Personal Kanban on Windows Desktop

Kanban Windows background with Sticky Note tasksHave you wanted to try a simple and free personal Kanban board? Turn your Windows 10 Desktop into your own Kanban board, and use Sticky Notes app to represent your tasks.

I used Photoshop to create the image with columns “to do,” “doing,” and “done.”kanban board windows background If you don’t want to use Photoshop to make an image,  you could just as easily use the computer desktop kanban board I made, or create your own using PowerPoint’s “Save as Image” feature to make your own slide, and then set that image as your desktop.

If you have your own workflow, you might consider making a PowerPoint slide and use PowerPoint’s “Save as Image” feature to make your own board.

Regardless, once you have an image, you can set that image as your desktop in Windows 10.

Now, all you have to do is use the StickyNote feature to put notes on your background and move them through the Kanban.

Granted, this is an elementary implementation of Kanban, since Kanban is more than cards on a wall.  For a fuller implementation of Kanban, measure and manage flow. But at least this creates some visibility hopefully focus for you.

If you are new to the concept of Personal Kanban, check out the Personal Kanban 101 introduction. Make your work visible, and limit your work-in-progress.

What personal Kanban approaches have worked for you?

If you use this image, please leave a comment about how it worked for you.

The Sirens Song of Measurement

Like the Siren song that caused sailors wreck their ships on the rocks, the call to measure agile team velocity calls to managers and executives.

Scrum teams often track their velocity, an average of the total story points delivered in past sprints. As teams improve, velocity typically increases. And, mature teams typically don’t have erratic velocities.

Management believes that if a stable, predictable velocity with an upward trend over time is good, we should set a target and boundaries for what “good” velocity is. Track it, and make a dashboard of it.

But here’s the problem: if you start showing team velocities, side-by-side, and coloring them as red/yellow/green, there is no longer emotional safety. Any scrum team with half a brain will figure out how to make that status report look good. And, that often creates artificial, useless, harmful, behaviors.

But, here’s the rub. In the absence of other information, management wants to measure SOMETHING!

Forget about measuring and comparing velocities at a leadership level, and find ways to determine, and measure:
1. How will we Know if we built the right thing?
2. How will we Know if we built it right?

Measure those things, and forget about holding teams to a particular velocity expectation.

What do you think? Do you have ways to measure delivering the right thing, or whether it was built right? Please share.


Photo and Model Credits
Model/Editor/Stylist/MUA: Ghost Siren
Photographer: Elizabeth Stemmler
Photographer Elizabeth Stemmler on Facebook
Original Image Source

Measure Agile Teams at Your Own Risk

Agile methods, when done well, will increase the ability of an organization to deliver value to its customers. Teams deliver frequently. Teams move faster.

In Scrum, the total story points delivered every sprint is the team’s velocity. Increasing velocity is good. Decreasing velocity is bad. That’s the conventional wisdom.

Because we want increasing speed, it’s seductive to make a trend of the team’s velocity. Velocity is easy to measure. Because we measure every sprint, it is easy to make a trend.

Predictability is valuable, so organizations start to set boundaries for what “good” variation looks like, and what “bad” variation looks like. Good variation is modest and generally increasing. Bad variation is erratic and hard to use for predictions.

Because we know what is “good” and what is “bad,” it is easy to set targets for these metrics.  But, guess what? When targets get set, and teams get measured against those targets. Who wants to look bad? Nobody. Team members are smart enough to make themselves look good. And there is the problem.

A team that is evaluated against a target will do whatever is needed to achieve that metric. The easiest thing to do is modify behavior to artificially make the data look good. The metrics will get “gamed.”

Measuring, in and of itself, is not bad. Measuring teams, setting targets, evaluating teams, and comparing teams to one another; that’s bad.

If I had to sum this up in one line, it is this:
If you set a target, the teams might hit the bullseye, but might be bullshit.

Do you have a story of metrics that turned into targets that created unintended consequences? Please comment below.

Do you believe you’ve been around targets that didn’t create unintended consequences? I’d be interested in those, too.

Kanban – More than Columns on a Wall

If you’ve slapped up a board that says “to do,” “doing,” and “done” and called it Kanban, that’s about the weakest implementation of Kanban that is possible.

