Wednesday, November 2, 2016

An agile approach helps educators see better financial results to support their students

Someone pointed out today that forgot to post a reference to an article for my usual blog followers... 

Image (c) Blueprint Education, 2016
These two excerpt are from an article published on the Scrum Alliance Member articles section on Aug 24, 2016. It talks a bit about how a new approach can help the business side of charter schools. 
"Central to this turnaround effort was the creation of an Agile culture."

"The discipline of focus produced great results. Relationships also grew deeper from working together through the discouraging times. The result is that the team has developed new competencies, along with an increased confidence." 

If you have an interest in some other posts from this blog about this topic, here are two searches that will give you some more reading material.

link - Agile in Education

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The We versus Them Assessment

A friend asked me to re-post this article here. It was originally posted on linkedIN on June 20, 2016. Here goes...

. . . . . . . . . . .

This weekend I had a remarkable experience that really got me thinking..

I was talking with a fellow member of the agile community (we'll call her Alice).

Alice was telling me about why she liked the company she works for.

What truly stuck out for me was the fact that she continually referred to the company's groups as "We".  For whatever reason, I don't see this word used often when agile coaches, Scrum Masters or change agents talk about the companies where they are engaged (or work at). 

This got me thinking..

I wonder if you could assess the health of a company's teams or culture by simply listening to conversation and keeping track of the number of times people use the word We versus the word Them?

There is a possibility that this approach would also allow a coach to quickly notice where the language changes to Them to relate to other internal departments to discover where there might be room to help with interactions.

The simplicity of this seems like it may a totally bogus idea but an idea isn't worth having unless it's shared (and possibly criticised).

Of course, I hope someone doesn't try and use this idea in some horrible, inappropriate way. You never know though... Could the approach remove countless survey questions and senseless sessions?  The question jumps directly to People and Interactions.

This whole topic encouraged me to ask that you run a personal experiment (for yourself).

If while you were reading this, you have been wondering about you and other departments in the company you work at..

Have you considered...

"Are your customers....  We or Them ?" 

Just a thought.

To Alice (you know who you are)...

Thanks for the inspirational chat. <smile>

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Sprint as a Guide Visual Coaching Tool

In 2011, I created a coaching/visualization tool to help a team at a large organization to understand the timing of the various Sprint Ceremonies in Scrum.

I have been using this tool for various situations and decided it's time to share with the community in order to help others out.

It is called Sprint as a Guide.

Sprint as a Guide - Mike Caspar
Sprint As a Guide - Mike Caspar

It has served purpose for many situations, but three have been the most useful.
  • Understanding of the timing of ceremonies in a format that easily relates to people's current mental model of time.
  • Understanding how and when Backlog Refinement can work.
  • How the Scrum Framework can help to show where too much time is being spent on activities and why.

To see this document as part of a Slideshare, you can follow this link.

By using Scrum's ceremony timings as a guide, it can help to show where perhaps you are spending too much time on one ceremony versus another (as a guide).

I have facilitated many surprising sessions where new uses have been found.. Find your own!

Two examples (based on different views of Sprint Planning).

1 - Sprint Planning is almost impossible to get through and make a commitment as there is an insufficient understanding of the User Stories available to the team.

A quick glance at the diagram helps one to realize that perhaps if time was spent for Backlog Refinement, planning might be easier to get through. The key here is to realize that Backlog Refinement is part of the framework itself and may help. 

2 - An opposite (and often surprising realization) is for the team that makes it through planning in 15 minutes rather than the timing suggested in the Scrum Guide.

At first glance, this may appear to be a good thing.  However, consider that the reason for this extra time. You may be going too far ahead with requirements (or various other issues). I have seen this as evidenced by looking at stories that are 10 Sprints out (an extreme example for demonstration). 

The Scrum guide suggests ....

"Refinement usually consumes no more than 10% of the capacity of the Development Team".

This implies two things..

1 - Backlog refinement is necessary to be effective with the Scrum Framework.

2 - There is a recommended limit on the amount of time spent doing backlog refinement to avoid getting into a situation of excessive planning.

I cannot stress enough.. Think GUIDE...  Please don't use this as a tool to do anything other than have open dialogue and discussion. It is not an enforcement diagram.

If you would like some help with either backlog refinement or how the Scrum framework can help you, or simply to improve your situation, feel free to reach out on me. I offer 1/2 day or 1 day sessions for people, teams or organizations.

