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How to sprint at Beautiful Canoe

In Beautiful Canoe, all project work is broken down into sprints, which:

  • run company-wide, that is, all projects start and end their sprints on the same day;
  • (usually) last for two-weeks;
  • start with a rough plan, based on the priorities of the client;
  • include a release, either to a staging server or production server,
  • end with a retrospective.

Before the sprint

Before each sprint a new milestone should be created for that sprint in the beautifulcanoe group and the traffic3d group. There should be no project-level milestones in the company.

Important

Sprint milestone must have start and end dates and must be of the form YYYY.NN Sprint, so that the automated sprint tools that we use at the end of each sprint can run correctly.

The Scrum Master (usually @snim2 or @a.garcia-dominguez) should ensure that each project has an accurate, up to date, and correctly triaged issues board.

In particular, any issues that were left unresolved from the previous milestone should be rolled over to the next sprint.

How to start a sprint

Each sprint begins with a planning sessions. Each project will usually have its own session, which should take place between the project developers and BC Scrum Master. The sprint plan should be based on:

  1. the priorities of the client, as expressed in the most recent meeting.
  2. the long term need to avoid or tackle technical debt.

Planning meetings are driven by the Trello and GitLab Kanban boards for the project, which should contain the user stories and bug reports for the project. In order for planning meetings to be useful, and for the needs of the project to be accurately represented, issue lists should be kept up to date, and correctly labelled. The issue boards for beautifulcanoe and traffic3d should be an accurate representation of the status of each project, at any given time.

During the planning session, each issue that is considered for scheduling should be discussed in detail, and the discussion should be added to the issue in comments. These discussions should ensure that each developer on the project knows how to start the issue. Sprint planning may involve looking in detail at the code base, or reproducing bugs in the product, to clarify the steps that need to be taken to resolve the issue. This process should not be rushed, and developers should be encouraged to ask questions.

By the end of the planning meeting:

  • issues to be resolved in the current sprint should be labelled ~"To Do";
  • issues to be resolved in the current sprint should be marked with the current milestone;
  • each issue labelled ~"To Do" or ~Doing should be assigned to a Developer;
  • any issue that has been removed from the sprint should either be assigned to a future milestone or the backlog
  • most relevant issues should have a priority label.

The ~"To Do" list should not extend beyond the time of the current sprint, and care should be taken not to overload any of the developers.

Important

Developers should remember that sprint planning is intended to set priorities and coordinate team members -- it is not a target to reach, and no one should work overtime to "finish" the work in the backlog.

Planning poker

Optionally, sprint planning may use planning poker. This is an agile tool, whereby team members bid for how long they believe each issue will take to resolve.

The Scrum Master should chair planning poker, and not take part themselves. The chair, the client, or someone representing the client, should give an overview of each user story or issue, and this should be discussed until each team member feels they understand the story in full. At this stage, numbers and estimates should not be discussed.

Next, each developer offers an estimate for how long they believe the issue will take to resolve. Since Beautiful Canoe sprints only last two weeks, it is sensible to give estimates in hours. If every team member believes that the issue cannot be resolved in a reasonable number of hours, the issue should be labelled ~Tracking issue and broken into smaller sub-issues. Each estimate should be a number of hours in the Fibonacci sequence:

1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, ...

Developers should reveal their estimates at the same time. There are a number of planning poker tools and apps which enable this, but the simplest technique is for each person to hold up a number of fingers representing their estimate.

Developers with very high or low estimates are given a chance to justify for their estimate and discuss them with the team. Discussion should continue until the team has reached a consensus. The developer who is most likely to be assigned to the issue has the largest portion of the consensus vote.

During the sprint

During the sprint each developer is responsible for resolving the issues that they are assigned to, using our usual process. However, sprint plans are not set in stone, they are living documents that should be reviewed and updated (with the Scrum Master) as the sprint continues.

Developers should ensure that the issues and merge requests that they are working on are correctly labelled, so that the whole team can coordinate well.

Developers are encouraged to pair on their issues at any point, if they find that style of development useful.

If it seems likely that the original sprint plan over-estimated or under-estimated the amount of work that could be completed, or if the client changes their priorities, the issues board should be updated. The Scrum Master should regularly review the progress through the current milestone and re-evaluate the backlogs and estimates where appropriate.

