Scrum – Why we try to avoid changing the plan part way through an iteration

In an ideal world, once a team has started an iteration then the iteration plan should not change.

Changing Iteration Plans

Here are some of the reasons why you shouldn’t change an iteration plan:

  • Changes cause churn and additional administration that will negatively impact velocity. Stories that have been started and dropped will have to be rewritten and re-estimated in the next planning session. New stories will probably have to be written and estimated in the middle of the iteration.
  • The teams remaining velocity can be difficult to calculate part way through an iteration thus the replanning is likely to mean the iteration is under-planned or over-planned. An under-planned iteration will mean that a third round of planning will have to take place. An over-planned iteration means some stories will not get DONE and they will have to be rewritten and re-estimated in the next iteration …
  • The most common Scrum iteration duration of two weeks is a small enough window of time for the business not to have change its mind. Twenty-six opportunities to change your mind in a year should be enough even for the most indecisive product owners.
  • Refusing to let the product owner change the iteration plan sends them a clear message that they have to plan better in future because they won’t be allowed to make changes mid-iteration.
  • Replanning suggests that there has been a critical failure of planning and prioritisation by the product owner during the planning of the iteration. This should be talked about in the retrospective.
  • It’s not good for team moral to change the plan/stories that they worked hard to create and have committed to.
  • It will distort any Scrum metrics that you are capturing eg story points done, which are useful for calculating velocity.
  • It’s part of the scrum masters job is to protect the team from forces outside the team eg indecisive business people.

That said there will always be exceptions any good rule. But these changes should be the exception.

Virtual Development and Testing

Today I did 10 hours of “virtual development and testing” and it cost the company $320.

We have a release coming up. The scrum teams have been working hard to get a responsive site ready to go.

Because we’re Agile we are working on the most important issues first. So we know were going to get the most important stuff done. But it would be great if we had a little move capacity so we could get through a little more of our backlog prior to release (isn’t it always?).

As an Agile Coach I can’t develop or test at the same level as the team members.

So how do I help?


For Friday lunch we ordered $320 worth of pizza.

The developers and testers were stoked that they all got free pizza for lunch.

The average time to eat the pizza and got back to work was well under 20 minutes.

If we assume that the average team member takes 60 minutes for lunch (conservative for a Friday) this means we gained an extra 40 minutes of dev/test capacity per team members. This equates to 600 minutes or 10 hours of extra capacity.

By buying $320 worth of pizza the company earned at least 10 hours of extra development/testing time. A bargain if ever there was one.

Agile avatars, usage and resources

Avatars are picture representations of the members of the scrum team that are used on Scrum and Kanban boards to show what each team member is working on.



Avatars are moved by the individual team members they represent at the daily stand-up. Prior to stand-up avatars will be placed next to the stories/tasks that the team member has been working on the in the previous day. During stand-up when the team member says what they will be working on in the upcoming day they should place their avatar(s) next to the relevant story/task on the board.

Everyone should have two or three Avatars for times when they are working on more than one task over the next day. As a general rule avatars should be limited to two or three because generally it’s good for productivity and throughput to limit work in progress (WIP).

Avatars should always include the name of the team member so that people from outside the team can identify who they are.

Colour coding can be used to indicate the primary functional skill of the team member eg tester

If your Scrum board uses regular sized postits, make sure your avatars are no taller than the size of postit notes so they can be clearly aligned to tasks without obstructing the tasks above or below. This is especially useful on busy agile boards with a lot of stories on them.

Online avatar resources

There are loads of great free online sources for Avatars
Limited options without starting an account but quick and easy. Requires a screen grab and crop to save avatar
Head shots only but very versatile
Lots of options and lots of fun
Great for south park fans

Or Google for many more options.

Book Review – Agile Product Management with Scrum: Creating Products that Customers Love


The book was small and easy to read and a good guide to any product owner who is just starting out working with Agile teams. I’ve recommended it to my company’s fledgling PO team.

The book covered the basics of PO work and then how to successfully integrate with an agile/scrum team.

