How You Can Get Valuable Time Back: Part 2

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This is Part 2 in a series I’m writing about how you can get time back in your day, week, month, or project.   When a team reaches a natural velocity or throughput, how can you get more out of them? They physically can’t deliver any faster, given current conditions.  If we assume we have stable teams, let’s focus on governance and process.  Specifically, I’m going to talk about meetings again.  Why?  We all hate meetings but we all still have them.

In part 1, I wrote about a strategy to enable your email auto-responder to help manage the inbound meeting invites. In Part 2, I’m going to give you a simple strategy to start Spring Cleaning your calendar.

Spring Cleaning

If you’ve ever had a professional organizer come to your house for Spring cleaning, they may have employed a common strategy to weed through your crap.  It doesn’t matter if you are the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or some person appearing on an episode of A&E’s Hoarders. We all have too much stuff.  In this case, we’re not deciding if you should keep that mountain of National Geographic magazines sitting in the corner or all of those plastic shopping bags you’ve been keeping when you return from the grocery story. No, we’re going to inventory your meetings. Over time, we tend to accumulate meetings.  Time to take inventory and do some Spring Cleaning.

Inventory

As mentioned in the last post, some meetings have value than others. We’re going to need see which meeting we need to keep, which meetings we’re going to give away, and which we’re going to throw away.

Remember, meetings are supposed to be about the exchange of information.  Unfortunately, they are wildly inefficient and offer limited value.  For the most part, they are a waste of our time.  Nobody wants to listen to you go on and on about how many meetings you have, now that you’re becoming a bottleneck in getting things done.

To start, I’m going to review every existing and new meeting request and bucket those meetings into 3 categories.

  1. Non value added but it is necessary.
  2. Non value added but it is NOT necessary.
  3. Value added.

1. Non Value Added But Necessary

Instead of automatically accepting the next meeting request, pause and consider the meeting’s return on investment to you.

  • Does the purpose of the meeting align with the company’s strategic goals and priorities?
  • Are the objectives of the meeting clearly defined?
  • Can the organizer explain specifically why you were invited and the value you will provide?
  • Will this meeting assist you in achieving my objectives?

If the first four questions were all answered with a yes, you should still ask.

  • Will anyone notice if you didn’t show up?
  • Is attending this meeting the highest and best use of your time right now?

If any of the first four questions were answered with a no, you should seriously consider declining the invitation. If I was Spring cleaning, this pile would be earmarked to donate.  Because we can’t “donate” meetings, I would propose having someone else attend on your behalf or find some way of being informed of the meeting outcomes or action items.

2. Non Value Added But It Is NOT Necessary

Did you read that right?  This meeting not only does not provide strategic value but it’s also not necessary.

If I was Spring cleaning, this pile would be earmarked for the trash.  This is like a meeting to prepare for a meeting.  Before outright refusing, try to meet the organizer part way.  What problem are they trying to solve with the meeting?  Can it be solved some other way?

To ensure everyone has a shared understand of what meetings are not NOT acceptable, I would recommend making an actual list.

Thou shalt not have meetings about putting cover sheets on TFS reports

3. Value Added

If I was Spring cleaning, this pile would be a keeper.  This is something that you want or need, as part of business process.  Release Planning, Sprint Planning, Demos… I see these as all valuable meetings.  They all require decisions.

Conclusion

Remember, every time you say yes to a meeting, you are saying no to something else.

Check out some of these templates, including Meeting Agenda/Minutes template

Categories: Agile, Project Management Tags: Tags: , ,

Cheat Sheet for Backlog Refinement

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Backlog Refinement Meeting

Backlog Refinement Meeting

What is it?

The purpose of backlog refinement (grooming) is to make improvements to the product backlog.  Though there is no official ceremony detailed in the Scrum Guide, the activity of refining the Backlog is.

Who does it?

Backlog Refinement is a collaborative effort involving:

  • (Optional) facilitator – (like a ScrumMaster) keeps the session moving toward its intended goal
  • (Optional) representative(s) from the Management Team – clarify the high level priorities
  • (Mandatory) representative(s) from the Product Owner Team – clarify the details of the product backlog items
  • (Mandatory) representatives from the Agile Delivery Team – define the work and effort necessary to fulfill the completion of agreed upon product backlog items.  It is recommended to have at least one developer and one tester when refining the backlog, to ensure alternate viewpoints of the system are present.

When is it?

Before development of a user story in the current sprint (iteration), generally sometime during the previous 1 or 2 sprints, the team sits down to discuss the upcoming work. Do not wait too late to add details, because the delay will slow the team down. Do not refine your stories too far in advance, because the details might get stale. Depending on the delivery rate of your teams, you should be meeting once or twice a week to review the backlog.