The feature freeze

On the Wednesday afternoon of the second week of the sprint each project should hold a feature freeze. At this point, a deployment to the staging server should be made, and the client should be informed. From this point to the end of the sprint, only ~"Hot Fix" changes (primarily ~Bug fixes and improvements to ~Documentation) should be made, and work on the rest of the backlog should stop.

Every member of the team, including the client and Scrum Master, should QA test the new features in the staging environment. A new ~Tracking issue should be created, to keep track of changes that need to be made before the release candidate can be merged into the master branch. This issue is a good example of a tracking issue for a release candidate.

How to end a sprint

Ideally, a sprint will end with a deployment to the production environment on the master branch. In this case, a new issue should be raised in the project, to backport ~"Hot Fix" changes from the release branch (or, exceptionally, the master branch) to develop.

This will ensure that develop is kept up to date with all changes that the client will see in the production environment.

How to reflect on a finished sprint

At the end of the second Friday of the sprint, after any relevant deployments have been made, a whole-company retrospective will take place.

Before the retrospective

To prepare for a retrospective, the Scrum Master should run the retrospective bot which will create an issue in the Team Retrospectives repository which will summarise what happened during the sprint.

To run the bot, see the instructions in the retrospective-bot repository. The issue generator can either be run as a manual pipeline on that repository, or as a command-line task:

git clone git@gitlab.com:beautifulcanoe/peopleops/retrospective-bot.git
cd retrospective-bot
bundle install --path=vendor/bundle
bundle exec ruby retrospective.rb \
    --dry-run \
    --token=${SECRET_TOKEN} \
    --milestone="2019.1 Sprint"
    --group=${BEAUTIFULCANOE_GROUP_ID} \
    --group=${TRAFFIC3D_GROUP_ID} \

The secret token can be obtained by either looking at the CI/CD variables in the repository, or logging in as @bc-bot and looking through the Personal Access Tokens in his settings. The group ids can be obtained either from the CI/CD variables in the repository, or from the group pages on GitLab.

Once the sprint is over, @bc-bot will label issues that are still open, with a label such as ~Missed:2019.1

Important

Developers should remember that issues are labelled to help with sprint planning and estimation -- an issue that is rolled into the next sprint is not a judgement on the ability or competence of the assigned developer.

This issue is an example of a retrospective summary. This summary information should feed into a face-to-face retrospective, and can be used to generate summaries of new features and bug fixes to report back to clients.

Any style of retrospective may be used, but each session should be a safe space for team members to discuss their reflections on their work in a non-judgemental atmosphere. For remote retrospectives, we usually set up a Metro Retro board, to be used in a video call.

Before the end of lunchtime on the Friday, links to the retrospective issue and board and details of the video call should be posted to the #agile-retrospectives channel on Slack.

During the retrospective

During the retrospective, the team will usually:

  1. Write down anything they want to reflect on (positive, negative or neutral) that has happened during the sprint.
  2. Read through the concerns of the rest of the team.
  3. Group the team's concerns into themes.
  4. Vote on which groups need to be discussed.
  5. Discuss the most popular concerns and generate ideas for improving future sprints.

During this process, it is important that everyone can speak honestly, in an atmosphere that is open and non-judgemental. It is useful to keep in mind the retrospective prime directive:

Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand. --Norm Kerth, Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Review

After the retrospective

The Scrum Master should ensure that the retrospective board is added to the relevant Team Retrospectives issue. If the whiteboard in the Beautiful Canoe offices has been used, then this should be photographed.

Every retrospective should result in a concrete set of actions that team members have chosen to act on. The Scrum Master should ensure that these are documented in a suitable place (e.g. GitLab issues for anything technical, including documentation). Next-actions should be followed-up, to ensure that retrospectives result in continuous improvement. This may mean that in the next retrospective, the team looks back at the notes from the last retrospective.

The first and last sprints of the calendar year

If you are participating in a sprint around the turn of the year, there are some extra tasks that the Scrum Master should complete. These should be listed in an issue in the Roadmap repository with a title similar to Annual cleanup tasks (see the 2021 example).

As a minimum, this task should include:

  • Ensuring that milestones for the outgoing year are closed and milestones for the incoming year are scheduled.
  • Ensuring that the shared Outlook calendar contains all scheduled sprints and Scrum ceremonies.
  • Tidying the Team Review issues.
  • Creating a new issue in Roadmap for the coming year.

Further reading