Disclaimer – There is no intention to hurt anybody. The idea is to pass the learning and a MESSAGE. I have seen Agile getting abused and many times it is visible to the rest of the world except the one who is responsible for it. Click on each scenario to get more details.
Scenario 1– I leave very early because I finish my work and I pick very less because this is all I can do
Scenario 2– I didn’t do anything hence pairing was a saver although it was knowledge transition.
Scenario 5– It is perfectly alright to play with estimation at any point in time.
Scenario 6– Story point is not about time, not even a range
Scenario 7 – We will unearth the acceptance criteria and requirements for a given story as we continue with development. Writing a one-liner description for a story should be fine and we will keep looking at it while working in progress during the sprint.
Themes – A Theme is a group of EPICS that represents area of focus. For instance “Product going online” or “moving to cloud” or “launch in India”. Typically program managers assign financial value to themes to ensure objectives and strategic direction of an organization is aligned with program. These are typically at very broader level (Program or entire project level)
EPICs – An Epic is a large story that cannot be completed in a single sprint hence it is broken down in group of user stories. Hence it would make more sense to say that EPICs are collection of related user stories. For instance you say that theme is “Going to cloud” and EPIC is “improve password page usability”. The user story could be “The validation messages should be very clear so that I should be able to correct it easily”
User Stories – User stories is a description of a software feature from an end user perspective who desires the new capability. Precisely it is simplified version of user or customer requirements.
Here is the template for user story
As a <type of user>, I want <some goal> so that <some reason>.
A good user story can convey a clear understanding to programmer about requirement. The characteristic of user stories are
Testable, Estimable, Small, Negotiable, Independent and Valuable.
A specific user story can belong to more than one theme, but certainly does not to multiple epics.
Let’s talk about Demo/Review or Showcase in this article
A showcase, demo, or sprint review represents one and the same thing. A sprint review is an informal meeting that typically takes the form of a demo of the completed features or what is accomplished during the sprint to the product owner (And rest of the team).
This can be done as and when the work is completed over waiting for the last day of the sprint to arrive. This mitigates the risk of incorporating review comments which may result in sprint failure if the demo is done on the last day of the sprint. In case if there are review comments, that should be fixed, and once again demo to be conducted for the story which had review comments.
The whole team should participate. Although the team needs to get the buy-in from PO to change the story to done-done while the feedback from the whole team helps. You can invite other teams, support, or customer as needed.
One of the core objectives of the demo is to review progress against the sprint goal and team commitment. It is an opportunity to get everyone on the same page in terms of what was accomplished, what’s still in progress, and what tradeoffs were made.
Best practices around Demo/Showcase
Prepare, prepare, and prepare – Don’t go to the demo meeting and start talking randomly. Everyone’s time is important including you.
Practice before the demo – Run the workflow or the feature you have built. This ensures everything works.
Give importance to Acceptance Criteria – You can always talk about nonfunctional requirements while the focus should be on acceptance criteria. What value your feature is adding to the product/business.
Follow KISS – Keep it short and simple – Don’t complicate things. Make it crisp, cover all the points written down in the acceptance criteria. Give time to your team and the PO to ask questions.
Showcase Value – Do not focus on technology or the feature you have built works while do talk about business value. Feel the sense of pride or accomplishment in showcasing what you accomplished.
Communication – It’s key to success. Talk to the point. Listen to people (your team). Write down their feedback and comments. A good idea is to record the meeting so that you can always go back and listen to the feedback if any.
Involve right participants/stakeholders – Not just your sprint team or PO but you should be inviting folks representing your product business. Folks on the actual ground adds lots of value to the project/product.
Seek Feedback – Accept the feedback positively. Your goal is your team success, making a product better, and help the organization to get more value. This eventually helps you to grow faster.
Let’s talk about planning and grooming in this article
The entire sprint team works together and plan for the 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 goals and once that is finalized, the stories are being picked up for grooming.
For each story, the product owner writes down the description of the story and acceptance criteria. While grooming it can be further updated by PO and team. The team gets answers for their queries from the PO with respect to functional expectations. In addition to that teamwork 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 points 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 that can be delivered in a sprint.
At the end of this meeting, the scrum team would have two artifacts ready
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 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 causes of sprint failures in most projects as you are not sure of what you are committing. One 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 the next sprint. With this, the planning meeting will have just three goals
Explain everyone expectations from stories and get aligned
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 work the 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 a 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 than 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 of picking up the items within Sprint should be ok as long as the PO is good with that.
