Scrum is a tool for product development that uses transparency and fast feedback. The Sprint Review is an open meeting during which the Scrum Team works with all interested stakeholders to look at the results of the Sprint. This meeting is usually dominated by a demonstration of the working increment of software. The stakeholders in attendance at this meeting freely provide feedback about the product which is then used by the Product Owner to update the Product Backlog. This feedback is critical to ensure that the team is staying on-track, that it is building the most valuable possible product features, and that the stakeholders are satisfied with the results. Missing this aspect of feedback makes Scrum only modestly better than non-agile approaches to doing work and should be considered a critical problem to fix as it undermines the whole point of doing Scrum.
Timeboxing is the practice of ending a meeting exactly on time regardless of the state of discussion or the desire of participants. In Scrum, the length of the Sprint Planning Meeting is determined by the length of the Sprint. For example, a one week long Sprint has a Sprint Planning Meeting that is timeboxed to two hours. It is acceptable for the meeting to take less time, but not more. A two week long Sprint has a Sprint Planning Meeting that is timeboxed to four hours. Keeping the Sprint Planning Meeting timeboxed has two beneficial effects: one, the team keeps the overhead dedicated to meetings to a relatively low level, and two, the team learns to do effective planning in a very short period of time. If the meeting is not timeboxed, then typically the team will keep planning until the plan is “done” which usually substantially eats into work time.
The Sprint Planning meeting is the start of the Sprint and is the opportunity for the Scrum Team to discuss what they will build during the Sprint and how they will build it. The focus of the meeting is on choosing Product Backlog Items (the goal for the Sprint) and then breaking those Backlog Items down into a detailed list of tasks (the Sprint Backlog). In Sprint Planning, choosing who will do the work is strongly discouraged. The value of Sprint Planning comes at three levels: first, setting a concrete goal helps with team cohesion and enables high-performance teamwork, second, the planning work helps set expectations with stakeholders and develop a team’s understanding of its own capacity, and third, the time set aside for planning gives the team a chance to think systematically about how to respond to feedback from the previous Sprint.
Each Sprint that a Scrum Team does is an opportunity for learning through “inspect and adapt”. If there is a break or a pause between Sprints, the Scrum Team may forget what it has learned or fail to apply that learning in a timely manner in the next Sprint. Of course, many Scrum Teams end a Sprint before a weekend and start their next Sprint at the beginning of the next week. This non-working break is normal and acceptable. However, a break between Sprints during which some or all Scrum Team Members do other work is not acceptable.
The length of a Sprint determines how quickly a Scrum Team can “inspect and adapt” to changing circumstances and learning. Scrum, as a tool for product development, sets an upper limit to the duration of a Sprint. In other words, Scrum sets a minimum for the frequency of the inspect and adapt cycle. This ensures that teams using Scrum get at least a certain minimum benefit. Scrum does not set a maximum frequency (minimum Sprint length). If a team has a five-week (or longer) Sprint, the benefits from Scrum rapidly drop off. In particular, you dramatically increase risks associated with short term planning, responding to change, team development, windows of business opportunity, and error detection. Having a cycle longer than four weeks is not Scrum and a team with such a cycle length should not claim to be using Scrum.
The Sprint is the fundamental unit of work when using Scrum. Any product development effort using Scrum is, therefore, divided into Sprints. Sprints are fixed in length so that the team has a predictable amount of time available to them to do work, which in turn assists in both short and long-term planning. By making every Sprint the same length, the Scrum Team learns its own capacity for work. If the Sprint length changes, the rhythm of Scrum is broken and a team will have to re-learn its capacity which usually takes at least a few Sprints. If Sprints are rarely the same length, then the Scrum Team will struggle to do any reliable planning.
I am starting a new series of brief articles that go through the details of the Scrum process, artifacts and roles. These articles will be one or two paragraphs each and will have a razor-sharp focus on the fine structure of Scrum. I have found that many people know the broad strokes, but are often missing important details. I hope you find these articles enjoyable and informative.
Many of you have heard that Scrum does not solve problems… it just exposes them! Mike Caspar has written a great in-depth article about why Scrum exposes problems (and why this is good!) with lots of great examples. I like his concluding remark:
Scrum does not have answers for not following Scrum.
Glen Wang, a former student of mine, has written another fantastic article about Scrum called “The Retrospective: Know Yourself and Adapt to the World“.
I love Glen’s philosophical take on things! This article is strongly recommended to any ScrumMasters, Process Facilitators and Agile Coaches out there!
The following story is designed to help get your teams thinking about the topic from the “How can we learn this together” approach.
There are many detailed books with different points of view about acceptance testing. I created this story as a way for teams to discuss this in a common language and figure out what works for them.
