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Top Scrum Master Challenges & Ways To Overcome Them

The role of a Scrum Master on an Agile team is very different from the one played by a traditional Project Manager who follows the top-down hierarchical Waterfall method of working. The Scrum Master is not a leader in the traditional sense, and is more of a facilitator who is at the same level as the others on the team.  The Scrum Master’s role is an undeniably challenging one, and even the most experienced Scrum Masters find it hard to cope with the pressure at times! What are the challenges faced by a Scrum Master, and how can they be overcome? We share inputs from our top Scrum Masters, so that you can learn from their experience. When a Scrum Master encounters resistance from outside of the development team, what should the Scrum Master do? Read on to find out. 1. Difficulty in Maintaining Time-boxingThe Scrum Master is responsible for maintaining the time-boxing of activities, such as the Daily Stand-up. Time-boxing is used to define the upper limit of duration for activities and events, and teams that are not limited to this duration are unable to manage their daily workload. Participants who lack focus can derail the meeting, and if the Scrum Master does not rein in the required focus there will be inordinate delays. THE SOLUTION:  Maintain clarity on the agenda of each meeting, explain the importance of strict time-boxing, and if anyone tries to go off-topic, explain that their issues can be dealt with separately as the team’s time is valuable. 2. Scrum Master’s Role is Considered to be ExtraLet’s get this straight. The Scrum Master is not a leader or boss of the team. He or she is a contributing member, who enables and empowers work and removes obstacles that hinder smooth progress.  THE SOLUTION: The Scrum Master must get down and dirty, and work with the team and for them, rather than above them. As someone who knows the Agile approach well, you are expected to smoothen the journey for the team and ensure that processes and principles are followed.3. Lack of Buy-in from Senior ManagementAgile is a mindset that is needed to be followed across the company, not by a few people. And when senior management do not really get on board, this can pose problems for the entire team. THE SOLUTION: What can be done to circumvent this? Instead of talking to the senior management about why they should adopt Agile, find out their problems, and solve them using an Agile approach. Pretty soon, they will fall in step and become Agile advocates themselves. 4. Agile Meetings not conducted correctlyThere are many people who feel that meetings are a waste of time, especially if they are not contributing to the meeting themselves. However, for Agile values of transparency and inspection to work the way they should, regular meetings are necessary to get the whole team on board. Core Agile meetings are short and add immense value, as the team can collaborate, move past hurdles and prepare themselves for the tasks ahead.  THE SOLUTION: Scrum Masters should ensure that all meetings are on track, offer value to each participant, and improve quality and productivity of the team. 5. Conflict between Agile and WaterfallThis happens more often than you would think. Senior team members who have always followed the Waterfall approach may know the principles of Agile, but find it difficult to actually follow them. This is one of the top reasons why an Agile transformation often fails, and companies that are trying to go Agile frequently find that they have to grapple with conflicts, misunderstanding, ego issues and lack of belief in the process. THE SOLUTION: To get everyone on board with Agile, a good Scrum Master will patiently advocate the benefits that have been realised, and share data on successful Agile product deliveries. By demonstrating clearly the value that is to be derived, team members can be brought over to the winning side. 6. Lack of Agile TrainingAgile concepts are easy to grasp but difficult to follow. Unless your team members know the basic Agile principles, as well as the underlying reasons for following them, they will not be invested enough in the system to follow them closely. They should have a fundamental understanding of Agile terminology and processes in order to be on the same page. THE SOLUTION: If the team is not well versed in Agile, as a coach and mentor you will have to train them and get them up to speed with what Scrum is all about. 7. Lack of Understanding between Agile Teams and StakeholdersWhile agile teams might be having the skills and capabilities to follow Agile to the letter, others who are watching—such as stakeholders, suppliers and so on— might not have a good grasp over what being Agile entails.  THE SOLUTION: To get them aligned to your new ways of working, it is important that they should understand how the iterative approach works, and be tuned in to giving feedback at regular intervals. You could invite them to a few planning sessions, so that they are also aware of what is expected of them. 8. Managing Changes in ScopeWhile it is actually the Product Owner’s responsibility to manage the scope and direction of the work, it is only with the Scrum Master’s support that the PO can achieve this. When new work is randomly thrown at the team, or they are asked to move in a different direction, they could get very confused. THE SOLUTION: The Scrum Master should work with the Product Owner to collect feedback on a daily basis, which will help to clear the chaos and give clarity to the team members.9. Unhealthy Relationship with the Product OwnerThe Scrum Master and Product Owner are supposed to be two sides of a coin who work together for the common benefit of all. Very often, though, they have personalities that clash, and there is a breakdown of communication that affects the progress of work. THE SOLUTION: Even if there are small conflicts, the Scrum Master and Product Owner must work together to resolve them before they escalate into a full blown misunderstanding. A supportive relationship with plenty of give and take is necessary for the health of the team as a whole. 