Thursday, December 15, 2016

Sprint Review Best Practices

The sprint review is a critical checkpoint in agile development. It is the opportunity for the stakeholder to see your solution to their problems. Their feedback during the presentation leads to future work being defined and provides a common understand of thier pain points to the development team.

From personal observation, I noticed a few things that detract from the effectiveness of a sprint review. Particularity, new team members don't know what to expect, so I think having a short set of guidelines helps set expectations.

The best case scenario is that you are sitting in the same room with your client. However, some of the points below consider the challenges of a remote team conducting a sprint reviews via telecon and screen-sharing.


  • Have a compelling narrative with demonstrable stories flowing into each other
    • Use a common scenario or theme as much as possible
  • Role-play as a specific stakeholder role, demonstrating new functionality within context of their daily tempo
    • Use their team names, role titles and domain language to inspire confidence that you know their processes and how the implemented stories help them
    • Shun words and phrases like "lorem ipsum" and "foo/bar" as they show you don't understand the problem or care enough to use stakeholder specific terms
  • Focus on new functionality, unless a review of previous functionality helps understand the context
    • Minimize UI components that don't contribute to demonstrating the new story
    • Maximize the UI so that background elements don't detract from the story focus
  • Know the audience and understand if they have previously seen the functional area you are talking about. There could be new people listening in or specially invited VIPs.
    • Give reminders of what acronyms stand for before using them
  • Know your project and its capabilities so that you can react to customer confusion and answer questions during the live demonstration
  • Allow "space" during the presentation for feedback. Remember, a good sprint review is not a monologue, it is a conversation.

  • The stakeholder always has precedence during conversations; don't over-talk them. Keep side conversations at a low volume so everyone can hear stakeholder feedback.
  • Mute your telecon microphone if you are not actively involved in a conversation. What seems like low background noise to you can come through loud and clear over the telcon.
  • Turn off cell phone ringers
  • Presenter should close all applications, such as email, IM and team chat apps, that could display popup notifications during the presentation

I hope these points help you during your next sprint review.

And if you think these are all common sense, stay tuned for my next blog post!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Agile Story Done Criteria Template

As an agile development team lead, I assisted our solution owner by explaining the intent and direction of our backlog stories to the team.  Normally this happened during a weekly team "backlog grooming" session. The purpose of the session was to fully understand the story, scope out the done criteria to match a fairly solid implementation plan and to estimate a story WAG. 

I found that the extra planning and team discussion before the story was accepted at backlog selection a valuable time investment. To help focus the grooming session discussion, I created a standard template for the story Done Criteria section. The concept of the template is to encourage team participation, scope the full expectations of the story, and document important discussions and ideas that will prevent confusion during the implementing sprint.

I'll present my template below and then follow that with a more detailed explanation for each section of the done criteria.

Story Done Criteria Template:

User Acceptance:

  1. User can save a new map scene composed of a map background layer, a lat/lon center point and a zoom level.
  2. User can only delete a map scene if the user was the creator.
  3. ...

Team Definition of Done (derived requirements, quality, standards):

  1. Approved by UI team
  2. Must create a supporting release notes task documenting manual installation steps
  3. Remove unused database entries for "*" properties.
  4. ...


  1. Users cannot rename map scenes. This is covered by a future backlog story.

Discussion Answers:

  1. TBD

Template Explanation:

User Acceptance:
User-facing requirements that must be complete for the solution owner to accept the story. Typically thought of as hard requirements that would necessitate direct negotiation with the solution owner (or users) if an problem were discovered during implementation or testing.

Team Definition of Done:
Derived requirements that influence the team's implementation.  These could represent functionality that a user would notice, but that does not impact the user's intent of the story.  This category also encompasses criteria that the implementation team values for internal quality, consistency or project standards reasons. Items in the section can be contributed by anyone on the team: developers, designers or quality control, for example.