If you’re interested in really harnessing the Kanban framework, you have to go beyond three columns and:

  1. Model your team’s actual workflow
  2. Apply discipline to your policies, work-in-progress (WIP) limits
  3. Measure
  4. Get nerdy with the data

If you want to learn more about using data with Kanban, go get a copy of Daniel Vacanti’s book on agile metrics from leanpub, or on Amazon.  Read it.

Then, get a trial to Actionable Agile. This tool visualizes data, and integrates with multiple platforms. Watch the videos on the ActionableAgile YouTube channel that gives an introduction to the tool’s capabilities.

Now, use the data and a never settle for “this is as good as it gets.” Dig in and improve your process!

Five Keys to Your New Years Resolution (and mine)

Welcome to 2018!

Did you make a new years’ resolutions? Have you managed to keep it through the first day of the new year? If so, congratulations. I’m sure you’re doing better than most folks.

I’ve never really been one to make resolutions. More precisely, I’ve dabbled in resolutions in the past, but never followed through on them. But, as the saying goes “if at first you don’t succeed….” Here’s what I’m resolving to do in 2018, and hope the five keys work for you as well. Please read to the end. There is a way you can help.

Five Keys to Your New Years Resolution

  1. Making a Public Commitment
  2. Have an Accountability Partner
  3. Be Realistic
  4. Habit Stacking
  5. Ask for Help

Step 1: Make a Public Commitment

This will be done as soon as I hit “Publish.” Of course, your “public” commitment might be to anyone who will help you with step 2.

Step 2: Have an Accountability Partner

I intend to have an accountability partner from among the fine agile coach team at my employer, AgileThought.

Step 3: Be Realistic

At times, it feels like sharing ideas needs to be  large, completely unique, or world-changing. This year, I’m just striving to share more of what I find interesting. It may not be revolutionary, but hopefully it at least sparks some conversations.

Ever since I started working as “an agile coach,” I’ve had a vague notion that I should do more public writing. Or, if not writing, I need to share my ideas and experience through conference presentations or sharing at user groups. There have been periods of time where I was fairly consistent in sharing, and there were times where I went completely silent. But, with the new year upon me, I’m going to give it a go. I’ll be posting a blog article at least once a week and tweeting something each day.

Step 4:  Habit Stacking

I’ve started reading the book Habit Stacking by S.J. Scott. This book boasts the subtitle “127 Small Changes to Improve Your Health, Wealth, and Happiness.” I’m skeptical about the subtitle’s claims, but there is an interesting notion about building habits and putting a bunch of small activities together into a single time-slot. So, that will be one of the experiments I will be running. And, I’ll let you know how that goes in a future post.

Step 5: Ask for Help

I could use your help.  If you find something interesting, please leave a comment. If you disagree, leave a comment. Just feel like saying “hi?” Leave a comment. I expect to learn from the feedback, so please leave a note.

What do you think?  What has worked for you in the past? Please leave a comment.

Do you want to be the next Wells Fargo Scandal?

Last week, Wells Fargo put out a press release acknowledging that they had uncovered more than 1,000,000 additional possibly fraudulent accounts. A million! Say it with me: one… MILLION more fraudulent accounts.

Here are a couple comments from the twitterverse, complete with a branded hashtag #wellsfargoscandal:

What’s at the root of the issue? An environment that generated a “bonus” for performance targets and fired people who did not hit them. Read more about the “incentive” program in the NY Times article.

But it’s not just Wells Fargo!

A group called Patriot Majority USA was incented its workers to register voters. I’m sure they mean well. They want to get people to the polls, and to do that, they want to get more folks register. So some genius decided to set a quota of 10 registrations a day. Register 10 people each day, or you risk losing your job. That sounds brilliant!

Guess what… they got 10 registrations per day from their employees.

Now, Patriot Majority USA and some of its employees have been charged with registering fake voters! (No, this is not #fakenews.) The article states:

“A search warrant unsealed on Nov. 14 says some workers admitted to falsifying registrations, saying they faced the possibility of losing their temporary job if they didn’t register at least 10 new voters a day.”

There are tons of other instances, I assure you.

But here’s the point

It’s time to do away with the MBA stupidity of “you get what you measure.” Yes, sure. And, you get a whole bunch of shit you didn’t intend.

People are smart.

