Posted in Library

‘The First 90 Days’ Book Review

Commuter Read

The book provides support and actionable methods for a leader starting a new position, enabling them to effectively reach their break-even point where the business’ investment in them is realised. 

Anyone in a leadership position starting with a new team, whether this is from an internal transfer or external hire, should add this book to their wish list. In terms of Scrum roles, the Scrum Master is the most relevant role, being accountable for Scrum. The Product Owner would also however be able to glean support with regards to learning quickly and stakeholder management. 

As the book is a little more demanding on cognitive processing, I’d probably say it is a good commute read. Although I found some things are handy to note down, the theory is not difficult or complex to follow through so it doesn’t require silent study. 

It doesn’t sound like a Scrum book…

The target customer for this book is not a Scrum Master. It is more directed at people in C-level positions with responsibilities concerning hiring and firing people and leading a department. Sure a Scrum Master could be doing this, but I don’t think the ruthless way described in the book would be conducive to building trust in the team. 

So why is it worth a read?

What can be valuable though is how to create a learning plan for starting with a new team, and how to enact change once you have started. The structure is clearly laid out for the reader with tangible lessons and exercises to take away and use for your own onboarding into a new team. 

One of the stand out chapters for Scrum Masters is Chapter Two, Accelerate Your Learning. It discusses the initial approach that can be taken to learning as a new leader, then walks through templates of questions and learning approaches. All of which equips you with the ability to create your own Learning Agenda, ready to maximise your first weeks. A must for any Scrum Master starting with a new team! Most of the questions are completely relevant too so don’t even need adaptation. 

Once you have started in the team, the book then offers further support in conversations with your stakeholders to understand their expectations of you in your role and how best to communicate with each other. Gaining the support of your boss and understanding what they see as success is a task that I often fail to prioritise correctly, and I’m sure many others do too. Highlighting how this can be achieved and giving confidence in what to do is a valuable lesson. 

Further chapters cover creating change in your organisation, and checking in with yourself for a good bit of inspect and adapt. Again, these chapters are a much needed resource for a leader creating change within an organisation as any Scrum Master will require.

Is it for all Scrum Masters?

Overall if you have just become a Scrum Master, I probably wouldn’t be recommending this book as one of your first. But once you have found your feet with the Scrum Theory and the responsibilities and accountabilities your role comes with, I can’t see how this book wouldn’t add value. From newbie Scrum Master all the way up to Scrum behemoth, everyone can learn something. 


  1. Header image from Book Summary at


New Scrum Master
Posted in My Scrum Notes, Scrum Roles

New Scrum Master Role Considerations

Learnings from Previous Scrum Master 

To the team

  • What responsibilities did the Scrum Master assume for the team?
  • What was the SM role in Scrum events?
  • How did the SM mentor/ coach/ teach?
  • Are there any recent improvements/ teachings that the SM has been implementing?

To the organisation 

  • What was the SM relationship like with the wider organisation?
  • What were the improvements the SM was heading up across the business? What were the recent successes/ failures?

In a scaled Scrum environment

  • What is the SM relationship with other SMs and teams?
  • Are there any further assumed responsibilities towards other teams?

Relationship with Your Manager

Five Conversations (1, page 93-4)

  1. The situational diagnosis conversation
    1. How did the organisation reach this point?
    2. What factors make this situation a challenge?
    3. What resources within the organisation can you draw on?
  2. The expectations conversation
    1. What does your new boss need you to do in the short term and in the medium term?
    2. What will contitute success?
    3. How will your performance be measured?
  3. The resource conversation 
    1. What do you need to be successful?
    2. What do you need your boss to do?
    3. Not just people/ equipment, but support for change in the organisation
  4. The style conversation 
    1. How you and your new boss can best interact on an ongoing basiss
    2. Medium and how often 
  5. The personal development conversation (a few months into your new role)
    1. How you are doing and what your development priorities should be

What to focus on

Early wins evaluation tool (1, page 129)

Use the resulting score from the below table to compare candidates for early wins.

