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Use Cases: How Are They Different From User Stories & How To Create Them

I could have used the word, “write” instead of “create” use cases. But I didn’t. If you know why, then you are already expert on this topic, so please do share your opinion and knowledge by adding some comments at the end of this article. If you don’t know why I consciously mentioned “create” instead of “write” then worry not. I will share my thoughts  with you and you can tell me what you think and let’s create a dialogue around it. In my previous article, I had written about user stories, and how they came into extensive usage, how they help develop better products and how they represent users’ voice at forums users don’t have access to. If you have not read that article then I would sincerely request you to read that article first as it will immensely help you in getting the right perspective about this topic at hand. Use cases in simple words are exact statements written in informal manner depicting the specific action that the user is expected to do while dealing with a particular functionality of the product. If you compare this with the definition of user stories I gave in my previous article, you will notice that here I have defined use cases as “exact statements” whereas I had defined user stories as “generic statements” written in informal manner. Why? This is because user stories set a foundation upon which great use cases are created or developed. While user stories try to explain to the engineering team about the environment, goal, role, intention of the user while he/she is going to deal or work with the software; use cases clearly define what the user is going to do here and what result is expected in crisp 2-3 lines. Use cases are one level above requirements. Below is a simple table for quick reference on differences between user stories and use cases. A simple example of creating use cases from user stories: Let us take a very simple example of a toothpaste and let’s create use cases out of it. If you want to see how to develop user story then please read my earlier article on user stories. Always remember, while it will seem easy to create use cases directly from user needs; it is full of pitfalls that might lead to missed functionality and user dissatisfaction later on, after shipping the product. So a user story would look somewhat like this: Actor  :    John, a working professional who wants to keep his teeth health and shiny Role    :    The direct consumer of this product but can influence others by his reviews of a product on his website. Expected results: After brush, John expects his breath to be fresh and teeth and gums to be health for the whole day. Now as you can see, John is a very high impact user for us [The toothpaste company] because he can affect our sales by his review of our product on his website. So meeting his needs are very critical for us. Hence the product manager, should create following user story for this scenario. Sample User Story: It is 6:30AM in the morning and John has started his morning rituals to be ready for work. Daily, his first routine after waking up is to brush his teeth with his favorite toothbrush so that he gets the refreshing feel to do remaining chores around the house and leave for work on time. He likes the way toothpaste, smoothly oozes out of the tube and rests firmly on this toothbrush without spilling anywhere. Also he likes that somehow, every time he brushes, the exact right amount of the paste comes out of the tube. It is never too much and never too little. It’s just right. He feels energized after a refreshing brush ritual and likes the feeling of freshness in his mouth after brushing his teeth. His gums feel rejuvenated, breath feels fresh as he tests it out on his palms. After spending whole day at office, where he had multiple cups of coffee, some food and some sugary items, he comes back home. While refreshing himself, he notices that his breath is still fresh and the taste in his mouth is still neutral without any traces of coffee or cheese pizza he had before. He is so pleased with the product that he has bought for himself, that he decides to write about it in his blog tonight. Now let us create some use cases out of the above user story. Use case 1: User wants to have a premium quality feel when he/she takes the toothpaste tube in their hand before brushing. Use case 2: User gently squeezes the tube and he is pleased with the smoothness of the paste flow out of this tube. Use case 3: User is able to notice the right amount of paste coming out of the tube every time, he/she brushes. It is never too much nor too little. One gentle squeeze always gives out the right amount of paste required for brushing. Use case 4: User feels an air of freshness in his mouth after brushing and that freshness lasts for minimum of 24 hours. The feeling of freshness is neither overwhelming nor un-noticeable. It is just mild   enough to provide a feeling of freshness while not interfering with user’s culinary habits. Use case 5: The user is pleased with the fact that the teeth and gums feel very smooth and non-scratchy after every brush. Use case 6: User is happy about the fact that even after 12 hours of intense work day routine, his breath still feels fresh And so on and so forth.  