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All You Need To Know About The Roles Of A Scrum Master

1. IntroductionHaving worked on Agile projects for a while, I was surprised to find out that “Scrum” came from the process word scrummage, a word used in rugby sports. In rugby, scrummage refers to restarting the game where the players are coming close to each other with their heads down and gaining a possession of the ball. The players work together in a unified manner relying on their strengths in order to overcome and break across their opponents, taking incremental steps collectively as a team.Traditional waterfall approach as a software development methodology is successfully practiced over many years as a structured and proven method. It emphasizes a lot on proper documentation and proper process control. In Traditional waterfall methodology, the entire stage is completed before moving sequentially to the next stage. The method, however, is rigid to changes during the software development cycle.Agile software development methodology, on the other hand, is quite the opposite, it looks into ensuring flexibility and incorporating regularly users inputs as a way to build better user products.Scrum software development methodology is a subset of the Agile methodology. “Scrum” methodology was the brainchild of 2 Japanese Hiro Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka. Who wanted to create “a flexible and holistic product development strategy where a development team works as a unit to reach a common goal.” 2. Who is a Scrum Master?A Scrum Master is a facilitator of the Agile development team. He is not the project manager nor the product owner. A Scrum Master is not a position but a role.However, having said that it doesn’t mean this role is less important than the role of a project manager. In fact, a scrum master is a crucial role in the success of an agile project.3. What does a scrum master do?Scrum Master is “A Servant Leader”.  The roles and responsibilities of the Scrum Master include:Making sure the team follows the agile processes.Shielding the team.Facilitating Scrum Ceremonies.Championing information radiators.Working with stakeholders to get tools and training for the team.4.  What Qualities does a Scrum Master have?A Scrum Master does not need a particular type of qualification to assume the responsibilities.  However, he or she should possess particular qualities necessary for the role.Traits of a good Scrum Master are-a) Influential - able to convince others, have empathy and respect for people and showing by exampleb) Collaborative - seek to collaborate with others in the organization and not for self-gloryc) Observant - alertness to identify issues and problem areasd) Knowledgeable - not only on agile processes but has some technical and project management knowledge5. Roles and Responsibilities of the Scrum MasterSome organization practices rotation of Scrum Master roles among the team members, this is up to each Scrum Team.However, the roles and responsibilities of the Scrum Master are common:SM is the Agile framework custodian and process owner for the team.SM is a facilitator and Servant Leader who never discourage but encourages and expects self-organization from the Agile development team. SM builds close collaboration across roles and functions in the organization, works on matters collectively and is not individualistic.SM protects the team from distractions which includes both external and internal.SM removes impediments, so the team can focus on the development work and tasks.SM is not typically a manager or lead, but he/she is an influential leader who does not do direct command and control.SM is a coach, give the bits of advice to the team and discussed issues encountered.SM is an adviser and is equipped with technical and project management know-how, this is so that he/she understands the problems and be able to provide a proper guidance and advice to the team.6. Scrum master skillsThese are the essential skills a Scrum Master should have:Encourage a self-organising teamRemove barriers and Shield the teamEncourage Collaboration and Resolve ConflictsCoach and Advises the teamEstablish partnerships (team, product owner, stakeholder)Facilitate and is a Servant Leadera) Encourage a self-organizing team - The scrum master needs to know when to hold his views and keep quiet to allow the team to be self-organizing. That said he should be actively listening attentively to the team members inputs and learning points and guide the team to perform better in subsequent sprints.b) Remove barriers and shield the team - The scrum master should shield the development team from outside distractions. At the same time, the job of the scrum master is to remove any project barriers and impediments including resolving resource issues. Allowing the team to focus on their development works and tasks. c) Encourage Collaboration and Resolve Conflicts - The scrum master should have respect for people. He should encourage collaboration among team members and also across teams. He should be a collaborator who is able to resolve conflicts within and across teams by focusing on the scrum values of openness, respect, and honesty.d) Coach and Advises the team - The scrum master should read widely and coaches the team on agile processes. Other than being a teacher to the team to explain scrum