Sprint Tasking Tip: Don’t Give Up!


Don’t give up!

I’ve coached several teams into self organizing to create a Sprint Backlog and task out all of their Product Backlog Items. The first couple of times is always painful.

Anecdote

One team I coached took 16 hours(X 6 people) in their first Sprint Planning Meeting for a 2 week sprint! (The Scrum Time-box for the planning meeting is 4 hours for a 2 week sprint.) That team had just about every challenge you can imagine.

  • None of the team members had ever worked together.
  • None of the team members had ever done Scrum before.
  • They were creating a Product Backlog from scratch.
    • In any new team I coach, I always give first attention to building up a nice backlog and recommend the Scrum transition not start until the backlog is beefed up. With this team, I didn’t have that opportunity.
  • They had a person who had never played the Product Owner role before and did not have a background in Product Management
    • He was a former developer…often the worst choice for a Product Owner
  • They had a person who had never played the ScrumMaster role before.

The one thing this team did have was me, an experienced Scrum Coach. I told them flat out, that due to the challenges, their first Sprint Planning Meeting would be the worst they’d ever experienced, but I promised them it would get better. The first thing we did in Sprint 1 was we created a task to represent the Sprint Planning Meeting and estimated it. The team estimated it at 3 hours. (!) Anyway, to make a long story short, we got more efficient. While I never advocate doing a detailed tracking of task “actual hours”, this one(the time for the planning meeting) I kept an eye on. Here is how it went:

  • Sprint 1: 16 hours
  • Sprint 2: 9 hours
  • Sprint 3: 3 hours
  • Sprint 4: 1.5 hours
    • Note that this is less than half the Scrum Guide Time-box for Sprint Planning.
      • Part of the reason this team could get this efficient is because they only had 5 developers, the low end of the 5-9 developer size for Scrum Teams.
      • There was also a significant increase in velocity between Sprints 3 and 4, so we were actually planning more work in far less time!

Two major things happened between about Sprint 2 and 3:

  • First, I finally caught the Product Owner up on his Product Backlog responsibilities. In Sprint 2, we began backlog grooming and built the product backlog up to a very healthy size. We also greatly improved the detail of each PBI, making sure we knew the acceptance criteria for each one.
  • Second, the development team became very proficient at tasking out their work(part 2 of the Sprint Planning Meeting). At first, the whole team sat around while one person wrote tasks. I let this occur for 2 sprints (it’s a good team learning experience, though somewhat painful). Then I strongly recommended they use my preferred practice, which is to scale the activity something like the following:
    1. Split the team up into pairs. If an odd number, make one a triplet. Try to mix disciplines. For instance, prefer 1 dev and 1 tester over 2 devs.
    2. Have each pair select a PBI to task out.
      • Optional: make a logical choice here, like someone who has the most knowledge about a particular PBI.
    3. Have each pair task out the selected PBI.
    4. Repeat steps 2-3 until until the team feels like they have enough work for about 1.2 sprints worth.
    5. Post all of the tasked out PBI’s for the entire team to see.
    6. Give the entire team a few minutes to tweak estimates and discuss. Time-box this step. For a 2 week sprint, about 10-15 minutes or maybe even less. Do not let estimate discussions drag on needlessly.

Have you ever experienced Sprint Tasking pain?  If so, click on the comment link and tell me about your experience.

As always, May the Sprint be with you!  🙂

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