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The Ultimate Guide to Sprint Planning

The Scrum framework has been popular lately and several studies have provedthat the global share of Scrum is more than 50%. One of the reasons for the phenomenal success of Scrum lies in its ceremonies, one of its key pillars.  Scrum has three critical components that create the structure or a skeleton and provides a way of working to the teams and individual, namely, roles, artifacts, and ceremonies. Scrum has four different ceremonies to support Agile software delivery where the Sprint starts with planning and ends with the retrospective. Let us quickly talk about the four ceremonies and then we will start with our topic of the day and deep dive more into Sprint planning. Daily Scrum The event is intended to bring together everyone in the scrum team and talk about what the accomplished last, what is the plan for today and is there any impediment. This event can be categorized under daily planning and collaborative team effort to attain the scrum goal. Sprint planning This event occurs at the start of the Sprint where the team together decides on the Sprint backlog and gains consensus on the sprint goal. They also talk about the estimation, capacity, risk, dependencies, and the timeline. This event is facilitated by the scrum master and occurs once in every Sprint. Sprint review This is the second last event in the print where the team showcases the entire deliverable they have been working throughout this print. This is the time when the stakeholders look at the finished product and provide their feedback. The event provides an effective platform for a collaborative approach with the client towards software delivery. Sprint retrospective This is one of my favorite events in Scrum, though the ceremony looks simple, if done correctly, it can yield tremendous results. It provides the team with a chance to pause and check which things are working, what is not, and how can they improve moving forward. Scrum ceremoniesEach of the ceremonies can be elaborated more as they are deep and dense. This article serves as an in-depthguide on Sprint planning for Scrum practitioners. The Sprint Planning meeting The What Sprint planning can be thought of as a ‘green flag’ that gives a go-ahead to the train called “Sprint”. The purpose of this meeting is to provide the sprint goal and ‘how’ that can be delivered. This is the first meeting that takes place in a Sprint where the scrum team comes together to create the Sprint backlog within a “time-box”, this time-box depends on the iteration length, if the iteration is of two weeks, the time-box can be up to four hours for a team of seven to nine people.  During the Sprint planning meeting, the product owner describes the objective of the sprint and what product backlog items can be utilized to reach that objective. Consequently, the scrum team decides how to work on ‘how’ to get the goal achieved. The How The sprint planning meeting is divided into two parts, first part, constitutes discussion on the sprint backlog creation and the second part revolves around the capacity and estimation. The product owner must keep the product backlog stays in a healthy state, it is prioritized and has the right requirements for the team to work on. The team should also be aware of their capacity and velocity to make appropriate Sprint commitment. Spring Planning meeting agendaThe Who The spring planning meeting is attended by the product owner, the development team, and the scrum master. All three roles are mandatory to run this meeting.  The product owner defines the objective of the sprint and supports the development team with the product backlog. In turn, the development team talks about ‘how’ to deliver and the approach they could take. They can also inform the product owner if the requirement is not doable (at times, the requirements might not be technologically feasible, in such cases the team can discuss the same with the product owner). The Scrum Master takes up the facilitation of the event, they make sure the team sits with an effective ‘input’ and comes out with an efficient ‘output’. The Inputs The Product Backlog serves as the ‘Input’ for the Sprint Planning meeting. It provides the development team with the starting point as it contains the list of requirements for delivery. The Product Backlog is owned by the product owner and hence the responsibility of keeping it up-to-date falls within their purview. The team starts with the highest priority item in the list, clear doubts (if any) and add it up to the Sprint Backlog. To make proper sprint commitment, the team should know their capacity and velocity. The Outputs The sprint planning meeting intends to generate a sprint goal and backlog. The output also defines the ’how’ approach, which the team will take to reach its goal. The team must understand the value of this event, as this draws a path for sprint success. The Scrum Master can help the team and the product owner to come up with an effective plan through their facilitation skills.Input and output of the Sprint Planning MeetingHow do we prepare for the sprint planning meeting? As with other events, the sprint planning meeting has a set agenda and timebox which the team must follow diligently. A healthy backlog is a key to efficacious sprint planning, which means, the Product Owner always must maintain and keep the backlog updated. The team needs to be aware of the available capacity and the targeted velocity this helps in coming up with the correct commitment during the Sprint planning session. What is a backlog? A backlog is a list of requirements from the client to create the desired product. It contains new features, enhancements, bugs, Infrastructure changes, or any architectural requirement. Any work that is related to a product should be in the backlog.  