An image of the original diagram...

Sprint As a Guide - Mike Caspar


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Teacher and Principal step back to let student team self-organize after a rough day

A message from the Principal of Hope High School in Arizona regarding a student team that was having some personal challenges getting organized around a fairly large community event they decided to take on as a team....
Things worked out great! 
Moses really had a handle on the forming, storming, and norming speech and the biggest impact was Mr. Cook and myself leaving the room so they could hash things out. 
They have added items to their team agreement and even came up with their own incentive reward plan when the team meets certain goals. 
They also realized a key lever in their team stress was that their scrum board was not in a location that was functional with their meeting space. So, without asking us...they moved it...AS A TEAM!! 
They were so proud of their progress today and everyone left on cloud 9. I couldn't have asked for a better turn out. 
P.S. they are shifting to 1 week sprints. 

Notes about this message...

A student Scrum team had been organizing a very large community event. They were using two week Sprints to deliver their work and had selected a large number of activities to do in each Sprint to meet a perceived goal of 16 events (self-created).

There were some conflicts arising as students who recently started this school year worked to organize themselves to share work.  

The Principal called me for some guidance. We discussed ways to empower the students to solve this rather than teacher or principal involvement (something important to the Blueprint Education folks and their culture). We would share the Tuckmann team formation model of Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing to let the students know that what the were going through is normal and there is nothing wrong with them.

Moses (Scrum Master)
Hope High School
(c)Copyright Blueprint Education, 2016

Krissyn Sumare (the Principal) sat in the room for support while Moses (a Scrum Master on the student team) learned about the concepts, why it was important, while intently taking notes and asking questions. He was sure this would help the team feel better about things and was anxious to give it a try with his team-mates.

Moses went so far as to consider how to get involvement from other Scrum Masters in the resolution.

Moses' involvement in the ultimate solution to this problem is awesome to me. Let me explain.....

I met Moses last year at this event. He was a shy, reserved person, who looked down at the ground and often avoided eye contact. 

The Moses I was now talking to intently took notes, asked direct questions, stood tall and was proud and determined to help his team. Moses has become a person who's primary passion is helping the people on his team and ensuring they are all heard. In their environment, this can be challenging.

He seems to have taken on the persona of team "healer". I heard about Moses taking students out to other rooms to talk with them until they feel better. I heard about how he gathered everyone to make sure they would all be there as he was worried that everyone might not be there the next day to listen to what he had learned.  Before our conversation, people were pretty down.

All I can say to Moses (who I hope reads this).. WOW! I am so happy for you. Your outgoing, caring nature and ability to facilitate for people to solve problems will be a great benefit to all those you come across. I am glad you found something to really excel at and am more glad to have met you. 

Other topics to notice from this message....

  • teachers stepping out of the classroom
  • students coming up with their own process and goals
  • team self-organizing without permission to move their board
  • leadership not getting in the way of self-organization
  • a realization that shorter sprints may remove some stress

I hope you can agree that this team is well on their way to being a very successful student Scrum team with much to offer the world and a great future! They are all such awesome, brave people.

If you would like to learn more about what is going on at Blueprint Education and/or Hope High School, reach out to them at

I know they would be happy to start a conversation with you.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Always Do It Differently Approach

Over the last few years, I have found myself working with organizations, coaches and consultants who use variations of a theme as follows;
  • Standard Team Startup Checklist
  • Team Kickoff Procedure
  • Standardized Reporting Template
  • Standardized KPI scheme
  • Proper Percentage of Developers to QA

These conversations often seem to revolve around the concept of "scaling agile" and "efficiency" for the coaching team.

I will submit that perhaps a different approach might be possible.

I see each team and each situation differently. I prefer to put my complete self and energy into doing the best for those that I work for based on their specific needs.

I don't actually feel comfortable with "following the standard checklist". That made sense for flying an aircraft (and necessary). I find that when coaching, it hinders my ability to be the my best for the team, organization or group I am working for.  Yes, it is more work for me. However, I find the client gets better results if I meet their needs rather than the needs of standardization (or effeciency).

Some will claim checklists for startup are about "quality"... OK.  I concede, in some cases that might make sense in a Training context. 

We are not trying to create "standard work" or "same piece size" when we start a team. We are working with a living system of people who have invited us into their lives. They deserve our respect. 

