My Open Space De-brief at Agilepalooza Charlotte

Written by Mike Cottmeyer Thursday, 10 September 2009 06:48

You guys might get a kick out of seeing me in action. This video is me debriefing an open space session at Agilepalooza Charlotte a few weeks back. The topic is on scaling scrum in the enterprise. Our group discussed the four scrum of scrum patterns we’ve talked about here over the past few months.

It is totally weird watching yourself on video…

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Managing Expectations about Uncertainty

Written by Mike Cottmeyer Thursday, 10 September 2009 10:59

One of the biggest differences between the PMI crowd and the Agile crowd has to do with our expectations about uncertainty.

The PMI crowd generally believes that a Project Manager is supposed to manage uncertainty out of the project. The Agile crowd tends to believe that uncertainty and change is something that should be embraced. Rather than managing OUT uncertainty, the agilist chooses to manage FOR uncertainty.

This difference fundamentally influences how we go about the business of planning projects… the artifacts we create… and how we interact with and manage our teams. The reality is that both worldviews have a place depending upon your context and problem domain. It’s up to us [as Project Managers] to recognize the nature of the projects we are working on and choose the strategy most likely yield a desireable outcome… for both our project stakeholders and our external customers.

We cannot check our brains at the door and blindly follow ANY methodology. It’s up to us to assess our situation and choose an approach that is suitable for the task at hand.

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Leading Agile… 200 Posts and Counting!

Written by Mike Cottmeyer Wednesday, 9 September 2009 10:57

I wanted to take a minute this morning and mark a pretty cool milestone for Leading Agile. Yesterday I published my 200th post.
As you might imagine, I put a ton of energy into creating content for this blog. It has become a passion… a hobby even. It has been extremely rewarding to see how you guys have responded to all that effort. It’s not just about traffic and stats… although we’ll get to that in a minute… it’s about the quality of the interaction. I love it when people leave comments or repost something I’ve written out to Twitter. The conversation is what makes it all worthwhile.
The first six months I was writing Leading Agile it was called Applied Agile Leadership. I had like 10 subscribers and I am pretty sure they were all people that I worked with at CheckFree. My sister might have subscribed just becuase she felt sorry for me. Those first few months were pretty lean… if you go back and look I did a whopping three posts between June 2007 and December 2007. I was too busy in the thick of managing a pretty large program and I was commuting to Portland every other week.
The turning point for me was when I started working for VersionOne.
Not only was I working for a company that encouraged me to write… I also became a trainer and a consultant. My interactions with our customers have been a huge influence on my writing. They have helped fuel the passion… and when I’ve felt like I had nothing else to say… they have always come through with some new set of problems to solve. I’ve mentioned here before why I like to write… but a big part of it is having real people that I am trying to help. So… 2008 blew 2007 out of the water. That year I did 80 posts… averaging about 6-7 posts a month. I’ve always felt that if I was able to do two a week… that was enough.
Even though my writing went up in 2008, it took a long time to for my pageviews and subscribers to catch up. On October 2nd, 2008 I hit an inflection point. That day I jumped a few hundred subscribers… and as you can see from the chart below… my velocity of new subscribers increased as well. Looking back… I wish I knew what I did to make that happen. I had just published my 63rd post… and around that time I had just spoken at Agile 2008 in Toronto and the Agile Business Conference in London. I had also been doing a bunch of international engagements. Maybe it was just a matter of becoming better known in the community, but that day seemed to be my tipping point.

Feedburner Statistics
Actual pageviews during that time did not change as dramatically, but you can see that there is definitely some correlation between traffic and subscribers. That certainly makes sense just from a common sense perspective, but it is interesting to see the correlation in the actual data.
Google Analytics – Pageviews
Yesterday my good friend Martin Olesen from Denmark asked me to pick my favorite three posts from all 200. Intrigued… I decided to see if I could do it. I ended up picking 10. The funny thing is that unless you have gone back through my archives… most people probably have not ever read many of these. At the time many of these were written… I was writing to maybe 70 people. Rather than try to rank them by preference… I mean how can you choose between your children… I am going to list them from oldest to youngest. That seems fair… don’t you think?
  • Inverting the Iron Triangle – This is where I start trying to rationalize my background in traditional project management with my agile message.
  • Managing Too Much Complexity – People make things way to hard. Part of the key to being agile is reducing complexity… not managing it.
  • Agile or Iterative and Incremental – Let’s call it what it is… there is alot of benefit to being iterative and incremental… let’s just not call it agile if it isn’t. This is also the post I did on October 2nd… the day that my blog starting getting significant attention.
  • Are Scrum Roles Really Sufficient? – This was the kick-off post for my whole Agile PO team rant. This post will go down in history of the predecessor of the book Dennis and I are writing. At least from my point of view.
When I look back over the past 200 posts… I don’t think that my writing style has changed all that much. I may have gotten a little more conversational as I have gotten more comfortable talking to my readers. The biggest change is that I am better able to get ideas out with fewer words. I haven’t done the math but I think my average post length has probably gone down. I also think I have gotten faster getting ideas on paper. The average time I spend writing a post has gone from around 4 hours to probably less than 2. Maybe that is becuase I am writing shorter posts than I used to ;-)
Anyway… thanks for humoring me here. I sincerely appreciate that you guys are along for the ride and I am really looking forward to doing this again at post 400!
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Rethinking Scrum and XP

