Mike Cohn - Succeeding with Agile

Daily Scrum: Not Just for ScrumMasters

posted: 08 Apr 2012

I never refer to the daily scrum (or daily standup) meeting as a “status meeting.” The term “status meeting” is too pejorative for most of us. For me it conjures images of sitting around a table with each person giving an update to a project manager while everyone else feigns interest while either mentally preparing [...]

Check In, Dont Check Up

posted: 02 Apr 2012

I’ve never been a micro-manager, especially not since using agile and Scrum. I could have turned into a micro-manager early in career, except I’ve always been too busy to spend my time checking up on people. But, while I’ve avoiding checking up on teams or people, I’ve never been reluctant to check in with them. [...]

GASPing About the Product Backlog

posted: 14 Mar 2012

I’ve been wondering lately if Scrum is on the verge of getting a new standard meeting–the Backlog Grooming Meeting, which is a meeting an increasing number of teams are doing each sprint to make sure the product backlog is prepared and ready for the start of the next sprint. To see why a Backlog Grooming [...]

Interview on National Public Radio about Daily Sta

posted: 24 Feb 2012

Following the article in the Wall Street Journal on daily standup meetings a few weeks ago, a number of other places have interviewed me abut the topic. I don’t know why they’re asking me, but the interviews have been fun so far. The latest was on the National Public Radio (NPR) Marketplace show on Monday, [...]

Points Are About Relative Effort Not Ranking

posted: 19 Feb 2012

I’m thinking of buying a new car. So I’ve put together a list of cars to consider. Here they are in priority order: Bugatti Veyron Super Sports Pagani Zonda Clinque Roadster Lamborghini Reventon McLaren F1 Koenigsegg CCX Porsche Carrera GT Aston Martin Vanquish Toyota Prius Toyota Camry Tata Nano Unfortunately, though, I’m not sure I [...]

Agile Succeeds Three Times More Often Than Waterfa

posted: 13 Feb 2012

Agile projects are successful three times more often than non-agile projects, according to the 2011 CHAOS Manifesto from the Standish Group. The report goes so far as to say, “The agile process is the universal remedy for software development project failure. Software applications developed through the agile process have three times the success rate of [...]

Estimating and Planning Are Necessary for Maximizi

posted: 06 Feb 2012

Because I’m so interested in estimating and planning, I always take notice when I see a new blog post or news group posting claiming, “Estimating is waste! Don’t do it!” The thing that never shocks me about these arguments against estimating and planning is that they never come from the business people for whom we [...]

Announcing an Online Agile Estimating and Planning

posted: 31 Jan 2012

I’m very excited to let you know that we now have an online course on Agile Estimating and Planning. The course is a series of videos and interactive quizzes. Videos are a combination of screencast (slides) and live action of me. All videos are extremely professionally done–no handheld video camera or recordings of me talking [...]

Rotating the ScrumMaster Role

posted: 26 Jan 2012

Some teams that struggle with choosing the best ScrumMaster decide that an appropriate strategy is to rotate the role among all team members. I don’t advocate this, as I don’t think it demonstrates an appropriate respect for the challenges and significance of the role. In my family, we rotate who cleans the table and loads [...]

Please Help Me List the Problems with Using Agile

posted: 03 Jan 2012

I’m trying to create a list of the biggest, most common, or hardest to overcome problems that a team might face when adopting Scrum or agile. I could really use your help by contributing to the list by adding a comment to this post. I’m thinking of things like: We have five product owners. What [...]

Recommendations not Rules

posted: 02 Jan 2012

I seem to be encountering more and more people who want to codify agile into a set of rules. I’ve seen this lately in authors of books, blogs or PDFs about agile or Scrum that say “You must do this” or “If you don’t do this or all of that then you’re not doing it [...]

New Planning Poker Card Design

posted: 04 Dec 2011

I’ve wanted to update the design of our Planning Poker cards for quite awhile, and we finally got the chance. The new cards feature an all-new back design to go along with the same faces we’ve used for years. There are 56 cards in the deck. Thirteen estimating numbers are provided in four colors, each [...]

