Some Thoughts (and Some Frameworks) on Agile

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I had an interesting coffee meeting today with Gregg Wheeler with Solstice Consulting.  Solstice is increasingly becoming known as a solid Agile partner, both in applying the principles to their work and also in helping technology teams apply these principles to their own methodologies.  They’re hosting a workshop in April – find more information here.

Gregg and I discussed how Agile is now viewed not as the label to “keep things the same” as was the fad with many technologists in the 1990’s.  Now, both technology AND business teams are seeing the value in applying these principles that allow the business-technology partnership to quickly adapt to and exploit business opportunities before the competition.  Below are a few frameworks that are worth posting, reading and if applicable at YOUR shop, are worth swiping.  All of them are broken down into that most magical of numbers – three:


  1. Product Owner: Plain and simple, this is the business partner who has the business need and decision-making authority.
  2. Scrum Master: The “project manager” or team lead, whose primary function is to remove obstacles to progress and to coordinate discussions, decisions and where necessary, activities.
  3. Project Team: The people doing the work.


  1. Product Backlog: The prioritized “wish list” of enhancements, features, maintenance items, etc., that are required to meet the businesses needs.
  2. Sprint Backlog: The next level of granularity, consisting of a breakdown by task with ETC (estimate to complete)
  3. Burn-down Chart: The breakdown of tasks against the available hours.  For example, if a given Agile cycle is two weeks or X hours, the burn-down chart shows how the available time in the cycle will be consumed by the tasks within the Sprint Backlog.


  1. Sprint Planning: Breaking down the Sprint Backlog into the requirements that will ultimately drive the tasks.
  2. Daily Scrum: Led by the Scrum Master; these are typically 5-10 minute “stand up meetings” where the Scrum Master asks three key questions: 1.) What did you do YESTERDAY?; 2.) What is planned for TODAY?; and 3.) What OBSTACLES to progress need to be removed (the role of the Scrum Master, as noted above).
  3. Demo and Retrospective: The team meets with the Product Owner to demo the work to date and to perform a brief postmortem to identify lessons learned and action items with SINGLE owners (a single point of accountability) and with DUE DATES (e.g., not “TBD”)

I think it’s worth repeating the three questions that are at the heart of the Daily Scrum.  Again – they are:

  1. What did the team to yesterday?
  2. What will the team do today?
  3. What obstacles must be removed to ensure team success?

I really like the idea of the 5-10 minute “stand up” meeting.  I first read about these in Patrick Lencioni’s ‘Death by Meeting’ – a book I highly recommend as it’s full of good info and written in Lencioni’s parable-style that makes for a better read in my opinion.

Agile is a solid set of principles that, when employed by the right type of team, can not only provide exceptional business value to the “business” part of the business-technology partnership, but also creates a fun and rewarding working environment!

© 2011, Mark E. Calabrese

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