Agile Scrum Story Size for Newbies

An Easy Way to Estimate Agile Scrum Story Size for Your First Sprint

Your team is new to estimating Agile Scrum Story Size. You planned for your first release as discussed in Why Your Scrum Team Needs a Release Plan. Your Product Owner wrote Stories that meet the criteria described in Write Better Stories and Why Every Story should have Acceptance Criteria. You have candidate Stories for your first Sprint Backlog.

You are ready for your first Story Grooming Session.

Two activities occur at Story Grooming:

  1. Review Stories for clarity, to ensure everyone understands the requirement.
  2. Assign a relative Size to each Story, so your team can begin tracking Velocity.

Your team should be able to decide whether or not the Story makes sense. However, deciding relative Story Size often causes consternation for new teams. Most teams are happy to move away from estimating work in hours. But, when you are new to the concept of relative sizing, it’s hard to know where to start.

Some are taught to use tee shirt sizing: Small, Medium, Large and Extra Large. But, that doesn’t quite help assign a numbered-size, does it?

Many are taught to assign Story Points based on the Fibonacci Sequence: 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21 … We are taught that each number in the sequence represents twice the level of effort as the previous number. But, that doesn’t really help either.

In Agile Scrum, we learn that accepted Stories must be validated as ready to move to Production. Therefore, the level of effort for each Story must take into account the complete development lifecycle, from design to spec to code to code review to quality assurance testing.

Start with the Development Lifecycle

At GSD Mindset, we teach newbies to initially size Stories using the Fibonacci Sequence based on their gut feel for the level of effort required to complete development lifecycle aspect of each Story.

We recommend the following guidelines to help new teams get started:
Size the Story based on the effort it takes for 1 Developer and Tester to complete it.

For a two-week Sprint:

If the team thinks the Story takes 1-2 days of effort, assign 1 or 2 Story Points
If the team thinks the Story takes about a half week of effort, assign 3 Story Points
If the team thinks the Story takes about a week of effort, assign 5 Story Points
If the team thinks the Story could take the entire Sprint, assign 8 Story Points

If a story is larger than 8 Story Points, divide it into multiple Stories. We do not recommend bringing a Story larger than 8 Story Points into your two-week Sprint.

Use an easy method for group estimating like Planning Poker to reach consensus.

When discussing individual estimates, always question extreme high and low estimates. We all know that some requirements are quick to code, but complicated to test. If the team has trouble deciding, error on the side of caution, especially for your first Sprint.

If the Story is not well understood or cannot be sized, 3 things should happen:

  1. Update the Story and Acceptance Criteria to be clear
  2. Break down large Stories greater than 8 Story Points into smaller Stories
  3. Place vague Stories back into the Backlog for refinement

How Many Story Points for Your First Sprint?

If our initial sizing method dictates that it takes a Developer and Tester an entire two-week Sprint to complete an 8-Point Story, we recommend the team bring in 8 Story Points per Developer. For example, if the team has 1 Tech Lead (who doesn’t code), 4 Developers, 2 Quality Assurance Testers and 1 Business Systems Analyst, bring in 32 Story Points.

Then Develop Your Own Method of Story Point Estimates

After one or two Sprints, review the accuracy of your Story sizes (you’ll only be right half the time) and use the Stories the team feels accurately represent a 1, 2, 3, 5 and 8 as examples during Story Grooming going forward.

Don’t overthink it.

And please, please, please don’t estimate in hours.

I’d be interested to learn how your team got started,

Cynthia Kahn

Cynthia Kahn

Cynthia Kahn
CynthiaK@gsd.guru  503.799.5500

 

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Core Project Management Functions must Continue after Transition to Scrum

Who on your Scrum Team should Perform these Core Project Management Functions?

You’ve convinced your bosses to let you introduce Agile Scrum into your company and you’ve picked your pilot project. You gathered your team, trained them, you’ve enlisted an enthusiastic Product Owner, and now you are ready to rock.

As you get a couple of Sprints under your belt, you begin to realize some Project Management functions that were performed by a PM in the waterfall world may still be needed. What are they and who performs them now that you’re Agile?

