About Kevin Reiter

Kevin speaks two languages. English. And developer. As our Scrum Master he is in charge of continuously improving our development process. He is the force behind sprint planning and retrospectives and can skillfully balance when to say no and when to push for more results. And since we have the best healthcare-specific content management software on the market, he’s doing a pretty good job. When he’s not organizing cross-team collaboration, he’s thinking about fantasy football and how to apply Agile principles to his home life.

Humanizing Work

Attendees of the Humanizing Work Conference in Denver 2013

We have all experienced it. You grind away in your daily work environment. After a while, when things go well, they don’t really mean much. When things go slightly awry, they end up blown out of proportion. You end up confused sometimes. It’s got to be better outside of these walls right?

A group of Geonetric “agilists” (cool word, right!?) set out for Denver to attend the Humanizing Work Conference hosted by Agile for All. Among the attendees were companies from across the country, both large and small. For three days, we got the chance to look at ourselves and our company from a new vantage point.

The setup of the conference was brilliant. We spent as much time learning from the hosts and coaches there as we did from each other. We networked with peers we’d never met (some we never knew existed). When we got to take a step back from the daily grind of our own work, we got to see our work through someone else’s eyes… and it looked really cool!

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Geonetric’s 6th Scrumiversary

Geonetric Retro Meeting

In October of last year, I wrote about how we were using Scrum to drive agile marketing campaigns. This ended up being our pilot program to see if Scrum works outside of the software world.

We found out a lot of what makes Scrum so great does in fact work outside the walls of software, just not everything. We actually deemed the practice “Scrum” (yes, making finger quotes when you say it!).

A year later all of our teams are using some elements of Scrum, and to a much greater degree, embracing the constructs of Agile that help us get things done. We are trying not to call it Scrum either, when it’s not.

Our software teams still embrace Scrum and the rest of our company has learned a thing or two from this.

Agile-versary??? Stay tuned for more about this exciting effort in the next few months!

But Did We Enjoy Doing It?

Photo of Bill Basler working

So what is Operation Overnight?

The ultimate test of team dynamics. A collaboration of goals. And, a leap of faith into the unknown. You’re put on a team you don’t work with regularly. You have one day to build a new Web site. From scratch. At the end of that period of time, it has to be delivered. To make it even more challenging, you don’t really know many of the requirements going in.

If you got that project at work, I’m sure you’d think about getting the old resume together. What happens if you don’t get it done? What if there are too many requirements? What if you don’t like the people you’re working with? How do you know if your deliverable will be good enough?
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Building 365ride.org for Operation Overnight

Operation Overnight 2012 came and went quickly. It was a huge success! We had 24 hours to build four websites. A daunting task, surely, but not one that we wanted to shy away from. That wouldn’t have been the Geonetric way! 50+ volunteers, lots of coffee, soda and food, and an all-nighter full of fun and we produced some great results!

My team was assigned to build http://www.365ride.org from the ground up. Unlike the other three teams, 365ride came into Operation Overnight without an existing Web presence and very little source material (brochures, etc.). In the end, both our team and our client were very happy with the finished product.

The site’s purpose is to be a place for people seeking information. Before the site, information was scattered across many places on and off the Web. The Frequently Asked Questions section was a high priority and the team did some really cool things to keep information flowing through the site, only duplicating it where necessary. The end result is a destination that the community can use to get information about public transportation options throughout Cedar Rapids and the surrounding area.

There were some advantages going in with no source material. We didn’t have any “standard” to live up to but our own – which might be the toughest one to achieve. We had a lot of freedom to be creative. There were no expectations of how visitors used the site.

My team rocked it out and had a lot of fun working together! I didn’t have relationships with some of my team members going into the event. And although you know someone’s job title, seeing them really put their skills to works makes you truly understand what they do for our company. I know something about all of them as a person. We had music playing, we had food, and it was really a fun atmosphere.  And while we “partied,” we worked really hard to produce a great website in 24 hours. It didn’t feel like work… that was the best part. Work should always be like this! Guess what? It can be!

I was very excited when Geonetric announced we would do this again next year. It was a great experience! Above all else, we as a company got to give back to our community. I’m so proud to be a part of an effort like this!

I’m also looking forward to seeing our company grow from the experience. The only realistic way to achieve our goals of launching four new websites was to be Agile. I think that we all saw some powerful benefits from this process that we can take back to our daily work.

Here’s looking forward to Operation Overnight 2013!

Celebrate: Geonetric’s 5th Scrumiversary!

Photo of a cupcake with a candle in the shape of a 5It certainly feels like I wrote about our 3rd Scrumiversary just a few months ago, not two years ago. Time flies when you are having fun!

Scrum has been the backbone of our engineering team for five years now and we’ve gone above and beyond with our process. Our team has successfully adopted behavior driven development, which is something that would be unfathomable without Scrum. And our team has been able to use Scrum to build awesome software when teams in many other organizations are limited by their own processes. 100+ sprints in, we are still rolling forward!