10. Scrum Master Taking on Admin TasksQuite often the Scrum Master finds that he or she has to book meetings, schedule events and follow up on ceremonies. These are roles routinely performed by Admin, and while the Scrum Master could be the best person to take on this responsibility, it should not detract from their regular work. THE SOLUTION: The primary function of the Scrum Master role is team facilitation, and other extra tasks should not take away from this. Try to delegate Admin tasks, and become an excellent communicator to ensure that all tasks are overseen by you.  11. Managing Distributed TeamsDistributed teams pose a whole new set of challenges for a Scrum Master. In these days of remote work and teams that are distributed across geographies, there could be delays due to working across different time zones, regional issues or network problems. THE SOLUTION: Scrum Masters face challenges in working across such distributed teams, but can overcome this through the use of technologies and collaborative tools. 12. Fear of Being TransparentMany employees who have worked in the Waterfall mode are scared to open up to transparent ways of working. Senior management are used to holding powerful roles, and this is often a detriment to Agile methods, where there is no top-down hierarchy. THE SOLUTION: The Scrum Master should identify areas where transparency for senior management is required and necessary. The leaders who have visibility into these areas can make informed decisions that will help the team performance as well as organizational growth. 13. Team vs Individual PerformancesThe Scrum team must function as one, and work toward achieving team goals rather than creating individual value. When there are team members who try to create individual success and do not gel together cohesively with the team, this could cause problems in progress. This problem is compounded when the company culture rewards individuals over teams. THE SOLUTION: HR must be made to understand that on an Agile team, it is the overall performance that matters, and individual appraisals must factor in this approach. 14. Management has Different ExpectationsWhen there is lack of clarity between the managers as to what is the most important priority, the Scrum Master is often conflicted as to what are the expectations from the team. For instance, one manager may want measurable growth, another may want cohesive teamwork, while a third may look for problem solving. THE SOLUTION: Communication is key to getting clarity on expectations. Talk to your direct manager and prioritise what you are expected to achieve in this role. 15. Getting Speedy Resolution to ProblemsWhenever a problem arises, it is the Scrum Master’s responsibility to get it fixed as quickly as possible. However, there may be instances where the amount and severity of obstacles make it difficult to find speedy resolutions. THE SOLUTION: By building up a culture of shared responsibility within the team, you can cultivate a relationship of mutual trust and understanding. With the support of the entire team, you will find it easier to crush obstacles that would otherwise hinder work progress.16. Paucity of SpaceA team that works without a dedicated room for meetings is not likely to collaborate well. Team spaces are often not prioritized as the teams break up and reorganise for different projects, but when they don’t have the space they need the work is likely to suffer. THE SOLUTION: For Agile to work the way it should, each team should have a dedicated space to get together for events and meetings, and to interact with each other through the day and as needed.17. Skipping MeetingsAgile meetings are an important part of the framework, and need to be conducted the way in which they are laid out in the rule books.  If meetings are skipped, or postponed due to emergent work, then the advantages of transparency, inspection and adaptation will be lost. THE SOLUTION: The Scrum Master should be firm about holding the meetings on time, and ensuring that they maintain focus and do not overshoot the pre-set duration.18. Absentee Product OwnersProduct Owners are often too busy to attend meetings regularly. This causes confusion and the need for frequent rework, making the team lose their faith in the Agile process itself. THE SOLUTION: When the Scrum Master has a close relationship with the Product Owner, work can progress at a smooth pace. The PO will be made aware that skipping meetings or being a Product Owner in absentia is not an option.  19. Working on Multiple TeamsIn companies that employ part-time Scrum Masters, or require one Scrum Master to work on several teams at the same time, the Agile team loses the dedicated support and accessibility to the Scrum Master. In such cases, the Scrum Master is unable to motivate and maximise the full potential of the team. THE SOLUTION:If you are a part-time Scrum Master who is stretched and needs more time to work with the Scrum team, ask for full time employment. Or, instead of working on multiple teams, shift most of your time to serving one team, and have a temporary Scrum Master on the other team who can take over your tasks when you have no time. 20. Coping with ConstraintsThere are always constraints to smooth progress of the project, and at times the Scrum Master may find it difficult to take on so much of stress at the same time! The constraints could be in the form of people’s mindsets, emergent conflicts that arise, lack of clarity on requirements, or even lack of the right tools and technologies. THE SOLUTION: To move past these constraints, the Scrum Master should find a sponsor or someone on the management team who can help. Make a list of the constraints and find solutions to work around them. To Conclude… Scrum Masters play a pivotal role on a Scrum team that is challenging and complex. They need the perfect mix of soft skills, knowledge and capabilities in order to overcome all the obstacles and achieve the goals set. The ability to overcome all these challenges comes with experience, and the right training and certifications go a long way toward inculcating the required capabilities.  As a Scrum Master, have you faced any other challenges that were not listed here? Do let us know in the comments below! 

