Celebrating Scrum Ceremonies

In the words of @MeetingBoyIf someone falls asleep during your PowerPoint presentation, you are at least partially to blame. Believe it or not but unproductive meetings are a bitter truth of many IT companies. Offices are cleverly designed around meeting rooms which can hide the participants when they are yawning or fiddling with their cell phones. Meetings are important no doubt, but which ones – that’s difficult to identify. And many times, you end up in meetings where your presence is invisible. In my experience – and many will agree – if you survive a meeting without uttering a word, that’s closer to being of no use to you.

Scrum addresses this concern by defining a fixed number of ceremonies that have been identified to enable enough communication on a project. These ceremonies help plan sprints, share work information, demonstrate work results, and retrospect for improvements. These reduce time wastage around unnecessary discussions and improve productivity. Let’s take a look at these ceremonies and the ideology behind each [1].

Sprint Planning:
An image of a sprint planning meeting.Source: Microsoft Office Clip Art

A sprint is a short iteration cycle of one to four week duration, at the end of which a potentially shippable product is delivered as per the definition of done. Every sprint starts with a sprint planning meeting that allows the team to plan and commit to a sprint goal (what needs to be achieved). It’s the product owner’s responsibility to make sure that enough details are provided to the high-priority items from the product backlog, prior to the planning meeting. During the planning, the product owner explains what must be done as a part of a requirement. The team decides how much can be done and how to do it. Work is limited as per the team’s capacity (managed by the scrum master) to reduce exhaustion, and help flourish playfulness and creativity.

It’s important to note that commitment does not guarantee that everything will be delivered. Everything that can possibly go wrong will go wrong – Murphy’s Law. But under achievement is an exception and its root-cause is identified and improved through retrospectives (explained below).

Daily Scrum:
An image of a daily scrum (stand-up) meeting.Source: Microsoft Office Clip Art

A daily scrum allows team members to get an insight of what each is doing on the team and if someone is facing any impediments. Daily scrums are a private affair between the team members and a passive scrum master; other stakeholders are free to attend as silent observers. Each team member stands throughout the meeting and answers only three questions: what I did yesterday, what I plan to do today, and any impediments in my way. Daily scrums are a great way to identify impediments and the helpers who can resolve it; care is taken that the actual resolution happens outside the meeting. The meeting duration is limited to not more than 20 minutes and takes place once every 24 hours.

Scrum master ensures that the impediments are resolved as quickly as possible. Although impediment resolution may seem to slow down the project, it avoids the bigger issues that may snowball later. As rightly said, problems are treasures, they provide an opportunity to learn and improve [2].

Sprint Review:
An image of a sprint review meeting.Source: Microsoft Office Clip Art

Sprint reviews are an outlet to demonstrate the work results to all the stakeholders at the end of a sprint. These reviews form small steps towards a wholesome product which the customers monitor and plan the future. Team members demonstrate the actual work produced (no slides and mock-ups) during the sprint to all the stakeholders. Scrum master anticipates two hours of review preparation time while planning the sprint’s capacity. The product owner kicks off the meeting by comparing the product increment to the sprint goal, the actual to the target, in order to determine the progress.

Each increment is thoroughly reviewed and accepted or rejected by the product owner as per the acceptance criteria. Unfinished or defective items are not accepted. On completion, stakeholders are provide their feedback and discover new items to be added to the backlog or strike off items that have become redundant.

Sprint Retrospective:
An image of a sprint retrospective meeting.Source: Microsoft Office Clip Art

Retrospectives mark the end of a sprint and allow the team to inspect the completed sprint. Driven by the scrum master, team members and stakeholders identify the rewards, problems, and improvement measures that will make the work more enjoyable and effective. Retrospectives help make sustained improvements by identifying actionable measures which are usually implemented in the next sprint. Bigger improvements are planned and executed over time by adding it to the backlog. A number of retrospective methods are employed to help unearth improvements in varied areas of the project.

Are these it?

For most scrum teams, these are the only meetings that are required to make great progress. For large projects, a few additional meetings might be required to monitor the progress better. Joint planning and retrospectives in projects with multiple teams, scrum of scrums between the team representatives from multiple teams to discuss the daily status quo, and look-ahead meetings to review the backlog for items planned two or three sprints ahead that enable better planning are a few more ceremonies that may be required under project conditions. Apart from these, regular backlog grooming sessions between the team members and the product owner help keep requirements up to date with sufficient details that improve planning and execution. But in an ideal scrum world, these are it!

References:

[1] Roman Pichler, Agile Product Management with Scrum: Creating Products that Customers Love, Pearson Education Inc., 2012; ISBN 978-81-317-6664-4

[2] Dennis Pascal, Getting the Right Thing Done: A Leader’s Guide to Planning and Execution, Lean Enterprise Institute, 2006; ISBN 978-0976315261