12 November 2021

Quick and dirty Scrum guide: ceremonies and artifacts

Scrum is just one of the agile frameworks for managing projects, but it is one of the best known. While the most important thing is adhering to an agile mindset and principles, there are specific practices that define Scrum--and ensure its benefits.

The Scrum Guide breaks these defining practices into three categories: roles, artifacts, and ceremonies. As mystical as these words may seem, they are logical and easy to understand. As discussed earlier, the roles are the product owner, the scrum master, and the development team. But what about the artifacts and ceremonies?

What are the artifacts of Scum?

The Scrum artifacts are the information that is most important to the Scrum team, as well as stakeholders. There are three main artifacts of Scrum, the product backlog, the sprint backlog, and the increment. There are other artifacts that often make up the Scrum process, but aren’t considered the core artifacts. Two of those are the definition of done, and the burndown chart.

  • 1. Product Backlog

The product backlog takes the product and breaks it into a dynamic list of the required elements, including features, improvements, and fixes. It often has to change to reflect market conditions or business objectives, or feedback from users. This backlog is controlled by the product owner.

  • 2. Sprint Backlog

The sprint backlog takes the specific items from the product backlog that will be focused on during the present sprint and organizes them. It’s a very visible picture of the real-time work of the team. It is flexible as work is completed, to adapt to any tasks that need to be added or that become unnecessary. This backlog is sometimes help set by the product owner and overseen by the scrum master, but it is controlled by the development team.

  • 3. Increment

The increment corresponds to the product increment, a piece of functioning software that is the total of the completed product backlog items from the current sprint and previous sprints. It must be in agreement with the team’s definition of done, and be acceptable to the product owner, who will decide if it will be released.

  • 4. Definition of done

The definition of done is decided by the team and is applicable to most or all of the items in the product backlog. It is a list of criteria to determine when an item should be considered finished. This is helpful to make sure that a completed item will be of high enough quality to be viable, but also to keep the team from spending too much time on a single item.

  • 5. Burndown chart

The burndown chart is used to measure the overall progress of a project. It gives a long term view of completed work and remaining work, essentially counting down--or burning down--the work to zero. It can also track the velocity, and compare the estimated completed work or “burndown” with the actual burndown, giving the team a better sense of what they should realistically plan each sprint.

It is interesting to note that burndown charts generally measure story points, rather than specific items or hours. Story points are an estimation of the effort required for the work, and tasks are rated by the team. Because the work is measured this way, people aren't stuck to dates, and each team can respect their own processes instead of comparing themselves to other teams that work differently.

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What are the ceremonies of Scrum?

The ceremonies in Scrum, or events, are an important part of agile development in a project. The four main ceremonies are meetings that take place during each sprint, and are meant to ensure speedy flow, empower the Scrum team, and continually improve the way of working.

  • 1. Sprint planning

The sprint planning ceremony happens at the beginning of each sprint. They involve the entire scrum team, and are meant to agree upon the work to be done during the sprint. The product owner selects and prioritizes product backlog items, discussing them with the development team. The effort required for the sprint is estimated, as well as setting the sprint backlog.

  • 2. Daily Scrum meetings

The daily scrum meeting is often called the daily stand-up, in which the entire scrum teams comes together for no more than 15 minutes. The team is encouraged to stand up to keep the meeting from running long. The daily meetings are a quick catch-up, meant to inform the rest of the team of the progress and needs of each team member. Each person should briefly answer three questions:

  • What they did yesterday
  • What they will work on today
  • What obstacles they have

These meetings help increase accountability within the group, improve speed of development, and help the scrum master to know what help the teams need. It’s important that all team members listen and are focused during this meeting, and that the meetings stay on topic without going over the allotted time.

  • 3. Sprint review

The sprint review takes place at the end of each sprint and involves the entire team, but the other stakeholders in the project have the option to attend as well. This ceremony is a showcase opportunity to share what has been completed with the stakeholders and demonstrate the value and functionality. This is an important moment for feedback from the stakeholders and the product owner. This feedback will go into the product backlog and worked on in one of the next sprints.

  • 4. Sprint retrospective

The Scrum sprint retrospective occurs at the end of each sprint. The attendees are the development team and the Scrum master. The product owner can attend, but it is not mandatory. The focus of this meeting is to review how the team worked during the last sprint, offering feedback and working together to make tweaks and improvements for future sprints. They also discuss what went well. This is an important step in agile development and should be celebrated every sprint, even if the team is happy and performing well.

Using the titles of agile and Scrum might take a beat to get used to (Scrum masters, guilds, artifacts, sprints…), but the practices are designed to benefit your team and organization in many ways. Practice and protect these ceremonies and artifacts to make sure your team stays agile and continually improves.

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