"Greatness can't be imposed; it has to come from within. But it does live within all of us." - Jeff Sutherland
Sprint, sprint reviews, stand-ups, and retrospectives are the essential processes that drive the success of your scrum teams. They form the backbone of the agile scrum approach, providing structure, collaboration, and continuous improvement. These processes are not mere formalities but rather powerful tools that enable your teams to deliver maximum output.
Scrum rituals, ceremonies, or events are essential to the scrum framework. The primary purpose of scrum rituals is to provide the necessary structure for teams to work together effectively. They are crucial for maintaining a rhythm of work, promoting open communication, ensuring continuous improvement, and delivering maximum customer value.
Scrum is based on the principle of inspecting and adapting. Each ceremony allows the team to study a particular aspect of the project (work done, upcoming work, team dynamics, etc.) and adjust their plans accordingly. The ceremonies, from sprint planning to sprint retrospectives, promote transparency among the team members and stakeholders. Everyone has a clear understanding of what is being worked on and why.
A sprint is a short, time-boxed period during which a scrum team works to complete a set amount of work. Sprints are at the very heart of Scrum and Agile methodologies. It is a collaborative event to determine who, what, and how much work we can accomplish in the upcoming period.
Choosing the right work items for a sprint is a collaborative effort between the product owner, scrum master, and development team. The product owner discusses the objective that the sprint should achieve and the product backlog items that, upon completion, would accomplish the sprint goal.
The team then creates a plan for how they will build the backlog items and get them "done" before the end of the sprint. The work items chosen and the procedure for how to get them done are called the sprint backlog. After a lot of sprint planning, the team is ready to start work on the sprint backlog, taking items from the "backlog" to "progress" and "done."
During a sprint, the team checks in during the daily scrum or standup about how the work is progressing. These meetings aim to surface any blockers and challenges impacting the team's ability to deliver the sprint goal.
Ensure the entire team fully understands and is aligned with the sprint goal and the metrics for measuring success. This is crucial for ensuring that everyone is working towards a common objective.
Quality: Have a well-organized backlog that prioritizes tasks and manages dependencies effectively. This can be a significant challenge, and if not handled properly, it can disrupt the entire process.
Capture: After making a decision or creating a plan, it is essential to document that information using your preferred project management or collaboration tool. Everyone will be able to access the decision and its justification later on in this way.
Simplicity: Avoid taking on a large amount of unfamiliar work or carrying a high level of risk. Instead, break down complex or uncertain tasks into smaller, more manageable stories. It is also acceptable to defer some work to the next sprint if necessary.
Dependency: Be cautious about starting work that relies on dependencies that cannot be completed, such as tasks assigned to another team, pending designs, or awaiting legal sign-off.
Adaptive: If team members express concerns, whether they are related to velocity, inaccurate estimations, or any other unexpected situations, do not disregard them to stay "on track." Address the issue as soon as possible and make adjustments when needed.
A sprint review is a time for the entire team to demonstrate their hard work, including designers, developers, and the product owner. The group gathers around a desk for informal demos and describes the work they've completed during that iteration. It's an opportunity to ask questions, try new features, and give feedback. Celebrating the team and everyone's accomplishments during an iteration is integral to building an agile team.
Sprint reviews are often held on Friday afternoons when everyone in the office is winding down before the weekend. It's important to note that sprint reviews differ from retrospectives, so host the study after an iteration but before your retrospective.
Sprint reviews are crucial for the health and morale of the team. They provide an opportunity for team building, and the review is not adversarial or an exam. It's a collaborative event where team members demo their work, field questions, and receive feedback.
Scrum sprint reviews can often reveal surprising factors that may not have been initially considered. To manage these surprises, the Scrum Team must maintain flexibility, regularly communicate with all stakeholders, and continuously learn and adapt based on the insights gained during the sprint review. Some of these factors include:
Learning: Sprint reviews can lead to unexpected learning about the product, customer needs, or team's capability, which may influence future planning.
Market: One of the surprises could be the constantly shifting market conditions. These changes may require the product owner to add, delete, or change priorities.
Stakeholder: The feedback from stakeholders during the sprint review could bring up unexpected issues or insights, affecting the direction of future work.
Delivery: The product increment presented at the end of the sprint may differ from initial expectations due to unforeseen technical challenges or new insights gained during the sprint.
Sometimes, the sprint review's ineffectiveness can also be a surprise. This could be due to insufficient preparation, unclear communication, or not involving the right people.
The daily stand-up is a brief meeting held each day to discuss progress and identify obstacles. Participants are encouraged to stand during the session to keep it short and comfortable.
This meeting's flavor is unique to each team, but you'll want to have each team member answer simple questions to generate structure.
*What did I work on yesterday and today?*
*What impending issues or blockers are holding me back?*
These questions serve to highlight progress and flag team impediments. Sharing individual progress strengthens the team and keeps everyone excited about the team's overall contribution to the organization. The unit can maintain its momentum and contribute positively to the organization by reinforcing the daily sharing of personal successes and plans. Use the time management matrix of Covey, author of The Habits of Highly Effective People.