Always create a task for stories. Don’t just include tasks that 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.
In the story where lots of research is involved and there are unknowns that 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 offshore, and further, it is handed off to another team member onshore. These cycles keep repeating. The amount of productivity loss that happens in this approach is not worth it.
Important Tip – The scope creep can be managed within Sprint with only two ways
Refuse new work in the middle of Sprint and take up that in the next Sprint.
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 a 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
Let’s talk about agile retrospective in this article
No matter how great your team is, there is always scope to improve and get better. The retrospective is a 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 philosophies of agile.
The primary agenda of this meeting where every team member is expected to bring their points are
What worked well?
What did not work well?
Action items to improve the process (Mainly action items are the result of what did not work well)
How to do it
Set the stage. Invite the entire team to a meeting (Scrum Master, Product Owner, Team and Customer if possible)
Give 10 minutes for 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 the whole team in advance to enter their points. This would save time for a 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 the team to continue utilizing the best practices.
Discuss what did not work well and come with action items
Assign owners to every action item.
Close the retrospective while action items to go to the action item register.
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 a “lesson learned” meeting. The notes can go to organizational 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 recommendations is to have a retrospective of retrospectives to make it better.
Don’t point fingers instead work as a team and support each other.
The standup is nothing but a daily meeting among all scrum members. 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 the next meeting
3. What issues are blocking your progress (Impediments)
This is not a status meeting or status to management.
The stand-ups should be strictly time-boxed between 10 minutes to max 15 minutes.
Hold the meeting “Without chairs” if possible. Everyone must stand and speak up.
Plan to do this in the morning. If you have a sprint team outside of your country and a common meeting held only in the evening then plan to meet whoever is available in the morning for 5 minutes for quick sync up with the same agenda. The evening standups are just status or post-mortem which doesn’t serve the purpose of stand-ups.
Everybody in the team reports to three agenda items listed above to the rest of the team.
Prefer to have this meeting at the same place and time every day. Meeting in the morning is very important as it helps set the context for upcoming work.
The quick questions and clarifications can be covered at a time while do remember that the meeting must have to end within 15 minutes. Please understand when I say quick, I am referring to closed-ended quick questions. The rest of everything should go offline or should be addressed with other meetings.
The meeting should not be canceled 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.
Following are the TOP 10 agile interview questions. There is another list of critical questions while these are expected in most interviews. Moreover these are very basic, and every interviewee is expected to excel in his/her responses for these questions.
What is agile roadmap looks like? Explain agile process start to end? How do you start agile project? What is the difference between product roadmap and Release planning?
If you are a manager and above in agile work environment and you need to go with appraisal, you might have encountered situations where what to expect from your team members compare to traditional model. The focus is on collaboration, pairing, individual ownership for self and team. The “Working for team” culture over work for “self” make it more difficult. One of the recommendation I have for all the managers or individuals responsible for doing appraisals for agile team is to have a certain percentage allocated to team success in everyone’s goal, and further how the team collaborates and how well they work together. The percentage can differ with experience of an agile team member and expectations what you have from your team.
When it comes to individual performance (obviously there is a percentage attached to this as well which is typically little above than team success), I prefer to look at three factors which covers it all.
1. Competence – Demonstrates strong leadership in one or more areas (e.g., technical, project management, process, etc.). Consistently works to leverage skills for team and larger organization success.
Breadth and depth of knowledge and skills
Problem solving ability
Technical, communication, interpersonal, business skills
Leadership and innovation, applied to people, processes, and projects
2. Contribution – Someone who has a lot of initiative, is a leader across the organization, and has outstanding productivity.
Ability to meet commitments
Overall productivity and volume of output
Early communication of problems and contribution to workarounds that meets business goals
Versatility – willingness and ability to adapt to new tasks
Teamwork – willingness and ability to help others
Leadership skills such as architecture, project management, change management, communication, and mentoring
Ability to motivate others, manage self, and demonstrate initiative.
3. Value to business – This is very critical. What kind of value you are adding to business. There could be high competence and contribution to build a product while ROI (Return on investment) should never be ignored.
Knowledge and skills as mapped to needs of the business
Extra points here for unique skills we need
Every agile member should ask three questions to himself/herself frequently
Am I learning?
Am I contributing?
Am I making a difference?
The manager should ask the same questions to himself/herself and same for his team. If the answer is no then appropriate development goals must be planned and discussed.
The biggest goals for a manager should be in while managing agile project should be