Agile is the buzz word around! While it is advocated as a modern project management methodology, agile is just a smarter way to accomplish projects. Scrum, the most used agile methodology is an adaptive, iterative and incremental way of executing projects.
Scrum uses series of Sprints (time boxed iterative developments) to deliver incremental value to the customer in the form of functional product. Sprints are time boxed set of activities which are planned and executed within the fixed time frame normally ranges between two to six weeks. With two weeks being most common. A shippable product is released at the end of each Sprint. Each Sprint consists of events i.e. Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, Sprint Review and Sprint Retrospective. Each event has its own specific purpose, goal, focus and is time boxed.
Sprint Planning is done at the start of each Sprint and for a typical 2 weeks Sprint this event is time boxed normally to 4 hours. During the planning, the Team pulls the high value user stories from the ordered product backlog, understand from the Product Owner and estimate the effort needed to convert user stories to potential shippable functionalities in the form of story points through planning poker, t- shirt sizing or bucket size in a round robin method. The idea is to get everyone’s estimate without any biased. Then Team investigates each estimate and agree to the one that everyone commits.
Team decides the user stories to take based on their capacity (also called Team velocity or Sprint velocity) and Product Owner have no control over how much the Team can pull, however Product Owner decides the priority based on the value of user stories. Product Owner along with the Team defines the definition of done (DOD) in the form of acceptance criteria based on which the functionality will be reviewed in Sprint Review. The idea is to deliver exactly to meet the acceptance criteria defined in definition of done. Agile is not about doing more, it is about not doing what is not required.
This event is facilitated by Scrum Master to enable the Team to take correct decisions in order to have a successful Sprint. The outcome of this exercise is the Sprint backlog which the Team commits to achieve in the Sprint duration.
Sprint is where the actual work is done. The Team based on their understanding of the required functionality works on the user stories and designs, builds and test each functionality to meet the acceptance criteria defined in definition of done. The Team is committed to deliver the Sprint backlog and it is the responsibility of the Scrum Master to protect them from any deviations or clearing any impediments that would otherwise affect the performance and speed of the Team to achieve the Sprint goal.
It is apparent that Product Owner is not involved during the Sprint and cannot change the Sprint backlogs. Once Sprint backlog is committed no changes are allowed. However, Scrum Master can terminate and restart the Sprint if he faces technical or business environment changes in consultation with Product Owner
This event is conducted daily to keep track of the work done. This event is usually done at the start of the day, for 15 minutes and in a standing posture as it is supposed to be short with very specific questions. The Scrum Master facilitates this meeting and the Product Owner is not expected to be part of it, and if at all he is not a contributor in any way. Each member of the Team must answer the following questions.
1. What have I done yesterday (or from the last scrum)
2. What I am going to do today (or until the next scrum)
3. What are my impediments
Scrum Master take these inputs in order to facilitate the Team to clear impediments and achieve Sprint goal.
In this event Product Owner and/or other stakeholders reviews the work done by the Team, typically in the form of completed functionalities based on the definition of done. Team gives demo of functionalities to the Product Owner who represents the customer or customer itself where the Product Owner either accepts the functionalities or gives feedback or asks for changes to it. Any change becomes a part of the next Sprint or goes back to the product backlog based on the priority. Any misalignment against the acceptance criteria is re-estimated and becomes a part of next Sprint. Typically for two weeks Sprint this event is about 4 hours duration.
Product Owner is responsible to maintain the product backlog relevant and latest to the changing requirement of the customer and revise the priorities of the functionalities based on value. This is called product backlog grooming. This way the Team and Product Owner align themselves to the changing environments. The essence of Agile is to embrace change and not to defend it.
This is the event where the Team along with the Scrum Master retrospect their work in the last Sprint, viz. what worked, what didn’t, what need to be changed. In this event any technical issues, potential impediments, planning and estimate errors are identified, and next course of actions are decided. It allows the Team to focus on its overall performance and identify strategies for continuous improvement. It is evident that Team’s planning and commitment stabilizes anywhere between 2-3 Sprints as the Team refines their way of working.
Again, Scrum Master facilitates this event and makes sure the improvements and decisions are implemented in the subsequent Sprints. Typically for two weeks Sprint this event is also about 4 hours duration.
Agile uses guidelines that focuses on value, change adoption, customer engagement, teamwork; and early and incremental delivery of functional product. Every year more and more companies are switching to agile project management. However, most face difficulties in transition due to lack of understanding and improper tools. Advantages of Agile are best realized when used with a suitable tool.
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