Tag Archives: Scrummaster

Implementing SCRUM…the basics – part 2

implementing scrum part 2

via Flickr by drewgstephens

In this post, I explained that SCRUM is not a silver bullet and?that there some significant barriers to entry for organizations wanting to adopt SCRUM. In this post, I’m going to introduce Agile estimating, planning poker, fibonacci, and velocity.

Let’s say that your organization is ready to go, you’ve turned command and control on it’s ear, you’ve identified the Product Owner and you’re going to be the ScrumMaster. You’ve put together a team of seasoned developers, a creative designer, and a QA Lead, but the designer and QA Lead have never worked on an Agile project and they also have never worked with this team of developers.

Let’s say that the Product Owner has put together a pretty comprehensive list of User Stories [let’s say that for argument sake that these have been validated and prioritized and you have verified that they follow the INVEST principles…more on that in another blog post]. What now?

First, you need to work with the “Team” to make sure that they understand what their responsibilities are, this includes the talk about being a self-organizing team, that they’re responsible to one another, the?Product Owner,?and ultimately to the organization to do what they say they’re going to do.

The next step is for the SCRUM Team [that’s the development team, the Product Owner, and the ScrumMaster] to decide which items in the Product Backlog you’re going to deliver in the upcoming Sprint. In order to accomplish this, you need to be able to quantify how much time or effort each item on the Product Backlog will require.

This quantification of the Product Backlog is called estimation and is commonly accomplished?by having the development team play a game called Planning Poker.

Game playing? Man this SCRUM stuff is wierd. OK, let’s talk about Planning Poker.

The idea behind User Stories is to collect the requirements in bite-sized pieces. The size of those bites will inevitably vary. The Agile solution to this problem is to rate each User Story according to relative “size”.

The best analogy I’ve heard is to compare the stories to dog breed…compared to the other stories, if the current User Story a Toy?Chihuahua or a Great Dane? Where in the middle…Jack Russel Terrier? Labrador Retriever? Once each person?has an idea for the relative “size” of the item, each person has to play their hand, and the group consensus wins…highest and lowest have to explain why they think the feature is larger or smaller than the rest of the team.

When?I do this, as the ScrumMaster, I intentionally don’t play a hand because I don’t think I should influence the team’s collective insight into how big or small a feature is. To each their own. The planning poker deck we use was purchased from Mountain Goat Software and was well worth the few bucks it cost. There are online versions and of course with a pair of scissors, some index cards, some markers, and a little free time you can make your own.? The important part is that you understand the notion of the relative scale of accuracy and the variability that is introduced as a feature gets larger.

You’re probably familiar with the Fibonacci series of numbers. We use this series of numbers to incrementally scale the “size” of a feature. Why do this at all you ask? Well, if I ask you to estimate in inches, the distance from the tip of your index finger, where it currently is, to the tip of your nose, you will probably be able to estimate with?better than 85% accuracy. Now if I ask you to estimate using the same criteria the distance from the tip of your index finger to the middle of the letter “O” on the nearest Stop Sign [depending where you are right now] you might be able to estimate with a significantly smaller degree of accuracy, and finally if I ask you to estimate, in inches, the number of inches from the tip of your index finger to the tip of the Empire State Building in New York City, you are likely to have an accuracy approaching 0%.

With this in mind, we use the Fibonacci sequence because as a feature increases in size, our inherent ability to accurately estimate it’s size diminishes. After all of the items on the backlog are estimated, the next step is to determine the Sprint Backlog…the estimated subset of product features that will be addressed in the Sprint. We had a hard time understanding how much we could bite off in our first few sprints [in other works, how many “story points”…or Fibonacci values we could consistently complete in a sprint].

In order to get around this, we took two decisive steps.

First we committed to?micro (one week) sprints and second we intentionally rigged the sprint backlog with items that we knew were small enough to complete in a week, yet big enough to validate [one way or another] our estimates. This process allows us to determine our “velocity”. Velocity is the average rate at which a team can complete story points for a unit of time. Once we were able to determine out weekly velocity, we were able to extrapolate our bi-weekly velocity.

Once we were able to determine the velocity for a “normal” sprint, we have become increasingly confident in our ability to deliver on that velocity. I will put in a big caveat…the velocity statistic is only a general guide, and as you adopt SCRUM, the accuracy of the velocity is only as good as your ability to limit the variability of external change within the team. In other words, if you determine the velocity for a specific team, that velocity will be affected by making changes to the team, and even in some cases by changes that the team may make from within.

For more information on these topics, there is a great book on this topic written by Mike Cohn called “Agile Estimating & Planning“. I highly recommend it.

Implementing SCRUM…the basics – Part 1

I started to write a response to a recent blog post about the effect that a slowing economy will have on the adoption of?Agile project management methodologies when I realized?from the comments on that site that there may be some folks here that are not yet familiar with Agile/SCRUM. I’m going to speak specifically about SCRUM since it’s currently the most popular “flavor” of Agile. If you’re already familiar with SCRUM, then this is just another SCRUM 101…if you’re new to the idea, then I recommend that you read this before continuing…

If you’ve made it here, then you should understand what a departure these four tenets are, for most organizations, ?from the way they’ve always managed solving technical problems. As we begin discussing SCRUM, I’ll be painting the picture from the standpoint of a business that is using a single small team doing internal, LOB application development.?There are?minor variations of this content for those producing commercial products, ?and for instances where you might be a cog in a much larger machine, or performing non-appdev tasks like hardware, engineering, manfacturing, etc.. I hope to cover these scenarios in depth in future posts. That said, you need to understand that SCRUM lays out a few, simple roles:

