Scrum Ceremonies – Planning and Grooming
 

The entire sprint team work together and plan for next sprint goals. The sprint planning meeting is attended by the scrum master, product owner and rest of the Scrum team. The other teams may be invited on a need basis.

The PO ensures product backlog priority is up to date (At least top level items) for the team to pick up items from the product backlog. The stories are picked up and prioritized. The PO usually talks about sprint goal and once that is finalized, the stories are being picked up to for grooming.

For each story, product owner writes down the description of story and acceptance criteria. While grooming it can be further updated by PO and team. The team gets answers for their queries from PO with respect to functional expectations. In addition to that team work together to identify dependencies, constraints and nonfunctional requirements. The team typically elaborate more on functional requirements as well.  The stories are broken down into multiple tasks.

All the groomed stories are then estimated by the team.  Each story is tagged with story point or hours. The task usually is tagged with planned hours. The scrum master and team look at the velocity and capacity of the team and commit the amount of work which can be delivered in sprint.

At the end of this meeting, the scrum team would have two artifacts ready

  1. Sprint Goal
  2. Sprint Backlog

 

Best Practices

  • I always suggest the team go with pre-grooming. Typically planning happens a day before or when we are about to start a sprint. Understanding every story the first time, grooming, tasking and estimating take too much of time. Due to time constraints, it is not very effective and done half-heartedly. Moreover, all the questions can’t be answered upfront. This is one of the main cause of sprint failures in most projects as you are not sure of what you are committing. One of a good idea is to keep looking at upcoming stories and clarify all the doubts with PO or other stakeholders in advance. Spending 30 minutes to an hour by few folks in team 4-5 days in the previous sprint helps to do much better for next sprint.  With this, the planning meeting will have just three goals
    1. Explain everyone expectations from stories and get aligned
    2. Estimate
    3. Once #1 and #2 are done for all the stories, commit sprint.

Note: Many times, the business and competition demand last minute priority work to be picked when you start the Sprint. This is fine as long as it’s minimal.

  • PO shouldn’t be telling how much of work team should be picking. The team should take a wise decision by looking at previous sprint capacity. The idea is to have sprint success and continuous improvement.
  • Always keep little buffer for planning next sprint items, unknowns in existing sprints and tech debts
  • A lot of teams prefer to keep 20% time aside to deal with tech debts. This may be a good idea while I always suggest the team to plan for this 20% during sprint planning and grooming only. What you plan is what can be accomplished.
  • Don’t be very aggressive as the quality of software in most cases is more important over quantity.
  • The team member shouldn’t be picking up multiple stories in advance. Each and every member should pick one story and once done they should move to the next one as per the priority order specified in Sprint. The exception to picking up the items within Sprint should be ok as long as PO is good with that.
  • Always create a task for stories. Don’t just include tasks which have business values while do consider tasks related to development and testing. For instance testing, code reviews, writing tests etc. Keep in mind, don’t write too many tasks.
  • Try to break down the story to as small as possible while if the estimation is going beyond then it’s important to divide that into smaller stories. There are instances where you can’t break down the story to the level where you are not getting business value out of it which is OK at a times but do avoid this situation as much as possible.
  • The story where lots of research is involved and there are unknowns which need to be unearthed, prefer to go with Spike.
  • Trust each other and support each other.
  • Pair when needed while do not work on the same task in series unless absolutely necessary. I have seen with the offshore-onshore model, the story is being worked on one story at offshore and further, it is handed off to another team member at onshore. These cycles keep repeating. The amount of productivity loss happens in this approach is not worth it.

Important Tip – The scope creep can be managed within Sprint with only two ways

  1. Refuse new work in the middle of Sprint and take up that in next Sprint.
  2. If it’s absolutely mandatory to pick the work in the middle, you need to take out an equal amount of work from Sprint.

At times, you are done with Sprint in advance, in that case, you can pick more work while it is always better idea to increase your velocity and focus on tech debts, testing, and quality practices. You can even spend time on learning which is usually way more important than we usually think

Scrum Ceremonies – Retrospectives
 

No matter how great your team is, there is always scope to improve and get better. The retrospective is way to accomplish this periodically. The main focus is to look at what is working and what is not? Further what are the action items we have based on our learning.  The core focus of retrospective is continuous improvement which is one of the core philosophy of agile.

