Agile QuickTip: Begin and End Your Sprint in the Middle of the Day

Begin and End Your Sprint in the Middle of the Day

My latest Agile QuickTip is all about how ending and starting your sprints in the middle of the day might make your team way more effective.

Most scrum teams will end their sprints at the end of the day, and then start the next one the very next morning. Here is an idea that shakes up this traditional routine, and one which I’ve seen be really effective. Why not begin and end your sprints in the middle of the day?

Here’s how it works in practice.

Your team’s end of sprint activities — the review and retrospective — will take place in the morning, and then you start with sprint planning for the next sprint right after lunch, or early in the afternoon.

I’ve found this to be particularly useful for internationally distributed teams who are spread across the globe, as it allows them to maximise their overlap time where different countries are still all experiencing the working day, something which doesn’t happen if you call a meeting for 9am local time.

By starting and ending in the middle of the day, you can look back on the sprint immediately and start planning for the next one. This emphasis the focus of the day on Improvement. How to improve your processes; how to improve the product; and how to leverage what we’ve learnt to immediately start exploring way to make the next sprint far more effective.

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Agile QuickTip: Use a Calendar to Make your Sprint Planning Meeting More Accurate

Using a calendar to drive your sprint planning meeting can make your sprint plan a lot more successful.

Every sprint starts with sprint planning. Sprint planning is where team members and their product owner collaborate to define a plan to maximize the value of the upcoming sprint.

This will sometimes include outlining the timeline for the sprint, along with often defining and estimating specific tasks or activities that need completing in order to achieve the sprint goals.

Challenges;

One challenge that teams often have is that some team members find it hard to visualize the plan. They may fail to consider availability or lag issues. This can result in a less than accurate plan.

One technique which I find helpful is to use a calendar as the starting point for defining the sprint plan.

That helps illustrate people’s availability. On the calendar you can mark when team members have PTO or vacation days; when they are already scheduled for training or offsites, or any other activity that could interfere with the timeline of your sprint. In some cases there could be planned interruptions to the whole team, such as department all-hands meetings, or national holidays.

With these days marked from the start, your team can plan around those days, considering the impact at the start of the sprint. Some teams find it valuable to use this visualization on the calendar to start planning with the end of the sprint in mind, and then plan their sprints backwards, helping teams to come up with a plan that everyone can visualize and understand.

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Agile QuickTip: Publishing your Team’s Definition of Done

Publishing your Scrum team’s definition of done

Taking the extra step of publishing your scrum team’s definition of ‘done’ could help your agile team to collaborate and focus on getting things finished.

Every scrum team and every agile team is always looking for ways to deliver as much value as possible in each sprint. This means maximizing what they can finish.

The problem is, that sometimes when one person claims a story is done, it might not mean the same thing as another person calling it done. This creates ambiguity and a lack of transparency, and causes frustration on teams when things seem less ‘complete’ than expected.

Transparency

Creating more transparency can really help here. By publishing an explicit and visible definition of done that exhausts all the things the team has to do to get a story complete, it alleviates that ambiguity.

Now, when one team members says something is ‘done’, it means the same to every other team member. By publishing the definition and making it explicit, even other stakeholders and product owner know what it means for work be complete.

This makes it easier for the whole scrum or agile team to collaborate and align their efforts to get this work done. This also helps keep the team a lot more focused on maximizing the value they can deliver.

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Agile QuickTip: Learning Focused Daily Scrum

Turn your traditional Scrum or stand-up agenda on its head with a learning focused Scrum.

Typically, agile or scrum teams have a daily Scrum or stand up where the focus is on progress or activity.

Looking at what you’ve accomplished since the previous Scrum, the questions addressed are typically; ‘What have you achieved?’; ‘What challenges did you face?’; ‘What did we accomplish?’; and ‘What do you plan on accomplishing until the next daily Scrum?’

One thing which could really make a difference to your productivity and the strength of your teams overall is to plan a learning focused daily Scrum where you change the emphasis of the agenda towards learning rather than task progress and delivery.

The kinds of questions that you would address are;

“What did you learn today?”; “What do you plan to learn?”; “What’s standing in the way of that learning for you?”; “What impediments or challenges would need to be removed to achieve the planned learning?”

