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Career Boost with CSM® Certification

The ecosystem and landscape around every business is changing drastically. Digital technologies enable entities to develop digital products / services and to conduct their business significantly differently.  Example: Physical gift cards are now digital gift cards., like Amazon’s gift cards which can be shared with the near and dear ones during festive seasons or occasions. Customers can quickly buy this digital product online and gift it in a matter of a few seconds. This creates value for the customers and benefits the company that sells this product.  Organizations are heavily investing in newer technologies and at the same time focussing on refining their existing processes and working culture.  This enables them to increase and improve the speed and quality of the deliverables and also enhance customer experiences.  This is why global entities have taken on many best practices to contribute to the success of the interactions they have with different stakeholders. In this digital era, faster turnaround time is seen as one of the important traits of organizations developing and selling digital products. To accomplish this objective, IT organizations are exposed to a gamut of agile development models.   Today, “Scrum” (an agile development practice) is widely used as a mainstream practice in software development lifecycles, to create digital products like software. Let’s take a look at the overview of Scrum practices and understand how Certified ScrumMaster® (CSM®) certification can help you and your business. Scrum - an overview:Scrum methodology is based on principles like KISS (Keep It Simple & Straightforward) and progress iteratively with feedback.  This practice is: lightweight and implementable model. based on team collaboration. deceptively simple yet difficult to master.  based on “just enough” process and documentation mindset. An Analogy: Think about running a ten thousand metre race as a marathon run and slice the same race into some equal segments or sprints. Speed and quality increases when we slice the effort and maintain a constant pace or cadence.Scrum revolves around a concept called as “sprint” or a “timebox”.  So, sprint is a timebox of 2 to 4 weeks used to deliver some parts of the complete software in an iterative fashion. A simple sprint structure is expressed in the below diagram.  An Analogy: A teacher teaching the principles of abacus to the children divides the learners into four groups. The first set of children are beginners. They are taught to learn the abacus tools from scratch. They don’t have any targets as such. The second group of children know how to use the abacus tools and formulae. They are provided with a set of sums to solve with an upper time limit (for example 10 sets of sums in 10 to 15 minutes). The third set of children are in the advanced level. They are proficient enough to solve seventy to eighty sets of sums using abacus tools in less than five to seven minutes. Fourth set of expert level kids solve hundred plus sets of sums within five minutes with very minimal errors or no errors at all even without having a time pressure.  From the above analogy, we can conclude that when we repeatedly practice a simple method many times over and over, we gain perfection, maturity, speed and quality. We can now relate it with Scrum methodology. Scrum operates around simple processes which revolves around the Deming’s cycle (Plan-Do-Check-Act). Let’s get introduced to some of the basic elements of Scrum which revolves around roles, artifacts and ceremonies.  Basics of Scrum: Scrum Roles:   Product Owner: The Product owner understands business, customer, market and stakeholder needs. This role serves as the voice of the customer who is responsible for maximizing the value of the product or software.   Scrum Master :The Scrum Master is responsible for ensuring that Scrum is understood and enacted by all the stakeholders who interact with the scrum teams. Anyone who wears the cap of a Scrum Master has to take up a versatile range of roles such as facilitator, coach, mentor, trainer, enabler, change agent, servant leader etc.  Development Team:The Development Team consists of T-shaped professionals who do the work of delivering a potentially releasable increment or a minimum viable product at the end of each sprint. Cross-functional teams who can collaborate and self-organize are capable of delivering the products to the stated quality.   Scrum Artifacts: Product Backlog: The product backlog is simply all the things that need to be done within the project. In traditional project management, a product backlog can be referred to as a Requirements Documentation. This document is owned by the Product Owner and the requirements are prioritized based on the business value. Needs are captured in the form of user stories with acceptance criteria.  Example of a user story:  As a customer of the bank I want to update my latest communication address on my own using the bank’s app So that I can receive all the parcels/documents sent by the bank without missing them.Sprint Backlog: The Sprint backlog is a list of tasks identified by the scrum team to be completed during the sprint. During the sprint planning meeting, the team selects some number of product backlog items usually in the form of user stories, and identifies the tasks necessary to complete each user story. In traditional project management, this is also called as an Activity List.  Minimum Viable Product:  A Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is the sum of the Product Backlog items delivered during each sprint. Delivering the MVP in each sprint is fundamental to the scrum because when work is divided into simple pieces it can be finished in a short iteration. Example: An insurance company’s software development team is developing a mobile based app to sell their insurance products. In the first 3 sprints, the development team, delivers functionality and features that enable customers to buy insurance products online. Iteratively, the team delivers minimum viable products such as network locator, branch locator, feedback, track/modify policy, e-insurance card and so on.  Scrum Ceremonies: Sprint Planning:  The purpose of the sprint planning meeting is to estimate and forecast the work that can be accomplished by the team in the given sprint. Sprint backlog is the output of this meeting. Daily Stand-up: The purpose of the daily stand-up or daily scrum is to plan the day, identify risks and ways to mitigate them. Updated sprint backlog and burn charts / scrum board / Kanban board are the outputs of this activity.Sprint Review: The purpose of the sprint review is to showcase or demonstrate the developed feature to the product owner and other stakeholders. This promotes quick feedback.  Sprint Retrospective: The purpose of the sprint retrospective is to identify improvements and mature the ways of working in the subsequent sprints.Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) Certification from Scrum Alliance: This is an instructor-led training program designed and crafted to increase the knowledge base on fundamental elements of scrum practices in about sixteen hours. This program will be driven by a Certified Scrum Trainer® (CST®).  This certification is apt for professionals who: aspire to become a Scrum Master are project managers who encounter Scrum work with Scrum teams are Business Analysts who interact with Scrum teams are in IT Operations team and collaborate with Scrum teams want to begin their agile journey want to take other advanced certifications offered by Scrum Alliance want to learn the foundations of Scrum Exam:  After successfully completing the course, a candidate can take an online examination. 37 right answers out of 50 will enable a participant to earn the CSM certification. The time limit for the exam is 60 minutes.  Maintaining the certification :  Keeping the certification active is a good way to continue reaping the benefits of being certified. An active certification will help practitioners stay connected with the agile community, share and gain knowledge and help the community thrive. To keep the credential active, a renewal fee of $100 for two years is applicable. One also has to clock 20 learning hours called SEUs (Scrum Education Units®) once in two years towards maintaining the credential.  Benefits of CSM certification: helps in improving career prospects helps in marketability of one’s profile helps in demonstrating and improving the credibility of one’s profile Conclusion:In a nutshell, Scrum is a software development framework which supports the value statements of the Agile Manifesto. Roles, artifacts and ceremonies of Scrum encourages “individuals and interaction” promoting a transparent, self-organizing, trustful, collaborative environment, focuses on delivering “working software” or minimum viable product with just enough documentation, promotes “customer collaboration” and infuses a mindset to “welcome changes” based on feedback and business value. Scrum facilitates a disciplined way to develop products in an iterative way using timeboxing as its core mantra.  Other agile practices such as Lean, Kanban, DevOps, Test Driven Development, Behaviour Driven Development, Feature Driven Development, eXtreme Programming, can be used alongside or to complement Scrum practices.  Scrum can also be scaled up to make it suitable to work with larger sets of teams. Existing project management practices can be tailored to infuse Scrum into their ways of working. Any organization adopting Agile, can kick start the adoption by embracing Scrum as a steppingstone. Although there are many different certifications available on agile practices, CSM is seen as a simple and easy way for professionals to begin their Scrum/Agile journey. As per the data published in www.scrumalliance.org there are more than a million professionals across the globe who are certified in various agile certifications offered by Scrum Alliance. So why wait? Grab your opportunity now! 