While you read this, I hope you see many similarities to the Agile Frameworks of your choice. Perhaps quizzing your team on how many they find might be fun? (a different topic).
Please don’t give me a hard time about the medical inconsistencies. I’m not a doctor and don’t have a medical degree. It’s just a story and is completely fictional.
Fade in….. The patient walks into a moderately lit room with an uncomfortable black chair that looks like it’s 20 years old, sitting next to a medical examination table. The patient sits on the little black chair to discover it also feels that way. He is going to be the patient for a long series of medical procedures to solve some medical problems. The patient knows it will take many surgeries to get to where he wants to be.
Surgeon: So, we’re going to remove your appendix this week. The team is anxious to get rolling.
Patient : I’m pretty nervous. I don’t really know what to expect and I know I have all these other operations that need to get done for me to be totally healthy.
Surgeon : Don’t worry. We have a really good team. We also want to make sure you are 100% satisfied with the work we do. We know that you want to get some cosmetic work done in the future and you have other important surgeries to do, but for now, let’s focus on the appendix removal, OK ?
Patient : Sure
Surgeon : We want to make sure we have a common understanding of what you want from us. So, we’re going to ask you a few questions OK ?…Can I get the team in here ?
Patient : Sounds good.
Surgeon : Well, for this to be considered a successful operation, what kind of things are you looking for? I already know, that to me at least, successful means two things. 1- The appendix is out and 2 – you don’t die during the surgery. Well, actually, the not dying part is part of every surgery we’ll do for you. We’ll assume that every surgery needs you to live.
Patient : I’m glad you said that!!! Phew.. I feel better already. And ya, I agree, it would really be a drag to do the surgery and not end up with the appendix out. I agree with both of those things.
Surgeon : We need to put a caveat. If we start and see that it’s impossible to finish for some other reason, we’re going to abort the surgery. We won’t continue if we can’t be successful.
Patient : Yes, that makes sense.
Surgeon : So, we’re agreed then. Let’s go ahead and get you prepped.
Anesthetist : Not so fast, I need to speak. We want to make sure you don’t have any allergic reactions. Have you ever gone under? Do you have any allergies ?
Patient : I’ve been under before, and have had no problems.
Anesthetist : Great. Let me just record that on our surgery card. We’ll need to know that we can make adjustments as we go if something bad happens. Is that OK ?
Patient : Ya, whatever you need to do.. Go ahead and switch to another chemical if you need to. I’ll be happy if you don’t kill me and you’ve done what you can if you notice an allergic reaction.
Patient : Since I’m on the topic, I would like to have a very small scar and not a big one. I am willing to pay extra for a smaller scar and therefore, for me, I won’t be happy unless the scar is small.
Surgeon : Well, that will make the operation harder and we might need to put off some work where we were prepping for your next surgery until a future date. The reason is that you can only be under a limited amount of time. It won’t cost you more because the price of the surgery is fixed. You might have to give something else up later. Can you live with that ?
Patient : Yes, if I have a big scar, I won’t be happy. I am willing to pay the extra over the long run and maybe I’ll have something less done later. I really don’t want big scars as we move forward.
Surgical Resident : Hold on, that’s way too subjective.. What might be big to you could actually be a really small scar. What does a small scar mean?
Here are some examples. Which on of these is considered small enough for you?
(shows a batch of photos).
Patient : I’d like it to be at least this small. (picks one).
Surgical Resident : OK, the scar will be under 30 CM in length and 1 CM in width. Does everyone feel we can do this and this?
Everyone : Yes
Surgeon : Anything else?
Patient and the rest of the team : No.
Surgeon : Well, then, we’re a go. Now that we all know what will be considered acceptable and a sign of success, let’s get prepped tomorrow morning first thing…
Fade in.. .the day of the surgery…. (beginning of the Sprint)… the patient is rolled in…
Doctor : OK team, let’s quickly review our acceptance criteria… Patient Alive, deal with allergic reaction and the patient expects a scar of under 30 CM and 1 CM in side. I expect everyone on the team to help me make sure we meet these requirements. Can everyone agree before I cut?
Team : Yes.
(Surgery is moving forward)
Surgical Resident : Doctor, if you do that just a little differently, perhaps you will be able to shave a few millimeters off the size of the scar. What do you think ?
Surgeon : Great idea.. Thanks for that. Why don’t you hold onto the medical gizmo while I do the next cut. Sure, that will make it easier for both of us to do this together.
Anesthetist : Hey guys, hold on, let’s just talk about this. if you do that, his blood pressure will go up and you risk killing him.
Surgeon : Wow, thanks. I doubt we would kill him, but we’d probably have to do some extreme surgery which would definitely give him a huge scar. Let’s think about this.
