Scandinavian Agile 2008

Good morning Helsinki

I flew into gray and rainy Helsinki yesterday and met up with Willem and Marc to go to Helsinki Marina, where the first Scandinavian Agile conference will be held. This is the first edition of the conference and they are already sold out with 250 participants. The night before the conference, organizers and speakers have discussions, dinner and drinks. Not too many drinks, because I have to “work” tomorrow: in the afternoon Markus, Marko and I will run a Business Value Game.

Morning sessions

The day kicks off with a keynote by Gabrielle Benefield about the introduction of Scrum in Yahoo. Many of the lessons learned sound very familiar:

  • Go deep Agile with a few of the most important teams, rather than spread Agile thinly over a lot of teams.
  • Technical excellence, attention to quality and good engineering practices are essential.
  • Grow slowly with teams that volunteer. Don’t overstretch your coach capacity.
  • Involve management. Inform, address fears and explain “what’s in it for them”.
  • There will always be people who don’t like or want Agile.
  • Don’t just change the process; change the structure of the company.
  • Bribe people with snacks.

Next up is Bjarte Bogsnes‘ session called “A journey beyond budgeting – because the future ain’t what it used to be”. The talk is about budgeting and management at Statoil Hydro and several other companies. The key principles of “Beyond Budgeting” are

  • Performance is about outperforming peers.
  • Do the right thing based on values, principles and sound business judgement.
  • Resources are allocated case-by case. No big-bang budget allocation process once a year.
  • Business follow up is forward looking and action-oriented.
  • Performance evaluation is a holistic assessment of delivery and behaviour. Did we get the right results in the right way?

Traditional budgeting ties three activities together: forecasting, setting targets and resource allocation. There will always be conflicts among these activities. Statoil separates the three. A forecast is not a target or commitment. A forecast is a call to action, it gets issues on the radar screen as soon as possible.

Designing KPIs that reward correct behaviour is hard. Statoil uses two principles: connect input with output (what’s the yield in new oild fields vs eploration cost?) and compare with others (where is Statoil in the “league table” of oil companies?). Individual goals and bonuses can skew behaviour, so use with caution.

The whole model is based on trust and regular follow up. It seems this provides a budgeting and management model that is compatible with Agile values and principles. Except for the individual goals and bonuses…

More info on the Beyond Budgeting Roundtable.

Next, Lasse Koskela and Jukka Lindström hold a mock-debate between Scrum Iterations and “iteration-less” Kanban.


The Business Value Game is up next. I’ve prepared 7 sets of game props. With 6-7 people per team, we should be able to accomodate up to 50 participants. More than 60 people turn up. I’ve never run the game with so many teams and so many people. Luckily Markus and Marko are ready to help after a crash course in Business Value Game coaching.

The first two rounds, where I explain how the game works and the teams learn to work together, are noisy and difficult to control with so many people. Gradually, people learn to work together and they work more and more effectively. After every two iterations we hold a short standup retrospective to share lessons learned between the teams. At the end of the game participants reflect on how their company prioritises (or fails to prioritise) projects. At the end there are lots of smiling faces and people ask for more information about this and other games. Have a look on my site for a partial list of games. There are more to come. All of those games are available with a Creative Commons license. Download them, customize them, play them and let us know what happened and how we can improve the games.


The day ends with a panel discussion about “Agile in Scandinavia”. Most of the questions and issues sound very familiar are are not specific to Scandinavia.

The conference ends with drinks, snacks and conversations.

The conference is a real success with so many people for a first organisation. Well done Agile Finland!


Agile Holland Conference 2008

Off to Amsterdam

Vera and I travelled to Amsterdam to play the Business Value Game at the first Agile Holland Conference in Amsterdam. The one day conference was set in the “Montessori College Oost“, a school with a very distinctive architecture.

In the train to Amsterdam we started the development of a new training workshop on discovering, hunting and fishing for User Stories. The Stories are out there, but they’re not easy to catch. Fortunately, there are some simple techniques we can use to get on the right track. Unfortunately, explaining simple ideas is very hard.

Money, money, money

When we arrived, Martien van Steenbergen was already explaining participants how to play the “Serious Crazy Money Game“. Players had to buy and sell products from each other during the day as way to get to meet new people and learn something about value, trust and cooperation. The XP Game and the Business Value Game were among the products. We had come to give away the Business Value Game.

Business Value Game

Three teams of 6-7 people competed to play the new Business Value Game v1.1. You can see from the pictures that they have this combination of total concentration and immersion with fun that characterizes learning moments.

Becoming a team

The first two rounds took a long time: we need to explain the rules and techniques and the group of strangers needs to become a team. After two iterations we held a standup retrospective to share what each team had learned, which strategies they were using and to resolve issues. After the retro, there was a coffee break.

