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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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Scrum teams must have the courage to try new things, innovate, fail and then learn from their failures to ultimately achieve success.  Focus: Having focus is a mandatory requirement of Scrum teams which ultimately helps them limit the work in progress.  Openness: Transparency and openness is also one of the empirical processes on which Scrum is based. Teams that are open and transparent with one another trust each other more and work better towards reaching a successful end point.Respect: Respect between team members is a must, irrespective of the methodology or framework they use. Respect between Scrum Masters, Product Owners and Development team members will help foster trust and enhance collaboration and co-operation between teammates.What describes a Scrum team?A Scrum team consists of three main roles. These are:Development TeamScrum MasterScrum Product OwnerThe development team consists of five to eleven people including developers, testers, architects and others. The Scrum team has a shared goal and through their collaboration and skills of self-organization and motivation, they reach this goal.What is a Scrum Master?The Scrum Master, also known as the servant leader, helps empower the team and guides them on the use of the Scrum framework. Their main responsibility is to ensure that the development team can perform to the best of its abilities, and they do this by removing obstacles or impediments that may hinder the progress of the development team. The Scrum Master is the agile coach and mentor who helps team members understand Agile and its processes and aids in enterprise-wide agile transformations.The Product OwnerThe Product Owner is the bridge connecting the stakeholders and the development team. They define the product vision and through their skills and intelligence drive the project with help from the Scrum Master and the development team. The product owner maintains the perfect balance between the stakeholder and the development team, helping each understand the other’s point of view. They are also well-versed in agile and scrum values and principles and guide the team and well as the stakeholders on the agile ways of working. Creating stakeholder satisfaction is an important responsibility of the product owner and they do this by ensuring that requirements are met, and the product created meets quality standards expected by the customer.The Development TeamThe development team is the driving force of the Scrum project. This team is empowered by the Scrum Master and the Product Owner to take decisions and be as autonomous and independent as possible. At the same time there is a high level of collaboration and transparency among the team members and between the dev team and the Product Owner. The dev team is balanced and helps the product owner manage the backlog and deliver an acceptable product at the end of every sprint.Why is the Scrum team required for organizations?Any organization that wants to go agile and implement projects using the scrum framework has to do so by getting together an efficient scrum team. Scrum has proven to be extremely successful at team levels and it is the Scrum team that drives the project to success. Scrum teams with their collaboration, self-organization, innovation and collocation are able to drive success and business value.A table that summarizes the Scrum Team’s responsibilities in the various Scrum processesScrum PhaseScrum processScrum Master responsibilityProduct Owner responsibilityDevelopment team responsibilityInitiate1. Create Project Vision------2. Identify Scrum Master and Stakeholder(s)--Identifies Scrum Master--3. Form Scrum TeamAlong with the PO decides dev teamAlong with the SM decides dev team--4. Develop Epic(s)Helps PO in developing epicsDevelops epics and arranges user group meetingsHelps PO in developing epics5. Create Prioritized Product BacklogHelps PO in epic refinementRefines epicsHelps PO in epic refinement6. Conduct Release PlanningHelps PO and dev team with backlog prioritization and determining sprint lengthReviews the backlog and develops release planning scheduleHelps PO with backlog prioritization and determining sprint lengthPlan and Estimate7. Create User StoriesHelps dev team and PO write user storiesWrites user stories and incorporates them into the Prioritized Product BacklogWrites user stories8. Approve, Estimate, and Commit User StoriesEstimates the effort required to deliver the product defined in each user storyApproves user stories for the sprintAlong with the SM estimates the effort for each sprint and9. Create TasksHelps dev team break down the stories into tasksHelps dev team break down the stories into tasksBreaks down the approved stories into tasks and create a task list10. Estimate TasksHelps the dev team create the effort estimated task listHelps the dev team create the effort estimated task listCreates the effort estimated task list11. Create Sprint BacklogHelps the PO create sprint backlogCreates the sprint backlog and lists the tasks that need to be completed in the sprintHelps the PO create