Written by Mike Cottmeyer Tuesday, 8 September 2009 11:35

Lately we’ve been exploring the idea of moving past the specific practices of Scrum and XP and focusing more on what we are doing rather than how we are doing it. Rather than focusing on having ScrumMasters and Product Owners, we need to start thinking about the value these roles are delivering and how we can deliver that value at scale. Meta-Scrums and Chief Product Owners might be part of the solution… but our organization might require more.

To that end… if we are going to create situationally specific strategies at scale… we can start by talking about the core capabilities these roles have to deliver at the team level:

Product Owner

  • Set Product Vision
  • Define Product Roadmap
  • Define Requirements
  • Sequence Work
  • Communicate Requirements to Development
  • User Acceptance Testing
  • Manage Stakeholders
  • Set release date


  • Ensure Process Adherence
  • Remove Impediments
  • Ensure Internal Communication
  • Ensure External Communication
  • Maintain a Productive work environment
  • Team Building

Development Team

  • Assign work to team
  • Make commitments
  • Throttle work
  • Design the solution
  • Write software
  • Maintain code quality
  • Take corrective action
  • Deliver features
  • Deploy the Solution


  • Continuous Improvement
  • Define working agreements
  • Resolve Conflict
  • Manage Risk
  • Set delivery heartbeat

Over the next few weeks we’ll explore how these core team capabilities get expressed at each of our five levels of agile adoption. For now I’d like know if you guys think we’ve got this list right. Is there anything we need to add? Anything that needs to be removed? Your feedback is really appreciated.

If you have a minute… head over to Dennis’ blog to see his take on this. Similar content… different presentation.

ADDENDUM: Almost forgot to mark the occasion… this was my 200th post on Leading Agile!
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Big Agile Book Structure

Written by Mike Cottmeyer Monday, 7 September 2009 12:27

I’ve been consumed lately thinking through the story our book is going to tell. Great stories have a beginning… something that gets the reader hooked. They have a middle where the reader gets some background and begins to develop a relationship with the characters… they begin to care. Great stories have a climax and a resolution… that place where the drama reaches its peak and everything gets packaged up neatly in the end.

When I’m reading a good book… I always wonder if the author knew exactly where they were taking the characters when they started… or if the whole thing was just an emergent stream of consciousness? I’d have to figure it can go either way… depending on that writers individual style and approach to book writing. Since this is my first book… I don’t know that I have a style yet… but I am definitely gravitating toward the more purposeful approach.

If you spend more than a few minutes with me… you’ll find pretty quick that I am a big picture guy. I’ll do the details with you… but only after I have a framework to hang them on. I have to understand the big picture first so all those details have a place to live… an anchor point… in my brain. My learning style is heavily dependent on pattern recognition so I get impatient if I don’t have a pattern to understand what is relevant and what isn’t.

Just a quick aside… if you write a blog post and I can’t tell what you are talking about within the first few sentences… chances are I won’t finish your post… just sayin’ ;-)

Images Courtesy of Jeff Patton

Anyway… because I will probably assume that everyone else’s brain works the same way… or maybe just because I need to be able to understand my own book… the structure of the book is really important to me. I’ve gotta have a place to hang all the details. To that end… I see three primary sections in our final manuscript. The first section will tell the entire adoption and scaling story. If you read these first few chapters… you’ll have the big picture… all you need to give the details a home.

Next… we’ll get into the real meat behind our model. There will be a subsection for each of the five adoption phases. Each section will describe the problem… the common challenges… and who will likely care about the things we are going to talk about. After that we’ll explain the relevant capabilities in pretty good detail and suggest several practices that might be effective developing the capability.

We want to address how the organization facilitates the conversations by talking through a pretty detailed capability analysis model. We’ll then deal with common risks and impediments that might get in your way. I imagine that each subsection will end with a discussion… maybe a case study… that ties everything together and highlights the key learning outcomes for the manager and the organization. We might add a few tables explicitly mapping capabilities to practices to help out all those folks out there that like to think in pictures.

Finally… we’ll close the book with a section that wraps up the entire story. I think we’ll have a few closing chapters… maybe appendices… that talk about several tooling approaches we’ve used to enable these kinds of conversations… and maybe even some discussion around advanced applications of our approach.

So there goes… a beginning… a middle… and an end. Any feedback?

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