I find that by embedding myself completely into a situation and having an approach of "Always Do It Differently" keeps me fresh, engaged, doesn't let me slack off, and helps me to love my career.

I understand that Innovation does not come from following scripts and the same procedures every time. I know as a professional that I too must be Innovative and always learning. 

What is strange to me about following predetermined team startup processes is that we are so often asking our clients to question procedures and standard approaches. We want them to value change, get used to it, embrace it! 
Killbot Assembly Line - Courtesy of Pascal

I enjoy the challenge of having the best session I can come up with for the people I am working for. It keeps me alive, keeps my professionalism up, and gives my clients the best possible help for their situation.

It stands to reason that every coach will have some common tools they know work for different situations and that they are comfortable with. We don't need to re-invent the wheel. That would not make sense. However, by stretching ourselves to always come up with a different approach or idea for the next engagement or team keeps us learning and exploring!

I personally enjoy the reaction from teams when they received a session that I invented when I woke up that morning, perfectly matching their situation, or knowing that I have the skill to take an existing technique or tool and modify it for improvement while I am flying to their city.

Agile coaches should be embracing, innovating, changing, and experimenting along with their clients. I need to be clear here. There is a difference between training and coaching. This message is more about coaching. That being said, I know some amazing Teachers who pride themselves in always changing and improving and would be very unhappy to hear about a standardized, designated way to start a new class for the school year. 

For the next few months, consider trying ....

"The Always Do It Differently Approach"

  • Start every team differently based on their needs
  • Talk to the team and then consider where it makes sense to start
  • Take existing coaching tools and techniques and see if you can improve them for the current situation
  • Try and push yourself to learn something different from another coach or leader
  • Build some methods to share new ideas between coaches
  • Feel the joy of pushing yourself to a new level to serve others
  • See if you end up being a better coach for this

If after several months, you want to go back to procedures and processes, you always have that choice..  Agility is after all about what's right for people, and you as a coach are also a person. 

If you would to talk about me providing my services for yourself personally, for your team or your organization, feel free to reach out to me. I enjoy new challenges :->

More importantly...

For the next few months.....


 "The Always Do It Differently Approach"

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Self-driving vehicles and test code coverage

As many of us know, a world of self-driving vehicles is coming quickly. These vehicles do this with computer software.

I'd like to share a thought with others to start a discussion.

I generally hesitate to ask for rules and procedures, but in this case, I feel our lives may depend on it.

Should we ask auto-manufacturers to provide some kind of metric about source code test coverage as a percentage for the self-driving portion of the source code?

I acknowledge that 100% test code coverage does not guarantee reliable software. I also feel personally certain that I don't want a vehicle driving me around that has no Unit Tests or automated tests as part of the development, build and test process.

I have seen too much in my career to expect this to be safe.

Why do I bring this to people's attention now?

Many people do not know that there is an ongoing discourse in the software industry relating to the delivery of features versus appropriately testing software. I won't talk about this here. Do an internet search on "Extreme Programming" or "Test Automation" as a place to start. You'll see how important testing is to software.

It is not uncommon to hear comments in the software industry such as "Oh, it will be fine, it can go out with that bug", or "we'll fix it later", or my least favourite....

"We don't have time to write tests. 
We need to get the feature out."

Personally, I don't want to let a vehicle drive me where the developers have been pressured (or the developers have decided on their own) to write code without tests. Not all companies or developers are this way! I do not intend on painting them with a big brush.

I want to be clear.  I have zero knowledge of any vehicle manufacturer acting irresponsibly to-date. I am just thinking about my future and I don't want this topic to come up when it's far too late for myself, family or friends.

I have been in the software business long enough to know that I have a responsibility to society to bring this up now.

There's no perfect answer to appropriate code coverage with tests, Please don't get that impression. 

All I ask of you is that we find a way to not let this important conversation just disappear.
Letting auto manufacturers (new and old) know we care about code quality for self-driving vehicles will already go a long way.

If you are in the self-driving car business, please consider this as an important topic. Even if you disagree, I'll be happy because at least you thought about it.

I think about it this way.. I am saving my own life.  

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Categorized Ideas Coaching Tool

The Categorized Ideas Coaching/Facilitation Tool is designed to help obtain common goals and ideas from people with different backgrounds or approaches to a situation.

I have been iterating on this tool for a while. Until recently, it has only been used at clients and with a few close friends.