  • Financial Reporting: How much will this feature set cost?
  • Risk Management: Who tracks risks and issues?
  • Documentation: Do we still need documentation and if so, who writes it?

Here at GSD Mindset, we have some practical ideas on how to approach this.

Financial Reporting

There are very few organizations that give you a pile of money and tell you to go have fun. Today, most companies want an accounting of how funds have been allocated. In the waterfall world, Project Managers report out the status of the monthly budget, using techniques like Earned Value to calculate where you are in relation to money spent.

Now that you’re Agile, good Project Management dictates that you still need to keep a financial accounting. In fact, many companies require careful accounting as a legal requirement. It’s not so hard to track and forecast expenses when you transition to Scrum.

After a few Sprints, you use Velocity to determine how many Story Points you can complete in a Sprint. If you know your monthly team budget, you can also calculate the average cost per Story Point. Multiply that cost to the estimated Story Points for the remaining Stories in your backlog for each Feature or Epic and now you have a rough idea of the amount of funding required to complete the remainder of the project.

Keeping on top of the financials will go a long way toward keeping management happy.

Who should track financials? Since calculating cost is similar to calculating Velocity, we believe this is a task best performed by the Scrum Master.

Risk Management

With Scrum, you should have less risk, because you deliver more frequently to customers, but that does not mean you can quit tracking and analyzing risk when you transition to Scrum. There are many ways to identify and track risks now that you are Agile. I find MindTools article on Risk Analysis and Risk Management helpful. 

Risk analysis and assessment should be a team effort. The Scrum Master should lead the discussion during Sprint Planning and conduct a quick checkup at Standup half-way through the Sprint.

Check out our blog post Reduce Risk on a Scrum Team for more ideas.

Documentation

Most software folks are loathe to create documentation. This goes for writing User Guides and Specs all the way down to including Comments in lines of code. Documentation is an important tool to help future users understand what it’s all about. Documentation is a necessary Evil for those of us who remain in a world where our projects are audited. Even in Scrum, we follow a process and our implementation of that process may be audited.

The level of documentation should be decided at the beginning of the project. There are many tools to help you decide and document the minimal amount of documentation your project should require. Many companies today have Project Management Offices (PMOs), and they provide either written guidance or a tool for capturing this list. The final list of necessary documentation should be a part of your Definition of Done.

Once you’ve determined what needs to be written, you need to figure out who’s going to write it. Writing documentation is the responsibility of the entire team. The task to write or update documents should be included as part of the the Story. Because Stories are small changes to functionality, the level of documentation for each Story will be small compared to the size of documents completed at the end of large waterfall projects.

Hopefully, these ideas will help you figure out how best to tackle other traditional project management tasks that may be missing from your Scrum Team practices. Remember, it’s all about teamwork, team empowerment, and team accountability, so figure this out together as a team.

For more advice on how to transition more traditional project management roles, I recommend our blog post Agile Teams Still Need Traditional Support.

Gerri Slama Grove

Gerri Slama Grove

 

Gerri Slama Grove
GerriG@gsd.guru

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Why Your Scrum Team Needs a Release Plan

Scrum Release Plan Sets Expectations with Management

When teams transition to Agile Scrum, they may decide the only required planning is Sprint Planning. These teams feel that because they are Agile, they don’t have to plan beyond the next Sprint boundary.

Most of us work in a corporate world, where upper management wants to know when the project is expected to finish and the estimated completion dates for major features and interim deliverables. Since these managers’ budgets pay our salaries, we need to find Agile ways to plan projects and deliver them using Scrum.

Teams that plan for Feature releases can still remain true to Scrum. Both the Scrum Alliance and Agile Alliance mention release planning, but they don’t provide a process to accomplish the task.

For this reason, several methodologies have sprung up to fill the gap and put a project management wrapper around Scrum. The biggest players are Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) and Large Scale Scrum (LeSS).

To be honest, when I look at those websites, I get dizzy trying to read their process diagrams. The processes don’t feel very Agile at all.