The primary agenda of this meeting  where every team member is expected to bring their points are

  1. What worked well?
  2. What did not work well?
  3. Action items to improve the process (Mainly action items are result of what did not work well)

How to do it

  • Set the stage. Invite entire team for a meeting (Scrum Master, Product Owner, Team and Customer if possible)
  • Give 10 minutes to everyone to enter their points towards 3 agenda items stated above. The recommendation is to use a tool (For instance noteapp) and send this to whole team in advance to enter their points. This would save time for team in meeting and moreover give enough time to team members to think and state their points.
  • Start with talking about previous retrospectives action items. Close the items which are accomplished.
  • Talk about what worked well, appreciate people and motivate team to continue utilizing the best practices.
  • Further Discuss what did not work well and come with action items
  • Assign owners for every action item.
  • Close the retrospective while action items to go to action item register.

BEST Practices

  • Typically it should happen after every sprint and should last between 30 to 60 minutes.
  • The whole team should participate.
  • This can be considered as “lesson learned” meeting. The notes can go to organization process assets  (Remember “PAL” or “Process Asset Library”).
  • The owners must be assigned to action items. The next retrospective should start with open items of previous retrospective meetings. I have seen, individual teams have excellent ideas while post retrospective nobody really thinks about it.
  • One of the recommendation is to have retrospective of retrospectives to make it better.
  • Don’t point fingers instead work as team and support each other.
  • Do not forget to appreciate your team members.
Scrum Ceremonies – Daily Stand Ups
 

The agenda of this meeting should be:

1.  What did you accomplish since the last meeting

2. What are you planning to work on until next meeting

3. What issues are blocking your progress (Impediments)

BEST Practices

  • This is not a status to management instead making sure the whole team is on same page. Stand up is not a meeting. It should clearly intended to be standup.
  • The stand ups should be strictly time-boxed to 10 minutes. The standard scrum practice says 15 minutes while with my last many years of experience, I see better results with 10 minutes.
  • Hold the meeting “Without chairs”. Everyone must stand and speak up.
  • Plan to do this in morning. If you have sprint team outside of your country and common meeting held only in the evening then plan to meet whoever is available in morning for 5 minutes for quick sync up with same agenda. The evening stand ups are just status or post mortem which doesn’t serve the purpose of stand ups.
  • Everybody in team reports to three agenda items listed above to rest of the team.
  • Prefer to have this meeting at the same place and time everyday. Meeting morning is very important as it helps set the context for upcoming work.
  • The quick questions and clarifications can be covered at a times while do remember that the meeting must have to be end within 10 minutes. Please understand when I say quick, I am referring closed ended quick questions. The rest everything should go offline or should be addressed with other meetings.
  • The meeting should not be cancelled even some of the members are not present. As a team member it is extremely important for you to attend the meeting if you are not on leave that day.
Why sprint success is important
 

In Agile environment, some of the committed stories may not be completed at the end of the iteration. For example, in Scrum, the stories roll to the next sprint. There could be various reasons why some of the stories could not be achieved. Reasons include (not limited to) blockers, inefficiency, improper sync between team members, missing clarity, support from other teams, priority etc. A casual look on this can make someone think this is normal. But sprint success has a huge impact on the long term success of the team and the product.

Fig: Success

Following are the some of the reasons why sprint success is important.

  • Morale : The team members self esteem actually gets higher when they achieve their goal. This breads confidence and help them to get better a their game, which can lead to more success.

  • Habit: Success breads happiness and more success. At the same time, failure breads failure. Also success/failure on one aspect of life can cause ripple effect on the rest of the life. We should be focused on success on every aspect of life so that it can bread in to itself.

Fig: Habit Loop

  • Fine reputation: More than any thing else, team will be very proud when they are able to successfully achieve the sprint goals consistently. Their reputation and respect around the company can actually go up and they will have to live up to that standard.

