Resolutions, Reviews and Retrospectives

Resolutions, Reviews and Retrospectives

As a matter of course, I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions until at least February and this year, I have not made any.

Since I am a Scrum Master striving to lead an Agile Life, I’ve started planning and living my life in 2 week iteration (sprints) and am doing my first Sprint Review and Retrospective today. It is so much easier to set and achieve goals in a short 2-3 week period rather than the whole year. Plus it makes me very happy and excited to move my yellow sticky note user stories from the “In Progress” to the “Done” column (I know I am a total geek. See my article on Confessions of a Dashboard Junkie for further proof).

It is satisfying to have rapid feedback and visualization on the completion of your small, bite-sized chunk goals (user stories) and it is important to do a thorough review of the Sprint Board at the end of each iteration to determine what is still In Progress and/or what is not started in the To Do column.

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In the Retrospective, you can reflect on what you were able to complete and why, as well as what prevented you from starting or finishing a user story. Were there obstacles or unforeseen circumstances that interfered with you completing all your goals or did you simply procrastinate? Be brutally honest with yourself and strive to improve your process in the next sprint which starts tomorrow.

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The outcome of your Retrospective is a mini New Sprint Resolution and provides input to your next Sprint Plan.  This is why I don’t need New Year’s Resolutions anymore!

The Sprint Plan is done on the 1st day of the sprint and includes all of the user stories (goals) you want to complete in the next time period. It is meant to be a realistic picture of what you commit to getting done based on your understanding of the size and scope of the various items.

Living an Agile Life is rewarding, effective and less stressful than making huge blanket resolutions on some arbitrary date at the beginning of the year. Besides, your goals for the time period of Jan. 1-15 will probably be very different than your goals for Sep. 15-30. Conducting your Reviews and Retrospectives every 2 weeks will help you quickly analyze and adjust your life plans and goals as needed plus you will get so much more accomplished than if you didn’t track and plan with your Sprint board.

So here’s a toast to happy and healthy Sprint Reviews and Retrospectives!

May the Agile force be with you.

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Confessions of a Scrum Master

Every thing I needed to know about being a good Scrum Master I learned from my high school soccer coach, Miss Lonegan.

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Here’s what was instilled in me on a muddy soccer field in the early 1980s.

Great coaches and leaders:

  1. Motivate and help the team to be successful.
  2.  Walk with the team, on the field, everyday.
  3.  Teach others the process by sharing fundamental tasks and techniques.
  4.  Guide the team without being overly controlling.
  5.  Communicate positively.

These successful actions and traits recently dawned on me when I realized how important Personality and Temperament are to being an effective Scrum Master.

Over the past 5 years, I have been observing team dynamics as a Scrum Master (SM) on multiple teams in 3 different companies and have witnessed a number of SMs crash and burn due to not leading like good coaches. Lack of communication and soft skills were also a common theme with the ineffective Scrum Masters.

The most successful SMs are true team players and are comfortable surrendering control to the Product Owner and team. Adept Scrum Masters truly view their role as being in service to the team, removing obstacles for the team and helping them to be successful.

Facilitation is another important role of the Scrum Master and requires a high level collaboration and strong, tactful communication skills.   The authoritative, directive, ” my way or the highway ” approach does not work well with Scrum teams.

Project Managers can sometimes get away with a lack of soft skills but Scrum Masters, who are facilitators and coaches, cannot.

In the Retrospectives with our team, I ask them to think about the Results, the Experience and the Process of Agile and the sprint. I view my Scrum Master role as critical to helping the team to not only achieve great results (velocity) but to enjoy the experience and the process- just like my high school soccer coach did all those years ago!

A Fresh Look at Retrospectives

It’s been a few months since I wrote the Agile Life series and I came across a new way to think about Sprint Retrospectives.

What if we asked these 3 questions at the end of every life sprint ( 2-4 weeks)?

1. What am I going to start doing?
2. What am I going to stop doing?
3. What am I going to continue doing?

Food for thought Grasshopper…..

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An Agile Life- Part 2

How will living an Agile Life benefit you?   I hate to say it, but it depends.  It depends on how serious and committed you are to the process.  The Agile methodology does require discipline and daily/weekly focus and if you follow it, the rewards can be swift and significant.  Teams in professional work environments tend to become high performing and there’s no reason why you and I, on a personal level, can’t live life with increased levels of happiness and satisfaction.  We can have more sense of accomplishment, less stress and dare I say, more control over our destiny.

