The formality called ‘Agile Ceremony’

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For people coming in from different methodologies, the word ceremony may sound very formal while entering Agile. However what it really means is that Agile as a process, recommends certain checkpoints where the work progress can be measured, and course corrections can be taken in order to enable the team to still chase the sprint goal.

The Agile methodology recommends the following ceremonies.

Daily Standup

The recommended duration for a daily standup is about 15 minutes and would normally cover the following from each engineer of the Scrum Team.

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  • What did I say I will achieve yesterday and whether I completed that task.
  • What do I plan to do today?
  • Do I have any blockers or impediments that I must intimate to my Scrum Master or the management team?

Backlog Grooming

The recommended timebox for this agile ceremony is 2–4 hours for an iteration 2 weeks long. The aim of this meeting is to help the product owner showcase his product backlog items to the other members of his team comprising of scrum masters, engineering managers, and scrum team members — particularly SMEs or subject matter experts.

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The aim of this meeting is to help the product owner groom the backlog into finer quality. The product backlog is fine grained (less ambigious) to the top and coarse grained (more ambiguous) to the bottom. Further it is also prioritised as highest business value to the top and lowest business value to the bottom in terms of delivery to the customer.

Another important activity that can happen during backlog grooming is sizingat a high level.

Look Ahead Meeting

The recommended timebox for this agile ceremony is 2–4 hours for an iteration 2 weeks long. In this meeting the groomed backlog is exposed to the entire scrum team in order for them to have a look at it and understand the future work that is coming their way. Greater focus is laid on the next impending iteration worth of work to get the definition of the requirements more fine grained as much as possible before start of the sprint.

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The sizing is further refined in this process and a bit of reprioritisation can also happen here.

Sprint Planning

This agile ceremony is conducted at the beginning of execution of work in a given iteration. While product owner owns and maintains product backlog, there is another backlog called Sprint Backlog. During sprint planning, the team discusses and decides which of the product backlog items they can execute in the given iteration.

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During this process, the team then takes each item of consumption off the product backlog and puts it into their sprint backlog. These items are further sized in a fine grained manner so that the team has both metrics of story points and man day estimates to complete each story/task. The recommended duration for this meeting is 4 hours each iteration in a continuous fashion before the start of the sprint.

Sprint Demo

This ceremony happens once work items are executed and completed in terms of testing and they meet the definition of done criteria. The idea of the demo is for the Scrum Team to show the Product Owner and other senior stakeholders (such as product managers, sponsors, and/or customers) — the completed increment for the given iteration.

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In this meeting it is normally the scrum team members who demonstrate what has been done. The aim of this meeting is not to question why certain things were not done if so, but rather for the stakeholders to see what the team has done against their commitment. 30 mintues to 60 minutes should be a good timebox for this activity.

Sprint Review

This is a critical meeting where the product owner provides the team with the information about the stories accepted and those that failed in the iteration. This also gives the team an idea about their current velocity for the iteration in question.

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It is the responsibility of the Product Owner also to specify to the team the exact reasons why a certain story or set of stories is/are not accepted. Typically this discussion revolves around the work done, the demo seen prior to this and a comparision against the acceptance criteria for determining closure. The recommended timebox for this activity is between 1–2 hours on sprint closure day for a 2 week iteration.

Sprint Retrospective

Towards the end of the sprint when all work measurements have been discussed and concluded, it is time for the team to retrospect (think back) on the things that happened in that iteration. They will generally need to discuss the good parts and the bad parts. While the good parts are recorded as best practices to not let go of in further iterations, the bad ones are listed down and discussed upon to understand root causes.

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The outcomes generally point towards a bad product design, or a not so good estimation process, or insufficient time spent on understanding the backlog or behavioural differences within team and so on. These points are also recorded with a definitive correction action, an appropriate owner within the team and an estimated ETA for the action to close. The recommended timebox for this meeting is about 1–2 hours on sprint end day.

Summary

These are the Agile Ceremonies that are used to plan, execute, monitor and review the work done allowing teams to also retrospect and record their wins and losses along the way.

Daily Standup

Backlog Grooming

Look Ahead Meeting

Sprint Planning

Sprint Demo

Sprint Review

Sprint Retrospection

In future posts we shall examine each type of ceremony and go into detail on how they are conducted, what would be focus of each meeting and discuss nuances of making these more effecient.

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