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Agile NJ Lean Coffee Meet-up

To build upon our continuous improvement mindset and further evolve our agile project management process, Baron Environmental participated in the November 7, 2016 Lean Coffee session, which was coordinated through the Agile NJ Meetup group held in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. Agile NJ is a local, open group of individuals that are passionate about agile project management, agile coaching, Scrum, Kanban, and other agile methodologies.

So you may ask, what is agile? Agile is one of the big buzzwords today within the IT and software development industry, which put simply is a different way of managing teams and projects. Unlike prescriptive, top-down project management systems that require meticulous and extensive planning, yet often fall behind schedule, go far over budget, and sometimes never result in a product that the end user wanted, agile project management techniques involve adaptive, self-correcting systems which encourage rapid and flexible response to change, early delivery, and continuous improvement.

There are various methodologies that promote common values and are consistent with common principles, collectively known as agile. The most popular of the agile methodologies are: Scrum, Kanban, XP, and DSDM.

Here at Baron, we have taken the methodology of Scrum and integrated it directly into the core infrastructure of our business. We live and thrive with our modified Scrum process and set an entirely new standard for environmental, health & safety consulting firms. According to Jeff Sutherland’s book, Scrum - The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time, the Scrum process is based on a simple concept: when working on a project, why not regularly check-in, assess if what you are doing is heading in the right direction, and determine if it is actually what people want. Simultaneously, those involved in the project should assess if there are any ways to improve what you’re doing, ways to do it easier, better, or faster, and what roadblocks might be keeping you from doing that. For additional details on Baron’s specific Scrum process, click on this previous Blog article.

Next you may ask, what is Lean Coffee? Lean Coffee is a structured but agenda-less meeting. The format is intentionally lightweight and simple, with the least amount of structure that is necessary for facilitating learning and collaboration through a group discussion. The steps are simple and straightforward.

  1. Create a Kanban board on a table or wall with 3 sticky notes, labeled: TO DO, DISCUSS, DONE.

  2. Have the participants write topics that they personally would like to discuss. Topics could be relevant to the specific gathering, which in our case included topics such as scrum implementation and challenges, agile software and metrics, and contrasts between waterfall methodologies and agile project management. Other “general” topics of interest are also welcome such as films, books, beer, anything.

  3. Each topic is briefly described by its writer (typically 15-30 seconds per sticky).

  4. Everyone then gets 3 votes for the topics they’d like to discuss. Drawing a simple dot on the sticky is a vote. You can use 1 or 2 votes per sticky but you only get 3 votes total.

  5. Stack and rank the TO DO backlog column of topics by count of votes, from greatest to least.

  6. Start a timer for 5 minutes for the high choice topic, move it into the DISCUSS column, and begin discussing it.

  7. When the timer goes off, everyone votes using a hand signal (thumbs up, down, or sideways) denoting whether they want the topic discussion to continue for another 5 minutes, want the topic discussion to end (i.e., moving it into the DONE column), or have indifference. The majority vote dictates.

  8. This process is then repeated for each of the remaining topics.

Overall, the Lean Coffee session, which was coordinated through Agile NJ of was a success where various agilist leaders and other interested parties shared ideas to further build everyone’s knowledge in the agile project management field.

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