How Should a Scrum Team Handle Holidays?

The holiday season is upon us and rather than doing another post about my goals or new years resolutions I thought it’d be interesting to look at how a Scrum Team should handle the challenges of having so many people off at once.

What should a Scrum Team do if a large proportion of the team are on holiday at once? Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

There are two sensible approaches towards Scrum over holidays when a significant proportion of the team are taking holidays. The first is to stop sprinting and resume in the new year. The team won’t set any Sprint Goals and anyone who is working will “make themselves useful” through tacking tech debt, process, or L&D type work. It’s passable… but I don’t like it.

The second option is to look at what exactly Scrum provides us with. Firstly, Scrum states that the next Sprint begins as soon as the previous one expires. There is no concept of breaking sprints in the Scrum Guide and the expectation is that a team will continue to run sprints from the day they’re formed (or adopt Scrum) until they’re either dispanded (or select another framework).

Instead we should look for an achievable Sprint Goal with at least one potentially shippable Increment which meets the Defintion of Done. This should be agreed by the entire team (or at least everyone who’s available). Therefore, rather than abandoning Sprints or Scrum altogether over the holiday seasons the team should look at what is achievable in the limited amount of capacity which will be available. Even if the goal is to fix a single typo then that is acceptable. As long as there is a single team member working at all then there should be a feasible Sprint Goal, the trick becomes looking at what’s realistic and possible during that time.

Do not be tempted to compromise. Whatever the increment should be it must meet the team’s Defintion of Done. Don’t “develop but not test” or “code but not merge”. Look for a single, simple improvement to the product which can be delivered in that time. Even if it’s only a simple bug fix.

With that suggestion I’ll leave you as I’ve got family stuff to do. This post is due to go out on Monday so if you celebrate Christmas I hope you’ve enjoyed it and if it’s your New Year coming up then I wish you all the best for it.

Thanks for reading and see you in 2022!

Why Your New Year’s Goal is a REALLY Bad Idea

Given my previous posts about goals and ability to pivot when things go awry you may be surprised by the title of this post. I’ve been setting annual goals for my direct reports for years (as has most managers across the world). Every year we look at what we want to achieve and then set key people goals to achieve them. More and more I’m coming to believe that they don’t work.

At the start of the year I posted the following goals that I’d set myself:

  • Read 21 Books
  • Write 52 Blog Posts
  • Pass my PSM1
  • Finish my new book
  • Finish painting my Stark and Lannister armies!

So where did I get to with two weeks to go?

  • Read 21 Books – currently sat on 100 books
  • Write 52 Blog Posts – So far I’ve posted every week (plus a few more for the junior developer series I wrote)
  • Pass my PSM1 – Actually I’ve passed my PSM-I, PSM-II, PSM-III, PSD-I, and SPS
  • Finish my new book – Done, published Donuts and Dragons which is for sale on LeanPub
  • Finish painting my Stark and Lannister armies! – Done, also painted my Imperial Knights and am putting the finishing touches to my Salamanders

So why if I’ve met all of these goals do I believe they’re a bad idea?

What is the problem with annual goals? Photo by Andres Ayrton on Pexels.com

In order to deliver these I broke each of these down into quarterly goals. Looking at where I was and where the next steps were, this allowed me to adapt more readily if I was ahead of behind. It also allowed me to introduce new goals (such as the Azure and AWS exams I’ve been doing).

I’ve also massively exceeded three of the five goals I set myself. I had no idea at the start of the year that I could read 100 books (even with Audible’s help). I set what I thought was an ambitious goal and then smashed it. The same happened with the scrum.org exams.

When you set goals over such a long timeframe you either complete them very quickly, they become irrelevant, or you want to bring in something new. With 2022 starting soon, or I suppose more relevantly Q1 this is a brilliant opportunity to look at we want to achieve.

In Scrum we have a Product Goal which is a long term vision which we then break down into incremental Sprint Goals. I’d recommend you to do the same. Draw up around five long term goals, they don’t need to have a completion date but they’re something you would like to achieve in the future. Next, look at what you are going to do between January and March to move yourself towards them (spoiler alert – you can do a LOT in 90 days). Then, when you get to the end of March take a look at the progress you’ve made and plan the next steps. Consider using Personal KPIs and Swimlanes to ensure you’ve got time and focus to deliver them.

A picture of some Imperial Knights… because they’re cool!

This has been my strategy for the last 6 months or so and it’s worked really well for me. In January I’m going to suggest it to some of my direct reports and see if they can come up with strong quarterly goals rather than daunting 12 months ones.

I have one final thought, if we’re working to a 3 monthly calendar now instead of an annual one. Do the quarters (Jan – March, April – June, July – September, and October – December) really make the best sense or do seasons work better? What are your Winter goals? What are you going to deliver this summer? I see some real opportunities here to tie your accomplishments into the weather and daylight hours instead of some artificial business calendar. I haven’t tried it yet but I’ll let you know the results if I do.

What are your goals for the next 3 months? Do you agree with my suggestion to ignore annual goals altogether?