 Not at allTo a small extentSomewhatTo a significant extentTo a great extent
Does the focal point offer an opportunity to make a substantial improvement in the performance of your unit?01234
Is this improvement achievable in a reasonably short time with available resources?01234
Would success also help lay the foundation for achieving agreed-to-business goals?01234
Will the process used to achieve the win help you make needed changes in behaviour in the organisation?01234


FOGLAMP Project Checklist (1, page 131)

Tool to help you cut through the haze and plan your critical projects

  • FOCUS: What is the focus for this project?
  • OVERSIGHT: How will you oversee this project? Who else should participate to help you get buy-in for implementing results?
  • GOALS: What are the goals and intermediate milestones and time frames for achieving them?
  • LEADERSHIP: What will lead the project? What training, if any, do they need to be successful?
  • ABILITIES: What mix of skills and representation needs to be included? Who needs to be included because of their skills? 
  • MEANS: What additional resources, such a facilitation, does the team need to be successful?
  • PROCESS: Are there change models or structured processes you want the team to use? How will they become familiar with this approach?

Decision Making

Team decision making (1, page 193)

  • If the decision is likely to be highly devisive (creating winners and losers) you need to take the heat
  • If your team are inexperienced as build consensus is unlikely to work and you risk imposing a decision anyway 
  • If you need to establish your authority (do not use once you are established)
Build consensus
  • If the decision requires energetic support for implementation from people whose performance you cannot adequately observe and control

Framing arguments (1, page 214 – 5)

Framing means carefully crafting your persuasive arguments on a person-by-person basis

Logos – data and reasoned argumentsWhat data or analysis might they find persuasive?What logic(s) might appeal to them?Are there biases to which they are falling prey and, if so, how might you demonstrate this?
Ethos – principles, policies, and other ‘rules’Are tehre principles or policies that they could be convinced should operate here?If you are asking them to act counter to a princple or policy, can you help them justify making an exception?
Pathos – emotions and meaningAre there emotional ‘triggers’ for example loyalty or contribution to the common good, to which you could appeal?Can you help them create a sense of meaning by supporting or opposing a cause?If they are reacting too emotionally, can you help them step back and get perspective?


Guidelines for Structures Self-reflection (1, page 223)

On a scale of high to low, do you feel:
  • Excited? If not, why not? What can you do about it?
  • Confident? If not, why not? What can you do about it?
  • In control of your success? If not, why now? What can you do about it?
What has bothered you so far?
  • With whom have you failed to connect? Why?
  • Of the meetings you’ve attended, which has been the most troubling? Why?
  • Of all that you’ve seen or heard, what has disturbed you most? Why?
What has gone well or poorly?
  • Which interactions would you handle differently if you could? Which exceeded your expectations? Why?
  • Which of your decisions have turned out particularly well? Not so well? Why?
  • What missed opportunities do you regret the most? Was a better result blocked primarily by you, or by something beyond your control?

Potentially Dysfunctional Behaviours

Action imperative (1, page 48)
  • when you feel too anxious or too busy to devote time to learning, and feel pressure to ‘do’ 
  • Leads to a death spiral 
  • Don’t learn – make a poor decision and undermine your credibility – alienate people – they don’t share info with you – start the loop again  
Undefended boundaries (1, page 224)
  • Fail to establish what you are willing and not willing to do. People will take whatever you have to give
  • The more you give, the less they will respect you and the more they will ask of you – another vicious cycle
  • If you cannot establish boundaries for yourself, you cannot expect others to do it for you
Brittleness (1, page 224)
  • Rigidity and defensiveness, resulting in overcommiting to failing courses of action
  • Finding it hard to admit you were wrong
Isolation (1, page 224)
  • Not taking time to make the right connections, perhaps overrelying on a few people or on official information
Work avoidance (1, page 224)
  • Choosing to delay work/ decisions by burying yourself in other work or fool yourself into believing that the time isn’t ripe to make the call
  • Avoiding taking the bull by the horns, resulting in the tough problems becoming even tougher
Yerkes-Dodson Law (1, page 227). Image from Wikipedia


  1. The First 90 days by Michael D. Watkins

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New Organisation Considerations

Agile Games
Posted in My Scrum Notes, Scrum

Scrum Considerations

Delivery of Value

Delivery Logistics

  • How frequent is delivery to the customer?
  • Is there an approval process to get to live
  • How are live releases conducted? Test customers? Downtime?