Can you think of some more use cases? If yes, do leave your comment below so that we can discuss on their validity and applicability here. Is the concept of use cases starting to make itself clear to you now and how they are different from user stories? Let us try once more. This time let us try to create use cases of this same product but for different customer base. Sample 2 of creating use cases for a product: This time, instead of a working professional, John. Let us consider Alayah, a teenage girl in high school. Actor :    Alayah, a 16 year high school student who is interested in experimenting new things with regards to body hygiene for better well-being and feeling. Her opinion is slightly influenced by the           feedback of her friends and her own personal experiences as she too likes to share her feedback with them. Role :    A direct consumer of our product and her feedback can motivate others in her circle of influence to try out our product. Expected Results: While healthy teeth and gum are the most basic of her requirements, she is bored with the same tasting toothpastes on offer these days. She wants to try out a new toothpaste that     not only provides her with best dental protection but also convinces her Mom of her ability to choose different but a better product by herself. Here, our engineering team’s task is clear. They need to create a product [toothpaste in this case], that not only impresses Alayah but also provides her with the best dental protection that she needs at her age. Her feedback carries the possibility of our product’s adoption by her immediate family members and her close friends, hence opening the market for us. The product should be unique in itself while being the best in terms of quality at cost effective price, since Alayah is not an earning member of her family. A product manager in this case, will have lot of options to think of a product here and specify to the engineering team. Let us go with one of them. Do share your versions of user stories in this case. User story: It’s morning time and Alayah’s alarm is ringing she had set last night to wake her up on time, if she needs to make it to the school without being reprimanded. She quickly jumps into the shower with a toothbrush having toothpaste on it, while her favorite song is playing out on her personal stereo. While she is freshening up, she is delighted with the fact, even after so many days, her toothpaste continues to give out the same wonderful strawberry flavor that she loves so much. And to add to her delight, her dentist gave her a big thumbs up yesterday on her teeth and gum health. Alayah has been using this toothpaste for a month now and she loves the way, the tube feels like new everyday even after so many uses. She never has to squeeze hard to get the paste out of it. One gentle squeeze and strawberry colored toothpaste gently but firmly oozes out of the tube and rests on the bristles of the brush. Earlier, she used to get lot of scolding from her mother on spilling the paste around the sink, while jumping into shower with toothbrush and paste on it. But ever since, she switched to this new toothpaste, there has not been a single spill ever since. Today, she is definitely going to tell her Mother to make permanent switch to this paste. She will recommend the butterscotch flavor to her Mom because she loves it. Wow! A wonderful experience of morning ritual for Alayah’; isn’t it? Let us create use cases for this one. Use case 1: User is delighted with the fact that tooth paste comes in a flavored version and the flavor of the paste is consistent throughout till the last drop in the tube. Use Case 2: User is experiencing a natural growth in well-being of her gums and teeth due to the regular usage of toothpaste and is certified by her dentist also. The noticeable difference comes out in 1 month of regular usage. Use case 3: The user is happy about the quality of the product and feel of it. The flow of the paste is smooth, uniform and consistent. It is firm yet soft to the right degree and grips the bristles of the       brush firmly without leaving behind any residue. Use case 4: The user is happy with the non-slipperiness of the paste as it holds wells on the toothbrush without spilling on to the floor. Use case 5: The user is going to recommend the product to her family members owing to its cost effectiveness, quality of results and number of flavored options available to choose from. In this case, the product manager’s diktat was clear. The toothpaste should be premium feeling with right amount of firmness, variety of flavored options to choose from, health improving and certified. And how did we learn properly? Because we were able to create user stories and use cases properly depicting the right user environments, their interactions with the system and their expected goals from these interactions. This is how use cases add value to the development of right product whether it is software based or manufacturing based or service based. So next time, when you want to ship to the customer, make sure you have all the right user stories targeting the right audience with complete use cases and your product will be a smash hit. This is why, I said, a product manager “creates” use cases and does not merely “write” them. Because while creating use cases, the product owner gets the feel, intent of the product that will surely be missed out if he/she is merely jotting down the requirements or use cases. In my next article, I will share with you on how requirements come out of use cases. Until then, happy creating user stories and use cases and do share your experiences with me on my email or in the comments’ section below. Thank you for your time!  

