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Potential Shippable Increment (PSI) is not always a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

As a young father, one day I was wasting my lunch time watching a funny moment on a baby video, while taking tips to teach a thing or two to my own munchkin. (Back to post? Good, read on). At that very moment, overheard a fellow Scrum Master explaining to one of his team members what an MVP is, on a lunch break ! Still not sure if they were wasting their lunch time or I was. Anyway, the conversation was something like this:

Member: Bored of these new terms like PSI, MVP.. what’s the difference anyway? I keep hearing this from the new PO.

SM: Potential Shippable Increment, which is basically the same as the MVP thing you read on the book “The Lean Startup”. The POs can throw any of the phrases to specify a working software which is ready to ship.

Member: Ok, so Minimum Viable Product is like the new brand for PSI.. lol.. got it.

SM: Yeah, different POs uses different phrases, just go along. If he likes calling it PSI, let it be.

Eavesdropping paid off, that’s how I remember where I paused my video earlier. Instantly found an opportunity to arrange a training workshop on lean startup to explain where it all went wrong in the conversation. If you have already spotted where it went wrong, you already know where I am going with this.

Potential Shippable Increment (PSI)

I will quote directly from the Source

“Potentially shippable is a statement about the quality of the software and not about the value or the marketability of the software. When a product is potentially shippable then that means that all the work that needs to be done for the currently implemented features has been done and technically the product can be shipped but it doesn’t mean that the features implemented are valuable enough for the customer to want a new release. The latter is determined by the Product Owner.”

PSIs don’t always add value. A team can build a hundred things which have an awesome quality which may not be needed. On a lazy refined backlog these PSIs can cost a business a fortune. As a great agile team, may be you are good at delivering efficiently but if a PO fails to recognise the benefit of that work, all of that can be pointless.

Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

“A Minimum Viable Product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.” – Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup

MVP does not always have to be a Working Product/Software

It can be an concept which has been drawn on a paper, modeled by a UX designer or simply a bunch of screenshots which we can show to the end user and see what they think about it. Sure, it can be a working software because sometimes it is always good to see a piece of work in action. But it’s not mandatory for the validated learning. You may not need to invest time and money on a product which initially have received a bad review from potential buyers. It’s about working smart, not hard.

Explaining the Differences

MVP of Cars

Concepts of cars displayed to see public reaction, most of the times they are not ready to be shipped. MVPs are often more attractive as they lack practical usability or lack context. Which is why they need early feedback from the end users of a business.

PSI of Cars

Shippable cars being demoed to generate revenue which might be a MVP, before becoming a PSI. PSIs form part of or all of the MVP planned to be implemented. Not every PSI looks as attractive as the original MVP, because validated learning makes us aware beforehand what works and what not. That’s where Empiricism adds value.

MVPs of Smartphones

Concepts of smartphones (We wish these were real)

PSIs of Smartphones

Shippable Smartphones on 2017 (so they say)

Conclusion

So, next time you hear someone saying MVP and PSI are the same, you can share this blog and save the time explaining why they are not. There is a reason Product Owners (alike) call them differently, as to them they are different. Some work items don’t need to be developed before a feedback, some do. Hopefully this clears the confusion and this post finds you well.

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Definition of Done (DoD) in XDE Framework

In my last post about Definition of Done (DoD) – The Holy Cow Approach, we have seen how “Done” can be misinterpreted just because there is no set definition for everyone. We have ways to deal with DoD by agreeing together what is Done before starting work on a User Story or any form of backlog item. This definition therefore can change depending on context, product, team or even client demand.

What if we don’t have to go through this never ending debate of defining a done for each work item? The internet if full of these discussion, agreement and disagreements which we can live without.

What if, we have a universal DoD which establishes shared understanding company wide?

Definition of Done (DoD) in XDE is a shared understanding

Xtreme Decoupled Engineering (XDE) has a beautiful way of replacing this small talk with something that adds real value – Delivery and End user feedback. In XDE, we don’t need to establish a ground rule about where to stop, before starting a work. We stop and call it Done when we get “a” user feedback – good, bad or neutral. If it’s good we celebrate, if bad we learn and if neutral we let the Product Expert decide where to go from there.

If this is not Simplicity, what is?

 

The One Rule in XDE makes sure we do not get distracted and the Delivery Expert being the Servant Leader of the 1R Team guides the bubble to focus on one work at a time. DoD is therefore universal to all teams and anyone interested to know the ETA of a certain value, don’t have to worry about what “state” it is coming out. It will always come out in a “Ready to Ship” state whenever it is done and wherever it is deployed for the feedback.

