrospective “is to plan ways to increase quality and effectiveness”.

If you are applying the “what went well” type of retrospective, would you like to experience something new, a more adventurous retrospective? Allow me to introduce you to “A Rose by any other Name” Retrospective or Rose Retrospective.  

This is a botanical approach that uses the parts of the rose to explore how things are going and what you can do to improve. The parts of the rose that we explore during this retrospective are the Flower, the, Thorn, and Bud. To put some color to these parts, here are some definitions:

  • Flower: This highlights the positives, what you're happy about or what is going well for you or the team.
  • Thorn: These are negative things that are impacting your work or life. It may be something that didn’t go your way, causing stress, impediments to success, or something that you’re not proud of. 
  • Bud:  These are areas that have a potential to bloom or improve if we nurture and put some focus onto them. They have the potential of becoming a flower. 

How might you implement a Rose Retrospective?  Let’s step through the preparation and steps through conducting a retrospective. 

Prepare the space 

Whether a physical room or a virtual room, create a space to (e.g., white boards, etc.) to add Flower, Thorn, and Bud. 

Determine what cohort of people will participate. It is best to invite those that were actually engaged in the topic (e.g., the team that did the work).

Conduct the session 

Start by explaining the process of the Rose Retrospective and the meaning of the flower, thorn, and bud. Advise them on what they will be reflecting on (the recent sprint, project, time period, etc.). 

Begin with Flowers. Give everyone 5 minutes to brainstorm their flower(s). Everyone shares their flowers. This may include recent successes in delivery, relationships, and progress. You may use data as an input. The intent is boost morale and make people feel proud of their activities and progress. The result is to visualize as a bouquet of flowers on a rose bush.

Continue with Thorns. Give everyone 5 minutes to brainstorm their thorn(s).  Everyone shares their thorns with the intent is to share challenges. The result is to visualize the thorns of a rose bush. 

Finally, the group discusses the buds. Reviewing the Thorns, consider what can be improved and actions for improvement. Provide time to consider the root cause, brainstorm new ideas, and suggesting solutions. Also consider other ideas that may need a boost in areas that are ripe with infusing extra effort to turn the bud into a flower. Prioritize ideas and solutions and focus on the top 2 or 3 actions. The result is to visualize a group of buds that may blossom with some extra effort. 

Work on the actions 

Once the session is over, the next steps are to add the actions to your backlog of work, marking them as high priority. Then work on the actions to turn the buds into bouquets of flower. 

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Are You Experiencing Modern-day Acedia?

As the pandemic continues, is the social isolation and restrictions in movement causing a feeling of melancholy and unmotivated? Are you losing interest in posting selfies, attending web conferencing events, and streaming shows and movies? As the news gets worse, do you find yourself devouring negative news and getting sidetracked by social media, yet have a number of home projects to do? 

“You're bored, listless, unmotivated, afraid, and uncertain. What you have may be feeling is 'acedia'. This occurs when you have spatial and social constrictions that a solitary life necessitates. Acedia is combination of listlessness, undirected anxiety, and inability to concentrate.”

With the next wave of Covid inflight, if this feels like something you are experiencing, it could be acedia. The initial novelty of adapting to the first wave with restricted lifestyle was fun or at least interesting in the initial wave as we adapted to this new way of living. However, in this second round, it is no longer novel and may be a bit vexing as we stare at our screens in dreariness. Those things that we did to pass time are no longer amusing or even interesting. Are you starting to have the feeling of acedia?

As leaders, it can happen to us and it can happen to our employees. What can we do? The first thing is call it by its name. Having a name to what you may be feeling connects it to something real.  Once it is recognized as something real, you can more easily do something about this. What you may have is “acedia”. How that we recognize it by its name and that it is a real thing, we can try to put actions in place to minimize it. Here are some things we can do for ourselves.

Establish a routine. It’s not uncommon in this pandemic that we have let our schedules slide a bit.  However, while this may be good for vacations, it has been proven that having a routine can be helpful in times of uncertainty. Providing a routine to our day can give us a sense of control, reduce stress levels, and improve our focus and productivity. 

Find a new non-screen interest such as a hobby, sport, or outdoor activity. The advantage of this is these types of activities are absorbing and encourages you to take some time for yourself. Focusing in on an interest can relieve stress by keeping us engaged in something we enjoy.

Initiate an exercise regimen. As the pandemic can make it challenging to participate in a health club, setting up a home regimen with minimal equipment can be beneficial. This can include a walking, jogging, or cycling regimen. The benefits of regular exercise are that it can improve our mental health and mood, and boosts your energy level. 