Use Cases: How Are They Different From User Stories & How To Create Them

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Use Cases: How Are They Different From User Stories & How To Create Them

I could have used the word, “write” instead of “create” use cases. But I didn’t. If you know why, then you are already expert on this topic, so please do share your opinion and knowledge by adding some comments at the end of this article.

If you don’t know why I consciously mentioned “create” instead of “write” then worry not. I will share my thoughts  with you and you can tell me what you think and let’s create a dialogue around it.

In my previous article, I had written about user stories, and how they came into extensive usage, how they help develop better products and how they represent users’ voice at forums users don’t have access to.

If you have not read that article then I would sincerely request you to read that article first as it will immensely help you in getting the right perspective about this topic at hand.

Use cases in simple words are exact statements written in informal manner depicting the specific action that the user is expected to do while dealing with a particular functionality of the product.

If you compare this with the definition of user stories I gave in my previous article, you will notice that here I have defined use cases as “exact statements” whereas I had defined user stories as “generic statements” written in informal manner. Why?

This is because user stories set a foundation upon which great use cases are created or developed. While user stories try to explain to the engineering team about the environment, goal, role, intention of the user while he/she is going to deal or work with the software; use cases clearly define what the user is going to do here and what result is expected in crisp 2-3 lines. Use cases are one level above requirements.

Below is a simple table for quick reference on differences between user stories and use cases.

A simple example of creating use cases from user stories:

Let us take a very simple example of a toothpaste and let’s create use cases out of it. If you want to see how to develop user story then please read my earlier article on user stories.
Always remember, while it will seem easy to create use cases directly from user needs; it is full of pitfalls that might lead to missed functionality and user dissatisfaction later on, after shipping the product.

So a user story would look somewhat like this:
Actor 
 :    John, a working professional who wants to keep his teeth health and shiny
Role    :    The direct consumer of this product but can influence others by his reviews of a product on his website.
Expected results: After brush, John expects his breath to be fresh and teeth and gums to be health for the whole day.

Now as you can see, John is a very high impact user for us [The toothpaste company] because he can affect our sales by his review of our product on his website. So meeting his needs are very critical for us. Hence the product manager, should create following user story for this scenario.

Sample User Story:

It is 6:30AM in the morning and John has started his morning rituals to be ready for work. Daily, his first routine after waking up is to brush his teeth with his favorite toothbrush so that he gets the refreshing feel to do remaining chores around the house and leave for work on time. He likes the way toothpaste, smoothly oozes out of the tube and rests firmly on this toothbrush without spilling anywhere. Also he likes that somehow, every time he brushes, the exact right amount of the paste comes out of the tube. It is never too much and never too little. It’s just right.

He feels energized after a refreshing brush ritual and likes the feeling of freshness in his mouth after brushing his teeth. His gums feel rejuvenated, breath feels fresh as he tests it out on his palms. After spending whole day at office, where he had multiple cups of coffee, some food and some sugary items, he comes back home. While refreshing himself, he notices that his breath is still fresh and the taste in his mouth is still neutral without any traces of coffee or cheese pizza he had before. He is so pleased with the product that he has bought for himself, that he decides to write about it in his blog tonight.

Now let us create some use cases out of the above user story.

Use case 1: User wants to have a premium quality feel when he/she takes the toothpaste tube in their hand before brushing.
Use case 2: User gently squeezes the tube and he is pleased with the smoothness of the paste flow out of this tube.
Use case 3: User is able to notice the right amount of paste coming out of the tube every time, he/she brushes. It is never too much nor too little. One gentle squeeze always gives out the right amount of paste required for brushing.
Use case 4: User feels an air of freshness in his mouth after brushing and that freshness lasts for minimum of 24 hours. The feeling of freshness is neither overwhelming nor un-noticeable. It is just mild   enough to provide a feeling of freshness while not interfering with user’s culinary habits.
Use case 5: The user is pleased with the fact that the teeth and gums feel very smooth and non-scratchy after every brush.
Use case 6: User is happy about the fact that even after 12 hours of intense work day routine, his breath still feels fresh

And so on and so forth. 

Can you think of some more use cases? If yes, do leave your comment below so that we can discuss on their validity and applicability here.

Is the concept of use cases starting to make itself clear to you now and how they are different from user stories?

Let us try once more. This time let us try to create use cases of this same product but for different customer base.

Sample 2 of creating use cases for a product:

This time, instead of a working professional, John. Let us consider Alayah, a teenage girl in high school.

