Category Archives: Agile

How do we prevent debates over whether changes to user stories are new work or bugs?

I will answer your question from the point of view of Scrum.

User stories may be captured weeks or even months before the sprint in which the work is done. But a user story is a simple one or two sentence description of the requirement. There will be few if any requirement details captured and nothing about the implementation. Because these stories are so simple they tend to have a long shelf life.

In Scrum we use a just-in-time approach to user story discussions. At the beginning of each sprint the team meets with the Product Owner during sprint planning. They run through each story they plan to include in the sprint and the Product Owner provides the details they need to do the implementation.

So it is only at the last minute that the discussion takes place and all the details are fresh in the team’s minds as they start their work.

Also, the Scrum concept of the Product Owner is that they are the primary source of all requirements. The Product Owner spends a lot of their time speaking with stakeholders and builds up a strong understanding of what work needs to be done.

The Product Owner is also available to the development team throughout the sprint. If there are any questions or clarifications needed then the Product Owner is on hand to answer them.

Finally, at the end of the sprint the completed stories are demonstrated at the sprint review. This is an opportunity for the Product Owner and stakeholders to double-check that the new features are as they would expect them to be. If they spot a problem then any necessary fixes are added to the product backlog.

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Retrospective Technique: What Did You Learn?

All About Agile | Agile Development Made Easy

This content is syndicated from Agile Advice by Mishkin Berteig. To view the original post in full, click here.

Retrospectives are a key part of continuous improvement in Agile teams.  The retrospective techniques that a team uses should be adjusted to the needs of the team.  In a Scrum team, for example, the ScrumMaster will often decide on the techniques to use based on the current issues facing the team and then facilitate the retrospective for the team.  There are some great resources which give you collections of tried-and-true retrospective techniques including Esther Derby’s book “Agile Retrospectives” and the amazing online tool “Retr-o-mat“.  As an active consultant and trainer, I am always looking for new techniques to share with my clients.  Sometimes, I even create a new one (or at least new to me).  The “What Did You Learn” technique is new: I’ve been using it and testing it for a few years now to refine it.

What Did You Learn?

By itself, this is a powerful question.  As part of my work with OpenAgile, I’ve been helping teams and organization to focus on learning as an even broader category than continuous improvement.  The Learning Circle and the processes in OpenAgile help with focusing on learning.  The question “what did you learn?” is very open ended, and can certainly work as an extremely simple type of retrospective in OpenAgile or in Scrum or other Agile methods.  Often people like to have a little more structure and guidance so the “What Did You Learn?” retrospective technique provides four categories of learning for people to think about, share, and discuss within a team.


Setup for this retrospective is very simple: a flip chart or whiteboard divided into four sections or columns works fine, along with a piece of paper for each person in the retrospective, divided up the same way, and sufficient markers and pens for everyone.  Here is a downloadable PDF version of the handout for the “What Did You Learn” retrospective.

The facilitator will also participate at various points if they are a member of the team (e.g. a ScrumMaster).  It is easiest to do this with a group in-person, but can also be done reasonably well with video or teleconferencing.


The facilitator introduces the retrospective with a welcome and, if necessary, a recitation of the Retrospective Prime Directive.  Then, the process is described to the group.  Each of the categories of learning is also explained as follows:

  • Questions.  When you can formulate a question about something, it means that you have learned about a gap in your knowledge.  In other words, you have discovered something that you would like to learn.
  • Information / Data / Facts.  These are specific details that relate to some area of knowledge or skill.  This category of learning is the simplest and is often what people focus on when asked “what did you learn?”  Information tends to be dry and unemotional.
  • Insights / Concepts / “Aha!” Moments.  Often when we have a collection of facts or an experience, we see a pattern or make interesting connections between things.  This leads us to the great feeling of an insight.  Insights tend to be exciting or scary and have an emotional component.
  • Action Items.  These are decisions about what we would like to do in the future, but they could be extremely short-term or very long-term or anything in between.

