Agile + Scrum = More Effective Iteration Meetings

Do your iteration meetings drag on forever, include thrashing and tangential conversations, or seem generally unproductive? Being structured about agile iteration meetings allows the Development Team to stay on track and get the most value from stakeholders’ time.

Atomic Object has been practicing agile methods since we were founded in 2001. Our project management approach uses common agile tools and practices like:

  • Creating a backlog of estimated stories.
  • Having a Project Lead manage the backlog and track progress in a burn chart.
  • Running weekly iteration meetings to review what has been completed, disambiguate new work, and plan the next iteration.

Too Complex for Agile?

Atomic’s project leads have historically served a dual role as a project lead and a designer or developer. That approach can work well, but it gets stressed when:

  • The team size increases and can work through the backlog faster.
  • Work needs considerable disambiguation for requirements, design, and acceptance criteria.
  • The number of stakeholders interested in reviewing work increases.
  • The client-side product manager or project champion is operating at a higher level and doesn’t have the capacity to lead story disambiguation, iteration meetings, backlog grooming, etc.

Recently, we’ve been maturing our process to better manage these complexities by integrating Scrum practices. This effort is being lead by Micah Alles, who has been helping coach teams in Scrum practices and achieving significant results.

When projects get complex, it’s beneficial to:

  1. Formally assign the project lead or a dedicated client stakeholder to the Product Manager role (Product Owner in the Scrum lexicon).
  2. Formally define goals of regular meetings that support the dev team’s ability to efficiently deliver—and be disciplined about holding everyone to those goals.

The primary goal of this approach is maximizing the time the dev team spends implementing well-defined stories that deliver the most business value.

The Product Manager’s Role

The Product Manager allows the Development Team to stay focused on design and development. The Product Manager ensures the backlog of stories are refined and disambiguated enough to be actionable and sorted in priority order through backlog grooming.

Backlog grooming outside of iteration meetings avoids iteration meetings from going off the rails into divergent brainstorming sessions or back-and-forth detailed feature discussions with multiple stakeholders and the whole dev team.

Disciplined Iteration Meetings – Divide & Conquer

1. Product Manager Prep

Ahead of iteration meetings, the Product Manager will meet with key team members or stakeholders to refine requirements. Having these details defined in advance and isolating brainstorming sessions to the few people needed helps the development team focus their time on building the product instead of being in meetings.

After removing ideation, design, and backlog grooming from iteration meetings, it is also a good idea to split review and planning into separate meetings.

2. Iteration Review Meetings

The iteration review meeting is attended by stakeholders, the Product Manager, and the Development Team. During the review meeting, the Development Team shows work that has been completed and updates stakeholders about planned work that was not completed. Stakeholders can ask questions and provide feedback. If stakeholder feedback starts to become divergent, the Product Manager will defer the conversation and schedule a follow-up meeting with the necessary stakeholders. After the review meeting is complete, stakeholders can leave and the team transitions to the planning meeting.

The review meeting ends with a short retrospective about what went well and what didn’t go well in the previous iteration. The team decides on changes they’d like to make in their process which are applied during the next iteration.

3. Iteration Planning Meetings

During a planning meeting, the Development Team breaks down stories into detailed tasks with more precise estimates (usually at the granularity of half-day multiples). Stories are more easily decomposed because they have been previously disambiguated by the Product Manager. The Development Team selects the work to be completed during the next iteration based on their available hours.

Summing it Up

Agile technical practices bring quality and sustainable development to the product. By becoming more structured about meeting and communication practices, the interpersonal aspects of a project become higher quality and more sustainable.

We’ve found that stakeholders and teams are more happy when they are focused on what they enjoy and can do well. Increasing happiness and shifting unnecessary meeting time to product development time translates to better products and more productive teams.

Have you experienced pain points during iterations meetings? How are you facing those challenges? Please share your stories and insights.