All posts by Colleen Johnson

Agile Training in Denver’s Backyard

Looking for a way to move your organization forward in adopting scrum or help in bringing your Agile practices to the next level? ReadyTalk is proud to be a sponsor of Agile Denver’s first conference, Mile High Agile 2011: Elevating Agility.  The event on April 7 will feature a great one-day lineup of information for every level of agility at super-low registration cost.  There will be four tracks covering Agile adoption, technical practices, product and project practices, and enterprise agility.

And, if the lineup of presentations don’t address your specific needs, there will be an open space track that runs parallel to the scheduled sessions where any attendee can propose a topic of interest and discuss with others in attendance who share an interest. You can propose topics at the beginning of the day via a 3 x 5 card that will be added to the wall and grouped with other areas of interested.  The main hall will offer break out tables where these groups can sit and whiteboard together and share personal experiences. It doesn’t get much more Agile than that!

My personal experience with Agile is that we are always learning something new through the ‘inspect and adapt’ process.  This local conference provides a great opportunity to connect and share with others in the Denver Agile community.  Learn something new and pass it on. Hope to see you there!


Colleen is the ScrumMaster at ReadyTalk, where she brings over ten years of experience in software testing and development process refinement. She works with multiple scrum teams in Engineering to encourage application to scrum principles and facilitates the evolve/adapt process. When she’s not chasing engineers, she’s playing chase with her two kids and when she’s not chasing them….she is asleep.

Scrum for Breakfast

During the past few months, we have recognized a growing need for a way to connect with other engineering teams using scrum. The Agile community in Denver is well served by user groups, like Agile Denver and training offerings from Rally, but we wanted a way to ask very specific questions to other scrum practitioners in the community and discuss practical solutions…so Scrum for Breakfast was born, or should I say baked?

We get other ScrumMasters and Engineer Managers from local companies together once a month for breakfast to talk about the details behind what’s making scrum successful within our organizations. Sometimes we tackle what holding us back. Sometimes we discuss the weather. Sometimes we drink Snooze flat out of coffee.

The group is small and follows scrum principals of 5-9 people, so we can get the most out of the conversation. The attendees are individually invited based on the topics and past conversations. The format lacks any real structure, and we have found that this loosely organized approach allows us to cover a variety of day-to-day scrum issues and solutions. Sometimes the conversation will completely shift gears based on information offered up by a contributor but everyone walks away with new ideas and approaches that can be implemented right away.

Our first month’s focus was around the tools that we use to manage our scrum process. Some teams use software, like Rally or VersionOne, while others use an analog system of white boards and stickies. Here at ReadyTalk, we use a combination of both systems. What we quickly learned was that no matter what each team used for tracking their tasks, the communication within the team was much more important. Teams that were most successful were aware of what their team members were working on before their daily stand-up and with out logging into any software: they simply talked to each other. Tools won’t make a team talk to each other, in fact- relying too much on a tool might make your team members talk to each other even less.

Tools, both electronic or analog, are also used to communicate status to people outside of the scrum teams. We discussed what metrics are important and to whom. One participant asked the question about what the numbers we share really tell people reviewing them. We shared our feedback about tracking and publishing metrics and were all in agreement that it is often difficult to interpret the metrics of a single sprint (in our case two weeks) with out the context of what went on during that iteration.

What methods are you using to track your work? What do you communicate about your progress to people outside of your teams?

The Value of Scrum

Scrum was adopted by the ReadyTalk Engineering team almost 3 years ago because we needed to be able to deliver more customer value in less time. Having direct access to our customers gave us the ability to take advantage of scrum and create very quick feedback loops and release features and updates more frequently, providing needed value to customers sooner and giving the business more accurate timelines for release cycles. With a little care and feeding, scrum has returned on all of its big shiny promises. But, what does this mean for YOU?

Empowered and Engaged Teams
It goes without saying that the people of ReadyTalk are what make our culture and product great. In engineering, scrum plays a big part in the daily management of tasks and work load. Each scrum team has the ability to plan their own work for the iteration and team members are accountable to each other to deliver on their commitments. Working in smaller increments gives the teams the ability to calculate their workload more accurately and deliver working code regularly. More accurate scrum planning gives us the work/life balance to make sure the engineering team still has plenty of fun, and happy nerds are productive nerds!

Earlier Return on Investment
The scrum process ensures that the work queued up is always prioritized based on value to our users. For engineers, this means very little effort is wasted and what we produce is tightly aligned with business and customer needs. Valuable results are delivered in short cycles so customers can provide feedback quickly and we can react. This shortens the entire feedback loop and no one is left waiting for features that are out-of-date by the time they are released.

Better Response to Change
In the world of software, priorities can change quickly. Scrum gives us the ability to adjust to fit both short and long-term goals of our product. The scrum process manages our ability to respond to the constantly changing needs of our users. Working in shorter iterations allows the scrum teams to adapt to change in a controlled manner without disrupting an entire project. These cycles also give all stakeholders increased visibility and confidence in the current status of the work in progress.

Continuous Improvement
With scrum, we are always looking back on what we have done to identify opportunities for improvements. This means we keep getting better and more efficient at the way we develop, test and release features to our users. Not only does the product improve but the way that we work becomes more effective over time- everyone wins.

Are you new to scrum? What challenges have you run into with your own adoption of agile practices? Share your questions with us and we would be happy to share our insight and experiences with you!

Agile All Around Us

A quick walk around the ReadyTalk office might lead one to believe that we have stock in 3M. Our hallways look more like an elementary school than a software development company, but there is a business purpose behind our mass consumption of Post-It notes and construction paper:

We are Agile.

It didn’t take long for other departments to notice its success. Marketing was the next team to move to Agile, customizing a scrum/Kanban hybrid model to fit their unique needs. Managing their work in-progress with color-coded Post-Its and index cards has given their team more visibility to what everyone is working on and why. Their manager says, “Taking an Agile approach to our projects creates a team consensus on priorities and how we are spending out time. Our work has become less silo-ed.” She also pointed out how the use of regular retrospectives forces the team to look back on what they have done so they can constantly improve the process.

The visibility that the process provided into Marketing’s work was apparent to other teams too; the Events Team and Customer Care Teams took notice. Both teams recently adopted a Kanban board to manage their internal projects that were historically lost in the shuffle of their day-to-day responsibilities. One member of the customer care team says, “Our team is more connected to each other and more knowledgeable about what our teammates are doing throughout the day. Due to the nature of support, we sometimes find ourselves tied down to our computers and phones with limited opportunities to collaborate with multiple colleagues at the same time. The daily scrum is our chance to physically stand in a circle together and get everyone on the same page very quickly.”

Agile is all around us here at ReadyTalk, but each team has embraced it and made it their own. While the details of each implementation vary, individual teams and departments have taken the basic principles behind Agile and hit the ground running. The “evaluate and adapt” methodology means that the each team’s process is constantly improving to meet their changing needs for agile flavor all that’s their own.

Is your organization using Agile? If so, where and how? What’s working? What isn’t?