Top Scrum Master Challenges & Ways To Overcome Them

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Top Scrum Master Challenges & Ways To Overcome Them

The role of a Scrum Master on an Agile team is very different from the one played by a traditional Project Manager who follows the top-down hierarchical Waterfall method of working. The Scrum Master is not a leader in the traditional sense, and is more of a facilitator who is at the same level as the others on the team.  

The Scrum Master’s role is an undeniably challenging one, and even the most experienced Scrum Masters find it hard to cope with the pressure at times! What are the challenges faced by a Scrum Master, and how can they be overcome? We share inputs from our top Scrum Masters, so that you can learn from their experience. 

When a Scrum Master encounters resistance from outside of the development team, what should the Scrum Master do? Read on to find out. 

1. Difficulty in Maintaining Time-boxing

The Scrum Master is responsible for maintaining the time-boxing of activities, such as the Daily Stand-up. Time-boxing is used to define the upper limit of duration for activities and events, and teams that are not limited to this duration are unable to manage their daily workload. Participants who lack focus can derail the meeting, and if the Scrum Master does not rein in the required focus there will be inordinate delays. 

THE SOLUTION:  

Maintain clarity on the agenda of each meeting, explain the importance of strict time-boxing, and if anyone tries to go off-topic, explain that their issues can be dealt with separately as the team’s time is valuable. 

2. Scrum Master’s Role is Considered to be Extra

Let’s get this straight. The Scrum Master is not a leader or boss of the team. He or she is a contributing member, who enables and empowers work and removes obstacles that hinder smooth progress.  

THE SOLUTION: 

The Scrum Master must get down and dirty, and work with the team and for them, rather than above them. As someone who knows the Agile approach well, you are expected to smoothen the journey for the team and ensure that processes and principles are followed.

3. Lack of Buy-in from Senior Management

Agile is a mindset that is needed to be followed across the company, not by a few people. And when senior management do not really get on board, this can pose problems for the entire team. 

THE SOLUTION: 

What can be done to circumvent this? Instead of talking to the senior management about why they should adopt Agile, find out their problems, and solve them using an Agile approach. Pretty soon, they will fall in step and become Agile advocates themselves. 

4. Agile Meetings not conducted correctly

There are many people who feel that meetings are a waste of time, especially if they are not contributing to the meeting themselves. However, for Agile values of transparency and inspection to work the way they should, regular meetings are necessary to get the whole team on board. Core Agile meetings are short and add immense value, as the team can collaborate, move past hurdles and prepare themselves for the tasks ahead.  

THE SOLUTION: 

Scrum Masters should ensure that all meetings are on track, offer value to each participant, and improve quality and productivity of the team. 

5. Conflict between Agile and Waterfall

This happens more often than you would think. Senior team members who have always followed the Waterfall approach may know the principles of Agile, but find it difficult to actually follow them. This is one of the top reasons why an Agile transformation often fails, and companies that are trying to go Agile frequently find that they have to grapple with conflicts, misunderstanding, ego issues and lack of belief in the process. 

THE SOLUTION: 

To get everyone on board with Agile, a good Scrum Master will patiently advocate the benefits that have been realised, and share data on successful Agile product deliveries. By demonstrating clearly the value that is to be derived, team members can be brought over to the winning side. 

6. Lack of Agile Training

Agile concepts are easy to grasp but difficult to follow. Unless your team members know the basic Agile principles, as well as the underlying reasons for following them, they will not be invested enough in the system to follow them closely. They should have a fundamental understanding of Agile terminology and processes in order to be on the same page. 

THE SOLUTION: 

If the team is not well versed in Agile, as a coach and mentor you will have to train them and get them up to speed with what Scrum is all about. 

7. Lack of Understanding between Agile Teams and Stakeholders

While agile teams might be having the skills and capabilities to follow Agile to the letter, others who are watching—such as stakeholders, suppliers and so on— might not have a good grasp over what being Agile entails.  

THE SOLUTION: 

To get them aligned to your new ways of working, it is important that they should understand how the iterative approach works, and be tuned in to giving feedback at regular intervalsYou could invite them to a few planning sessions, so that they are also aware of what is expected of them. 

8. Managing Changes in Scope

While it is actually the Product Owner’s responsibility to manage the scope and direction of the work, it is only with the Scrum Master’s support that the PO can achieve this. When new work is randomly thrown at the team, or they are asked to move in a different direction, they could get very confused. 

THE SOLUTION: 

The Scrum Master should work with the Product Owner to collect feedback on a daily basis, which will help to clear the chaos and give clarity to the team members.

9. Unhealthy Relationship with the Product Owner

The Scrum Master and Product Owner are supposed to be two sides of a coin who work together for the common benefit of all. Very often, though, they have personalities that clash, and there is a breakdown of communication that affects the progress of work. 

THE SOLUTION: 

Even if there are small conflicts, the Scrum Master and Product Owner must work together to resolve them before they escalate into a full blown misunderstanding. A supportive relationship with plenty of give and take is necessary for the health of the team as a whole. 

10. Scrum Master Taking on Admin Tasks

Quite often the Scrum Master finds that he or she has to book meetings, schedule events and follow up on ceremonies. These are roles routinely performed by Admin, and while the Scrum Master could be the best person to take on this responsibility, it should not detract from their regular work. 

THE SOLUTION: 

The primary function of the Scrum Master role is team facilitation, and other extra tasks should not take away from this. Try to delegate Admin tasks, and become an excellent communicator to ensure that all tasks are overseen by you. 

 11. Managing Distributed Teams

Distributed teams pose a whole new set of challenges for a Scrum Master. In these days of remote work and teams that are distributed across geographies, there could be delays due to working across different time zones, regional issues or network problems. 

THE SOLUTION: 

Scrum Masters face challenges in working across such distributed teams, but can overcome this through the use of technologies and collaborative tools. 

12. Fear of Being Transparent

Many employees who have worked in the Waterfall mode are scared to open up to transparent ways of working. Senior management are used to holding powerful roles, and this is often a detriment to Agile methods, where there is no top-down hierarchy. 

