Search

Scrum Epic: How to Split an Epic into Chunks in Agile?

Scrum has been a buzzword since a decade now, and why not, it has so many success stories, hey, I am not talking about the stories which mean requirements in Scrum but the actual stories of teams and the organizations practicing Scrum. Looks like, I just gave the hint of what I would be covering in my article today.Yes, we will be talking about the requirements and how are they handled in Scrum. We will be talking about the Epic, so far, we have known Epic as a long narrative about the heroes of great historical or legendary significance performing courageous deeds but here we will touch upon a different side. Believe me, we are now going to talk about the Epics in Scrum!What is an Epic in Agile?In simple terms, Scrum Epic in Agile Methodology is a big chunk of work which can be divided into smaller user stories. An Epic can be spread across sprints and even across agile teams. An Epic can be a high-level description of what the client wants, and accordingly, it has some value attached to it. As we mentioned, an Epic is a high-level requirement, hence its scope can change over the course of time.Epics are a helpful way to organize your work and to create a hierarchy. The idea is to break down the work into shippable pieces so that large projects can actually get done and you can continue to ship value to your customers on a regular basis. Epics help teams break their work down while continuing to work towards a bigger goal.- AtlassianTo explain it better, I would prefer taking a life example, let’s say, throwing a New Year party at your place can be an Epic requirement for you. To do so, you’ll need to organize your effort: from the biggest objectives down to the smallest details. You should be able to respond to change, report your progress, and stick to a plan. Once you are aware of the Epic, you can drill it down to create smaller tasks like creating a guest list, deciding on the menu, shopping grocery, decoration at home, shopping for the new year, etc.Let’s see how we can create an Epic also called Scrum Epic User Story – In today’s era, almost all the tools that the team use have the capability to create an Epic, it is up to the product and the team, which type of Epic they want.Some Epics cater to the reporting needs of management. Some Epics are created with a timeframe in mind, it should not be too long and too short, i.e. it should not take more than a couple of weeks to finish. But the widely used way is Storytelling. But, what is storytelling?What is Storytelling?Storytelling is a tool which helps you visualize the flow of events and how they corroborate back to the Epic. If you feel, your working pattern does not sit in any of the mentioned ways, create your own. Just remember, Agile is never prescriptive, it shows you the path and how you want to go over it, it’s your choice!Coming back to our example, let us try to break it down in some doable components. It is really important to create chunks out of the Epic, so that the team can pick those up and deliver in a Sprint period. You can compare this activity with an art which requires precision in terms of size, priority, minimally interdependent etc. There are some pre-set ways of doing it, like:Workflow break downHere in our example, we talked about a project where we have a New Year party, let’s see how we can break it down in terms of workflow – Shopping can be a workflow where you need to get the items from outside. Another workflow can be cooking the food for the guests, the same way we can have decorating the house as another workflow. See how simple it gets to understand once you start connecting it with our lives! This also helps the Product Owner to easily prioritize the work, in our case, the Product Owner can be the host of the party. Some steps in the workflow may not be important right now and can be moved to later stages. Perhaps baking the cake takes on the priority as it takes time to cool down but the same can be done later as well.Role-based breakdownWe can also break an Epic as per the role, there can be different roles in your product or a project, here we have a role of a ‘host’, ‘guest’ or you can have a role as a ‘cook’, you can even add the roles based on your product. In a role-based breakdown we talk in terms of that particular persona, e.g., for a host, ‘Driving a successful party’ can be one, for a guest, it can be, ‘Looking for some fun games at the party’.Break Down around the timelineSome of the Epics can be broken down according to the time it will take to complete. The team usually divides the work which can be accomplished in a sprint time. They take up the whole thing, break it into pieces and fit the pieces in different Sprints as per the dependency and priority.As I have already mentioned, breaking down the user stories, requires