DPM PodcastPM MethodologiesPM Skills & Best Practices

DPM Podcast: Pimp Your Agile Ride (with Alexa Huston)

By 10/07/2018 No Comments

This podcast is part of an article published on The Digital Project Manager.
You can read the article here.

Audio Transcription:

Ben Aston:

Whether you’re an ‘agilista’, a diehard Scrum fan, or maybe a bit more tentative ‘agiler’, there are always ways that you can do Agile better. One way of doing that is to make your meetings or, ceremonies more effective, so today, we’re going to talk about sprint planning, daily standup sprint reviews and sprint retrospectives to give you the inside track on how you can do them better and make your Agile approach more effective.

Thanks for tuning in. I’m Ben Aston, and this is The Digital Project Manager Podcast. This podcast is brought to you by Clarizen, the leader in enterprise project and portfolio management software. Visit clarizen.com to learn more. But today I’m joined by Alexa, one of our resident DPM experts at The Digital Project Manager.

Alexa is awesome. You’ll find her on our DPM school that we’re running at the moment, and we’re also launching another DPM school course in September. So, if you’ve not signed up for that, go and check it out, but Alexa works at Crema in Kansas City. Alexa, thanks for coming on the show again.

Alexa Huston:

Thank you for having me back.

Ben Aston:

Good stuff. Alexa, you are a former project manager, so controversial that we are talking to a former project manager, but tell us a bit about what you do.

Alexa Huston:

Yeah. I hope I’m not too controversial, because the transition from digital project manager to business development happened pretty organically. I work at an agency that builds custom web apps and mobile apps, and I was doing a lot of account growing through kind of inside sales of the clients I was working on.

And so, when I was looking back on 2017, think about what’s ahead, I wasn’t sure and had a conversation with the Biz Dev guy that I worked with, and he said, “You should come join me on the sales team.” And I thought, “That sounds fun and different.” And, I feel uniquely equipped to handle it because of the projects that I’ve managed long before that.” It’s a pleasure to still be included in the DPM community, and it keeps me sharp.

Ben Aston:

You’re always welcome, Alexa. But I’m interested, so pretend though, that you are the company CEO. I think this is an interesting kind of question for… regardless of whether or not you’re a PM or, you’re kind of, a new biz person but, what does keep you up at night? With regards to your company’s future? What are the things that kind of concern you?

Alexa Huston:

The personal company that I work for?

Ben Aston:

Yeah. Yeah. Like in terms of thinking about like the future of digital, where it’s going.

Alexa Huston:

Yeah. Yeah. That’s interesting. We’re growing rapidly, and I’m saying “we” because I’m a part of it, but now I’m saying “me” because I’m in this scenario the CEO. We hire very intentionally, and I think what would keep me up at night is, ensuring that the hires that we have to bring on a little bit more quickly than normal, still fit our culture.

And can provide the right skills that are important, but also the right team dynamics and sort of, collaboration style that allow us to be us. That would probably keep me up at night, because there’s a lot of talented people out there, but a culture is so important to a company’s success. And we really hold on to that tightly here at Crema. That would worry me.

Ben Aston:

Yeah. Yeah. It’s tricky, isn’t it? Yeah, hiring good people, but not only good people, but people that fit is a tricky thing.

Alexa Huston:

Right. And then, related to your point around technology, especially …, it does change so much and so fast. I think balancing experimentation keeps me up at night in this hypothetical. Because, we tend to be a very experimental group, but we don’t want to be the first to do it on a client project necessarily. So, how do we reward and incentivize experimentation and inventiveness? How much much do we want to make sure that we’re providing the hightest quality at all times?

Ben Aston:

Yeah.

Alexa Huston:

So, yeah.

Ben Aston:

And I think related to that is, that trick of okay, there is so much new technology that’s out there but, which basket do you put your eggs in? Do you go to, from a digital perspective, do you think about the future of digital and where it’s going? Do you try going down the, okay well, let’s go into… we need to incorporate machine learning into what we’re doing. Or, artificial intelligence.

Alexa Huston:

Right. Or, backlogs or, whatever the hot new-

Ben Aston:

Yeah. Or, voice. Yeah.

Alexa Huston:

Yeah. That’s better way of rephrasing what I just said.

Ben Aston:

But I’m interested to kind of, turning it back on you though. So, you’re no longer the CEO, you’re Alexa. So, what’s tough? What are the kind of challenges that in your role now or… what are the challenges that you deal with?