In Defense of Large Numbers

posted: 28 Nov 2011

People are often surprised that I allow (or even encourage) people to estimate with story points as large as 20, 40, and 100. We include these values in the decks of Planning Poker cards that we sell and give away in classes and at conferences. Yet many people tell me they start out my taking [...]

Stories, Epics and Themes

posted: 24 Oct 2011

I’ve been getting more and more emails lately from people confused about the difference between “user story”, “epic” and “theme.” So I thought his month we’d return and cover some basic–but very helpful–territory by explaining those terms. First, the terms don’t matter that much. These are not terms with important specific meanings like “pointer” to [...]

Agile in the Age of Hyperspecialization

posted: 03 Oct 2011

Starting the start of the industrial revolution in 18th century, there has been a trend of increasing specialization. Rather than workers being involved in all aspects of creating a product, workers began to produce smaller and smaller subsets of the product. By the time Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations in 1776, pin-making had [...]

Simulating a Project by Resampling Velocity

posted: 25 Sep 2011

I normally write about a new technique only after I’ve used it for a couple of years and have found it successful in a couple of different contexts. In this post I want to share something just such a technique. It’s a statistical technique called “resampling” that I’ve become quite fond of for making predictions [...]

Seeing How Well a Teams Story Points Align from O

posted: 19 Sep 2011

The topic of how well a team estimates two point stories relative to one point stories (and so on) has come up in a couple of comments and replies on this blog recently, so let’s discuss it. Here’s a graph showing relevant data from one company: Each column of data and pair of bars shows [...]

Estimating a Full Backlog Based on a Sample of It

posted: 16 Sep 2011

I want to address a question I was sent recently and that I get asked about once a month. The question has to do with how we estimate how many hours it will take to deliver a given product backlog if we have no historical data at all. My first bit of advice is always [...]

Case Study on ePlan Services

posted: 26 Aug 2011

I’m in the midst of reading Specification by Example by Gojko Adzic. I’m a big fan of his earlier, Bridging the Communication Gap book so I’ve been anxious to read his new one. I’ll post a full review when I’m done with it. However, I wanted to share a sample chapter of the book here. [...]

Protecting the Team Cuts Both Ways

posted: 26 Jul 2011

It is a generally accepted Scrum dictum that one of the ScrumMaster’s duties is to protect the team. The usual example is that the ScrumMaster must protect the team from an overly aggressive product owner. There is nothing wrong with this example and many teams do need to be protected from a product owner whose [...]

A Sample Format for a Spreadsheet-Based Product Ba

posted: 01 Jul 2011

I want to show a real easy way to put user stories in a spreadsheet-based product backlog. I wrote this after seeing someone tweet a screen capture of a product backlog I made 9 years ago and thought to myself, “Yikes, that’s out of date for how I do it today…” As you probably know [...]

Estimating Non-Functional Requirements

posted: 19 Jun 2011

A few weeks back I promised someone I would blog about the unique challenges of estimating non-functional requirements. First, let’s remember that a non-functional requirement is a requirement that is more about the state of being of the system than about one specific thing the system does. Non-functional requirements often have to do with performance, [...]

Time as a Competitive Advantage

posted: 04 Jun 2011

An article I read in 1988 has always stuck with me. The article was “Time–The Next Source of Competitive Advantage” by George Stalk in the Harvard Business Review. The article came near the start of an era in which companies primarily sought competitive advantage through being faster than other companies. This has, of course, coincided [...]

A New Artifact  The Long-Term Product Backlog

posted: 06 May 2011

The weather turned nice about two weeks ago, which meant it was time for spring cleaning about the Cohn home, affectionately known as the Cohnderosa (which will only mean something if you’re old enough to remember “Bonanza”). While washing the windows around the outside of the house I had plenty of time to think about [...]

Scrum Alliance & PMI: A Day at the Museum

posted: 15 Apr 2011

Because I’m a board member and a founder of the Scrum Alliance, I am often asked what I think about the new agile certification from the Project Management Institute (PMI). A recent trip to New York City helped clarify my thinking on this. I was in New York with my wife and daughters for spring [...]

In Defense of Making Hard Changes

posted: 06 Mar 2011

I’ve read a number of articles lately that make the claim that Kanban is better than Scrum because it doesn’t require a great deal of organizational change. I first came across this argument in some of David Anderson’s writings, including his: Kanban: Successful Evolutionary Change For Your Technology Business. The idea is that you simply [...]