Backlog items are placed in a prioritized list manner Every item in the backlog has an estimate it can either be a high-level estimate or the exact/close estimate, depending on where it falls in the list. Usually, the top few items in the bucket have more clarity, details, and close estimates as compared to the items down in the list. Determining velocity Velocity is unique for every team; no two teams can have the same velocity. Every organization has a different approach towards velocity, ideally, the teams should take an average of the last five sprints. The average formula works for the teams who have been in the system for long or they have spent at least eight to ten sprints as a team.  Usually, velocity-based planning is done with mature teams who are aware of the product and they are good at process. With new teams, the ideal approach relies on the completed stories vs accepted stories ratio. Determining capacity Capacity is determined by available working hours in the sprint timeline which also takes into consideration, the leaves, any holidays, and contingency hours (if required). Capacity directly impacts the output as a team and helps them during Sprint commitment.  Sprint Planning checklist While Agile development is more of a mindset than a methodology, checklists can help guidetheproduct owner, the development team, and the scrum master as they plan and execute sprints. Sprint planning preparation A few days out from the actual sprint planning meeting: Review product roadmap and vision.  Ask team members to update boards and focus on moving tickets to done.  Run sprint review and retrospective.  Groom product backlog: Make sure every user story has a clear priority, is fully formed, and up to date with context and estimates.  Choose sprint goal.  Create a sprint backlog of enough user stories to fill two sprints. Sprint planning meeting Ensure your entire team is present for the meeting.  Start video call for remote team members.  If needed, clean up old board(s) with team by checking status of open tickets.  Discuss spillovers: Should these be continued or dropped? Move any spill-over tasks into the right buckets.  Set the stage with product and market updates.  Define the sprint goal.  Create a “new sprint”. Discuss the goal and team’s capacity:  Is this realistic? If not, can the team lower the scope?  Worst case scenario the product owner needs to come up with a new sprint goal. A few days out from the actual sprint planning meeting: Discuss proposed sprint backlog: Let the team pick user stories and tasks that match the sprint goal and capacity.  Discuss the definition of “done”.  Break down each user story into individual tasks: Make sure each task has as much information as possible.  Ask whether the scope of work leaves time for unexpected issues.  Ask if the scope of work leaves space to tackle bugs and technical debt.  Move sprint backlog of decided-upon user stories and associated tasks into the sprint board.  Get verbal confirmation from the team that they know what to do.  Set up due dates and times for future scrum meetings.Here is a quick checklist to help you plan the Sprint Plan. You can modify and adapt as necessary.The outcome of the Sprint Planning meeting The planning meeting intends to come up with Sprint goal and sprint commitment which is in the form of Sprint backlog. This backlog contains a list of stories, bugs, enhancements, etc. as required by the product owner. The output of the Sprint planning meeting is also to define the approach, the task, and other activities required to achieve the Sprint goal.  Everything that needs to be done is part of the Sprint backlog, by the end of Sprint planning meeting the team should have a solid plan with the ownership This output is further shared with the stakeholders, management and within the team which not only helps in being transparent but it also supports the team to stay focused. How to get Sprint Planning right Scrum focuses on time boxing and hence Sprint planning also requires control over the time limit for the event. As per the industry standards, a sprint of two weeks should be time-boxed for a maximum of 4 hours. The scrum master is responsible for making sure the team sticks to the timing and helps them in coming up with the plan. Spend planning can be an exhaustive ceremony where the team brainstorms, discusses the requirements and ownership.  