You may have heard that Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches dislike putting any form of equation between the terms “daily” and “status”. For us not to fall into the coaching trap, let’s clarify one thing: development status will surface on daily meetings. And that’s natural. But daily meetings are not meant to be for teams to simply rattle off tasks for the day. If that’s the case, your project is already in the danger zone. What went wrong?
Planning? Always. Creating stiff plans? Never.
The “responding to change over following a plan” point in the agile manifesto is often misunderstood as a declaration of no-plan policy. The term “agile” is equalized with the “figure out as-you-go” approach, crossing the fine line between flexible planning and chaos. So, to answer the question: do Scrum masters and their teams plan? Always. Do they make plans set in stone? Never.
There are many reasons for failing plans, but let’s focus on the main “don’t”: strict planning. We’ve been down that road and here’s what happened:
- Plans were too binding for the team.
- Tasks were assigned to developers during planning.
- Every daily meeting swiftly turned into a status meeting, and team members simply rattled off status updates, with little interest in plans and tasks of other team members.
Based on our experiences, we figured out a surefire way to avoid falling into these traps.
How do “not-so-agile” teams fall into the failure pit?
- The team creates a strict, waterfall-like plan for the entire sprint. The goal is set (yay!), and tasks are assigned to developers. Dependencies are not paid attention to.
- The team meets daily, but as every developer has a plan to deliver for themselves, everyone focuses on their own task burndown. Cooperation is dead, with people only reporting statuses to the stakeholders or Product Owners.
- The plan starts to fall apart as the smaller pieces don’t come together, like a faulty puzzle.
- The sprint review is filled with unhappy faces.
What should be your focus? The goal, or the tasks?
First,you need to ask yourself the question: what is the goal, not what are the particular tasks needed to accomplish it. The key for agile plans is to develop them with the goal in mind and for a short period of time. This way, not only does the team know what should be delivered, but can follow a plan with low risk of failure. And even if it turns out that the plan needs to be changed and adjusted, the costs are acceptable or even insignificant. This is exactly what makes a project succeed or fail: how you approach planning. If you make them rigid, the project will likely end in failure. And nobody likes to fail.
5 takeaways for planning
- Don’t set everything in stone during planning sessions. That way, you are possibly setting yourselves up for failure. Instead, focus on goals and set tasks daily.
- Focus on the sprint goal and adjust accordingly. Plans should navigate to the goal, not lay out tasks.
- Keep in mind the dependencies between team members' tasks. This way, you will avoid a situation in which many tasks are blocked by others. The plan should be realistic. If it’s not, it needs to be changed.
- Don’t overload your developers with must-haves for each sprint. Instead, focus on the business goal (sprint goal) and give flexibility to achieve this.
Tips for sprint planning and daily execution
Tip #1 Mentor your team
The Scrum Master should mentor the team on the purposes of planning and daily meetings.
Tip #2 Engage the team in planning
The plan should be created by the entire team and the Product Owner, based on the current sprint goal. All Product Backlog Items (PBI’s) and workload should be planned with dependencies in mind, facilitated by the Scrum Master.
Tip #3 Pay attention to dependencies
The Scrum Master should make sure that it’s possible to deliver the plan by gauging dependencies between particular team members’ tasks. If the dependencies turn out to be unrealistic, the sprint goal needs to be changed.
Tip #4 Remember what dailys are for
Daily meetings are not for statusing! Each developer should pick a new task that is currently important for the overall sprint goal and (together with other developers) co-create a plan for other team members to manage dependencies between each other’s tasks. The Scrum Master can facilitate the meeting to keep it short and efficient.
Tip #5 Keep tasks realistic
Plans set out during “dailys” should be possible to complete by the end of a given day, making room for setting new tasks during the next day’s daily.
Now that you know the do’s and don'ts of planning and daily execution, we can move on to the Scrum Master’s role as a facilitator in daily meetings. But that is another “Day in the Life of a Scrum Master”, so keep tabs on our #3 article in the series!
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