THE SOLUTION: 

The Scrum Master should identify areas where transparency for senior management is required and necessary. The leaders who have visibility into these areas can make informed decisions that will help the team performance as well as organizational growth. 

13. Team vs Individual Performances

The Scrum team must function as one, and work toward achieving team goals rather than creating individual value. When there are team members who try to create individual success and do not gel together cohesively with the team, this could cause problems in progress. This problem is compounded when the company culture rewards individuals over teams. 

THE SOLUTION: 

HR must be made to understand that on an Agile team, it is the overall performance that matters, and individual appraisals must factor in this approach. 

14. Management has Different Expectations

When there is lack of clarity between the managers as to what is the most important priority, the Scrum Master is often conflicted as to what are the expectations from the team. For instance, one manager may want measurable growth, another may want cohesive teamwork, while a third may look for problem solving. 

THE SOLUTION: 

Communication is key to getting clarity on expectations. Talk to your direct manager and prioritise what you are expected to achieve in this role. 

15. Getting Speedy Resolution to Problems

Whenever a problem arises, it is the Scrum Master’s responsibility to get it fixed as quickly as possible. However, there may be instances where the amount and severity of obstacles make it difficult to find speedy resolutions. 

THE SOLUTION: 

By building up a culture of shared responsibility within the team, you can cultivate a relationship of mutual trust and understanding. With the support of the entire team, you will find it easier to crush obstacles that would otherwise hinder work progress.

16. Paucity of Space

A team that works without a dedicated room for meetings is not likely to collaborate well. Team spaces are often not prioritized as the teams break up and reorganise for different projects, but when they don’t have the space they need the work is likely to suffer. 

THE SOLUTION: 

For Agile to work the way it should, each team should have a dedicated space to get together for events and meetings, and to interact with each other through the day and as needed.

17. Skipping Meetings

Agile meetings are an important part of the framework, and need to be conducted the way in which they are laid out in the rule books.  If meetings are skipped, or postponed due to emergent work, then the advantages of transparency, inspection and adaptation will be lost. 

THE SOLUTION: 

The Scrum Master should be firm about holding the meetings on time, and ensuring that they maintain focus and do not overshoot the pre-set duration.

18. Absentee Product Owners

Product Owners are often too busy to attend meetings regularly. This causes confusion and the need for frequent rework, making the team lose their faith in the Agile process itself. 

THE SOLUTION: 

When the Scrum Master has a close relationship with the Product Owner, work can progress at a smooth pace. The PO will be made aware that skipping meetings or being a Product Owner in absentia is not an option. 

 19. Working on Multiple Teams

In companies that employ part-time Scrum Masters, or require one Scrum Master to work on several teams at the same time, the Agile team loses the dedicated support and accessibility to the Scrum Master. In such cases, the Scrum Master is unable to motivate and maximise the full potential of the team. 

THE SOLUTION:

If you are a part-time Scrum Master who is stretched and needs more time to work with the Scrum team, ask for full time employment. Or, instead of working on multiple teams, shift most of your time to serving one team, and have a temporary Scrum Master on the other team who can take over your tasks when you have no time. 

20. Coping with Constraints

There are always constraints to smooth progress of the project, and at times the Scrum Master may find it difficult to take on so much of stress at the same time! The constraints could be in the form of people’s mindsetsemergent conflicts that arise, lack of clarity on requirements, or even lack of the right tools and technologies. 

THE SOLUTION: 

To move past these constraints, the Scrum Master should find a sponsor or someone on the management team who can help. Make a list of the constraints and find solutions to work around them. 

To Conclude… 

Scrum Masters play a pivotal role on a Scrum team that is challenging and complex. They need the perfect mix of soft skills, knowledge and capabilities in order to overcome all the obstacles and achieve the goals set. The ability to overcome all these challenges comes with experience, and the right training and certifications go a long way toward inculcating the required capabilities.  

As a Scrum Master, have you faced any other challenges that were not listed here? Do let us know in the comments below! 

Ridhi

Ridhi Chhabra

Blog author

Ridhi Chhabra is working in the field of Project Management from last 8 years. She is also a Certified Scrum Master (CSM). She has been implementing Scrum Framework in 80% of her projects which are resulting in Successful Project Completion and Great Customer Experience. She has great Communication skills and got a proven experience in interacting with customers around the globe, across US, UK, Australia and South Africa.
She is currently working as an Executive Assistant Project Manager at KOHLEX Design India Pvt. Ltd., It is US Based Organization which is having main headquarters in California, United States and is handling operations in Hyderabad, India.


She enjoys meeting new people, traveling and writing blogs and articles. Refer to her LinkedIn for more articles.

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2 comments

Andrea Grace 16 Nov 2018

Good one. Please let me know how can I subscribe for weekly news letters ?

Sunil 13 Feb 2019

Practical insights! Thanks for collating them together!!

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How To Define Features in Agile Methodology?