sprint backlogImplement12. Create DeliverablesGuides the dev teamHelps dev team if neededWorks on creating sprint deliverables13. Conduct Daily Stand-upArranges and conducts the meetingsMay or may not attend the meetingsAttends the meetings and defines any problems or issues faced14. Groom Prioritized Product Backlog Helps PO to groom the backlogUpdates and maintains the backlog continuouslyHelps PO to groom the backlogReview and Retrospect15. Convene Scrum of ScrumsHelps teams collaborate and notes any impediments that may be hindering work--Mentions their progress or any issues they may be facing16. Demonstrate and Validate Sprint Helps dev team in displaying what it has createdApproves or rejects what the dev team demonstratesDemonstrates deliverables to PO and stakeholders17. Retrospect SprintMeets with dev team to ponder on lessons learnt during the sprint. Documents the recommendations--With scrum master retrospect's on sprint and uses the recommendations for the next sprint18. Ship DeliverablesAlong with other team members ships acceptable deliverablesAlong with other team members ships acceptable deliverablesAlong with other team members ships acceptable deliverables19. Retrospect ProjectGets together with other team members and identifies the lessons learntGets together with other team members and identifies the lessons learntGets together with other team members and identifies the lessons learntSo, what best describes a Scrum team? There are many facets to a Scrum team, but the most relatable description would be a highly interconnected and cohesive unit that works together to solve issues. A well-organized Scrum team can raise the ROI of an organization and ensure long term stakeholder commitment.
What Best Describes a Scrum Team?

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Scrum Software for the Ultimate Project Management

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

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Safe Agile Ceremonies - Expert Guide

“Winners take time to relish their work, knowing that scaling the mountain is what makes the view from the top so exhilarating.” ― Denis WaitleyWhat are SAFe agile events (or) ceremonies? – a brief overview:Before we jump into the topic, could I just take you a step back and remind you what SAFe is all about? SAFe is a way of taking any iterative Agile way of working (normally restricted to a team or few teams) and scaling it up at various levels of the organization, whilst applying a mindset of Lean manufacturing. It also deals with scalability at various levels. Beginning from Essential SAFe right up to Full SAFe, the framework caters to all organizational levels of scaling agility. As part of this, it broadens the core idea of agility mindset beyond just projects/development teams right up to executives/CXOs, who must prepare for enterprise level uncertainties. In a sense, it provides valuable enterprise level scaling insights helpful for the executives to tackle any uncertainties/risks associated with a project.As you start applying SAFe in your organisation, it is important for you to understand how each level works in conjunction with the other, depending on how mature your SAFe enterprise is. The key link between these levels is the SAFe specific events which help with smooth value delivery facilitation. The events help with alignment across teams, ARTs etc thus helping in managing risk by providing a level based cadence and synchronization.Essential SAFe - Your First Level of Scaling Using an Agile Release Train (ART). Courtesy © Scaled Agile, Inc. Source: Scaled AgileWhy do we need level-based ceremonies?While it is important to go through your team level events (like the 4 sprint events if you are doing scrum etc.) it is important to have the scaling events that help with bridging gaps and unblocking dependency between teams. The most important part of these SAFe specific events is for ‘Business Stakeholders’ to get a look (demo) at a proper incremental product and thus the value arising out of it. Makes sense? It did for me and let me tell you why.I was once associated with 3 feature teams, who were working towards a common product goal. They all had the same business stakeholders but were working on individual features. Team A was working on developing a Login page, Team B was working on a landing dashboard while Team C was hopping along, trying to provide a search functionality for the user. All of them were applying the Scrum framework and were running their own events. Sprint demos were happening individually and were being represented by the Product owner separately along with his business analysts. All seemed fine but there was a nagging problem. The product owner was worried, because he couldn’t bring any business stakeholder to view the demos, as they were being run in silos and there was no visibility on the incremental product. Well technically there was, but they would have to sit through three or four-hour events individually to get bits and pieces of the product demo. In the real world, it's not a possibility simply because your business stakeholders will not have that much time to spend on multiple demos. It is not a good use of their time either. So, what’s the solution? Simple, it’s SAFe to the rescue! Let’s try and understand how the SAFe specific events help with this.Prescribed PI Cadence for Various Levels of Scaling. Courtesy © Scaled Agile, Inc. Source: Scaled AgileHow do the events (or) ceremonies help to scale up according to the levels in SAFe:SAFe is very relevant and designed to thrive in situations where there are significant cross functional dependencies between agile teams and support / functional teams (infrastructure teams, architect community etc).  