consideration into several areas such as size, priority, interdependency, etc. Thus, there are two approaches for dividing the user stories– Horizontal and Vertical. It is like cutting the cake, if you cut it horizontally, you will get a single layer but if you take a vertical approach, you will get to have a bit of all the layers.Understanding the basic differences between Epic, Story, and TaskWe have been talking a lot about Epic and its breakdown, now let’s capture how it actually disintegrates further. We had an Epic “New Year Party”, this was a big chunk of work to be accomplished, we learned about the techniques to break it down. The result of the breakdown is termed Stories, which can be accomplished in a sprint time. The stories are further broken down into chunks called ‘Tasks’, the team pulls up the tasks and complete them, once all the tasks are completed the story is marked as ‘Completed’. The below figure explains Scrum Epic Vs User Story:Thus,Epic - A requirement that is just too big to deliver in a single sprint. Epics need to be broken into smaller deliverables (stories).Story - A requirement that the business wants. It is something that is deliverable within a single sprint.Tasks - The essentials of a story, these are the milestones to take the story to ‘Done’.Anything that we cannot measure will not yield many results, we have been hearing this for a long time. It does apply here as well. We can use burndown charts to measure how much work has been accomplished in an Epic. This also helps in predicting if the team is on track with the commitments. By keeping a watch on the Burndown chart, it becomes easy to manage the progress and blockers (if any) that the team is facing. This not only provides transparency to the system but also helps in building the trust for the team and the clients.How to identify Epics in AgileEpic is something which is a fairly large chunk of work and cannot be completed in one go. It is something which requires discussion and brainstorming so that it can be broken down further into smaller chunks.At the Epic level, we give rough estimates which can be in the form of T-shirt sizes, swags, points or any other method the team is comfortable with. The team can track the progress in an Epic through the Burndown chart which represents the progress and also reflects if there are any blockers.Benefits of EpicsEpics help in understanding the high-level requirement from the Stakeholder and what exactly is the need.It also helps in defining the scope of work which is in agreement with the client. Epics articulate efficiently about the final output what user needs.Epics help to track bigger thoughts in a product backlog without swamping it with multiple things. They allow establishing a hierarchy for the backlog items where the Epic represents the original idea often closely related to a particular outcome.It also helps in estimating how much time it will take to deliver. Epics are time and again used as placeholders for new views that have not been thought out completely, or whose full expansion has been postponed till essentially desirable.Epics are then evolved into split into multiple user stories that help Agile development teams effectively manage and groom their product backlog.Common Pitfalls in EpicThough there are many positive aspects of using the Epics in backlog management, a coin always has two sides, it has its pitfalls too! Sometimes, the teams can create confusions around the end deliverable from the Epic by just viewing them as more than just large user stories. This is deceptive when the team creates multifaceted tools to distinguish between Epics and user stories as well as creates far-reaching tools for chasing Epics separately from other backlog items.The teams may also try to estimate the Epics at a very high level though they might not have a clear picture of what is to be done. This increases the chances of ambiguity and it is very likely that the estimates will not be of any use as it will not serve any purpose in reporting.Finally, here we are, with the discussions around the Epics and how we can break it down. There is no fixed way to work on the Epic, it is all about what approach suit your needs. Again, it is all about the mindset and an approach we use to deal with the backlog. Epics are always fascinating to work with!User story is the unit of work defined in Scrum. When a Product Owner writes a user story for the customer’s requirements, it looks pretty simple at an initial stage. But, while working on that user story, all the related tasks tends to increase a lot that it is unable to fit in a week sprint. In such case, you need to break down such big user stories in epic and start slicing the epic further in smaller user stories. This approach can ease the efforts of Agile teams to get smaller but quality outcome in single sprint.