When Personal Goals Don’t Go To Plan

As you may know if you’ve been following my blog for a while I’m a big fan of personal goals. Although I’ve ammended my process along the way (I no longer set a goal longer than 3 months) I still believe in this and start each quarter consolidating what I want to achieve over the next three months. I’ve found this method to be incredibly successful and it’s really helped me achieve things this year I didn’t believe was possible.

However, the best laid plans don’t always go as we’d wish and for a number of reasons Q4 has been very difficult. Goals create transparency (remember I am a scrum coach after all), and they allow reflection. I want to share my experience publicly in the hope it helps other people following a similar goal setting methodology.

What do we do when we set ambitious goals but the universe conspires against you? Photo by Nathan Cowley on Pexels.com

In October I published my Q4 goals. For context this is what they were and this is where I’m up to (wth about 3 weeks to go):

  • Take 2021 Book Count to 100 – I’m currently listening to book 100
  • Pass AWS Security Specialist Exam – Booked for the 17th of December
  • TakeĀ  SPS ExamPassed!
  • Build a Lean Coffee Website – Not started
  • Publish a Short Story with the Donuts and Dragons Team – Not started
  • Paint my Lannister army of A Song of Ice and Fire miniatures – Done!
  • Paint my Warhammer 40k Salamanders – In progress (the primer on the last tank is drying as I type this)
  • Finish the core pages of the CKD Site – Not done
  • Pages Get Weight Down to 215lbs (really this time) – Nope, shall we say stress eating and takeaways have taken over?
  • To hit a financial goal I’ve set myself – Had a large unexpected financial expense

So a real mixed bag. There are a few unexpected curveballs (such as the financial one) however many of these are because I’ve lose nearly a month due to a very very tough few weeks. We’re still going through this so frankly who knows what’s going to happen between now and the end of the month.

But wait a minute… Isn’t the whole point of Scrum to be able to inspect and adapt when circumstances change!?

I conduct weekly reviews and have been monitoring my progress against these goals (yes, I have a burn up chart for most of them). I knew which ones were at risk and I knew which ones I’d failed completely.

This tracking creates transparency, the weekly review creates an opportunity for inspection and adaption much like a Scrum Team’s Sprint Review. I had the choice of sticking my fingers into my ears and mumbling to myself and then throwing up my hands at the end of Q4 saying there was nothing I could do. But these are my personal goals – there isn’t really many more important things to achieve (current crisis aside).

So what did I do?

Firstly the following goals can go:

  • Build a Lean Coffee Website
  • Publish a Short Story with the Donuts and Dragons Team
  • Finish the core pages of the CKD Site

These are represent a large investment of time for relatively low return. They’re either speculative (the LeanCoffee site) or promotional (a free short story to publicise Donuts and Dragons). I can still choose to do any of these things in the future (I would really like to write that story and finish my CKD site). But they don’t have to be done right now. What is time limited and very important is the AWS exam.

So I’ve adapted. By not splitting my focus over those additional three goals (which seemed perfectly realistic two months ago) I’ve maximised my chances of delivering the most important one. The AWS Security Exam. That gives me more time and focus towards it and (hopefully) increases my chances of passing. Now I just have to see what happens next week!

Anyway – that’s what I do when my personal goals don’t go quite to plan and how I create transparency, inspect, and adapt when required. Not just with my Scrum Teams but in my personal life.

Managing Dependencies Between Teams

When scaling Scrum the most important aspect to manage is the dependencies. Team should be working towards a combined goal which will be produced as an integrated increment at the end of the Sprint. This is not easy, as almost any broken down work will result in dependencies between the multiple teams.

It is so important to manage this that Nexus actually creates a team (called the Nexus Integration Team) who’s primary responsibility is the managing of dependencies to create this incremented increment.

There’s nothing more frustraiting than needing to get to work but being blocked by another team. Photo by Burst on Pexels.com

When managing dependencies there is a priority of severity.

  1. Another team in the same Sprint
  2. Same team in the same Sprint
  3. Another team in an earlier Sprint
  4. Same team in an earlier Sprint

Starting from the top (anohter team in the same Sprint) and working down these are the order in which a dependency will give you a really bad day. Obviously waiting for another team to complete something in the same sprint as you has far more potential to go wrong than your own team needing to complete something in this sprint to be able to work on something in the next.

Scrum.org has a great article on this which discusses how to track and manage dependencies. My personal advice:

  • List out the dependencies for every piece of work, you can’t manage what you can’t identify
  • Eliminate where possible (ideally in advance), manage where not
  • Use a Nexus Daily Scrum (slightly different to the more commonly known Scrum of Scrums) to highlight cross team impedements and ensure they are resolved as soon as possible
  • Use a visible board to track dependencies and impediments as well as work.

Hopefully this helps. Remember, each of your scrum teams should be producting a single integrated increment at the end of each sprint and aiming towards the same Product Goal. If that’s the case then identifying and resolving problems between the team will be much easier because everyone is working towards the same vision.

What are your experiences of scaling scrum? How did you manage dependencies between teams?