Agile projects are known for their simple, iterative approach to cutting through the complexity. Even the most ambitious of Agile projects is taken one step at a time and breaks down complex work packages and tasks into low-level subtasks. Features and capabilities that are needed in the finished product are listed out, and then broken down to manageable chunks which are taken up and completed, one at a time.In this article, we will talk about Features in an Agile project. What are the characteristics of features and how are they applied? How do you build a feature list, and what are the advantages of breaking down features into user stories? Read on to find out!Agile projects are known for their simple, iterative approach to cutting through the complexity. Even the most ambitious of Agile projects is taken one step at a time and breaks down complex work packages and tasks into low-level subtasks. Features and capabilities that are needed in the finished product are listed out, and then broken down to manageable chunks which are taken up and completed, one at a time.In this article, we will talk about Features in an Agile project. What are the characteristics of features and how are they applied? How do you build a feature list, and what are the advantages of breaking down features into user stories? Read on to find out!What is a feature in Agile methodology?A feature is a service or function of the product that delivers business value and fulfils the customer’s need. Each feature is broken down into several user stories, as it is usually too big to be worked on directly. A user story is an informal, short description of a part of a software feature that is written from the user’s perspective and talks about how this particular bit of the feature will offer something of value.Why use features in Scrum and not only user stories?A feature is something that is sizeable enough to deliver measurable value to customers and creates a large chunk of functionality. Features are used to describe the functionality at a macro level, and they are required to create schedules and plan the high-level release of the product.Scrum works on the premise of short development cycles called Sprints, which usually last between 2 weeks and a month but not longer. One feature is typically completed over several sprints. In one sprint, only several user stories can be completed and not, perhaps, an entire feature.What’s the difference between features and epics in Agile?The product backlog is usually detailed into three levels of complexity with respect to tasks. Epics are large quantities of related work that can be broken down into features. A feature, as we have seen, is a service or function that delivers value to the end user. Each feature is broken down into a number of smaller and simpler tasks known as user stories. Do note that for a smaller project, with only around 8 to 10 people on the team, the product backlog may be divided into just features and user stories. Epics come into the picture for large projects with multiple teams who are working over a duration of several years.Who writes the features in Scrum, and what are the steps involved?The Scrum Guide, considered to be the Bible for all things Scrum, does not lay out any guidelines for the use of features.However, Scaled Agile, Inc. indicates that the Product Manager is the owner of the Features, which is to say, he or she finally decides what goes into the feature and what is its priority on the Backlog. The features are not necessarily written by the Product Manager, however, and this could be done by others on the team.On many teams, the Product Manager and the Product Owner are one and the same.There are several steps in the definition and writing of features. Define the WHY, or the benefit hypothesis: What is the functionality that the users gain from the feature? What are the benefits to be gained from implementing this feature? Calculate the business value: Keep in mind the number of users, how often each of them uses the feature, what is the timeframe within which the feature must be released for it to be useful, and how much effort goes into developing this feature. All these together will help to determine the ROI of the feature and ultimately whether it is worth the effort and cost. Features that bring in the most benefit at least cost will be prioritised. Describe the feature: What is the context and how will it be used? What is the need for the feature? Try to include technical details and any information that is important from the Product Manager’s point of view. Write down the acceptance criteria: What are the conditions under which the feature can be deemed to be done? This will help to reduce any ambiguity and mark work progress. How big should the product features be?While there is no hard and fast rule on this, and it is left largely to the convenience of project teams, it is generally agreed that it should be possible to complete a feature within a maximum of three months. When using SAFe, a feature is released in one single program increment. Teams that are working with investor funding and are getting the funds at regular cycles should be able to showcase a completed feature during each investment cycle, in order to demonstrate that they are progressing on track. What are feature points?Feature points represent the amount of the work complexity, effort taken, and knowledge required to complete one feature. They are the same as story points, but in the context of a feature rather than a user story.What are features called in different Agile Methodologies?A feature, while essentially having the same definition, could be called by different terms in different Agile methodologies. In Scrum, a feature is often referred to as a Backlog Item.   In XP, features are called Stories. DSDM terms a feature as a requirement. This could club together several system features. Agile UP defines features in the form of requirements and use cases.What are the characteristics of features?To be effective, a feature should always Offer measurable business value,   Contain enough information to allow for estimation of the work involved, Be small enough to be completed within a program increment or maximum of three months,   Be testable by the scrum team and the product management team.Feature breakdown structure (FBS)When getting into the nitty gritty of detailed planning, agile development uses a feature breakdown structure (FBS) approach that breaks down each feature into smaller, more manageable units of work. This allows easier communication between the customer and the development team, where both can understand each other well in a way that leaves no room for ambiguity. It also helps to track the progress of work against the value that is created. Over time and as the work progresses, the larger features can be broken into smaller features, instead of doing this breakdown all together in the beginning. This way, details are not fleshed out until the time when they are actually needed for design and delivery. Building an initial feature listAt the very start, before the release planning and iteration planning can happen, the team must sit together and list out as many potential features for the system as possible at this stage. Feature requests can come from many sources, and one person should be allocated to collate all these requests. While this could be the product manager, it could also be a customer proxy, a business analyst or someone who is responsible and accountable to the team. The team should refine these requirements, weeding out duplicate items, features that are not possible to implement, and requests that are very vague. As the features are identified, they are added to the list so that they can become a part of the planning processes. This initial feature list can be considered to be a preliminary outline that can be used as input to chart out the release and first iteration. It is not required to wait until all features are defined before getting started on the actual work, and it is also understood that the original list, descriptions, and priorities will evolve over time. Instead of waiting for everything to get detailed out at the outset, the team can get to work with the initial list without wasting any valuable time. As new features which could be critical get identified, they are simply added into the evolving release plan and will get delivered during a subsequent iteration. As the project progresses, the work adapts itself to accommodate new priorities, additional information from stakeholders, and the changing industry dynamics.Advantages of breaking down features into smaller user storiesUser stories, as we have learnt, represent smaller chunks of work while features represent fully formed functionalities of the product. There are many advantages to breaking down the features into functionalities, and the main ones are these: Stories narrow down the focus: Stories are small, doable portions of the work that do not overwhelm the developer. They represent an entire piece of functionality, however small it is, and so can measure incremental progress. Stories fit into a sprint: Features are too large to be completed within a sprint, but stories can be finished within this duration. This allows more efficient scheduling and planning of sprint tasks. 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How To Define Features in Agile Methodology?

