First Friday: Agile, Scrum, and the 15 minute huddle

Are you struggling to keep up with the pace of change in the workplace? Have you been on project teams that had great potential, but the project was late, over budget, or not even delivered?

Those are the questions Certified Scrum Master Gene Sorbo opened with at the Tech Council’s First Friday Breakfast Meeting in February.

In an effort to turn around plummeting productivity, a company Gene had recently joined turned to Agile, bringing in two original signers of the Agile Manifesto, Ken Schwaber and Jim Heisman.

The Manifesto for Agile Software Development:

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it.
Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

People change. Decision makers change. The paradigm shift of Agile is to embrace the change rather than fight it. They do this by holding to 12 principles:

1. Satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
7. Working software is the primary measure of progress.
8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
10. Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.
11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

Gene said 80% of Agile practitioners are using Scrum. Agile is an umbrella of values and principles under which Scrum and other frameworks reside.

Scrum (n): A framework within which people can address complex adaptive problems, while productively and creatively delivering products of the highest possible value. (

The word comes from rugby, and is derived from Scrummage (or scrimmage). It means to bring something forward.

Here’s how it works:

The Product Owner is the most critical person on the Scrum team, representing the needs of executives, customers, and stakeholders. A successful Product Owner is knowledgeable of the business, technical enough to talk to members of the team, and sociable enough to communicate to all parties. All projects start with the Product Owner, who comes up with a list of what needs to be done based on collected input – a product backlog.

A team of five to seven people takes this product backlog and decides what needs to happen to get it accomplished. The team should have as many well-rounded skills as possible. Looking at the product backlog, the team decides what to accomplish over the next 2-4 weeks in a sprint (also known as an iteration). The sprint is about pulling items out of the product backlog and running with them, working quickly so they can get feedback. Deciding what to do first is a negotiation with the Product Owner. There is also a Scrum Master who acts as facilitator.

Every day the team and Product Owner have a Scrum meeting. This is a standup meeting that takes about 15 minutes. Every team member talks about what they did yesterday, what they are going to do today and what’s getting in the way. It’s a huddle, where the team fine tunes their plan, and how they’re doing on getting to the next goal. Gene said these meetings feel clunky and different when you first start, but they turn into a valuable 15 minutes.

The primary measure of progress is a burn up or burn down chart. It should look like a series of work and delivers – where did we start in the sprint, and where are we now. Work should be delivered throughout the sprint.

At the end of the sprint, there’s a finished work product. The goal is to deliver products/services at the end of every sprint. It doesn’t always happen that way. Some goals are carried over into the next sprint.
These things are discussed as part of a sprint review with the team and product owner. This is the Sprint Retrospective, where the whole team comes together and asks what did we do well? What can we do better? What’s our action plan for the next sprint?

One of the things people like best about working with Scrum and Agile is how simple it is. “The work is simple, but difficult to execute because you’re changing paradigms,” Gene said. “You’re not telling someone what to do, you’re asking them.”

Some people do their own variations, and can get off track. Gene said it’s okay to make exceptions, but be aware you’re creating your own process. Be sure to compare your results with how others are doing using Scrum.

If you’re working with Scrum and getting off track, there’s a guide available for free download at

Gene said there are noticeable improvements after three or four sprints, including:

  • getting more work done in less time
  • a focus on priority deliverables
  • rapid delivery
  • much faster customer feedback loop
  • built-in ability to pivot and change direction
  • increased team and employee engagement
  • continuous improvement mentality
  • ability to accurately project out delivery timelines

Which is not to say there may not be challenges, including well-meaning people who “know better,” or a command and control leadership style (which does not mix well with Agile). Team members used to working isolation may struggle with people interaction/teamwork. These challenges can be overcome if the organization has a committed agile champion, the staff receives Agile training, the Product Owner is active and engaged, and the company culture is ready for Agile values and principles.


Can you carry out practices without the Scrum Master?
Yes, but who do you go to with questions? Process expertise is helpful.

Does it work with remote teams?
Agile wants everyone co-located. But the world has changed, so yes it does work well with remote team members, as long as you have remote tools – real time data, etc.

How do you keep focused amid distractions?
This is the Scrum Master’s primary responsibility – to shield the team from outside influences.

How do you coordinate multiple teams working on different sub applications?
Those teams should all have their own product owners and Scrum Masters, but that doesn’t happen often. There should be meetings where members of teams come together – touchpoint meetings between key players.

How do you recruit a Product Owner?
Look for business analysts with a technical bend. They have those skill sets.

Is there application in other industries?
Agile was initially intended for software, but now is in use in very different organizations. Implement daily stand up meetings to increase daily collaboration. Gene even used it for their family move. “It’s geeky, I know,” he said.

Gene Sorbo, of Strong Tower Solutions, LLC, is an Agile Enthusiast, Certified Scrum Master, and Professional ICF Leadership Coach, with 30 years of combined Human Resources, Software Engineering, and Non-Profit leadership experience. Gene effectively combines professional Coaching with a deep and broad understanding of Agile principles and Scrum practices to train and build up high performing Agile leaders and teams. Gene makes his home in Centerville with his wife Nancy and son Joshua.

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