DoD in XDE invokes the boundary for Cycle Time measurement

Cycle time is the total time from the start to the end of the development process, which increases predictability especially if we are part of a Service Level Agreement (SLA). DoD in XDE takes help from the One Rule to establish these SLAs with predictable data over time to create a healthy metric to optimise the process. Here’s a visual which summarises how it work:

As we can see, the Cycle time is basically the duration which a 1R team takes to achieve the DoD following One Rule. It also promotes implementation of DevOps by an extreme reduction of multitasking and focusing on the end user feedback.

Conclusion

We have a tendency of making things complicated when there is a simpler solution. XDE’s definition of Done simplifies this ambiguous topic of discussion. An organisation can worry about bigger things which needs attention and teams can work towards the same goal every time like a second nature.

More about XDE: http://www.xdecouple.com

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Agile Transformation – Does it have to be Disruptive?

Agile transformation is the new “thing”, most software delivery businesses are trying to get a grip on. There’s a divide in opinion, facts and politics around it. Many running after the “credit” they get in changing a thing or two to get their names in the list of contributors, which may be soon converted into a tombstone. Others are combining the best practices, changing processes overnight and rebuilding culture to support the sudden changes. Everyone wants a piece of the action but the grave consequences are affecting the business they represent. Why? Because everyone expects it to happen faster, disruptive and trying to change things overnight which wasn’t changed for decades.

Unfortunately the message delivered to them reads like this – “Move into agile methods and you can get more products delivered in the same time”.

 

The most underrated fact around these, when we talk about “Agile” is –

“Agile methods will not double your productivity, in fact it will slow you down to begin with. Agile principles are about providing the sense of creating the most valuable product first.”

The above fact is ignored a lot of time and rouge consultants starts selling “Agile” promising more productivity in compared to Waterfall. Terms get thrown from all sides to the person responsible for budget and a chain of middle management roles wait patiently to get a cut. Members who are not supporting the “movement” either receives a calendar invite from HR or get clinically radicalised to the new religion “Agile”. Why are we trying to do Agile? No idea.

Disruption = Difference in Opinion

 

.If this difference in opinion is not resolved, you can never become agile as it depends on the organisation maturity in every aspect. Reason why many of us heard the phrase “Culture change” thrown at us during an agile transformation. A new bread of management leads the bandwagon towards a belief that doing agile will resolve all problems, improve output and finish project early. But here’s a subtle difference which establishes the Value to the business –

Output ≠ Outcome

 

Outcome may or may not be an intended feature, it can be a lesson which we learn from a failure in an iteration. Some might wonder – “What’s the value of this lesson from a failure which is not generating any revenue?” Well, as an example, a failure can teach us how ridiculous a feature is to begin with, so we don’t invest in future iterations of the feature. Hence reducing the risk of creating a worthless product based on the failed iteration which can be a short term success and a long term burden for a business.

Agile transformation, hence, should reflect a sense of purpose of what we are doing and WHY we have to do it. If, as an organisation we are unable to share the big picture to all employees, there is no way we can be agile in a distant future. Agility is not about implementing a framework or method or tool in place and hope for the best. It’s about self evaluation as a company to learn what we can or cannot do, accepting the limits and exposing the barriers which stops us from being agile. We execute, learn and improve.

The best agile transformations are gradual, slow and have a good amount of time invested in learning while we try to move away from the traditional approaches.

On the Contrary, there are exceptions where Disruption is the Only way!

Gradual improvements are welcome where there is no need for drastic change. But in some organisations this empathetic mindset can be taken for granted. We will find personalities who are extremely qualified and have a very good knowledge of what is right. But milking it seems a better idea for them rather than improvements while exploiting the same knowledge of agile transformation. This is especially true if they are not a “Permy”, as their political existence is based on how long they can stretch the project to get maximum benefit out of a contract/temporary role.

I would be wrong, if I say all contractors are like this. Of course not. In fact, most team level contractors are exceptionally brilliant and embrace agility. The issue starts when we have the middle management as a contractor, who can influence crucial business decisions. These personalities will not harm the business but won’t improve it either. They will keep it as it is and in the name of “Agile Transformation” the project can last for years to come.

Agile Transformation doesn’t happen in a quarter, but it shouldn’t take over a year either.

 

If it takes more than a year with low or no relevant value delivered, we can be dead sure that it is being prevented by a crucial impediment, a process or a personality on power. It can be anything. A year long transformation should be a warning that, not everyone is on board. In these situations, empathy should be shown to personalities who are on board and the rest should be disrupted to make a crucial business decision.

Do you feel the same way?

Which version of the transformation have you experienced/experiencing? Would love to hear your thoughts on this.