Back from the coffee break, the teams started to work faster. Whereas the first two iterations and the retrospective take 45 minutes, the next two iterations have to be completed in 15 minutes total. Despite the time pressure and the will to win, the players stuck to the Agile values of Communication and Collaboration. Even when we tried to divise the team by giving chocolate bonuses to the “account managers” who managed to get “their customer’s” projects released, the players kept looking at the whole. They prioritised in the interests of the whole team. Some account managers even chose chocolate bonuses that they could share with the rest of the team.

Most of the teams didn’t notice the “small print”: some of the customer requests have extra conditions or information that have a large impact on the team’s decisions. We had to remind the players to look at customer’s request carefully and to ask us for more information.

Lessons learned

And what have we learned today? Amongst others:

  • Carefully read and ask what the customer really means and really wants. “Don’t guess! Ask.”
  • The economic benefit of releasing sooner.
  • Business Value is primarily useful on Epic level, less on User Story level. In some cases, looking at the business value of individual stories helps us to prioritize stories.
  • The difference between iterations and releases. The difference between iteration planning and release planning.
  • The difference between potential value, features developed but not released, and actual value, features released, deployed and paid for.

For me, the lesson of the Business Value Game can be summarized as follows:

Business Value is not a value.

Business Value is a function.

Business Value is a function of what you value.

Too often, prioritisation or selection of projects is done by “gut feeling”. When we introduce Business Value, we start a conversation about values. Which factors will we take into account when we prioritise?

  • How much money we can make in the short term?
  • How much money we expect to make in the long term?
  • How (un)happy a customer is?
  • How hard the customer shouts?
  • How much we like the customer?
  • How well the customer knows our CEO?
  • The size of the bonus for the salesperson who sold the project?
  • How late the project is?
  • Constraints?
  • Deadlines?
  • How (un)happy our team is?
  • The capacity of our team?
  • Strategic objectives?
  • ….

That’s the conversation the teams have during the first iterations. Once they know the factors they value and the weight of the factors, they can prioritise effectively.

How do you prioritise your projects? What does that say about your values?

Do you want to learn about “Business Value”, prioritising your backlog, portfolio management and all the challenges that salespeople and account managers face daily? Do you want to experience the benefits of working with short iterations and releasing early? Do you want have fun while you learn? Download the Business Value Game, print the cards and organise your own game.

Creative Commons License The Business Value Game by Vera Peeters and Pascal Van Cauwenberghe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Belgium License.

Or come and play the Business Value Game at:


Exploit the workers

Criticize shortcomings at a workplace without fear or hesitation!

Criticize shortcomings at a workplace without fear or hesitation!

Bottlenecks in Paris

This week I was in Paris to host an “I’m not a Bottleneck! I’m a Free Man!” or “A l’aide! Mon Processus m’étrangle!” workshop to help a company to apply the Theory of Constraints.

The workshop is fun and playful. We simulated a team making paper hats and boats. The team got paid in Belgian chocolates. Participants enjoyed learning about The Theory of Constraints. In the retrospective, most participants noted that they liked the relaxed atmosphere, the fun way of learning and the friendly cooperation.

And yet, there were a few moments where the participants felt uncomfortable and voiced their disagreement with the material.

Say NO to the exploitation of bottlenecks!

Step 2 of the “Five Focusing Steps” tells us to exploit the bottleneck. As the throughput of the system is determined by the throughput of the bottleneck, we need to do everything we can to increase the throughput of the bottleneck. We need to get as much value out of the bottleneck as possible.

When I asked the participants how we could exploit the bottleneck in the game, many people bristled at the suggestion. They felt I was trying to ‘squeeze’ the unfortunate worker who was (by design) the bottleneck of the game. To them, this smacked of “Taylorism” or “Fordism“.

It took some convincing and explaining to get the participants to look for ways to exploit their overworked, stressed and sweating colleague. Adding more people seemed like a simpler and more powerful improvement technique.

Go on, exploit the bottleneck! It’s just a game.

Now, what did the team come up with to get more output from the bottleneck? How did we make the bottlenecks in the game and in the real processes more productive?

  • Ensure that there’s a small buffer of work in front of the bottleneck, so that the bottleneck is never idle due to lack of input. Install a ‘pull’ system so that whatever the bottleneck needs arrives just-in-time when the bottleneck needs it.
  • Reduce interruptions, so that the bottleneck can stay concentrated on their task and get into the “Flow state“.
  • Reduce task switching. Finish each task before starting on another. Focus on the task at hand and don’t worry about upcoming tasks.
  • Prioritise the work to be done by the bottleneck, so that they always work on the task that brings the most value.
  • Reduce waste in the bottleneck’s work, so that the bottleneck doesn’t spend time on non-value adding work.
  • Ensure that the inputs and tools of the bottleneck are of the highest quality so that they don’t waste their time finding and correcting errors or dealing with machine breakdowns.
  • Even out the workload (Heijunka) to combat the waste of unevenness (Mura) and overburdening (Muri)

At the end of the day, each team had several exploitation ideas that they could work out the next day. Exploiting the bottleneck is usually quite easy as it doesn’t require investment and doesn’t involve many people.

