Key meetings when doing agile projects


There are a number of key meetings that should always be included in an agile development project. Some of these meetings will seem familiar to those of you who know the SCRUM framework. However, SCRUM only covers the part that involves the development team and their progress, it doesn’t really support keeping your stakeholders informed about process, budgets, timetables etc.

The sprint startup meeting
Purpose: Define and describe
Duration: Between 2 hours and a day.
Participants: Everyone in the SCRUM team and the Product Owner.
Results: Every user story is described, understood by all team members and broken down into subtasks of no more than 4 hour to 6 hours.
Every time you start a sprint, you should schedule a sprint startup meeting. This meeting will define, analyze, specify and describe all the work that is to be done in the coming sprint.
Questions from the developers can be answered by the product owner and everyone will know what will be done and how it will be done during the next sprint.

Daily stand up
Purpose: Questions, answers and progress
Duration: No more than 15 to 20 minutes
Participants: Everyone in the SCRUM team.
Results: Every member of the team explains what they are working on and how they are implementing it, so coordination between team members is ensured, and also, team members can ask for help or input of needed. In this way everybody can help each other out and the product owner/project manager will get a great insight in the progress of the development.

Sprint retro meetings
Purpose: Evaluation of the teams cooperation in the last sprint.
Duration: Between 2 hours and 3 hours.
Participants: Everyone in the SCRUM team.
Result: The retro meeting will allow for team members to discuss how the work can be optimized, if some parts of the development process could be optimized etc. Each team member should bring at least one topic they would like to discuss and at the end of the meeting each team member will have two votes, which are placed on each item discussed. The two topics with the highest votes will be in focus in the upcoming sprint.

Sterring committee meetings
Purpose: Communicate to stakeholders
Duration: 1 to 2 hours depending on the project.
Participants: Project manager/Product manager or Owner and steering committee.
Results: Approval of the projects progress and expected budget. Approval of changes to deadlines and milestones. Decision on questions that cannot be made by the project manager or project team.
You can read more about how to report to your steering committee in this article.

What makes a great user story


User storyUser stories are a great way to describe what a future system or solution should be able to handle, and they are great to span the communication gap between UX-designers (user experience designers) and the developers.

User stories are bundled in what is called epics and are broken down into sub tasks.

The user story format.

The user story should always be written using a specific “formula” or syntax. The format is as follows:

As who, I want to what, so that why.

If a user story is put in this format, you are sure to give developers a good insight into what is really wanted and you will make sure that they don’t start doing a lot of guessing once they start developing.

Just compare the two following user demands for a musical festival website. The two demands basically ask for the same thing but one demand is written as a user stories and the other isn’t.
Demand 1: “You should be able to print directly from the website”.
Demand 2: “As a festival visitor, I want to be able to print the musical program, so that I can mark the bands I want to hear”.

The first demand is very open – What should be printable? Is it the tickets or a plan of the festival grounds and maybe we should include the entire website menu? Maybe it is the address of the festival office that is important or a receipt for the purchase of the tickets?

Let us say that “Demand 1” is written 3 months prior to it being implemented and then believe me – No one can remember what “print” was meant to cover (not even the customer).

The user story answers all these questions – We know exactly what is to be printed in what format and by whom. AND it is all documented, so if several months passes before we start implementing, then we will still know exactly what we wanted when we did the user story.

The flow in creating a great user story.

There are three steps and three different focus groups which needs to give input if you want to have a great user story and if you want to create a good flow once the development starts. These groups are the future users, UX designers and the solution developers.

The short version is that the future users put their demands in epics, the UX-designers will break these epics down into user stories and the developers will break down the user stories into sub tasks which they will start implementing.

An example:
Let us say that the users create an epic called “Login”, which they describe as follows “The website should support logins, so that classified information can be shared with employees of the company while they are on the road”.