processes clearly and enforcing the practice for agile. The scrum master should have technical and project management knowledge. Imagine if the scrum master is not able to understand when a team member raise a project issue how will he provide guidance on the right course of actions? then be able to coach and guide the team effectively and run constructive meetings.e) Established partnerships (team, product owner, stakeholder) - The role of the product owner is to push the team to deliver fast, while the role of the scrum master is to protect the team. However, the scrum master needs to know when to strike a balance and to build partnerships with others.f) Facilitate and be a Servant Leader - The scrum master facilitates the daily scrum, sprint planning, sprint demo, and retrospective meetings. He has no particular authority over the team members and is not their manager. However, the scrum master should put the needs of the team members before himself and serve as a Servant Leader.7. What are the benefits of having a Scrum Master Certification?Why should you be interested in becoming a Certified Scrum Master?According to scrumalliance.org based on a survey with about 5000 people in February 2015, 87% agrees that Scrum improves the quality of work life for their team. At the same time, 81% of Scrum Masters who received certification agree that it has significantly helped to improve their practice.Check our CSM certification training schedules in Top cities of IndiaCertificationPlaceSchedulesCertified Scrum MasterBangaloreView SchedulesHyderabadView SchedulesChennaiView Schedules8.  Scrum master learning path (how to become a scrum master)How to become a Certified Scrum Master (CSM®)?Step 1: Attend a 2-day Certified Scrum Master course or seminarStep 2: In 30 to 90 days, register online for the Scrum Master Accredited Certification ProgramStep 3: Upon successful registration, you will receive your Exam Access Code instantly onlineStep 4: Take the online test anywhere, anytime on the multiple-choice questionsStep 5: Get your lifetime and international valid Scrum Master Accredited Certification Document instantly onlineIn a meanwhile, you can take a glimpse of the Certified Scrum Master (CSM®) training at KnowledgeHut.9.  Scrum Master training and certificationRequirements for CSM® (from scrumalliance.org)The first step toward your CSM® is to familiarize yourself with the Scrum framework.Then, attend an in-person, two-day  (16 hour) CSM® course taught by a Certified Scrum Trainer® (CST®) where you’ll get a comprehensive overview of how to organize and support a Scrum Team. After the course, you’ll need to pass the CSM® exam. After you pass the CSM® exam and accept the License Agreement, complete your Scrum Alliance membership profile and enjoy the benefits of certification.The Certified Scrum Master Exam is conducted online. The exam consists of 35 multiple choice questions and to pass the certified scrum master exam, you need to get at least 24  correct answers. You can take up the exam only after the completion of two days of training. The test takes about an hour to get completed.Scrum Alliance allows a candidate to make two attempts on the exam. This is available at no cost. However, subsequent attempts after the second time will be chargeable.For people who are Certified Scrum Masters, the next step in the Agile journey will attain the Advanced Certified Scrum Master (A-CSM®℠) certification.In order to prepare for the Certified Scrum Master exam (CSM exam), you can refer this Scrum tutorial. This is a complete guide that will help you in preparing for the Scrum Master examination.Requirements for A-CSM®  (from scrumalliance.org)Attend a certified educational offering to get techniques and skills that go beyond the basics and mechanics of Scrum, expanding into interaction, facilitation, coaching, and team dynamics.Successfully complete all educator-designed components of an approved educational offering. This may include pre- or post-course work as deemed necessary by your approved educator to complete the learning objectives.Validate at least one year of work experience specific to the role of ScrumMaster (within the past five years).Hold an active Certified ScrumMaster (CSM®) certification with the Scrum Alliance.NOTE:  You may take the A-CSM® course at any time after completing your CSM® certification, but must have at least 12 months of Scrum Master experience logged into your Scrum Alliance profile before you can receive your A-CSM® certification.You can opt for the Scrum Mock tests which will help you in raising your confidence level of passing the CSM exam with an excellent scope. Click here for CSM practice test online.10. Benefits of a Scrum Master CertificationThere are many reasons why people take the Scrum Master Certifications and here are just some of them:Expand career options across industry sectors using Scrum and Agile methodologyExpand career options across industry sectors using Scrum and Agile methodologyDemonstrate the attainment of Scrum knowledgeMeet like-minded Scrum professionals and networking Continuous learningIf you are ready to encourage your team and advance your  Scrum career, then it is an ideal opportunity to become a Certified Scrum Master (CSM®). Get enroll for the CSM® certification course today and start preparing for the success.Begin your Scrum Master journey today!

