Thursday, May 31, 2012

Making my job easier - An iPad

So I finally convinced my wife to get an iPad 3. We have never owned an iPad until now, so I watched with envy as many of my friends or coworkers got one. I am always looking for new tools, techniques, processes I can follow to help make me more efficient at work.

Here's how the iPad fits into my work process:
  • Flipboard - This is the 1st app you should get when you buy your iPad. I use it to read what I missed online from my friends and followers on Facebook. The information is presented in such a beautiful way that it makes my research and social media work very easy and fun. It allows me to share the content easily as well...including emailing it to myself or directly into Evernote.
  • Clipping to Evernote - So this was actually fairly hard to set up. I had to do some googling, but I found this link and I followed the directions carefully. Once that was done, I could easily clip web pages to Evernote directly from the iPad's browser. Pretty cool. Also, since I love Evernote (see my last blog post here), this was really important for me to get working. 
  • Email - I have more and easier access to email. I prefer the iPad to my smartphone and it is my handy companion as a 2nd screen.
  • Penultimate - This is a great app (I would recommend purchasing a stylus). I use this to draw, brainstorm, and jot down notes on my iPad. It has become very handy and connects directly to Evernote to store those notes. I would also recommend trying out GoodNotes.
  • Reading PDFs - As I do quite a bit of research I tend to download a lot of PDFs. I like to use the iBooks App on my iPad to read when I'm sitting on the coach. It makes it easier to focus on reading as there aren't several windows and applications on the screen distracting me away from my PDF :)
Obviously I can talk about the web browsing and email, but I think you already get that benefit so I decided to focus more on different use cases, etc.

Please feel free to share your experiences with how the iPad has made your product management job (or any job really) easier!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Being a great agile scrum master

I've worked directly with a couple of different scrum masters in my time (and indirectly with several others) and have begun to notice the importance of a great scrum master in a proper agile environment. I just wanted to share some of the key skills/traits that I noticed the great Scrum Masters had:

Key Skills
  1. Ownership - A great scrum master is someone who feels a strong sense of ownership and pride in their work and the work of the team. They strive to always make sure that the team is staying on top of done-ness criteria, stories, grooming, etc. They see dependencies, impediments and obstacles and they work cross-functionally and with their team to address them. They are diligent at daily scrum, asking questions and making sure everyone is there and ready to contribute. 
  2. Leadership - A great scrum master knows when to let the team step in and drive a situation and when to take more of a visible role in driving the team. This depends a lot on the team and experience level of the scrum master. For example, if the team has a strong natural leader already on the team, the scrum master can be there to address dependencies and let the team shine. On the other hand, if the team is constantly struggling or has been known to be underperforming, a more active leader/mentor type of role from the scrum master may be necessary.
  3. Appreciation - A great scrum master gets along with the team. They know when a moment of levity is needed or when the team needs a little bit of a breather. They understand and appreciate the efforts of everyone on the team and work to foster and build great relationships.
Scrum Master Traps
  1. Overbearing - I've seen scrum masters publicly "beat" up a team member for making an honest mistake. This is a tough trap to avoid, you have to know when to push and challenge without being overbearing or causing fissures in relationships. I've seen other scrum masters force the team into behaviors they don't want or are not bought into because that's what some agile book suggests. Once the scrum master starts to become overbearing, it becomes harder and harder to earn the team's trust and respect and regain their ability to influence. 
  2. Too Protective - This is a common mistake. (especially when the scrum masters report in to the same managers as the developers). In this case, the scrum master fails to act as an impartial leader and gives the bad actors on the team free reign to frustrate others. Another example, is when they don't challenge the team to improve or don't address a situation where the team could have performed better. If a scrum master (who is part of the team) is silent at a retrospective, that's probably a sign that they are too protective :)
In my view, the key to a great self-managing team is this constant ebb and flow of feedback and information. When there is an imbalance or the team is starting to head down the wrong path, the scrum master should let the team try and self-correct without letting it get too far. Trusting the team, but still knowing when to step in is something that will take time as the scrum master gets to know the team.