All posts by Brent Barton

Agile in Defense Conference

As the Department of Defense focuses on “delivering 75% solutions in months [instead of] 100% solutions in years” Agile is finding its way into big, traditionally managed programs. This event specifically addresses Agile in Defense. My presentation was an invitation following a successful meeting at the ADAPT meeting and also included tips for making Agile successful. See presentation link below. Several of the speakers were from Defense departments and provided good insights.

The Keynote speaker, Dr. Steven J. Hutchison, provided some compelling information starting with his problem statement. He showed the workflow diagram of the defense acquisition process. Dr. Hutchison also showed some compelling information where test integrates throughout the lifecycle process this includes all testing types including OT and others.

Dr. Robert Charette followed with an solid reminder about risk management. The specific types of risk that Dr. Charette discussed included acquisition and that the acquisition folks must be involved. Dr. Charette also cautioned us that several good past change efforts have failed.

Mr. Tony Stout did an excellent job focusing on the people the qualities of good teams and how to build a quality workforce, specifically in Agile environments. This was the second speaker from a test focus. I find this refreshing.

Mr. Ronald Pontius is heading the Council on the changes to governance in order to support agile development. Mr. Pontius updated us on the responses from several agencies and working groups to support section 804

Speaking at PMO Symposium 2011

I just finished speaking at the PMO Symposium 2011 this morning. This has been a great conference focusing on how do organizations deliver value. Historically, there has been a lot of challenges between PMOs and software teams, notably in the Agile space. Many of the conflicts are misunderstandings. The true conflicts can be addressed better when we start migrating from constraint-driven to value-driven management. Many people asserted that the PMO’s need to help organizations achieve success through Lean and Agile principles, practices and methods.

My presentation addressed the issues of communication between business and agile teams. Traditional EVM makes no sense in software (and is potentially harmful) because claiming value earned based on intermediate work products–without an assertion of quality–does not provide reasonable forecasts. Agile provides an assertable and inspectable quality. Also, by ordering in terms of highest Business Value and risk considerations along with potentially shippable increments, I believe starts to include notions of value. Still, AgileEVM measures performance against plans (that can be re-baselined every iteration if needed). AgileEVM integrates cost management. Doing it well means not giving up what Agile offers: adaptive planning, quality.

Faster, Better, and Cheaper than Sticky Notes (Post-Its)

For several years now, I have been using less and less sticky notes. This is because I use something much better: Drafting Dots. They work better, last longer, cost less, do not harm any surfaces, and make my life much easier.

Now, I can easily use mail merge or tables to print out stories using four cards per page.  I use card stock (120# in US) and often use colored paper to color the product backlog.  Any printer, a paper cutter and I am quickly ready with a stack of cards that work like index cards or sticky notes for emergent conversation and valuable collaboration.  We can lay things out on tables and then put things on walls which, is something sticky notes cannot do well.

I am always ready with index cards and drafting dots.  They are cheaper and easier to use in many flexible ways.  I have seen drafting dots hold up cards for a month and then get moved without issue.  Try them out, you may find yourself using far fewer sticky notes.

Integrating Quality into Portfolio Management, PMI Silicon Valley Chapter Dinner Meeting Jan 2011

This presentation focused on two themes: asserting quality – an opportunity agile presents – and leveraging adaptive planning, which is a consequence of agile software development. AgileEVM became a big part of this talk when the audience requested more information about it at dinner.

The Changing Role of Middle Managers

This is an exercise that we run to help understand how manager’s roles change.   This is a re-posting of a session at Agile Open Northwest 2009 [[]].  I opened with stories describing the reality that Senior Leadership is declaring their companies are “going Agile,” and that doing it well presents many difficulties. A potentially intractable problem centers on equipping Middle Managers to be supportive of agility within the business strategy. For sure, their job needs to change from a little to a lot. This is an exercise first described by Pete Deemer [[]].

Defining Middle Managers for this Discussion

We need a definition to continue. In this session we settled on

  • Not Senior Leadership
  • Not individual contributors
  • Intermediaries at any level in between

The discussion of a team versus individuals did not force us to reject this definition as sufficient.

Gather and Process Data

We broke into small teams of 3-5 people and wrote down the “things managers do:” one per sticky note

Next, we had the groups integrate (removing duplicates as we go) their work onto two flip charts labeled:

  • Fine in Agile
  • Conflicts with (or not needed) in Agile

We then reviewed the “Fine in Agile” information. With a bit of work, this could turn into a valid job description.

In the “Conflicts with (or not needed) in Agile” area we realized we could convert this into an action list to change to role of manager for the better.  We also found items that could be re-written in opposite form and included into the job description (e.g. Change “maintain status quo” to “challenge status quo”).