Career Boost with CSM® Certification

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Career Boost with CSM®  Certification

The ecosystem and landscape around every business is changing drastically. Digital technologies enable entities to develop digital products / services and to conduct their business significantly differently.  

Example: Physical gift cards are now digital gift cards., like Amazon’s gift cards which can be shared with the near and dear ones during festive seasons or occasions. Customers can quickly buy this digital product online and gift it in a matter of few seconds. This creates value for the customers and benefits the company that sells this product.  

Organizations are heavily investing in newer technologies and at the same time focussing on refining their existing processes and working culture.  This enables them to increase and improve the speed and quality of the deliverables and also enhance customer experiences.  

This is why global entities have taken on many best practices to contribute to the success of the interactions they have with different stakeholders. In this digital era, faster turnaround time is seen as one of the important traits of organizations developing and selling digital products. To accomplish this objective, IT organizations are exposed to a gamut of agile development models.   

Waterfall and agile

Today, “Scrum” (an agile development practice) is widely used as a mainstream practice in software development lifecycles, to create digital products like software. Let’s take a look at the overview of Scrum practices and understand how Certified ScrumMaster® (CSM®) certification can help you and your business. 

Scrum - an overview:

Scrum - an overview:

Scrum methodology is based on principles like KISS (Keep It Simple & Straightforward) and progress iteratively with feedback.  