All You Need To Know About The Roles Of A Scrum Master

4K
  • by lorraine ong
  • 10th Dec, 2018
  • Last updated on 11th Mar, 2021
  • 11 mins read
All You Need To Know About The Roles Of A Scrum Master

1. Introduction

Having worked on Agile projects for a while, I was surprised to find out that “Scrum” came from the process word scrummage, a word used in rugby sports. In rugby, scrummage refers to restarting the game where the players are coming close to each other with their heads down and gaining a possession of the ball. The players work together in a unified manner relying on their strengths in order to overcome and break across their opponents, taking incremental steps collectively as a team.
Roles Of A Scrum MasterTraditional waterfall approach as a software development methodology is successfully practiced over many years as a structured and proven method. It emphasizes a lot on proper documentation and proper process control. In Traditional waterfall methodology, the entire stage is completed before moving sequentially to the next stage. The method, however, is rigid to changes during the software development cycle.
Agile MethodologyAgile software development methodology, on the other hand, is quite the opposite, it looks into ensuring flexibility and incorporating regularly users inputs as a way to build better user products.
Agile software development methodologyScrum software development methodology is a subset of the Agile methodology. “Scrum” methodology was the brainchild of 2 Japanese Hiro Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka. Who wanted to create “a flexible and holistic product development strategy where a development team works as a unit to reach a common goal.”

 2. Who is a Scrum Master?

A Scrum Master is a facilitator of the Agile development team. He is not the project manager nor the product owner. A Scrum Master is not a position but a role.
However, having said that it doesn’t mean this role is less important than the role of a project manager. In fact, a scrum master is a crucial role in the success of an agile project.

3. What does a scrum master do?

Scrum Master is “A Servant Leader”.  The roles and responsibilities of the Scrum Master include:

  • Making sure the team follows the agile processes.

  • Shielding the team.

  • Facilitating Scrum Ceremonies.

  • Championing information radiators.

Working with stakeholders to get tools and training for the team.

4.  What Qualities does a Scrum Master have?

A Scrum Master does not need a particular type of qualification to assume the responsibilities.  

However, he or she should possess particular qualities necessary for the role.

Traits of a good Scrum Master are-

Traits of a good Scrum Master
a) Influential - able to convince others, have empathy and respect for people and showing by example
b) Collaborative - seek to collaborate with others in the organization and not for self-glory
c) Observant - alertness to identify issues and problem areas
d) Knowledgeable - not only on agile processes but has some technical and project management knowledge

5. Roles and Responsibilities of the Scrum Master

Some organization practices rotation of Scrum Master roles among the team members, this is up to each Scrum Team.

However, the roles and responsibilities of the Scrum Master are common:

  • SM is the Agile framework custodian and process owner for the team.
  • SM is a facilitator and Servant Leader who never discourage but encourages and expects self-organization from the Agile development team. 
  • SM builds close collaboration across roles and functions in the organization, works on matters collectively and is not individualistic.
  • SM protects the team from distractions which includes both external and internal.
  • SM removes impediments, so the team can focus on the development work and tasks.
  • SM is not typically a manager or lead, but he/she is an influential leader who does not do direct command and control.
  • SM is a coach, give the bits of advice to the team and discussed issues encountered.
  • SM is an adviser and is equipped with technical and project management know-how, this is so that he/she understands the problems and be able to provide a proper guidance and advice to the team.

6. Scrum master skills

Scrum master skillsThese are the essential skills a Scrum Master should have:

Encourage a self-organising team
Remove barriers and Shield the team
Encourage Collaboration and Resolve Conflicts
Coach and Advises the team
Establish partnerships (team, product owner, stakeholder)
Facilitate and is a Servant Leader

a) Encourage a self-organizing team - The scrum master needs to know when to hold his views and keep quiet to allow the team to be self-organizing. That said he should be actively listening attentively to the team members inputs and learning points and guide the team to perform better in subsequent sprints.

b) Remove barriers and shield the team -
The scrum master should shield the development team from outside distractions. At the same time, the job of the scrum master is to remove any project barriers and impediments including resolving resource issues. Allowing the team to focus on their development works and tasks.
 
c) Encourage Collaboration and Resolve Conflicts - The scrum master should have respect for people. He should encourage collaboration among team members and also across teams. He should be a collaborator who is able to resolve conflicts within and across teams by focusing on the scrum values of openness, respect, and honesty.

d) Coach and Advises the team - The scrum master should read widely and coaches the team on agile processes. Other than being a teacher to the team to explain scrum processes clearly and enforcing the practice for agile. The scrum master should have technical and project management knowledge. Imagine if the scrum master is not able to understand when a team member raise a project issue how will he provide guidance on the right course of actions? then be able to coach and guide the team effectively and run constructive meetings.

e) Established partnerships (team, product owner, stakeholder) - The role of the product owner is to push the team to deliver fast, while the role of the scrum master is to protect the team. However, the scrum master needs to know when to strike a balance and to build partnerships with others.

f) Facilitate and be a Servant Leader - The scrum master facilitates the daily scrum, sprint planning, sprint demo, and retrospective meetings. He has no particular authority over the team members and is not their manager. However, the scrum master should put the needs of the team members before himself and serve as a Servant Leader.