There are three main stages in the retrospective as follows:

  1. Individual Reflection.  For 10 to 15 minutes, each individual works silently to write down the things that they have learned in the appropriate category on the handout.  Everyone should try to get at least a couple things into each of the four categories, but more is welcome.
  2. Sharing with the Group.  Systematically going around the group and getting people to read from what they have written.  This is another 10 to 15 minutes.  This stage should not get bogged down in discussion, but brief clarifying questions should be welcome.
  3. Identifying Important Learning.  The group now has open discussion to decide on a small number of things it considers the most important that it has learned.  This could be based on popularity, but impact, depth, or uniqueness might also be factors in considering importance.  These are the items that get written down on the flip-chart.  This is usually the longest part of the retrospective and can take up to 30 minutes.


This is an excellent retrospective for a team that is going through a significant transition such as starting a new project, a major change in business direction for a product, or as a wrap up technique for sharing lessons learned with other parts of an organization.  It is not a good technique for a brand new team that hasn’t worked together before as there will be little common ground for deciding on the importance of peoples’ various shared learning.

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Should Scrum meetings be held in one day or two days?

Question is -> should this all happen in one day (of course given the fact that it may be shorter – planning 1 hour, review 1 hour, retro 1,5 hour)?

The typical cadence of a the Scrum ceremony is to host Sprint Planning and then at the mid-point of the timebox run a Backlog Refinement ceremony. The Sprint Review occurs at the end of the timebox as that is when the work the team committed to delivering is due. Finally a Sprint retrospective takes place to discuss improvements in the working environment and practices prior to the next Sprint.

Traditionally for a two-week Sprint it would be

  1. Sprint Planning | 4 hours | First day of the Sprint
  2. Backlog Refinement | 2 Hours | Mid-Sprint
  3. Sprint Review | 2 hours | Last Day of the Sprint
  4. Sprint Retrospective | 1 hour | Last Day of the Sprint

I know some teams have experimented with Mon-Fri type Sprints, Wed-Wed Sprints but I have not come across a working practice which puts Sprint Review, Retrospective and then straight into Planning on the same day.

Personally, I feel that any benefits that arise from cramming all ceremonies into a single day would be eradicated by the severe drop in morale and concentration which would come from such a technique.

My firm answer is that Scrum ceremonies should occur across two days at the least but ideally a third day would incorporate backlog refinement.

My process as Scrum Master

I think that Sprint Planning is a fairly relaxed introduction to the new week and we plan on Mondays. I always ensure that I arrive with snacks and drinks for the team (cheese, doughnuts, gourmet coffee etc).

We start Sprint Planning approximately 1 hour after the working day begins which gives the team time to review emails after the weekend and collate all of their commitments and holidays and constraints before arriving at the planning session.

We actually run a three hour Sprint Planning session but that is an adaptation we found because of our workflow.

Normally it finishes around 12.15 at which point we break for lunch. In that break I place each of the committed cards back on the Board and the team return from lunch ready to start work by picking up their first cards around 1pm.

Our Sprint Planning Agenda is as follows (feel free to steal)

  • 2 mins [SM] Open
  • 5 mins [PO] Planning Vision and Roadmap
  • 10 mins [Gov Mgr] Development and Architecture Status
  • 5 mins [BP] Sprint Goal and Theme
  • 5 mins [SM] Velocity Review
  • 5 mins [SM] Sprint Timebox considerations
  • 15 mins [All] Team Capacity
  • 10 mins [All] Issues / Concerns
  • 10 mins [PO] Review Definition of Done
  • 2 hours [PO & Team] Product Backlog Items for consideration
  • 15 mins [Dev Team] User Story Owners
  • 15 mins [Dev Team] Assumptions / Dependencies for User Stories
  • 5 mins [All] Agreement
  • 15 mins [SM] Parked Items
  • 5 mins [SM] Action Items
  • 2 mins [SM] Closure

For Sprint retrosepctives we use a round robin of ideas from Retromat – a retrospective generator.