With great facilitation skills, the scrum master can ask the team to start with an item they know well and subsequently move forward. The team can utilize various estimation techniques to define a number or a story point for each requirement. They can use T-shirt sizing, poker planning, or any other technique they are comfortable with. For effective estimation, the team needs an environment that is transparent, trustworthy, and open to new ideas. This reminds us of the Scrum values and principles that form the foundation of the framework. Common reasons why Sprint Planning fails Multiple reasons can contribute to scrum planning failure. Let us look at some of the frequent cases: Uncooked backlog Most of the time the product backlog is not up to date and lacks prioritization. In such cases the team struggles in defining the Sprint goal, they face difficulties in defining the Sprint commitment due to lack of clarity and details. Unrealistic expectations Oftentimes teams are required to work on requirements that are not feasible, or the team faces some technological challenge. Over-commitment When the teams do not realize the capacity and their velocity and tend to over-commit, this leads to hurdles in delivery. Beyond Time-box Spending too much time in Sprint planning can also jeopardize the event, the team must follow the time-box, going over minute details is not required. Scrum is an empirical process, which means You do not have to plan everything upfront.  Quick tips for success Set a Goal The Product Owner should come up with a sprint goal and share it with the development team. The goal helps the team and staying focused throughout the sprint, they can also use baby scrum meeting to check if they are on track with the goal. Healthy product backlog If the product backlog is in the Good shape, and has stories in order of priority, the team can start pulling from the top. they can even plan a pre-planning meeting, which is also known as backlog grooming who defines the upcoming sprint backlog. Valuable meeting measures Everyone in the team should have the sprint planning meeting invite and if required it should contain the link to video conferencing in-case of a distributed team. The team should have the data on capacity and velocity, and they understand estimations and prioritization. They can use different colored stickies to represent backlog items for example stories can be represented with green and bugs can be presented with red. As per the discipline, the team should follow timeboxing strictly, they can finish early but to go beyond the time is not recommended.  Best practices in Sprint Planning To course a positive sprint, you need to be very prepared and have a solid understanding of what is practicable to shape with the team you have within the timebox. This is the reason why a sprint planning session is so vital for placing the foundation for an agile development project. Let us touch base on some best practices that the teams can adopt for the smooth running of the scrum event. Strategy for uncertainties During the sprint planning meeting, the team talks about capacity, velocity, and shapes their Sprint commitment around the confident items. Planning for uncertainties not only helps in contingency but it also reduces the upcoming risk that can pose an impediment for the team. Sprint skeleton Laying out the stories or Sprint items in the form of a map helps the team in getting a tentative idea around each deliverable. this also helps in defining the internal dependencies and the teams can better plan by moving them up and down. Building consensus It is important to get the team onboarded together as a single group for the sprint goal. They should understand the importance and the urgency of the deliverable and they are ready to take the ownership, this also requires supporting the teammates. Benefits of Sprint Planning A successful Sprint planning creates a smooth runway for the team to start their work. It provides clarity in terms of commitment, goals, timelines, and ownership. The output of the Sprint planning meeting sets an expectation with both the parties - the scrum team and the stakeholders - on what to expect by the end of the Sprint. It can be visualized as the team pulling a bucket of work from a big pile and focus on delivering that bucket with expected quality. Ready, set, sprint! “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” - French writer and pioneering aviator, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Done in the right spirit, Sprint planning can do wonders in sprint delivery. All it requires is a focused approach, discipline, few best practices, and a collaborative approach towards a solution.  If you have followed this guide, at the end of your sprint planning session you and your entire team should walk away with: An agreed-upon Sprint Goal and a clear definition of “done” Commitment to a realistic sprint backlog Understanding of the bug fixes and support work included in the backlog Detailed tasks for each user story with an estimation and acceptance criteria Due dates and scheduled scrum meetings Now, all you have to do is the work.Ready to start or grow your Agile career?  Check out our latest courses, learn the skills and get the personalized guidance you need. 

