My Agile Kit
Over time practising Scrum Masters tend to accrue a kit of stuff that helps them carry out their role. When it comes to planning, estimation, retrospectives and creating and maintaining information radiators such as physical task boards then having a stock of certain props and consumables makes life much easier. I call this collection of useful stuff an “Agile Kit”.
The items that any particular Scrum Master possesses in their Agile Kit will differ but the core items will probably be the same for most: whiteboard pens, markers and stickies. Effective utilisation of these items depends on having an appropriate amount of accessible wall space usually in the form of one or more whiteboards. In my opinion those who attempt to perform as a Scrum Master using electronic aids alone is missing out on the advantages of a tactile and highly visible work environment. Nothing creates more of a buzz within a team then seeing stories move from left to right through the task board.
Most of the items in my Agile Kit take the form of the contents of the drawer of my office desk. It was only recently I collected it all together in this one single easily accessible place. I was surprised by how much stuff I use, much of it every day, to carry out my role. However, use it I do so I thought it would be of interest to others to present the contents of my Agile Kit here.
This is basically a post about stationary which may not seem like an important Agile topic. However, I find that when Scrum Masters get together and the discussion turns towards how we do our jobs we talk about the little details including the raw materials we use to build our boards and run our retrospectives. I have picked up more than one tip or trick that has added to my Agile Kit and assisted me in my role as a result of such discussions.
Here is a picture of my Agile Kit:
Each item pictured and its purpose within my kit is described below.
Top row, left to right
Planning Poker Cards – I have several decks of these including the set I made myself. The others were picked up during conferences and training. I find the cards to be a very useful prop for sprint planning despite the current wave of “estimation is a waste”.
(The planning poker process is an excellent structure within which the team and Product Owner can have a conversation about a story to get on the same page while getting a swift estimate for the customer. Estimation is not a waste if you know why you are doing it and can do it quickly. Either extreme, be it lengthy estimation or no estimation at all, should be questioned).
Electrical Tape – I use electrical tape to create swim lanes on task boards. In minimal time I can use the tape and some scissors to create clearly defined, relatively straight and durable swim lanes on a whiteboard. If you have a magnetic board and want to be really fancy then do as one of my colleagues does and use magnetic tape for swim lanes for guaranteed straight but moveable lines.
Masking Tape – Masking tape can be useful when board space is at a premium. For example, to temporarily attach flip board paper over a task board to create a quick and dirty retrospective space.
Stapler – The stapler comes in handy for permanently attaching extra pages to the back of story cards. I use these extra pages to add details to a story that do not fit on the front of the card. I predominantly do this to attach hand drawn wire frames of the screen that a story is to implement. I find that this is much quicker to do and more convenient to access than an electronic equivalent.
Magnets – I have an abundance of large magnetic whiteboards at my disposal at the moment and make extensive use of them in concert with magnets. I tend to prefer to use magnets rather than stickies for anything that may be in place for more than a few days or needs to be moved around a lot. For example, story cards on a task board.
Middle row, right to left
Stickies and Super Stickies – Stickies are an obvious addition to any Agile Kit due to their flexibility and high availability in most workplaces. I use them predominantly for our Waste Snake and retrospective actions boards and in retrospective sessions. They come in many colours and sizes which can be used to discriminate between different types of “thing”. I tend to stick with standard yellow and resort to making marks on the stickies themselves to discriminate between them. The only problem with stickies is that they tend to fall off surfaces after a limited amount of time. This is okay when they are used in a short retrospective session but unsuitable for a more permanent Waste Snake or retrospective actions board. This is where Super Stickies come in. They cost a bit more but will stay stuck to a whiteboard indefinitely even after being moved repeatedly.
Scissors – If you get creative with your boards then scissors are essential for cutting tape or paper to size.
Story Cards (6″x4″) – I prefer to use white 6″ x 4″ sized card for story cards rather than smaller stickies. The cards are attached to the board using magnets. These are big enough to easily fit several detail in in large legible writing which can be read at a distance. Our story cards typically display the story name, release name, tracking number and, if the story is being worked, the appropriate team member’s avatar is pinned to it.
Envelopes – As releases are completed I collect up the story cards and keep them in separate envelopes labelled with the relevant release name. This is not simple hoarding as the cards and their stapled attachments contain many useful details on the original requirement. Myself and the team will infrequently delve into the envelopes to refer to these details after the stories have been implemented and released to production. For example, when investigating related defects or customer queries.
Blue Tack – I occasionally end up in meeting rooms with non-magnetic white boards and want to be able to attach story cards to them. Having blue tack is handy for these instances.
Paper Clips – We recently adopted a Kanban practice of having small avatars for each team member (we used South Park characters). As team members pick up stories they pin their avatar to them with a paper clip. This is a great visual identifier that adds to the status information conveyed by the task board.
Highlighters – Highlighters are useful for identifying important pieces of information on story cards and their attachments and for adding status marks to the front of story cards.
Sharpies – I find that permanent sharpie pens are excellent for writing clearly and legibly on story cards and on stickies in retrospectives.
Whiteboard Markers, Eraser – As you will have gathered by now my role revolves around the various whiteboards at my disposal. As such I have a large stock of white board markers and an eraser handy to make full use of this resource for retrospectives, the various information radiator boards and for the frequent spontaneous brain storming sessions members the team engage in.
Magic Whiteboard – This is great stuff for creating a small whiteboard using unused wall space. It attaches by static so causes no damage to walls. It is useful for quick brainstorming or retrospective sessions but not as a permanent whiteboard replacement as it only sticks reliably for a day or so.
Smart Phone – This is not pictured but I find that having a Smart Phone is convenient. I use it to take pictures of the retrospective board after the retrospective session is complete. The pictures then form the basis of the post retrospective communication including any corrective actions agreed by the team. This is more convenient than a regular digital camera because I can mail the images directly to my work email making images available for use immediately.
So that’s my Agile Kit. What do you have in yours?