First Sprint

The first sprint is over and it has been though. As expected we are encountering some difficulties. Mainly role keys without enough time to invest in scrum.

Scrum IMO tends to be well balanced – the team has lot of power having the last word on what can’t be done, what can be done and how long it will take (well, it’s not really the time, because you estimate effort and derive duration, but basically you can do the inverse function and play the estimation rules to get what you want).

This great power is balanced by another great power – the Product Owner (PO) who defines what has to be done and in what order.

Talking, negotiating and bargaining over the tasks is the way the product progress from stage to stage into its shippable form.

In this scenario it is up to the PO to write User Stories (brief use cases that can be implemented in a sprint) and define their priority. In the first scrum planning meeting, the team esitimate one story at time to set the Story Points value.

This is a straightforward process, just draw a Fibonacci Series along a wall and then set a reference duration. We opted for a single person in a week is capable of working for 8 story points. This is just arbitrary. You can set whatever value you consider sound. Having set two week sprint and being more or less 5 people we estimated an initial velocity somewhere between 80 points per sprint and (having the value) 40 points. The Scrum Master (SM) reads the User Story aloud and the team decide where to put it on the wall. Since the relationship between story points is very evident then it is quite easy and fast to find where to put new stories.

In that meeting, that went well beyond the boxed 2 hours, all the team was there, SM included, but the PO who was ill (the very first day in years). We could have delayed the meeting but the team would have been idling for some days…. not exactly doing nothing, you know there’s always something to refactor, some shiny new technology to try, but for sure we wouldn’t have gone the way our PO would have want us to go.

So we started and in a few moments it became clear that we were too much. Being a project that ranges from firmware to the cloud when talking about a specific story many people were uninterested and became bored and started doing their personal stuff. At the end we were about three being quite involved in the estimation game.

The lack of the PO in that specific moment was critical – we missed the chance of setting proper priority on tasks since we had to rely on a mail and we can’t ask our questions and get the proper feedback. At the end we discovered that the top most prioritaire User Story remained out of the sprint.

The other error we made was to avoid decomposing User Stories into Tasks. This may seem redundant at first, but it is really needed because an User Story may involve different skills and thus different people to be implemented.

The sprint started and we managed to get the daily scrum. This is a short meeting scheduled each day early in the morning where each member of the team says what she/he has done the day before, what is going to do that day and if she/he sees any obstacle in reaching the goal. This meeting is partly a daily assessment and partly an intent statement where, at least ideally, everyone sets the goal for the day. Everyone could assist, but only the team may speak (in fact has to speak).

Daily scrum were fine, we managed to host one/two programmers that were not co-located most of the time via a skype video call. The SM updated the planned, doing, done walls. The PO attended most of the times.

On the other hand the team interacted sparingly with the PO during the sprint, but just in part because his presence was often needed elsewhere. Also I need to say that our PO is usually available via a phone all even if he’s not in the office.

This paired with the team underestimating the integration testing and definition of done. Many times user stories were considered done even if not tested with real physical systems, but just with mock ups. Deploy process failed silently just before the sprint review leaving many implemented features not demonstrable. Also our definition of done requires that the PO approves the user story implementation. This wasn’t done for any task before the sprint end, but we relied on the sprint review for getting the approval.

The starting plan included 70 Story Points and we collect nearly another 70 points in new User Stories during the sprint. These new Stories appeared both because we found stuff that could be done together with the current activities or the needed to be done to make sense of the current activities.

Without considering the Definition of Done, we managed to crunch about 70 points that were nearly halved by the application of Definition of Done (in the worst possible moment, i.e. during the Sprint Review).

Thinking about improving the process, probably working from remote is not quite efficient, I noticed that a great deal of communication (mainly via slack, but also via email and Skype) happened the day that those two programmers were off site.

The sprint end was adjusted to allow for a even split of sprints before a delivery, therefore we had something less time than was we planned for.

End/Start sprint meetings (i.e. Sprint Review, Sprint Planning and Sprint Retrospective), didn’t fit quite well in the schedule, mostly because of PO being too busy in other meetings and activities.

Am I satisfied about the achievements? Quite. I find that at least starting to implement the process exposes the workload and facilitates the communication. The team pace is clear for everybody.

Is the company satisfied about the achievements? This is harder to say and should be the PO to say this. I fear that other factors affecting the team speed in implementing the requests of the PO may be considered with the scrum and dumped altogether. Any process poses some overhead and the illusion that a process is not really needed to get the things done is lurking closely.

Today we planned for another sprint, but this is for another post.

Ready? Set! Scrum

So, it has started. After taking a Construx on line SCRUM boot-camp, I started the scrum process at my workplace. This needs a bit of background though. The company I work for it is quite an unusual environment where developing software. The company started nearly 70 years ago and always manufactured plastic and metal goods. Maybe one of the reasons it is lasting so long is that avoided electronics first and software then for a very long period.

Nowadays softwareless goods are becoming increasingly difficult to sell, and beside everything, adding software to laboratory equipments may turn a great product into a fantastic one… and since “fantastic” means in the fantasy, you see the risk involved.

Developing software in a traditional mechanical manufacturing company has its own share of challenges and woes. If I manage to keep up with my proposition, I’ll report about my attempt to introduce a process that is as far as you can think of from the classical waterfall approach.