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Lessons Learned from Agile Transformations: Part 15

Fifteenth 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 fifteenth 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 15: Execute Subsequent Sprints

With Sprint Zero (0) in your rear-view mirror, you’re now ready to execute the Sprints required to build your product.

A Sprint typically begins with a two-hour, time-boxed Product Backlog “grooming” session. Since your Product Roadmap is complete, your Product Owner should already be writing User Stories and appending them to relevant Epics. User Story “grooming” is a continuous process executed by the Product Owner throughout the product’s lifecycle. Grooming sessions are formal meetings that give the delivery team the chance to ask questions of the Product Owner about their User Story. Grooming sessions are supposed to occur during the Sprint, however, it is not uncommon for grooming sessions to be held in Sprint 0 or earlier. Grooming sessions are attended by the Product Owner, anyone else the Product Owner deems as required, and the entire delivery team. It may not be possible to discuss every User Story in the Product Backlog, therefore the team must endeavor to review this highest priority User Stories first; those the Product Owner would like to see released first. Ahead of the grooming session, the Product Owner must provide draft acceptance criteria for those stories with the highest priority. During the grooming session, the Product Owner will explain the User Story to the delivery team and participate in clarifying discussion. During the course of the grooming session, user stories may be split and / or new stories written. For each user story discussed, the acceptance criteria are agreed and the Product Owner confirms the story’s priority. If required, the Scrum Master will schedule additional grooming sessions to ensure that at the very least, the stories expected to be included within the Sprint are reviewed. Again, the goal is not to review every story in the product backlog, but rather to review just enough stories to fill the Sprint backlog.

Day 1 of your Sprint must include the Sprint Planning ceremony. I recommend a two-part Sprint Planning session with both sessions time-boxed at two (2) hours each. Sprint Planning sessions are attended by the Product Owner, anyone else the Product Owner deems as required, and the entire delivery team. The Product Owner delivers a list of “candidate” User Stories that he / she wishes to have solutioned (ideally based on the product’s roadmap and priority). The Product Owner verifies the priority of “candidate” User Stories, Acceptance Criteria is finalized and agreed, and Story Points are assigned. Lastly, with an understanding of the team’s velocity, the delivery team will “pull” the Stories from the Product Backlog into the Sprint backlog that they believe they can deliver within the sprint.

Part 2 of the Sprint Planning session should also occur on Day 1 of your Sprint. The Product Owner is not required to attend Part 2, but the entire delivery team must be in attendance. Tasks for “pulled” User Stories are reviewed, augmented, finalized, and confirmed by the delivery team. Story Points are confirmed for each Story. The Scrum Master compares total story points for “pulled” User Stories against the team's velocity. The delivery team will pull additional User Stories or push lower priority User Stories out of the Sprint. Final User Stories are committed to the Sprint by the delivery team, and the delivery team develops their “Working Agreements”.

With Sprint Planning complete, the Daily Stand-Up meetings will begin. Ideally, the Product Owner and the entire delivery team attend the Daily Standup, however, only personnel tasked with actually completing work are mandatory. The meeting is time-boxed to a maximum of fifteen (15) minutes and the standard stand-up questions are asked by the Scrum Master of all team members. A Kanban board for the Sprint is displayed showing User Story Tasks as they progress through the statuses: “To-Do”, “In-Progress”, "Blocked", "Cancelled", and “Done”.

At some point towards the end of the Sprint, the delivery team will conduct a demonstration of the user stories completed. Demonstrations are attended by the Product Owner, anyone else the Product Owner deems as required, and the entire delivery team. The Scrum Master will explain to the audience what the team committed to for this sprint and why those stories were selected. The Scrum Master will spend a few minutes going over what the sprint metrics are and what they mean (e.g. the burn down chart and the team's velocity). The Scrum Master will identify any stories that were not finished and why. The delivery team will demonstrate to the Product Owner the shippable code and functionality that has been developed during the Sprint. The Product Owner is encouraged to provide feedback, suggestions, and ask for changes to what has been done. The Scrum Master will begin drafting applicable User Stories for the Product backlog based on the Product Owner's comments. Finally, the Product Owner should give the delivery Team a view into what's coming in the next sprint, and show the updated roadmap, if available.

Not every Sprint will result in a release into a production environment for general availability, but every Sprint will result in working, shippable code. Your release plan will define when a release occurs, whereas Sprint Planning defines what work will be completed in a given Sprint. At the end of the Sprint, the delivery team must release their shippable code into appropriate repositories and / or environments. This activity may include the submission of relevant change control (a.k.a. request for change) records and obtaining management authorization to release.

The final ceremony that occurs during a sprint is the Retrospective. Ideally this is completed on the last day of the Sprint. The entire delivery team must attend. The Product Owner’s attendance is not required and may be discouraged, depending on the team dynamic. The retrospective is when the delivery team will examine themselves, their processes and tools, and make changes so they are a healthier team. It is a private opportunity for the team to celebrate their work and inspect and adapt their own processes and interactions. Some key questions to answer are:

(1) What did we do well in this sprint?

(2) What could we improve on in the future?

(3) What will we commit to improving in the next sprint?

The Scrum Master will capture discussion points from these questions and ensure they are implemented in the next Sprint.