Reflections on the 10 Years Since the Agile Manife

posted: 11 Feb 2011

Today is the tenth anniversary of the start of the meeting that resulted in the Agile Manifesto. Much has changed in the ten years since the Agile Manifesto. Back then, the processes encompassed by the Manifesto—Extreme Programming, Scrum, DSDM, Feature-Driven Development, and others—existed only on the fringes of the software development world. It was, therefore, [...]

Deciding What Kind of Projects are Most Suited for

posted: 15 Jan 2011

I was recently asked what kind of project is most suited for an agile approach and I’d like to address that here. In my view, the most appropriate projects for agile are ones with aggressive deadlines, a high degree of complexity, and a high degree of novelty (uniqueness) to them. We want to use agile [...]

Announcing Q1 Agile Software Development Training

posted: 06 Jan 2011

Mike Cohn, author and scrum agile expert, will bring his Agile software development training classes, Certified ScrumMaster, Succeeding with Agile, Certified Scrum Product Owner, Agile User Stories and Agile Estimating and Planning training to parts of the United States and Europe. Layfayette, CO November 29, 2010 — ScrumMaster and agile expert Mike Cohn has announced [...]

5 Free Agile & Scrum Tools for Project Planning an

posted: 06 Jan 2011

Mountain Goat Software and Mike Cohn, author and Agile Scrum expert, have announced the release of four free tools used in agile and scrum projects for planning and prioritizing. Layfayette, CO November 6, 2010 — Mountain Goat Software, an agile training and scrum certification company, has released five free agile and scrum tools ScrumMasters and [...]

Announcing an upcoming PMI Webinar

posted: 11 Dec 2010

I’ve been invited by the PMI Agile Community of Practice to present a webinar. It will be held on February 15, 2011 at noon Eastern time and will last one hour. The topic is “The Seven Sins of Project Management.” Here’s the session description: Agile approaches to software development promise many advantages: shorter schedules, more [...]

Scrum Alliance Update

posted: 23 Nov 2010

By now you may have heard that I am the new chairman of the board for the Scrum Alliance. Esther Derby, Ken Schwaber and I cofounded the Scrum Alliance a handful of years ago and it’s grown tremendously since then. We have over 100,000 members, which is pretty amazing when I think back to the [...]

Should Story Points Be Assigned to A Bug-Fixing St

posted: 13 Nov 2010

When migrating a product from a traditional approach to an agile one, teams commonly bring along a large database of bugs. These are the result of an inadequate focus on continuously high quality. Shortly into their agile initiative, many teams (and their product owners) decide to aggressively work through the bug backlog. A common approach [...]

New Book from Steve Denning on Agile at the Compan

posted: 22 Oct 2010

If you want to see want agile look likes when applied at the corporate level, check out the new book, The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management, by Stephen Denning. Denning is the author of a handful of other excellent, award-winning books and this one is his best yet. As he describes in the book, Denning [...]

Chinese Edition of Succeeding with Agile Is Abou

posted: 16 Oct 2010

The Chinese edition of Succeeding with Agile will be available in about two weeks (end of October). The book was very kindly translated by Luyu Yang, Jingbin Liao, Andrew Lv, and Zhengyun Chen. They used Scrum to work together on the translation in the community. The book will be published through Tsinghua University. Thank [...]

Avast Combining the ScrumMaster and Product Owner,

posted: 11 Oct 2010

A common question is whether it’s acceptable to combine the role of product and ScrumMaster and give both sets of responsibilities to a single person. In general, combining these roles is a very bad idea. To see why, let’s look back in history and the job of the 17th-century pirate ship captain. In a recent [...]

The Problems with Estimating Business Value

posted: 19 Sep 2010

I occasionally see teams that want to put an estimate of “business value” on each user story. They usually do this for either or both of two reasons: to be able to measure the amount of “business value” delivered to the organization, usually graphing this sprint by sprint to be able to prioritize user stories [...]

