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Insights to Agile: Scrum Ceremonies

Understanding Scrum Ceremonies: A Comprehensive Guide

The scrum framework includes a series of meetings, commonly referred to as scrum ceremonies, to facilitate the scrum process. In this edition of Insights to Agile, I’ll cover what those scrum ceremonies are as well as the goals for each. Some things to remember is that for every scrum ceremony, the scrum master is responsible for facilitating the meeting but should have no decision making authority. Additionally, scrum methodology strongly enforces time boxes for everything – including scrum ceremonies. Based on the length of the sprints, the scrum master should manage to set time boxes for each of the scrum ceremonies described below, working to accomplish the ceremony goal in the amount of time allotted. There are four standard scrum ceremonies, including: (1) the sprint planning meeting, (2) the daily scrum, (3) the sprint review meeting and (4) the sprint retrospective. Additionally, many organizations include a fifth meeting, commonly called (5)vbacklog refinement or sprint grooming, in order to reduce impediments and better understand the work on deck.

Sprint Planning

At the beginning of each sprint, a meeting is held with the product owner and the scrum team, with the scrum master facilitating, to plan the work for the upcoming sprint. During the sprint planning meeting, the team and product owner negotiate the product backlog items (commonly written as user stories) that the team will attempt to deliver at the end of the sprint. The product owner focuses on the items that are most important to the business and what will generate the most return on investment at the earliest time possible. The team is working to ensure that what they commit to is the right amount of work to complete by the end of the sprint without accruing technical debt. The agreed upon sprint scope is taken from the product backlog and placed in the sprint backlog. Throughout the negotiating process in the sprint planning meeting, it is important for the team to determine their capacity. Estimating the number of story points to attribute to a product backlog item will help to determine the relative amount of effort to complete each product backlog item. As time goes on, the team can utilize their expected capacity to what they actually completed – often called the team’s velocity – to better plan for the amount of work the same team can complete in future sprints. During the sprint planning meeting, the team will also break the selected product backlog items for the sprint in to smaller tasks. This will help to organize the work in sprint and report progress on larger stories. The maximum allotted time for sprint planning is eight hours for a 30 day sprint, reduced proportionately for a shorter sprint.

Daily Scrum/Stand Up

Every day the scrum team and scrum master meet for a maximum of 15 minutes to discuss current status. Each team member should report the work completed the previous day, the work they plan to do today, and any impediments that could block progress. This meeting is referred to as the daily scrum or the daily stand up meeting. Teams are encouraged to actually stand up during this daily touch point (hence the title of daily stand up meeting). This helps to keep the meeting short and encourages taking longer conversations off line. You may often hear people refer to those topics as being “discussed at the sixteenth minute,” as the standup should be a maximum time box of 15 minutes. It is highly encouraged for the product owner to attend the daily scrum meetings if possible unless the product owner has a management or authoritative role over the members of the team. In that case, the product owner attendance may stifle self-organization and leadership within the team. The scrum master is present to help facilitate and break down impediments if they are reported, but team members should not be reporting to the scrum master; they should be reporting to the rest of their team members. Remember that the scrum master does not have decision making authority, and the team should self-organize as needed to make their commitments.

The Sprint Review Meeting

At the end of each sprint, a sprint review meeting is held with the product owner, scrum master, and scrum team. Additional stakeholders may also be invited. The main focus of this meeting is to deliver the product slice that was completed in the previous sprint. The scrum team is responsible for demonstrating the working product increment to the product owner. The product owner will attend the demonstration, review the commitments made during sprint planning, and determine which items are done (based on the team’s definition of done). Items that the product owner determines are incomplete are returned to the product backlog in the appropriate location based on priority. Demonstrations at the sprint review meeting often lead to additional feedback from the product owner (and other stakeholders, should they be invited) and new ideas for product backlog items. The scrum master should help the product owner convert their feedback to new product backlog items and prioritize those new items, considering the existing product backlog.

The Sprint Retrospective

At the end of each sprint, a sprint retrospective is also held. While the sprint review meeting is focused on what was completed in the previous sprint, the sprint retrospective should focus on the process to get to the end of the sprint and how to improve that process. During this meeting, the team reflects on their processes and determines actions to take to adapt and continuously improve for future sprints. The scrum master is responsible for facilitating this meeting, and in turn, is responsible for making sure the meeting is successful. Scrum masters may need to put in additional effort to create an environment that promotes psychological safety so that team members can freely express what is or isn’t working for them in the current format. Product owners may or may not attend the sprint retrospective, but they should not attend if they have authoritative power over team members. Retrospectives will often uncover impediments within the scrum team (i.e. our daily scrum is at a time that doesn’t work for the entire team), but also organizational impediments (the team is being pulled away from the project to work on other items). Once the team has determined an action plan for those items within their circle of influence, the scrum master should turn their focus to organizational impediments, to help chip away at them.

The Backlog Refinement Meeting

Most scrum teams will participate in a backlog refinement meeting (also known as grooming meeting) once per sprint. This allows the team to refine the product backlog items that are toward the top of the backlog. Refining these items helps the team to split tasks into smaller, more manageable pieces, re-prioritize as needed, and gain further understanding as to what is required before the product backlog item is in scope for the current sprint. Backlog refinement meetings support the streamlined and time boxed nature of the sprint planning meeting. Written by Kim Nelson, Netrix LLC