Essential Level:   As you start to scale up one level up, you will be working with anywhere between 5-12 agile teams who will all be collectively working towards a common goal which is the program increment or PI. The anchoring catalyst that brings them all together is your ART (Agile release train). Before getting into the events, lets understand the various roles involved at this level because this is the common denominator across all levels of SAFe and across organizations. This is where you need to get it right without which there is not much use in scaling higher. Key Roles involved: Release Train Engineer (RTE) System Architect/Engineer Product Management   Business OwnersPrescribed events on a typical Agile release train (ART). Courtesy © Scaled Agile, Inc. Source: Scaled AgilePI PlanningAccording to me, PI planning (hands down) is THE most significant aspect of executing this framework. This is where all the magic happens. It is sometimes referred to as the heart of the framework as it offers a clear vision of what the program increment needs to be, what the cross-team dependencies are and how they bring together the cultural sustainability much needed within the release trains. It is so important, that if carried out incorrectly it could lead to several ambiguities, development challenges and mostly a disastrous product increment. However, when it works well, the iterative cycle serves to flesh out the crucial elements of the plan and the processes ensure buy in from the stakeholders.Duration: A normal PI planning is a 2-day activity, which is a face to face cultural get together of the various ART teams. However, a new 3-day distributed PI planning has been introduced to help with geographically distributed teams (across various time zones), very apt for the current pandemic situation.“There is no magic in SAFe® except maybe for PI Planning”. – The authors of the SAFe framework.In big organizations with multiple distributed teams across multiple vendors, work streams etc. it is almost impossible to run these teams independently, whilst still having to deliver an incremental program. SAFe via the PI planning exercise mentioned above, helps with sorting out these issues by recognising cross team dependencies upfront, constantly negotiating & visualising them. This doesn’t just stop with the PI planning but the framework also proposes a cadenced way of continuing this via the scrum of scrums. The Program Board is an ideal way to showcase the cross-team dependencies.A sample SAFe Program board. Courtesy © Scaled Agile, Inc. Source: Scaled Agile1. Inspect and Adapt (I&A)An inspect and adapt event is scheduled after every PI. This event is dedicated to aligning to the principles of Kaizen, which simply means to change for the better. The events contain self induced thought processes to revalidate your assumptions that everything is working OK. The I&A event consists of three sub-parts as below:  PI System DemoQuantitative and qualitative measurementRetrospective and problem-solving workshop2. ART Sync Agile release trains tend to apply a cadenced synchronization process to help manage the ability to focus on continuous value delivery. An ART sync will typically comprise of the below sub-events.  Scrum of Scrums: This event is for representatives from all the teams on a release train to come together in a regular cadenced manner, especially on large ARTs. This is normally facilitated by the release train engineer (RTE) and will involve scrum masters of the individual teams and a few selected team members (authorised by the team). The sole purpose of the SoS calls are to understand progress towards the common goal, validate cross team dependencies and unblock impediments that may arise out of them. Duration: The length and frequency of the meeting will depend on a few factors like the size of the ART, the release frequency, type of features being worked on, ability to decouple releases etc. For e.g an ART which releases features into production every 4 weeks might want to have an SoS call every 2 weeks for about an hour. Again, if this doesn’t work for you, just inspect and adapt to what works well for your organizational needs. Just make sure that the SoS is utilised for its sole purpose and not just status updates as depicted in the below comic representation.Scrum of Scrums PO SyncThis event is represented by the Product Owner, business analysts and the product management group. This is used mainly to level up the product backlog refinement and for clarifying PI (Program Increment) scope, reviewing roadmaps and grooming for the upcoming PIs.Duration: Very similar in concept to the SoS, so just follow what works for the group. 