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10 deadly myths of Agile and Scrum

Agile and Scrum have been conquering the minds of engineers, managers especially from software industry quite effectively since last few years. The impact is so much so that every software engineer thinks that if he/she is not working on an Agile or Scrum project, their career is not going anywhere! Sounds funny, right? It surely is, but so is the reality of this fact.  Agile and Scrum have become so pervasive in our thought process that we as engineers or managers or product owners do not stop to ask ourselves once if we really need any Agile methodologies to complete the project at hand or not. We simply assume that we are going to follow Agile and Scrum. While I do not have any problem with Agile or Scrum as such, I do have concerns when I see people following things that are wrong; wrong as in incorrect even from an Agile manifesto perspective. These bad practices or even myths [as we can safely call them due to lack of a better word] have crept in due to our insufficient understanding of the manifesto or Scrum alliance guidelines owing to the rush of getting onto the Agile train before it leaves us high and dry. And the impact of this short sightedness is the fact that we are adhering to mistakes in project execution techniques based on some popular concepts, because no one knows they are myths and have no resemblance to truth. It is possible that these mistakes might be causing the issues in your project execution. Through this article, I am trying to share with you some of the most common myths or misunderstandings that people have with respect to Agile and Scrum. Myths and Legends of Agile- only software? via @adrian_stalham #waterfall #scrum #agile pic.twitter.com/TDXFrSthUC — Pat Lynes (@patlynes) 10 October 2017 Do go through them and let me know your take on this. Let’s start! Myth 1: Anybody can become a scrum master Reality: A Scrum Master is supposed to be the person who does not involve personally into the discussions going on in the sprints and daily stand-ups and keeps his eyes on the goal even when emotions are running high during the Scrum meeting. So yes, anybody can become a Scrum Master playing many roles as long as they have emotional intelligence to deal with the varied opinions, discussions, and tendencies to derail the team away from the goal. Hence, in reality, emotional intelligence is the most important prerequisite to become a Scrum Master. Myth 2: More meetings mean Scrum is going well Reality: Scrum was supposed to be meeting-free except for the 5 known time boxed events [kick off, planning, scrum status, review, and post-mortem]. Apart from this, there are no more meetings required. And if your schedule is filled with multitude of so-called short meetings, then it is a clear sign that something is not right in the way Scrum is being done in your team. Hence, the reality becomes, more meetings mean your Scrum is going ‘into’ the ‘well’. Myth 3: Daily scrum meeting is same as the status meeting. Reality: Nothing could be further from the truth and intention if we think that daily scrum meeting is same as that of status meeting. It is not! You must have seen multiple instances where team members give updates on what we did yesterday and what we plan to do today; they discuss issues and leave assuming that today’s scrum was successful. In reality, that is a failure. Scrum meeting is supposed to get together and quickly review the overall progress of the project based on efforts till last night against the end goal of project and quickly gauge if we are on track or not. That is followed by status meeting, where today’s tasks are quickly distributed along with the status check of in-flight items. That’s how it should be. Myth 4: Velocity and Value are the same thing. Reality: This is so wrong on many fronts. This assumption implies that if a work is being done quickly then it is taking us towards the end goal. Is that true? Say a team member is creating automation with high velocity. But is it taking you closer towards shipping the product by the end date? No right? Similarly, during Scrum meetings, we focus on the Value of work being done. It is possible that 100% of yesterday’s efforts might have contributed to 10% of total value. That is fine, as long as your idea of velocity and value is clear. Velocity is checked during status meeting; just to be clear. Velocity leads us to Value. Myth 5: Only a technical person can become a Scrum master Reality: I want to correct that statement by saying a technical person can be made a Scrum master as long as they can ensure that they do not let their technical impulses interfere with their duties of being a Scrum Master. If that cannot be guaranteed, then it is better to choose a non-technical person to be a Scrum Master because they can then ensure that the discussions do not cross the time limits and the meeting’s focus remains sharp. Myth 6: Sprint 0 is a must Reality: These days it has become a norm to have the first sprint as a “blank Sprint” to allow teams to do dry runs and become accustomed to the system. This is a bad practice that has come into being due to the fact that the client, leadership and sometimes the managers put unfair and immense pressure on engineering teams to start delivering from day 1 or week 1. So the concept of Sprint 0 crept in where these stakeholders are given the confidence that something is happening and the team is buffered from pressure. So what should be done in such cases? It is better to open a dialogue with stakeholders and take time for planning rather than calling it as Sprint 0 which actually goes against the values of Agile and Scrum. Myth 7: Scrum projects are faster to produce output and cheaper to execute Reality: Yes this is true. But only if you are using them in the right environment. If you implement these practices for a wrong project, you can be assured of cost and schedule overrun to happen with a lot of production bugs. For example, you can use Agile and Scrum for mobile App development, but it is not a good fit for Operating system development. Or it can be used for road construction projects, but it cannot be done for Dam construction projects. Myth 8: Sprint backlog is a commitment that has to be honored in all circumstances. Reality: Wrong! Sprint backlog is a collection of work items that you wanted to complete in each sprint, but it is not mandatory to finish it 100%. This means you need not make weekends working or force people to spend long hours in office to complete the sprint backlog. If there is a Sprint backlog remaining at the end of Sprint, then it simply means either the planning was not correct or there were unexpected capacity issues in the team and you need to fix them properly. In such cases, the backlog moves back to Product backlog to be considered in future sprints based on its priority. Don’t bite more than you can chew! Myth 9: Quality can be compromised for faster deployment or shipping. Reality: We all have been seeing this around us; sometimes in our own projects. Yet we choose to look other way and claim that quality was ensured throughout the process. Don’t we notice that these days softwares are having way too many bugs? We brush them aside by saying that software has become really complex these days so this is expected. But in reality, this is a direct outcome of our rush to deliver earlier than we had time to properly make it. Quality should not be compromised in lieu of shipping the product. Always set the KPIs before the start of project and ensure quality measures up to those KPIs [Key Performance Indicators] throughout and especially before shipping the software or product. Myth 10: 0 backlog means Scrum was success Reality: If this was the case then why did that product fail to make any money? Running through the complete list of to-do items and getting a sense of accomplishment is one thing but it does not ensure success unless you made all along the way that you were making the right thing. And that is measured by the concept of value and quality and this is where Scrum Master and Product Owner play the most important roles. So the next time you are going to start a project and want to use Agile and Scrum, step back and analyze the scenario. Ask yourself about the best fit for the project and make sure you don’t fall into these traps of Myths. All the best!  