(discussion takes place)
Team : Glad we figured out how to do that. We can safely do that without causing any risks to the patient in the future. Let’s go for it…
Surgical Resident : Hey Doc, we’re almost half way through the time for the drugs and allocated time for the surgery. Can we all agree about how much work is left so we don’t keep him under too long ? OK, we have about another 2 hours of work do here. We’re still good. No need to worry. Let’s update the surgical status board to say “surgery progressing appropriately” so his family knows everything is on track.
Surgeon : OK, let’s finish up. Anything missing ?
Surgical Resident : Yes, don’t forget to take out that sponge.
Surgeon and Anesthetist : Yikes!
Surgeon : Thanks for catching that.
Anesthetist : No kidding. That wouldn’t be very professional and people probably wouldn’t think we’re very good at what we did if we left stuff undone and had to come back and fix it later.
(surgery is finished successfully and the patient gets rolled out).
… fade out
… fade in…. patient in recovery and the team comes to check on him.
Surgeon : So, the surgery went really well. You’re obviously alive, your appendix is gone. Only one last thing…..
(the doctor removes the bandage and shows the patient the size of the scar).
Patient : Wow, that’s exactly what I asked you for. It hurts a lot, is that normal? I wasn’t expecting that!
Surgeon : Yes, that’s normal. Once the swelling goes down, it will be even smaller.
Patient : Thanks Doc.
Surgeon : Thanks to the team. Everyone really worked hard to make this happen.
Patient : Ya, thanks team.
Surgeon : Oh, by the way, we had to correct an adhesion we discovered while working. Not to worry, we didn’t charge you extra. We charge for the amount of time we spend doing the surgery. We just fixed it while we were in the area. (yes, I can see the malpractice lawyers cringing.. this is just a story). We knew it wouldn’t extend the amount of time for the surgery and we knew you would be happier with the results.
Patient : Thanks. The team is amazing!
Surgeon : Is there anything you didn’t like or any special comments you’d like to give the team for the next surgery?
Patient : Ya, I wish you would have warned me about how much it would hurt.
Surgeon (whole team nods) : Thanks for that. We’ll consider that in the future.
…. fade out ….
… fade in …. Medical Team room.
Surgeon : Well, that went very well.. any comments about what could have gone better?
(some discussion happens).
Surgeon : Great, we’re agreed then. For the next surgery and all the ones we do in the future, let’s have an open discussion with the patient ahead of time about the expected amount of pain so it doesn’t cause them alarm when they come out of surgery. It will be a better experience for them and improve our professionalism.
…. fade out….
For a few years now I have been working with managers and executives to help them do Agile-compatible performance evaluations of their staff. The method that has been most successful is based on a tool that comes from the book Toyota Talent called the “Skills Matrix”. The basic approach follows these steps:
- Baseline the skills within a team for each team member.
- Set development goals and action items.
- Regularly review performance in relation to the development goals.
Of course, the details matter. The OpenAgile Center for Learning has published a brief overview of how to use the Skills Matrix and a convenient A0-size pdf that can be used as a template for a team’s Skills Matrix. I highly recommend using these to get started. If you are a manager, ask your ScrumMaster or Process Facilitator to arrange and facilitate a team workshop to do the initial population of the Skills Matrix, rather than doing it yourself. Once that is done you have a baseline and you should take regular digital photos of the team’s Skills Matrix for record-keeping and as a backup in case of disputes. You should also let the team know that you will be basing performance reviews on how they improve their skills.
The development goals that team members set then should be made such that every team member understands that they have a responsibility to diversify their own skill set and assist other team members in doing this. As a manager, you should review each team members’ goals for development and provide mentoring support when needed. At the end of a fixed period of time (quarterly is a reasonable period), you will review each team member’s development relative to the baseline and the goals set. Of course, normal guidance around performance (or lack thereof) can be given at these regular reviews.
I strongly recommend reading “Drive” by Daniel Pink as an important adjunct to understanding how to do performance reviews for individuals in an Agile environment. In particular, individual performance reviews should not be tied to bonuses. If bonuses are used at all, they should be measured and delivered purely at the team level or organization level without measuring individual contribution.
Every once in a while I’m reminded of the very important question: WHY?
If you are considering SCRUM, XP, Lean or any other Agile Framework, or if you are considering using OpenAgile which is an Open Learning System, you will be changing the organization.
Many people think they can do “Agile in a bubble” and therefore not interact with the rest of the organization. You will likely find that you will quickly run into obstacles to using the Framework.
Just the iterative process alone will change the way stakeholders interact with teams, meeting rooms are scheduled, vacation schedules, communication requirements, team spaces and/or seating, the responsibilities of stakeholders, and even the interactions between team members and other departments. Because of this, working towards Agility WILL change your organization.