7. What are the benefits of having a Scrum Master Certification?

Why should you be interested in becoming a Certified Scrum Master?

According to scrumalliance.org based on a survey with about 5000 people in February 2015, 87% agrees that Scrum improves the quality of work life for their team. At the same time, 81% of Scrum Masters who received certification agree that it has significantly helped to improve their practice.

Check our CSM certification training schedules in Top cities of India

Certification
Place
Schedules
Certified Scrum Master

8.  Scrum master learning path (how to become a scrum master)

How to become a Certified Scrum Master (CSM®)?
Learning path of Certified Scrum MasterStep 1: Attend a 2-day Certified Scrum Master course or seminar

Step 2: In 30 to 90 days, register online for the Scrum Master Accredited Certification Program

Step 3: Upon successful registration, you will receive your Exam Access Code instantly online

Step 4: Take the online test anywhere, anytime on the multiple-choice questions

Step 5: Get your lifetime and international valid Scrum Master Accredited Certification Document instantly online

In a meanwhile, you can take a glimpse of the Certified Scrum Master (CSM®) training at KnowledgeHut.

9.  Scrum Master training and certification

Requirements for CSM® (from scrumalliance.org)

The first step toward your CSM® is to familiarize yourself with the Scrum framework.
Then, attend an in-person, two-day  (16 hour) CSM® course taught by a Certified Scrum Trainer® (CST®) where you’ll get a comprehensive overview of how to organize and support a Scrum Team. After the course, you’ll need to pass the CSM® exam. After you pass the CSM® exam and accept the License Agreement, complete your Scrum Alliance membership profile and enjoy the benefits of certification.

The Certified Scrum Master Exam is conducted online. The exam consists of 35 multiple choice questions and to pass the certified scrum master exam, you need to get at least 24  correct answers. You can take up the exam only after the completion of two days of training. The test takes about an hour to get completed.

Scrum Alliance allows a candidate to make two attempts on the exam. This is available at no cost. However, subsequent attempts after the second time will be chargeable.

For people who are Certified Scrum Masters, the next step in the Agile journey will attain the Advanced Certified Scrum Master (A-CSM®℠) certification.

In order to prepare for the Certified Scrum Master exam (CSM exam), you can refer this Scrum tutorial. This is a complete guide that will help you in preparing for the Scrum Master examination.

Requirements for A-CSM®  (from scrumalliance.org)

Attend a certified educational offering to get techniques and skills that go beyond the basics and mechanics of Scrum, expanding into interaction, facilitation, coaching, and team dynamics.
Successfully complete all educator-designed components of an approved educational offering. This may include pre- or post-course work as deemed necessary by your approved educator to complete the learning objectives.
Validate at least one year of work experience specific to the role of ScrumMaster (within the past five years).
Hold an active Certified ScrumMaster (CSM®) certification with the Scrum Alliance.


NOTE:  You may take the A-CSM® course at any time after completing your CSM® certification, but must have at least 12 months of Scrum Master experience logged into your Scrum Alliance profile before you can receive your A-CSM® certification.

You can opt for the Scrum Mock tests which will help you in raising your confidence level of passing the CSM exam with an excellent scope. Click here for CSM practice test online.

10. Benefits of a Scrum Master Certification

There are many reasons why people take the Scrum Master Certifications and here are just some of them:
Expand career options across industry sectors using Scrum and Agile methodology

  • Expand career options across industry sectors using Scrum and Agile methodology

  • Demonstrate the attainment of Scrum knowledge

  • Meet like-minded Scrum professionals and networking 

  • Continuous learning

If you are ready to encourage your team and advance your  Scrum career, then it is an ideal opportunity to become a Certified Scrum Master (CSM®). Get enroll for the CSM® certification course today and start preparing for the success.

Begin your Scrum Master journey today!

lorraine

lorraine ong

Blog Author

Lorraine Ong is a skilled Strategist, Program and Product Manager, with 18 years of IT Management experience. She holds multiple certifications including PMP, Blackblot Product Management Professional, ScrumMaster, Scrum Product Owner, ITIL, CITPM, and J2EE Enterprise Architect. She has experience in policy writing and successfully lead teams in various large scale projects, products and programs implementations in MNCs and organisations.

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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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