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What Is a Safe Product Owner?

The Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) is, in the words of Dean Leffingwell, Creator of SAFe: “a knowledge base of proven, integrated principles, practices, and competencies for achieving business agility using Lean, Agile, and DevOps.”  © Scaled Agile, Inc. Using SAFe, the process of scaling Agile across a large-scale enterprise can be streamlined. SAFe details out organizational workflows that enhance productivity and employee engagement and ensure customer delight through quick deliveries of quality products.  A key role on a SAFe team is played by the Product Owner. In this blog, you will understand the role of a SAFe Product Owner, and how it relates to that of a Scrum Product Owner. You will also understand the SAFe Product Owner’s role with respect to that of a SAFe Product Manager.What is a SAFe Product Owner?The SAFe Product Owner is the member of the team who works as the voice of the customer. He or she liaises with Product Management and other POs, besides other stakeholders, to define and list out stories in the Team Backlog and order them as per priority.  In an ideal situation, the SAFe PO is in the same office as the rest of the team. However, with today’s distributed teams, this does not always happen. One PO can support up to two Agile teams, at the most. The SAFe PO works with the SAFe Product Manager, who maintains the overall product vision. Key Role & Responsibilities of a SAFe Product OwnerThe main responsibilities of the SAFe PO extend across the team, and even beyond that to participate in Product Management events, where he or she will help to plan and create the Program vision and refine the Program Backlog. The following are the main responsibilities of the SAFe PO: 1. PI PlanningThe PO plays a significant role as a member of the larger Product Management team and has to participate in the events during Program Increment (PI) planning. The activity of program backlog refinement also requires every PO’s participation and close involvement. Before the event, the PO will keep the team backlog updated and will contribute to creating the vision and charting out the roadmap.When the planning event is in progress, the PO should be at hand to give clarity wherever needed. The entire SAFe team will work to map out the team’s PI objectives for the upcoming PI.2. During the IterationDuring the iteration execution, the PO holds extremely critical responsibilities:The PO builds, updates and maintains the team backlog, with updates from all stakeholders and the team. Reviewing and ordering the team backlog as a precursor to the Iteration Planning event is the responsibility of the PO. For this, they may need to coordinate dependencies with other POs.During the Iteration Planning event, the PO gives clarity of user story details, and is around to ensure alignment and concurrence on a final iteration plan. While the team elaborates on the backlog items and creates stories, the PO keeps track of the flow and maintains priorities. POs work with the team to flesh out each story, adding acceptance criteria and acceptance tests, applying Behaviour-Driven Development (BDD) practices. As the work progresses, the PO will work closely with the team to agree on the completion of accepted stories. and see whether they meet the Definition of Done and quality standards that have been laid down. The PO does not need to be a technical expert but should be able to understand the scope of the work that is coming up. He or she should collaborate with the engineers to assist in making decisions and sequencing the technological infrastructures that will enable the business functionality. During team demos, the PO coordinates between the team and stakeholders who are present.   They also participate in events such as the Iteration Retrospective and the Agile Release Train’s Inspect & Adapt workshop, providing the customer’s perspective on the work progress.3. During the Program ExecutionDuring each PI, the PO will connect with other POs to check and coordinate other dependencies, ensuring smooth work progress without any hiccups. They will sync up typically during weekly events. Additionally, POs play a valuable role in creating the System Demo for all the stakeholders involved in the program value stream. 4. Inspection and AdaptationThe Inspect and Adapt (I&A) workshop is held to address any large impediments to smooth progress. During this event, the PO works across teams to see how best to improve processes and increase team velocity and quality. During the I&A workshop, the PO participates in and holds the PI system demo for program stakeholders.SAFe Product Owner vs Scrum Product OwnerBefore we get into the differences in the roles and responsibilities of a SAFe Product Owner and a Scrum Product Owner, we need to also understand a third and more prominent role on a SAFe team: that of the SAFe Product Manager. The SAFe Product Manager is someone who works with several SAFe teams, typically two to four, and owns the Program Backlog—which gives him or her an overall view of the entire project (or the big picture).  The table below talks about the differences in the roles played by a SAFe Product Owner and a Scrum Product Owner.SAFe Product OwnerScrum Product OwnerBacklog ItemsA SAFe Product Owner undertakes the responsibility for the Team Backlog. This lists all the requirements (Backlog items) for the team.A Scrum Product Owner undertakes the responsibility for the Product Backlog. This is a prioritised list of all the requirements for the product.Number of teams they supportA SAFe Product Owner can serve, at most, two teams.A Scrum Product Owner can work with two or more teams.Vision and roadmapA SAFe Product Manager, not the SAFe Product Owner, defines the features and owns the vision and roadmap. A SAFe Product Manager is someone who works with two to four SAFe Product Owners. He or she will have an overall view of the entire program. As such, the SAFe Product Owner exerts less authority than the Scrum Product Owner.Scrum Product Owner defines the features and owns the vision and roadmap. So, as we can see, the Scrum Product Owner undertakes responsibilities that combine those of the SAFe Product Owner and the SAFe Product Manager (but to a smaller scale as the project is typically smaller).Who has the final say on the product?A SAFe Product Owner does not have a final say on what must be done for a certain Product. This is done by the SAFe Product Manager, who is the final authority and owns the vision and roadmap on a SAFe project.It is the Scrum Product Manager who has the final say on what needs to be done for the product.SimilaritiesJust like the Scrum PO, the SAFe Product Owner is also a core member of the team.  He or she is the customer proxy on the team, ensuring that the vision is always kept in focus.They have the responsibility of the Backlog- the Team Backlog in the case of the SAFe PO, and the Product Backlog in the case of the Scrum PO.Both POs work on prioritising the tasks that the team will take up next, guiding them on the relative importance of the stories.Again, both the SAFe PO and the Scrum PO work toward maximizing the product value.They keep an eye on the goal for the next iteration.They participate in reflections and inspect and adapt during and after each iteration.The two roles take part in the Planning, Retrospective and Review of an Iteration in SAFe/ Sprint in Scrum in a similar way.Can one person do both roles in SAFe; that of the Product Owner and Product Manager?The PO and the PM roles are completely distinct in SAFe, and each comes with its own set of responsibilities.There is a different focus for each role: The PM’s role is cantered on the benefits to the customer and the organisation. He or she is also the person with whom the business owners and members of the ART (Agile Release Train) connect. POs always have the needs of their own Agile team in focus.  Product Owners and Product Managers work together collaboratively to understand the customer’s needs and work toward fulfilling them. The flow of information is from the customer to the PM, and then down to the POs and their team members. The POs and PMs meet up at all ART or PO planning and sync up events and stay aligned with the same set of overarching goals. As we have seen, one person cannot undertake the roles of the SAFe Product Owner and the SAFe Product Manager at the same time. POs and PMs must at all times be connected, and work in tandem to deliver a successful product; however, having one person playing both roles is a sure route to disaster!  The last word… The SAFe Product Owner plays a role that is at the core of SAFe, setting up the product strategy, getting deep into customer requirements, and prioritizing the features as per their importance. They hold the responsibility of ensuring customer delight, even as they keep a pulse on the economic value that is to be derived from the product.  In the end, SAFe is all about giving the larger enterprise a framework for scaling Agile — to build better products, respond to volatile markets, and keep in step with emerging technologies — and without the Product Owner’s expertise, all this will fall short. 
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What Is a Safe Product Owner?

The Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) is, in the... Read More

Scrum Software for the Ultimate Project Management

Technology has made our lives easier. The number of tools and devices we have at our disposal has made our lives more productive and our work more efficient. The Agile software development methodology has been adopted by several organizations to improve their adaptability, responsiveness, and productivity.  How can we improve the way we incorporate Agile Scrum into our projects? Scrum tools can be the answer. Just like the other gadgets in our lives, Scrum software and tools help improve the productivity of our teams, keep stakeholders happy and help us deliver better products. Before we jump into the use and needs of Scrum software and tools let us understand more about Scrum roles and how they work.Three essential roles for Scrum successThe Scrum Guide defines three pillars of a Scrum team, which include:The Scrum MasterThe Product OwnerThe Development TeamThe Scrum team is a small unit which is self-organised and works towards achieving the same goal; that is, the development and deployment of the product and customer satisfaction.The Scrum Product OwnerThe Scrum Product Owner is among the most essential roles in the Scrum team and acts as a bridge between the stakeholders and the development team. More involved with the business side of the software development process, the PO represents the customer and can be considered as their proxy.  The Product Owner defines the product vision, and, along with the Scrum Master and the development team works towards delivering a product that matches stakeholder needs.The Scrum MasterThe Scrum Master is the servant leader whose main responsibility is to ensure that the Scrum team can perform to the best of its abilities. They do this by overseeing the day-to-day activities of the Scrum team and removing any impediments that may hinder the productivity of the development team. The Scrum Master facilitates stakeholder collaboration along with the product owner and ensures that teams can handle complex environments and deliver projects successfully.The Scrum development teamThe development team generally consists of three to nine people, according to the Scrum Guide. These would include developers, testers, designers and more. The team is allowed to take decisions and decide the length of the sprint and how they will go about it. The development team collaborates to create a high-quality product increment at the end of each sprint that is as per the expectations of the stakeholders.Scrum ceremonies or eventsScrum has five formal events as defined by the Scrum Guide. These events help to validate the Scrum artifacts and implementing them helps enhance transparency. The events are also called ceremonies and are:Sprint PlanningDaily ScrumSprint ReviewSprint RetrospectiveThe SprintWhat Does A Scrum Tool Do?What would you need a good Scrum tool to do? Make your life easier by making processes more efficient and less cumbersome, help you deliver quality products without making a huge dent on your budget, right?  With Scrum topping the popularity charts for Agile project management methodologies, the need for efficient Scrum tools has risen. There are plenty of Scrum tools available that fit the bill and provide interfaces that help teams seamlessly follow Scrum processes and reap its benefits. These tools help:Increase productivityIn task management, daily scrum management  Increase team collaborationIn progress tracking and risk managementScrum Software for the Ultimate ProjectThere are several Scrum software tools that aid in project development using Scrum; not just in technical environments, but in non-technical sectors as well. Software like JIRA, Infinity, TargetProcess, QuickScrum, Wrike etc provide:User friendly GUICompetitive pricingProduct backlog managementTime tracking and calendar tools for schedulingScrum metrics and chartsSprint planning toolsThird party tools for integrationUser story mappingBurnup and Burndown chartsand many more features that will help Agile teams serve their customers better, improve return on investment, reduce costs, enhance collaboration and ensure stakeholder satisfaction. These tools help team uphold the values of Agile and make implementing the Scrum framework easier.Best Scrum ToolsHere are some of the best Scrum tools available in the market:1. JIRAJira is a popular tool used by large organizations to manage their Scrum projects. It has numerous features including customizable scrum boards, reporting features and more. Here’s how teams benefit from this toolCustomizable Scrum and Kanban boardsRoadmaps to communicate with team and with stakeholdersAccess to tools for Agile reportingView of code and deployment statusEnd to end DevOps visibilityEasy scalabilitySecure deploymentDeveloper tool integrationRich APIs to automate processes2. TargetProcessThis tool has been especially designed for teams that want to scale agile. It offers a number of customizable features that make it easy to work with scrum and agile.  