The Ultimate Guide to Sprint Planning

7K
  • by Deepti Sinha
  • 18th Jul, 2020
  • Last updated on 06th May, 2021
  • 16 mins read
The Ultimate Guide to Sprint Planning

The Scrum framework has been popular lately and several studies have provedthat the global share of Scrum is more than 50%. One of the reasons for the phenomenal success of Scrum lies in its ceremonies, one of its key pillars.  

Scrum has three critical components that create the structure or a skeleton and provides a way of working to the teams and individual, namely, roles, artifacts, and ceremonies. 

Scrum roles, artifacts and ceremonies

Scrum has four different ceremonies to support Agile software delivery where the Sprint starts with planning and ends with the retrospective. Let us quickly talk about the four ceremonies and then we will start with our topic of the day and deep dive more into Sprint planning. 

Daily Scrum 

The event is intended to bring together everyone in the scrum team and talk about what the accomplished last, what is the plan for today and is there any impediment. This event can be categorized under daily planning and collaborative team effort to attain the scrum goal. 

Sprint planning 

This event occurs at the start of the Sprint where the team together decides on the Sprint backlog and gains consensus on the sprint goal. They also talk about the estimation, capacity, risk, dependencies, and the timeline. This event is facilitated by the scrum master and occurs once in every Sprint. 

Sprint review 

This is the second last event in the print where the team showcases the entire deliverable they have been working throughout this print. This is the time when the stakeholders look at the finished product and provide their feedback. The event provides an effective platform for a collaborative approach with the client towards software delivery. 

Sprint retrospective 

This is one of my favorite events in Scrum, though the ceremony looks simple, if done correctly, it can yield tremendous results. It provides the team with a chance to pause and check which things are working, what is not, and how can they improve moving forward. 

Scrum ceremoniesScrum ceremonies

Each of the ceremonies can be elaborated more as they are deep and dense. This article serves as an in-depthguide on Sprint planning for Scrum practitioners. 

The Sprint Planning meeting 

The What 

Sprint planning can be thought of as a ‘green flag’ that gives a go-ahead to the train called “Sprint”. The purpose of this meeting is to provide the sprint goal and ‘how’ that can be delivered. This is the first meeting that takes place in a Sprint where the scrum team comes together to create the Sprint backlog within a “time-box”, this time-box depends on the iteration length, if the iteration is of two weeks, the time-box can be up to four hours for a team of seven to nine people.  

During the Sprint planning meeting, the product owner describes the objective of the sprint and what product backlog items can be utilized to reach that objective. Consequently, the scrum team decides how to work on ‘how’ to get the goal achieved. 

The How 

The sprint planning meeting is divided into two parts, first part, constitutes discussion on the sprint backlog creation and the second part revolves around the capacity and estimation. The product owner must keep the product backlog stays in a healthy state, it is prioritized and has the right requirements for the team to work on. The team should also be aware of their capacity and velocity to make appropriate Sprint commitment. 

Spring Planning meeting agendaSpring Planning meeting agenda

The Who 

The spring planning meeting is attended by the product owner, the development team, and the scrum master. All three roles are mandatory to run this meeting.  

The product owner defines the objective of the sprint and supports the development team with the product backlog. In turn, the development team talks about ‘how’ to deliver and the approach they could take. They can also inform the product owner if the requirement is not doable (at times, the requirements might not be technologically feasible, in such cases the team can discuss the same with the product owner). The Scrum Master takes up the facilitation of the event, they make sure the team sits with an effective ‘input’ and comes out with an efficient ‘output’. 

The Inputs 

The Product Backlog serves as the ‘Input’ for the Sprint Planning meeting. It provides the development team with the starting point as it contains the list of requirements for delivery. The Product Backlog is owned by the product owner and hence the responsibility of keeping it up-to-date falls within their purview. The team starts with the highest priority item in the list, clear doubts (if any) and add it up to the Sprint Backlog. To make proper sprint commitment, the team should know their capacity and velocity. 

