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This article was originally posted by Jason Lindmeyer, who is currently a Consultant with Keyot.

As an Agile Management Consultant with Keyot over the past eight years and a member of the Agile community for ten, I know that effective Scrum teams can achieve outstanding results.

However, leading a mission-critical compliance program for a financial services client—using nearly 100 individuals unfamiliar with Scrum—demanded an innovative approach. I developed a process to help an organization new to Scrum understand how their brand new teams are performing and if they are able to deliver the program under the compliance deadline. It’s working for us, and it may prove useful for your organization and teams as well.

Ramping up

To meet the program’s rigorous twelve-month timeframe, we brought together ten new teams for Scrum training in January. By the end of the month, all ten teams were sprinting and actively completing scope for the program.

Building confidence

Being “brand new” to Scrum, many team members initially lacked confidence in their abilities. In addition, without a track record of performance, individual contributors and teams were unaware of what they could accomplish within each sprint. My goal was to help teams gain assurance in their capabilities, understand their per sprint capacity, and create transparency for the entire organization on what our teams were accomplishing.

Tracking progress

We started tracking teams from the first sprint onward, documenting how much work each team was completing in every sprint. Then, using a trend-over-trend line, we were able to measure each team’s ability to complete scope within sprints. This data-driven process gave teams a better understanding of their performance and capabilities.

Estimating full backlog

After each team had completed four to six sprints, we had them estimate their backlog for the entire program for the rest of the year. Using data from their established track records, teams understood their average team velocity, relative pointing, and were able to estimate backlog more effectively. Reviewing the past sprints and scope already achieved also helped bolster confidence moving forward.

Normally in Scrum, estimating that amount of work can be perceived as excess or unnecessary work due to unforeseen scope changes, and the fact that in Agile and Scrum, no deadlines exist outside of sprints. But in the real world, things are different. Due to our rigorous deadline and specific compliance requirements, there was no lost effort in estimating. In fact, this step proved essential to our teams and our client.

Identifying Risk

Following the entire pointing exercise we quickly identified where we had risk based on point totals and average team velocity. The specific progress measurements and empirical data removed finger-pointing and emotional judgments. Using this information, we implemented triage processes to meet the objective within the remaining nine months.

Two major risk areas were identified and addressed:

  1. Capacity—Some teams didn’t have enough people on them to complete the estimated backlog. We needed to off-load work to different teams with less scope.
  2. Technology—We identified major unknowns that prompted specific conversations regarding the technology. We talked with our client and asked technical architects to develop different solutions to support the client’s work process and meet the program requirements within the mandated timeframe. The recommended solution dramatically simplified our client’s program by optimizing the process and eliminating waste.

Without estimating the entire backlog, these risks may have gone undetected or revealed themselves only after it was was too late to react and adjust to meet the end of year deadline.

Accelerating toward completion

Now, teams are using release meetings and planning processes to re-point backlog every month. The teams are accelerating as they continue to build confidence and capabilities. Some teams even expect to reach program completion in November, a month ahead of the compliance deadline.

By keeping track of sprints and estimating our entire backlog early in the program, our process allows us to adjust and accommodate as needed to achieve scope. A key tenet of Scrum is responding to change over following a plan and this process has significantly improved decision making across our teams and the client. It has also been incorporated as a key input in how the client prioritizes scope across its portfolios.

Paying it forward

Throughout my career, I have benefitted from the generous wisdom and advice of the Agile community. If this tool can assist other teams, especially those new to Scrum, I’m happy to “pay it forward!”

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