Both Dale Carnegie and Stephen Covey have agile principles incorporated in their best selling books,  “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” and “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”.    Mr. Carnegie sought to reduce worry by living in “day tight” compartments and focusing on the “tasks at hand”. Mr. Covey’s first three habits are completely in line with Agile’s backlog creation and refinement processes:

  1. Be proactive
  2. Begin with the end in mind
  3. Put first things first

To live your life in an agile way, we need to understand and implement 4 key concepts:

  1. Timeboxing (Sprinting)
  2. Backlog Creation
  3. Backlog Refinement
  4. Retrospective (Review)

In Agile, a timebox (sprint) is a previously agreed to period of time during which a person or team works steadily towards completion of some goal(s).  The duration of this timebox can be set to whatever you want or agree to with your team but it should remain consistent from sprint to sprint.  Most Agile projects have sprint durations of 2, 3 or 4 weeks.

For our Agile Life sprints, I think a 2 or 4 week timebox could work well.  Pick an interval duration you feel comfortable with and go with it.  Since I like more frequent check ins and reviews, I’m personally planning to go with 2 week sprint cycles for my life.

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Now that we have our sprint time intervals figured out, let’s talk about the fun stuff -our Backlog, our wish list, our bucket list on steroids!

The first step is to write down all of the things you’d like to do in the next year.  These things can be goals, actions, achievements, travel plans, household tasks, personal improvement, professional development, financial results or healthy lifestyle changes.  Anything you want should be added to the list.   These backlog items (User Stories) should be broken down into small enough chunks so that they are “Sprintable” i.e. capable of being completed during the time interval you determined for your sprints (2- 4 weeks).  In addition, the completion of these items/actions should be in your control (or that of your team).  If your Stories can not be achieved in a sprint,  they need to be broken down into smaller chunks or phases.  For example, if one your backlog item’s objective is to lose 10 pounds in 6 months then you could create multiple User Stories which state “Lose 2 pounds”.

Once you have a good draft of your Backlog completed, you’ll need to order and prioritize the User Story items.  Which items are most important?  What things do you want to accomplish first?  Then you need to divide up the items into your sprints.  For Sprint 1, include the 2-5 items that you can realistically accomplish during the time interval set.  If the timing is off for a Story and it can’t be done yet, just move it down the list and you’ll get to it later.

The process of Backlog creation is fun, rewarding and sometimes eye opening.   Brainstorming ideas and sharing with your friends and family can also help to clarify your goals and desires.  Give this phase some time and effort and then next week I will conclude the Agile Life series with Part 3 and we’ll dive into the final two components of the process : Backlog Refinement and Retrospectives.

An Agile Life- Part 1

I am a Scrum Master.  It’s a cool title with interesting roles and responsibilities.  On the surface, I facilitate a team in an Agile software development project but lately I’ve found myself having to analyze and consider the psychological and personality profiles of the team (a topic for another blog post).  I am a servant-leader, coach and part time grade school teacher in a process that stresses the importance of communication and teamwork.

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Agile is a framework based on iterative and incremental development where requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration within a self-organizing team. It can help teams become high performing in a relatively short amount of time, assuming they follow the guidelines and principles of Agile  (the “hard and fast rules” as our Agile coach Henry tells us).  Henry is very wise and often reminds me of Obi-Wan Kenobi. I’m not sure yet if I am Luke Skywalker or Princess Leia… but I digress.

Our scrum team meets every day for a 15 minute Standup meeting and we work in two week long Sprints.  At our daily Standups we review the commitments we made to the tasks in our User Stories and state what we plan to do in during the next 24 hours.  During each Sprint we conduct a Backlog grooming meeting, a Demonstration of our completed work and a Retrospective review of how we did.

The Agile process and experience has been stimulating, fun and rewarding and it has recently got me to shift my way of thinking about things. I’ve started asking strange questions like  “What if we lived our lives in 2 week increments?”.

What if we had an Agile Life?

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Imagine what it would be like to create a Backlog of all the things you wanted or needed to do in your life including all of your wishes and desires.  Kind of like a Bucket list on steroids.

What if you reviewed, prioritized and ordered this list every 2 weeks?

What if you planned out which items on your list (User Stories) you wanted or needed to accomplish in the next 2 week time period (Sprint)?

What if you (and your team/partner/family) committed to completing these items by the end of the Sprint?

What if you sat down at the end of every Sprint and reviewed what you accomplished (Retrospective)? What went well?  What didn’t go well? What were the results?  What can you do better next time?

Imagine what it would be like to take one action item from the last Retrospective and apply it to your next sprint.    What would this Agile process do to the level of satisfaction in your life?

What if you were the Scrum Master of your life?

In An Agile Life- Part 2, I’ll dive deeper into some of the impacts, benefits and ramifications of living life in 2 week increments.