Finally, allow time to celebrate. This includes personal events like birthdays, anniversaries, graduations and work-related events like releases into production, retrospectives, work anniversaries, and other employee’s personal events. The act of celebrating can relieve stress.  Remember, acedia is often a result of being drawn to negative news. Taking the time to celebrate breaks the negative cycle and changes the focus to something more positive.

If you are feeling bored, listless, unmotivated, afraid and uncertain, what you might be experiencing is acedia. If you think you are, put a name to it so you recognize it as some real. More importantly, put actions in place to mitigate the effects. This may include establishing a routine, finding a new non-screen interest, initiating a new exercise regimen, and allowing time to celebrate.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Importance of Gauging and Maintaining Remote Team Health

Many companies and teams therein, are encountering what it means to work fully remote.  Companies have applied work from home (WFH) benefits for a variety of reasons such as WFH Fridays, WFH to accommodate home needs, and WFH for those who live a distance from the office, to name a few. When the coronavirus pandemic thrust itself into the human condition, it required drastic work-related measures.  One such measure is having full teams work from home. 

As companies are navigating unchartered territories with this virus, many are navigating what it means to provide WFH options. With working from home has become the new normal and with work not slowing down for many, how do you ensure the mental health and well-being of team employees?  
As employees work from home, many are stressed by the isolation from co-workers, friends, and extended family. Add to this, being forced into close quarters with spouses and children on a continuous basis adds further anxiety and stress. As past routines are disrupted and new routines are established, this causes physical and mental strain on team members.

With all of this isolation and change, it is more important than ever to gauge and maintain team health.  As a leader, what are some practical tips that you can do to help team members maintain their well-being? The answer revolves around experimenting with a variety of options.  What might work for one team may not work for others. The key is to get started, include some continuous activities, and some impromptu activities all focused on team health. Here are some ideas.      

Getting started
  • Initiate and continually gauge the health of the team. This could be in the form of morning check-ins or online pulse surveys (e.g., 1-10 on how you are feeling). This helps you gauge when team health is a concern on not. Depending on what you learn, there may be continuous and impromptu things you can do. 

  • Periodically ask the team via brainstorming ideas from the team as to what they need to maintain team health.  Soliciting ideas from them makes the team feel that you care.  
  • Have virtual yoga mornings.  This can be initiated by either a professional yoga instructor or one of the team members that enjoys a leadership opportunity. Similarly, this could be a virtual walking morning.
  • Provide flexibility in work hours.  As spouses and children are within the remote office (aka, home), flexible hours help relieve stress from juggling family schedules
  • Set boundaries on work schedule. As the house becomes the “office”, it can be harder to escape the office and ‘shut off’. Ensure there are work hour boundaries set so team members feel they have relief.  
  • Recommend employees connect with one other team member every day in a face-to-face manner via video conferencing.  This helps team members feel connected to one another in a visual manner.

  • Periodically apply a Wellness weekend.  This is effectively a long weekend where team members have Friday off to give them time to unwind beyond the normal 2-day weekend.
  • Send care packages to team members. These packages do not have to be extensive and should be focused on highlighting appreciation.  This surprise also makes for a way to break the monotony of everyday life.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Three Tips for Engaging Remote Meetings

How do you make remote meetings productive and engaging? With the time of COVID-19 and working from home in general, it is important to have real practical tips to make remote meetings engaging.  What are some tips?  Here are three that have been tested to provide greater odds of helping you keep sessions productive and engaging.
Ask people to turn on their cameras.  When people have their cameras turned on, it creates a visual environment that makes people realize that they should be engaged much like in an actual physical room.  You know everyone can see you and you can see everyone.  This helps keeps you and others engaged.

Check in on people.  Checking in on people throughout the session helps keep them engaged. Examples include “Gemma, what do you think about this?”, or “Trey, does this make sense?”, or “Rami, what would you add to the discussion?”  Ensure you rotate who you check in with so everyone is engaged and you don’t pick on anyone more than others.  This has an added benefit of getting people’s feedback on the direction of the session. The longer the session, the more frequently you should check-in.

Ask people to co-host or lead.  Often times, a meeting is in several parts. Invite a few people to lead a section or discussion during the session.  This could simply be asking them to read the slides (ensuring they are tuning in) or asking them to facilitate a discussion on one of the topics (or a combination).

As remote learning and working from home is becoming more prevalent and even the norm, it is more important than ever to have practical tips to make remote working more engaging. Ultimately it is important to keep people engaged in any type of session, whether remote or in-person.  Keeping people engaged is both a science and an art, ergo it isn’t easy.  Try these tips and let me know if it helps you.   