  • High standards: Team starts to set higher standard for themselves when they have high reputation. This helps them to get better at questioning, coding, testing, deploying and showcasing etc and improves their living standards in a holistic way.

  • Team bonding: When the team have a standard to live up to, they come together and get the things done, keeping aside the petty things. The goal becomes  bigger than individuals and  deliver thing as a team. This leads to higher team bonding and it reinforces their standards, reputation, habit and morale.

These are some of the main reasons why sprint success is important. When we focus on success, more positive things happen to the team and to the product that they work on.

Why do we need tasks? What is the need of Planned, Actual and Remaining hours?
 

I have repeatedly heard from teams that we have done estimation for stories in terms of story points or t-shirt sizes hence now why do we create tasks or if at all if we create tasks why do we add hours to tasks?  Add to that what is the need for specifying actual vs remaining hours every day for each task. The story is good enough to know what is to be done so why look at tasks. The benefits over challenges are much bigger and you can be truly convinced when you attempt it.

The recommendation is to have tasks created for each story.  Typically individual task should not be more than a day. If that’s the case, break it down further. Almost every task can be practically broken down to meet this criteria.  Once tasks are created, each task should be tagged to approx. hours needed for the same.

While creating tasks not just restrict yourselves to functional requirements while focus on following but not limited to

  • Non Functional Requirements (Performance, Security, Scalability, compliance, accessibility, maintainability etc. )
  • Dependency
  • Constraints
  • Acceptance criteria

The best time to create task is pre-grooming which is done few days ago before actual sprint planning/grooming.  It is my personal recommendation to get as many tasks as possible before you go for actual grooming. You can always convince team how you have come up with these tasks.

I am listing some of the core benefits of creating tasks, assign hours to each tasks during planning, smaller tasks and further constantly entering actual hours and hours remaining

  • The tasks add lots of clarity to story. I always advice individuals to create tasks before actual planning meeting. The pre-grooming done in advance in earlier sprint is when tasks should be created. This results in better estimation further result in better planning.
  • It is always simple to do individual smaller tasks over doing entire story. It is undoubtedly faster better and cheaper option.
  • Having tasks for individual story make it very easy to share your story work with other team members.
  • The hour assignment for each tasks helps in predictability of complete the tasks. The risks can be mitigated much earlier or in many cases it can be avoided during planning itself.
  • The actual vs remaining helps to come up with burndown chart which is one of the core artifact of agile teams. You can always have burndown based on # of items closed or velocity burned but that doesn’t give clarity and adds up little or no value.
  • Adds lot of value to individual accountability as it gives clear picture in terms of who is doing what and whether he/she is taking longer or getting it done early. This is one of the main cause many agile members are not inclined to go and add that much of details. The thinking of to become accountable is not a good idea is in reality bad for developers. More than an organization loss, they are killing their careers.
  • Small victories (after completing each tasks) gives motivation to individuals.
  • You are directly or indirectly reducing assumption on stories resulting success chances getting better. “Assumption is mother of all screw ups”. You can’t run away with assumptions while reducing the numbers helps you to do more.
  • The question which you might ask your stakeholders at later stage is typically unearthed well in advance.
  • In majority of cases better sprint success rate by having tasks and further hours (Planned, actual and remaining)
  • The nonfunctional requirements (security, performance, scalability etc) are listed in advance and these are being considered while planning
  • These NFRs, code reviews, testing etc are never missed. Typically POs encourages to list only requirements those have business values while I always recommend to write all the tasks which you are going to do.
  • The dependencies, constraints are identified. Moreover the acceptance criteria is well covered. The tasks suffice the need for missing SRS (Software Requirement Specifications) in agile projects.
  • The productivity is bound to be better in addition to quality. I have personally worked with tons of teams and experience the same.
  • Better bonding within team as things are BETTER organized.
  • You can better calculate matrices like productivity, cycle time, utilization etc.
Does size matter?
 

Estimations in scrum/agile environments often gets tangled in conversations about how big of an effort that is required. The questions that are often asked are “how much of effort?”, “how long/sprints it will take?”, “Is it too complex?”

