In many ways, in a Scrum project, the sprint planning meeting agenda plays a very significant part in determining the success of delivering shippable product increments through the sprint iterative cycles. The product owner is very closely involved in the sprint planning agenda, and is responsible for the outcome of the sprint cycle, since he or she is primarily responsible for taking the initiative and “designing” the sprint – the PO decides which user stories should be ideally taken up for development purposes based upon their business values. Moreover, the product backlog needs to be refined on a regular basis. The PO may invite and seek the help of Agile team members to keep the backlog refined so “granular” and developable user stories are available at the time of Scrum planning meeting.
The main issue with Agile Scrum today is that the role of a PO cannot be “standardized” based upon assumptions as to how Scrum ought to be implemented in a project, and what the PO should ideally do to make the project a distinct success. In addition, while considering Scrum sprint planning, the same thoughts might be applicable to it as those associated with the PO’s – it is difficult to create generalized rules regarding how a sprint should be ideally designed. The primary reason is products and requirements change as per fluctuating market conditions, and stakeholders too are liable to change their thoughts as and when end user demand user-specific requirements and development. However, after considering the fact that scaled Scrum versions are likely to “dominate” the Agile scenario over the coming years, it is worthwhile thinking that “some” of the duties of a PO and certain sprint planning “characteristics” are likely to remain common – irrespective of which scaled version is used, and the manner in which Scrum should be, or can be, implemented in a project. In addition, while the sprint planning meeting was traditionally conducted in two parts, the Scrum event has now evolved to be conducted as a whole – as a single event – and include two topics in it, rather than two parts:
- What can be done in this (currently being planned) sprint – the “What” aspect
- How should the chosen “work” be ideally “done” – the “How” aspect
It is interesting to think about how the product owner’s role is likely to modify itself in the future, and what features the sprint planning event is likely to include. The suggestions are open for debate, and the reader is invited to present his or her viewpoints.
Scrum product owner role and responsibilities likely to remain “common”
- Creation of the product backlog based on the vision as seen by the stakeholders. Defining user stories having high business values so the project “worth” is maintained at all times.
- Monitoring all Scrum related activities in a project. Even if the PO’s role may be demanding and “difficult to play”, the PO still has to deal with changing market conditions, stakeholders requests, and negotiate with the development team with regards delivering shippable stories and maintaining team velocity.
- Ensure the product backlog is refined and maintained at all times. Moreover, the PO should also make sure that the product backlog is made easily available to all team members – especially in the case of distributed or disjointed teams.
- Product backlog items “PBIs” should be properly defined. Story “parts” such as the description, business value, and acceptance criteria should be clearly stated and explained in index cards (if manual Scrum is followed). Moreover, stories should be explained “in depth” to the entire team so effective user stories can be developed and shippable product features can be availed on a consistent basis.
- Be always accessible when needed. Scrum product owner responsibilities should include remaining present and sharing knowledge, skills, and experience with the team members whenever required.
- Define “clear” and productive sprint goals when a sprint is planned.
What Sprint planning meeting agenda should include
If we consider the traditional Scrum product owner role, the PO decides which user stories should be selected from the product backlog during the sprint planning sessions. The PO had, and still has, the authority to decide unanimously as to what the sprint backlog should ideally contain. However, the delegation of authority has “diluted” to a considerable extent, and more emphasis is now given to team members and inviting them to participate in the event while deciding the sprint backlog. Team involvement often leads to knowledge-based and result-oriented decisions, and this can benefit the project immensely.
Recent Agile trends indicate a clear “inclusion” of a sprint goal. It is now “formal” that each sprint should have a unique sprint goal. The entire team should make efforts to ensure the goal is properly defined and understood by all. The goal should also be achieved. The team is suggested to follow a common sprint “vision” rather than just blindly develop user stories. It is very important to keep the “complete picture in mind” and proceed with sprint development. In addition, this attitude should be maintained throughout the sprint duration.