Sprint Outcome

  • Do the team deliver the sprint goal?
  • Is an increment delivered? (i.e. a ‘done’ potentially releasable step towards the product goal)

Value Focus

  • Does the team deliver what the business most needs?
  • How is ‘most valuable’ decided?
  • How are deliveries verified as achieving value?

Supporting Process Improvements

  • How are the Scrum team continuously improving?
  • Read through recent retrospective notes (if they exist) 
  • What challenges have they recently faced/ overcome?
  • Have there been changes across the organisation?

Previous performance (2)

  • How has this organisation performed in the past? How do people in the organisation think it has performed? 
  • If performance has been good, why has that been the case? 
  • What have been the relative contributions of strategy, structure, systems, talent bases, culture, and politics? 
  • If performance has been poor, why has that been the case? Do the primary issues reside in the organisation’s strategy? Its structure? Its technical capabilities? Its culture? Its politics? 

Scrum Events

Daily Scrum 

  • Does it happen every day at the same time and place?
  • Does the whole team participate? Are there any external people that participate/ observe?
  • Are problems/ impediments surfaced?
  • How are impediments left at the end of the event?
  • Is the Sprint Goal used as an anchor for the conversation?
  • Does someone facilitate the event or keep an eye on the team working agreements?

Sprint Planning

  • Does the PO participate? How do they communicate what is priority?
  • Do all the developers attend and participate?
  • Does it result in a Sprint Backlog and Sprint Goal?
  • Does the whole team believe the plan is achievable?
  • Are any forecasting metrics used, e.g. velocity from story points?

Sprint Review

  • Does this happen after every sprint?
  • (For scaling) Is the Sprint Review for the team only, or is it combined with other teams?
  • Are the right stakeholders in the room? Are there observers who don’t feedback or questions left for those outside the room?
  • Is feedback given and adaptations discussed?
  • What is the format? Is it a working session or a presentation?
  • Are challenges or adaptations during the sprint discussed? Is this done with transparency and safety?
  • Is this event used as a sign off for releases?
  • Is there an inspection of the Product Backlog?
  • Is the Definition of Done used to inspect the increment?
  • Is the increment ‘done’?

Sprint Retrospective

  • Does it result in concrete improvement proposals?
  • Do some proposals get implemented?
  • Does the whole team and the PO participate? Are there other observers either in the meeting or expecting notes afterwards?
  • Is there a nominated facilitator or note taker?
  • Is there an elephant in the room?
  • What are the current improvements/ impediments?
  • Are the team free to experiment? Is innovation celebrated?
  • How do they manage failure?


  • How long is a Sprint?
  • (For scaling) Does sprint start/ end times correlate with other teams? Are they in sync or staggered? 
  • Is Sprint length consistent? How are public holidays handled?
  • Are sprints cancelled? Why and by whom?


Sprint Backlog

  • Where is it? Is it highly visible?
  • Who looks at it?
  • Do the team actually use it, or is it a burden to them?
  • Do external stakeholders use it?
  • Do the team own it?

Product Backlog

  • Where is it? Is it highly visible?
  • Are the PBIs prioritised? How are they prioritised and by whom? Is there a process?
  • Are estimates used?
  • How is the Product Backlog used for forecasting?
  • How are the estimates done?
  • How are the PBIs refined? Who refines them? Are there any team standards as to what refined means?
  • Does the PO understand all of the PBIs and is able to prioritise? Is the backlog bloated with junk?

Definition Done

  • Does one exist?
  • Who wrote it/ owns it?
  • (Scaling) Are there shared standards/ definitions?
  • Does it evolve?