10 deadly myths of Agile and Scrum

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10 deadly myths of Agile and Scrum

Agile and Scrum have been conquering the minds of engineers, managers especially from software industry quite effectively since last few years. The impact is so much so that every software engineer thinks that if he/she is not working on an Agile or Scrum project, their career is not going anywhere!

Sounds funny, right?

It surely is, but so is the reality of this fact. 

Agile and Scrum have become so pervasive in our thought process that we as engineers or managers or product owners do not stop to ask ourselves once if we really need any Agile methodologies to complete the project at hand or not. We simply assume that we are going to follow Agile and Scrum.

While I do not have any problem with Agile or Scrum as such, I do have concerns when I see people following things that are wrong; wrong as in incorrect even from an Agile manifesto perspective.

These bad practices or even myths [as we can safely call them due to lack of a better word] have crept in due to our insufficient understanding of the manifesto or Scrum alliance guidelines owing to the rush of getting onto the Agile train before it leaves us high and dry. And the impact of this short sightedness is the fact that we are adhering to mistakes in project execution techniques based on some popular concepts, because no one knows they are myths and have no resemblance to truth.

It is possible that these mistakes might be causing the issues in your project execution.

Through this article, I am trying to share with you some of the most common myths or misunderstandings that people have with respect to Agile and Scrum.


Do go through them and let me know your take on this.

Let’s start!

