Top 10 tools to kick off a new year of agile software delivery

Tools which help align, unblock, inspire and clarify.

With the old year neatly packed away, many of us are starting something fresh. Fleshing out big strategic goals, getting your teams back up to speed and your value streams flowing! Or perhaps you are looking ahead to the year as a whole, and are ready to make some big organisational changes!

We have selected our top 10 tools for the beginning of the year. Tools which help align, unblock, inspire and clarify.
First up, let’s start our list with what might be everyone's best place to start: values.

1. Know your values

After your company’s mission statement, a set of values is probably the most philosophically fundamental you are likely to get in the workplace. Your values drive every decision you make, even if you don’t know what they are. Aligning on some well-crafted principles that your team can share, will bring them together. If you can achieve the same thing organisationally, then you can ensure your whole organisation is acting cohesively.

If you have not yet built a statement of values then use Geoff Watts Core Values deck, and some simple facilitation techniques, to help you get started.

Core Values Cards by Geoff Watts

2. Know your strengths

Next up we are delighted to feature a new product in our catalogue: StrongSuits. This card deck of personality strengths helps team members to reflect on, express and discuss their unique selves; how they differ from their peers; and when their team diversity brings opportunities and challenges. Knowing who you have in your team, and what their values are, is a great place to be in challenging times.

StrongSuits Cards - a strength-based team and personal tool

3. Remove structural obstacles to flow

Team Topologies is a new framework which tackles the design of organisations for fast flow. Published as a book by Matthew Skelton and Manuel Pais just before the pandemic there is now a Remote Teams Workbook and a set of Modelling Shapes for fast in person iterative design.

The framework focuses on the idea of cognitive load - the amount of thinking teams can handle before productivity drops off, and designing organisations to minimise that load while minimising the cost of interactions.

If you are facing big challenges, perhaps now is a good time to optimise the organisation to face them. If you know your values, know your teams, and know how to optimise them, the potential is there for a great year. The original book, remote teams’ workbook and modelling shapes can all be found on Agile Stationery.

Team Topologies Book, Modeling Shapes & Stickers Set

4. Tackle the big product problems

Product Owner Coaching Cards by Geoff Watts

Agile leadership coach Geoff Watts has developed a set of inspiring Product Owner Coaching Cards. When you need a flash of inspiration, or a new lens to clarify your problem, shuffle the deck and pick out a random question card. Consider the question on the card and apply the insights to your present predicament.

These coaching cards are a powerful aid for product owners and product managers who are looking for inspiration in their product development efforts, a creative spark or a new perspective on different aspects of their role.

5. Spot key delivery challenges 

Spotify’s other big contribution to team management. The Squad Health Check created by Henrick Kniberg and friends is a way to sense the health of your teams at scale and target support to counter negative trends in teams, and organisation wide problems.

Following Matthew Skelton’s Multi-Team Software Delivery Assessment deck we have combined health check criteria from Google’s Project Aristotle recognising the critical contribution that psychological safety, delivery platforms and effective management make to high performing teams.

If you want to perform a full Software Delivery Assessment, of course we also offer the full MSDA deck! 

Multi-team Software Delivery Assessment Cards by Matthew Skelton

6. Secure a good start to the year

Elevation of Privilege (EoP) Threat Modeling Card Game

An elevation of privilege is a kind of IT vulnerability when a hacker gains unauthorised access to your systems, also known as expansion of authority. This frightening attack is an appropriate choice for the eponymous trump suit of Elevation of Privilege.

This game prompts playful conversations about possible problems with your software design, letting you identify what security work is needed. Not only does this help keep systems secure, it engages software developers and product owners in cybersecurity, warming up often cold and prickly relationships. It also raises the predictability of your schedules by adding forgotten tasks to your plans sooner.

This is the perfect way to start the year for anyone who wants to deliver secure software on time.

7. Make your case

As you get started you no doubt have some challenging decisions to make. Two of our top 10 are here to help you deal with those challenges.

If you know what your preferred outcome is then well done! You have achieved clarity! Now you must channel your powers of persuasion to get what you need: get sign off on an ADR, get the headcount you need, or a purchase order number.

Geoff Watts’ Persuasion Pack is a set of coaching prompts for anyone to use to help them achieve influence. Handily colour coded to warn you away from riskier darker strategies, yet containing all the interesting schemes you can employ to remove barriers and get things done.

Persuasion Pack by Geoff Watts

8. Collaboratively decide

Decide Cards by Geoff Watts

Decide Cards, also by Geoff Watts, are a great way to speed up and simplify a decision. When a proposal is made folks can have any kind of reaction, from outright rejection, to supportive tweak, to full and active support.

Ever seen two people agreeing passionately but believing themselves to be having an argument? Or seen someone go back and defend an established position when they should be evaluating a simple tweak further down the road. When conversations are complex or involve a large group it can be difficult to sense everyone’s position and make way for the most valuable opinions. Decide cards signal what each participant is thinking, helping achieve focus and clarity.

9. Get creative

Paul Goddard’s Sprint Planning Kick Start Deck can be used ahead of any decision making meeting where creativity and spontaneity could use a boost.

It is a collection of fun challenges that only take a few minutes and range from the thoughtful to the absurd. The games are designed to encourage different psychological requirements to promote success in the complex Cynefin domain. A group you can simply pick one at random or a facilitator can choose one that matches the group’s specific needs.

The Sprint Planning Kick-Start Cards by Paul Goddard

10. Make a plan

Estimation Poker Cards for Planning Poker

The tenth and final choice is a double bill of our very own Planning Poker variants Estimation Poker and Scrum Poker.

Both use a simplified set of Fibonacci number cards to offer the best value and easiest estimation experience. Scrum Poker encourages teams to enforce their definition of ready and to split stories, making processes such as scrum more predictable. 

Either variant offers a lightweight and usually familiar means to produce a quick estimate for forecasting purposes, gain shared understanding of work, and produce a delivery date stakeholders can rely on with quantifiable confidence.

Keep iterating

The beginning of the year is a critical time to start new things, but it is not the end. Once you have your plan it will, no doubt, face people, budget, delivery and technical challenges. No set of tools will prepare you for all of them. The key is to get as much feedback as possible as soon as possible on every aspect of the plan, process and technology, to keep a close eye on how things are going and keep trying to make them better.

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