The Outputs 

The sprint planning meeting intends to generate a sprint goal and backlog. The output also defines the ’how’ approach, which the team will take to reach its goal. The team must understand the value of this event, as this draws a path for sprint success. The Scrum Master can help the team and the product owner to come up with an effective plan through their facilitation skills.

Input and output of the Sprint Planning MeetingInput and output of the Sprint Planning Meeting

How do we prepare for the sprint planning meeting? 

As with other events, the sprint planning meeting has a set agenda and timebox which the team must follow diligently. A healthy backlog is a key to efficacious sprint planning, which means, the Product Owner always must maintain and keep the backlog updated. The team needs to be aware of the available capacity and the targeted velocity this helps in coming up with the correct commitment during the Sprint planning session. 

What is a backlog? 

A backlog is a list of requirements from the client to create the desired product. It contains new features, enhancements, bugs, Infrastructure changes, or any architectural requirement. Any work that is related to a product should be in the backlog.  

Backlog items are placed in a prioritized list manner Every item in the backlog has an estimate it can either be a high-level estimate or the exact/close estimate, depending on where it falls in the list. Usually, the top few items in the bucket have more clarity, details, and close estimates as compared to the items down in the list. 

Determining velocity 

Velocity is unique for every team; no two teams can have the same velocity. Every organization has a different approach towards velocity, ideally, the teams should take an average of the last five sprints. The average formula works for the teams who have been in the system for long or they have spent at least eight to ten sprints as a team.  

Usually, velocity-based planning is done with mature teams who are aware of the product and they are good at process. With new teams, the ideal approach relies on the completed stories vs accepted stories ratio. 

Determining capacity 

Capacity is determined by available working hours in the sprint timeline which also takes into consideration, the leaves, any holidays, and contingency hours (if required). Capacity directly impacts the output as a team and helps them during Sprint commitment.  

Sprint Planning checklist 

While Agile development is more of a mindset than a methodology, checklists can help guidetheproduct owner, the development team, and the scrum master as they plan and execute sprints. 

Sprint planning preparation 

A few days out from the actual sprint planning meeting: 

  • Review product roadmap and vision.  
  • Ask team members to update boards and focus on moving tickets to done.  
  • Run sprint review and retrospective.  
  • Groom product backlog: Make sure every user story has a clear priority, is fully formed, and up to date with context and estimates.  
  • Choose sprint goal.  
  • Create a sprint backlog of enough user stories to fill two sprints. 

Sprint planning meeting 

  • Ensure your entire team is present for the meeting.  
  • Start video call for remote team members.  
  • If needed, clean up old board(s) with team by checking status of open tickets.  
  • Discuss spillovers: Should these be continued or dropped? Move any spill-over tasks into the right buckets.  
  • Set the stage with product and market updates.  
  • Define the sprint goal.  
  • Create a “new sprint”. Discuss the goal and team’s capacity:  
  • Is this realistic? If not, can the team lower the scope?  
  • Worst case scenario the product owner needs to come up with a new sprint goal. A few days out from the actual sprint planning meeting: 
  • Discuss proposed sprint backlog: Let the team pick user stories and tasks that match the sprint goal and capacity.  
  • Discuss the definition of “done”.  
  • Break down each user story into individual tasks: Make sure each task has as much information as possible.  
  • Ask whether the scope of work leaves time for unexpected issues.  
  • Ask if the scope of work leaves space to tackle bugs and technical debt.  
  • Move sprint backlog of decided-upon user stories and associated tasks into the sprint board.  
  • Get verbal confirmation from the team that they know what to do.  
  • Set up due dates and times for future scrum meetings.

Here is a quick checklist to help you plan the Sprint Plan. You can modify and adapt as necessary.