Myth 1: Anybody can become a scrum master

Reality:
A Scrum Master is supposed to be the person who does not involve personally into the discussions going on in the sprints and daily stand-ups and keeps his eyes on the goal even when emotions are running high during the Scrum meeting. So yes, anybody can become a Scrum Master playing many roles as long as they have emotional intelligence to deal with the varied opinions, discussions, and tendencies to derail the team away from the goal.

Hence, in reality, emotional intelligence is the most important prerequisite to become a Scrum Master.

Myth 2: More meetings mean Scrum is going well

Reality: Scrum was supposed to be meeting-free except for the 5 known time boxed events [kick off, planning, scrum status, review, and post-mortem]. Apart from this, there are no more meetings required. And if your schedule is filled with multitude of so-called short meetings, then it is a clear sign that something is not right in the way Scrum is being done in your team.

Hence, the reality becomes, more meetings mean your Scrum is going ‘into’ the ‘well’.



Myth 3: Daily scrum meeting is same as the status meeting.

Reality: Nothing could be further from the truth and intention if we think that daily scrum meeting is same as that of status meeting. It is not!

You must have seen multiple instances where team members give updates on what we did yesterday and what we plan to do today; they discuss issues and leave assuming that today’s scrum was successful.

In reality, that is a failure.

Scrum meeting is supposed to get together and quickly review the overall progress of the project based on efforts till last night against the end goal of project and quickly gauge if we are on track or not.

That is followed by status meeting, where today’s tasks are quickly distributed along with the status check of in-flight items.
That’s how it should be.

Myth 4: Velocity and Value are the same thing.

Reality: This is so wrong on many fronts. This assumption implies that if a work is being done quickly then it is taking us towards the end goal. Is that true?

Say a team member is creating automation with high velocity. But is it taking you closer towards shipping the product by the end date? No right?

Similarly, during Scrum meetings, we focus on the Value of work being done. It is possible that 100% of yesterday’s efforts might have contributed to 10% of total value. That is fine, as long as your idea of velocity and value is clear.

Velocity is checked during status meeting; just to be clear. Velocity leads us to Value.

Myth 5: Only a technical person can become a Scrum master

Reality: I want to correct that statement by saying a technical person can be made a Scrum master as long as they can ensure that they do not let their technical impulses interfere with their duties of being a Scrum Master.

If that cannot be guaranteed, then it is better to choose a non-technical person to be a Scrum Master because they can then ensure that the discussions do not cross the time limits and the meeting’s focus remains sharp.

Myth 6: Sprint 0 is a must

Reality: These days it has become a norm to have the first sprint as a “blank Sprint” to allow teams to do dry runs and become accustomed to the system. This is a bad practice that has come into being due to the fact that the client, leadership and sometimes the managers put unfair and immense pressure on engineering teams to start delivering from day 1 or week 1. So the concept of Sprint 0 crept in where these stakeholders are given the confidence that something is happening and the team is buffered from pressure.

So what should be done in such cases? It is better to open a dialogue with stakeholders and take time for planning rather than calling it as Sprint 0 which actually goes against the values of Agile and Scrum.



Myth 7: Scrum projects are faster to produce output and cheaper to execute

Reality: Yes this is true. But only if you are using them in the right environment. If you implement these practices for a wrong project, you can be assured of cost and schedule overrun to happen with a lot of production bugs.

For example, you can use Agile and Scrum for mobile App development, but it is not a good fit for Operating system development. Or it can be used for road construction projects, but it cannot be done for Dam construction projects.

Myth 8: Sprint backlog is a commitment that has to be honored in all circumstances.

Reality: Wrong! Sprint backlog is a collection of work items that you wanted to complete in each sprint, but it is not mandatory to finish it 100%. This means you need not make weekends working or force people to spend long hours in office to complete the sprint backlog. If there is a Sprint backlog remaining at the end of Sprint, then it simply means either the planning was not correct or there were unexpected capacity issues in the team and you need to fix them properly.

In such cases, the backlog moves back to Product backlog to be considered in future sprints based on its priority.

Don’t bite more than you can chew!

Myth 9: Quality can be compromised for faster deployment or shipping.