If you rig the system, they will exploit the weakness in the game.

Stop the bullshit manipulation with performance-based targets.

If you’re in charge, focus on creating an environment where people feel valued, they know their purpose, and give them the tools to do the job well.


What do you think? Leave a comment.

Scrum Master Certifications – Two Cents from an Agile Coach

“Which Scrum Master Certification should I get?” That was the question I got just a week ago. This lead to a good conversation with the person asking, and this blog post is based on our conversation and my answer. What do you think?

To answer “which should I get,” one might first ask “Is it worth getting a certification?” There are two ways I want to explore this topic. One facet is financial the other is more intrinsic. First, some companies require a certification before they consider a candidate for a position. This is a lazy way to screen candidates. It’s like requiring a 4-year college degree as a litmus test that prospective candidates must pass, even if the job doesn’t really need a four-year degree. Hopefully some day we will have more enlightened hiring practices. Until then, however, we’re stuck with the game. The other way to look at it is about how well going through the certification process can position you for the role. There can be a lot of indirect value in the learning that comes from preparing to take the exam.

Here is my perspective on the four certifying bodies we talked about: Scrum Alliance,, PMI, and

Scrum Alliance

Scrum Alliance issues the Certified Scrum Master (CSM), Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO), and other “Certified Scrum *” certifications. To take these exams, you must to take a two-day class from a Certified Scrum Trainer (CSD), and then take the exam. The cost of one exam attempt is included in the cost of taking the training. Cost of training varies from one trainer to another. Certifications have to be renewed periodically. I think that cost might be about $100 every two years, or something in that neighborhood.

There is a vast difference in the quality of CSTs. Some have deep knowledge and communicate well, and others are more style than substance. When people ask me about CSTs, I always recommend spending the extra money and going to one of Mike Cohn’s training courses. He’s not the least expensive option out there, but his experience and ability to communicate is excellent.

From an employer perspective, I see CSM as the most asked-for certification when I see position descriptions for Scrum Masters or Scrum Coaches. So, from a “get a job” perspective, I’d put this one at the top of the list. was formed by a couple of the founders of Scrum. They offer “Professional Scrum….” Certificates. For example, Professional Scrum Master level 1, 2, and 3 are certifications that are offered. Unlike the Scrum Alliance certification, you can take the exams without taking a training class at all. There are study guides available on the web site. The PSM 1 certification exam cost is $500. There is no requirement to renew these certifications.

If you want to attend training in preparation for the exam, you can certainly do that. There are certified trainers that can deliver training from a standard set of materials made available by Admittedly, I am conflicted about where you should get the training, since my employer, AgileThought, provides the training. However, at this time, AgileThought does not have a public training class offered. Should you have a group of folks in your company who would like to get trained, we can arrange to have a trainer come to your business.


The Project Management Institute (PMI) issues the PMI-ACP certification. This certification requires that you have a certain number of hours of agile project experience (2,000 hours of general project experience, an additional 1,500 hours on agile project teams), plus 21 hours of training in agile practices. The training that I provided at Zillion could be counted toward your 21 contact hours, although I didn’t look into exactly how to document those training hours. For non-PMI members, the cost is $495, so very comparable to the PSM 1 certification.

This is one of the lesser known options. Honestly, I know relatively little about it. Without having looked at the Scrum Body of Knowledge (SBOK), I’d think it might have good reference information in it. That said, since the scrum master-related certification from costs almost as much as the one from or the PMI-ACP, I would be inclined toward either the or PMI-ACP, since they are more recognized in the industry. It’s not to say that the education you will get from one or the other is better or worse, but if the goal is recognition in the industry, I would put the one from scrum study at the bottom of my list.


I feel like you could really start with any of these and do well. My opinion is that the test has the lower barrier to entry. By that, I mean you don’t have to document the thousands of hours required by PMI to take their exam. And, you don’t have to attend a two day class like you would for CSM. If I were pursuing a certification on my own, I think I would start with certification.

If the company I worked for were paying for the time and the exam, I would probably get a CSM from Scrum Alliance, and I would try to attend a class given by Mike Cohn. Of course, that is if all the costs of attendance and travel were covered by my company. I got my CSM from Mike Cohn several years ago, and really respect him as a trainer.