Alexa Huston:

Great question. I think, I’m faced with a challenge right now of growing an outbound strategy. So, we do a pretty good job of building our business on referrals and word of mouth. Which is, great, but it’s not always the most sustainable.

So, I’m trying to identify a strategy to grow top of funnel, type of awareness things. I mean, I’m not a marketer, honestly, but it doesn’t matter. I’m just trying to think about who our customers are and where they might be, and where do I need to be? Where does our message need to be?

And ensuring that, that’s consistent across everybody. There’s a lot of people at the agency trying to work on that. And I mentioned that we we’re growing. And so, making sure that our message is out to the world is consistent with who we are today.

And, not a reflection of, even three years ago when we were a third, or quarter of this size. It’s been interesting, and especially being in the sales role, I wanna make sure that I’m consistently telling the same message, or that I’m hitting the right tone with people.

And expressing the true value prop of working with the team I guess. Because I work the most talented people, and I’m not trying to pitch you guys on this. I’m just saying I work with really amazing people who grow, and make really amazing products. I wanna make sure that we have a nice strategy to get that message out into the world that needs to hear it.

Ben Aston:

Okay. So, you’re working on amazing products with amazing people. Can you say what any of those are? That you’re working on?

Alexa Huston:

Yeah. I hope that other agency people can relate to this because, some of our coolest stuff we’re not allowed to talk about. And it’s kind of a bummer. But, some interesting things that are in the pipe are, we do a lot of dual sided market places. So, creating an experience that two unique users can work with is our bread and butter. And I might’ve talked about this another podcast, I’m having de ja vu. But, we had done a lot of hiring platforms. So, we’re still working on what’s came to mind first.

And, we have to make sure on one end, the job seekers have a great experience. And on the other end of it, the hiring folk can navigate the platform and make sure that they can administrate the right tasks and followup with the right people.

So, that ones pretty fun. But, there’s so many more things I wish I could say. I don’t even have clearance to talk about them. I don’t even-

Ben Aston:

Top secret. That’s always the fun stuff.

Alexa Huston:

Yeah.

Ben Aston:

So, I’m interested though, thinking about your progression. PMs are always confused sometimes with, well, where do I go from being a project manager? There’s the kind of, management route, and you head up the project management team. But, you’ve gone into the BD kind of world. But, I’m curious, when you grow up, what do you want to be?

Alexa Huston:

That’s a good question. I want to be a badass mom. Like, my own personal mom. I want to have kids, but I want to keep working and staying in the tech space. Something that I’m excited about, and happy to be apart of now.

And can only imagine how much different it will look, even in five years. But, I wanna raise a family too. That’s something I’ve always been passionate about and I’m just trying to weigh when the right time is for that.

Ben Aston:

Yeah. So, what does your mom do then?

Alexa Huston:

My mom is an executive assistant for a billionaire.

Ben Aston:

Wow.

Alexa Huston:

Yeah. She got the job in the beginning of the year. It’s a very unique and weird role. I went to go visit her a couple weeks ago and, he has many different business ventures. And one of which was a fast, casual, bison restaurant, in Omaha, Nebraska. You guys should check it out.

Ben Aston:

Wow.

Alexa Huston:

Yeah. It’s a very interesting job that she’s in. Before that, she worked as a proofreader and paralegal for many years. And did an amazing job managing a career and raising family.

Ben Aston:

Look how rounded you’ve turned out Alexa.

Alexa Huston:

Oh. It’s ’cause my-

Ben Aston:

Well done. Well done Alexa’s mom. Shout out to Alexa’s mom. Apart form your mum then, what else inspires you. Who else inspired you?

Alexa Huston:

Yeah. There’s so many great, amazing inspiring things out there. I’ve recently been drawn to interior design and styling my own home. I re-resurrected my Pinterest account recently, over the last six months. And I’ve just been diving into so many beautiful things.

And it truly inspires me. One of the things I’m trying to achieve at home, and it kind of leaks over into my work, is how to simplify a space, and declutter. And that is eking how I’m trying to communicate with my prospects and the team here. It’s like, how can I simplify this message?

Or, how can I remove the mess that might be around me? Whether it’s physical mess, or mental mess.