Reality: We all have been seeing this around us; sometimes in our own projects. Yet we choose to look other way and claim that quality was ensured throughout the process. Don’t we notice that these days softwares are having way too many bugs? We brush them aside by saying that software has become really complex these days so this is expected. But in reality, this is a direct outcome of our rush to deliver earlier than we had time to properly make it. Quality should not be compromised in lieu of shipping the product.

Always set the KPIs before the start of project and ensure quality measures up to those KPIs [Key Performance Indicators] throughout and especially before shipping the software or product.

Myth 10: 0 backlog means Scrum was success

Reality: If this was the case then why did that product fail to make any money? Running through the complete list of to-do items and getting a sense of accomplishment is one thing but it does not ensure success unless you made all along the way that you were making the right thing.

And that is measured by the concept of value and quality and this is where Scrum Master and Product Owner play the most important roles.

So the next time you are going to start a project and want to use Agile and Scrum, step back and analyze the scenario. Ask yourself about the best fit for the project and make sure you don’t fall into these traps of Myths.

All the best!
 

Abhinav

Abhinav Gupta

Blog Author

PMP, has 12+ years of experience working in Information technology sector and has worked with companies like Infosys and Microsoft in various capacities. He started his career as a manual tester for a world renowned software product and grew on to become automation champion in both functional as well as UI. He has worked with Healthcare units providing various software solutions to companies in North America and has worked with search engine based groups to enhance their experience and provide more bang for buck to their customers.

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Planning Poker: An Agile Estimating and Planning Technique