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Consider SHU over HA and RI

We come across many ways to become agile in our organisations, to name a few ways – Scrum, Kanban, XP, XDE and more. We want to become agile by being reactive rather than proactive, so that we can embrace change. We want to provide value, that is the goal. Being agile is one of the means to achieve that goal, not a goal in itself. Same goes for lean approaches which tries to reduce waste, a mean to provide value, the goal. Therefore, “elders” in this context are “scared and healed” thought leaders rather than traditional mindset driven older generation.

 

So why suddenly elders need respect? Aren’t we respecting them already? Hard to say really, as many of us say we do but may not really mean it, unconsciously. Even educated professionals may think they do but they don’t as they are too busy reinventing the wheel either because their training was not up to the mark or they are returning a favour to an old pal. I heard someone saying the other day – “My friend told me that Scrum slows them down, so we tried Kanban instead which turned out to be a disaster.. agile sucks in general anyway”. You know instantly, they have never understood the values and principles, so forget about the events and activities which binds it together.

Reason why, among traditionally trained professionals we hear so many discussions like – “Scrum is terrible“, “Kanban is the new Scrum” and “XP sounds like exactly the wrong way to go” and many more. Community members who say these, may have never seen it working in the first place OR don’t want to improve OR have seen a bad implementation which focused on goals like “Agile” or “Lean” – they may not realise that the goal is to “Deliver Value” and agile/lean helps you provide the value but not THE goal to show off.

 

So what any of these have to do with “Respecting Elders”? Well, the above is exactly what you get when you don’t respect the work the founders/creators aka the elders have carried out, number of times they have failed (learned) and amount of sweat they wiped in their lifetime. Most of us don’t spend time actually implementing a method “by book” in the first place. Learning curve is a waste for them and don’t even get me started on how some likes to bend the rules while calling it a “Flavour” of XYZ. This reminds me of a very interesting quote –

Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing ~Salvador Dalì

 

We need to get into the mindset of learning, mastering and transcending. Yes, I am talking about ShuHaRi. I bet a lot of us may have heard about it, if not you have a link now. Shu is where you imitate without worrying about why you are doing it. Trust the research which has been done for years (some more than your age) and atleast give it a chance.

20 years experience in traditional techniques, does not make you an elder in mordern approaches – unless you have invented/created a better approach !

 

True elders have spent almost all of their professional life creating the agile/lean principles and practices, if you will. Then “By Book” should be your baseline, unless how can you criticise something you know nothing about? Once you know what by book means, then you can ask yourself if this is the right approach for your organisation or not. Nothing is a silver bullet but these are atleast “a” bullet to hit your targets, from which you gain experience and modify accordingly.

 

Some Examples of unintended disrespect:

“We have introduced Scrum before and hired a Scrum Master. He ended us hiring a Product Owner who replcaed our BA who was sufficient enough and much more cost effective. The team’s output slowed down since and 1 month later we realised we don’t want Scrum.”

“We have an electronic Kanban board where most of the items are blocked so we started to work on new items. The testers are uselessly slow and we ended up with nearly 20 items in testing swimlane. The developers were awesome though, they worked on all items in time but were kept getting blocked by the testers.”

“We tried TDD and wasted much of our time testing before writing the code while pair programming. We ended up with 90% test coverage but a plethora of defects which should have been caught by Unit tests during CI. So, we are now concentrating more on automated selenium tests after development.”

“We don’t need retrospectives as we never get where it adds value. What’s the point of revisiting past when we can use the time to concentrate on future?”

“In our Kanban board, we have a WIP limit 4 but we change it every week according to our need. Kanban says we can change the WIP limit anytime, as long as we visualise the workflow.”

“Our product owner needs to write user stories in Given/When/Then unless I have no idea what he asks me to build. He needs coaching so we developers can do our job faster. I think working as a Scrum Master alongside is taking a lot of his time.”

“BDD is just a language defining the behaviour and nothing else. Stories should be in BDD unless it is not Scrum, correct me if I am wrong.” (P.S: He did get corrected with a mandatory day long BDD workshop, he asked for it.)

“We need all the daily scrums happening between 9 till 10am, for all our teams. The project manager is only free during that window.”

 

You get the picture. These are very few examples among a million out there (Feel free to add more examples on comments). The elders are never mentioned but their experiences are challenged and disrespected everytime someone use these phrases in any format. Lack of knowledge is to blame or is it?

Respect these elders, we don’t need to fail the same way they did and learned. We have the wheel, we just have to use it and keep applying the WD40 (common sense) when required.

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Annual Budgets – Silent killer of Innovation

Large non-IT enterprises are using software development as their supporting delivery strategy which forms a part of their business, but not for the sole purpose of business. They mostly assign a yearly budget on any project to increase predictability.  They tend to keep the expenditure controlled along with a buffer using some validated numbers collected from last financial year. This is a trend adopted from the “manual labour” culture where we can predict expenditure in advance. But it doesn’t work when a work depends on our thought process, experiments and fast fail approaches used in software development we use today.