And yet, these simple changes can add a lot of value. For example, we recently almost doubled the productivity of a development team by installing some simple measures to reduce interruptions and by prioritising work better so that there was less task switching.

If that’s what “being exploited” means, you can exploit me too!

The result of all that exploiting? A bottleneck that’s less stressed and less overworked and yet has higher productivity. A bottleneck that can concentrate on their job without all those energy-sapping distractions and wastes. In their final retrospective, the team that doubled their productivity noted that this project was a lot less stressful than their usual projects.

Participants in the workshop learned that there are better, easier and cheaper ways to improve processes than to add more people. They learned that “exploiting” in the Theory of Constraints is very beneficial to the bottleneck, despite the negative connotations of the word.

Would a “softer” word have helped? Would another word evoke less resistance? I used to think so. Now, I think that we need to go through that resistance that the word exploit evokes. If we let the participants of the workshop optimise the game’s process on their own, they will probably get no further than throwing more bodies at the problem. The Theory of Constraints is simple, but its consequences are counter-intuitive. By dealing with the resistance to the idea early, participants learn to break through their existing patterns. Having seen Eli Goldratt in action, I appreciate he’s no proponent of the “softly, softly” approach.

And it gets better

After participants have accepted the exploit step, we move on to “Subordinate every other decision to the bottleneck”, which leads to another set of counter-intuitive ideas. For example, the participants learned that they could get more output from their processes by slowing down certain people.

Resistance in Amsterdam

Lean has another set of counter-intuitive yet effective ideas. On Friday, the suggestion that “Standardized Work” could be useful in IT was met with strong resistance by participants of the Agile Holland conference. More about that later.

I’m starting to enjoy resistance. In my experience, resistance from myself and others means that we’re on the right way, that we’re trying to do something different. Because if we want to get a different result, we will have to do something different.

What have you resisted this week? Now imagine that the thing you resist is not your enemy but your friend. What would the world look like if that were true?

You can download the Bottleneck Game from the Agile Coach site.

Creative Commons License The “I’m not a Bottleneck! I’m a Free Man!” game by Pascal Van Cauwenberghe and Portia Tung is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Belgium License.

Image courtesy of ‘Freedom Toast‘, licensed Creative Commons, Attribution Non-Commercial.


The Business Value Game: v1.1 released

Business Value Game v1.1

Thanks to the feedback and ideas playing v1.0, Vera and I have released an update of the Business Value Game.

What’s changed?

  • The session description contains more examples and explanation to fill in the iteration score sheet.
  • Some corrections to the text in the manual.
  • Client cards can be folded to stand up for extra clarity.
  • Rebalanced the process improvement cards to make process improvement more attractive.
  • Story cards are numbered to make it easier to see if all cards are available.
  • Pictures of the game being played, by Portia Tung.

There are no major changes, this is mostly fine-tuning of gameplay. We have lots of ideas for challenging prioritisation cases. To incorporate all those ideas we’ll have to make a 9 iteration version of the game.

Go out and play!

Do you want to learn about “Business Value”, prioritising your backlog, portfolio management and all the challenges that salespeople and account managers face daily? Do you want to experience the benefits of working with short iterations and releasing early? Do you want have fun while you learn? Download the Business Value Game, print the cards and organise your own game.

Creative Commons License The Business Value Game by Vera Peeters and Pascal Van Cauwenberghe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Belgium License.


Business Value Game v1.1 on tour

Agile Holland Conference

The Agile Holland group organizes their first one day conference on October 24th in Amsterdam.

Vera and I will present the Business Value Game v1.1, which incorporates the feedback we got from participants at tryouts at Agile 2008, the XP user group meeting, Brain Train and Agile Business Conference.

Scandinavian Agile Conference

Agile Finland organizes the Scandinavian Agile Conference on October 29th in Helsinki.

I will present the Business Value Game with some Finnish coaches at the conference.

XP Days Benelux

The XP Days Benelux conference on November 20th and 21st in Eindhoven also features the Business Value Game, this time presented with Vera and Portia.

<Your company>, <Your usergroup>

Do you want to learn about “Business Value”, prioritising your backlog, portfolio management and all the challenges that salespeople and account managers face daily? Do you want to experience the benefits of working with short iterations and releasing early? Do you want have fun while you learn? Download the Business Value Game, print the cards and organise your own game.

Creative Commons License The Business Value Game by Vera Peeters and Pascal Van Cauwenberghe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Belgium License.