One of the topics most of the project managers and traditional organizations at the beginning of their Agile transformation journey are struggling are deadlines. How can we do Scrum and commit ourselves to the date when we don’t know the scope? Let’s make this clear. Scrum is purpose driven, not functionality driven. What does that mean? It’s not about delivery, it’s about achieving the certain outcome. And that’s a game changer. Instead of fixing the whole scope at the beginning, we spend the time to understand the purpose. Form a vision. What do we want to achieve? For whom? Where is the value? How are we going to change the world once it’s done? What makes it different?
Once you have enough mutual understanding of the business value and the vision, you are ready to continue. So, we agreed that in long-term, you need to achieve this, what about mid-term? What is the most important to achieve now? Where is the biggest risk we need to mitigate by feedback? What impact do we need to get? Once you have this release agreed, you are ready to start Sprints. Again, Sprint is not about precise functionality delivery, but achieving certain impact, deliver value and learn from that. Therefore, there is a Sprint Goal – a small vision for a Sprint, answering a question what do we need to achieve in the short-term.
Finally, none of those deliveries can actually fail. Of course, you can learn that your business idea was wrong or the value was not where you would expect it. That’s why we use Scrum, to test our hypothesis. But the nice thing is, that neither Sprint nor release can actually fail the delivery if you prioritize well because 80% business value is hidden it 20% of the functionality. If you prioritize the value, you always achieve the goals.
So next time when your customer ask when it’s going to be done, you can invite him in the conversation about the value, vision, release charters, and Sprint Goals. Don’t ask what they want, ask what they need and why. Only then you are both going to be successful with Agile.
How much time takes your team to finish Sprint Planning? To my experience it could be anything in between of above mentioned 30 minutes and full day. If you are closer to the second option and it feels scary, annoying, waste of time for you, let’s have a look at few recommendations how to cut it out into 30 minutes.
First, let’s see how to run the Sprint Planning itself. I recommend Product Owners to come to the Sprint Planning with physical cards for each User Story. They quickly introduce them, answer questions if needed and then let the team choose out of them. Don’t bring the exact ordered list; let them freely choose from the cards. There are two reasons for that. First, you maximize work done as they can organize themselves in a way they are most efficient, and at the same time there is higher commitment as well. Second, you build a trust between team and Product Owner. You trust them they will choose the right User Story which brings the highest value at the moment. Once the team select the User Stories witch they believe they are able to finish within the next Sprint and put them on Scrum board, Product Owner and Scrum Master can leave and let the team finish the Sprint Planning. During this second phase team will collaboratively split the selected User Stories into maximum one day tasks and revise the Sprint Backlog commitment. After 30 min they are done, have full board of cards and can start working.
If that still feel unbelievable, let’s have a look to the preparation. There are three key recommendations you should do in order to make your planning fast and meaningful. First is for Product Owner. 2-3 days before the Sprint planning let the team know what are your priorities for the next Sprint, so they can have a look and prepare themselves, ask questions, etc. Second is proper Backlog Grooming. The goal of Backlog Grooming is make sure the team understand Product/Release backlog (i.e. all User Stories, Super User Stories, Epics and vision). At this time team do the estimations and help Product Owner to split User Stories which are too big, or add Acceptance Criteria. Once understood, they are ready to be planned to the Sprint.
To summarize it, if you are not able to do such fast planning, improve your preparation (team time to prepare, grooming, pre-planning) so the planning is here not to investigate new functionality but to confirm how much we can make. Doing that, you gain motivated team who is not wasting time at never ending planning, better reliable Sprint plans and higher backlog quality as you are not pushed to do splits and changes at the last moment. Start step by step and continuously decrease your time needed. It’ll go much faster than you would imagine.