Not sure it delivered on creating products that customers love part.

But what it didn’t cover, that I thought it might from the title, was how an enterprise might use agile to successfully manage multiple products in an agile way and therefore deliver maximum business value.

Book available from Amazon

What makes a good Scrum board?

The litmus test of a good Scrum Board is its ability to quickly and accurately communicate the state of the Iteration to people inside and outside of the team. The challenge is that the board must contain enough technical information to guide the team but also enough high level information that people outside the team can understand what is going on.

There is no such thing as the perfect Scrum Board. Every team will require a different implementation of the Scrum process that works best for them. That said there are some common factors that should be considered for all Scrum Boards.

General information about the team that people outside the team may want to know:

  • Team name – tells you what team is called and useful in an environment where there are several teams and boards
  • Vision – concisely tells you what the shared goal of the team is
  • Definition of Done – tells you what the team need to do to complete each Story
  • A list of iteration start dates – Lets you work out how far through the current Iteration the team are and by having a list it saves rewriting this information each Iteration

Current Iteration information

  • Clearly labelled columns
  • Clearly written Stories and Tasks with Story numbers on each ticket
  • Stories ordered by priority with the highest priority stories at the top of the Board
  • Use colour to differentiate types of stories or tasks, some examples of how to use coloured postits include
  • Type of task – testing, development
  • Different projects
  • Different Epics or Features
  • BAU v project work
  • Urgency
  • If different coloured postits are used then there should be a Key showing what the different colours mean
  • Avatars should be used to show who is working on what
  • Avatars should have names on them so it is clear to outsiders who they represent
  • Markers should be used for blocked stories (also on the Key)
  • A mechanism for capturing significant non planned work eg on an unused colour of postit. These can be reviewed every few retrospectives to see what common issues you are missing that could be planned for
  • Burndown chart to show how the current iteration is progressing
  • Release tracking if releasing is not included in the Definition of Done
  • Board discipline

    • Stories and tasks should be neatly written so they can be read from a reasonable distance
    • Stories and tasks should be neatly laid out with no overlaps
    • Stories and tasks should be should be positioned so any associations can be clearly understood

    Most boards will evolve over time to meet the needs of the team. It is useful to photograph the Board at the end of each Iteration so you can go back and see how your board evolved.

    My first proper sprint triathlon

    Yesterday I completed my first proper sprint triathlon (the one last year was done in relay).

    My split times were as follows

    Swim 750m 00:15:27
    Transition One 00:03:21
    Cycle 20kms 00:40:32
    Transition Two 00:01:21
    Run Lap One 00:13:33
    Run Lap Two 00:13:22.

    Total time 01:27:40

    Full results here

    The swim was really cold and I got a little lost by the end. When I got to the transition zone for the cycle I couldn?t find my bike. I remembered my race number and started looking at all of the numbers on the racks when the guy standing next to me said ?hey aren?t you the bike next to me?? He was right I was standing two meters from my bike and couldn?t see it. Even then the transition took ages because I had forgotten to put my tri-suit on properly before the race so I had put it on then and there with cold weak arms before I could get on my bike

    On the cycle I was all over the place and probably wasn?t with-it enough to be on the open road for the first 5kms but after that I really got into it and even overtook a few guys on racing bikes (more overtook me though). Also I finished with a fair bit of gas in the tank so I probably could have gone harder, especially towards the end. The run started like the ride with blood in all the wrong muscles and all sorts of niggling cramps but after a couple of kilometres I felt a lot better and was able to get into a rhythm.

    Huge credit to Caroline who drove up to Milton Keynes with me for this madness and posted a thoroughly respectable 148.71 for her first triathlon. Especially when you consider that she only had seven weeks to train for the whole thing!