This practice is: 

  • lightweight and implementable model. 
  • based on team collaboration. 
  • deceptively simple yet difficult to master.  
  • based on “just enough” process and documentation mindset. 

An Analogy: Think about running a ten thousand metre race as a marathon run and slice the same race into some equal segments or sprints. Speed and quality increases when we slice the effort and maintain a constant pace or cadence.

An Analogy

Scrum revolves around a concept called as “sprint” or a “timebox”.  So, sprint is a timebox of 2 to 4 weeks used to deliver some parts of the complete software in an iterative fashion. A simple sprint structure is expressed in the below diagram.  

An Analogy

An Analogy: A teacher teaching the principles of abacus to the children divides the learners into four groups. The first set of children are beginners. They are taught to learn the abacus tools from scratch. They don’t have any targets as such. The second group of children know how to use the abacus tools and formulae. They are provided with a set of sums to solve with an upper time limit (for example 10 sets of sums in 10 to 15 minutes). The third set of children are in the advanced level. They are proficient enough to solve seventy to eighty sets of sums using abacus tools in less than five to seven minutes. Fourth set of expert level kids solve hundred plus sets of sums within five minutes with very minimal errors or no errors at all even without having a time pressure.  

From the above analogy, we can conclude that when we repeatedly practice a simple method many times over and over, we gain perfection, maturity, speed and quality. We can now relate it with Scrum methodology. Scrum operates around simple processes which revolves around the Deming’s cycle (Plan-Do-Check-Act). 

Let’s get introduced to some of the basic elements of Scrum which revolves around roles, artifacts and ceremonies.  

Basics of Scrum: Roles and responsibilities

Roles and responsibilities

Meeting/ceremonies

Scrum Roles:   

Product Owner: Product Owner

The Product owner understands business, customer, market and stakeholder needs. This role serves as the voice of the customer who is responsible for maximizing the value of the product or software.   

Scrum Master :Successful scrum master

The Scrum Master is responsible for ensuring that Scrum is understood and enacted by all the stakeholders who interact with the scrum teams. Anyone who wears the cap of a Scrum Master has to take up a versatile range of roles such as facilitator, coach, mentor, trainer, enabler, change agent, servant leader etc.  

Development Team:Development Team

The Development Team consists of T-shaped professionals who do the work of delivering a potentially releasable increment or a minimum viable product at the end of each sprint. Cross-functional teams who can collaborate and self-organize are capable of delivering the products to the stated quality.   

Scrum Artifacts: 

Product Backlog: 

The product backlog is simply all the things that need to be done within the project. In traditional project management, a product backlog can be referred to as a Requirements Documentation. This document is owned by the Product Owner and the requirements are prioritized based on the business value. Needs are captured in the form of user stories with acceptance criteria.  

Example of a user story:  

As a customer of the bank I want to update my latest communication address on my own using the bank’s app So that I can receive all the parcels/documents sent by the bank without missing them.

Sprint Backlog: 

The Sprint backlog is a list of tasks identified by the scrum team to be completed during the sprint. During the sprint planning meeting, the team selects some number of product backlog items usually in the form of user stories, and identifies the tasks necessary to complete each user story. In traditional project management, this is also called as an Activity ListSprint Backlog

 Minimum Viable Product:   Minimum Viable Product

A Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is the sum of the Product Backlog items delivered during each sprint. Delivering the MVP in each sprint is fundamental to the scrum because when work is divided into simple pieces it can be finished in a short iteration. 

Example: An insurance company’s software development team is developing a mobile based app to sell their insurance products. In the first 3 sprints, the development team, delivers functionality and features that enable customers to buy insurance products online. Iteratively, the team delivers minimum viable products such as network locator, branch locator, feedback, track/modify policy, e-insurance card and so on.  

Scrum Ceremonies: 

Sprint Planning:  

The purpose of the sprint planning meeting is to estimate and forecast the work that can be accomplished by the team in the given sprint. Sprint backlog is the output of this meeting. Sprint Planning

Daily Stand-up: 

The purpose of the daily stand-up or daily scrum is to plan the day, identify risks and ways to mitigate them. Updated sprint backlog and burn charts / scrum board / Kanban board are the outputs of this activity.Daily Stand-up

Sprint Review: 

The purpose of the sprint review is to showcase or demonstrate the developed feature to the product owner and other stakeholders. This promotes quick feedback.  Sprint Review

Sprint Retrospective: 

The purpose of the sprint retrospective is to identify improvements and mature the ways of working in the subsequent sprints.

