Category Archives: Product Owner

Impediment Monkey Overview Video Posted

If you haven’t already checked out our FREE online service, ImpedimentMonkey.com, then check out this overview video describing what it can do for you, your team, and those that you collaborate with to increase the habitability of your team’s delivery environment and deploy continuous improvement on a daily basis.

SeaSPIN Talk: Dollars and Dates Are Killing Agile

Last night I spoke at SeaSPIN on the topic “Dollars and Dates Are Killing Agile”. The focus of this talk is how we can speak more like business with the benefit of building organizations that are more supportive of adaptive planning, continuous improvement and team empowerment. If we do not speak the language of the business and continue to create friction without enabling strategic planning needs that businesses have then we are bound to see Agile methods have a short lifespan in most organizations. Below is the topic description and slides:

Agile teams speak in points and iterations, but project and business managers think in terms of dates and dollars.  This conceptual and language barrier makes strategic business planning, funding, and project status reporting a significant challenge for Agile teams.  Because of these barriers, many successful Agile/Scrum initiatives are discontinued or never expanded.

Puget Sound PMI Talk: Integrating Quality into Project Portfolio Management

Last week I did a talk in Lynnwood, WA with the Puget Sound PMI chapter on “Integrating Quality into Project Portfolio Management”. I feel that the slides were the best yet in providing specific indicators and understanding around the troubles with scaling Agile methods and in strategic decision-making at scale. Although stage, phase, or “gated” approaches don’t provide a better answer than Agile methods, they provide an illusion of knowledge and control that Agile methods do not initially bring to the table. This talk goes into patterns for scaling Agile across an organization, the issues inherent in scaling, and ways to identify, specifically from a quality trend perspective, if there is troublesome waters ahead on specific project endeavors. The focus is on those quality indicators being found amongst all the noise in scaled projects to figure out if the project should be re-committed to, transformed, or killed (reference from Johanna Rothman in her book “Manage Your Project Portfolio”) so that value can be optimized.

So, without further ado, here are the slides…

Interview with Spot On Business: Agility for the Long Haul

On November 1st at 2:00pm ET (11:00am PT) for about 45- to 60-minutes, Gil Broza will have me on as an interview guest on his series “Spot On Business” talking about “Agility for the Long Haul”. You may sign up at http://3pvantage.com/csterling/saveMySeat.php?ver=SC to be part of the conversation. Here is a brief description of the interview topic:

If you’ve already started using Agile methods, surely you’ve seen just how much change and adaptation are involved — already at the single team level!
If you’ve already applied Agile methods across a program, or several unrelated teams, you’d have noticed that their performance is constrained by downstream and upstream functions. Your teams are likely saying, “We need marketing and sales and the business units and operations to also act like us in order to really make an impact.”
And if you’ve been using Agile for more than a couple of years, is performance still great, or is it eroding? Are the Agile mechanisms slowly giving way to “business as usual”?
Please come and join us for the interview.

Managing Software Debt in Practice Presentation

Today at the Scrum Gathering in Seattle, I held a session on “Managing Software Debt in Practice” where we got into:

The presentation had too much for the less than 90 minutes that we had for the session. I did not get into scaling Scrum team patterns and heuristics to manage software debt at scale and also less around testing than I’d hoped. Hopefully it was useful for the participants and they got at least one new idea leaving the session. It is difficult to take a 1-day workshop and create a less than 90 minute talk, as I learn again.

Interview: Assessing ROI of Addressing Software Debt

This week, an interview from SearchSoftwareQuality.com with me came out on the book Managing Software Debt: Building for Inevitable Change. The interview has 2 parts. The first is a discussion of software debt and the second focuses on addressing software debt. Here are links to the interview:

Impediment Management and the Agile Triangle

The Agile Triangle, a concept that was discussed by Jim Highsmith in his book Agile Project Management: Creating Innovative Products, describes how teams and organizations can go beyond the traditional Iron Triangle in defining project success criteria. In the Agile Triangle, the traditional project constraints of schedule, cost, and scope are confined to one point of the triangle. Balancing out the triangle are quality and value. Agile software development practices have provided huge innovations in delivery of working software from an internal and external perspective. Practices such as automated unit testing, Test-Driven Design (TDD), and Continuous Integration (CI) have transformed our industry and enabled new go-to-market strategies for the business of software products.

Agile Triange (Jim Highsmith*) adding Software Debt
Agile Triange (Jim Highsmith*) adding Software Debt

When looking at the Quality point on the triangle, this is where I see the realm of Managing Software Debt providing a strategy to support greater value generation within the defined project constraints, as shown in the diagram above. Creating a software debt management strategy involves thinking about feedback mechanisms for each type of software debt: technical, quality, configuration management, design, and platform experience. For technical debt, which tends to be focused on code, we can use tools such as Sonar to provide feedback on changes. For quality debt, we can look at defect containment metrics, bugs escaping iterations and into releases, as a feedback mechanism to trend. Configuration management debt could include the ability for an application to use 2 scripts, deploy and rollback, for all environment deployments and promotions along with monitoring branching in source control for potential integration issues (Sonar is integrating this capability, as well). Design debt can be monitored using Sonar and design assertion frameworks such as TisUgly for Java that I created and never marketed well a couple years ago. Finally, we can monitor the effectiveness of our platform experience debt management strategy based on impediment resolution cycle time or other team and management measurements.

