Managing Cross-Team Dependencies with a Dependency Board

DependencyBoardPlease welcome new guest blogger, Terry Winslow, as she explains the Dependency Board in use at Valpak.  Terry is an Agile Project Leader at Valpak.  This means she wears many hats as ScrumMaster, Kanban Lead, and Agile Project Manager.

One of the biggest challenges in agile is managing cross-team dependencies.   Cross-team dependencies exist when two or more teams need each other to deliver an end-to-end increment of working software.  Over Valpak’s 4+ years of agile development we have learned that cross-team dependencies are a way of life.  But how do you manage these dependencies?  There is no magic one-size-fits-all answer.  Like many things in agile, management of cross-team dependencies has evolved over time.

When Valpak started our agile journey we had the daily Scrum of Scrum standup.  The Product Owner and ScrumMaster of each agile team would meet daily and discuss cross-team dependencies.  At that time, our code base was so interrelated that code changes made by one team would affect other teams.  These daily standups were needed to coordinate code changes and releases.  As our code base became more decoupled these Scrum of Scrum standups were held twice a week.

Eventually, we discontinued the Scrum of Scrums all together.  The work of managing cross-team dependencies fell on the ScrumMasters to coordinate between the Scrum teams.  The ScrumMasters coordinate cross-team dependencies with other teams while grooming stories for upcoming sprints.  While the ScrumMasters do a great job, we wanted a way to visually see the dependencies.  That is where the dependency board was born.

The left side of the board has a row for each team along with a column to place user stories that have dependencies for the current sprint.  Along the top are columns for groups that are required to help complete stories.  These groups could be other Scrum teams, database administrators, architects, or subject matter experts.

Each sprint, the ScrumMasters display the user stories that have dependencies on the left side of the board and indicate which people are needed from other Scrum teams using the columns.  A dependency meeting is scheduled after all Scrum planning meetings are completed.  The ScrumMaster for each Scrum team reviews the user stories and the team members needed to complete the story.  All ScrumMasters agree that the needed team members have either 1) a corresponding user story on the other teams Scrum board or 2) have included the needed work in support time.  If there are any discrepancies, the two ScrumMasters work it out with their teams and Product Owners before the end of the day.  This could include pushing a story out a sprint until the needed team members are available.

The dependency board is a great way to visualize cross-team dependencies.  It allows teams to commit to working together to complete working software.  By setting a scheduled meeting to review the dependency board, we make sure that all teams are aware of any cross-team dependencies and we don’t have any cross-team dependency surprises later on in the sprint.


Agile Coaches Corner Podcast

Here’s my 12 minutes of fame on the Agile Coaches Corner podcast sponsored by AgileThought.

Thoughts on Agile Acceptance

Cara Penyak, an Agile Project Leader on my team, volunteered at the Global Scrum Gathering in Orlando last week and brought me back a new friend, Lee Allison.  Lucky me!  I don’t even need to attend a conference to make new friends.  Anyhow, Lee asked me to review his latest blog post “Agile Acceptance” and I thought what better topic to re-blog than this.
A framework is defined as “a basic structure underlying a system, concept, or text.”  Seems pretty straightforward but, among the agile community, frameworks are super polarizing for whatever reason.  If frameworks represent a “basic structure” then they are surely intended to be adapted.   Who cares which scaling framework you start or end with?  
It’s the Agile Manifesto we should all be upholding.  It’s adapting to change over following a plan which makes us agile, not which framework we choose or even which certifications for frameworks we hold. Let’s not forget our roots!  What’s most important are those 4 values and 12 principles of the Agile Manifesto.  In fact, the Agile Manifesto is framework agnostic.  Basically, Scrum, SAFe, LESS, or whatever isn’t the only way to be Agile.  There is no one right way! 

Congratulations Valpak! 100 Sprints and Still Agile Strong


This past Friday, Valpak celebrated its 100th sprint with a Sprint Review celebration like no other.  Just to put this milestone into perspective …

Sprint 1 started back on October 14, 2011.  That means 100 (mostly 2-week) sprints took us 4.25 years which in working time equates to …

  • 220 Weeks
  • 1,100 Days
  • 8,800 Hours
  • 528,000 Seconds

Or put another way, we accomplished …

  • 8,462 Stories
  • 38,091 Story Points
  • 42,310 Tasks
  • 6,400 Standups (that’s a lot of calories burnt)
  • ∞ Value Delivered

We moved our Sprint Reviews out of a conference room and into our main break area.


