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Lessons Learned from Agile Transformations: Part 14

Fourteenth in a Fifteen Part Series

· Project Management,SDLC,Agile,Scrum,Chad Greenslade

By Chad Greenslade

I have often been asked about my lessons learned in delivering Agile transformations. Below is the fourteenth in a fifteen part series examining my lessons learned while instituting Agile concepts & practices. I hope that these lessons help you on your journey to Agile nirvana.

Lesson 14: Execute Sprint Zero (0)

As with any other project, you’ll want to ensure you have all materials procured, all contracts signed, environments built, tools selected, etc. While this is occurring, your Product Owner should continue writing and grooming User Stories.

Sprint Zero (0) is when all preparation work takes place to ensure your team can begin writing software free from obvious impediments such as environmental or procurement constraints. To ensure your team can begin work on schedule, ensure your Sprint Zero (0) accomplishes the following:

  • Architecture: Once you have the Product Roadmap defined, an Architect is then able to define major system components such as application, database, and web servers, environments, programming languages, software development kits to be used, etc.
  • Contracts: If the product’s architecture requires you to contract with new vendors, you’ll need to get any legal documents drafted and signed during Sprint Zero (0), if they have not been done already.
  • Materials Procurement: If the product’s architecture requires you to procure materials, procurement activities must be completed during Sprint Zero (0).
  • Determine the Sprint Duration: Most teams have two (2)-week Sprints.  A Sprint should never be longer than four (4) weeks and no shorter than one (1) week.  If a project has significant risk, it is best to have shorter sprints.  The shorter the sprint, the less amount of time elapses between the sprint inspection activities, which allows management to course correct much faster.  You always want to find out sooner rather than later if your project is going “off the rails.”
  • Release Plan: Once the Sprint duration is determined, the initial release plan can be developed.  Using the Product Roadmap, lay out the Features, Themes, and Epics over a three-to-six month period.  Your Release Plan will now be connecting the Product Roadmap and the Sprints themselves.  A Release Plan can either be built from a feature or a schedule perspective.  A feature-based roadmap determines those features that make the most sense to release together, whereas a schedule-based roadmap picks a date in the future and then determines which features can be delivered by that date.  If you know that features contain specific risks, it is a good idea to attempt to release those first.
  • Determine the Team’s Beginning Velocity: Since this is a transformation initiative, your team will have no historical information from which to base its Velocity.  The Normalized Estimation Technique provides a one-time method for getting a team’s Velocity defined such that it can informatively pull User Stories from the Product Backlog into the Sprint Backlog.  For every full-time developer and tester on the team, give the team 8 points (adjust for part-timers).  Subtract 1 point for every team member vacation day and holiday.  Find a small User Story that would take about a half-day to develop and a half-day to test and validate, and call it a "1".  Estimate every other Story relative to that one using the Fibonacci sequence.  Never look back and do not worry about recalibrating.  Remember, a team's velocity is inherent to the team, and is not transferable to another team.

I do not recommend agile training be undertaken during Sprint Zero (0), but if there are members or your team that are unfamiliar with Agile, the training must be completed during Sprint Zero (0).