sprint Archive

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New Scrum Team Challenges

Velocity ChartA while ago, I published a post titled: Simple Cheat Sheet to Sprint Planning Meeting.  Though I understand every team is different, I thought it would be helpful to those who are new to agile processes.  People are always looking for cheat sheets, templates, and stuff like that.  What is the harm of giving them what they want?

In retrospect, I think the harm is the lack of context.  When people come to a training class, they are provided an ideal situation.  Even the Scrum Guide was written as though you’ve been doing Scrum for a while. It doesn’t talk about things that happen leading up to your team’s first Sprint.  It doesn’t talk about the complexity of scaling to the enterprise.  It’s just vanilla.

I just got back from coaching a new team and I’ll be heading back next week to see how they are doing.  To get them moving forward, I facilitated release planning and sprint planning.  That’s where things started to get interesting.  What if your team has never done release planning or sprint planning?

Release and Sprint Planning

The purpose of Release Planning is so the organization can have a roadmap that helps them reach their goals.  Because a lot of what we know emerges over time, most of what we actually know is that we don’t know much.

The purpose of the Sprint Planning is for the entire team to agree to complete a set of ready top-ordered product backlog items. This agreement will define the sprint backlog and is based on the team’s velocity or capacity and the length of the sprint timebox.

You’re new to Scrum.  You don’t have a velocity (rate of delivery in previous sprints) and you are not sure of your capacity (how much work your team can handle at a sustainable pace).  What do you do?

The Backlog

The product backlog can address just about anything, to include new functionality, bugs, and risks. For the purpose of sprint planning, product backlog items must be small enough to be completed (developed, tested, documented) during the sprint and can be verified that they were implemented to the satisfaction of the Product Owner. 

Again, you’re new to Scrum.  How do you know what small enough is?

Right Sizing Backlog Items

Product backlog items determined to be too large to be completed in a sprint, based on historical data of the team, should not be considered as sprint backlog candidates during the sprint planning meeting and should be split into smaller pieces. Remember, each story must be able to stand on its own (a vertical slice).  It should not be incomplete or process based (a horizontal slice).

Again, you’re new to Scrum.  You have no historical data.

Determining Velocity

The velocity of a team is derived by summing the estimates of all completed and accepted work from the previous sprint.  By tracking team velocity over time, teams focus less on utilization and more on throughput.

If you have a new team, not only do you not have a velocity, you won’t have any completed work to compare your estimates to and you won’t know how many deliverables to commit to.  What do you do?  I think you just go for it!  You keep track of what you are completing and collect historical data.  You get through the sprint and establish some context for future sprints.

The first few sprints are going to be pretty rocky, until the team begins to stabilize. Just ask yourself.  WWDD?  What would Deming Do? Plan a little; Do a little; Check what you did versus what you planned to do; Act on what you discover.

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What is Agile, anyway?

The parable

Ever heard the story about the blind men and an elephant?  In various versions of the tale, a group of blind men touch an elephant. Each man feels a different part, but only one part, such as the leg, the tail, or the trunk.  They then compare notes and learn that they are in complete disagreement.

Agile, my friends, is an elephant.

The first blind man

I just completed an initial engagement with a client, for LitheSpeed.  Some of the people I interacted with were newly minted Certified ScrumMasters, some experienced developers, and some executive management.  In the mix, I met UX designers, architects, and more functional roles than this blog post should list.  The catalyst of this post happened on the first day of the engagement.  To set the stage, the organization was very clear the team is to “do” Scrum.  Due to user stories not being quite ready, the team pushed back at Sprint Planning and refused to estimate or commit to the work to be done.  I recommended the group visualize the workflow and maturation of user stories by way of a Kanban. I’ve made this recommendation before and it worked out quite well.  The response from one of the newly minted ScrumMasters was, “That sounds like waterfall!”  When I corrected him, confirming that it was not a waterfall approach,  he came back with an even better response.  “Well, it’s not Scrum.  If it’s not Scrum, it’s not Agile”.

If it’s not Scrum, it’s not Agile

A few days ago, I read a really great post by Joel Bancroft-Connors titled A Gorilla Primer: What the heck is Agile? Maybe this question is more common than I initially thought!  What I liked about Joel’s post was it exposed the fact that Agile is different for so many people.  When asked what Agile is, I tend answer the question with a question.  Are you being Agile or doing Agile?  If you are being Agile, then how?  If you are doing Agile, then how?  Before I even attempt to answer the question, I want to know your perspective.  Why?  Because as with the parable and also reality, it’s going to depend on your touch points.

Go read Joel’s post.  I think you’ll enjoy it.  When you’re done, I’m sure you’ll agree that if it’s not Scrum, it can still be Agile.

Image Source: Pictofigo (Go get one. They’re free)

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Free Sprint Planning Guide and Agenda

As part of an Agile assessment, I sat in on a sprint planning meeting.  Though many out there are having sprint planning meetings at the beginning of every sprint, are they getting the most out of the time and effort?  As part of the services to my client, I will be providing a free cheat sheet for sprint planning.  It is both a guide and an agenda, to help keep them focused.  If you want a copy, just click the link at the bottom of the post.

