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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Rebooting My Agile Life

In October 2013, I wrote the following in Part 1 of my blog’s “An Agile Life” series:

“What if we lived our lives in 2 week increments?

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? “

Well, 2+ years later and after a serious New Years Day Retrospective, it is time for a major reboot in my life sprints. Time to create my Backlog again, prioritize my User Stories and work on them in shorter iterations.

Time to post my sprint board on the refrigerator!

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Here we go, Day 1 of Sprint 16.01, I’ll let you know how my Retrospective went in early February!

Here’s how you can get started on your Agile Life:

Step 1: Grab some sticky notes and markers and start writing out the items you wish to work on/ accomplish (one per note).

Step 2: Create your sprint board with a sheet of page. Make 3 columns: To Do, In Progress and Done.

Step 3: Determine your sprint duration ( 1, 2, 3 or 4 weeks)

Step 4: Place your items ( user stories on sticky notes) on your sprint board.

Step 5: Review your user story status and track progress each day until the end of the sprint.

Step 6: Conduct a Retrospective on the last day of the sprint.

Step 7: Update your sprint board during for the next sprint’s planning session.

Step 8: Repeat steps 4- 6.

Good luck and may the force be with you!

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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.