Ben Aston:

I think that’s a good thing. I should get you to come over and take a look at my office right now. My wife said to me today, “Why is your desk in the middle of the room?” And I was like, “Well, because it’s the only thing that the rooms for.” And anyway, we’re having a debate around a desk positioning strategy. Pinterest, that’s still a thing is it?

Alexa Huston:

I guess so. It’s funny you say that because I thought it was dead and gone, but, since I dove back into it, I love it. And it’s better than ever, and there’s so many beautiful, aesthetically pleasing things on there. I love it from a home perspective.

And I’m helping my friend with her wedding coming up. And so from a wedding planning point of view, it’s really nice. It’s a great community on there.

Ben Aston:

There we go. I used to be a pinner, but like you, I dropped off. Maybe 2019 will be the year for me to start pinning again.

Alexa Huston:

You never know.

Ben Aston:

Apart from Pinterest though, going back to more, well, it doesn’t need to actually, the working world. But, is there anything that you’ve found recently, or used, that you’re like, “oh my gosh, this is awesome. I need to tell everyone about it?”

Alexa Huston:

Yes, actually it goes back to this simplicity theme. There’s a tool called notion. Have you heard of it?

Ben Aston:

No.

Alexa Huston:

Oh, it’s amazing. It’s kind of like a wiki, sort of, google docs-y, really flexible like Asana space.

Ben Aston:

Right.

Alexa Huston:

It’s a really simple design, you can customize it to anything. And it’s just a really slick UI, and they have a great web app, mobile app, mac app. And I would recommend that for any …. A lot of people ask about, where to do I take down my to-do’s, and it really doesn’t matter. The answer is, wherever you can find them.

Ben Aston:

Yeah.

Alexa Huston:

But notion’s a really good spot to do task lists and trip planning things. And you can use it professionally and personally. Depending on what you need it for. So, check out notion.

Ben Aston:

Yeah. There we go. Let’s notion app. Cool. Good stuff. So, lets go on to talk about your article. And for those who haven’t yet read, Alexa wrote an awesome post a while back on project retrospectives. So, we’re gonna kind of, carry on that discussion.

Alexa’s written a new article, like I introduced at the beginning, all about agile meetings that we can use to run projects better. And we all want to be more efficient. We all want to be more effective at the way that we run agile projects. Scrum is pretty prescriptive, in terms of, agile methodologies.

In terms of, the meetings that you should have. In facts, they dictate these ceremonies and I’m curious Alexa, what’s your take on the idea of this, they’re meetings but, in Scrum we call them ceremonies. Why do you think that is?

Alexa Huston:

Yeah, that’s interesting. So, someone might have to fact check me on this, but I think they call them, like you can still call them ceremonies, but it’s synonymous with a meeting or and activity. You know? So-

Ben Aston:

Yeah.

Alexa Huston:

I tend to take a look at processed things, Scrum being processed different from agile. I tend to take a more adaptable view of those things. I don’t want any of this to sound prescriptive, because it’s not supposed to be. The idea is simple, but it’s hard to master, and it’s hard to get it right. So, you can’t follow recipe and get the exact intended outcome, without changing somethings. I get why you’re asking that, but it’s hard for me to-

Ben Aston:

Yeah.

Alexa Huston:

Go full blown Scrum, because I don’t think full blown Scrum is really realistic for most things. You have to tweak it to fit your culture, your organization, your project.

Ben Aston:

Yeah. But although you’ve done your Scrum master right? Have you?

Alexa Huston:

Yeah I have. I got certified last year.

Ben Aston:

Yeah. Yeah so, I think the interesting thing though about when you’re thinking about doing the certified Scrum master course, I don’t know what your experience was like. But, I think possibly the reason they’re called ceremonies is that they are more than just three things.

Because, Scrum is really prescriptive. And when you do the Scrum master course, it is really prescriptive in terms of, okay, here are the roles, here are the artifacts, here are the ceremonies. And you need to do these things in order to… if you don’t do these things, then it’s not really Scrum.

Alexa Huston:

Yeah. That’s a really good point. It is. It’s very much by the nook, and I get why they do that. I think to get the best understanding of it, you have to stick to the script, so to speak.

Ben Aston:

Yeah.

Alexa Huston:

Should know it in and out. So that you can recognize, maybe, when to adapt. And the whole point of these ceremonies is to produce good work that you can predict and that you can inspect and adapt on. That’s the whole point of Scrum.