  1. Henrik Kniberg’s checklist
  2. The First 90 days by Michael D. Watkins

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Agile Games
Posted in Scrum

Considerations for a New Organisation


Scrum and Agile Training

  • What training has been partaken by team members and the wider organisation?
  • Are Scrum terms used comfortably across the organisation?
  • What misconceptions are embedded about Scrum or Agile? Are there any sour tastes?
  • What is the want for future training?

Journey to Scrum

  • What efforts have been made to change the organisation? What happened? 
  • Who has been instrumental in shaping this organisation? 
  • What was the decision behind using Scrum?
  • Are there any parts of Scrum that are not comfortable? With who? Why?

Ways to Learn about an Organisation

People to speak to

  • Customers  
  • Suppliers 
  • Distributors 
  • Outside analysts 
  • Frontline R&D and operations (devs) 
  • Sales and procurement 
  • Staff 
  • Integrators 
  • Natural historians (old timers who’ve been around ages) 

Structured methods for learning (1, page 61-2)

Organisational climate and employee satisfaction surveysLearning about culture and moraleManagers at all levels Dependent on the granualrity and how good the survey is/ if the data has been collected and analyses properly
Structured sets of interviews with slices of the organisation or unitIdentifying shared and divergent perceptions of opportunities and problemsAsk vertically/ horizontally through the organisational structureAsk all the same questiosns and look for similarities/ differencesManagers leading groups of people from different functional backgroundsCan be useful at lower levels if the unit is experiencing significant problems
Focus groupsProbing issues that preoccupy key groups of employeesGathering groups together lets you see how they interact and identify who displays leadershipFostering discussion promotes deeper insightManagers of large groups of people who perform a similar functionUseful for senior managers as a way of getting quick insights into the perceptions of key employee constituencies
Analysis of critical past decisionsIlluminating decision-making patterns and sources of power and influence
Who exerted influence at each stage?
Higher-level managers of business units or project groups
Process analysisExamining interactions among departments or functions and assessing the efficiency of a processManagers of units or groups in which the work of multiple functional specialities must be integratedLow level managers as a way of understanding how their groups fit into larger processes
Plant and market toursLearning firsthand from people close to the product. Listen to concerns of staff and customersManagers of business units
Pilot projectsGaining deep insight into technical capabilities, culture, and politics (not the primary purpose of the project)Managers at all levels

Organisational Processes

Examine four aspects (1, page 160)

  • Productivity: Does the process efficiently transform knowledge, materials, and labour into value?
  • Timelines: Does the process deliver the desired value in a timely manner?
  • Reliability: Is the process sufficiently reliable, or does it break down too often?
  • Quality: Does the process deliver value in a way that consistently meets required quality standards (Learning from your team through interviews (page 59))


  1. The First 90 days by Michael D. Watkins

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Which direction?

Product Goal


Posted in Product

Vision Alignment


To understand within an organisation if the vision and strategy is aligned from top-to-bottom and within teams. This is adapted from The First 90 Days (1).


Ask the following questions to a cross-section of the organisation

Alignment Conversation Template

  1. What are the biggest challenges the organisation is facing (or will face in the near future)? 
  2. Why is the organisation facing (or going to face) these challenges? 
  3. What are the most promising unexploited opportunities for growth? 
  4. What would need to happen for the organisation to exploit the potential of these opportunities?
  5. What is the current vision for this organisation?
  6. How is the organisation planning to realise its vision?
  7. How is progress towards that vision going?  

Post-Conversation Discussion Points

Vision and Strategy

  • What is the stated vision and strategy from the top?
  • At what point, if at all, does that vision and strategy get lost or misunderstood? 
  • Is the organisation really pursuing that strategy? If not, why not? If so, will the strategy take the organisation where it needs to go? 

Vision in Team Goals

  • How were goals set? Were they insufficiently or overly ambitious?
  • Were internal or external benchmarks used? i.e. is success defined by vanity metrics or by making a difference to the company?
  • What happened if goals were not met? 


  1. The First 90 Days by Michael D. Watkins

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Which direction?


