Tag: task board

Biz Agility Café #2: Sustainable pace, timely invoicing and the multitasking monster

Jessica and Darren

Jennifer Wendling from Fuzed Notions and Darren Jorgensen with his partner from Molly Media Studios joined me last Friday for warm eats and dialogue at the 2nd ever Business Agility Café. It was as fun as productive since Jennifer and Darren know each other so well. Darren was beaming at how reducing multitasking is helping Molly Media get more stuff done, something he learned about at the Business Agility workshop a couple of weeks ago.

Topics we covered:

  1. From Jennifer: how to decrease time from completing projects to getting invoices out? Some of Jennifer’s projects take one or even two months before the invoice goes out, creating cash flow issues and awkwardness asking for payments well after the project is done. We quickly recognized that there are many steps in the process, with Jen involved in most of them, leading to delays. I left Jen with the task of documenting the workflow from project completion to invoice sent to see visually what is happening and how long each step takes. A favourite quote of mine is you can’t manage what you can’t see.
  2. From Darren: using a task board for video production projects. We discussed adding checklists for each status of a task, so that a task cannot move from one status to another. Looking forward to seeing photos!
  3. From Darren: how to find a sustainable pace – too much work leading to burnout. Darren’s new studio will be ready in then new year (yay!) making it less tempting to do work from home (when the equipment isn’t there). I talked about how time boxes and Scrum can create a rhythm and flow that provides the confidence to know when things will get done, lessening the need to work around the clock due to worry about uncertainty.
  4. From Darren and Jennifer: how to reduce feast or famine cycles. Jennifer made some excellent points about nurturing relationships on an ongoing basis, keeping in contact with people so they think of you when a need for your services arises. Most of all Jennifer drove home the need for a marketing plan, so these activities align with company goals and are baked into the work plan instead of being starved for time. Good points that I took home with me!

Having done two of these cafés now, in the spirit of inspect and adapt, I’m planning to make the following improvements for future cafés:

  1. At the start, give returning participants a brief chance to update others on their experiments since the last café. Participants can use the Business Agility group to provide more-indepth information if they want to.
  2. Provide concept maps for people to jot down information as it’s discussed. Concept maps are a visual tool useful for capturing small bits of information in relation to each other. Writing down helps to retain learned information.
  3. Record and publish a video summary of each topic discussed, with new insights gained and planned next steps.
  4. Use the last 10 minutes to reflect on what we learned, the format and next steps for each participant.

Would you like to join us for the next Business Agility Café? Join the Business Agility group to be notified when the next one will be scheduled in the new year. It’s a low-volume email list for sharing and supporting each other in our experiments to increase value for our clients, our teams, ourselves and the world. What more reasons do you need? 🙂

Options for team task board when one team member remote

Team task board
Team task board

A new client of mine new to Agile has the entire team located in one office except for one person, a DBA living in Texas, one time zone away. I want the local team to benefit from having a highly visible team task board, which usually means cards/stickies posted on the wall like the picture above.

At the other end of the spectrum, the remote member needs to be informed of sprint progress, to know what tasks to do and to update the tasks he is working on. That level of interaction usually means everyone has to use a digital tool, which in this case seems unfair to the local team’s productivity and communication, given all but one are local.

The best solution, of course is to find some way for that person to move locally. It’s not often that will happen, but moving is the first option to consider. The cost of having a remote team member is borne by the full team, so make sure the remote person adds enough value to justify the cost.

I then went on Twitter to ask for suggestions, and got two, based their experiences:

  • Rick Scott (@shadowspar) has worked as a remote team member for several years, mostly as a tester. He suggests using a web cam focused on the task board, or take pictures and post on a project wiki.
  • Andy Brandt (@andybrandt) proposes projecting a digital team board on the wall. The digital tool gives the remote person the means to update his work and get details like acceptance tests to do his work. The local team benefits from a highly visible task board.

My thoughts on these approaches:

  • Rick’s suggestion is ok for seeing the overall picture, but doesn’t go far enough. It’s hard to see all the details on stickies from a picture, and acceptance tests are often written on the back side of a user story card. Writing all details on the front is an easy modification, but that doesn’t solve the problem of seeing everything clearly. The remote member still has no easy way to update his progress either.
  • Andy’s idea seems like a good compromise. Everyone can access and read / update the same information. The local team has their highly visible task board. The key drawback is all changes are made through a tool. Mike Cohn feels that the difference between the two approaches is dramatic.

Idea: Synchronize physical with digital

I asked Mike Cohn for his insights on this topic, and he responded with a great post. The solution he proposes is to have the Scrum Master synchronize a physical task board for the local team and an electronic version for the remote person:

A shared spreadsheet is normally sufficient for this, but some teams opt for a more specialized tool, which is fine. Many tools offer 5-10 user free licenses and since the tool is only needed by the ScrumMaster and one remote employees, the free license is adequate.

Mike then suggests using a marker system to minimize the effort needed to keep the two versions in synch. The Scrum Master then only has to update the flagged tasks, saving her time. This can be done using post-its or coloured dots. The Scrum Master simply removes the markers after updating the tasks.

Derek Mahlitz, a Scrum Master for a team with one remote member confirms this approach is effective for his team:

We do this exact process for my team. We have 7 members in 1 office in NY and 1 member at home in FL. The collocated team updates our task board and I (SM) replicate in an Excel spreadsheet that is stored in our sharepoint solution. That way he can keep up with the tasks. We also do video for daily standup and all collocated team members have webcams for quick meetings throughout the day with FL home worker. We are a year into scrum and this has worked great without issue.

Out of all the solutions I’ve heard, Mike Cohn’s seems like the best approach without extravagant spending on touch screen surface hardware. My client suggested trying a Wii controller to update a web-based task board projected on a wall. Can’t go wrong in trying that.  🙂