As the way we work continues to evolve, more and more businesses are adopting the Agile methodology to deliver their projects, including Scrum, the most popular Agile framework. Agile methodologies are fantastic for improving the structure of projects and introducing opportunities for learning. However, businesses need to adopt the right practices to make the most of these benefits.
One of the best-known Scrum practices is Sprints, yet breaking your team’s workload into short bursts won’t deliver the desired results without the right Agile ceremonies to support them.
Let’s delve into the four Agile ceremonies that make up Scrum.
What is an Agile ceremony?
It can be tempting to describe Agile ceremonies as ‘meetings,’ but it’s not quite that simple. Each Agile ceremony has a strictly defined place in the Sprint, specified duration, and pre-determined goals. Unlike a typical meeting, which can go off-track or be co-opted by last-minute emergencies, Agile ceremonies follow a strict schedule.
The Scrum framework is favored by many business teams, including software development, IT, and marketing. In Scrum, project teams work in Sprints — short bursts of work that focus on a specific goal and usually last around two weeks. Ceremonies are integral to maintaining the structure of each Sprint and optimizing teams’ productivity and communication.
The four Agile ceremonies we will focus on today are Sprint Planning, Daily Stand-Ups, Sprint Review, and Retrospective.
Can ceremonies be used in other methodologies?
Yes and no. While these ceremonies are most widely associated with Scrum, they can also be implemented within Kanban and Lean, two other Agile frameworks.
On the flip side, while adding ceremonies to a waterfall project can be helpful, doing so doesn’t mean that you’re working within Agile methodology. However, a daily Stand-Up can help keep momentum and open up communication channels in siloed environments. Similarly, Retrospectives can encourage your team to learn from their experiences, helping to improve their work for the future.
Ceremony 1: Sprint Planning
This ceremony takes place at the beginning of a Sprint. It’s typically around two hours long, allowing one hour for each week of work. Using this formula, a two-week Sprint will require a two-hour Sprint Planning meeting. Sprints can be longer than two weeks, meaning the Sprint Planning session will also be longer.
Depending on how many Sprints are needed to complete the project and how long they are, these meetings should occur around once every two to four weeks.
This initial meeting is attended by the entire Scrum team working towards completing the project. This will include the Product Owner, the Scrum Master, and the group of developers delivering the product.
Sprint Planning aims to determine the desired project outcome for the forthcoming Sprint. This involves outlining the backlog items and how to achieve them.
We break down how to use story points to create accurate time estimates in our Sprint Planning blog post.
What is involved
The Product Owner, the individual responsible for managing the project and liaising with the wider business, should arrive at this first meeting with any initial thoughts, feedback, and a prioritized product backlog.
The group will run through each backlog item and discuss it in detail during the session before estimating the effort required to complete each item. This must be completed collectively, as consensus is critical in Scrum and may require some negotiation.
Once a consensus has been reached, this becomes the Sprint backlog. It should be noted that not all the priority items highlighted by the Product Owner will make it onto this list. The Sprint backlog specifies what tasks will be worked on during the Sprint and who will take responsibility for each task.
Ceremony 2: Daily Stand-Ups
As suggested by their name, daily Stand-Ups occur once a day. They usually take place in the morning, through the duration of each Sprint.
Stand-Ups work best when they are brief and should last no longer than 15 minutes. A good way to prevent this meeting from over-running is to host it while standing up!
Stand-Ups are attended by the entire Scrum team, including the Product Owner, the Scrum Master, and the developers.
The aim is to ensure everyone is informed of what’s happening in the project across the team.
What is involved
Many teams choose to host their Stand-Ups in a breakout area or standing up in a meeting room, though they can also be held remotely.
The Daily Stand-Up should be fun and informative, though it isn’t a status meeting; it isn’t an opportunity to delve into complex issues or concerns, nor is it a time to discuss tangential projects. Instead, each team member provides a brief update on what they’ve worked on since the last Stand-Up and their goals for the next 24 hours. If anyone is facing any blocks to their progress, these are raised briefly so the Scrum Master can find a solution.
In Scrum, everything is out in the open. Stand-Ups encourage communication, teamwork, and accountability — no one wants to turn up every day without any progress updates!
Ceremony 3: Sprint Review
The Sprint Review is held at the end of each Sprint. That means it occurs typically once every two to four weeks.
As with the Sprint Planning meeting, the duration of this ceremony is calculated based on how long the Sprint is. Allocate one hour for each week of the Sprint.
This meeting is attended by the entire Scrum team, including the Product Owner, the Scrum Master, and the developers. The business stakeholders are also encouraged to join.
As the Sprint Review is held at the end of the Sprint, it aims to review the work completed to date and present a demonstration to the stakeholders. This is an opportunity to celebrate the teams’ achievements and briefly discuss next steps.
What is involved
Depending on the nature of the business, the Sprint Review can be hosted in a more casual format or can take the form of a formal review meeting,
The Product Owner runs this meeting and should encourage immediate feedback from the business stakeholders, including what has been achieved thus far and what product items will be prioritized in the next Sprint. Any work demonstrated should be complete and polished to a high level of quality.
Ceremony 4: Retrospective
Like the Sprint Review, the Retrospective takes place at the end of the Sprint. The duration of this ceremony is calculated based on how long the Sprint is. Allocate around 30 to 40 minutes for each week of the Sprint.
The Retrospective is attended by the entire Scrum team, including the Product Owner, the Scrum Master, and the developers.
While the Retrospective may sound similar to the Sprint Review, it focuses on reviewing the work of the team instead of the progress of the project. The goal is to optimize for quality and productivity.
What is involved
Continuous improvement is critical in all Agile methodologies, including Scrum, which is what makes this ceremony so important. The Retrospective is team-driven and provides a space for rapid feedback, but it shouldn’t become an opportunity for finger-pointing.
Learning to trust one another can be challenging for a team, but that trust is what will make the Retrospective a worthwhile experience. This is an opportunity to openly appraise each other’s work and make improvements for the future.
This honest project retrospective review helps the team understand what went well and what went wrong, allowing for ways or working to be optimized for future Sprints. Time can be spent devising creative solutions to issues, and the team should leave the meeting with a clear action plan.
How to run effective ceremonies
Now you understand the ceremonies that make up Sprints in Scrum, let’s look at how to make these as effective as possible.
ClockWise recently revealed that off-topic conversation is the number one challenge that causes meetings to become sidetracked. It’s tempting to slip into tangents or discuss personal lives during work meetings, but Agile ceremonies work best when attendees are focused on the challenge in front of them.
In Scrum, off-topic conversation extends to the discussion of future and past sprints. As Agile ceremonies don’t have official chairs, a degree of self-organization is required. Staying on track during meetings can be tricky, but keeping focus is worth it in the long run.
Involve the right team
Getting the right people in the room is key to running effective Agile ceremonies. For example, you can’t run a Sprint Planning meeting without the Product Owner.
Equally, the only meeting that requires the stakeholders’ participation is the Sprint Review. This ceremony provides a dedicated time for stakeholders to feed back, freeing up all other meetings for the Scrum team to speak openly about their work.
Learn from past experiences
Continuous improvement is fundamental to Agile development. Retrospectives provide an opportunity for teams to learn from their mistakes by considering possible solutions for future Sprints.
Forecast can help your team run effective Agile ceremonies
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