In this way, the focus of the Scrum isn’t just on progress and delivery and what we have achieved or can accomplish, but also on what we expect to learn and how can we get better as a team by learning these things, and removing the obstacles that we find in our way.

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Agile QuickTip: Try an Audio Signal to Start or End your Daily Scrum

Try an Audio Signal to Start or End your Daily Scrum

Using an audio signal at the beginning or the end of your daily Scrum could help define precisely when it starts and finishes, and make the Scrum a lot more focused.

One thing that a lot of scrum or agile teams complain about is that their daily Scrum takes much longer than they expect. Instead of 10 or 15 minutes, they are finding that it can take 30 or even 40, cutting into their working day and taking them away from other more important things they might have to do.

One problem which I’ve seen many times, is that sometimes the Scrum actually ended a while ago, but nobody noticed because the conversation from the Scrum actually transitioned straight into the follow up. An audio signal can solve this.

Agile QuickTip

By having an actual audible sound that you can trigger to let people know that the Scrum is over, you can keep that Scrum much more focused, and allow team members to leave if the follow up doesn’t concern them.

Play a sound effect from your phone like a chime or a buzzer, or call out something like “Scrum Off” or “Scrum Over!” This will act as a signal to people that the mandatory Scrum is over, and they can leave and get on with whatever else they need to do.

You can use a similar technique to kick off your Scrum, playing a sound, or calling out “Scrum On” or “Scrum Started” to silence any chatter and let team members know that the Scrum has started in a focused way. With this trick, your Scrum can be limited to the 10 or 15 minutes you’ve set aside for it, and should end up being a lot valuable.

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Agile QuickTip: The Sprint Planning Mini Retro

The Sprint Planning Mini Retro

You could be making Sprint Planning far more effective by including a mini retrospective at the end of it.

Sprint planning is the opening ceremony for every team Sprint. This is where your entire team comes together with your product owner and facilitated by your ScrumMaster, to figure out the plan that we’re going to execute to achieve the goals for the Sprint ahead.

It’s a big investment of time, and ultimately, your ScrumMaster has the job of making sure they have found the ways to maximize the return on that investment by better facilitating it.

One idea that has been proven to yield results is spending some time at the end of each Sprint Planning on a mini retrospective. This can be 20 minutes or 30 minutes to explore ways to improve Sprint Planning — and it might actually make future Sprint Planning meetings far more effective in the long run.

Here are some ideas for areas you can explore:

Timing: Did you spend the right amount of time in Sprint Planning, or did you set aside too little, or too much?

Participants: Did you have the right people in the room, or could you have done with other stakeholders in Sprint Planning and planning alongside you?

Tools and techniques: Was Sprint Planning effectively facilitated?  Can we improve on the agenda?  Should we explore alternative facilitative tools?

During these Sprint Planning mini-retro, you can also gauge the confidence level of each team member in the Sprint. Is their planning improving or getting worse from Sprint to Sprint? Are they recognizing the issues that need addressing, and making positive changes?

A mini retrospective can support you as a ScrumMaster in continuously improving your Sprint Planning, enabling you to maximize the return on your Sprint as a whole.

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Agile QuickTip: Limit Your Agile Teams Product Backlog

Limit Your Agile Teams Product Backlog

Limiting the number of items on your product backlog might make your product owner, and in fact your entire Scrum team, more focused.

Many Agile product owners that I work with complain about their product backlog being really long. They mention that it’s cluttered with stale ideas, old feedback, or requests that they haven’t got around to, and perhaps never will. This can make their backlog unwieldy, and difficult to manage or visualize. As stakeholders bring new requests and suggestions every day, the backlog only gets longer and more difficult to stay on top of.

One idea that you might try is to limit the number of spots in your backlog. Limit it to 100 or 150 items, whatever works for you. Only the top 100 items ever get onto your backlog. There are a few benefits to this:

  • It allows your backlog to become more transparent and a lot more visible for all the members of your team.
  • As a product owner, you become more intimately familiar with the items on your backlog, actively deciding which items need to be there, and which should not.
  • If your stakeholders regularly propose a lot of requests for enhancements or features, it can encourage them to cut down their ideas to the most important or valuable. As they know that each idea will be competing to make it to the top 100, they are likely to only suggest the best one or two.

