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Friday, 10 March 2017 02:32

Agile 101 - Agile Teams Use Simple Tools

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This content is from the TenStep weekly "tips" email dated 2017.08.3

Agile 101 - Agile Teams Use Simple Tools (Except for Testing)

Generally speaking, Agile teams are not big on software tools. Most of the time Agile teams utilize the simplest tool that will perform the job. For example, Agile teams typically do not create formal status reports, but that does not mean they don't communicate. A common approach is to have a central bulletin board with visual content that described the current sprint, status of user stories, any problems encountered, defects discovered, etc. This is often referred to as an Information Radiator.

Similarly, the Agile Team can identify the risks associated with the product backlog and the other aspects of the project. Risks can be plotted on a simple chart showing the total number of remaining risks over time. Since the risks will be addressed and resolved during the project, the remaining risks should show a declining line that trends down to zero at the end of the project. This is referred to as a Risk Burndown Chart.

Here are some additional examples of how Agile uses simple, visual tools to manage an iteration and to manage iterations over the life of a project.

  • Flipcharts and whiteboards. These are very good for drawing models and documenting meeting notes. They are simple, visual and allow the team to easily refer back to them as needed.
  • Post-it notes. These are good for displaying individual elements of models, showing the status on Kanban boards, posting notes on the Information Radiator, etc. They are easily movable, yet will remain in place long-term for future review and revision.
  • Index cards. These are generally used to document user stories and requirements. They are easy to shuffle so that the highest priority requirements are on top. Changing priorities is just a matter of re-ordering the index cards.
  • Cell phone camera. This is a simple tool for taking pictures of flipcharts and whiteboards. The digital image can then be shared with virtual team members or emailed to others for discussion.
It is not uncommon for Agile teams to display the high-level architecture of the solution on a flipchart or whiteboard. If the architecture needs to change, the white board diagram is simply updated as needed.

The Exceptions

On the other hand, the quick sprint cycles on an Agile project require good testing, integration and implementation (moving code to production) tools. You cannot spend two weeks doing full manual tests if your entire sprint is 30 days. If your entire sprint is two weeks, your testing must be even more automated.

Over the years, a number of simple software tools have become popular to managing the overall Agile project. These tools allow you to capture stories, prioritize work, capture documentation, collaborate virtually, etc. Even though an Agile management tool is not strictly needed, many organizations find that automating the manual Agile processes can help teams be more effective and consistent across the organization. 
At TenStep we are dedicated to helping organizations achieve their goals and strategies through the successful execution of critical business projects. We provide training, consulting and products for organizations to help them set up an environment where projects are successful. This includes help with strategic planning, portfolio management, program / project management, Project Management Offices (PMOs) and project lifecycles. For more information, visit www.TenStep.com or contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Friday, 10 March 2017 02:32

Agile 101 - Agile Teams Use Simple Tools

Written by
Rate this item
(0 votes)
This content is from the TenStep weekly "tips" email dated 2017.08.3

Agile 101 - Agile Teams Use Simple Tools (Except for Testing)

Generally speaking, Agile teams are not big on software tools. Most of the time Agile teams utilize the simplest tool that will perform the job. For example, Agile teams typically do not create formal status reports, but that does not mean they don't communicate. A common approach is to have a central bulletin board with visual content that described the current sprint, status of user stories, any problems encountered, defects discovered, etc. This is often referred to as an Information Radiator.

Similarly, the Agile Team can identify the risks associated with the product backlog and the other aspects of the project. Risks can be plotted on a simple chart showing the total number of remaining risks over time. Since the risks will be addressed and resolved during the project, the remaining risks should show a declining line that trends down to zero at the end of the project. This is referred to as a Risk Burndown Chart.

Here are some additional examples of how Agile uses simple, visual tools to manage an iteration and to manage iterations over the life of a project.

  • Flipcharts and whiteboards. These are very good for drawing models and documenting meeting notes. They are simple, visual and allow the team to easily refer back to them as needed.
  • Post-it notes. These are good for displaying individual elements of models, showing the status on Kanban boards, posting notes on the Information Radiator, etc. They are easily movable, yet will remain in place long-term for future review and revision.
  • Index cards. These are generally used to document user stories and requirements. They are easy to shuffle so that the highest priority requirements are on top. Changing priorities is just a matter of re-ordering the index cards.
  • Cell phone camera. This is a simple tool for taking pictures of flipcharts and whiteboards. The digital image can then be shared with virtual team members or emailed to others for discussion.
It is not uncommon for Agile teams to display the high-level architecture of the solution on a flipchart or whiteboard. If the architecture needs to change, the white board diagram is simply updated as needed.

The Exceptions

On the other hand, the quick sprint cycles on an Agile project require good testing, integration and implementation (moving code to production) tools. You cannot spend two weeks doing full manual tests if your entire sprint is 30 days. If your entire sprint is two weeks, your testing must be even more automated.

Over the years, a number of simple software tools have become popular to managing the overall Agile project. These tools allow you to capture stories, prioritize work, capture documentation, collaborate virtually, etc. Even though an Agile management tool is not strictly needed, many organizations find that automating the manual Agile processes can help teams be more effective and consistent across the organization. 
At TenStep we are dedicated to helping organizations achieve their goals and strategies through the successful execution of critical business projects. We provide training, consulting and products for organizations to help them set up an environment where projects are successful. This includes help with strategic planning, portfolio management, program / project management, Project Management Offices (PMOs) and project lifecycles. For more information, visit www.TenStep.com or contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Monday, 06 March 2017 04:23

Ten Tips for Effective Status Meetings

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This content is from the TenStep weekly "tips" email dated 2017.02.3

Ten Tips for Effective Status Meetings

Reporting status is the minimum expectation for communicating on a project. Team status meetings are a good way to maintain effective communication with the team. There are some simple rules and etiquettes that will make them more production and valuable to the attendees.

  1. All individual meetings should have an agenda that describes the major aspects of the meeting and the timeframes. Regularly scheduled, ongoing status meetings do not need a published agenda every week if they stick to the same agenda format. Instead they use a "standing agenda" which is understood to be the same for each meeting.
  2. Someone should document the key points of the meeting. This will be the project manager unless other arrangements have been made. The scribe should recap all outstanding action items, including who is responsible, what is expected, and when the action item is due.
  3. There should be a meeting facilitator. This is usually the project manager unless other arrangements have been made.
  4. Make sure the participants know ahead of time of anything they need to bring to the meeting or any advance preparation that needs to take place.
  5. Only invite the people that need to be there. Others may dilute the effectiveness of the meeting.
  6. The person who requested the meeting should explain the purpose and the expected outcome.
  7. The facilitator needs to follow the agenda and watch the time to make sure everything gets covered.
  8. Take any lengthy discussions offline or to a separate meeting that focuses on these items with the people that are most interested.
  9. The meeting should focus on items of interest to the entire team. Resist the urge to go around the room to discuss individual status. At any given time, this format engages the person giving a status update, but bores all the rest. 
  10. The scribe or facilitator should recap the notes and any decisions that were made and send them to attendees and other appropriate stakeholders.


At TenStep we are dedicated to helping organizations achieve their goals and strategies through the successful execution of critical business projects. We provide training, consulting and products for organizations to help them set up an environment where projects are successful. This includes help with strategic planning, portfolio management, program / project management, Project Management Offices (PMOs) and project lifecycles. For more information, visit www.TenStep.com or contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Monday, 06 March 2017 04:23

Ten Tips for Effective Status Meetings

Written by
Rate this item
(0 votes)

This content is from the TenStep weekly "tips" email dated 2017.02.3

Ten Tips for Effective Status Meetings

Reporting status is the minimum expectation for communicating on a project. Team status meetings are a good way to maintain effective communication with the team. There are some simple rules and etiquettes that will make them more production and valuable to the attendees.