My Agile Books Made a List of Top 100 Agile Books

posted: 16 Aug 2010

My three books on agile made this list of “The Top 100 Agile Books” by Jurgen Appelo. He used an objective method of ranking books based on and quality ratings and popularity. His blog explains the approach. Uncle Bob Martin and I were each fortunate enough to have two books in the top [...]

How to Import User Stories into

posted: 14 Aug 2010

I finally got around to something today that had been on my to do list for over a year: record a short video showing how to load user stories into by copying them from Excel. Here’s the video: My thanks to my daughter, Savannah, who learned Camtasia for Mac while I was traveling last [...]

Rapid Feedback and the Americas Cup

posted: 07 Aug 2010

It’s summer and I’ve been thinking about sailing. I didn’t get to do any this summer, but I can still think about it. Thinking about sailing reminded me of the 1995 America’s Cup race between the US and New Zealand. That race is a great illustration of the importance of both getting close to our [...]

Estimating Work Shared Between Two Backlog Items

posted: 14 Jul 2010

Product backlog items can be ideally written to be independent. It is the hallmark of a good team that its members can implement product backlog items in any order. However, it would be nearly impossible to remove all dependencies between product backlog items and so our goal becomes minimizing important dependencies rather than eliminating them [...]

Its Effort, Not Complexity

posted: 21 Jun 2010

A client asked me last week “When will my team be done with this project?” This is probably the bazillionth time I’ve been asked that question in one way or another. I have never once been asked, “How hard will my team have to think to develop this project?” Clients, bosses, customers, and stakeholders care [...]

What Does It Mean to Be Agile?

posted: 17 Jun 2010

Laurie Williams, a professor at North Carolina State University, recently conducted a survey to find out which principles and practices are used by agile teams. If you read my monthly newsletter, you probably saw the announcement asking for people to participate. She had over 300 responses and released the results today. Among the findings were [...]

Sliding Toward Success

posted: 24 May 2010

You may have noticed we’ve been adding tools to the Mountain Goat Software website occasionally. We have a tool for calculating a confidence interval around your velocity data as well as various tools for prioritizing user stories or projects against one another. I’ve got a new tool to announce today—Project Success Sliders. Project Success Sliders were [...]

Managing Risk on Agile Projects with the Risk Burn

posted: 08 Apr 2010

Risk management is a central part of traditional project management and is included as one of the knowledge areas in the Project Management Institute’s (PMI) body of knowledge. In many of my classes, participants ask how Scrum and agile address risk management. Some are concerned that agile or Scrum ignore risk management completely. Let’s see [...]

Yankees to Send Some Players Offshore

posted: 01 Apr 2010

Stealing a page from the software development industry, the World Champion New York Yankees have decided to send of their players offshore. Although New York will remain team headquarters, some players will now play their parts of games in the popular offshoring centers of India, Ukraine, and Brazil. The move is expected to save the [...]

Nine Questions to Assess Team Structure

posted: 09 Mar 2010

It is perhaps a myth, but an enduring one, that people and their pets resemble one another. The same has been said of products and the teams that build them. If it is true that a product reflects the structure of the team that built it, then an important decision for any Scrum project is how to organize individuals into teams. This paper presents a set of guidelines to consider in designing an appropriate team structure.

New Tools for Prioritizing Backlogs Available

posted: 08 Mar 2010

We’ve added two new tools for prioritizing a product backlog: Theme Screening and Theme Scoring. Each of these is a lightweight way of comparing product backlog items to one another. Theme Scoring You can use theme scoring to compare user stories or entire projects against one another. In this technique you identify a set of criteria that [...]

Announcing the Tools Section of Our Website

posted: 01 Mar 2010

A nice side effect of having the Succeeding with Agile book done and in print is that some of my time has freed up for other projects. One such project has been the creation of some tools for agile and Scrum projects that we’re making available on the Mountain Goat Software website. I’ve wanted to make [...]

Distributed Teams: Build Trust through Early Progr

posted: 22 Feb 2010

Critical to creating a coherent team is building trust among team members. This is much more difficult on a distributed team. Unable to rely on repeated, frequent face-to-face communication, distributed teams need to take other measures to build trust. Traveling ambassadors, starting meetings with casual conversations, occasional in-person meetings of the full team, working agreements, [...]