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TargetProcess – Edge of Chaos Blog: MVF, MMF, WTF

The concept of Minimal Viable Feature (MVF) is a significant milestone in product development. Release something that you think solve a problem and listen for the feedback. While the concept itself is great, the devil is in the details. In general, it is quite hard to learn how to define MVF. It is an art, not a science. In this article I will share my experience and some patterns I learned.

#1 Cut. The. Scope.

The most common mistake in MVF definition is bloated scope. There is always a desire to put one more thing into the feature and make it more useful and more appealing to the end user. No Product Owner can resist this intention and in almost every single feature I lead I added some unplanned user stories. In fact there is nothing bad with this approach, you discover new information and change plans. However, there is a real danger to push feature beyond MVF and delay its release. 9 months feature? We had it in our company.

Now we have a 3-months rule for every MVF. There should be serious reasons to spend more than 3 months on MVF implementation. MVF goal is to prove concepts and discover “unknowns”, don’t blow it to MMF.

#2 Feature kick start

Everybody should understand why we add this feature into a product. There is only one reason to add a new feature — it solves some important problem that quite many users face quite often. In the simplest case you have hundreds of requests that picture problem in bright colors and all you have to do is invent a solution. In a more complex case users don’t fully understand the problem and throw out various solutions that in fact don’t solve this particular problem. Only experience and system-level thinking can help to spot such cases. In the worst case you have no feedback and rely on your intuition to define the problem. This is a dangerous practice that can lead to extreme results: genius insights or total fuck-ups.

On a Feature Kick Start meetings we have people from marketing, development, testing, design and sales. All bring valuable information about various facets of the problem.

Product Board Meeting

These meetings have several goals:

  1. Clearly define the problem we solve.
  2. Define a scope of MVF.
  3. Decide what we don’t know and what feedback we will accumulate now and after MVF release.
  4. Bring development team and sales people to a common understanding about the feature.

#3 Huge upfront UX is bad

We tend to have UX and Development as a completely separate activities. Sometimes we spent months on a feature UX, built prototypes, tested them and then boom… priorities changed and feature is no longer needed so much. Almost all the time we spent was just a waste. Let’s say we get back to the feature next year, but now we have new information and UX we did a year ago is obsolete now, so we have to start over again.

UX and Development phases

Now we start UX when feature is actually starts. It means Feature Team almost completed previous feature, so it has some spare time to dig into the new feature and discuss its design, flows, etc. It may happen that developers don’t do much for some time, since UX is not ready. However, there are often many things they can do: fix some old bugs in background, prototype new feature, try some technical and architectural ideas, implement something we 100% certain about. So while in theory it looks like you are not “utilising 100% of resources capacity”, in practice single-feature flow for a Feature Team shortens cycle time and reduced waste activities.

#4 MMF is inevitable

Usually MVF solves a part of a problem and some cases are missing. Usually the solution itself is not the best. In most cases MVF is not a “complete” feature and you should finalize it. We call this finalization Minimal Marketable Feature (MMF). At this point feature provides a complete solution to a problem, the solution itself is beautifully designed, it is on par or outperform similar solutions in competitive products.

MVF and MMF flows

It may happen that new feedback will reveal that MMF is still not enough, so then you can iterate and release as many improved features as you need. This process is not formalized in our company.

#5 Real feedback is slow

We hoped to have 2-3 weeks delay between MVF and MMF and we thought it will be enough to accumulate enough feedback. We wanted to have process like that:


However, in most cases it takes 2-4 months to generate good amount of relevant feedback. It takes time to accumulate and reveal common patterns. For example, we re-designed navigation and allowed users to create their own Groups and Views inside these Groups (BTW, it was the case when we throw out UX done 9 months before feature start). It took us 5 months to actually understand what mistakes were made and what problems most companies have with this new flexible navigation. It appeared, the navigation was too flexible, so now we are reducing this flexibility and add some restrictions.

