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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Why Every Story should have Acceptance Criteria

Better Understand the Purpose of Story and Acceptance Criteria

Some who practice scrum believe that acceptance criteria are optional. Others only write a one sentence summary and don’t even bother writing story requirements. These practices could be a recipe for disaster, because developers may not understand what to develop and testers may not know what to test.

At GSD Mindset, we teach that acceptance criteria are mandatory, and we spend lots of time helping those new to scrum learn how to write stories. The story describes the requirement for that next slice of functionality the team needs to build. The acceptance criteria describe how the product owner and team know that the functionality works; they also describe what happens when something goes wrong.

If story content so profoundly impacts the team’s ability to produce quality work, then why do so many teams write crappy stories? We get that it takes time to think through and document the specific functional requirement, plus also to think through how to tell that the function works. We get it that most teams write their stories the night before or the morning of Story Grooming. We get it: your team is busy.

How much busier does the team become when stories take too long to close? How much busier does the team become after they build the wrong functionality and they have to rewrite it? How much busier does the team become when the project gets behind schedule?

After high level design and Epic breakdown, writing good stories is one of the most important activities the team performs. Taking the time to write a clear, concise story with clear, concise acceptance criteria can be one of the most important predictors of green project status and excellent quality.

How Do You Write a Good Story?

The Story format is simple:

As a <user role>
I want <to perform some function>
So that I can <achieve some goal/benefit/value>

When you sit down to write a story, think about who will be using the functionality, even if the user is another automated process. From the user perspective, visualize what function the user will be performing and why this slice of functionality is important.

For example, think about the customer of a shopping website. If the requirement is to build the first slice of a search tool, think about how the customer wants to search. Suppose research shows that most customers are brand conscious. Then write the first slice to search by brand:

As a customer of this shopping site,
I want to enter my favorite brand name
So I can see easily see all the products available for sale and quickly browse the list.

The requirement for this slice of functionality is clear. The reader understands what the customer wants to do and why: Because they came to the website with a specific brand in mind.

Yes, there are other ways customers search: by price or clothing type or gender, etc. But agile scrum stories only describe a slice of functionality. Every one of those other search parameters should be described in separate stories.

The acceptance criteria format is simple too:

Given that <I am able to perform the new function>
When <I complete the function>
Then <something happens to show success/failure>

How does the tester know that the brand search is working?

Given that the customer enters a brand name,
When the customer clicks to search,
Then the website returns the list of clothing in stock for that brand and displays a list that includes: small image, product name and price.

What does the website do if there is no clothing in stock for the brand?

Given that the customer enters a brand name,
When the customer clicks to search,
If there is nothing in stock for the brand, the website returns a message that includes the search parameter and offers the customer options to search for similar brands (e.g., people who search for A also search for B).

The effort to write a complete story that clearly describes required functionality and what to look for when testing does not really take much more time than writing a crappy, incomplete story. If your team is not writing stories complete with acceptance criteria, I urge you to try writing complete stories for at least 3 sprints.

I’ll bet you love the results!

Cynthia Kahn

Cynthia Kahn
CynthiaK@gsd.guru  503.799.5500

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Techniques to Increase Sprint Velocity

Try Applying these 3 Techniques to Increase Sprint Velocity

In agile scrum, we only count closed stories when we calculate velocity. Stories have only 2 statuses at the end of the sprint: 0% or 100% complete. No partial credit for incomplete stories.

Many teams refuse to accept this fact. Scrum does not give partial credit for the simple reason that incomplete stories cannot be delivered to the customer, so they have no value. Because priorities can change at the speed of business, incomplete stories may not rank high enough to be prioritized for the next sprint. If that code was checked in, the code changes for those partially finished stories have to be backed out, which causes even more work that adds no value.

We have found the following 3 techniques help the team close more stories, which improves burndown and results in increased velocity:

  1. Write smaller stories
  2. Ask when story will close
  3. Adopt shared test mindset

Write Smaller Stories

Do your developers pick up stories at the beginning of the sprint and work on the same set of stories for the entire sprint? Does your burndown chart look more like a plateau with a cliff at the end? If this frequently happens with your scrum team, then your stories are probably too large.

Look at your backlog. How many 1 and 2 point stories has your team written? None? Are they all 3 or 5 or even 8 points? If you answered yes, then streamline your approach to story writing.

Remember that a story performs a single function. Take a serious look the slice of functionality defined in your larger story requirements. If your stories describe requirements for multiple, yet related functions, then divide and conquer.

Ask When Story Will Close

At daily standup, the development team answers the following questions:

  • What did I do yesterday?
  • What will I do today to meet the sprint goal?
  • Do I have any impediments?

To keep the eye on the prize and focus on closing the story, we suggest you ask an additional question every day when you discuss the status of every story:

  • When do I think this story will close?

The answer to this question provides insight into the true status of the story. If you don’t like the answer, immediately follow up with: Why? The answer to these two questions help identify the proper next steps, which could include clarify requirements, get help from tech lead or pair the developer with another programmer.

One of the pillars of scrum is transparency. Be honest with each other. Ensure stories that languish get the attention that they need to close.

Adopt Shared Test Mindset

To produce quality products, we recommend scrum teams take a 3-pronged approach to testing:

  • Test driven development
  • Write QA tests when the Story is picked up
  • It’s everyone’s responsibility to test  

If your development team does not have automated testing goals, add them to your team’s contract. Every time you add new functionality to a program, apply the iterative concept of Test Driven Development (TDD): write a failing automated test first, then write the code so the test passes.  

We recommend getting testers immediately involved when the story is picked up for development. Early involvement by testers, who write test cases based on the acceptance criteria, avoids having those resources sitting around for half the sprint waiting to test. It also ensures the team is ready to test immediately after the story is code complete.    

Agile scrum holds the entire team responsible for completing the story. That means testing is everyone’s responsibility. If stories get backed up waiting for testers to test, other members of the team must pick up the slack to get all stuff done on time.

If your team successfully applies these techniques or other techniques that result in a smooth burndown and increased velocity, we’d love to hear them.
Do share.

Cynthia Kahn

Cynthia Kahn
CynthiaK@gsd.guru  503.799.5500

read more