Scrum Epic: How to Split an Epic into Chunks in Agile?

11K
  • by Deepti Sinha
  • 25th Apr, 2019
  • Last updated on 07th Apr, 2021
  • 12 mins read
Scrum Epic: How to Split an Epic into Chunks in Agile?

Scrum has been a buzzword since a decade now, and why not, it has so many success stories, hey, I am not talking about the stories which mean requirements in Scrum but the actual stories of teams and the organizations practicing Scrum. Looks like, I just gave the hint of what I would be covering in my article today.

Yes, we will be talking about the requirements and how are they handled in Scrum. We will be talking about the Epic, so far, we have known Epic as a long narrative about the heroes of great historical or legendary significance performing courageous deeds but here we will touch upon a different side. Believe me, we are now going to talk about the Epics in Scrum!

What is an Epic in Agile?

In simple terms, Scrum Epic in Agile Methodology is a big chunk of work which can be divided into smaller user stories. An Epic can be spread across sprints and even across agile teams. An Epic can be a high-level description of what the client wants, and accordingly, it has some value attached to it. As we mentioned, an Epic is a high-level requirement, hence its scope can change over the course of time.

Epics are a helpful way to organize your work and to create a hierarchy. The idea is to break down the work into shippable pieces so that large projects can actually get done and you can continue to ship value to your customers on a regular basis. Epics help teams break their work down while continuing to work towards a bigger goal.- Atlassian

To explain it better, I would prefer taking a life example, let’s say, throwing a New Year party at your place can be an Epic requirement for you. To do so, you’ll need to organize your effort: from the biggest objectives down to the smallest details. You should be able to respond to change, report your progress, and stick to a plan. Once you are aware of the Epic, you can drill it down to create smaller tasks like creating a guest list, deciding on the menu, shopping grocery, decoration at home, shopping for the new year, etc.

Let’s see how we can create an Epic also called Scrum Epic User Story – In today’s era, almost all the tools that the team use have the capability to create an Epic, it is up to the product and the team, which type of Epic they want.

type of Epic in Agile

Some Epics cater to the reporting needs of management. Some Epics are created with a timeframe in mind, it should not be too long and too short, i.e. it should not take more than a couple of weeks to finish. But the widely used way is Storytelling. But, what is storytelling?

What is Storytelling?

Storytelling is a tool which helps you visualize the flow of events and how they corroborate back to the Epic. If you feel, your working pattern does not sit in any of the mentioned ways, create your own. Just remember, Agile is never prescriptive, it shows you the path and how you want to go over it, it’s your choice!

Coming back to our example, let us try to break it down in some doable components. It is really important to create chunks out of the Epic, so that the team can pick those up and deliver in a Sprint period. You can compare this activity with an art which requires precision in terms of size, priority, minimally interdependent etc. There are some pre-set ways of doing it, like:

Workflow break down

Here in our example, we talked about a project where we have a New Year party, let’s see how we can break it down in terms of workflow – Shopping can be a workflow where you need to get the items from outside. Another workflow can be cooking the food for the guests, the same way we can have decorating the house as another workflow. See how simple it gets to understand once you start connecting it with our lives! This also helps the Product Owner to easily prioritize the work, in our case, the Product Owner can be the host of the party. Some steps in the workflow may not be important right now and can be moved to later stages. Perhaps baking the cake takes on the priority as it takes time to cool down but the same can be done later as well.

Role-based breakdown

We can also break an Epic as per the role, there can be different roles in your product or a project, here we have a role of a ‘host’, ‘guest’ or you can have a role as a ‘cook’, you can even add the roles based on your product. In a role-based breakdown we talk in terms of that particular persona, e.g., for a host, ‘Driving a successful party’ can be one, for a guest, it can be, ‘Looking for some fun games at the party’.

Break Down around the timeline

Some of the Epics can be broken down according to the time it will take to complete. The team usually divides the work which can be accomplished in a sprint time. They take up the whole thing, break it into pieces and fit the pieces in different Sprints as per the dependency and priority.

As I have already mentioned, breaking down the user stories, requires consideration into several areas such as size, priority, interdependency, etc. Thus, there are two approaches for dividing the user stories– Horizontal and Vertical. It is like cutting the cake, if you cut it horizontally, you will get a single layer but if you take a vertical approach, you will get to have a bit of all the layers.

Understanding the basic differences between Epic, Story, and Task

We have been talking a lot about Epic and its breakdown, now let’s capture how it actually disintegrates further. We had an Epic “New Year Party”, this was a big chunk of work to be accomplished, we learned about the techniques to break it down. The result of the breakdown is termed Stories, which can be accomplished in a sprint time. The stories are further broken down into chunks called ‘Tasks’, the team pulls up the tasks and complete them, once all the tasks are completed the story is marked as ‘Completed’. The below figure explains Scrum Epic Vs User Story:

differences between Epic, Story, and Task In Agile

Thus,

Epic - A requirement that is just too big to deliver in a single sprint. Epics need to be broken into smaller deliverables (stories).

Story - A requirement that the business wants. It is something that is deliverable within a single sprint.

Tasks - The essentials of a story, these are the milestones to take the story to ‘Done’.

Anything that we cannot measure will not yield many results, we have been hearing this for a long time. It does apply here as well. We can use burndown charts to measure how much work has been accomplished in an Epic. This also helps in predicting if the team is on track with the commitments. By keeping a watch on the Burndown chart, it becomes easy to manage the progress and blockers (if any) that the team is facing. This not only provides transparency to the system but also helps in building the trust for the team and the clients.

How to identify Epics in Agile

Epic is something which is a fairly large chunk of work and cannot be completed in one go. It is something which requires discussion and brainstorming so that it can be broken down further into smaller chunks.

At the Epic level, we give rough estimates which can be in the form of T-shirt sizes, swags, points or any other method the team is comfortable with. The team can track the progress in an Epic through the Burndown chart which represents the progress and also reflects if there are any blockers.