We changed the process and now we plan for 3 months delay between MVF and MMF. This gap is used by another MVF, so on a high level we release first minimal feature, that release second minimal feature and then based on generated feedback we complete both features.


#6 Real feedback comes from real usage

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against prototypes, wireframes sharing, surveys, etc. However, my experience showed that the only way to get a really relevant feedback is to release something in a product. All other ways of feedback generation are flawed. Real users bring so many unexpected and interesting insights.

When we started UX process adoption on our company 6 years ago, we tried almost any possible way of feedback gathering. We created several solutions to a single problem and run usability tests, ran surveys, interviewed customers, ran UX groups and shared concepts and ideas. We still use most of the methods from time to time, but our current approach is extremely lightweight and balanced. In general, we build light prototypes only when we just can’t select a solution from two options (50/50 votes inside our team). We never build full interactive prototypes that replicates future system behavior, but just share sketches and main concepts. With right questions asked this simple method allow us to get a very nice preliminary feedback.


  1. Set clear MVF goal and cut MVF scope that beyond this goal.
  2. Bring sales, marketing, development and design people together to define MVF.
  3. Huge UX phase upfront is bad and usually leads to waste.
  4. MVF is not a full feature. Embrace it and don’t rush.
  5. Real feedback comes from a delivered feature only.
  6. It takes several months to accumulate information to reveal patterns and decide how to improve feature.

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Mike Cohn’s Blog – Succeeding With Agile™: Using Scrum to Plan Your Wedding

In my ScrumMaster classes I always make the point that Scrum is a general purpose framework that can be applied to projects of all sorts. I’ve seen it applied to building construction, marketing, legal cases, families, restaurant renovations, and, of course, all sorts of product development. One of my favorite examples is using Scrum to plan a wedding.

Think about how perfect that is, though. Scrum excels at projects (yes, planning a wedding is project) that are complex and novel. And planning a wedding is both.

I came across a great website last week called, which is a free resource for using Scrum to plan your wedding. Built by Hannah Kane and Julia Smith, the site is a great example of helping move Scrum outside its normal domain. Even if you’re already hitched, check it out for great insights on things like a Minimum Viable Wedding (a great example of that concept!) and sample Wedding Backlogs.

If you are getting married soon, congratulations, and check out their contest to win five hours of free coaching on using Scrum to plan your wedding.

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Leading Agile: You Need Processes and Tools

Even in an environment where you have a single, ideal, co-located cross-functional team, I believe you’re going to need processes and tools. The more complex and distributed your organization, the more processes and tools you’re going to need. Doesn’t sound very agile does it? Well, get over it. You’re going to need processes and tools to enable individuals and interactions. If you can’t sit in your chair and make direct eye contact with everyone on your team, you need more processes and tools. Hell, even if you can see everyone, you’ll still need processes and tools. What is Scrum? A process framework. What is a team board? A communications tool.


I’m not dismissing the Agile Manifesto. I do prefer individual and interactions over processes and tools. I’m just trying to establish some context. Most of us don’t work in that ideal agile world. Rather, we have to operate within a series of non-ideal organizational constraints. Most people are sold on the idea of Agile. The values and principles resonate with us. But my job (and LeadingAgile) is to understand the goals of an organization and help them reach them.  We start by laying the foundation for an agile enterprise by forming teams and installing a Lean/Kanban based governance model, but maintaining focus on longer term planning, risk management, and dependency management.

Current State

Before laying the foundation, I look at their current organizational structure, I look at their current governance (processes) and I look at their current metrics to see how good that structure and governance is working out for them.

Future State with Process and Tools

Whatever the future state looks like, I expect two things to help get us there.

1. We need to provide clarity by making process policies explicit.
2. We need to demonstrate incremental improvements by using tools.

Do you agree with me? Maybe you disagree with me. I’d love to read your feedback.

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Leading Answers – Mike Griffiths: “Solving Today’s Complex Projects with Agility” Presentation

Gran Canaria PosterNext week, on February 18th, I will be presenting on “Solving Today’s Complex Projects with Agility” at the Society for the Economic Promotion of Gran Canaria (SPEGC), co sponsored by ITProiectus. I have been working with ITProiectus for a while but this will be my first time to meet them and I am really looking forward to it.