Note that these specific criteria typically represent areas of high risk and otherwise important tasks that have not yet become a normal habit of a high performing team. For example, we don't call out typical story tasks such as unit testing, peer reviews or required documentation updates.

This important category complements the positive criteria of the story by documenting good ideas for future backlog stories. Having this section seemed to encourage team members to contribute ideas on stories while allowing a place to record the ideas without bloating the scope of the story being discussed.

The other important reason for this section is that by being explicit here, we can avoid mid-story confusion when someone asks: What is the expected functionality when the user does X? Did we forget to consider this functionality or did we talk about it and arrive at a decision that it was not covered by this story?

Discussion Answers:
This section is for use AFTER the story has been accepted by the team and is under development. If any mid-sprint issues are discovered where the expectations are not clearly covered by user criteria, the team will work out a plan with the solution owner AND record the decision here. All such answers should be recorded here as the source of the requirements. This avoids having important story criteria being discussed in email threads, or on the phone, but not transcribed here for full team visibility.

Typically, these answers will be translated into criteria for user story acceptance tests (USAT) and become part of the official application specification.

Miscellaneous Helpful Ideas:
  • The criteria should use numbered bullets for quick, unambiguous verbal reference during the team grooming session.
  • Out-of-Scope items should have a POC assigned so that the ideas get translated into new stories or suggested to the users during the sprint review presentation.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Workplace Strife Advice

This post is a second chance.  A respected coworker asked me for advice on a heated personal office conflict, and while I think I gave a good answer, he was unconvinced.  In hindsight, I did not do a good job explaining some good reasons for the answer I gave, which summarized, would be:
Take the easy out and move on as quickly as possible.
While I suspect there is professional pride involved in the disagreement, it is in the interest of everyone in the office to get over it and put it all in the rear view mirror so that work can progress.

My second chance advice on the nature of the conflict derives from what I know about my coworkers:

  • They are both experienced team leads
  • Both teams work on the same software project; developers and quality control
  • They work in geographically separated offices 
  • Neither has met the other in person
  • They do work together on a daily basis via team chat, emails and morning scrum

I have an long drive home from work, so I naturally started to reflect on that conversation and the difficult situation that my friends were in.  I came up with the following points that may help someone else who is experiencing a difficult personal interaction that is seemingly at an impasse.
The very best solution, of course, would be for both people to meet (or call because of being on a distributed team) and work through the differences so they can continue together as a high functioning team.
But short of that, I believe all of the points below are helpful.  They are not meant to be used all at once as a big fire-hose solution to extinguish a workplace fire.  Rather, I'm hoping one or more of these register as a well made point that makes sense and helps someone through a similar conflict.

I also hope these points are not taken as being callous, as any one of them would resonate with me if I was in the same situation (seemingly stuck without chance of agreement nor common ground reached), and someone offered me an outside view of my situation.

  1. Your future self does not care about this argument as much as you do. Look back on this situation in 10 years and realize that it simply was not that important.
  2. As a team lead, you need to consider that time spent extending a conflict is time taken away from your leadership responsibilities owed to your junior team members
  3. Being wrong can be a drastic side effect of choosing your Perfection over their Very Good.
  4. The thing you are arguing over may be of-value, but the argument itself is valueless. You were hired for your life experiences and professional skill set, neither of which are being put to use to solve the problems you should be working on. You expect to be paid for excessive time spent arguing?
  5. So, you've been challenged to a High Noon showdown and you're asking for advice on which ammunition to use instead of how to avoid a public gunfight?
  6. If you're mutually blocking each others progress, does it matter who gets credit for standing their ground the longest? There is no absolute right or wrong in matters of opinion.
  7. Don't get blocked! It IS within your power to move forward. 
  8. Is your professional ego more important than your human interactions? What is the point of being "right" if you are causing, or prolonging, a painful situation when both of you are literally losing sleep over it? Conflict is natural, but suffering is not.

What advice would you give a coworker in a heated, ongoing situation?