So, you’re right, it is very prescriptive when you’re going though the course. And I do recommend it, it’s not a huge investment of time or money, but it really helps tell the full story of why Scrum, and how you can implement it across…

I’m laughing because it’s obviously for software development, but in the instructor of my course says he lives at home with his kids. Like has a Scrum board for other tasks and stuff. So, it’s very interesting for that.

Ben Aston:

Interesting. I wonder what they’re iterating on, life?

Alexa Huston:

Their room being clean?

Ben Aston:

Yeah. But, thinking about these ceremonies, or these agile meetings that we’re gonna talk about, these aren’t really just exclusive to Scrum, are they? And I think that’s why I started at the beginning, by talking about, we all want to do agile. Better, Scrum is an agile methodology.

So, the things that we’re gonna talk about, sprint planning, standup’s, sprint reviews, sprint retrospectives. We put the word ‘sprint’ in front of them all. But, they don’t need to be exclusive to Scrum, do they?

Alexa Huston:

No, it’s a good point. And I think that’s… I’m glad you’re calling that out because of the core of this article, or the podcast, or whatever, or anything anyone reads online to scare them aware form trying it because Scrums in it.

That might have connotations that would persuade someone not to try. So, the idea is, these can be applied to any sort of agile team that you’re working on. Or, any sort of project that could benefit from these meetings.

Ben Aston:

Yeah. Cool. So, let’s talk about the meetings then. Tell us about, give us a quick synopsis of what sprint planning is about.

Alexa Huston:

So, sprint planning is almost self defining. Because you’re planning for the work that you’re gonna get done over the sprint. Or, the course of time that you’ve all determined what you’re gonna work on. So, its designed to help make sure that everyone’s prepared to get the right things done.

And that depends on a lot of things. It depends on a backlog of work being available to the team. And fully defined by the product owner, and the stakeholders that need to weigh in on those things. And then, ordered, probably on priority, by what needs to get done.

So, the sprint planning meeting exists so that people can negotiate and say, “I think I can get this done based on these variables and these requirements. I’m gonna bite this off.” And the team all agrees on that. And as they do that, you create a sprint backlog, and sprint goal.

And, the whole idea of this time together, is that everyone can agree, over the course of the next two weeks, if that’s the sprint duration, we are going to get these things done, ideally.

Yeah. There’s kind of, two parts to the meeting. Firstly, there’s reviewing all of those things that are in the product backlog, and the team deciding, of all those things that are in the backlog, all of the things you could be doing. What are the things that we’re gonna move into the sprint, to work on in that sprint?

Ben Aston:

What’s your experience of that? Because, I think it can be… I know in your article you talk about, well, you should probably allow as much time for the sprint planning as, so one hour per week of the print… so for a two week sprint, we’ve got a two week sprint planning session.

But, do you find that the sprint planning sessions typically, actually, turn into a discussion around the scope, or the requirements, and-

Alexa Huston:

Yeah. They can.

Ben Aston:

Yeah.

Alexa Huston:

And also to clarify, I think, and I could be proven wrong, but I think it’s two times the length of the sprint, in hours. So if the-

Ben Aston:

Okay.

Alexa Huston:

If the sprints two weeks long, it should last no more than four hours. And, it doesn’t have to last four, but it might. Because two weeks is plenty of time to identify what can get done. So-

Ben Aston:

So, that’s four hour long meeting?

Alexa Huston:

Yeah.

Ben Aston:

So, talk it through, how you manage that.

Alexa Huston:

Right. So, again, kind of going back to what needs to be there beforehand, and it’s not always, for some reason or another. Having the acceptance criteria, and requirements, and definition of done in every single backlog item. In an ideal world, would make that meeting go very well.

In that scenario, you should be able to open up the ticket, look at it as the product owner runs through it. The development team can ask questions and it clarifies questions and assumptions everyone might have, so that everyone has a good understanding of what that means.

It can definitely balloon, and it’s tough. I’m curious to know about, in your experience, do you have any tactics to help move this forward, because it can ultimately lead to a space where there is a lack of definition. When I’ve experienced that at least, I’ve tried to earmark that to go back on later, and we might not pull it into the sprint.

If it’s mission critical, let’s go back and make sure we can address it at a later time. In a later sprint planning meeting, or leading up to the sprint planning. Doing some prep sessions, to make sure that, that backlog item is ready.

If it’s mission critical lets figure it out, if it’s not, let’s give it time to have more definition. I know criteria change all the time. So, that one can get tricky.