The presentation will explain how today’s complex problems can be solved by collaborative teams that  better handle ambiguity than traditional plan-driven approaches. I will review some of today’s wicked project management challenges and show how agile methods, while they look deceptively simple, actually harness sophisticated approaches for generating consensus and driving towards high quality solutions. 

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Is it ok to define a user story that has no real business value without another story?

I’m a little unclear on your question. If you are writing this user story for a team building an application in Microsoft Access, then US 1 doesn’t exist, as it’s the work that is done by the team to complete US 2. In this case, the deliverable is that the user can see the data in the new view.

However, if you are suggesting that you are writing user stories for the team creating Microsoft Access and you want to have the functionality to 1) design a card view in the IDE and 2) have the card view render a certain way to users of that application, then you have a much more elaborate situation. In this case, you do, in fact, have two user stories that are independent.

This is a pretty common misinterpretation between something being potentially shippable and if you chose to release it. If you were to do US1 first, you might think that it has no value if users can’t see the rendered version, but maybe you have a big developer conference next week and you’re handing out a developer preview version of the software. Being able to show the design of the card view during a code session could be unbelievably valuable. Or, to look at it the other way, US2 seems like it needs US1 to be any use, but what if you can import projects from a previous version. Now US2 allows people to import a project that uses card view from an old version and view it properly, even if they can’t yet change the design.

Of course, as you said, you may choose to wait and release them both at the same time, but that’s a business call. No reason those aren’t valuable by themselves.

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Scrum Breakfast: Are agile trainers agile?

There are literally hundreds if not thousands of people out there who will train you to do Agile (and some will even try to convince you to be Agile). Some of them are certified, some are not. How many of them apply Agile to their own profession? I believe the answer is “not many,” and I have realized that I was not one of them. This a-ha moment help me refine the purpose of my CST mentorship program.

When people say “Agile”, most people are referring to the four values of the Agile Manifesto. While these are important, I believe the fundamental definition of Agility is contained not the four values, but the first statement: We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. (emphasis added).

I don’t develop software, I train people to do Scrum. Actually, I like to believe I enable them to turn their current project into their best project ever, so maybe this “training Scrum” is too limiting. Hmm… let’s not go overboard just yet! So what would my manifesto look like? Here is the first draft:

We are uncovering better ways of teaching Scrum, by doing it and helping others to do it! — Peter Stevens

This has become the overarching goal of my CST Mentorship idea. Not just to get you through the TAC, but to create a community of like minded Agile trainers, who help each other to become better trainers, and help others to do the same.  It is no longer just a CST mentorship program, but a CST Mentoring Network.

P.S. I went looking for trainers who are active and transparent about mentoring. I have only found two (including myself):

Does anyone else belong on this list? Please let me know!

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Misunderstandings about Collective Ownership in an Agile environment

“Collective code ownership” does not mean that everyone on the team gets a say on every line of code that’s written. The code is still written by individuals (unless you’re pair programming), and they are making the decisions they feel are best at the time. The point is that no individual “owns” a section of the code.

If John wrote the Foo module, and for some reason there’s a critical bug discovered while John is away, there should be nothing stopping Sue from jumping in and fixing it. It’s not “John’s code” it’s the teams.

So then there’s the question of “how does Sue fix the code, if John wrote it?” and the answer isn’t that Sue and the rest of the team decided on every line with John, but rather that John, in the spirit of teamwork and cooperation, and knowing that he wouldn’t be the only person working on the code, took the time to write tests and document the code so that Sue would be able to work on it.

Sue might also have some experience with the code from code reviews which – again – are not a chance for the team to decide how the code should have been written, but merely to make sure it’s serving it’s purpose and up to whatever standards the team follows.

As for point 3, experimentation, exploration etc. belong in prototypes and personal projects, not in the production code.

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