 

In manufacturing, budget can be controlled and improved by lean mindset as it becomes predictable. Similarly applying an agile mindset on development works like a charm. Although, the non-IT businesses fail to see the difference between a development line and a production line. This is the biggest impediment which affects many organisations today as it can be completely ignored in many cases.

Yearly budget is the silent killer of innovation and encourages bureaucratic culture in software development.

 

Many of us have come across this impediment, if we are working in such an industry. We should decouple the budget to be flexible and get support when needed without abusing the freedom. This increases the transparency around the budget expenditure which can be verified after the financial year rather than predicted before a financial year begins. We can never know how a business shapes itself in coming months when you have multiple competitors to worry about.

Decoupling the financial budget creates a “Pull” instead of “Push” mindset.

 

Decoupling the Budget process

Let’s take XDE Framework as an example. This proposes “decoupling” of all processes to achieve the best possible solution in given time, focusing on independent and futuristic business model. XDE requires us to form a temporary “Bubble” by combining specialist team members from 2 types of permanent teams, One Rule (1R) team and Product Team. This bubble can be dissolved when a planned work iteration is shipped and is successful.

Coming back to budget, as a process and an impediment. 1R team (or any team) can suddenly realise while in a bubble, that they need another technical expert to get through a planned work. Do we want them to wait and check if they have enough budget for that? No, we authorise it providing they have a sensible reason on why they need it in the first place (common sense). Dissolving a bubble is not the goal; it only encourages us to plan well before the bubble is formed.

 

Don’t hold the development teams responsible

We shouldn’t hold the teams responsible for not seeing an unforeseen impediment like the annual budget. We don’t need funds without knowing where we are going to spend it in a year time.

Common sense should prevail.

We need to be agile as an industry, to support the teams analysing the circumstances pragmatically. As we all know, agile mindset helps an organisation best when it comes from top down rather than bottom up.

 

“Pull” reduces Waste

WhatsApp Image 2017-06-15 at 5.46.49 PM

Financial budget is dealt by a specialised Finance team in non-IT organisations. Reason why they assume that software development teams are one of many departments providing a predictable service. This is where the mindset need to change and we need to decouple the financial budget for development. Provide funds when required rather than pushing a set amount in and hope for the best.

We might be spending more in software development than required, so that next year’s budget can stay same or more – that’s Bureaucracy

 

As the development teams are pulling the funds when required, there will always be a valid reason and this increases trust in the culture. This culture will empower the development team members and assure distributed responsibility, rather than hoping they have enough “resource” to cover the work they planned where Finance was never actually involved to begin with.

Does this resonate with your experience working in a non-IT industry? Would love to hear your thoughts around this and will be great to hear your personal experiences. Keep calm and decouple budget for software development !

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Scrum Events in Layman’s Term

Scrum helps in developing complex products. It is easy to learn but hard to master. Easy to learn, because we have a guide with rules which beginners can refer back to. Hard to master, because just blindly following the events will not get you anywhere. Many teams try to bend the rules without mastering them first, which is why they fail and end up blaming Scrum.

 

Scrum guide is clear about the events and explains why they exists. Although sometimes it is not sufficient to just point people towards it and assume they will read it. Shared document is not shared understanding. Some may never read it and they are usually after a much simpler explanation on the spot. That’s why during or after implementation of Scrum, we usually hear some basic questions within an organisation and this article explains one of them.

Briefly explain what we do in the Scrum events in layman’s terms?

Here is what you can explain, assuming you are explaining to a layman who have no idea why the development team have selected Scrum. Before going to the events, lets understand some basic terms which makes it easier to explain the events.

 

Requirement: A “problem”, because the solution doesn’t exist yet. Our aim is to implement the solution.

Epic: A big problem.

Story: A small part of a big problem

Bug: An unknown problem

Scrum Team: The godly creatures with super powers 😉

Now, let’s see how we can explain the Scrum events and activity.

Refinement Activity: Scrum Team try to understand if they have enough information about the variety of problems.

Sprint Planning: Choose the bigger problems and create a strategy on how to implement the solution.

Sprint: Implement the solution without being distracted.

Daily Scrum: Daily check on “Are we on the right track on creating the solution?”

Sprint Review: Understand the solution and verify if it actually make someone’s life easier.

Sprint Retrospective: Have we learned anything new while creating the solution?

 

That’s it, it’s just common sense redefined. As long as we realise we are solving a problem of variable complexities and use the above thought as a guide, it all make sense. Hope this article can solve someone’s understanding of the events and what we should be doing in them.