Scrum Beginnings (Part 4): The Scrum Refresher

Scrabble Tiles that spell out Learn

Imagine if someone came up to you and asked you what agile is, or perhaps they want to know what Scrum is and why we do each of the ceremonies. Could you give them your elevator pitch and succinctly answer those questions? For many of us, despite having experience with Scrum, we may not always have the most concise and straight-forward answers!

If you are starting a new job as a Scrum Master, you will inevitably get asked questions about Scrum and what the best practices are. Your new role may require that you catch your team up to speed with the mechanics of Scrum. You may need to sit down with them and explain some of the terms, values and principles of Scrum if they are unfamiliar. Even for an experienced veteran, it is always nice to get a refresher course to catch up on the fundamentals. Once again, it will totally depend on the experience of your team and organization. Here are a few questions to get your thoughts flowing.

What is Agile?

Agile is a time boxed, iterative approach that builds a product incrementally from the start of the project, instead of trying to deliver it all at once near the end. It works by breaking projects down into smaller chunks of user functionality called user stories, prioritizing them, and then continuously delivering them in short iterations.

What is Scrum?

Scrum is an iterative and incremental agile software development method for managing software projects and product or application development. It is a flavor of Agile! Scrum provides structure, discipline and a framework for Agile development. It has ceremonies such as daily stand-ups, sprint planning, sprint demos and retrospectives and a cross-functional team with personnel such as a Scrum Master, Product Owner, Developers and QA.

What ceremonies will we be participating in?

A traditional Scrum team will have daily standups, backlog groomings, sprint planning meetings, sprint demos & sprint retrospectives. Other non-scrum related meetings that the team might participate in are test case reviews, customer related problems, and Bug triage meetings. More in-depth commentary will be written about my experience with these ceremonies and other meetings in future posts.

What is the purpose of the Stand-up?

The purpose of the daily stand-up/Scrum is to allow an opportunity for the team to come together for a short 15-20 minute time and discuss what they completed yesterday, what they are working today and whether there are any impediments that may be hindering them from completing a task or a story. The teams I have worked with have preferred morning meetings so that they can hear about the issues at hand and address them quickly before the day gets going. I want to emphasize a very important point that the stand-up is NOT for the Scrum Master to keep tabs on the team, but it’s for the team to stay current with each other and help each other if needed. Younger, less experienced teams will have the tendency to stare right at me when giving their status. I often have to remind them that this meeting is about them, and not me. I am there strictly to facilitate the ceremony.

What day of the week should we start our sprints?

I have been asked why sprints for our teams start on a Wednesday, instead of a Monday. Although there is no hard, set rule, Wednesdays are the day of the week when every member of the team will typically be in the office. Often, developers may work from home on Mondays or a Friday, so this just allows us the best chance to all be together during our Sprint plannings on Wednesdays.

How long are our sprints?

Organizations that utilize Scrum will typically have sprints that last anywhere from 1-4 weeks, with 2 week sprints being the most common. The teams I have worked with have nearly all had 2 week sprints, except one who employed a hybrid Kanban/Scrum style and used 1 week sprints. I like 2 week sprints because it keep the team focused and on a tight schedule. 1 Week sprints can often feel like you are constantly catching your breath before you have to start again, while 3-4 week sprints can drag on and lose momentum. Using your agile mindset, if you feel the need to experiment with sprint lengths, then discuss it with your team and figure out what will make the team the most productive.

Walking into an organization with mature Scrum teams is just as fun as working with teams that are just beginning their journey. Regardless of where they are, the Scrum Master has an important role to recognize where the teams are, what they know, and figure out ways to optimize their output even more. Never underestimate the importance of a simple refresher to reinvigorate the team to get them back to Scrum fundamentals!