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Barry Ashford

Scrim Master

Are you ready to sprint?

As a newbie, still learning about agile project management, I often ask myself: Are we ready to sprint?

At first, I was wondering if my team was ready to start developing an application, but then I realised I was wondering about myself – Am I ready to sprint?

It’s all well and good having an understanding – and being fairly well read – in agile, but without the practical experience, I knew I had better make sure the answer to both of those questions was a loud and resounding Yes.

So, I began to ask questions…

  • when is it time to start a sprint?
  • what state does the product backlog need to be in?
  • have we done enough research?
  • how do we plan each sprint?
  • how do I use our project management app properly?

My first task was simple (but not that straightforward): How do I know when we are ready to start sprinting? The answer to that is multi-faceted and as much of the differing articles, blog posts and information guides I read varied on the subject, there was always a single point they agreed upon:

The product backlog is the key driver in any sprint, as it contains everything that needs to be completed in the project.

So with the focus now on the product backlog and knowing that it is never really completed, I needed to make sure it was where we needed it to be. One of the key aspects with agile and scrum is that you do just enough to get started. This meant that we would need to do just enough planning to start the first sprint without mapping out the entire project. With this in mind it meant that the product backlog:

  • contains only items that add value to the project
  • is ordered correctly by priority / most important at the top using one or more of the following (whilst considering those items that need to be worked simultaneously)
    • by value to the business
    • by cost to the business
    • by risks involved
  • has a higher level of detail in items closer to the top of the backlog than those further down (just enough)
  • contains user stories that are written correctly (INVEST)
  • has estimates of effort / time added to backlog items
  • contains agreed success criteria for completion of backlog items

Now this was a lot to make sure was in place even though it is only a small project regarding the scope and number of people / end users involved.

To help all of those involved understand what needs to be in place before a sprint starts, some companies / teams create a Definition of Ready (similar to a Definition of Done) that will clearly define when a backlog item is ‘ready’ to be worked on in a sprint. If our project wasn’t as small or the people involved so few then I might have opted for this myself but decided it wasn’t needed in this instance.

 

One of the key aspects with agile and scrum is that you do just enough to get started.

With the backlog now ready that left me with only one question: Am I ready?

I think the very first time I asked this question of myself I really wasn’t. Even though I had the right support around me, the right coach to help me along, the right experience to lean on, a steadily improving knowledge base and skillset, at that moment I really was missing something or at least felt like I was.

When I ask myself that question now… Well, I haven’t been more ready!

So what changed?

Confidence. I was worried that I didn’t know enough or that I would fail, so I spent a lot of time researching everything. The turning point came when my manger said:

“Now is the time to ask questions. Now is the time to make mistakes and learn from them and remember that NO question is a stupid question. If you are going to fail then fail fast and fail forwards.”

This statement about embracing failure, led me to the realisation that no Scrum Master is ready on their first project. Everybody that starts out won’t know everything and will have very little or no experience. Mostly I realised that you really do need to go through the process of being a Scrum Master leading a project, to fully understand how to put all this knowledge into action.

I am looking forward to applying an agile approach to my own learning and grow from the experience it will give me.