Monday, May 25, 2020

Visualizing your Team with the Team Constellation

Your team is real. It is made up of real people that support each other toward common goals. We often get so engrossed in our work that we forget the important connections and relationships across and beyond a team. What really is a team?  Emergn defines a team as having a shared purpose, compelling direction, complementary skills, shared responsibilities, and common performance goals. It is important to imprint the team in a visual way.  Equally important for a team to visual themselves is for those that support the team to be visually connected.  
One way to envision a team is through the visual Team Constellation.  The team constellation is a visual way to share who is on the team and who may contribute to the team.  The question is how to create the constellation? If you have a team room or area, you can construct one on a white board or on large poster paper, although in either case, I recommend using post-its to represent the people. I’ve had some teams print out small photos of their faces. For distributed teams, you can create a digital online constellation via a number of graphic or illustrative tools and place them on team sites or printed out so they can be shared.
I typically recommend a Team Constellation with three tiers as there are three levels of responsibility that typically are needed to embrace the team’s needs.  The first tier includes the core team who are committed to work directly on the product or service and meet the definition of team (in the first paragraph). They provide leadership for each increment, self-organize around the work, build the deliverables, and attend team ceremonies.
The second tier are the extended team that contribute to the team but are not fully committed. They may provide subject matter expertise in a specialized area or a missing temporary skill needed by the team to build the next increment. For work done in an increment, they should participate in any planning, stand-up, or demo related ceremonies.
The third tier are the stakeholders that support and advocate for the team.  Those in this tier, have an interest in seeing the team’s work become successful.  This will include providing sponsorship in terms of people and resources.  They help with communicating progress more broadly and may attend team demos to observe what is being build and may provide feedback. They may also help the team remove roadblocks beyond the team level.

Consider taking time to visualize your team via a team constellation. Take a moment to adapt the definitions of each tier. I suggest making it publicly available so that others understand those that work on and support the team. It can also help you solidify what it really means to be a team.  

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Optimizing Sandwich-making to feed the Hungry

Over the past two months, my family made 200 sandwiches each week for the hungry who were impacted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Outside of the New York/New Jersey area in the US, the Boston area is the next hardest hit by the coronavirus.  Many people in the underserved community lost their jobs and their ability to earn income. As the US doesn’t provide the same level of support as most European countries, there are many lacking food security. This is where my family wanted to help. The idea of helping the hungry was really the brainchild of my wife, through one of her friends. I am merely a cog to ensure the manufacturing of the sandwiches are optimized. 

When we started to make sandwiches, I immediately wanted a manufacturing line with the least number of bottlenecks to optimize the speed of making sandwiches. Sounds a bit geeky?  Yeah, that's who I am, that's what I do.  Per the illustration, we created 5 stations.
  • Station 1 is where multiple bags of bread was opened up. 
  • Station 2 is where scoops of egg salad are placed into pieces of bread. 
  • Station 3 is where the scoop of egg salad is spread across the bread and a top piece is added to form a sandwich.
  • Station 4 is where the sandwich is cut. 
  • Station 5 is where the sandwiches are stacked into trays.

In the first increment of the process, I opened the bags of bread in station 1 and put the scoop of egg salad on the bread in station 2.  In station 3, my younger daughter spread the egg salad and pieced the sandwich together. In station 4, my older daughter cut the sandwich and in station 5, my wife put the sandwiches in the tray, sealed the trays when they were filled, and staged the next tray.

After reflecting on how we did in the first increment, I realized that I may be the bottleneck as I had to open bags of bread in station 1, scoop egg salad in station 2, and pass that to station 3 where my daughter would sometimes be waiting.  For the next increment (i.e., the next week), we adapted a little bit for better flow.  This time my wife opened up the bags of bread in station 1, and I then could focus my effort in station 2.  This improvement helped reduce the overall time by 10% to create the 200 sandwiches. 

Upon approaching the third increment (i.e., the third week), I recognized with the adaption during the second increment, the bottleneck moved to station 3 where the spreading occurred which left the sandwich cutter in station 4 occasionally waiting.  For the third increment, not only would I scoop the egg salad onto the bread in station 2, I would occasionally spread it when I saw station 4 low on sandwiches to cut.  This helped us optimize flow and reduce the overall delivery time by another 8% by identifying bottlenecks and addressing wait states.

While it is an exercise in optimizing flow which gets my geeky side excited, overall it is really about feeding the underserved community during the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m proud of my wife and family for having the motivation and charitable spirit of making sandwiches that helps feed the many hungry families.  

To learn more about optimizing flow for faster delivery, visit Value Flow Quality at: