Automation and Measurement as first class citizens in your sprint backlog

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Jasper Bogers

When you start work on a product, your velocity may be low and not reflect the investment you need to make to have proper continuous delivery. Here’s an idea to make it visible.

When you build a soda factory, producing your first can of soda effectively costs as much as the entire factory. Of course you plan to produce a whole lot more, and distribute the cost over your planned production.

This is an analogy that’s worth considering when starting on a new product with your Scrum team. During the first few sprints of work on a product, a team is often busy setting up the delivery pipeline, test framework, local development environment, etc. All this work undeniably has value, but usually isn’t expressed as "product features".

For example: You have 20 similar functional user stories that would be an equal effort to implement. The first 2 sprints your functional burndown is low. This is because during sprint planning, whichever user story gets picked up first has the questionable honour of having subtasks such as "Arrange access to Browserstack", "Set up Jenkins", "Set up AWS account", "Set up OpsGenie for alerting" and "Set up Blazemeter for load test", to name a few.

Consider what the Scrum Guide says about a deliverable increment:

Incremental deliveries of "Done" product ensure a potentially useful version of working product is always available.

a "Done", useable, and potentially releasable product Increment is created

The Increment is the sum of all the Product Backlog items completed during a Sprint and the value of the increments of all previous Sprints. At the end of a Sprint, the new Increment must be "Done," which means it must be in useable condition and meet the Scrum Team’s definition of "Done". An increment is a body of inspectable, done work that supports empiricism at the end of the Sprint. The increment is a step toward a vision or goal. The increment must be in useable condition regardless of whether the Product Owner decides to release it.

Development Teams deliver an Increment of product functionality every Sprint. This Increment is useable, so a Product Owner may choose to immediately release it.

This is problematic because it means your first few sprints tell you little about your ability to deliver value given the manpower and knowledge at your disposal. Also, it may mean your first few sprints fail to deliver any functional increment that could go live. Because what you’ve decided constitutes value is different than what you’re investing in, it may feel like you’re forced to do necessary work without seeing measurable results. You have little to demo during your sprint reviews. Product owners get nervous the longer this takes. You’re destined to be off to a poor start.

See the following sprint backlog and resulting velocity chart. When you hide all the automation and measurement boilerplate work as subtasks underneath whichever user stories you pick up forst, your burndown charts give the impression you achieved very little.

"Fat" user stories with automation and measurement as boilerplating subtasks hidden behind user story velocity

This doesn’t seem fair.

Some resort to starting out with a "Sprint 0" of undefined length and without a sprint goal, to just get all the ramping up out of the way, as though it’s a necessary evil. Don’t do this. Focus on delivering value from the start.

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Scrum Master Tip: Make it transparent!

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Arthur Arts

I am frequently asked by colleagues for advice on how to be a good Scrum Master. I will discuss some of the tips I share in a couple of blog posts. First of all I do like to state that I believe it's best to have a Scrum Master that is able to get his hands dirty in the activities of the team (i.e. coding, analyzing, designing, testing etc.). It will enable him/her to engage and coach at more levels than just overall process. In my opinion one of the most important things a Scrum Master has to do is to make things transparant for the whole team. Now this seems like very simple advice, and it is. However, when you are in the middle of a sprint and all kinds of (potential) impediments are making successfully reaching the sprint goal harder and harder, the danger of losing transparency always pops up. Here are three practical tips:

  • Is it clear for everybody what we as a team should  focus on right now?
  • Is everybody focussing on the things that we should focus on right now?
  • Are we going to reach our sprint goal?

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