Ben Aston:

Yeah. I think, of all these meetings, I think the sprint planning one is the most critical one. It’s also the most difficult to manage well because, in order for it to work properly, the product backlog, or the list of things that you want to get done, or that have to get done, needs to be pretty well defined by the project manager.

The person who’s defining what’s gonna be created. Also, within the sprint planning session, you’re taking those items, and you’re then breaking them down into tasks. That is the print planning meeting. It’s, taking that backlog item, and pulling it into the sprint, breaking it down into tasks.

If the item is too ambiguous, and the definition of ‘done’ is not clear enough, that’s when the whole thing can unravel into an hour long discussion about a single item, that’s actually pretty insignificant. I think as the project manager, our role in this is making sure that, that product backlog is really defined as much as it possibly can be, beforehand.

And then, just being cognoscente of, how many story points it’s worth, or how long it’s been… we think this things gonna take us to do. Not just over… because sometimes there’s kind of, temptation can be to try and actually get into the actual solutioning within the sprint planning meeting.

When, we just need a breakdown of tasks that we need to do in that sprint, for that item.

Yeah. The trick here is, waiting it appropriately, and not over doing, or under doing the discussion. Because that’s the other thing that could happen. Something can get moved into the sprint and then you’re like, “oh, well…” And the developer will be like, “oh, I don’t know what we need to do here.” Well, we went through this in sprint planning. It’s a tricky balance isn’t it?

Alexa Huston:

It is. I would agree with that. It’s the most important meeting, but it is the trickiest one to get right every time. I do encourage everyone to be willing to break things down into smaller chunks. If there’s a larger product backlog item, break ’em up into user stories, sketch ’em out, add bugs, add things that are ready to be in there.

Hopefully you’ll have a good sense of your teams velocity. We don’t really get into that in the article but, there’s a lot of information there about that. But, you should have some baseline velocity that you know you can… is typically accomplished over sprint.

If that’s something you’re aware of, that should help guide how much you can truly pull in. Or, at least use what you can. And the other tip that I’ve… early on I forgot to always make sure I was keeping aware of, if people have time off, or if there’s holidays, or vacations.

If you need to get prepped for a big, say there’s a big sprint review, gonna be apart of the sprint because, stakeholders are coming in. Or, there’s gonna be other management in that meeting, make sure you build in time to do a rehearsal of that. It takes a lot of forecasting and thought. But, the more prepared you can be for sprint planning, the better for everybody.

Ben Aston:

Yeah. Definitely. We touched on this but, how do you get the team to agree how much they’re gonna pull into the sprint. Because, in my experience, people want to pull in as few tasks as possible. How do you get them to make that commitment, and push people to be ambitious in what they’re trying to take on?

Alexa Huston:

Right. Well, I’ve also been in sprint planning meetings where we bite off too much. We have some great team members here but, maybe sometimes they’re under estimating an item and it’s hard for me to always tell. Just because I don’t have the full technical background. I just have a gut feeling, you know?

I’d be like, “are you sure? Like, this is a pretty big item.” What I try to do is, do continuous pulse checks along the way. You don’t have to wait until the end and the sprint goal is there and say, “okay, does everybody agree?” Do irritative checkpoints.

Say, “okay, we’re gonna put this one in, does everyone feel good about that? Check. Okay. Let’s move onto the next thing.” And keep getting a temperature gauge for where the teams at. You might have different opinions. You might have a team member say, “I think we can keep going”, and you might have someone say, “I think this is enough.” And allow them to explain their thoughts on both sides of the argument.

Ben Aston:

Yeah. It’s a balance isn’t it? Because we don’t want to… I mean, what’s great is if you get to the end of the sprint and you’re like, “hey, we did everything that was in the sprint backlog.” You can always pull more things into the sprint, that’s fine.

But, if you haven’t gone through the sprint planning process with the whole team, you’re gonna have to have a mini sprint plan to define that new item that’s gonna drop into the sprint. It’s a balance, and a tricky one. So, good luck. Let’s talk about one that probably more people are au fait with.

I think this a… often when people talk about, “oh, let’s do agile”, what they’re really often simply mean is, let’s have a daily standup. For some people, that stinks of agile. Do you know what, that’s okay.

Agile is about collaborating all together, and a daily standup is a great way of doing that. How do you keep the standup’s meaningful, and worthwhile, and fresh, when, what’s happened to many times is, you come to the standup and everyone like, “well, I’ll just carry out what I was working on yesterday.”