As for the PMI-ACP, I have heard that the preparation is valuable. I’m not sure what the market demand for that is, but I could see an organization that values PMP certification also being interested in PMI-ACP.


The best “certification” I can think of is a personal reference from a trusted source. No piece of paper will replace this. As a person looking to step into that role, look to connect with others in the agile community. Seek out opportunities to build your experience base and allow others to see what you can do. Demonstrating competence of the material, as well as the ability to apply the knowledge in an engaging way, is much more valuable than a piece of paper that says you sat in class and/or passed a written test.

What are your thoughts? Comment on the post below….

Slack Tips for Agile Teams

Image result for slack iconIt seems like Slack is becoming the default chat tool for both distributed teams and collocated teams. This really astounded me. There was a time not long ago where I hated slack. Yes, I hated it. The signal-to-noise ratio was awful. There was no value to it that I could see. Zero. I couldn’t figure out why some of my friends used it. So I asked. And I kept asking.

For folks who used it, Slack seemed to be a simple way to connect to teammates. I get that it is a chat client, but I already have Outlook, Skype for Business, texting on my phone, and any number of other tools for communicating. What value could yet another channel create? It seemed like yet another damn place to go try to figure out what was going on. Frustrating.

When I asked about the signal-to-noise issue, they would tell me about configuring alerts for specific topics of interest to them. So, granted, I can configure alerts to get alerts on keywords that I’m interested in, and I can turn off alerts. That approach can help to amplify the signal and dampen the noise of the communication. Baby steps.

But since those frustrating times, Slack has grown on me. What really changed for me was having a client that set a really good example of how to use Slack. Here are some of the lessons I learned and want to share with you:

Lessons Learned

Use Channels Effectively

The company set up channels for individual teams, channels for build servers to post test results to, and even channels for communicating about lunch plans. If people were interested in a topic, they could join the appropriate channel. No interest? Don’t join the channel. Just like you cannot expect to be part of every conversation in the office and not feel overwhelmed, don’t feel a need to be in every Slack communication. Let go of the desire to be engaged in every Slack message.

Use Slack Integrations

If you’re going to use a tool, get the most out of it. You can have up to 10 integrations in the free version of Slack. Some integrations can be useful, and others are mostly for fun. Here are a couple apps that we have added and have been getting used:
/Giphy – Add fun animated GIF to your chat. You can type “really?”, but doesn’t a brown puppy shaking its head convey so much more emotion? For those concerned about whether the GIF might be NSFW, you can configure the rating of the GIFs that are returned. Don’t fear the HR people. Well, at least don’t fear them because of Giphy.

/Donut – This randomly pairs people up each week for coffee. I’ve found this to be an excellent way to connect with remote colleagues I might not otherwise engage with during the work week. If you’re collocated, you can go somewhere and get coffee. With my distributed team, we hold an impromptu video call to have coffee and catch up.

Remember it is Temporary

Slack’s free tier of service provides capabilities that might meet all your needs. An interesting feature of the free tier is that it preserves the 10,000 most recent messages. So, with any meaningful level of use, you will hit that limit. For $7/user/month (billed annually) Slack removes this limitation and allows you to search an unlimited number of messages in your video archive.

Before you open your wallet to pay, consider this: do you take minutes and archive the conversation at the watercolor, lunch, or happy hour? Do you document the hallway conversation you have with a teammate? If you do, grab your wallet. If not, the free Slack tier is good enough for you. Shifting your mindset from thinking of Slack as an archive of decisions to thinking of it as a temporary conversation space really changed how I viewed the message limit. Be OK with the fact that it is a tool for conversations, not a tool for documenting decisions.

If you make a decision by chatting in Slack, use your system(s) of record to preserve the conclusion. If you clarify a User Story, add it to the Story. If you find a document needs updating, update the document. Troubleshooting a bug? Fix the bug.  Make it safe for the conversation history to be lost.

Pin Items

Even though Slack may only hold messages temporarily, some of the messages may be more valuable than others. For those messages that you want easily accessible, Slack provides the “Pin….” option. On can click on the “…” button and select “Pin to <channel name>”

Now, when a user visits a channel, they have the option of viewing those pinned items in a sidebar. This is a very convenient way to see the more important messages.

