How does it work in Scrum if there is a strict deadline ?

Ideally, before performing the Sprint Planning session as a team, the Product Backlog Items those will be potentially included in the next Sprint are supposed to be estimated in Story Points. The higher the priority of any Product Backlog Item, the higher is the expected maturity level of that particular PBI. Then, based on the average velocity data i.e. the average completed story points in the past, together with the expected capacity of the team for the next Sprint, the development team decides which PBIs should be included into the scope of the following Sprint. We, as the product owners are supposed to provide the right level of priorization and the overall direction to achieve a Sprint Goal before the planning session. This is basically how Sprint Planning works.

Nevertheless, Scrum teams may face scenarios where there may be strict deadline for a new feature or a solution. In other words, teams could face circumstances where the typical release planning could be not be applicable. To make it more concrete, let’s assume that the total amount of Story Points for a new to-be-developed solution is 100 SPs. Moreover, assuming that based on the proper planning done by PO according to the velocity of the team while preserving the projected capacity , it seems feasible that the team would require 4 Sprints in order to ship the solution. There are chances that, due to a certain reason ( Top Management expectation, natural deadlines such as Christmas, back-to-school season etc.) it may not be feasible to run 4 Sprints as the strict deadline does not allow such a period of time. Let’s imagine that for this example the deadline is just 3 Sprints away. Than the big question is how should a PO react if she/he encounters such a case ?

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Product Owner Dos and Don’ts

I’ve just finished reading the book called „Agile Product Management with Scrum“ by Roman Pichler. I had really enjoyed it. It provides valuable insight regarding not only about the Agile Product Management but also tips and tricks to become a great product owner.

At the last part of the book, there was a section that I found very interesting and insightful. It’s the following table that has been referenced to Lyssa Adkins, author of „Coaching Agile Teams“.

When I’ve came across this table, I’ve openly criticized myself and think about if I’m having attitudes of items in the „Don’t“ part.  My sincere feedback to myself was there are times I might fail to „protect the team from outside noise“ and instead of „incorporating change between Sprints“ there are Sprints in which I allow change to jump in to. I thought I’m doing not bad at the other items. I’ve decided to ask openly to the development team their feedback by commenting for which item they think my overall attitude is on the „Do“ part and for which in the „Don’t“ part. 

Generally speaking, they agreed with me regarding my improvement areas that I’ve found out by doing self-criticism. Almost all of them thought that it’s very positive and bold move that I’m asking their feedback in this way. On of my colleagues told that he is aware of the pressure I’m carrying on my shoulders and he is ready to support me as much as he can. It made me feel better that they are sensible to the challenge of my position and do empathize.  What I’ve done later on upon receiving their feedback is I’m no longer including the development team to the email exchanges I’ve been doing with the shareholders in order to isolate them.  Earlier I was keeping them in the loop so that we can be aligned as a whole team. Besides, I’m putting more effort not play to much with the SBL and keep the ground as stable as possible.

In a nutshell, as product owners we are the ones who are carrying the biggest responsibility to maximize the value delivered my the development team. As a result, we are the ones who are under fire most of time. In order to become great Product Owners we have to improve our expertise and acquire the know-how required for the domain while being kind, patient, empathetic, open-minded and also cool 🙂

Million Dollar Question: Are you doing agile or being agile?

Agile transformation starts by individuals followed by teams and at last gets completed by organisation level. This is potentially a long-lasting process with a lot of turbulance. Majority of the people like status quo particularly people who are above a certain level of age. They are quite comfortable in their comfort zone and are not very willing to leave it. I think it’s completely understandable.

On the other hand, Agility is a totaly different mindset. It embraces early and frequent delivery in an iterative and incremental manner. It’s extremely critical that the agile transformation is well understood throughout the whole company not only in technology teams or in part of the organisation. If this is not the case, agile teams will have face many significant impediments and at the end may probably fail. Let’s imagine a case where the product marketing teams are not familiar with agile principles or Scrum framework and in the Sprint review meeting they’ve been made a demonstration of the iteration to be shipped. It’s quite likely that there is a struggle between the Marketing teams and PO regarding the deployment decision of the iteration. PO will very likely to push the deployment  so that customer feedback is received and following iterations are improved based on that while marketing guys don’t think the iteration is mature enough to present to customers and might damage the overall image of  the product. On such instances, it’s key that decisions that has been made by the PO should be respected by the whole organization. POs those are supposedly selected by the management team, should be empowered enough to have the right level of authority. Without sufficient sponsorship support, POs will be underpowered and lack authority. On those cases it is very likely that they feel overwhelmed and will struggle with the major decision makers.