One thing that all Agile teams have in common is their capacity to have fun while they work.  are creative, flexible and think out of the box; and working on an Agile team is a far cry from working on a dreary, process-heavy waterfall project. By building in collaborative team activities and doing away with excessive documentation and rigid mandates, Agile team members are always on their toes and passionate about their work.  One of the innovative ways in which they work is by planning Poker, a consensus-based game that helps to arrive at estimates and work out timelines for releases. Let’s find out how to play Poker!  What Is Planning Poker? Definition and Process‘Planning Poker® is the secure, fun way for agile teams to guide sprint planning and build accurate consensus estimates.’ - planningpoker.com  There’s no doubting it; Agile estimation is very hard. A project in which the requirements are continually changing is definitely going to have volatility in terms of timeframes, budgets and schedules. How, then, can the team chalk out a roadmap and figure out milestones and releases? Arguably the most popular way to estimating schedules on an Agile project, Planning Poker is a technique that allows each team member to weigh in on the planning process for each user story.  Here’s how the process plays out: The team uses a deck of Planning Poker cards which have values printed on one side, say  0, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 20, 40 and 100. These values represent the units in which the team will be carrying out the estimation, which could be (for example) story points or ideal days. The Product Owner describes a feature that needs to be developed. The team asks doubts, discusses the feature and gets the required clarity. Each estimator holds a set of Planning Poker cards and selects one card in private. The number on this card will indicate their estimate for the work on the feature. They place the card face down on the table. All the cards are revealed at the same time, so that no one is influenced by another person’s decision. If everyone has the same value, that is chosen as the estimate.  If not, outliers are discussed, and another round of estimation is carried out. This process is continued till the team arrives at a consensus for the estimate. The estimates for subsequent features are taken up one by one, in a similar manner. Common PitfallsThe process is not completely intuitive, and while it is simple it could take a newbie some time to get used to the concept. Teams that are new will, therefore, often fall short of the estimate or go too long. However, with experience they will be able to arrive at more accurate estimates. For a sprint with many features, this process could take longer than expected as each estimate might run into multiple rounds of consensus building. If there is one experienced member who is very dominating, he or she might lead the discussions and quell the opinions of others on the team (who might be saying the right thing but might not be heard). Again, this method does not always work well with distributed teams, as for the process to work well, they should ideally be in a face-to-face session. If the story is not fleshed out well, the estimate might not be accurate.Expected BenefitsThe most significant advantage of Planning Poker is that every team member’s voice is heard. This increases team morale and build the right rapport. The group gets into the rhythm of discussing and collaborating on the project, which will hold them in good stead for the rest of the journey. These discussions help to give clarity on the features to be built, and dispel any ambiguity around the user stories. This ‘game’ builds commitment and accountability. As each team member has contributed to the estimate, they will work toward achieving it wholeheartedly. Last but not least, Planning Poker is fun!  Agile Estimation – Relative Vs AbsolutMost of us are used to absolute estimates. Let’s take an example. If you’re asked, for instance, how long you would take to walk three rounds of a park, you’d probably say that you can walk one round at a brisk pace in 8 minutes. You are not going to tell them your answer in relative terms, for example, you would never tell them that you can walk one round in four fifths of the time it would take X to do the same! In Agile, however, we prefer to work with relative estimates, as this offers more flexibility. Story points are determinations of the effort needed to complete task A, relative to the effort needed to complete task B. As there is a lot of uncertainty around the requirements, and the team does not want to spend too much effort estimating on a task that might change very soon, story point estimation is the perfect way to arrive at a rough and ready calculation of the level of effort needed for a task. When Should We Engage in Planning Poker?Typically, a Planning Poker session will be held just after the initial product backlog is written. It could take up to a few days, and is useful in creating initial approximate estimates that will be used to determine the scope, and plan and size the entire project. In an Agile project, it is only to be expected that product backlog items get added as the project unfolds. It would therefore make sense for the team to hold subsequent agile estimating and planning sessions during every iteration. These sessions can be held a few days before the end of the iteration, or whenever the team feels it is most convenient. How Does Poker Planning Work with a Distributed Team?Planning Poker always works best with a team that can sit across a table and hold discussions. However, this is not always possible, especially when teams span geographies and work across different offices.  In such cases, Planning Poker can work over a conference call or a Skype session. A Product Owner could share a set of items that have to be estimated, and the estimators log in at a prescheduled time and pick and show their cards over the video call, in much the same way as they would in a face-to-face session. There is a moderator, usually the Product Owner, who leads the discussions and makes notes. Does Planning Poker Work?Yes, it certainly does, and teams that use this method report that they are able to arrive at more accurate estimates more consistently than when other methods are used. Averaging individual estimates will always lead to better results.The reason for this is that when team members are all allowed to weigh in on the planning process, everyone’s opinion is heard. This is not the case when estimation is carried out by a project manager who does not take the team’s opinions into account. Since it is the team members who are ultimately working on the project, they will have the best sense of the effort needed to finish each task.Tips for Planning Poker in ScrumPlaying Planning Poker for the first time? Here are some tips from the pros, to help you get your game going! While it is definitely a game, it’s a serious game and not to be taken lightly. Each member must carefully evaluate the feature and calculate the time they feel it would take to complete it in its entirety. If they have any doubts, they should get them clarified. The discussion that ensues will help the team to get going in the right direction during the development phase, as it clears the air and removes any ambiguity. Agile estimates are relative and should not be converted to work hours. This will negate the value of using flexible Agile story points. The estimate is team-level and not on an individual level, as the team drives the work. If your opinion differs from that of others, make sure that you speak up. Your understanding of the feature may be the right one. It’s also important to note that the team should never suppress the voice of each individual; rather they should hear what everyone has to say with patience and understanding. Keep the card sizes small. Most teams like to use numbers smaller than 13, as larger stories will not fit into one sprint. If the story is too large, it should be broken down into a manageable chunk of work. Even if someone on the team is new to Planning Poker, make sure that they are not excluded. The entire team must be engaged. Keep expectations realistic. Point value creep, which is a condition where the estimates of stories inexplicably become larger over time, leads to unrealistic expectations and too much pressure from stakeholders. This causes stress and burnout in the long run. In the End.... As with everything to do with Agile, Planning Poker is a process that sounds easy enough but might take time and experience to get right. Take our tips to heart and be wary of the potential pitfalls that we have listed out, and your team will be able to get the most benefit from this tool! 
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Planning Poker: An Agile Estimating and Planning T...

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