By limiting the number of items on your Agile team backlog, you could start enjoying a lighter load that is easier to manage and visualize within your Scrum team.

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Agile QuickTip: Avoid Starting Sprints on Mondays or Fridays

Avoid Starting Sprints on Mondays or Fridays

Sometimes a small change can make a big difference. Starting sprints on days other than Mondays and Fridays can make your scrum more valuable, and solve some common scrum problems for your agile team.

A lot teams will start their agile sprints on Mondays and end them on Fridays. This is a natural choice, mirroring the traditional working week, so you can see why teams opt for this routine. However, there are a number of reasons why Fridays and Mondays may not be the best day for finishing or starting your sprint.

  1. Fridays are often a work from home day, so you might find that members of the team do not make it into the office.
  2. For team members who work remotely or commute for work, Fridays are a frequent choice for a travel day.
  3. A lot of times, people will leave work early on a Friday to start their weekend, avoiding the traffic or getting a head start on a night out.
  4. In some countries, Fridays aren’t even a work day, which can have an effect on getting tasks completed or communicating with global businesses.
  5. Holidays in the United States typically fall on Mondays making it a less than ideal day to start a sprint.

By changing the sprint start or end days, you can also avoid the issue of the ‘invisible sprint days’ on the weekend when teams scramble to get their sprint finished. Start your team’s agile sprint on Wednesdays or Thursdays, and then finish on Tuesdays or Wednesdays instead. In this way, you can give your full team the tools and time they need to finish the scrum as strong as they started.

This idea has helped a lot of teams, encouraging sprints to become less chaotic and a lot more transparent.

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Agile Quicktip: Budgeting Your Scrum Update Times

Have you ever considered that budgeting time for each team member to give their daily updates might make your daily Scrum more valuable?

One thing that a lot of scrum or agile teams complain about, is getting value out of their daily Scrum. In some cases, team members might be providing too much information or taking up too much of the Scrum time by getting lost in the details. For others, the problem might be that they aren’t giving enough detail. Either way, the value of the Scrum is being lost.

One suggestion is to allocate time for each individual team member’s updates. Be explicit about the amount of time — bring a kitchen timer to the Scrum, or use an online tool like Google Timer to visually indicate the time box and the time remaining. Pick an amount of time for each team member’s update — maybe 60 seconds or 90 seconds — and let them know that this is the time they have to fill.

It can also help to coach your team members to get the most out of their update. They should be communicating their updates not just from the sender’s point of view, but also from the perspective of the receiver.  What’s the message you want your team members to receive from your update? From there, they can work out what to say during their 60 seconds to best communicate that message.

In this way, your daily Scrum only takes ten minutes, or maybe fifteen minutes max, but you’re getting a lot more value out of that time.

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Agile QuickTip: A Minute of Fun

A Minute of Scrum Fun

Set your Scrum apart with a minute of fun!

Many scrum or agile teams find their daily Scrum or stand up can become a little boring or stale. When it’s not that interesting, you might find that people even start to dread going. Unengaged team members can lead to late arrivals, lack of participation, or even no-shows.

If you’re facilitating the daily Scrum, and want to change the tone, try starting every Scrum with a minute of fun. Here are some ideas that take under a minute, and can encourage your Scrum to be more engaging from the outset.

  • A joke or a tongue-twister: This idea can set people at ease, and start the Scrum with a laugh, great for relaxing your team.
  • A riddle: A tricky question can be a fun and interesting way to begin your stand up, and finding out who has lateral thinking skills!
  • A trivia question: You could make it even more interesting by asking team members to take turns picking a question for the next day.
  • A short game: Why not try a round of hum that tune or a speedy tournament of rock/paper/scissors?

Starting your daily Scrum with a minute of fun can set your Scrum apart, and position the tone in the right direction, with something a little more light-hearted. In this way, your daily stand up could even become something that your team members look forward to participating in.

If nothing else, the ‘minute of fun’ creates a ritualistic aspect to your Scrum, giving it a unique feeling, structure and vibe. Every team does a daily scrum but yours is different: you start with a minute of fun!

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