Here’s how teams benefit from this tool(Source: Targetprocess Agile Portfolio and Work Management Tool)IdeationBuilt in reports to analyse data and uncover trendsGather ideas across sourcesCloud hosting and on-premise hostingEnterprise grade securityCollaborate across the enterprise  Collaborate with DevOps tools including GitLab, Azure DevOps, GitHub etc3. VivifyScrumThis tool is marketed as an all-in-one solution to manage projects, collaborate and track. Here’s how teams benefit from this tool (Source: Agile Project Management Software - VivifyScrum)Tools to manage agile projects—organize, manage, track and deliverCollaboration boards to effectively collaborate with team and stakeholdersCreate invoices to track and manage business and clientsManage teams and track tasks4. InfinityThis tool is among the most popular in Agile and Scrum organizations due to the many customizations and features it provides. Its various tools help reduce time to market, ensure better quality, improve collaboration and enable customer satisfaction.Here’s how teams benefit from this tool Source: Infinity | Customizable Work Management Platform (startinfinity.com)How Can Scrum Apps Benefit Your Team?The number of Scrum apps and software available in the market for Scrum projects is mind boggling. Which one you choose depends on the requirements of your team and project, and each comes with its own benefits. Some of these benefits include:They help teams, organizations and the product being createdThey ensure better quality by providing the right framework, support mechanism and the right processesAllow for continual improvement by putting in place a feedback loop and sprint reviews by stakeholdersHelp solve impediments and daily issues by incorporating daily testing and product owner feedback into the development processEnsure upfront documentation and help prioritise high value items in the product backlog, thus decreasing time to market.  Quick feedback also helps improve the product and thus helps in continuous improvement.The faster marketing of products increases return on investment, helps tap the market demand and ensures long term benefits for the customer and thus earns their trust for the organizationThe primary tenet of Agile is team collaboration. Scrum software tools help in high level collaboration between the Scrum Master, Product Owner and the development team. Teams can organise, review, plan and discuss everyday tasks, meetings, impediments and more.How to Pick the Best Tool for Your Team?With so many options available, choosing the right Scrum tool for your team can be a tricky task. What you need to do is go through the features of the best tools and see which one best fits your requirements. While the number of features you get will be directly proportional to the money you are ready to pay for the tool, there are some basic requirements your tool must satisfy.Backlog creation:  The very basic format of a Scrum project lies in the creation of a product backlog which sets the pace for the entire project. The backlog is primarily created by the Product Owner with assistance from the Scrum Master and the development team. The tool you choose should help you create the product backlog so that you can prioritise items, define the sprints and identify sprint goals.Implement feedback:  Scrum projects are based on the Agile values of continuous feedback. Your scrum tool should have features which will make your customer’s feedback and requirements easily accessible to you. This will help you implement these changes at the earliest. This continuous feedback loop will help keep customers happy.Sprint creation:  Scrum is iterative and adaptive and works by breaking down projects into small sized sprints. Your tool must aid you in the creation of sprints and burndown charts. These help you keep track of your progress on the project and are essential components of a Scrum project.The other things your tool should be able to do include:Plan and trackCustomise process templatesCustomise dashboards and reportsHelp in time managementHelp create epics and storiesProvide collab and reporting toolsProvide review toolsAnd just like you will create a product that is user friendly, the tool you use also needs to be user friendly for the team. If your team is happy using it, and it makes your life easier and your projects better, then you have the right tool!
Scrum Software for the Ultimate Project Management

Technology has made our lives easier. The number o... Read More

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