My very first introduction to scrum was working on a content marketing team years ago. After a year or so of our content operating under a long term content strategy, we decided our process wasn’t flexible enough and required a change.
That was when one of our team leads suggested moving over to a more agile-based system for planning and producing content. We ultimately decided on using the scrum methodology and embracing the benefits provided by its iterative style.
Overview: What is scrum?
Scrum is a methodology that exists under the large tent of agile project management. The methodology is based on the concept of breaking up a project life cycle into smaller, more manageable pieces and executing them through a series of one to two week periods known as “sprints.”
Scrum is best implemented into projects with circumstances and deliverables that are subject to rapid changes that can be addressed between these agile sprints. In essence, it’s the polar opposite of more rigid project management methods such as waterfall.
The four scrum ceremonies
Scrum uses sprints to deliver a project, and the methodology employs four distinct “ceremonies.” These scrum ceremonies are four different types of agile meetings that are meant to ensure the proper execution of each sprint, leading to a successful project delivery.
Each of these sprint ceremonies are repeated before, during, and after each sprint. Each team member relevant to the project sprint is meant to attend, including the project team, or multiple cross-functional teams, the project manager, the scrum master (refer to the linked agile guide above for more information), and occasionally the project stakeholders.
1. Sprint planning
This ceremony is performed before every sprint and is meant to determine which items in the project backlog the team will work on during this particular period of time. This ceremony includes discussions about goals, what the end result of the sprint is, and potential issues or concerns the team might have about the tasks.
Sprint planning includes:
There are four key elements of a sprint planning ceremony that you’ll want to touch on:
- Define the scope of the sprint: You’ll determine which tasks in the project backlog your team intends to tackle during this particular sprint, who is available to work on them, and assess your team’s current work capacity.
- Set goals for the sprint: Establish when these tasks are expected to be completed in your scrum schedule, what constitutes completion, and any other metrics for success you deem necessary.
- Address concerns: Open the floor up to your team to discuss any roadblocks, issues, or potential scheduling issues that might affect the delivery of any backlog items.
- Plan out the sprint: Once you’ve established all of the details, make sure you schedule out all of the backlog items in some sort of schedule or project management software in order to track progress and maintain accountability.
Tips for sprint planning:
Even though sprints rely on shorter durations than planning out an entire project ahead of time, there are key details and factors you should still mind while planning out your iterations. Here are a few tips that’ll help you create a successful plan:
- Factor in any holidays, events, or days off: While your sprint may be set over a period of one or two weeks, in most cases you’ll only have either five or ten days dedicated to actual work just from factoring in weekends alone. This isn’t counting any holidays, events, or team member vacations you have planned. Make sure you take all of these factors into account when putting together your project management plan.
- Take risks into account: Just because your project is broken up into smaller pieces doesn’t mean risk management goes out the door. Never go into a sprint assuming all will go well without any issues or delays. Always plan some buffer time into the sprint to account for any hours or days spent on rectifying potential problems.
2. Daily scrum (aka daily stand-up)
The daily scrum is a short meeting to ensure that everyone on the team is on the same page while working through the sprint.
These meetings typically only last around fifteen to thirty minutes at most and are only meant to inform the team on task progress, current backlog items that are currently in development, and whether any issues are impeding progress.
Daily scrum includes:
Since the daily scrum is exceptionally short, it’s important to be vigilant with the meeting topics. These are the four key areas you’ll want to cover:
- Discuss what has already been done: Establish what your team has accomplished up to this point and how it led to where they currently are.
- Discuss what is currently in action: Ask each team member which backlog items they are working on.
- Discuss what’s up next: Find out where your team plans on heading next, once they’ve today’s work.
- Discuss any obstacles or pitfalls: Open up the floor to your team to bring up any issues that are affecting the completion of their work.
Tips for the daily scrum:
Here are a couple tips to help you get the most out of your daily scrum meetings:
- Keep it simple: The daily scrum is not the time to get into the details about the sprint or individual backlog items. If a member of the team is facing an issue that requires more detailed attention then be sure to schedule some sort of one-on-one to figure out a solution.
- Keep track of the time: This goes hand-in-hand with tip number one. This meeting is meant to be short so your team isn’t kept from their work for too long. Try to set a timer in order to hold your meetings to the allotted duration.
3. Sprint review
The sprint review is the first scrum ceremony to take place after the sprint is completed. Once a sprint is finished, the team, project manager, the scrum master, and the project stakeholders convene.
This ceremony is meant to demonstrate the work completed during the sprint, congratulating the team on this work, and soliciting feedback from stakeholders on the results.
Sprint review includes:
Since the review is the first of two post-sprint ceremonies in the scrum cycle, these are the only subjects you ought to cover during this meeting so as not to overlap with the other:
- Demonstrate the backlog tasks completed: Each member of the team will take the time to explain which tasks were completed during the sprint, how they were completed, and where they fit in the overall scheme of the project.
- Solicit feedback from the project stakeholders: Scrum emphasizes an iterative project structure in order to give stakeholders the opportunity to request changes or make improvements over time. The sprint review is the perfect time to solicit that feedback before the next sprint begins.
Tips for the sprint review:
Since the sprint review is all about impressing the project clients or stakeholders, here are a few tips for getting the most out of this meeting:
- Block out enough time: Unlike the daily scrum, the sprint review is not a short meeting. You’ll have multiple demonstrations and feedback sessions to work through, so make sure you plan accordingly. An hour or two ought to be a sufficient block of time for a sprint review.
- Focus demonstrations around value: Teach your team the importance of demonstrating the value of their work by explaining where their accomplishments fit within the overall project. Demonstrating the value of your work ensures the stakeholders understand the value of your team and these meetings.
4. Sprint retrospective
The sprint retrospective is the second post-sprint meeting and final ceremony of the entire scrum timeline. This ceremony is different from the review because it focuses on improving the processes used and actions taken during the previous sprint.
As I said before, scrum is a methodology that falls under the umbrella of agile, which prioritizes constant change and improvement. The sprint retrospective is the place to identify those improvements.
Sprint retrospective includes:
Your sprint retrospective is different from the review because it focuses on the process rather than the product. These are the core topics you should focus on:
- Discuss what was successful about the previous sprint: Why fix what isn’t broken? Highlight the strengths in the previous sprint process, from meetings to task scheduling. This also is an opportunity to give praise to others for how the team and managers conducted the previous sprint.
- Discuss what could’ve been better during the previous sprint: If there were any issues in the execution of the previous sprint, make sure these are addressed.
- Discuss what can improve during the next sprint: There is always room for improvement, so be sure to take the time to find solutions for the issues raised regarding the previous sprint.
Tips for the sprint retrospective:
The sprint retrospective is all about driving positive change. Here are a couple tips for facilitating that change in an effective way:
- Offer constructive criticism: It’s one thing to criticize and another to use that criticism to help others. My rule of thumb is to always have at least one potential suggestion or solution for every criticism.
- Create a comfortable space during the retrospective: This is the perfect opportunity to turn a meeting into a lunch or snack break. Perhaps even consider providing food for all those attending the meeting.
Find the right tools to manage your scrum sprints
Now that you understand the basics of scrum ceremonies, The Blueprint can help you choose the right agile tool for managing your scrum sprints. We’ve even put together a list of the eight best agile software options that’ll give you tools to plan, manage, track, and wrap up every iterative project thrown your way.
Once you’ve found the right tool, the benefits don’t end there. There are lots of other how-to guides and project management basics articles that’ll walk you through every aspect of your project, so be sure to check them out.