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Our pre-work included watching videos on what motivates higher level work and a short video on the Agile framework. We also read parts of the Scrum Guide and about the 4 values and 12 principles of the Agile Manifesto.
This was my first in-depth exposure to Agile and Scrum, aside from what I’ve overheard on projects in the office and read about in proposals. My background is in landscape architecture and I had suspected that the Agile process lacked planning to be efficient.
On the first day of training, we were asked to self-organize by the years of experience we have with Agile. We counted off into teams of 6 so that each team had members with varying experiences. Each part of our workbook included exercises for the 3 Agile roles (Product Owner, Scrum Master and Development Team), and the 4 events of Scrum (Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, Sprint Review, and Sprint Retrospective).
To better understand what a Sprint is, each team was asked to pass ping-pong balls in the air from one person to another without passing it to the person directly to ones’ right or left. We had to see how many balls can be passed and collected in the bin during each sprint and how this number could be improved in the following in two sprints within the team and with the class overall.
For each sprint, we did sprint planning and sprint review to see how we can improve. On the first sprint, my team figured out an efficient technique right away, practiced it, estimated a number and executed it well, but – unexpectedly – we ran out of balls. So, for the second sprint, we reversed the flow when that happened and increased the output. On our last sprint, we shared our technique with other teams, and I was amazed how the class total dramatically improved.
While the previous exercise was simple to understand, our last exercise was – at least initially – more chaotic. We were asked to build a Lego City. First, we had to come up with a product vision, and one strong enough to be embraced out of all others. Next, we were asked to come up with product backlog items – a unit of work small enough to be completed by a team in one Sprint – and to perform Sprints within our team.
In the first sprint each team haphazardly built a piece of the city only to find, at the close, a couple of issues: we hadn’t assigned a Scrum Master, and did not engage the Product Owner or the stakeholder. From my construction background, I could not fathom how this city could come together without a “master plan,” a concern that encapsulated my uncertainties about Agile.
I shared my dilemma with the instructor. He said to think of each piece of the planning process as a product backlog item. For this to be successful, the Product Owner must be very knowledgeable in the construction process. He or she must be able to rank units and to be able to conceptualize how the pieces fit together.
An excellent Product Owner is not only good at building, but in anticipating and managing needs and priorities. By the time the second and third sprint came around, we had incorporated all feedback and improved our communication within the team. We worked across teams to build a more cohesive city.
What I Liked About Scrum
The framework focused on people and team interaction, much like the team dynamics of LEED (Leadership in Energy Efficient Design) projects, where all disciplines have brainstorming sessions to produce a collective design that surpasses any siloed one, and where constant communication is enforced. I particularly liked the Daily Scrum meetings where each member is asked to speak. Unfortunately, it is more common that – among teams – only the loudest person gets heard.
Agile Applications for a Proposal Guru
Aside from gaining a better understanding of Agile and Scrum for writing purposes, I can apply the training in the proposal process. I can facilitate better communication amongst team members by organizing a proposal kick-off meeting and following up with regular updates.
By using SharePoint, our proposals process and progress is already transparent, but by applying Agile I can allow more time for “inspection and adaptation”, in other words, for compliance reviews and revisions to the submittal. I also like the idea of separating pieces of the proposal into “sprints” that can be “done” incrementally, and not wait until the last minute for everything to be done at the end.
I can also apply the concept of “done” to everyday tasks or any project. Instead of having multiple unfinished tasks, I can work to focus on completing a set number of tasks in an allotted time frame.
The KAIP Agile training was very informative and hands-on, which helped me assimilate and retain the information. Overall, I enjoyed learning about Scrum and am looking forward to implementing its lessons and benefits into my workflow. As our instructor reminded us throughout the course, my feelings about Agile were correct: Agile is not always efficient, but it is effective. By embracing its effectiveness, I am more prepared to make changes in my thinking and in my process.