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„Working software over comprehensive documentation“

One of the many new practices for organizations going through agile transformation is the move from requirement documents to user stories. I’m quoting from Mike Cohn *:

„User stories are short, simple descriptions of a feature told from the perspective of the person who desires the new capability, usually a user or customer of the system. They typically follow a simple template:

As a < type of user >, I want < some goal > so that < some reason >.“

In the classical approach, there is a requirement document that has been agreed by development and business groups after multiple time-consuming iterations. Even if both parties agree on a document after significant time and start developing the new feature, chances are part of the original scope gets obsolete or changes and things need to be reiterated and perhaps portion of the development efforts have been wasted. This approach is obviously not suitable particularly for time-critical projects.  On the other hand, user stories are mutually understandable both for customers and developers and increase the communications between team members and stakeholders. User stories also allow the development team do the practical planning. As Roman Pinchler nicely puts it **:

„User stories are not about documenting requirements; they want to enable you to move fast and develop software as quickly as possible;not to impose any overhead.“

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From Continous Delivery to Continous Deployment

One of key definitions of the Scrum framework is „Definition of Done“(DoD).  In order to be able to decide when an activity from the Sprint Backlog is completed, the Definition of Done (DoD) is used.  This bring all the team members to the same level of understanding about the conditions when a task is completed. The definition of done for our team is as follows:

Any issue in the Sprint Backlog is considered to be „Done“ if the analysis, development and validation stages have been completed successfully and the acceptance criteria has been met. The deployment is not a prerequisite for the issue to be considered as „Done“.

Reference

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Velocity : Key metric to secure an effective Sprint Planning

One of key metrics of a Scrum team is Velocity. Even though it’s not mentioned in the Scrum guide, it is still very useful for the Product Owner while planning the Scope of the next Sprint and defining a concrete Sprint Goal.

As the name implies Velocity (consider the team as a vehicle) is a  metric calculated by averaging the total amount of Story Points completed over the number of Sprints within the same period. In practice, the velocity of the teams gets stabilized after a certain number Sprints are left behind. As the number of Sprints increases, the velocity starts oscillating in a regular rhythm.

 

Source

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How did we benefit from Contract-First REST API Design Approach?

To recall, the fundamental purpose of this blog is to share openly the best practices we had as the Scrum team from a Product Owner Perspective. That’s why it makes sense to share a typical approach we follow while developing new features by cooperating with client development teams with a strict deadline or  time pressure. It’s Contract-First REST API Design. A recent example of this was a back-end development of a new Payment channel to sell recurring TV packages to end users through the TV Web portal.

To launch this commercially, the in-house Web portal development team was relying on us to progress further and actively developing the brand-new web pages. Besides, the launch date was fixed and committed to the top-management.

Even though the deadline was approaching, since the earlier Sprint has failed, as the PO, I had to prioritize the relatively small work that was left over at the Sprint Planning event. My perspective was as the whole team had focused to ship the Sprint goal of the previous Sprint and we are pretty close to bring it to Done state, I set a Sprint Goal that dictates to continue to work on the earlier goal and only to take small baby steps regarding the payment solution. My rationale was freezing the work we already had started and progressed a lot and focusing on something totally new wouldn’t be an effective way of utilizing team’s efforts.

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How does the Burndown Chart help us to meet Sprint Goals?

From my perspective, the beauty of Scrum framework is running Sprints for a short period of time (typically 2-3 weeks) and at the end of it being able to judge the team’s overall performance  objectively.  Setting a goal for a few weeks timeframe and going for it enables the team to get disciplined and stay focused. Historically, we had 6-9 months long projects with potential delays. This leads the teams easily jump into the comfort zone and adapt a relaxed and ‚take it easy‘ type of attitude due to the long time for the project completion. Generally speaking, the human nature has a tendency to delay most of the work to be done towards the deadline. ( Remember your university finales :)) Therefore, setting digestible, S.M.A.R.T Sprint goals developing iteratively and incrementaly is an effective way to accomplish significant achievements within a certain timeframe.

Well, how does the team monitor if bringing the Sprint Goal to DONE status is something already secured or it is at risk ? Even though, it’s not mentioned in the Scrum guide at all, best practices propose „Burndown Chart“ for that purpose.  As the Scrum Institute put it precisely:

The Scrum Burndown Chart is a visual measurement tool that shows the completed work per day against the projected rate of completion for the current project release. Its purpose is to enable that the project is on the track to deliver the expected solution within the desired schedule.

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