I recently shared the tool at Agile Coach Camp Canada 2016 in Cornwall for the community as a whole.

A sample question used for this first canvas....

To all participants (as an example).

"The government has told us we have 1 month to move our business to another province.  We have 35 employees. 

I would like your help to ensure we are prepared for this and all of our thoughts and ideas are considered.  

For each  idea that you have, place it on a sticky and put it up on the board (canvas).
Feel free to talk to each other as you put them up".

- very little facilitation needed (caused by thick lines and colours)
- If necessary, could say "It might help to read each other's stickies as you put them up"

Step back. Things will take care of themselves...

A sample (real) question used for the second canvas (created by one of the participants)...

"I am worried about the future health of my family because we're all so busy.

 I would like some ideas about some possible steps and things to do to help keep our family healthy.  

We have 4 people in the family".

- very little facilitation needed (caused by thick lines and colours)
- If necessary, could say "It might help to read each other's stickies as you put them up"

Step back. Things will take care of themselves...

I have used the tool for many other types of sessions...

  • Jenkins CI session with multiple types of teams followed up with shared ideas on how Jenkins could be used in the organization
  • At a Manufacturing Company to consolidate thoughts from various departments to help prioritize plant upgrades and maintenance. 

You can share your own learning and uses for the Categorized Ideas Coaching/Facilitation Tool to this page...

Just send me the following information...

  • Name of Facilitator (with optional link to home page)
  • Name of Contributors (optional)
  • Question ? or Context ?
  • The image
  • Any specific observations you would like to share (what you learned or something we should know)

As long as it makes sense and I can keep it up, I'll add more uses for the coaching tool to the page.

To be included, simply reach out to me at  mike (-at-)  with the following information and I'll add you to the page.

Some last comments....
  • Please make sure you the have rights to any images shared on the site
  • I will reserve the right to restrict content.
  • Images and contributions will be licensed as Creative Commons (as indicated by the page)

I hope we see many new contributions, ideas and learning.

Have fun!

Creative Commons Licence
Categorized Ideas by Mike Caspar is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Principles, not Principals

As some of you know, I have been volunteering for the amazing folks at Blueprint Education.

They are working to bring agile values and principles to education (at all levels.. not just students).   

Executives, Principals, Guidance counselors, Teachers, and Students are all learning to work in a team based, collaborative way. They are learning to learn together. 

I was there last year to participate in an awesome event where students volunteered to start Scrum teams to do community work and improve their school.  A link to that post here.

About two months ago I had an fascinating conversation with the Principal of one of the High Schools. She said to me... 

"Mike, we will work to run our high-school with
Principles, not Principals". 

She (as part of a Scrum Team herself), had realized that what she needed to do was to empower her teachers to be responsible for themselves and make decisions on their own without a heavy handed approach from her. She could then focus her energies on coaching others, supporting students and helping other schools in their system out.

Learning to be Agile
(c) Blueprint Education, 2016

The teachers are also using Scrum at the school level. Their Scrum board is visible to all their students. Imagine complete transparency for students as to what the teachers are doing! Then, imagine the accountability the teachers have to the students.

That's a shocker already.... but....

Then she said...  

"Mike, I am excited about this. I already talked with the teachers to make sure they were interested in having this level of responsibility and freedom instead of just telling them this was happening. I'm nervous but excited about this."  

WOW.. That's all I can say.. If you are an educator, imagine this level of empowerment and responsibility.

Of course, the teachers (who are already learning about self-empowerment for themselves and to help their students), were of course pleased and excited. They learned Scrum so they could better facilitate it's use for Students. This way, everybody is on equal ground when it comes to learning and approach to learning (or work).

Some of the Blueprint team will be presenting their progress at the Scrum Gathering 2016 in Orlando. If you are there, go by for a visit.

I know that Mark French (the CEO) or any of the Principals, Guidance counselors, Teachers, and many of the students would be pleased to tell their story. 

Here's their info...  

To reach out to them,  start here , or email them at to ask to hear more.

I love what these educators are trying to seriously change the way education works and I am honoured to know them. I proudly wear my "Learning to be Agile" shirt they gave me during my last visit.

If you would like to learn a bit more about the concepts of Agility in Education, someone shared this wonderful post with me today. It might give you some insight into where they are coming from.

Please, reach out to the folks at Blueprint. They would be more than happy to share their amazing story! 

Their contact email:

Mike Caspar
Passionate About Agile