  1. All individual meetings should have an agenda that describes the major aspects of the meeting and the timeframes. Regularly scheduled, ongoing status meetings do not need a published agenda every week if they stick to the same agenda format. Instead they use a "standing agenda" which is understood to be the same for each meeting.
  2. Someone should document the key points of the meeting. This will be the project manager unless other arrangements have been made. The scribe should recap all outstanding action items, including who is responsible, what is expected, and when the action item is due.
  3. There should be a meeting facilitator. This is usually the project manager unless other arrangements have been made.
  4. Make sure the participants know ahead of time of anything they need to bring to the meeting or any advance preparation that needs to take place.
  5. Only invite the people that need to be there. Others may dilute the effectiveness of the meeting.
  6. The person who requested the meeting should explain the purpose and the expected outcome.
  7. The facilitator needs to follow the agenda and watch the time to make sure everything gets covered.
  8. Take any lengthy discussions offline or to a separate meeting that focuses on these items with the people that are most interested.
  9. The meeting should focus on items of interest to the entire team. Resist the urge to go around the room to discuss individual status. At any given time, this format engages the person giving a status update, but bores all the rest. 
  10. The scribe or facilitator should recap the notes and any decisions that were made and send them to attendees and other appropriate stakeholders.


At TenStep we are dedicated to helping organizations achieve their goals and strategies through the successful execution of critical business projects. We provide training, consulting and products for organizations to help them set up an environment where projects are successful. This includes help with strategic planning, portfolio management, program / project management, Project Management Offices (PMOs) and project lifecycles. For more information, visit www.TenStep.com or contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Wednesday, 01 March 2017 20:03

Six Tips for Managing the Project Budget

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This content is from the Method123 weekly email dated 2017.01.03

Six Tips for Managing the Project Budget

Many projects will benefit from a Financial Management Plan. This plan provides guidance on how you will estimate, budget and manage costs.

If you want to successfully manage your budget you have to be sure to capture all of the expenditures paid to date, including all expenses related to labor, equipment, supplies, material, etc. Then compare the numbers against your budgeted spending for this same time period. You may or may not have an apples-to-apples comparison. There are a couple reasons why a project may look like it is having budget problems when it may really not be.

  1. Some expenses may be budgeted for, but in another time period. If you paid for a major purchase this period that was originally scheduled for next period, then it shouldn’t surprise you to see that you are technically ‘over budget’. This type of expense overrun will even out over time.
  2. You may appear to be over budget but you may also be ahead of schedule. For instance, you may have paid a contractor overtime to get ahead of schedule. In this case, your estimated budget at project completion should show that the project would complete within its original allocated budget. 
The following scenarios illustrate over-budget situations where the project really is in jeopardy. If you are trending over budget because of these situations, corrective actions are required. 

  1. The project may be trending over budget because some of the activities cost more than estimated. This could be because of working unscheduled overtime or applying more resources than estimated. In this case, if the trend continues, the project budget may be in jeopardy. This should be raised as a budget risk unless there are mitigating factors that will allow the over-budget trend to reverse.
  2. Your estimated cost projections may turn out to be wrong because you may have underestimated labor or non-labor costs. If you have an estimating contingency budget, you can tap into it to help offset these estimating errors.   
  3. It’s possible that mandatory activities or project expenses were missed when the original estimates were created. If the work or expense is required, but missed in the estimating process, you will not be able to invoke scope change management. In this case, a budget risk should be raised unless there are mitigating factors that will allow you to recoup the additional expense through a cost savings somewhere else.
  4. You may be working on activities that are outside the approved Project Charter or business requirements. If so, the new work should stop until scope change management can be invoked.
If these types of situations occur, the project manager needs to investigate more to determine whether there is a problem, potential problem or no problem at all.  
At TenStep we are dedicated to helping organizations achieve their goals and strategies through the successful execution of critical business projects. We provide training, consulting and products for organizations to help them set up an environment where projects are successful. This includes help with strategic planning, portfolio management, program / project management, Project Management Offices (PMOs) and project lifecycles. For more information, visit www.TenStep.com or contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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