Friday, July 8, 2011

Doesn't Matter How You Get There

I was doing some work with a team that had recently adopted SCRUM, and they were talking about their last planning meeting. We had met the week before the planning meeting, and we had practiced doing a planning session. When they got to the actual planning session, though, they did something different. Here's (the relevant part of) what they did:
  • bring a backlog with estimates to the meeting
  • calculated how many total iteration days they'd have (subtracting days for people on vacation)
  • multiplied number of people days by the number of effective hours in their day to get the total number of hours they could do in the iteration
  • discussed the backlog, let the product owner reorder a bit, changed an estimate or two
  • walked down the backlog and stopped when they couldn't fit any more in their total iteration hours
  • (This is the new part.) Collectively said, "eek!" and dropped the last item because the iteration felt too full.
So we sat down this week, and they told me what they did in the planning meeting, and said: "Did we do it wrong?" and "So how bad was that?"

And here's the answer.

It doesn't matter how you get to your iteration. What matters is that you all agree to it.

Estimating backlog items, and counting how much time you think you're going to have are useful exercises, but they're really only tools for the team. No one outside the team needs to care how you fill your iteration. You can use these tools like estimation and figuring out whether you're going to have more or less time than normal (in fact, I recommend that you do). But if you need to adjust those, go ahead! As long as everyone on the team agrees with where you end up, you can make whatever adjustments you like along the way.

As far as I'm concerned, there are only two rules for what must happen in or come out of a planning meeting:
  1. The entire team must agree on what they're signing up for. This includes the product owner and the team.
  2. The entire team communicates throughout the planning meeting. No bait and switch tactics, please, since that erodes trust.
That's it. Everything else is just a guideline - you can follow it, you can follow it and adjust, or you can throw it out the window (normally you don't, but you could). So don't sweat it. Just get to an iteration, and do it in a way that your whole team is okay with (and that includes the product owner!). How you get there is up to you.

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