Send Notifications When Needed

Slack allows notifications using the “@” command. If you want to notify everyone who is currently active, start your message with “@here” followed by a space and your message. Start your message with “@channel” followed by a space and your message to notify the whole channel about a message.  You can use these notification options to alert your team to more valuable or urgent messages in Slack. That said, don’t be “the boy who cried wolf” and over-use the @here or @channel mentions.

Use the Call Feature

Communication via text can be convenient. I also find that people use text chat because it feels less emotionally risky. That said, sometimes it is just not an effective or sufficient mode of communication. Arguably the most effective form of communication is face-to-face. That is true whether you are collocated in an office, or half a world away. If you are in the same office, walk to the person you’re wanting to talk to. If you’re working with a remote colleague, view their profile and click the “Call” button, turn your camera on, and start a video call. It might feel awkward at first, but the reward is worth the risk.

Configure Slack on All Your Devices

Slack is available for so many platforms (Mac, Windows, iOS, Android…) that I found it valuable to make sure I had all my Slack Teams on all my devices; each computer, iPhone, iPad. This solved the problem of not realizing that I’d missed updates from the Hack Michiana, a Code for America Brigade, when I was away from my non-work computer.

Slack Magic Link

Get a Magic Link for logging in. It is easier than remembering passwords.

“But typing in the passwords to use on a bunch of devices is a pain in the butt,” you might say. I agree. To make that pain more tolerable, use the “Get a Magic Link” option when signing in. When you are adding a team to a device, you enter the team URL. Then, you enter the email address you used to sign up for that team and click the “Get a Magic Link” button to get a one-time-use e-mail sent to me for signing in. Poof! No more remembering complex passwords and typing them in.

Benefits of using Slack

Open Communication

Slack’s biggest benefit, for me, is that it allows a “public” conversation to take place amongst the team, and allows individuals to contribute how they see fit. No longer are inboxes getting filled with communication that they may or may not need to know about.

Reduced Email

Speaking of inboxes, you can really reduce the amount of e-mail sent and read. I recently wrapped up a client engagement where the whole company used slack. I no longer suffered through reading all the new messages only to figure out if I should care about their contents or not. And, I didn’t have to get hit with all the unfounded “reply to all” email. One side-effect of this, however, was that at times someone would say “did you see my e-mail?” In fact, it was rather interesting to see how much my communication mode shifted to Slack, and how much more effective it was for getting prompt responses.

Virtually Unlimited Options

There are so many integrations for Slack that can help to streamline communication. In addition to fun tools like Giphy, or tools to facilitate team member engagement like Donut, there are tools for voting on options. There are integrations for your calendar app to facilitate setting up meetings. And, if you don’t like those integrations and are inclined toward writing your own, there is an API that can open up a world of new possibilities. Search through the available apps and integrations and find ones that you want to try. Many are free.

A Starting Point

Because my client used Slack, that meant I was expected to use Slack during the engagement. And, I feel a responsibility to gain some level of proficiency with the software tools I use. After all, what’s the point of having a tool and not knowing how to make it work for you?

Since Slack was now part of my daily responsibilities, I found it easier to be in tune with other Slack teams on which I have been either lurking or neglecting. I’m not only got in tune with my client’s Slack, but many other Teams in Slack that I belonged to It is simple to get started with Slack. If you’re curious about Slack here’s what I would recommend.

  1. Start with the free tier of Slack service.
  2. Set up your Team in Slack.
  3. Invite your team members.
  4. Chat freely.
  5. Add some integrations. Try them out.
  6. Use “@” mentions of user names to pull people into the conversation.
  7. Allow members to add channels and experiment with what might work for them.
  8. Don’t try to control the Team with burdensome policies.

The reason I say to not try to try to control Slack is that if rules and regulations about how people use Slack, there is nothing to stop people from setting up their own Slack Team for free and communicating with a subset of the team in their own Slack Team.

In conclusion, if you are curious about Slack, try it. Try the tips from earlier, and see how you like it.

What has been your experience with Slack? Do you have tips you’d like to share? Please feel free to comment on this post.

There is an “i” in “Agile”

There’s a popular phrase that states “there is no ‘I’ in ‘team.'” This slogan appears on shirts. It appears on posters. It is popular enough that the phrase has been “hacked” and now there is a funny graphic that says “There is an ‘i’ in Team. It’s in the a-hole.”