The “Hook”

Then we asked:

  • Would you be more or less useful if your role was like this (pointing to the “Fine in Agile set of roles)?
  • Would your job be more or less interesting if your role was like this?

The majority of everyone who answers these questions would prefer to have a job like the one described on the “Fine in Agile” chart.


  • This can be run with Managers to help them define their new roles
  • This can be run with teams to provide input into the organization
  • Take these to Senior Leadership and HR (Who else?) and help equip the organizations middle managers to support Agile!

Boeing Webinar – Integrating Quality in Portfolio Management – oct 2010

Brent Barton and Chris Sterling presented this at a webinar for Boeing.
View more presentations from Brent Barton.

AgileEVM Overview Shows the connections between releases and portfolios

AgileEVM ( is a powerful way to view performance of your portfolio. The portfolio focuses on releases because this is the only unit of work where cost and benefits can really be compared.

Using outcomes from each iteration, rich information is provided. Take a look!

Movements of a Hypnotic Nature at AgilePalooza in Redmond, WA

Discussed the basis for high performing teams and the principles of Scrum as a framework , empirical process control mechanism, and the values. We then ran “Movements of a Hynpotic Nature” that helps us understand emergent design, iterations (if you only touch it once, you are not iterating), teamwork and operating from high-level requirements. This is based on cross-functional, self-organizing teams and overlapping development phases that are the roots of Scrum

Integrating Quality into Portfolio Management

Chris and I presented “Integrating Quality into Portfolio Management” at the BayAPLN last night.  I played the role of Earl and Chris played Geoff in several vignettes that described several conversations at different stages of the most strategic initiatives in the company.

1.  We just finished our annual portfolio planning.  Geoff is in great shape because his Saturn Alpha release went so well.  Earl let’s him know he is doing great and keep it up.

2.  Later (several months) Geoff comes to Earl with a problem.  They need to slip the schedule!  Defects are spiraling out of control.  Earl is so upset because everything is impacted because of dependencies.  Earl yells in helpless frustration, “Just get it done!”

3.  Still later (several iterations) Geoff comes back to Earl.  The goal of every iteration has been “Integrate.”  Dependencies are causing huge problems.  Still, things are better.  Forecasts are converging and it looks like a release is becoming predictable.  Earl wants to know how he can help prevent this in the future because it looks like he will keep his job after all.

Quality bit Earl hard…Strategic Planners and Portfolio Planners must understand quality or schedules will be at risk.  Quality problems often reveal themselves late in release cycles when options are few.

The Daily 15 Minutes of Fun

For the second time I find myself approving of a Daily Stand-up that is longer than 15 minutes.   This is different than a Daily Meeting that is declared complete and then a problem solving session (often with only part of the team) takes place while the issues are fresh in people’s minds.

Meet Carrie (pretend that is her real name).  The team she is part of is “sort of” collocated.  Most of them occupy a portion of a massive cube farm that makes collaboration a one or two person event at a time.  The Daily Stand-Up meeting is a sit-down and lasts about a half-hour.  On the other hand, they joke and laugh and have a good time for about 15 minutes before settling into the real purpose of the meeting.  I asked Carrie, “Does it help?”

The answer to this one question convinced me this was the perfect thing to do.  Carrie responded, “Yes, this is the time where they get to bond and have fun together.  There are no similar interactions like this any other time. It really brings the team together!  Sprints go much better since this started.”  I thought, “What a great use of 15 minutes!”

I realized I had seen this before with an executive team using Scrum practices to run the company.  A Product Backlog and Sprint Task Board covered part of their beautiful view in the meeting room that adjoined the CEO’s office.  They were faithful with Sprint cadences, periodic retrospectives and velocity tracking.  They used some kanban practices to pull their stories through.  It was very focused and productive.

Yet, the daily meeting with all the CxO’s, and legal counsel took 30 minutes every day.  It always started out with good-humored needling, a touch of politics, local business happenings, and even a few pranks.   Most of it was extremely funny and no one was “safe.”  The standard meeting goals were always accomplished, and the group would head back to their offices.   It took me awhile to realize this meeting was a bonding activity more than an agile meeting.  They had adopted their “daily 15 minutes of fun.”

Sometimes we forget how much we work at a break-neck pace.   Sometimes we need to relax and have some fun.  Like continuous integration, where we bite off small chunks of “pain” instead of enduring excruciating integration phases, frequent bits of fun is a great way to do business.

For those of us lucky enough to be on collocated teams, we may not need extra fun.  For those of us that need a bit more fun at work, try something new.  I believe developing great software is both a creative and technically challenging endeavor. If doing it is not fun then something is wrong. We must figure out why it is not fun and do something about it.