Actor :    Alayah, a 16 year high school student who is interested in experimenting new things with regards to body hygiene for better well-being and feeling. Her opinion is slightly influenced by the           feedback of her friends and her own personal experiences as she too likes to share her feedback with them.
Role :    A direct consumer of our product and her feedback can motivate others in her circle of influence to try out our product.
Expected Results: While healthy teeth and gum are the most basic of her requirements, she is bored with the same tasting toothpastes on offer these days. She wants to try out a new toothpaste that     not only provides her with best dental protection but also convinces her Mom of her ability to choose different but a better product by herself.

Here, our engineering team’s task is clear. They need to create a product [toothpaste in this case], that not only impresses Alayah but also provides her with the best dental protection that she needs at her age. Her feedback carries the possibility of our product’s adoption by her immediate family members and her close friends, hence opening the market for us. The product should be unique in itself while being the best in terms of quality at cost effective price, since Alayah is not an earning member of her family.

A product manager in this case, will have lot of options to think of a product here and specify to the engineering team. Let us go with one of them. Do share your versions of user stories in this case.

User story:

It’s morning time and Alayah’s alarm is ringing she had set last night to wake her up on time, if she needs to make it to the school without being reprimanded. She quickly jumps into the shower with a toothbrush having toothpaste on it, while her favorite song is playing out on her personal stereo.

While she is freshening up, she is delighted with the fact, even after so many days, her toothpaste continues to give out the same wonderful strawberry flavor that she loves so much. And to add to her delight, her dentist gave her a big thumbs up yesterday on her teeth and gum health. Alayah has been using this toothpaste for a month now and she loves the way, the tube feels like new everyday even after so many uses. She never has to squeeze hard to get the paste out of it. One gentle squeeze and strawberry colored toothpaste gently but firmly oozes out of the tube and rests on the bristles of the brush. Earlier, she used to get lot of scolding from her mother on spilling the paste around the sink, while jumping into shower with toothbrush and paste on it. But ever since, she switched to this new toothpaste, there has not been a single spill ever since. Today, she is definitely going to tell her Mother to make permanent switch to this paste. She will recommend the butterscotch flavor to her Mom because she loves it.

Wow! A wonderful experience of morning ritual for Alayah’; isn’t it?

Let us create use cases for this one.

Use case 1: User is delighted with the fact that tooth paste comes in a flavored version and the flavor of the paste is consistent throughout till the last drop in the tube.
Use Case 2: User is experiencing a natural growth in well-being of her gums and teeth due to the regular usage of toothpaste and is certified by her dentist also. The noticeable difference comes out in 1 month of regular usage.
Use case 3: The user is happy about the quality of the product and feel of it. The flow of the paste is smooth, uniform and consistent. It is firm yet soft to the right degree and grips the bristles of the       brush firmly without leaving behind any residue.
Use case 4: The user is happy with the non-slipperiness of the paste as it holds wells on the toothbrush without spilling on to the floor.
Use case 5: The user is going to recommend the product to her family members owing to its cost effectiveness, quality of results and number of flavored options available to choose from.

In this case, the product manager’s diktat was clear. The toothpaste should be premium feeling with right amount of firmness, variety of flavored options to choose from, health improving and certified.
And how did we learn properly? Because we were able to create user stories and use cases properly depicting the right user environments, their interactions with the system and their expected goals from these interactions.

This is how use cases add value to the development of right product whether it is software based or manufacturing based or service based.

So next time, when you want to ship to the customer, make sure you have all the right user stories targeting the right audience with complete use cases and your product will be a smash hit.

This is why, I said, a product manager “creates” use cases and does not merely “write” them. Because while creating use cases, the product owner gets the feel, intent of the product that will surely be missed out if he/she is merely jotting down the requirements or use cases.

In my next article, I will share with you on how requirements come out of use cases.

Until then, happy creating user stories and use cases and do share your experiences with me on my email or in the comments’ section below.

Thank you for your time!
 

Abhinav

Abhinav Gupta

Blog Author

PMP, has 12+ years of experience working in Information technology sector and has worked with companies like Infosys and Microsoft in various capacities. He started his career as a manual tester for a world renowned software product and grew on to become automation champion in both functional as well as UI. He has worked with Healthcare units providing various software solutions to companies in North America and has worked with search engine based groups to enhance their experience and provide more bang for buck to their customers.

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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

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