Before You Begin

We need to ensure:

  • The product backlog is top-ordered to reflect the greatest needs of Management Team and the Product Owner Team
  • Candidates for grooming include stories identified as not ready to complete within the next sprint or will require multiple days of research
  • Epics, features or other items on the Management Team roadmap are reviewed periodically

The Backlog

The product backlog can address anything deemed valuable by the Product Owner Team. For the purpose of sprint planning, when using Scrum as the delivery framework, product backlog items must be small enough to be completed and accepted during the sprint and can be verified that they were implemented to the satisfaction of the Product Owner team. 

Estimate

Backlog items must be completed in a single sprint or split into multiple user stories. While refining, give stories an initial estimate to see if they are small enough. If not, split them. The best way to split product backlog items is by value and not by process.

Acceptance Criteria

All stories require acceptance criteria. Without it, you can not define the boundaries of a user story and confirm when a story is done and working as intended. Ensure acceptance criteria is testable.   This is what your testers should be writing tests against.

Rewrite Written Stories

Ensure the user story format is consistent, INVEST criteria is being met, and is written from a business not technical perspective.  Know who the customer is. It may not be an end user. Rather, the story may be for something like a service, to be consumed by another team.

Image Credit: Pictofigo

Originally Posted at LeadingAgile

A Lack of a Shared Understanding

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I am so glad we all agreeEarlier this week, I facilitated a backlog refinement meeting.  In the past, the team was used to all of the requirements being completed (in advance) by the analysts. The delivery team would then execute on those requirements. The problem, of course, was no shared understanding.

We came into the meeting with everyone agreeing they were on the same page.  That was true for about 15 minutes. The more we talked, the more they realized they were looking at things from individual perspectives.

At the beginning of the meeting, we had less than 10 user stories, from an analyst’s perspective. By the end of the meeting, we had a prioritized backlog with over 100 user stories at different levels of granularity.  It’s not perfect and it’s never done.  But, it’s a start.  For the first time, developers and testers were engaged at the beginning.  At LeadingAgile, we call this the Product Owner team.  When the highest priority stories get to a “ready” state, they will be pulled into a delivery team’s queue.  Until then, we need to answer some of the more complicated questions, mitigate risk, and achieve that shared understanding.

Image Source: Based on hand drawn image from Pictofigo

Free Sprint Planning Guide and Agenda

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As part of an Agile assessment, I sat in on a sprint planning meeting.  Though many out there are having sprint planning meetings at the beginning of every sprint, are they getting the most out of the time and effort?  As part of the services to my client, I will be providing a free cheat sheet for sprint planning.  It is both a guide and an agenda, to help keep them focused.  If you want a copy, just click the link at the bottom of the post.

What is Sprint Planning?
The purpose of the sprint planning meeting is for the team to agree to complete a set of the top-ordered product backlog items. This agreement defines the sprint backlog and is based on the team’s velocity or capacity and the length of the sprint timebox.

Who Does It?
Sprint planning is a collaborative effort involving:

  • ScrumMaster – facilitating the meeting
  • Product Owner – clarifying the details of the product backlog items and their acceptance criteria
  • Agile Team – defining the work and effort necessary to fulfill the forecasted completion of product backlog items

Before You Begin
Before getting started we need to ensure

  • The items in the product backlog have been sized by the team and assigned a relative story point value
  • The product backlog is top-ordered to reflect the greatest needs of the Product Owner
  • There is a general understanding of the acceptance criteria for these top-ordered backlog item

Backlogs
The product backlog can address both new functionality and fixes to existing functionality. For the purpose of sprint planning, product backlog items must be small enough to be completed during the sprint and can be verified that they were implemented correctly.

Right Sizing Backlog Items
Product backlog items too large to be completed in a sprint must be split into smaller pieces. The best way to split product backlog items is by value not by process.

Plan Based on Capacity
Mature teams may use a combination of team availability and velocity to forecast what product backlog items can be finished during the sprint.  New teams may not know their velocity or it may not be stable enough to use as a basis for sprint planning.  In those cases, new teams may need to make forecasts based solely on the team’s capacity.

Determining Capacity
The capacity of a team is derived from three simple measures for each team member:

  • Number of ideal hours in the work day
  • Days in the sprint that the person will be available
  • Percentage of time the person will dedicate to this team

The Planning Steps

  1. The Product Owner describes the highest ordered product backlog item(s)
  2. The team determines and prioritizes what is necessary to complete that product backlog item(s)
  3. Team members volunteer to own the work
  4. Work owners estimate the ideal hours they need to finish their work
  5. Planning continues while the team does not exceed determined capacity

Download the free 2-page Sprint Planning Guide and Agendadownload-flashcards

Drawings by Pictofigo