What is Sprint Planning?
The purpose of the sprint planning meeting is for the team to agree to complete a set of the top-ordered product backlog items. This agreement defines the sprint backlog and is based on the team’s velocity or capacity and the length of the sprint timebox.

Who Does It?
Sprint planning is a collaborative effort involving:

  • ScrumMaster – facilitating the meeting
  • Product Owner – clarifying the details of the product backlog items and their acceptance criteria
  • Agile Team – defining the work and effort necessary to fulfill the forecasted completion of product backlog items

Before You Begin
Before getting started we need to ensure

  • The items in the product backlog have been sized by the team and assigned a relative story point value
  • The product backlog is top-ordered to reflect the greatest needs of the Product Owner
  • There is a general understanding of the acceptance criteria for these top-ordered backlog item

Backlogs
The product backlog can address both new functionality and fixes to existing functionality. For the purpose of sprint planning, product backlog items must be small enough to be completed during the sprint and can be verified that they were implemented correctly.

Right Sizing Backlog Items
Product backlog items too large to be completed in a sprint must be split into smaller pieces. The best way to split product backlog items is by value not by process.

Plan Based on Capacity
Mature teams may use a combination of team availability and velocity to forecast what product backlog items can be finished during the sprint.  New teams may not know their velocity or it may not be stable enough to use as a basis for sprint planning.  In those cases, new teams may need to make forecasts based solely on the team’s capacity.

Determining Capacity
The capacity of a team is derived from three simple measures for each team member:

  • Number of ideal hours in the work day
  • Days in the sprint that the person will be available
  • Percentage of time the person will dedicate to this team

The Planning Steps

  1. The Product Owner describes the highest ordered product backlog item(s)
  2. The team determines and prioritizes what is necessary to complete that product backlog item(s)
  3. Team members volunteer to own the work
  4. Work owners estimate the ideal hours they need to finish their work
  5. Planning continues while the team does not exceed determined capacity

Download the free 2-page Sprint Planning Guide and Agendadownload-flashcards

Drawings by Pictofigo

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Zero Cost Effect

I had dinner with a colleague the other night.  I inadvertently quoted something verbatim from Dan Pink’s book, Drive. My colleague said if I liked Dan Pink’s work, I should read something from Dan Ariely.  So, I started on Predictably Irrational:  The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions. Wow, this book is crazy!  I’m not going to go into any more details in the post other than a comparison of an experiment detailed in the book and something I’ve seen in the real world.

In the book, the author described an experiment on 34 Halloween trick-or-treaters. As soon as the children knocked on the door, they received 3 Hershey’s (each weighing about 0.16 oz.) and were asked to hold the Hershey’s they had just received in their open hand in front of them. Each child was then offered a choice between a small (1 oz.) and a large (2 oz.) Snickers bar, under a Cost Condition and under a Free Condition.  In the Free Condition, they could simply get the small 1 oz. Snickers bar (for free) without giving up anything or they could exchange 1 of their 3 Hershey’s for the 1 large Snickers bar.  In the Cost Condition, the children could exchange 1 of their .16 oz. Hershey’s for the small (1 oz.) Snickers bar or exchange 2 Hersheys for the large (2 oz.) Snickers bar.  They could also choose to do nothing but all of the kids chose to make an exchange.

Experiment Results

In the Free Condition, in which the small Snickers bar is free, demand for it increases substantially (relative to the Cost Condition).  The results demonstrate the attractiveness of zero cost.  People gravitate more toward options that do not require giving up anything.

Example of this on a project

At work, I’ve had a Product Owner (PO) who wanted to add items from the Backlog to the Sprint.  During sprint planning, the team basically added a buffer, to account for unforeseen events.  I know people are going to crucify me for this, but basically, the Product Owner always seemed to want to shift priorities of work mid-Sprint.  Rather than killing the Sprint, we added a buffer.  This would allow new work to be entertained without totally derailing the work already being completed.  Yes, we could have used Kanban and all of this could have been avoided.  But, Kanban wasn’t an option.

So, what happened?  I offered the PO a deal.  I could allow him to add a certain amount of work to the Sprint for free. When I did this, he usually asked for smaller deliverables (relative to other items on the backlog that were ready to work).  But, when I said some work would have to come off the table to pay for the new work, he always went big.  He would choose larger deliverables relative to other items on the backlog that were ready to work.

All I can say is we truly are predictably irrational.


Yes, the links to the books are affiliate links.

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Awesome Scrum Intro Video

As I was reading tweets over the weekend, I discovered an awesome video by Hamid Shojaee, Founder and CEO of Axosoft. It’s an 8 minute introduction video on Scrum.  With background music sounding a bit like Block Rockin’ Beats by The Chemical Brothers, this video is to the point and completely awesome.

I think this type of video is necessary to show to stakeholders, who have not had an introduction to Agile or Scrum.  In this ADD world we live in, I think we need to deliver some information in the same way we would deliver features in a Sprint.  Go for the items of highest value and deliver them in a short period of time.  Additionally, deliver the information is a way that it can stand on its own.

I remember getting 50 government people in a room with an experienced Scrum Trainer, to introduce them to Scrum.  After several hours, some still didn’t grasp the basics.  If they were forced to watch this video in the first 8 minutes of the training, I bet the day would have gone a lot differently.