3. System DemoAs part of a common understanding towards delivering incremental software, shortly after each iteration in the PI, there is a system demo scheduled. Work completed across all teams from the release train are compiled in a stable environment before it is reviewed by the business stakeholders and other important sponsors who may have a keen interest in the product. This is on top of the individual team level demos that happen after each iteration.Duration: Anywhere between 2-3 hours that will allow time for a demonstration of the program increment in a collative manner, on top of what has been delivered from the previous PIs as well.In case your ART is pretty small, then you may want to have just have some of the events combined into a more generic ART sync, where all roles come together to collaborate towards the program increment. This can sometimes occur if the ART is focusing on a particular value stream, confined to limited business functionality, rather than elaborate features.Solution/Portfolio LevelsAs you scale higher, the processes and events become much less prescriptive. There is a good reason for this because the focus at this level is not just on having repetitive demos that have already happened before but on building thought leadership around business outcomes and enhancing business agility. Which is why we will not be diving deep into that in this blog. But let us look at the events that occur at the macro level.Lean Budget Review  Idea Sharing via Communities of Practice (not a formal event but a collaborative group)Solution DemoPortfolio SyncRoadshowWhat are the benefits of SAFe Agile ceremonies?:The Magic of PI planningWell, the more I talk about this, the more excited I am. A PI planning event when carried out to its truest purpose, gets half the job done. Here is where most of the brainstorming occurs and business value gets determined and, in some cases, gets assigned in a quantifiable manner to user stories and helps with the prioritisation.PI Planning Synchronisation towards a common goalThe events are a constant reminder that all teams are working towards delivering incremental value either on a particular value stream, or feature or program. An RTE and Product Management will help reiterating the need to focus on the larger goal whilst helping sorting out inter team dependencies.Less prescriptiveAs is the framework itself, SAFe events/ceremonies are less prescriptive. An SPC would recommend, apply the principles but inspect and adapt as to what works for your organization. As per the example I provided earlier w.r.t to the duration of the SAFe events, start with something reasonable and then validate its effectiveness. Then leave Kaizen to do the rest.Visualization of incremental value deliveryOpportunity for Business stakeholders and sponsors to have a look at the overall program increment every iteration, thus helping them evaluate the progress and provide timely feedback on market trends. What are the common mistakes?Lack of a shared product visionThings can go wrong if there is not enough representation in the product management group, say for e.g at the PO Sync event. This can lead to a blurred product vision with each team working out of sync. This may ultimately get detected too late, probably at the time of the system demo, and lead to a whole lot of unwanted rework.SoS as a status updateThe Scrum Of Scrum event should be used as an event to unblock cross team impediments or dependencies and not to just update what each team has been doing or is doing in its current sprint. TimeboxingGiven the scale at which these events will be conducted, it is critical that the associated events are facilitated in a timeboxed manner or else the participants could end up sitting and talking for hours. Roles like RTE, SPC Coaches etc will be critical in addressing this issue.Remote facilitationLack of effective collaboration tools could lead to some disastrous situations whilst facilitating the SAFe events. Given that most teams are running virtual ceremonies/events at the moment, its crucial to establish a working distributed model. This will then ensure that the platform is set up for the most effective collaboration and cross-functional work to take place.While you try to scale, as per the implementation roadmap, its essential that you solidify the process around which your ARTs will be functioning. It’s like setting the railway tracks with the correct track gauge matching the configurations of the wheelsets of the trains that will run on them. If not, they will just derail. As your ARTs pass through your set process, they will only benefit by sustaining focus and pace while moving towards a successful incremental product delivery.Thanks for your patience and wish you all the very best in your Agile journey. In case you want me to write about any specific topic, please feel free to comment below and I’ll be more than happy to add them to my ‘Blog Backlog’. If you liked the article, please do share it among your agile community to help spread the word.  Hope to see you soon, with more such interesting topics.
Safe Agile Ceremonies - Expert Guide

“Winners take time to relish their work, knowing... Read More