I think the value Scrum ceremonies provide can often get lost in the conversation about meeting business goals. They may even seem like completely disparate topics since most people wouldn’t naturally align meeting time with hitting a goal post! I thought I would interview one of our Product Owners, JR Winder to ask what he thinks of the value of Scrum ceremonies.

Allison: First, do you ever get questions about the need to use all the Scrum ceremonies?

JR: When I hold presentations or workshops I get a lot of questions about the need for “all those Scrum ceremonies.” It doesn’t matter how green or advanced the audience is, the question that almost always gets asked is, “Are these meetings really that important?” Maybe it’s due to the daily occurrence of the standup ceremony – or because sprint planning can sometimes be really long. Regardless of what the reasons are behind the questions, it’s important that Scrum teams understand that even though the frequency may seem excessive, in reality Scrum ceremonies are designed to reduce overall meeting time, and more importantly they are a strategic tool for successfully achieving business goals.

Allison: What are the the standard Scrum ceremonies?

JR: There are four standard ceremonies in Scrum. They are:

  • Sprint planning
  • Daily standup
  • Sprint review
  • Retrospective

We provide detail about each ceremony in Scrum Ceremonies: The Blueprint to a Highly Effective Sprint.

Allison: You said Scrum ceremonies are designed to reduce overall meeting time. Please elaborate!

JR: The daily standup provides a cadence to the sprint and follows an agenda that drives efficient communication and also sets a standard for being disciplined throughout a sprint. The daily standup is designed to be 15 minutes long. At the completion of it the entire team is clear on: what work has been completed on the project since the last daily standup; what work will be completed by the next daily standup; and any impediments preventing the team, or the work they’re doing, from moving forward. From my experience, if the structure the daily standup provides is not in place for teams, or isn’t adhered to scrupulously by teams, days or weeks can be lost due to incomplete or delayed communication.

Sprint review is another key ceremony that reduces overall meeting time over the life of a project, as it forces bi-weekly reviews of progress by stakeholders. This unequivocally reduces time spent reworking a product over its lifetime.

Allison: That’s a bold statement. Why do you think sprint reviews necessarily reduce software development rework?

JR: Because when holding sprint reviews every two weeks, you don’t end up waiting months and months before the stakeholders see the progress that’s being made on the product. That means you aren’t risking building something that the stakeholder never intended, which means no–or minimal–rework. Instead of the stakeholder seeing the product for the first time three months after development began, with Scrum the stakeholder sees the product every two weeks. It makes a big difference if the stakeholder sees a discrepancy in what is being built 3-months after the project begins, or 2-weeks after it begins. At the sprint review they can provide feedback to the team, which not only saves them substantial time when having to fix mistakes or make adjustments based on customer feedback, it also saves the stakeholder money. Time = Money. One of the more challenging cases of rework I have seen, when Scrum was not in use, was a project that was in the works for 2 years, which had to start over from scratch because it was so far off the mark of meeting the business needs.

Allison: How are Scrum ceremonies seen as a strategic tool for achieving business goals?

JR: In my experience, if the team is disciplined in getting the desired outcome out of every Scrum ceremony, then the ceremonies are absolutely the best strategic tool you can use when managing software development projects. It sounds simple but there are a lot of moving parts that go into making it happen.

In order to have effective Scrum ceremonies, each team member not only needs to understand their role on the team and the responsibilities that role has, they have to be disciplined in executing their role too.

Additionally, stakeholders and team members need to embrace empowerment, and it’s different than a lot of the organizational behaviors we typically see at companies. What I mean by that is that stakeholders should feel empowered to trust the team that they will build the right product, and the team members should feel empowered to build a product that meets the company’s overall strategy and goals without having to be micromanaged by the stakeholders. This can be a complicated dance depending on the size of the company and the depth of the management team. It falls under the SrumMaster’s umbrella of responsibility to foster, support and maintain empowerment of team members as well as stakeholders.

One of the things I like most about the ceremonies is the camaraderie they develop and collective ownership that the team ends up having for the product they are building. A fine-tuned Scrum team who has appropriately embraced empowerment is consistently successful, which encourages software development innovation, and overall team and stakeholder satisfaction. The gelled Scrum teams I have known and worked with have very low turnover and produce market-leading products.

Allison: Are there any additional meetings you suggest holding that aren’t listed as the primary Scrum ceremonies?

JR: Yes! Backlog grooming and stakeholder check-ins are a MUST! The backlog is the single source of truth as it pertains to the vision of the product. Both of these additional meetings are designed to build and maintain a backlog that prioritizes business goals and value in a way that drives the work of the team.

Backlog grooming
JR: This isn’t an official Scrum ceremony. I like this description by our Founder and CEO Dave Todaro: “The process of refining the product backlog—sometimes also called grooming the backlog—happens throughout the development of the product. Most Scrum teams get together one or two times during each sprint to talk about what’s coming up next on the product backlog. Collectively, this discussion does what I call “programming the team’s collective subconscious.” It gets everyone thinking about what’s coming up next and, in the back of their minds, they’ll start thinking about how they might build it during the next sprint.” See his complete description in The Product Backlog: Your Compass for Shifting Business Priorities.

Stakeholder Check-ins
JR: The product owner should hold regular meetings with stakeholders to make sure the backlog is up to date. Since the product owner has ownership of the vision of the product it makes sense that they meet regularly with the stakeholder(s) to ensure the product vision they have matches the business needs. The frequency of these meetings depends on the project, the number of stakeholders, and the style of the stakeholder. We find some of our teams require one check-in per sprint, where others require daily touchpoints. In all cases, the product backlog is referenced and updated regularly based off these meetings to consider the business value put forth by the stakeholder(s).

Allison: Any final words of advice, JR?

JR: Enjoy your time getting familiar with Scrum and staying disciplined. The effort will pay off in spades!

Scrum ceremonies appear to do a whole lot for addressing, and keeping an eye on business goals throughout the software development process. It’s nice to be surrounded by experts in the field who see the value and the outcomes with their teams!

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