This popular Eisenhower matrix categorizes tasks based on their level of importance and urgency. Covey's matrix consists of four quadrants. Ask each member of your daily standup of direct reports to take ownership of articulating where their impediments raised can be plotted on this matrix. Guide them to keep their impending issues out of quadrant 1 and proactively anticipate on them from the second quadrant (important, not urgent).
Using the matrix during scrums ensures that you prioritize tasks that require your urgent attention and are focused on completing important tasks that lead to successful project outcomes. This approach allows you to spend more time on creative problem-solving activities rather than dealing with urgent but less important tasks, such as meetings that don't add any value to the project or addressing noisy but not-important email threads.
"Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important." - Stephen Covey
Incorporating this matrix into your daily scrums provides a transparent overview of the tasks to be accomplished within a specific time period. This approach also endorses the understanding of the importance of balancing urgent and necessary tasks with unimportant and unnecessary tasks. Apply creative peer pressure to keep your direct report aiming and engaged in quadrant 2.
Timeslot: Choose a time that works for everyone. A typical example is between 9:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. (in your local time zone). This time gives everyone space to get acclimated to the day and doesn't require everyone to be an early riser. For teams across different geographies, choose a time that works for everyone.
Efficiency: Time your stand-ups to keep everyone focused and to keep the stand-up efficient. Rotate who keeps time to make sure everyone is accountable and invested. Limit the duration of stand-ups to 15 minutes at most. Have a minor team? Make it a practice to keep the standup even shorter.
Play: Consider tossing a ball between team members to keep everyone engaged. No one can throw the ball to someone beside them or who has already gone—no zoning out. If you haven't tried the technique, it's a great way to keep everyone involved.
Retrospectives are an excellent opportunity for your agile team to evaluate itself and create a plan to address future improvement areas. The retrospective embraces the ideal of continuous improvement while protecting against complacency by stepping outside the work cycle to reflect on the past.
Atmosphere: The retrospective provides a safe place to focus on introspection and adaptation. For retrospectives to be successful, there needs to be a supportive atmosphere that encourages all team members to contribute and be open.
Attendance: Every team member should attend the retrospective, with a facilitator leading the discussion. The facilitator can be the scrum master product owner, or it can rotate throughout the team. Feel free to pull in designers, marketers, or anyone who contributed to the current sprint or iteration.
Goal: Evaluate how the last sprint, iteration, or work item went, specifically around the team dynamic, processes, and tools. Articulate and rank the things that went well and those that did not. Create and implement a plan for improving the way the team works.
Format: There are several ways to format your retrospective, but here's the usual outline: Create a short list of things that worked well and could be improved. Prioritize this list in order of importance based on team consensus. Discuss ways and tactics to improve the top two items. Focus on outcomes, not actions, people, or the past. Create a concise plan, actionable ideas with owners, and due dates.
Timing: Plan to spend at least thirty minutes and up to an hour, depending on how long the sprint is and how much you have to cover. For agile teams working in the traditional two-week sprint, the retrospective should occur at the end of every sprint.
The importance of sprint rituals cannot be overstated. These rituals, including sprint planning, daily stand-ups, sprint reviews, and retrospectives, ensure maximum efficiency, productivity, and value delivery for your team's projects. Following these rituals can foster a structured approach to project management and product development, promoting open communication, transparency, and collaboration among team members.
Through these ceremonies, you create a rhythm of work that allows you to continuously inspect and adapt your plans based on feedback and insights gained during each sprint. This promotes a culture of continuous improvement and learning, empowering your team to deliver the best possible outcomes. Regularly communicating with all stakeholders and incorporating user feedback into your scrum processes ensures that you stay aligned with the needs and expectations of your customers.
By embracing the principles of continuous improvement and learning, you can break down prominent stories and leave out work that cannot be completed within the sprint. This lets you focus on delivering customers the most valuable features and functionality. By regularly reflecting on your progress and areas for improvement during retrospectives, you can create a plan to address these areas and drive continuous growth and success.
Incorporating sprint rituals into your team's workflow improves the efficiency and effectiveness of your projects and fosters a culture of collaboration, innovation, and resilience. By embracing these rituals, you are assuming the opportunity to learn, adapt, and deliver results.
As a CTO ask yourself the following:
How can you ensure the team fully embraces and follows the sprint rituals to maximize efficiency and productivity?
What strategies can you implement to foster a culture of continuous improvement and learning within the team?
How can you effectively communicate the importance of sprint rituals to stakeholders and ensure their support and involvement?
Your takeaways from this chapter:
The importance of sprint rituals in ensuring maximum efficiency, productivity, and value delivery.
Foster a structured approach to project management and product development.
Promote open communication, transparency, and collaboration among team members.
Continuously inspect and adapt plans based on feedback and insights gained during ceremonies.
Embrace the principles of continuous improvement and learning.
Regularly communicate with all stakeholders and incorporate user feedback into Scrum processes.
Empower the team to break down prominent stories and leave out high-risk work.
Address concerns and challenges promptly and recalibrate when necessary.
Maintain flexibility and adapt to changing market conditions.
Celebrate individual and team successes, fostering a positive and agile team culture.