    Advice for triathletes starting out

    • Mark your bike with a hydrogen balloon. After a freezing cold swim at race speed you will be disorientated and slow witted
    • Get Velcro shoes ? laces will no be possible with freezing hands

    MALDIVES (87)

    The Maldives is the 85th country I have travelled to :)

    Arrived in the mostly Muslim Maldives to the usual arrival-bag-x-ray where they hunt for anyone who might be carrying any evil alcohol. Anything found is confiscated. Boy I’d like to be invited to their Xmas party :)

    First step since I have arrived a day early is to find a hotel. The SL airline magazine gave the Male Holiday Inn a good write up so I looked into that. $380 a night. I think I might try somewhere else :/

    Males seems to have only nine types of vehicles, scooters, taxis (which are all full all the time), parked scooters, small pickup trucks, scooters, boats, scooters, bicycles and of course scooters. Almost every spot along the side of every road is crammed with closely parked scooters. The roads themselves are full of a never ending procession of more scooters, probably looking for a tiny space to park in. I remember once being told that there are not enough spaces for all of the passenger airplanes in the world to be parked at one time so some will always have to be in the air. Male probably has a similar problem with scooters which makes me feel sorry for the last scooter drivers who miss out on a park at the end of the day and have to drive around all night.

    Motor Scooter madness, Male, Maldives

    The other weird thing is that Male is tiny. It couldn’t take you more that 30 minutes to walk between any two points on the island. So why does everyone need a motorised vehicle when even the longest journey could only last a few minutes – unless you are looking for a park.

    Also even though the roads are clogged with scooters and the speed limit is only 25kms there is still a Ferrari on the island, You have to wonder why though as it could never get out of second gear and it would easily take up six scooter parks.

    Once settled in my hotel I took a walk around the tiny island and ran into a good friend from my party days in London called Smitty. I had no idea Smitty was here so this is a freaky coincidence. It’s a small world and sometimes I think I am at the centre of it.

    The last time I saw Smitty was on the 4th of February 2006. How do I know the exactly date nearly four years later? Well I took this photo of him throwing up into a rubbish bin at Gloucester Road on the Waitangi Day Circle Line Pub Crawl.

    Smitty um looking for something he lost

    Smitty has just moved to Male to run food and beverages at the Male Holiday Inn (yes the hotel mentioned above). He is going to change everything here in a couple of months when they get the first licence to sell alcohol in Male in 28 years, To tourists only of course. Smitty has offered to hook me up with some diving etc with some contact he has at some resorts :)

    Smitty also made the point that while he is working here he has to steer clear of the local girls. The punishment for a foreigner for sleeping with a local girl is a public flogging. Ouch.

    Oh yeah and true to form, it’s raining

    Over the next few days there wasn’t much to do. I tried several times to get my hotel to help me find some diving but everyone we spoke to could only help me dive from Male if I was four people. Sadly I am not four people. I even tried a couple of dive gear shops and at least one place that said they did dive tours and no one could/would help. Several said they would call or email but they never did. I also tried to book onto a scenic flight and a boat based island tour but neither was operating because the weather was so rubbish.

    It seems to be that tourism here is all about the resorts and because Male is merely a stepping off point that there is no real tourist infrastructure on Male. Basically don’t ever come to the Maldives and try to do your own thing because you can’t.

    On day three I managed to get out to the Sheraton Resort which is the nearest resort island to Male island. Smitty arranged for free transfers and a free stay on the island during the day. Normally resorts charge a fair amount of dollars to let people lounge around on their beaches all day. Even lunch which was a buffet was US$70. In the afternoon I went for a boat dive off one of the reefs here. This was probably the best dive I have ever been on with loads of eels, snapper, reef fish, a napoleon (a big ugly fish), lion fish and even a couple of curious turtles who came up to a meter or so to have a look at us. As usual my big body chewed through 180psi of air in a mere 50 minutes and I had to surface first. Huge thanks to Smitty without whom I might have come to this diver’s paradise and not been able to dive at all.

    Sheraton, Maldives

    For NY Eve I ate pizza and watched movies in my hotel room by myself as Male is dry. This might be my first sober NYE in 18 years. Different.

    Maldives madness

    There is a story about credit cards that I am meaning to to write here but haven’t gotten around to yet.