And yet, no blockers, and you’re like, “oh, well there was no pint in really having that meeting was there?” What are your tips for keeping standup’s fresh and useful, and actually meaningful?

Alexa Huston:

Yeah. That’s a good questions and I’ve definitely been in standup’s where there’s not a lot of content. And I’m like, “ooh”, we gotta pull some information out, because it is valuable. And I’ve also been in standup’s where I really had to reign people in.

It’s not supposed to be a status meeting, where you’re going through line by line and spending too much time on an item. We need to make sure there’s nothing in the teams way, to get their work done that they need to get done for the larger sprint goal.

To answer your question about how to keep it fresh, sometimes, just trying to drop in a couple jokes. Which, some people love. And then, resetting expectations with this meeting to drive the ‘why’ behind it. If I have someone on the team who’s not really forking over a lot of information I’ll be like, “okay well…”.

Try to remind them that there are important details that we need to know or, encourage them to share more. I’m coming up short on specific ways to do that. But just drawing out the information, we have experimented. I mentioned this in the article.

We have experimented with Duke Bot, which is an asynchronous tool for standup’s through slack. And what is cool about that, I don’t always recommend it because I do think there’s so much value in actually getting together, and there’s some comradery that you build and all that, even through video calls.

But, if you wanna do them asynchronously, that does allow for a little bit more flexibility with the team. You can set expectations for by when it needs to be submitted. But, Duke Bot prints out, it collects all that information in the tool. So you can always go back. You have written reports.

You can generate reports on what everyone’s standup is. If you’re requiring more information, that might be an interesting way to get it because it doesn’t just go out into the ether’s of the world. If you talk it, is one thing, but if you type it out, it’ll get captured in that.

Ben Aston:

Yeah. Yeah I think that’s good. Another thing that I think is… you talked about reminding people of the ‘why’ and why it is we’re doing this, the Scrum. I think asking people, if someone gives a lazy update, having a conversation with them after saying, “hey, for tomorrows Scrum, can you prepare more detail about what you’re gonna share?”

Because the idea is not really just a status updates, it’s a pulse check. And the idea is that we’re illuminating any impediments that could be coming down the road. It requires people to think, and we want them to think. Because if people aren’t thinking and they’re just rattling off, “yeah, I did the same as I was working on the day before.

I’m working on this ticket. This ticket is kind of useless.” Let’s talk about the next one then, sprint reviews. This is where we demo the stuff that we’ve been doing within the sprint. Do you normally do these directly with the client, or do you do an internal one first? What’s the way that you manage the sprint review process.

Alexa Huston:

That’s a good question. We’ve traditionally, we’ll invite our clients into thee entire process. So they’re in sprint planning, they’re preparing backlog items with our product owner. They might be in the standup’s. So, when it comes to the sprint review, they’re usually in those.

Just because they’re apart of every other piece of the puzzle. There’s definitely times where you might be doing a large release where a bigger number of attendees might be there. From outside stakeholders, I mentioned other managers, or even members from the other dev teams.

But I don’t think it’s the best use of time. I was talking to someone recently who said that she has to sit in every sprint review for every Scrum team every two weeks. And it eats up her entire day. And that just doesn’t seem relevant, or thoughtful, or great at all.

From what we found, it’s definitely an awesome way for the team to showcase what’s been done. It has to meet the criteria, the definition of done, and it’s not a place to defend the work they’ve done. It’s a showcase and questions can be asked and there might be things that get raised that turn into backlog items.

So, as a scrum master PM in that ceremony, it’s important to be present and taking it all in. But if there’s actual things that need to be put into the backlog later, making sure that those are captured and worked through at a later pint.

Ben Aston:

Yeah. I think, for me, I can sympathize with that personally, you’re asked to sit through a day of scrum reviews. Because what I think can sometimes happen in the review is that, the definition of done is not well defined enough. Things star to get demoed that clearly aren’t done.

And you’re like, “well, this is a waste of everyone’s time. Why are we trying to show this?” I think, one way to make that sprint review more efficient is, have that criteria on what done means. It has to be fully QA’d and it has to be fully working before we’re trying to get it approved.

Yeah. I think that’s where prepping for this comes in handy, we kind of talked about this earlier in sprint planning. But, if you need to build in time to prepare for the sprint plan, plan for it. If you wanna make sure that everything, we have a half a day to run through stuff, just add that to the schedule.

