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03.09.2010 Scrum Introspective

Things tend to start out small

Today I started working with a new Scrum team. The team is freshly formed. The members have worked in adjacent teams, all following scrumbut. There are some other Scrum Masters who all have a brand-new team to work with. This is a great environment to share thoughts and learn from others.

The foremost question we all had was how to approach the teams for the first Scrum meeting. The meeting that Scrum defines for inspecting and adapting is the retrospective. One of the simplest ways of facilitating a retrospective is to ask the team for things to keep, to stop doing and to try. Some toss in an opportunity to show gratitude where it is due. When the team is fresh, it is not constructive to contemplate the problems of the previous team and the gratitude was hopefully signed, sealed and delivered in the final retrospective of that team. In every team there are things that work and a way to feel empowered in the new team is to keep going with the good work. Surely there are also things that should be tried in the new team.

Scrum is built on a few regular meetings and everything is timeboxed. The most important meeting is the daily stand-up. Rough plans are important and for that use we have the sprint planning meeting. To prepare vague stories to be workable in following sprints we have something we call a 5% workshop which should form 5% of our working time. Also the retrospective should have a slot.

Everyone of us has expectations on the Scrum Master. Another certainty is that the Scrum Master has expectations as well. Being open about things is surely one of them. These should be discussed with the team.

To know our velocity, we need to have a metric for the amount work. This requires us to use a metric for the relative size of user stories. Before we start our first planning we need to have a rough idea of what we should use. Man-days and man-hours tend to be inaccurate and someone might think they are a promise of execution time.

With any good practice you get merchandise. The Scrum furniture is the information radiator. Every team has their own style and a preference.

The team is made out of its members and introductions may be in order. Even a team of familiar people may have gaps in the specifics of each other’s competences and a few more words on their personal interest may reveal that they, in fact, are real people.

A guiding rule of Scrum and business is priority. Even if it is highly unlikely that the introspective meeting would be interrupted, it makes sense to prioritize, it is good exercise for later.

  1. Introduction - 10 min
  2. Meeting times (daily, planning, 5%, retrospective) - 10 min
  3. Estimation - 10 min
  4. The team’s expectations - 10 min
  5. The Scrum Master’s take on the world - 5 min
  6. Things to keep from previous teams - 10 min
  7. Things to try - 10 min
  8. The placement and states of the radiator - 5 min

Coincidentally this equals the items a few of my colleagues had prepared for their teams. The timeboxes were not my idea but they provide a good cadence for the meeting.

The priority of things is pretty straightforward. The radiator is something the Scrum Master can make himself and revisions will appear. The initial set of columns however helps to find a properly sized board and some teams might actually have a history of success with a specific flow of work.

Introduction sets a tone, that should be first. Meeting times are obviously important. If the time for retrospective is not scheduled, there will be no improvement and without daily meetings there is no cadence. Scrum will not start without these. With a new team planning and estimating will always be close by.

The difference between expectations and the tries and keeps is that the expectations start fading when experience marches in where new ideas will be plenty in every retrospective.

So how did the meeting go?

Well, we skipped the introduction because back then I thought a bit differently, a mistake I need a new team to fix. The meeting times were trivial to set. We did have a long discussion about estimation and story points. The results are a general idea of not using the word hour even if the reference might be something like it to begin with.

The expectations of the team are a good way to benchmark the team’s knowledge of Scrum. The errands they expect you to run are like flags they wave. If they ask for coaching, you are lucky. The mileage within the team may vary. If they like you to do their work for them, there is a lot of work to do. My team is just fine.

My expectations ended up sounding like a motivational speech. I think that wasn’t so bad. The tries and keeps were a long discussion and we have some pointers. Among things to have is a good definition of done and proper planning. I loved it. One of the more Kaizen items I collected is communication. In fact that did not come up literally and it is more like an easily readable undertone.