The outcome of the Sprint Planning meeting 

The planning meeting intends to come up with Sprint goal and sprint commitment which is in the form of Sprint backlog. This backlog contains a list of stories, bugs, enhancements, etc. as required by the product owner. The output of the Sprint planning meeting is also to define the approach, the task, and other activities required to achieve the Sprint goal.  

Everything that needs to be done is part of the Sprint backlog, by the end of Sprint planning meeting the team should have a solid plan with the ownership This output is further shared with the stakeholders, management and within the team which not only helps in being transparent but it also supports the team to stay focused. 

How to get Sprint Planning right 

Scrum focuses on time boxing and hence Sprint planning also requires control over the time limit for the event. As per the industry standards, a sprint of two weeks should be time-boxed for a maximum of 4 hours. The scrum master is responsible for making sure the team sticks to the timing and helps them in coming up with the plan. Spend planning can be an exhaustive ceremony where the team brainstorms, discusses the requirements and ownership.  

With great facilitation skills, the scrum master can ask the team to start with an item they know well and subsequently move forward. The team can utilize various estimation techniques to define a number or a story point for each requirement. They can use T-shirt sizing, poker planning, or any other technique they are comfortable with. For effective estimation, the team needs an environment that is transparent, trustworthy, and open to new ideas. This reminds us of the Scrum values and principles that form the foundation of the framework. 

Common reasons why Sprint Planning fails 

Multiple reasons can contribute to scrum planning failure. Let us look at some of the frequent cases: 

  • Uncooked backlog 

Most of the time the product backlog is not up to date and lacks prioritization. In such cases the team struggles in defining the Sprint goal, they face difficulties in defining the Sprint commitment due to lack of clarity and details. 

  • Unrealistic expectations 

Oftentimes teams are required to work on requirements that are not feasible, or the team faces some technological challenge. 

  • Over-commitment 

When the teams do not realize the capacity and their velocity and tend to over-commit, this leads to hurdles in delivery. 

  • Beyond Time-box 

Spending too much time in Sprint planning can also jeopardize the event, the team must follow the time-box, going over minute details is not required. Scrum is an empirical process, which means You do not have to plan everything upfront.   

Quick tips for success 

  • Set a Goal 

The Product Owner should come up with a sprint goal and share it with the development team. The goal helps the team and staying focused throughout the sprint, they can also use baby scrum meeting to check if they are on track with the goal. 

  • Healthy product backlog 

If the product backlog is in the Good shape, and has stories in order of priority, the team can start pulling from the top. they can even plan a pre-planning meeting, which is also known as backlog grooming who defines the upcoming sprint backlog. 

  • Valuable meeting measures 

Everyone in the team should have the sprint planning meeting invite and if required it should contain the link to video conferencing in-case of a distributed team. The team should have the data on capacity and velocity, and they understand estimations and prioritization. They can use different colored stickies to represent backlog items for example stories can be represented with green and bugs can be presented with red. As per the discipline, the team should follow timeboxing strictly, they can finish early but to go beyond the time is not recommended.  

Best practices in Sprint Planning 

To course a positive sprint, you need to be very prepared and have a solid understanding of what is practicable to shape with the team you have within the timebox. This is the reason why a sprint planning session is so vital for placing the foundation for an agile development project. Let us touch base on some best practices that the teams can adopt for the smooth running of the scrum event. 

  • Strategy for uncertainties 

During the sprint planning meeting, the team talks about capacity, velocity, and shapes their Sprint commitment around the confident items. Planning for uncertainties not only helps in contingency but it also reduces the upcoming risk that can pose an impediment for the team. 

  • Sprint skeleton 

Laying out the stories or Sprint items in the form of a map helps the team in getting a tentative idea around each deliverable. this also helps in defining the internal dependencies and the teams can better plan by moving them up and down. 

  • Building consensus 

It is important to get the team onboarded together as a single group for the sprint goal. They should understand the importance and the urgency of the deliverable and they are ready to take the ownership, this also requires supporting the teammates. 

