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Jeff Sutherland, co-creator of Scrum, was at the Agile Atlanta / Turner Agile group meeting tonight in Atlanta, GA to give a talk called “Shock Therapy: Self Organizing in Scrum”.The talk was motivated by his history of work in teaching teams to do Scrum, which is designed to be 5-10x the productivity of industry-standard teams. After several interventions and studying how many organizations tried to incorporate Scrum, the question emerged: why do some achieve the productivity gains and others don’t? How can we consistently get the productivity gains?

Jeff is now working with a venture capital firm (OpenView Venture Partners), who really want to know the answer to these questions! Makes sense though – if you are investing in a company that delivers value via a software product, you want the team to be productive! Makes so much sense it generated a business model – Pivotal Labs, in San Francisco, which incubates startup development teams to train them on XP Agile practices for 3 months, gets teams to their first iteration of the product and then sends them on their way – and they have incubated over 40 startups! So, what’s the secret sauce for getting hyperproductivity?

The basic approach devised to get replicable hyperproductivity is similar to that of a sensei master teaching martial arts: first there are good practices, and no choice. Do as the master does, and once you get that, you can be more creative and change the rules, but until then, the way is very rigid. Jeff told the story of Scott Downey playing the role of Master ScrumMaster at MySpace in this capacity. Scott stepped into enormous cultural inertial (1/3 waterfall, 1/3 ScrumButt) and reformed a number of teams, most achieving over 400% gains in productivity (with one reaching 1600+%…until the team was dismantled to help a waterfall project that was behind schedule).

They called the technique “Shock Therapy”, which comes out of recognizing the need for situational leadership, or meeting people where they are in terms of preparedness for adopting Scrum. Given that about half of Scrum teams don’t meet 3 basic rules (produce working, tested software each iteration; timebox iterations; have “agile” requirements) and only 10% meet a more complete set of rules (with the catch often being that no one knows the team velocity), it isn’t surprising that a bit of discipline and directive leadership is needed (see more in ScrumButt Test presentation).

At ifPeople, we’ve been practicing Agile for over 4 years and Scrum for a bit over a year (now mixed with Lean, Kanban and distributed team adaptations). One thing we have to deal with is product implementation, rather than pure custom development. Luckily a participant in the talk tonight brought that up in a question, and a connection was made to a recent article by Scott Ambler on using Agile with COTS (Commerical Off-the-Shelf Systems), which applies pretty well to the process we try to lead our customers through (though we implement both Commerical (Salsa and Salesforce.com) and Open Source (Plone) off-the-shelf software)l. Anyway, check out the article here.

Some other insights and quotables from the talk:

  • Developer perception is often reversed, and built around the idea that optimal performance is a solo operation. This is supported by reward systems (career, performance reviews, salary), that focus on individual (over team) performance.
  • “We don’t want managers, we want leaders.”
  • Toyota’s approach: Half of what you know is wrong; your job is to figure out which half. Inspect and adapt is the only way.
  • Teams can’t have any task that only one person can do, as that promotes silos and generates bottlenecks.

For more on Jeff, check out his website.

To connect up in Atlanta, see the Agile Atlanta site and the Scrum Atlanta meetup.

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Thank you to those who attended my session at Plone Conference 2008, and for the feedback. The session was really a covert attempt to form the first Plone ultimate frisbee team (wink). Not a single toss missed or off target. Here are the slides and relevant links:

I don’t think the slideshow is very helpful without commentary, so I may add an audio track in future if there is interest (add a request as a comment).

Team project management tools to consider:

  • Extreme Management, by Zest. Plone-based tool that has support for iterations (sprints), user stories, tasks and the version in trunk has a very slick time booking feature.
  • Cluemapper, by Jazkarta. A layer on top of Trac, helps organize multiple projects. Not much Scrum functionality yet, but if you like Trac, you’ll like its time booking, user and project management enhancements.
  • Agilito by ifPeople. A Django-based Scrum tool that has support for product backlog, team iteration dashboard, burndown chart and a single page view that has all the related elements – attachments, tasks, test cases (acceptance tests).
Agile test tools:
  • Roadrunner will help you achieve TDD with Plone without losing your mind waiting for automated tests to run.
  • There are some other useful tools I have heard of that I will try and get links to. I forget what they are, Jordan Baker (hexsprite on IRC) knows.

I’d like to hear back from more of you on what you liked, what could have been better, and what additional information would be helpful. Leave your feedback as a comment or contact me at gerry AT ifpeople DOT net.

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