This epic is then broken down into one or more user stories saying:

  1. As an employee, I want to register as a user, so that I can login.
  2. As an employee, I want to login, so that I may access the classified information.
  3. As an employee, I want to be able to reset my password, so that I can get a new one if I forget the old one.
  4. As an administrator I want to be able to delete a user, so that I can make sure they can no longer access the files when they leave the company.

And so on…

The user stories are handed over to the developers who will then break them down into subtasks of no more than a day’s length. This could look something like this;

  1. “As an employee, I want to be registered as a user, so I can login”:
    1. Create login form including username and password,
      Estimate: 0.5 day.
    2. Create userdatabase tables,
      Estimate: 0.5 days.
    3. Set up MySQL database,
      Estimate: 1 day.
    4. Setup certificate for HTTPS,
      Estimate: 0.5 days.
    5. Order certificate for HTTPS,
      Estimate: 1 hour.

Once the breakdown into sub tasks is done, you simply add up the time expected for implementing the user story, which in this case would be 2.5 days and 1 hour.

The same pattern is repeated for all user stories related to the epic “login”, and the entire budget for implementing the epic is presented to the customer/product owner for approval.

A little tip – Use “accept criteria’s”

A little tip – When doing the user story, you should put in about five accept criteria’s related to the user story. This will help til developers to pinpoint exactly where to put their efforts. However, accept criteria’s will also help the users and customers to check if what they requested 6 months ago has been implemented, and it will eliminate scope creep as well.

An example of accept criteria’s for the user story regarding printing the festival program which we looked at earlier could be.

  • Accept criteria 1: The entire program should be printable.
  • Accept criteria 2: The program should fit the paper size available in the printer.
  • Accept criteria 3: Pictures of the performers should be included if they are available on the website.
  • Accept criteria 4: The Festival logo should be in the top right-hand corner of each page printed.

Imaging how simple it is to test a solutions by simply checking the accept criteria’s before you can sign it of to production.

Development as a service?


gearIf you are working in software development, then you have probably heard the terms “Continues delivery” and “DevOps”. These are not just new buzz-words, they are already being used in varies software companies, including some of the really big players on the market.

These new methods aims for releases of software on a daily and sometimes even hourly basis. This is done to ensure that the product is pushed to the market as fast and possible, and then to get the feedback from the end user and make adjustment to the product accordingly.

This way of developing software moves the actual development to be more like a service rather than a project, and in most know cases, this approach to software development is for companies developing for the end consumer market (e.g. Facebook, Google etc.), but more and more “non end user IT companies” are looking into this method.

This way of developing software raises all sorts of new questions for our way to approach software development as projects, which has a budget, a deadline and a clear scope and so forth. If you don’t have a finale specification for your product and thereby not knowing when exactly you are done? How then will you do estimates, manage budget, set timetables, measure progress and all these other mechanisms that ensures that your project don’t go of track?

The answer for this comes in varies forms, but the one thing that you need to embrace is that you will have to see the development as a service organization and not as a project. So basicly you will have to figure out how important the software product is to your organization or client, and how many resources you will throw at it. If the software product is your core business, then it might be worth to put as much focus on the development team as possible, but if the software is not your main product but only a support to the business, then you might wanna go the old fashion way at set a max amount of money that you are willing to spent.

Roles and responsibility


the-broken-chain1Knowing who is who in your project is alpha and omega when communicating to your stakeholders, but more important is to know who is responsible for what – Call it your chain of command if you like, or who to turn to when things start to turn bad.

Below you will find a short description of the 4 roles, that is the minimum you need to assign to your project. There might be other roles and responsibilities that you need to assign, but the four roles below should always be assigned.

Project owner
So what roles should be assigned in a project. First of you need a project owner, who is financial responsible for the project – This is “The big dog in the kennel”, and he or she will be ultimately responsible for the entire project and its success. This person is the one paying the bills, and therefor he or she can ultimately add more resource to the project and save you if needs, change the scope of the project by removing tasks or maybe even close down your project if expenses are too high.