Benefits of Epics

Benefits of Epics In Agile

  • Epics help in understanding the high-level requirement from the Stakeholder and what exactly is the need.
  • It also helps in defining the scope of work which is in agreement with the client. Epics articulate efficiently about the final output what user needs.
  • Epics help to track bigger thoughts in a product backlog without swamping it with multiple things. They allow establishing a hierarchy for the backlog items where the Epic represents the original idea often closely related to a particular outcome.
  • It also helps in estimating how much time it will take to deliver. Epics are time and again used as placeholders for new views that have not been thought out completely, or whose full expansion has been postponed till essentially desirable.
  • Epics are then evolved into split into multiple user stories that help Agile development teams effectively manage and groom their product backlog.

Common Pitfalls in Epic

  • Though there are many positive aspects of using the Epics in backlog management, a coin always has two sides, it has its pitfalls too! Sometimes, the teams can create confusions around the end deliverable from the Epic by just viewing them as more than just large user stories. This is deceptive when the team creates multifaceted tools to distinguish between Epics and user stories as well as creates far-reaching tools for chasing Epics separately from other backlog items.
  • The teams may also try to estimate the Epics at a very high level though they might not have a clear picture of what is to be done. This increases the chances of ambiguity and it is very likely that the estimates will not be of any use as it will not serve any purpose in reporting.
  • Finally, here we are, with the discussions around the Epics and how we can break it down. There is no fixed way to work on the Epic, it is all about what approach suit your needs. Again, it is all about the mindset and an approach we use to deal with the backlog. Epics are always fascinating to work with!

User story is the unit of work defined in Scrum. When a Product Owner writes a user story for the customer’s requirements, it looks pretty simple at an initial stage. But, while working on that user story, all the related tasks tends to increase a lot that it is unable to fit in a week sprint. In such case, you need to break down such big user stories in epic and start slicing the epic further in smaller user stories. This approach can ease the efforts of Agile teams to get smaller but quality outcome in single sprint.

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!!

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Suggested Blogs

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.The 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

Technology has made our lives easier. The number o... Read More

What Best Describes a Scrum Team?

We are living in an age where speed is the secret to success, and the one who gets the product out first is the winner. In this digital transformation world, organizations that have adopted Agile will succeed; as Agile is all about adaptability, quick delivery and customer focus.  Scrum, the most used Agile framework is all about addressing complex problems through adaptation and value creation. Scrum teams are at the core of a Scrum project. What best describes a Scrum team? Let’s attempt to answer this question.What is Scrum?A term borrowed from rugby; Scrum actually means ‘to huddle’. It signifies how rugby payers huddle together and work as a team in order to gain possession of the ball. Like its namesake in the sport of rugby, Scrum in Agile software development also signifies a process that brings together a team of individuals who work together under complex circumstances to create a product. The term was first used by researchers Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka in their 1986 research paper, "The New Product Development Game."“Scrum is a framework that encourages teams to learn through experiences, self-organize while working on a problem, and reflect on their wins and losses to continuously improve”—Atlassian Agile coachWhat is the Scrum Methodology?Scrum is a framework under the umbrella of agile development methodologies, along with Kanban, Extreme Programming, Feature-Driven Development, Crystal, and Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM).The Scrum methodology focuses on delivering products of the highest quality through effective collaboration between teams involved.  Scrum is based on the three pillars of empirical process control, which are transparency, inspection, & adaptationThe Scrum FrameworkScrum is an Agile methodology framework that follows an iterative and incremental approach for project management, and breaks down large projects into small chunks called epics and sprints.  Each sprint results in the creation of a product and the cumulative effort of all the sprints adds to the improvement of the overall end product. The Scrum framework encourages high level collaboration among team members which comes in handy in tough project situationsWhat is a Scrum Team?Scrum.org is what best describes a Scrum Team by defining it as ‘a framework within which people can address complex adaptive problems, while productively and creatively delivering products of the highest possible value.’ So, in essence Scrum teams are self-organized and highly productive teams that deliver quality products in a highly collaborative environment.  A Scrum team’s success is based on the Scrum values that they share. These are:Commitment:  Commitment is one of the hallmarks of Agile teams. Teams collaborate and work on a common goal through a high degree of communication and trust between them.Courage: Scrum teams must have the courage to fail. Fail fast is a benefit in Agile and Scrum as this helps them discover hidden faults and recover quickly. 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?

We are living in an age where speed is the secret ... Read More

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

Useful links