Scrum provides a model where these questions are easily compressed to a simple thing called story points. Story points is a number denoting the complexity/effort/time taken by the team to solve a problem (story). Story points are often a number of Fibonacci series. (1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13 …). The scrum team defines what it means by a 1 pointer story. For example one of our teams defined a 1 pointer as “one line of code change”.  Also as the number of unknowns in a story is high, team provide higher story points for the story.

However the size of the story points is not important because

  • Story point size is specific to the team and can not be used to compare teams. A story could be sized differently by different teams based on the understanding of the product, technology and experience.
  • When a management provides a commitment on a given epic/release to the customer, the delivery timeline is often determined by the velocity and not by individual story sizes.
  • Story points are a relative sizing of the stories and not a exact reflection of complexity/effort
  • Bigger story points does not mean higher customer value. A refactoring story or a story of lower business impact could be sized bigger.
  • Story points are time bound. The team could size the story differently depending on their understanding, as their knowledge/understanding changes their story sizes also change. This is one of the reasons some teams re-look at the story sizes during sprint planning although they are sized.

Please let us know your thoughts, using story points? does size matter?

What are Scrum Roles and Responsibilities
 

The Scrum roles are

Product Owner – PO is a key stakeholder in an Agile project. He/She is responsible for defining or detailing the vision, understanding organization goals and ensure to align project goals with it.

  • Defines the features and stories of the product.  Elaborating requirements, clarify doubts and clearly stating acceptance criteria.
  • Review every functionality and accept or reject the work accomplished by the team.
  • Responsible for release planning and further prioritize the work.
  • Owns product backlog, release backlog.
  • Remove functional impediments and constantly answer product related questions to the team.
  • Constantly talking to other POs to align product/project changes with business unit/organization goals.
  • Responsible for the return of investments.

Scrum Master

  • This is management function of Scrum.
  • Facilitate the daily standups.
  • Setting up retrospectives, pre-grooming, showcase and other meetings.
  • Remove impediments or obstacles for all kinds (technical, functional, resource etc.)
  • Co-ordinate with POs, Team, Manager and all the project holders.
  • Ensure team productivity and closely working with them to ensure quality requirements are enforced.
  • Ensure team understands the processes and adhere to them.
  • Protect team from external interferences and interruptions.

Team Member

  • Responsible for actual implementation.
  • The recommended size is between 6 to 10 people. The best practice is to have 7 member team.
  • All the members are expected to be full-time.  The exceptions could be DBA or some specialized skill needed on a temporary basis.
  • Proactively identify ways and opportunities to improve the performance of the team and constantly get better.
  • Are set of programmers, DBAs, tech writers, technical experts, domain experts, independent testers etc.
  • Must be self-organizing.
  • Constantly communicate with the team and ensure to meet sprint goals.
  • To share all information in daily standups including “work in progress”
  • To support each other. Most importantly consider sprint goal a priority over individual goals.
  • Avoid accepting outside or extra work without consent from team.in
Agile in 2 minutes
 

 

Agile software development or methodology or framework refers to time boxed, continuous iteration of development and testing to build software where the solutions evolve throughout with incremental development via collaboration among self-organizing teams. Agile helps organizations to expertise and respond to continuous change and make them able to do more.

As shown in above diagram, the vision and feasibility are most important factors to be considered before starting a project.  In this phase, we identify whether we should consider doing a project or not. Some of the questions need to be answered in this phase like what is going to be ROI (Return of investments) for a project? How do we get funding?  Is it worth taking risks? Staffing?  what is the value the project bring in? etc. You use this phase to break the idea into individual functionality items called features or user stories.  If this looks positive, the next step is to create a product roadmap document.

The product backlog is created leveraging the product roadmap document. The release planning results in release backlog. The individual sprints are defined to accomplish upcoming release goals. The Agile Roadmap blog defines the entire project in more details.

The sprint ceremonies are listed as

The sprint roles are (The details are listed in Scrum Roles and Responsibilities blog)

  • Product Owner
  • Team member
  • Scrum Master

The core sprint artifacts are

  • Burn down and Burn-up chart
  • Sprint Backlog
  • Product Backlog
  • Increment