Teams performed their Sprint Review while also paying tribute to the 100th sprint milestone in their own way.


We celebrated our 100th sprint with a 100 cupcake salute.


Each cupcake represented a sprint. A flag was placed in each cupcake with the most significant accomplishment of that sprint across all teams.


You could literally eat your favorite (or not so favorite) sprint.


We did a random drawing based on the sprint number of the cupcake you ate.


At the end of the Sprint Reviews, Chris Cate (CIO & EVP) said a few words of appreciation and encouragement. Notice the CIO Magazine cover we Photoshopped for the occasion.


2015 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 9,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Agile At The Top: How Executives Walk The Talk

I am pleased to introduce Diana Weber for a special guest blog post on “Agile At The Top:  How Executives Walk The Talk”.  Diana is a passionate writer, an avid agilist, and an Agile Project Leader on my team here at Valpak.

IMG_1152As trailblazers in scaling agile across the corporate enterprise, Valpak executives walk the talk and support agile practices from the top-down. As a result, the Executive Portfolio Kanban was born. Though merely a board, it represents what the traditional PMO Office used to be, streamlining the process of traditional project prioritization which governs the strategy and execution of large business initiatives. By converting this process to a Kanban, executives and stakeholders are able to have full transparency and visibility to the top priorities of the company for a given quarter. This creates a trickle-down effect as Product Owners are kept aware of changing corporate priorities so that they can adjust and build upon their backlogs of user stories that will support the successful completion of these epics for their executive sponsors. Competing impacted resources and teams are identified so that the more important initiatives take priority as the execution of this work is planned within team sprints. Oh, and we didn’t get here overnight! The Executive Portfolio Kanban was launched about a year into our agile journey and has been tweaked over the course to what it is today, and now serves as the top layer in our adaptation of the Scaled Agile Framework.

Main points of interest:

  • Swimlanes include: Funnel/Vet/Design/Build-Execute/Rollout/Done and each lane has its own defined set of Exit Criteria that should be met before a card is moved into the next swimlane.
  • Cards are at the epic level (this is important because the priority of these cards are queues for the Product Owners on how to prioritize user stories that support each epic.) Each card falls in one of these categories: Increases Revenue (up arrow), Customer Satisfaction (smiley face), Cost Saving (down arrow) or Infrastructure related (donut shape).
  • Each color coded card is “owned” by an assigned executive that represents a particular business area. Marketing is pink, finance is green, etc. Each card contains the executive sponsor for the epic, the teams impacted (who will do the work to make the epic happen), Investment Theme, and Value Statement (what is the ROI or benefit of doing it).
  • Executives meet at the Kanban board 1x per week (Tuesdays at 8:30 a.m.) and each speak to their cards and move them appropriately.
  • This Portfolio Kanban board is reset every quarter. Our Senior Director of Enterprise Agility & Digital Product Leadership, Stephanie Davis, facilitates this process by meeting with each executive individually to help them review their current epic cards, write up new cards and remove cards as needed. The executives meet as a group to discuss priorities and determine which are the Top X projects and update the board as necessary. Note that some epics stay in the funnel a long time and some move quickly all based on business needs.
  • Cards that include a Top Hat image X mean they have been prioritized as one of the Top X Projects that are highest priority of all the epics.
  • Out of the quarterly epic reset meeting, a Quarterly Plan of Epics is created and sent out for review.
  • There is also an burndown chart to measure the burndown rate for epics for the current quarter.

World Premiere Video: “A Day in the Life of Agile at Valpak”

Are you ready for the world premiere of our brand new Agile video?

It’s been three years since we released the original video on Valpak‘s Agile transformation and a lot has changed since then. To capture these changes and to demonstrate where we are on our Agile journey, we’ve released this new video.

Directed and co-written by Toby Morris, produced and co-written by yours truly and edited by Matthew Rivlin, the video uses an entertaining GoPro technique to capture a day in the life of each role on an Agile team at Valpak.

The video also boasts an impressive cast, listed in order of appearance:

Mike Hayes………………….The Insatiable Stakeholder
Kip Marler……………………Extra #1
John Dodd…………………..The Cool Product Owner
Terry Winslow……………The Steadfast ScrumMaster
Jennifer Zajac…………….The Tenacious Business Analyst
Toby Morris…………………The Amazing Developer
Ledel Lewis………………….The Meticulous Software Tester
Chris Cate…………………….The Active Executive

The video is our way of giving back to the community and showcasing our new workspaces and Agile culture. We also wanted to capture the essence of our Agile tour in a fun and entertaining way.