How much do we believe in Scrum? We believe in it so strongly that we began rolling it out to other teams at Geonetric. We are now using Scrum to drive agile marketing campaigns. It has been fun working with the talented folks in our professional services team to implement Scrum. We just started our second sprint this last week and have many more to come!

Happy 5th Scrumiversary to Geonetric!  I can’t wait to see what the next five years will hold!

Improving Team Performance with a Clothespin!

Photo of a task card with a clothespin attached, both affixed to a scrum board.

I’m never short of amazed when I discover how simple solutions can solve complex issues. One of the main goals on Geonetric’s software engineering team, day in and day out, is to deliver value to our clients. That’s accomplished by creating really cool and useful features to enhance our software.

Too often, we’re so eager to add all those really cool and useful features that we take on too much work. It’s a good problem to have – but still a problem.

So as the team’s Scrum master I decided to fix this issue. I gave each member of the software engineering team two clothespins with their name on them. Each member was told to find two tasks on the board that they wanted to work on and attach their clothespin to it. They could not start on something new until one task was done – or in other words, they couldn’t move their clothespin until the first task was finished. The goal: limiting our work-in-progress.  And the result: it worked. The clothespin helped us put a physical and tangible constraint on the process to encourage a desired behavior.

The approach is a bit of a hybrid, bringing in Kanban philosophy and practice to Scrum. By focusing on a reduced set of tasks, in our Behavior Driven Development system, we can know quickly if what we built works, and others can see it, rather than stock piling large sets of tasks that aren’t viewable or usable.

The clothespin can really be anything. It’s a symbol for the shift in thinking we really want: continually developing deliverable software. In a system where small parts are continually added, with instant feedback, this is possible.

What’s Your Confidence Today?

Every morning you look at your to-do list and create a game plan for that day. Let’s say you have five things you want to get done. What’s the chances one of those things will have a roadblock? Maybe you even foresee the road block but haven’t figured out how to get around it yet. How helpful would it be to have a quick conversation with your team at that moment? How awesome would it be if you could quickly tap their insight to find a work around or solution? Not only would it save you time, but everyone on your team would know what you are working on and can plan their to-do list more efficiently as well.

Our software engineering team at Geonetric has formal training in Scrum and we’ve been practicing it for nearly five years. Over that time, we’ve developed our own spin on Scrum to make it work especially well for our team. And during our daily stand-ups it became apparent how handy it would be to know everyone’s confidence that the work would be completed by the end of the sprint. And how useful it would be to hear roadblocks ahead of time, when there is still plenty of time to remedy the situation.

As a Scrum Master, I searched the Internet and the Agile society world to see if anything like this existed. I didn’t find anything. Are we even allowed to do this at our stand-up each day? This wasn’t one of the three questions Scrum taught us to live by each day at stand-up.

Regardless of whether or not it fit into formal Scrum processes, we developed our own “Sprint Confidence Rating Scale.” It serves as a daily measure of how confident our Scrum team is that we will finish the work we committed to do by the end of the sprint (and more importantly, our release).

Image depicting a spectrum of faces and moods to denote confidence.

And what has it taught us? That one little question can tell your team a lot. So for those of you that also practice Scrum, I encourage you to take a minute at the end of your stand-up to learn about where the team currently stands. You might be surprised to hear the feedback. But it’s better to know earlier than later, when it becomes harder to work around an issue.

Did we break Scrum? I don’t think so. But it makes sense for us to ask that question each day, so why not ask it?

Happy Scrumiversary Geonetric!

Photo of candle in the shape of the number 3 standing on a cupcakeAs our Scrum team closes the curtain on yet another Sprint (and as is the routine, we start planning for yet another sprint), our hard-working Product Owner, David Sturtz, indicated to me October 24th was Geonetric’s 3rd Scrumiversary!

I “googled” the term, Scrumiversary.  Google had no idea what I was looking for. So all the credit goes to David  if the term ever makes it into Scrum lexicon!

Three years?  Have we really been using the agile development method for that long?  I’ve been Geonetric’s “Certified Scrum Master” for nearly two years now, and in that time, our Scrum team has gone through many changes… with our team members, our product road map, even our move downstairs into our own suite.  But one thing has stayed consistent:  Scrum.

It’s really cool to think that in today’s rapidly changing technological atmosphere, we went away from the norm.  It’s not just some idea we were gung-ho on, just to revert back to what was comfortable six months later.  We’ve worked hard as a team to stay true to the basic principles of the Scrum methodology and here we are, beginning Sprint 55 today!

As an engineering team, we often get  so wrapped up in our current work  we don’t celebrate our successes.  It’s human nature to focus on all those things that need improvement.  It’s our job to get better every sprint, to be more efficient, and to improve our quality.  But today, we should take a couple of deep breaths and be proud of the progress we’ve made.  We should celebrate our transition from our old ways to implementing Scrum.  And we should celebrate the commitment we’ve made to getting better at Scrum over the last three years.  It’s been a collaborative effort that our entire company has adopted, which is  a luxury  not every Scrum team has.  The end result is that we have a lot going on and it’s not magic that keeps us all on the same page.  It’s Scrum.

So Happy Scrumiversary Geonetric!  Here’s to the last three years and to many more ahead!