Product Vision
Posted in My Scrum Notes, Scrum Roles

Consideration for a New Product Owner

Product Owner Role Overview

  • MUST – One person (2)
  • What happens when the Product Owner is not available or out of office?

Product Goal

  • How does the Product Owner develop the Product Goal?
  • How does the Product Owner communicate the Product Goal?
  • How does the Product Owner align the Product Goal with the business strategy (and other teams)?

Product Backlog Management

Product Backlog Ordering

  • Does the Product Owner have the knowledge to be able to order the backlog?
  • On what basis does the Product Owner order the Product Backlog?
  • How often does the order of the Product Backlog change? Why?


  • What does the Product Owner use to store the Product Backlog?
  • Is the Product Backlog visible?
  • Are there any personal tools the Product Owner uses in addition to the visible Product Backlog?

Product Backlog Items

  • Who constructs the Product Backlog Items?
  • How are Product Backlog Items communicated?
  • Check Product Backlog Items against positive and smells
  • Does the Product Owner understand all of the Product Backlog Items?


  • How does the Product Owner use the Product Backlog to forecast releases and deliveries?
  • How does the Product Owner communicate these forecasts?
  • How does the Product Owner handle changes to the forecasts?

Stakeholder Communication

  • Who are the Product Owner’s internal stakeholders?
  • What are the expectations in communication between the Product Owner and his/her/their stakeholders?
  • Does the Product Owner have direct contact with the customers?


  • Is the Product Owner’s decision respected with regards to order of the Product Backlog?
  • Is the Product Owner’s decision respected with regards to the forming of the Product Goal?
  • Is the Product Owner’s decision respected with regards to releasing functionality live?

Relationship with the Developers

  • How available is the Product Owner to the developers?
  • How do the developers and the Product Owner communicate?
  • Is there mutual respect between the respective responsibilities?


  1. Henrik Kniberg’s checklist
  2. The Scrum Guide

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User Stories

Posted in My Scrum Notes, Scrum Roles

First Conversation with the Scrum Team

This interview structure is adapted from the sample questions from The First 90 Days, page 176 (1).


  • Meet with each direct report in turn and ask the following questions  
  • By asking the same questions of everyone you can see where similarities and differences lie, which will help you understand what kind of team player each person is a little more. 
  • Once you have gone through all the data of the interviews, gather the whole team together and discuss what you have found out through the interviews and have an open discussion.


  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of our existing use of Scrum and complementary practices?
  • What are the biggest challenges and opportunities facing us in the short term? In the medium term?
    • In terms of our Product and providing our customers with value
    • In terms of our Scrum team’s processes and ways of working
  • What resources could we leverage more effectively?
    • In terms of our processes
    • In terms of our tools
    • In terms of individuals in our team
    • In terms of our interactions inside and outside the team
  • How could we improve the way the team works together?
  • If you were in my position, what would your priorities be?

Optional Follow-up Questions


  • How do you think the skills and responsibilities are balanced in the team? 
  • If there is a mistake/ failure within the team, is it openly discussed in team events? What about with external stakeholders?
  • Is there anyone inside the team or externally who has a big influence on the way we work or what/how we develop, and why? 

Land mines 

  • What was the most recent surprises that detonated and put us off track?
    • What is the most common? 
  • What potentially damaging cultural or political missteps must you avoid? 


  • Are there any Scrum or complementary practices that you know about that you think would benefit us as a team?
  • What are the most recent improvements that were made to our practices?
    • Who lead the change?
    • Do you think it was successful/ worthwhile?
    • Was there any opposition to the change?
  • What current parts of our process frustrates you the most?


  1. The First 90 days by Michael D. Watkins

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Posted in My Scrum Notes, Scrum Roles

Considerations for a New Team

Scrum Roles

  • MUST – One Product Owner
  • MUST – One Scrum Master
  • MUST – Developers

Scrum Team Size and Structure

  • MUST – No sub-teams
  • MUST – No hierarchies
  • SUGGESTED – ‘Typically fewer than 10 people’ (3)
  • Are the team members remote or co-located?
  • Are all the team members committed to the team?
  • Are there any unspoken hierarchies, e.g. an assumed leader?