  • Benefits of Sprint Planning 

A successful Sprint planning creates a smooth runway for the team to start their work. It provides clarity in terms of commitment, goals, timelines, and ownership. The output of the Sprint planning meeting sets an expectation with both the parties - the scrum team and the stakeholders - on what to expect by the end of the Sprint. It can be visualized as the team pulling a bucket of work from a big pile and focus on delivering that bucket with expected quality. 

Ready, set, sprint! 

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” - French writer and pioneering aviator, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry 

Done in the right spirit, Sprint planning can do wonders in sprint delivery. All it requires is a focused approach, discipline, few best practices, and a collaborative approach towards a solution.  

If you have followed this guide, at the end of your sprint planning session you and your entire team should walk away with: 

  • An agreed-upon Sprint Goal and a clear definition of “done” 
  • Commitment to a realistic sprint backlog 
  • Understanding of the bug fixes and support work included in the backlog 
  • Detailed tasks for each user story with an estimation and acceptance criteria 
  • Due dates and scheduled scrum meetings 

Now, all you have to do is the work.

Ready to start or grow your Agile career?  

Check out our latest courses, learn the skills and get the personalized guidance you need. 

Deepti

Deepti Sinha

Blog Author

Deepti is an Agile Coach by profession and Freelance Trainer with over 11 years of industry experience working primarily with healthcare & finance clients in delivering business. She has played a wide variety of roles in the graph of her career, whether it be, management, operations or quality. She likes reading fiction, management and loves to write her experiences. Her colleagues mostly describe her as very detail oriented person with a knack of creativity and imagination. And yes, she loves feedback more than her coffee!!