At GSD Mindset, we are big proponents for creating a Release Plan, but we advocate an approach that more closely aligns with Agile and Scrum.The top half of the GSD Scrum Funnel© illustrates our approach.

GSD Agile Scrum Funnel

GSD Scrum Funnel

Simplify the Release Plan Process

  • Divide the application into logical Feature Sets or Epics (in Scrum terms)
  • Break down each Epic into completed deliverable Components
  • Prioritize the Components
  • Organize the Components into a Quarterly Release Plan
  • Start writing Stories for 1st Sprint
  • Release Component functionality and pivot as customers use the product

Most people get the concept of identifying the high-level Features or Epics. From here, Scrum expects the Product Owner to start writing Stories about tiny slices of functionality required to build the Epic. Most new Product Owners find it difficult start with the concept of a completed Feature and immediately know what Stories to write. The intermediate step of breaking down an Epic into its Component deliverables fills the gap.

Prioritize Component Deliverables for Each Epic Before Writing Stories

Once every Epic has been broken down into Components, you can group those Components into Quarterly Releases. There are many prioritization techniques. My personal favorite is defining the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) or Minimum Marketable Feature set (MMF). Think as if you could lose funding if version 1 of the product does not meet customer needs by the end of the first quarter.

If you only have one quarter to prove the value of the product, then what must be delivered? This is a very real concern if you work at a startup or a company with budget constraints. Going through this exercise helps ensure your team delivers the highest value Components first.

Once you know the highest value Components, it’s much easier to write Stories and plan for the first Sprint.

Status Report Against Release Plan

Now, even without knowing your team’s Velocity, you can provide upper management with a Quarterly Release Plan or the list of Components your team plans to deliver each quarter. The team can status report against the plan. Once you know your Velocity, you can size the Components and begin reporting percent complete.

For more details on the GSD Mindset simplified approach to developing a Release Plan, check out:

I’d love to hear about your team’s approach to planning.
Do comment,

Cynthia Kahn

Cynthia Kahn

Cynthia Kahn
CynthiaK@gsd.guru  503.799.5500

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Scrum of Scrums Manages Cross-Team Commitments

Scrum of Scrums Facilitates Coordination across Teams

Agile Scrum teams are generally organized around projects or core capabilities, where teams support a set of products that serve a common business purpose. When Scrum teams are organized around core capabilities, project initiatives often require deliverables from multiple capabilities. Even Scrum teams specifically organized to deliver a single project can find themselves in need of functionality built by another Scrum team.

Almost every Scrum team in a company large enough to form multiple Scrum teams has cross-team requirements, but very few companies take advantage of Scrum of Scrums. With a strong commitment to the spirit of cooperation and a little organization, cross-team product or project deliverables can easily be managed through the Scrum of Scrums concept.

The Scrum Alliance and Agile Alliance both talk about the Scrum of Scrums technique, but they recommend holding this coordination meeting every day. We think that’s overkill. We think holding a well-organized Scrum of Scrums every other week is good enough. For those who practice two-week sprints, hold the meeting on the off week from Sprint Planning.

Start with a Plan

Every Scrum Team needs to plan. If your Scrum team is not release planning or identifying quarterly deliverable goals, then start today. Before you jump up and down and tell me you can’t plan because you’re agile, cool your jets. I’m not saying you need a 500 line Microsoft Project Plan; I’m saying you need deliverable milestones by Epic. Why? So, you can identify when you need product deliverables completed to stay on schedule.

If you don’t know how to plan for Agile, read Chapter 2 of the GSD Scrum Handbook: GSD Gold Project Planning.

Once you know what you need and when you need it, then you can approach your sister Scrum teams and negotiate delivery dates.

Meet Regularly to Stay on Schedule

Once you have delivery commitments, ensure all Scrum teams stay on schedule by meeting once each Sprint. Remember that not all Scrum teams are on the same Sprint cadence, so be specific about due dates. Give your sister Scrum teams plenty of lead time to get your needs on their Backlog.

Use the Scrum of Scrums meeting time to ensure the right Stories get brought into the right Sprints.

Who runs the Scrum of Scrums?