Sprint Retrospective

Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) Certification from Scrum Alliance: 


CSM

This is an instructor-led training program designed and crafted to increase the knowledge base on fundamental elements of scrum practices in about sixteen hours. This program will be driven by a Certified Scrum Trainer® (CST®).  

This certification is apt for professionals who: 

  • aspire to become Scrum Master 
  • are project managers who encounter Scrum 
  • work with Scrum teams 
  • are Business Analysts who interact with Scrum teams 
  • are in IT Operations team and collaborate with Scrum teams 
  • want to begin their agile journey 
  • want to take other advanced certifications offered by Scrum Alliance 
  • want to learn the foundations of Scrum 

Exam:  

After successfully completing the course, a candidate can take an online examination. 37 right answers out of 50 will enable a participant to earn the CSM certification. The time limit for the exam is 60 minutes.  

Maintaining the certification :  

Keeping the certification active is a good way to continue reaping the benefits of being certified. An active certification will help practitioners stay connected with the agile community, share and gain knowledge and help the community thriveTo keep the credential active, a renewal fee of $100 for two years is applicable. Onalso has to clock 20 learning hours called SEUs (Scrum Education Units®) once in two years towards maintaining the credential.  

Benefits of CSM certification: 

  • helps in improving career prospects 
  • helps in marketability of one’s profile 
  • helps in demonstrating and improving the credibility of one’s profile 

Conclusion:

  • In a nutshell, Scrum is a software development framework which supports the value statements of the Agile Manifesto. Roles, artifacts and ceremonies of Scrum encourages “individuals and interaction” promoting a transparent, self-organizing, trustful, collaborative environment, focuses on delivering “working software” or minimum viable product with just enough documentation, promotes “customer collaboration” and infuses a mindset to welcome changes” based on feedback and business value. Scrum facilitates a disciplined way to develop products in an iterative way using timeboxing as its core mantra.  
  • Other agile practices such as Lean, Kanban, DevOps, Test Driven Development, Behaviour Driven Development, Feature Driven Development, eXtreme Programming, can be used alongside or to complement Scrum practices.  
  • Scrum can also be scaled up to make it suitable to work with larger sets of teams. 
  • Existing project management practices can be tailored to infuse Scrum into their ways of working. 
  • Any organization adopting Agile, can kick start the adoption by embracing Scrum as a steppingstone. 
  • Although there are many different certifications available on agile practices, CSM is seen as a simple and easy way for professionals to begin their Scrum/Agile journey. 

As per the data published in www.scrumalliance.org there are more than a million professionals across the globe who are certified in various agile certifications offered by Scrum Alliance. So why wait? Grab your opportunity now! 

Manikandan

Manikandan Mohanakrishnan

Author

Manikandan M is a Senior Consultant with over 18+ years of industry experience. He is specialized in Service Management, Project Management, Process Consultancy, Learning & Development, IT Infrastructure Management, Business Relationship Management, Partner Management. 

Manikandan worked as a Project Manager with IBM India Private Limited where he was responsible for the delivery of complex infrastructure projects for an Australian Bank. 

Additionally, he worked as a Service Delivery Manager with TPV Technology India Private Limited to manage Service Operations and Projects across SAARC nations. 

Over the past 5 years he focused on training and consulting with various service providers. 

He delivered more than 500+ sessions on Service Management and Project Management modules. 