This last point about impediment management is incredibly important and doesn’t get enough attention in the Agile community, in my opinion. In fact, as someone who is experienced in supporting enterprise Agile adoptions for defined business objectives, impediment management can be a critical element of sustained Agile software development effectiveness. When organizations hit a wall with impediments, mostly organizational impediments to delivering increased value to customers, they become susceptible to reverting towards past practices to reduce noise and ignore the effects of these impediments. The diagram below shows how impediment management is a wrapper around the Agile Triangle to support increased and sustained value delivery over time.

Agile Triange (Jim Highsmith*) adding Impediment Management
Agile Triange (Jim Highsmith*) adding Impediment Management

Impediment management comes down to communication. How are impediments raised? When impediments are not within the team’s realm of control to resolve, how does management support their resolution? At enterprise scale, is there a need to provide visibility to more than 1 or 2 levels higher in the organization? If so, how do these enterprise impediments get handled at strategic levels in the organization? What is your impediment management strategy?

Please let us know your thoughts on the relationship of impediment management and Agile Triangle. Also, tell us in the comments section how you see impediments managed in your organization. What is going well? What could be improved? How are they escalated? We look forward to hearing your thoughts and experiences.

Organizational Impediment Management: Early Risk Detection for Agile

One of the many benefits of Scrum is early identification of roadblocks that could stop a Team from meeting their goals and commitments. At the Daily Scrum meeting, team members  typically answer 3 questions:

  • What have you worked on since we last met?
  • What will you be working on until we meet again?
  • What impediments are blocking our progress?

Many teams start with these 3 questions but then have difficulty not making this meeting into a status meeting for managers. The real focus of this meeting is to identify issues that could impede the Team’s current Sprint delivery commitment. We create burndown and other visible charts and tools to help us spot impediments early so we can respond more effectively.

In our Scrum courses, we make sure that Teams, and especially the ScrumMasters, know how to manage impediments for a Team. There are three main categories of impediments, each managed a little differently. 

  • Some impediments can be fixed by the Team themselves. Some of those are good to track for visibility to the whole Team. 
  • Some impediments are not entirely within the Team’s realm of control and therefore must be escalated so that management around the Team can help resolve them. ScrumMasters must find out how to get the correct folks involved and guide these impediments to resolution.
  • There is a smaller, but crucial set of impediments that are organizational in nature. They are bigger than any one Team and will involve changes in organizational policy, structure, or governance to resolve them.

It is important to adopt a communication plan that addresses how impediments will be managed and escalated in a scaled Scrum environment. In our consulting with organizations that have scaled Scrum teams, we’ve learned just how important effective impediment management at the individual, team, organization, and executive levels can be. When not handled well, the risk of not meeting date and budget commitments increases significantly.

Screen capture of "Add an Impediment" popup dialog on AgileEVM.com.

Given the importance of impediment management on dollars and dates associated with a release, we’ve enhanced AgileEVM  to manage impediments at the release, project, product, program, and project portfolio levels.  There are 6 attributes to an impediment that we have found useful to manage them effectively:

  • Impediment description
  • Importance of impediment resolution (Blocker, Critical, Major, Minor)
  • Action suggested to be taken (optional until impediment is assigned and understood)
  • Owner (optional until someone is assigned to resolve impediment)
  • Due date of when it must be resolved (optional)
  • Release it was identified in (optional)

When impediments are entered into AgileEVM, they are made visible on the “Impediments” tab for every level of the project portfolio.

Remember that using Agile methods such as Scrum do not solve your problems but they do make identifying them early much easier. Only through good communication channels and action do true improvements result from using Agile methods.

How do you manage your impediments at different levels of the organization?  We’re always glad to read your comments.

Training Schedule 2011

Happy New Year! We are looking forward to a great 2011. We have a great lineup of training planned, including our CSM and CSPO offerings, AgileEVM training, and some new trainings.

New Training Offerings

Along with our current training offerings around Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) and Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO) courses, we will also be offering training for:

  • Agile Portfolio and Release Management using AgileEVM
  • Managing Software Debt Workshop (based on our book)
  • Online training and micro-consulting

Although we have been training these unofficially for some time now, these are new official offerings, we are looking for companies and individuals who are interested in taking these courses for a discount. Please let us know if you are interested in test-driving any of these offerings.

CSM and CSPO Training

Lets not forget our CSM and CSPO course listings. You can find a full list of our classes on the Scrum Alliance and on our web site. We will be holding CSM and CSPO classes back-to-back in San Francisco on the following dates:

  • February 15-18
  • March 22-25
  • April 26-29
  • June 14-17
  • August 23-26

Of course, our CSPO course will include introductory training on the use of Innovation Games® to gather data from your customers and stakeholders. We feel strongly that a healthy relationship with your user community and stakeholders is essential to delivering great products.

AgileEVM Training

In fact, we have been working with our customers over the past 6 months on enhancing and improving our own product, AgileEVM. You can take a tour of AgileEVM on our training video page. Please register for a free account today if you don’t already have one. You can manage up to 2 active releases with your free account so please try it out and let us know what you think at AgileEVM Support.

We are looking forward to a great year in 2011. Please let us know if you are interested in our training or consulting services at Sterling Barton.

Our Book is Available: Managing Software Debt – Building for Inevitable Change


I am quite happy about the book that took much of my time over the past couple years has finally come out. Thank you Addison-Wesley for asking me to write a book. Also, I want to thank Jim Highsmith and Alistair Cockburn for accepting the book into their Agile Software Development Series. Finally, I have to thank all of those that have guided, influenced, and supported me over my career and life, with special thanks to my wife and kids who put up with me during the book’s development. My family is truly amazing and I am very lucky to have them!