Depending on the formality of company processes, the scope of the project and the Scrum team structure, the Scrum of Scrums can be chaired by any one of many job titles. With more formal team structures, these meetings may be led by the Program Manager or Project Manager or Product Manager. With less formal teams, the Scrum Master who needs the external deliverables may take the lead.

What Happens at the Scrum of Scrums?

Keep the Scrum of Scrums to a half hour meeting.

Focus only on cross-functional deliverable dependencies:

  1. Start the meeting with a brief review the upcoming quarterly or release milestones.
  2. Verify that the Stories identified for completion in the previous Sprint were completed.
  3. Identify Stories for completion in next Sprint. Obtain commitment from sister Scrum Teams.

What the meeting IS: a meeting about dependencies, shared milestones and issues.
What the meeting IS NOT: a giant Standup or project status meeting.

When your project or product requires cross-team coordination, taking advantage of Scrum of Scrums can keep everyone focused on the right work at the right time.

I’d love to hear about your successful use of the process,

Cynthia Kahn

Cynthia Kahn

Cynthia Kahn
CynthiaK@gsd.guru  503.799.5500

 

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We are Agile. We are Not Perfect.

Every Team Practices Agile Differently

People take time off. I’m an Agile Scrum Master and Coach to a new team in their third sprint. Newbies. I fretted when I realized that I had a mandatory 2-day class scheduled on the same days as my upcoming Retrospective and Sprint Planning sessions.

At the first Retrospective, the team agreed that they really liked Scrum. At the second Retrospective, they felt like they were getting the hang of it. So, I asked the team if they wanted to run Retrospective on their own, because I knew they would not want to give up two days of their Sprint.

After a short discussion, the team decided to handle it themselves. Canceling Retrospective and holding Sprint Planning on Day 1 of the next Sprint was not even discussed as an option.

I got a little teary-eyed when I realized that sometime in the last 6 weeks my team became self-managing.

For the third Retrospective, they truly own it!

Do I think the team will conduct Retrospective and Sprint Planning with the same rigor as when I run it? Not really, but I am excited to see the result anyway.

Teams Learn by Doing

As you know, shifting from more traditional methods to Scrum and adopting an Agile Mindset takes practice. Scrum is a different routine and requires a higher level of commitment than many teams are used to. The change in habits and thought processes comes from experiencing what it’s like to Sprint, accepting mistakes as inevitable and reinforcing through example.

In the beginning:

  • My team didn’t even know what Stories to write.
  • The team’s first Stories were not really Stories and they required extensive grooming. (They still require grooming.)
  • A couple team members’ Standup attendance was spotty, until they began to see the results of daily focus on getting work done.
  • Not all Stories closed, because the process was new and the team needed to understand about relative sizing, Story Points and Velocity through their involvement in actual Sprints.

Experience provides context. Reinforcement creates good habits.  

Every Team Practices Scrum in their Own Way

As Scrum Masters and Coaches, we not only need to understand Scrum and how to effectively communicate its principles, we need to recognize the team needs the freedom to practice Scrum in the way that produces the best results.

Scrum prescribes 4 formal events for inspection and adaptation:

  1. Sprint Planning
  2. Daily Scrum (Standup)
  3. Sprint Review (Demos)
  4. Sprint Retrospective

As a professional with experience on multiple Scrum teams, I have seen teams within the same company practice Scrum differently. This happens even if all the teams receive training and coaching from the same Coach. Even timing of events can vary.

It’s a good thing for the team to take ownership of the way they practice Scrum. Ownership enforces accountability.

It’s OK if it’s not perfect.
How do you know if good is good enough?

Ask these 2 important questions:

  1. Is the team able to predict and meet it’s time-boxed Sprint commitments?
  2. If team size remains constant, is Velocity averaging out?

These two factors are crucial to delivering projects on time.

If you answered “Yes” or “Most of the time” to both questions, your team is doing well.
If you answered “No” to both questions, brainstorm improvements at Retrospective.

It’s not about perfection.
It’s about Getting Stuff Done (GSD).

What are your experiences?

Cynthia Kahn

Cynthia Kahn
CynthiaK@gsd.guru  503.799.5500

 

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