Project manager
The next in the chain of command is the project manager(s). There can be one or more project managers to a project, e.g. if you are doing a project for a customer, then there can be a project manager at the supplier and at the customer. The project manager(s) are responsible for the day-to-day management of the project, and they report directly to the project owner and the other stakeholders, including the steering committee. Reporting can include things like finances, progress, risks, deadlines and other issues – Basically what the steering committee and the Project owner needs in order to make the right decisions.

Product owner
The product owner is responsible for creating and updating the project backlog (which is the list of tasks that sums up your project). The product owner need to know his/hers product well enough to prioritize, update and maybe even remove items from the backlog. He or she is also responsible for creating the sprint backlog, which focuses on the tasks that is to be included in the sprint at hand and the upcoming sprints (see previous blog post on the Product owners rule in scrum projects).

Scrum master
A project (if agile) can have one or more Scrum Masters. The Scrum Masters role is to make sure that the day-to-day progress of the project is running smoothly. This role is normally given to one of the senior developers on each development team. It is the SCRUM master obligation to report any problems that the team can handle to the project manager and product owner, but also he or she needs to make sure that the development runs smoothly on the day-to-day basis.

The resources that you need varies from project to project. Since this website focuses on IT projects, then you will probably one or more developers or technically personalities, but resources can also be designers, architects, legal advise, security, machinery, buildings, servers and so forth.

It really depends on the project at hand, however there should be no doubt, when it comes to day to day business then the resources needs to know what they are supposed to build, not how to build it, in what order to build it and so forth. If you are a project owner, project manager, product owner or the scrum master, it is extremely important that you focuses on facilitating the project, support the resources and make sure that everybody is moving in the right direction.

Priority should ALWAYS be a priority


PrioritiesOne thing I see as the key component to a successful project is priority. No project have sufficient funds to build everything or to meet every demand. Therefore, priority is a necessity if you want to be able to meet budget and deadlines.

In most projects, you will experience that the client/customer/product owner/boss/etc. will expect you to work miracles and deliver everything they want, in record time without spending any money… I’ll let you in on a little secret – That’s not how it works.

Therefore, you should always request your client to priorities everything – It is your task to make sure that tasks are prioritized, but you should never actually do it – Only facilitated it.

There are different ways to help the client do the priorities, but it is important that everybody agrees on the model, and that the client is the one accountable for the priority. The model that you should use depends on your client, but you need two parameters for each task to be able to do the prioritizing – Namely Cost and Value. When you do the prioritizing maneuver with you client, then the client should be able to decide whether a task is worth the effort or not. Maybe spending 50% of the budget on one task out of a hundred isn’t the right priority… However, only the customer will know this, maybe his entire business is depended on that one task.

Please see our project model for more information on priorities, specifically the phases “Idea”, “Analysis” and “Implementation”.

The perfect IT project is possible


For the last 10+ years, the focus of me career has been management of IT projects – I have done them all, from small websites and multimedia projects to wast portals and gigantic mainframe systems with budget going fromn tenth of thousands to millions of dollars.

I admit, some of them has gone down the tube, with budgets exceeding limit upon limit and deadline upon deadline that didn’t hold up. If you have managed projects for a couple of years, then you probably have experienced the exact same thing.

However – I have also managed project where everything seemed to click. Budgets were kept, deadlines were meet, the demands for the systems was delivered and the project ended up being a tremendous success.

On this site I’m gonna try and give you some insights in what has worked, and what hasn’t really worked in the projects that I have been doing up until today. I am also gonna try and give you a project model that I know for sure will work for IT projects -. I have used it, tuned it, turned it and then tuned it again, and if it is applied correctly, you should be able to meet the demands for the project or be able to stop the project earlier enough to save your self and the company a ton of money.

The project model, the tools and info on the site will undergo continues update, so stay tuned for the latest findings.