  • MUST – The team has all the skills necessary to create value each Sprint (3)
  • Are the skills siloed into specialisms, or are the team members multi-skilled (or T-shaped)?

Evaluating Group’s Skill Bases (2, page 162)

Four types of knowledge
  • Individual expertise: gained through training, education, and experience
  • Relational knowledge: An understanding of how to work together to integrate individual knowledge to achieve specified goals
  • Embedded knowledge: The core technologies on which your group’s performance depends, such as customer databases or R&D technologies
  • Metaknowledge: The awareness of where to go to get critical information


  • Do they decide what is developed?
  • Do they decide who does the development?
  • Do they decide how to build an increment?
  • What are they responsible for in terms of product development?
  • Are they held accountable for creating an increment?

Team Working Agreements


  • How do they like to communicate day to day?
  • Do they have any information radiators to aid their communication?
  • What are the understood response times for communications internally and externally?

Team Culture

  • Do they socialise away from work?
  • What is the energy of the team?
  • Is there overtime? Is it acceptable/ expected?

Evaluating Individuals (2, page 171)

Consider these six criteria

  • Competence: Does this person have the techincal competence and experience to do the job effectively?
  • Judgment: Does this person exercise good judgment, especially under pressure or when faced with making sacrifices for the greater good?
  • Energy: Does this team member bring the right kind of energy to the job, or is she burned out or disengaged?
  • Focus: Is this person capable of setting priorities and sticking to them, or prone to riding off in all directions?
  • Relationships: Does this individual get along with others on the team and support collective decision making, or is he difficult to work with?
  • Trust: Can you trust this person to keep her word and follow through on commitments?

Team Smells

Problematic behaviour patterns (2, page 120)

Lack of…Symptoms
FocusThe group can’t clearly define its priorities, or has too many.
Resources are spread too thin, leading to frequent crises and firefighting.
People are rewarded for their ability to put out fires, not for devising enduring solutions.
DisciplinePeople exhibit great variation in their levels of performance.
Employees don’t understand the negative consequences of inconsistency.
People make excuses when they fail to make commitments.
InnovationThe group uses internal benchmarks to measure performance.
Improvements in products and processes unfold slowly and incrementally.
Employees are rewarded for maintaining stable performance, not for pushing the envelope.
TeamworkTeam members compete with one another and protect turf rather than work together to achieve collective goals.
People are rewarded for creating fiefdoms.
Sense of urgencyTeams members ignore the needs of external and internal customers.
Complacency reigns, revealed in beliefs such as ‘We’re the best and always have been’ and ‘It doesn’t matter if we respond immediately’


  1. Henrik Kniberg’s checklist
  2. The First 90 days by Michael D. Watkins
  3. The Scrum Guide

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Posted in Scrum Roles

Interviewing a Scrum Master

Good Candidate Credentials

Ability to be Coached (1)

  • If they are coachable it is a yes
  • If they aren’t coachable, give them a book and feedback as to why

Qualifications (1)

  • PSM III is a top qualification and you will go to the top of the list

Interview Tasks

Suggested Tasks (1)

  • Teach me scrum on a whiteboard
    • If they go off topic, then can ask them questions to see if they are coachable
  • Facilitate a daily scrum
    • Preferably use the team that they will be the Scrum Master for
    • Look for if the team focus their attention on the SM, what do they do?
    • Does the SM try and make it a status meeting
  • Facilitate a retro
    • Sending them in cold, with no preparation time
    • If they do ‘What went well, What went bad, What could go better’ – ask him/her to do something else, and if they don’t’ know anything else then co-facilitate with them

Interview Questions

Curiosity (1)

  • Ask them, ‘what are you reading?’
    • SM needs to be curious all the time
    • If their answer is that they don’t read anything, it is a big red flag


  1. Fixing Your Scrum webinar through on 26th March 2020

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