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The customer is at the centre of all processes. Agile teams welcome changing requirements, even if they come in very late in the development journey. Agile processes harness change and can adapt in order to deliver competitive advantage. There is frequent delivery of working software, through iterations that range from a couple of weeks to a couple of months. The shorter timescale is always preferred. Agile emphasizes collaboration, and businesspeople and developers must work together daily throughout the project. Projects are built around motivated individuals, who are empowered with the environment and support they need and are trusted to get the job done. Face-to-face conversation is the most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team. Progress must be measured and communicated, and working software is the primary measure of progress. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a consistent pace through the project. Agility enables continuous improvement, with a focus on technical excellence and good design. Agile teams have simplicity at their core. Simplicity is defined as the art of maximizing the amount of work not done and prompts just-in-time development. Teams are self-managed and cross functional. The Manifesto states that ‘the best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams. The team sits together at regular intervals to inspect the work done and reflect on how to become more effective. They then recalibrate and adjust their behaviour accordingly. There are many methodologies that come under the Agile umbrella, such as Scrum, Kanban, XP and DSDM. All these methods follow the Agile values: Individuals and interactions (are preferred) over processes and tools  Working software (is preferred) over comprehensive development  Customer collaboration (is preferred) over negotiations  Responding to change frequently (is preferred) to following a plan ITIL Vs Agile – the Key Differences In the DevOps world, the choice between ITIL and Agile has become a topic that is hotly debated. Both methodologies are quite different, even though they have the same end goal: that of creating and delivering value, while optimizing resources.  As ITIL has now transitioned from Version 3 to ITIL 4, it has kept a pace with the speed of today’s businesses. There is, therefore, a visible shift from rigid processes to more flexible, seamless experiences. ITIL 4 has embodied the principles of Agile and offers a more holistic frame of reference to ITSM. The key differences between ITIL and Agile are laid out in the table below:ITILAgileFocuses on processes and practicesAgile is a group of practices based on core values and principlesITIL follows predefined traditionsAgile is innovativeITIL 4 is in sync with Agile practicesAgile embraces and responds to changeITIL does not seek feedback from end usersAgile teams believe in continual feedback, and improve their processes and the product after each iterationITIL requires comprehensive documentationAgile believes in minimal documentation, only when needed and just enoughITIL lays more emphasis on processes than on the customer, and believes that customer value is created by following the right methodology to fulfil SLAs (service level agreements)Agile is customer-focusedITIL creates a stable and sustainable IT environmentAgile has a flexible environment that supports changeHead-to-Head Comparison Between ITIL and AgileITIL and Agile are both essential to the creation of business value. However, while Agile looks at improving the delivery of products or services, ITIL is focused on streamlining processes and practices. Both are complementary components of DevOps, which works to seamlessly integrate the interaction and flow between the two IT functions of development and operations. By blending together the key points of both frameworks, a successful DevOps culture can be built.Can You Integrate Agile and ITIL?As technologies keep evolving and organizations step up to stay ahead of these advancements, IT teams find themselves at the centre of transformations. Technologies like cloud computing, AI and IoT have fuelled innovative ways of working, which require agility in order to embrace the transformative changes necessitated by the industry.  Both Agile and ITIL have always focused on building products or services that meet customer needs and deliver high quality. They believe in keeping processes simple, acting quickly and streamlining value delivery—together offering a blueprint that maximizes the creation of value. With the advent of ITIL 4, the ITIL framework had added Agility to the framework, in a transition that has proven to be a gamechanger. ITIL 4 embraces Agile and DevOps ways of working, and encourages a collaborative, iterative, and customer-centric approach to ITSM. ITIL 4 nudges teams toward a new frame of reference that is customer-centric and adapts more easily to what teams need, and how they work. The most radical change that ITIL 4 has brought about to enable this shift is the concept of the Service Value Chain (SVS), which represents the interlinked set of activities that must be undertaken to create highly valuable products and services that are closely aligned to customer expectations. Along the way, inefficiencies, redundancies and bottlenecks are eliminated, improving delivery speed and optimizing resource allocation. Value and value-based tools are given an overarching emphasis in ITIL 4, with Lean thinking driving co-creation of value. By seamlessly aligning Agile and ITIL to drive DevOps, organizations can pave the way to quality services with quick turnaround times. The Last Word Today’s businesses are in a state of constant change with advancements in technologies also happening at warp speed. This unpredictability needs to be reined in to create stability, while at the same time allowing for enough flexibility in order to adapt to the evolving changes. A combination of ITIL and Agile offers the best solution for business service management solutions. A DevOps approach that merges ITIL’s best practices with the smooth change management enabled by Agile, offers the perfect recipe for business success in an uncertain world. 
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ITIL vs Agile: Make Right Choice for Your DevOps C...

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What Is an Agile Environment? Explained With Example

As more and more companies choose to go the Agile way, there is growing appreciation for the many transformational benefits that this innovative suite of methods can provide.Agile represents a radical deviation from traditional, siloed project management processes. It does away with legacy systems and processes, infusing flexibility and the willingness to embrace change. With a network of cross-functional teams working in tandem to deliver products and services that are closely aligned to the changing expectations from the market, Agile is guaranteed to deliver fast, optimize resources and maximize value. The first step in adopting an Agile operating model is to set the stage, laying a foundation where flexibility, innovation and adaptability can thrive—the Agile environment. How can your organization create a fluid environment that fosters the Agile mindset and easily aligns itself with change? Let’s find out. Being AgileAt its core, Agility is much more than a set of principles and processes; and in order to reap the benefits of this methodology, it’s very important to get everyone on board with the Agile mindset. What this means, is that in order to do Agile, you must first be agile. What, exactly, does this mean? The dictionary defines Agility as ‘the ability to move quickly and easily’. And this is indeed the essence of what being Agile is all about.  Simply stated, Agility in project management is the ability to move quickly, easily and adapt to changing circumstances. When project requirements change, the team must analyse the change and course-correct as needed so that they can keep on top of customer needs.  In order to do all this, they must be on board with the Agile mindset. 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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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...

One thing that all Agile teams have in common is t... Read More