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As Steve Denning, author of the book The Age of Agile, put it: “(Agile) is a shift in mindset from a top-down bureaucratic hierarchical approach to a very different way of thinking about and acting in organizations. If you have don’t have the Agile mindset you are going to get it wrong.” What this entails is a complete shift in the ways we think and the ways we do things. When the team blindly follows processes without understanding and internalising the core Agile values, the Agile transformation is unlikely to succeed. What Makes an Agile Environment? Agile follows four values, which inform and guide all the processes and practices in an Agile environment. These are: Individuals and interactions over Processes and tools Working software over Comprehensive documentation Customer collaboration over Contract negotiation Responding to change over Following a plan As stated in the Manifesto, it's not that the items on the right are not valued! It's just that the items on the left are valued more, and that’s what brings about agility. An agile environment, therefore, is one that fosters and supports a culture that encourages teams to work collaboratively toward achieving goals, while implementing the Agile framework and following its values and principles.  Agile environments help teams to be nimble, accept change and adapt to evolving requirements, thus bringing in innovation and creativity in the development lifecycle. An Agile environment will ensure that Agile values are followed.Characteristics of Agile EnvironmentsFocus on customerAgile approaches have the customer squarely in focus at all times. Customer needs are emphasized and the team’s highest priority is to satisfy the customer through quick, early deliveries of incremental value. Stakeholder feedback is solicited at every stage and is incorporated into subsequent iterations. By keeping all those who matter in the loop, customer satisfaction is guaranteed.Embracing changeAgile is all about embracing change. Even late in the development cycle, if there is a change in requirements or features, the team should retract their steps and accommodate the change, rather than stick to a rigid, predefined plan. The team is required to be nimble, adapt and pivot to embrace new, evolving circumstances.Leaving room for innovation Agile does not apply a cookie cutter method to project management; rather, it allows room for flexibility and innovation. Agile teams work in close collaboration, brainstorming to find solutions and working as a team to come up with innovative ideas. Agile fuels new ways of thinking, and comes up with brilliant, ingenuous products and services that are a cut above the competition. Focus on process improvement Agile methods are a natural choice for projects where high quality is a key focus. Agile techniques help teams to improve their processes in a continual cycle, where they inspect, reflect and adapt themselves at the end of each iteration. Process improvement events such as Reviews and Retrospectives are built into each cycle, and teams enhance and deliver value at every stage. Working in iterations The iterative approach taken by Agile focuses on delivering incremental value in stages, rather than all at once in the end as was the case with traditional processes. Each iteration is timeboxed, typically with 2-week cycles, and there is a release of value at the end of each cycle. The product is therefore successively refined and its quality is continually enhanced. Collaboration Agile teams all work together collaboratively toward a shared common goal. They do this through shared responsibilities and accountability to deliver products of value and high quality, as a team. Right from defining tasks and estimating effort to developing, testing and releasing, the team is closely aligned with each other in meeting the shared objectives.Examples of Agile EnvironmentsAn example of an organization that has successfully adopted the concept of an Agile environment is Google. Google’s Mountain View office houses workspaces that are fluid, with plenty of space for functional collaboration. With less space allocated to individuals and more space designed around collective teams, Google teams have a positive, exciting workspace that is fluid and dynamic and supports creating value together. Communal tables in open spaces encourage stand-up meetings, while project rooms on the periphery have tools for group workshops. Teams can use dedicated team rooms with writable wall surfaces and display areas where brainstorming sessions can take place. Facebook, LinkedIn, Airbnb, Salesforce and other forward-thinking organizations have also recognized the importance of providing their employees with creative, collaborative infrastructure and spaces that will help foster innovation and fuel productivity.How to Create an Agile Physical Environment An organization that wants to go agile can start by offering a conducive environment; one that equips its workforce with the right physical infrastructure and tools. They can do this in several ways:  By collocating the teamA collocated team that is able to hold face-to-face conversations is in the best position to collaborate well. When teams are in the same physical space, trust is enhanced, communication is encouraged, and transparency is the result. A workspace should ideally have no hierarchy at all, with open-plan workstations that allow people to collaborate more easily. They can get clarifications at once instead of waiting for online responses, and can help each other when they find themselves in a tough spot. However, in today’s world collocation of teams is not always an option. Teams that are distributed across geographies and time zones can take advantage of online collaboration tools such as Teams, ProofHub, Trello, Asana and so on to stay on the same page and keep in touch on a real-time basis. Set up a dedicated physical space Teams that are in the same location will perform better when they have a dedicated team room where they can work together in close proximity. One wall can be set up with whiteboards and pin up boards for team collaboration, mapping of tasks and so on. The space can be set up to boost productivity; workstations around the edge of the room and a conference table in the middle will work well. Keep the team safe from distractions Any outside distractions, such as interference from management, consults on other projects, and so on will throw the team off track and greatly hinder progress. It is the Scrum Master’s responsibility to smoothen any and all such obstructions, and some of the ways in which this can be done are listed here: Avoid multitasking Work on one goal at a time Let the team figure out who works on what Block any outside distractors Distractions will drain the team’s focus and result in wasted time, energy and effort.  Equip the team with the right tools There is no dearth of productivity-enhancing tools that can help a team stay on track with respect to schedules, budget and resources. Some tools that will enhance the team’s productivity and boost progress are: Zepel Jira Github Wrike Trello Conclusion As hundreds of organizations have found to their delight, an Agile transformation results in real and lasting positive impact. When done right, Agile can empower organizations to outpace the competition, adapt to changing market scenarios, work on innovative solutions to everyday problems, and continuously maximize value.  
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What Is an Agile Environment? Explained With Examp...

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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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