You may start out with an aggressive framework such as XP(Extreme Programming), or something a little more gentle such as Kanban or Lean (which let you start out as you are and visualize your process). However, please don’t kid yourself; you will eventually need to change the way things get done in the company.
Whether you are the OpenAgile Growth Facilitator, a Scrum Master trying to introduce Agile from the grass-roots, or if you are the CEO or CIO trying to introduce change from that level, you will eventually need to address the WHY for the change.
Managers and employees alike need to know why they are being asked to leave their comfort zones. In some cases they will be going against everything they have learned in the past about people management or how they should work. They need to know the reason.
Whatever level you are in at your company, please be ready to explain why you are making the change to an Agile Environment. Something like “to be more efficient”, isn’t really going to cut it.
- Is it to be more competitive against other companies breaking into our market and you need to change quickly to stave them off? To give this message, you would need to let people know that you are concerned about this. This is part of the Transparency of Agile. If you know this, but are not willing to pass this on to your managers or teams, you will have struggles when managers don’t know why you are changing their environments.
- Is it to stop the high level of turnover in your company ? You will be changing to a more team-focused environment which might seriously change the way Project Management or even H.R. does things. For this also, you will need to explain your changes to help you get support.
I could think of many other reasons. You should have your OWN reasons.
If you started an adoption or transformation a while back, it’s a good idea to restate this every once in a while (if even for yourself). It will remind you why you are continuing to improve and learn every iteration.
Asking yourself once in a while will also allow you to improve your message which will likely change slightly over time as the market and your environment changes.
Please, go home TONIGHT and ask yourself WHY are we transitioning or continuing to work towards being more agile. You will need to answer this for others more than once as you continue on your journey.
If the answer to yourself is “this is our last chance to make sure we don’t disappear as a company”, that revelation is a good one as well, and you will know why you need to stand strong on the changes you are making. Either way, it all starts with the same question.
Please make sure you always know the answer to the question “Why?“.
Mike Caspar (who sometimes contributes here too), has written an excellent article on a method for Agile Teams to gather data that could be used for performance reviews.
I recently had a revelation about the Title “Scrum Master” and why it seems to be so confusing in some companies, especially those that are moving from Command and Control to an Agile Environment.
I was observing the activities of a new team that did not have a Scrum Master but were trying to use the SCRUM Framework. The company had unfortunately not added this role in their new SCRUM team(s). The reasons why are not important. Let’s just say, they now have those roles.
When the Scrum Master was selected, some issues showed up over a perception of that person getting a “promotion” to a management type position. They were now the “Master of the Team” (or so the perception was).
I managed to help that team out by simply reminding them the intention is that the Scrum Master role is as a Master of SCRUM, not a Master of the Team.
There are some management type abilities to be a Scrum Master for sure, but they are more directed to interfacing with the outside world and removing obstacles for the team. There are some management skills required to be able to have the confidence to keep the rules of Scrum and push back and deal with different levels within the organization.
Remember, the word is SCRUM Master, not TEAM Master, Team lead, Project manager, etc.
Of course, changing the order of the words would be inappropriate, but perhaps explaining the distinction to others might help clear up some of the confusion for your teams.
The term is SCRUM Master
Ken Schwaber, the founder of Scrum, has a blog. In it, someone mentioned that Scrum is changing. Ken responded:
If you change the Scrum framework you just simply aren’t using Scrum and are probably canceling some of its most important benefits.
Thank you Ken! I wholeheartedly agree. Every CSM class I teach, I emphasize the complete nature of Scrum as a single tool, not a collection of tools. Learning Scrum is about learning the tool, not learning how to pick and choose pieces of a tool. Let’s explore this metaphor of Scrum as a tool.
Consider a hammer. A hammer is ideally suited for pounding nails into wood. It has two parts: a head and a handle. If you take the parts and use them separately, they can still be used for pounding nails into wood… but they are very ineffective compared to the hammer (although better than using your bare fist). It is non-sensical to decompose the hammer and try to use the pieces separately. However, a hammer is not suited to other purposes such as driving screws or cutting wood. It’s perfection is not just in its form, but also in its proper application. A hammer works through a balanced combination of leverage and momentum.
Scrum is like a hammer. It has parts (daily Scrum, Sprints, ScrumMaster, etc.), but taking the parts and trying to use them separately is… you guessed it… non-sensical. The parts of Scrum combine to be an extremely effective tool for new product development. Just like a hammer, there are things you wouldn’t want to do with Scrum such as manufacturing or painting a wall. (We might not all agree on the limits of the use of Scrum… that’s something for another article.) Scrum works through a combination of pressure on the organization and “inspect and adapt” (continuous improvement).
Please. Don’t modify Scrum. If you must change things about Scrum, please stop calling it Scrum.