15 Questions: High Performing Sprint Execution

blogimage_15-questionsThe two previous “15 Questions” posts have been pretty straight forward because they have addressed specific ceremonies within the Scrum framework (Sprint Planning and Daily Planning). This month we are going to dig into 15 Questions that explore the performance of teams as the sprint is progressing.

  1. Does the team limit the # of backlog items in progress at a time?
  2. Does the team limit the # of tasks in process at a time?
  3. Does the team proactively communicate the status of items that may not be finished within the timebox?
  4. Do team members swarm to assist in resolving impediments?
  5. When the team encounters a significant impediment or blocker and it is clear this will jeopardize the ability to deliver against the sprint commitment, do team members provide the Product Owner the choice to defer the story with the impediment or proactively defer another committed story for the sprint?
  6. Do team members pull the next highest priority task regardless of the person originally planned to take on that activity?
  7. Are team members taking on tasks outside of their traditional job responsibilities?
  8. Does the team preview stories with the Product Owner in advance of Sprint Review and/or Demo?
  9. Are impediments assigned a “solve by” date that indicates when they will become a blocker?
  10. Does the team deploy a build multiple times a day in order to test early and often?
  11. Are testing and quality assurance activities taking place throughout the sprint?
  12. Do team members actively collaborate to resolve defects/issues discovered within the sprint?
  13. Do team members pair on tasks in order to increase quality and find defects/issues sooners?
  14. Does the ScrumMaster protect the scope of the sprint so that the team can focus and be free of distractions?
  15. Is the Product Owner readily available to answer questions and remove ambiguity about how the product should work?

A little commentary about each question…

1. Does the team limit the # of backlog items in progress at a time?

e.g. The team committed to 7 backlog items, but only 3 are ever in progress at once. This policy for the team will encourage swarming and prevent teams from leaving multiple stories partially done at the end of the sprint.

2. Does the team limit the # of tasks in progress at a time?

e.g. The team has a WIP limit of 5 on in-progress tasks. This level of policy helps increase efficiency of teams by preventing context switching.

3. Does the team proactively communicate the status of items that may not be finished within the timebox?

Complete versus Commit surprises should be limited. The moment it is clear that an item may not be completed during the confines of the sprint everyone should be aware and understand the potential impact that has to other sprints and the overall plan for the product increment/release.

4. Do team members swarm to assist in resolving impediments?

Impediments are an issue for the entire team, not just the individual (or set of individuals) working on one of the backlog items. Pausing other work in progress to swarm and resolve an impediment as a team indicates a strong team culture and mindset.

5. When the team encounters a significant impediment or blocker and it is clear this will jeopardize the ability to deliver against the sprint commitment, do team members provide the Product Owner the choice to defer the story with the impediment or proactively defer another committed story for the sprint?

There are times when it makes more sense to pause work that has a significant impediment in favor of finishing other work. The ability to pause, refine the story further, and recommit in a future sprint can minimize rework and swirl within the sprint. This should not be a decision made in isolation though. Ultimately the PO should decide which backlog items are of most importance.

6. Do team members pull the highest priority next task regardless of the person originally planned to take on that activity?

Identifying target team members during Sprint Planning can help with the authenticity of commitments, but that doesn’t mean those are hard-and-fast task assignments. Working tasks in priority order assists with limiting story WIP and minimizing the amount of work left partially done.

7. Are team members taking on tasks outside of their traditional job responsibilities?

Pi-shaped employees are essential for realizing the highest levels of organizational agility. If individuals only take on tasks within their traditional skill-set then a silo’d culture will continue to prevail and bottlenecks will most certainly exist within the flow of work.

8. Does the team preview a story with the Product Owner in advance of Sprint Review and/or Demo?

Product Owners should be treated as a part of the team not apart from the team. As soon as there is something working, preview it with the PO. This early and continuous feedback increases the chance of gaining acceptance at the end of the iteration.

9. Are impediments assigned a “solve by” date that indicates when they will become a blocker?

All impediments are a risk to meeting the sprint commitment. Knowing a “drop-dead” date on resolution will help ensure everyone is on the same page and that impediments do not linger too long.

10. Does the team deploy a build multiple times a day in order to test early and often?

This is a good leading indicator of the teams’ technical maturity. Come back later this month for a full post on measuring the Technical Excellence within an organization/team.

11. Are testing and quality assurance activities taking place throughout the sprint?

Teams should avoid “scrummerfall” where a few days within each iteration are spent analyzing the stories, developing the stories and then testing the stories. Activities from each discipline should be occurring at all times throughout the time-box.

12. Do team members actively collaborate to resolve defects/issues discovered within the sprint?

This helps assess the level of engagement and team-based-mindset that the individuals possess. Note: this is different than the idea of swarming to resolve an impediment.  This question is intended to explore how teams collaborate to resolve functional defects within the product.

13. Do team members pair on tasks in order to increase quality and find defects/issues sooner?

Pairing need not be exclusively between individuals that share the same skill-set. Consider promiscuous pairing across disciplines.

14. Does the ScrumMaster protect the scope of the sprint so that the team can focus and be free of distractions?

The integrity of the sprint is essential. The ScrumMaster should act as a shield for the team proactively addresses and preventing disruptions and ensuring that scope is not added mid-sprint.

15. Is the Product Owner readily available to answer questions and remove ambiguity about how the product should work?

Any lag time that exists between when a question is raised and response provided represents waste within the system. Product Owners should be Available, Knowledgeable, and Empowered to aid and assist teams on a daily basis.


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