There is an “i” in “TEAM.” Hidden in the A-Hole. (Copyright belongs to the image’s creator)

What might that phrase mean to an agile team? There is a SolutionIQ article that states “There is no I in Agile” and discusses how teamwork can make or break an agile team. I agree that teamwork is important. But, contrary to the SolutionsIQ heading, there is an “i” in “agile.” And it is important that we remember that the agile team is made up of a whole bunch of “i’s.” Here are some of the ways to make the “i” in “agile” effective. Work to help each “i”:

  • i realize that i cannot be successful if the team fails
  • i look for ways to help teammates
  • i bring new ideas into the team
  • i am willing to take risks
  • i admit when i need help
  • i admit when i am wrong
  • i grow my skills over time
  • i build upon other people’s ideas with my own
  • i bring my whole self to the team
  • i try to not be defensive
  • i realize others bring their whole self as well
  • i realize that the world outside work impacts people at work
  • i take small risks and learn from the outcome
  • i respect my teammates
  • i foster collaboration across the team
  • i use my eyes to observe what is happening on the team
  • i am a “little i,” not demanding the attention of a big “I”

Remember that your team is composed of many individuals, each with their own background, values, and perspectives. Work to be inclusive of those differences as you work toward a common goal.

The Danger of a Proxy Product Owner

Imagine that you’ve read the Scrum Guide’s description of Product Owner role. You  see that in order to be effective, a Scrum Product Owner needs to

  • Keep the Product Backlog groomed
  • Ensure understanding amongst the Scrum Team, and
  • Negotiate with the Development Team

That takes a lot of time and energy. You realize that the role is so involved that you can’t possibly have your current “product owner” fulfill the Scrum duties as well. You are contemplating using a “Proxy” product owner to fulfill the Scrum Product Owner’s duties. The Proxy Product Owner will not be the real product owner, but they represent the product owner and have the responsibility for communicating the product owner’s perspective with the team.

To fulfill these responsibilities, of a Product Owner, the individual in the role must have the

  • time to do the work completely
  • knowledge of the product and customers’ needs
  • authority to make decisions

Can a Proxy Product Owner be effective? Is it a good idea? Will that work? Let’s explore it a little bit.

Problem Proxy Product Owners

Overworked Product Owners can neither keep the backlog groomed nor be available to the team.

An Indecisive Product Owner can kill the team’s momentum.

What is the danger of having a Proxy Product Owner? The danger of using a proxy is that it often masks organizational problems with the way the role is set up. Many times when I hear “Proxy Product Owner” used, it is used as a euphemism for one of these other types of Product Owner dysfunctions:

Dysfunctional Product Owner Models

The Ignorant Product Owner They lack the knowledge necessary to fulfill the role. They are constantly having to go out and gather understanding from someone else who truly has it. Or, worse, they guess at the answer and inject wastefull activity into the team.
The Impotent Product Owner They have no power to make decisions. They have to go play "mother may i...." with people who really make decisions. This delay negatively impacts the team.
The Indecisive Product OwnerThey have all the information and authority to make decisions, but they're still incapable of deciding. The causes of indecisiveness vary, from fear of punishment for wrong decisions to over-analysis.
The Overworked Product OwnerThis person simply has too much work for one human to do. It is impossible for them to keep the team supplied with a properly groomed backlog, leading to frustrating and ineffective Sprint Planning and delivery.

Effective Proxy Product Owner

A “proxy” is someone who can make decisions on behalf of another. If the person filling the Scrum Product Owner role can completely and truly fill all the responsibilities outlined in the Scrum Guide, then you truly have a Scrum Product Owner.

If the term “Proxy Product Owner” is sometimes used when somebody else in the organization has an existing title of Product Manager or Product Owner. When an organization adopting the Scrum framework already has a position description with the title “Product Owner,” role confusion can emerge. In those cases, it can be valuable to differentiate the Scrum Product Owner from the other duties that are wrapped into the existing title of Product Owner. In those instances, I prefer the term “Scrum Product Owner” versus “Proxy Product Owner.”

Regardless of the name for the role, make sure that the position is fully capable of fulfilling the responsibilities outlined in the Scrum Guide, allowing that person the best chance of being effective in the role.

What do you think? Please feel free to comment and let me know what your experience has been.