  1. A “Product Owner” [someone from “the business”] owns ultimate responsibility for the behaviors and functionality of the system as well as the schedule of what features will be delivered and when.
  2. A “ScrumMaster” is responsible for removing any barriers – organizational, technical, inter-personal, etc. that are/might be preventing the team from delivering on it’s commitments.
  3. A “Team” consists of everyone involved in delivery…that may include architects, developers, designers, business analysts, DBA’s, QA pros, and perhaps marketing, training developers, technical writers, etc. Popular guidance suggests that a team should consist of 5-9, although it can be larger or smaller, as always, you should really have a valid reason for doing it.

and a few ground rules:

  1. All meetings are Time-Boxed.
  2. Development is organized into fixed duration, completely encapusulated, development windows [typically 30 days] called a Sprint.
  3. The Product Owner is responsible for collecting, capturing, prioritizing, and communicating the system requirements [called User Stories]
  4. Each Sprint consists of four major meeetings…
    1. Sprint Planning Meeting #1 is used by the team to review the Product Backlog and discuss the desired outcome of the Sprint.
    2. Sprint Planning Meeting #2 is used by the team, having?used the interim between the previous meeting to estimate the size of each item on the Product Backlog,?to choose how many of the top items in the list can be completely delivered in the next 30 days. This subset of the Product Backlog is called the Sprint Backlog.
    3. The “Daily Standup” is a daily, 15-minute meeting used by the team to report progress since the last meeting, report what each person will be working on before the next meeting, and finally to indicate what, if any, impediments there are to their progress.
    4. The Retrospective meeting happens at the end of the Sprint and is intended as an opportunity for? the Team, ScrumMaster, and Product Owner to candidly discuss what went right?and what went wrong during the Sprint, and then to discuss and assign specific actions in order to adapt the process for the next Sprint.
  5. The “Team” is self-organizing and is responsible, as a unit, for understanding and delivering the product envisioned by the Product Owner.

Vertical Scrum - Flickr attribution license: jurvetson

So, now you should have a general feel for who’s involved in the effort and what each person’s responsibilities are.

Now, the first thing you need to do to understand SCRUM is to set aside your feelings and understanding of organizational structures, reporting structures, and anything else that smells of command and control. SCRUM requires a new organizational philosophy?that typically manifests itself as a shift from the scenario where management controls?production to one where the workers are empowered?to innovate and the role of management is to alleviate?anything that slows or prevents production. Naturally, worker bees are usually OK with this because they are positively affected and empowered?by this shift, manager bees struggle with it because it takes their “power” away and expects them step into a role of “Servant-Leader”. If your ogranization [specifically management]?can’t? adapt to this shift and you still try to “make” SCRUM work, you’re either going to have severe managerial attrition,?failed projects across the board, or best case will be marginal successes with burned-out developers who feel caught in the middle/terrorized by the PM. You should also understand that SCRUM mandates very little, in fact, the SCRUM methodology is extremely lightweight and does not provide specific proscription for how you might implement it in your organization. The result of this has been mis-application of the principles and philosophies?behind?SCRUM, but more on that in a later blog post.

The second big mindshift you need to understand is the Agile approach to requirements. Contrary to the “waterfall” and “modified waterfall” approach to development, the collection of detailed requirements in SCRUM is deferred until the last moment. In?a “traditional” or “waterfall”?development process, the requirements are collected in detail at the beginning of the process, and then the development team goes off into?a closet and works to deliver according to the Statement of Work. ?In SCRUM, a User Story is a component of work and represents a reminder for the developer to have a detailed requirements collection conversation with the Product Owner regarding the specific piece of functionality. I’m sure that right now?you’re saying “this can’t work”, “my developers are too lazy to do that”, and/or “what about architecture”, and a thousand other questions. I’ll address these in future blog posts as well [this things is already approaching book status]. The benefit and net result of this approach to requirements is that the “customer” [Product Owner] can change the “scope” of the project [by manipulating the Product Backlog] in the midst of the project. In truth, and practice,?this type of “change” is actually encouraged as long as the change to the Product Backlog is not made to the Sprint Backlog [although this can also be accepted as long as the Product Owner chooses an item of?comparable size that can be moved from the Sprint Backlog?to the Product Backlog and that the item being removed is not already in progress]. Because SCRUM welcomes scope changes, the product that is ultimately delivered should be an exact match to the customer’s business requirement.

The first thing to do when implementing SCRUM is to evaluate your organization’s willingness, capacity, and commitment to making the change. Second, make the same assessment about your willingness to be an organizational change agent because whoever adopts SCRUM will have to be prepared to make a firm and consistent stand that you CAN, with some effort, produce a ballpark estimate of time and cost to deliver a project and you CANNOT produce a detailed cost and schedule estimate, Gantt Chart, Project Plan, and the plethora of other documentation that a traditional waterfall approach mandates. This is a particularly difficult concept to endorse when you’re accustomed to managers, customers, executives, etc. that demand to know the “Not To Exceed” costs and schedule up front. This “cannot” stems from the fact that, with a new team at least, you cannot estimate velocity [again, that’ll be in the next post]?and as such you cannot determine how many Sprints it will take to work through the complete Product Backlog.

SCRUM and Agile are not silver bullets, and adoption of them requires a serious and significant commitment from the organization to embrace change. It’s not for everyone, but for those that can embrace change, do believe that it’s better to deliver smaller functional bites of an application than to deliver a monolithic application, and are willing to turn their organizational structure on it’s ear….then you’re on the right path…please stay tuned for more.