Sprint planning, refined

I’ve now realized what this series of posts are in this blog. This is not as much about agile excellence or best practice. It’s the story of a great, committed, agile team learning new techniques on the journey to being more efficient and predictable, with three people new to the roles.

We did a number of backlog grooming sessions in the past week, as we put our focus on the deliverables needed before our 1.0 release comes out, coincident with a major international tradeshow where we will be exhibiting. We went into our sprint planning with a clear view of the backlog to make a viable 1.0 release.

We tried a few new things in this sprint planning, which made for a long afternoon. First, we did estimates in story points for all of the items that we wanted to include in this release. That spanned the time period of three sprints, and we have 2.5 sprints until the tradeshow. We’re close, and may actually make it if we keep focus and our velocity picks up as much as it has in the last sprint. One new thing that we introduced in this sprint was estimating in story points (not just t-shirt size) and planning poker cards with the Fibonacci sequence. The sizes felt larger than the effort expected and the stories too large (most were 13 or 20), but the team did take a consistent view of story size that led to these larger sizes. Rather than debating sizes, we went for consistency and figured that we’d see how it worked in the burndown. [Hint... our current trajectory shows us at 0 about 2/3 though the two weeks, but it's still early.]

One of the items we noticed from the last sprint, where we did task breakdown by hours, is that tasks became dissociated from the stories… the task to-do became an undifferentiated pool of tasks. In the retrospective, we decided to do a few things:

  • Change the focus to finishing a few stories first, rather than working on [potentially] all stories at once.
  • Have the association of stories and tasks be clear.  So, if a story had the label “(A) Change the bulb,” the tasks were “A.1, acquire a new bulb,” “A.2 Unscrew old bulb and dispose,” “A.3  Screw in new bulb.” That ordered the task backlog well.
  • Change from closing all stories in the sprint review to closing them mid-sprint, as completed.

We also made an attempt at writing a sprint goal so that the team could rally around the focus for the sprint. We left the room before this was complete, and went into the standup meeting to wordsmith this. In the future, the product owner should enter the sprint planning with a draft of the goal, and then it can be altered as the team commitment is refined.

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