Alexa Huston:

And make sure that, that’s in alignment with everyone else’s needs and milestones that might be in place for your project. That’s never a fun scenario where you force a sprint review when some of the items, or all the items, are not totally done. I don’t recommend that.

Ben Aston:

Yeah. Yeah. It’s actually just depressing.

Alexa Huston:

It really is sad, yeah. Hopefully along the way too, you’re demoing these things, the team would be demoing with QA, with customers, potentially with the [inaudible 00:34:22] toner. Ideally before the sprint review is kicking off, everyone has as pretty good feeling like okay, we’re gonna knock this out of the park.

Ben Aston:

Yeah. Definitely. Let’s touch on the last ceremony, which isn’t actually a ceremony is it? Officially. The retrospective, and you’ve talked about this before, but give us a quick recap. Wet the appetites of those who haven tread your other article.

Alexa Huston:

Sure. I sound like sprint retrospective fan girl, but they’re great. They’re not truly a ceremony. But, if you’re starting to implement agile, or you wanna become a more agile team, this is a good way to start as well, in addition to daily standup’s.

After the sprint review is over, and anyone outside of the team is gone, this time allows you to look back, retrospectively, and say, “okay, what went well? What couldn’t gone better? And what could we do differently to improve?” There’s always room for improvement.

I don’t want anyone hearing this to get the sense that these are gonna go perfectly all the time. Because we talked about they probably won’t, and that’s okay. The retrospective is a chance for the team to get together and get real, and definitely celebrate the wins.

If there’s something that the team accomplished it’s super hairy, they were able to make it work, let’s celebrate that. Calling people out ina positive light for their collaboration, or their problem solving skills, or the flexibility is awesome.

But, chances are, there’s also gonna be things that came up along the way that need to be addressed. Hopefully there’s actionable things that the team can do to change that. So, as the scrum master, or the project manager, capturing all these things.

The wins, the losses, the opportunities. And making sure that people know if there’s something actionable out of that, that they are held accountable, and the teams all in agreement. There’s been retros I’ve been in where someone has a real, legitimate, suggestion.

But, it’s not something that the whole team needs to be focused on, so they’ll collect it and world behind the scenes on what that means for their role and what not. The retro’s for that product team to make implemental improvements.

Ben Aston:

Yeah. Yeah. I think i really like you’re… that’s the point really, isn’t it? It’s about incremental improvement. That’s why I like your point of, if you’re new to agile, or you’re thinking, “hold on, I don’t really do things agile, but I want to be more agile”, then I think the retrospective is a great place to start.

Agile, the heart of it really is about iterating, and making the incremental improvements. Because we don’t fully know the best way to go. So, combine that with the daily standup and the retrospective, those are great ways to introduce ‘agile things’ into the way that you’re working.

Alexa Huston:

Yeah. I would agree with that.

Ben Aston:

Also, well, Alexa thanks so much for joining you…us. Thanks so much for joining us. It’s been great having you with us today.

Alexa Huston:

Thank you for having me.

Ben Aston:

And, as I said at the beginning, as one of our DPM, Alexa’s actually making an appearance on our upcoming course, mastering digital project management. And if you’re not sure what I’m talking about, and you know that you need some PM training, you need to get up to speed on agile, and ceremonies, and meetings, well, check out our seen week crash course.

And that includes some interactive videos, weekly lessons, assignments, group discussions, and coaching sessions too. So, head to digitalprojectmanagerschool.com and get yourself signed up before the course fills up.

But, if you’d like to contribute to the conversation that we’ve been having today about scrum ceremonies, comment on the post, and then head to the resources section of the digitalprojectmanager.com to resources section, where you’ll find all kinds of interesting conversations going on there too. But, until next time, thanks for listening.

Ben Aston

Ben Aston

I’m Ben Aston, a digital project manager. I've been in the industry for more than 10 years working in the UK at London’s top digital agencies including Dare, Wunderman, Lowe and DDB. I’ve delivered everything from video virals to CMS’, flash games to banner ads and eCRM to eCommerce sites. I’ve been fortunate enough to work across a wide range of great clients; automotive brands including Land Rover, Volkswagen and Honda; Utility brands including BT, British Gas and Exxon, FMCG brands such as Unilever, and consumer electronics brands including Sony.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.