How does an agile coach facilitate sprint planning?
This answer may be a bit different to how a scrum master would facilitate sprint planning because we are assuming that the team already have a scrum master and are looking to you, as the agile coach, to assist them in a different or very specific way.
Sprint Planning Context
A scrum master is a member of the scrum team, and their role is to ensure that the team are effective in sprint planning, that they are making the best use of their time and effort, and that the team are focused on delivering the most valuable work.
As an agile coach, you may or may not be a member of that team.
You may be involved in sprint planning meetings from an observation perspective with the goal of coaching and helping the scrum master or you may have been called in specifically to help the team improve with sprint planning.
The reason you are in that sprint planning event is contextual and how you contribute depends on the primary reason you are involved in that event. So, be clear on why you are there and what you are attempting to achieve through your contribution and presence.
Sprint Planning in the capacity of a scrum master
If you are an agile coach and stepping in for the scrum master, you are likely going to facilitate the sprint planning event in much the same way as a scrum master.
A scrum master works exclusively with scrum whilst an agile coach would work with multiple agile frameworks, teams, and environments.
So, as an agile coach, you would be focused on sprint planning as a scrum event in this context, yet you would be incorporating all your planning expertise and experience to help the team plan effectively and develop the practices that will help them become even better in the future.
You are going to help them understand the capacity of the team and the constraints which they need to work within. An agile coach would make sure that the team help themselves accountable to their approach and took the most important variables into consideration when planning the sprint.
When I was a scrum master, I would look to the product owner to enter the sprint planning event with a backlog of items, ordered in terms of importance and priority, and prepared to walk the team through why this sprint goal matters and what needs to be achieved within the sprint.
As an agile coach filling in for a scrum master, I would look to do the same thing.
Make sure that the product owner is on top of their backlog and knows why each item is prioritised the way it is with a clear understanding of how that item serves the customer and product stakeholders.
I would make sure that the team have a conversation about the sprint goal and understand why this sprint goal is important and how it aligns with the product vision. I would facilitate the conversations around which backlog items need to be left off the sprint backlog and why they can’t be addressed in this sprint.
Sprint Planning in the capacity of a team coach
So, what are we doing as a team coach when it comes to sprint planning?
As an agile coach, we are facilitating the conversations that really matter. In some instances, we are nudging the team in the right direction whilst in other instances, we are calling them back to a topic that really needs deeper attention and more engagement.
Do they understand the importance of the sprint goal? Are they clear on why the backlog items matter? Have they discussed how they are going to solve the problem and why it is critical that the problem is solved?
We’ll be ensuring that the team have psychological safety and that each person has a voice. If we spot hesitancy in a junior developer, we will help them explain what is troubling them and address the potential problem areas and challenges they see.
We will also be ensuring that the team stay on track, within their time boxes, and that each conservation is productive. We are focused on collaboration and creativity from the team.
This is facilitation at its simplest. We are making sure that people stay engaged with the topic at hand.
Once we’ve covered all these elements, the product owner steps back into the shadows as the team begin to discuss how they intend to solve the problems or create the product identified in the sprint planning session.
An agile coach would be facilitating these conversations and helping the team come to the best possible answers. If the agile coach or scrum master is a developer themselves, they may play a stronger role than facilitation and actively contribute to the technical discussion, if necessary.
You may have significant experience with the problem at hand, and if so, you can simply point the team in the right direction or provide them with the technical solution that fits the problem.
A great agile coach will be focused on whether the team are effectively working through the topics at hand and whether the team are making the best use of their time. They will be helping the team address the most important elements and make the most effective decisions they can.
Again, like a scrum master scenario, an agile coach will be prodding, probing and helping the team use their collective knowledge, intelligence and problem-solving capabilities to come up with the best possible answers and plan of action that they are capable of.
Sprint Planning as a process specialist
An agile coach may be called in because the current sprint planning process simply isn’t working.
You may work with a single team, or you may have multiple team engagements. Either way, you are there to help the team improve their sprint planning and master the process.
In this scenario, you will also be facilitating, however, you will almost certainly also be teaching, coaching, and consulting at the same time.
As the expert with the necessary and relevant experience, you are there to help the team achieve their goals and objectives. Doing so means going back to basics and explaining why sprint planning is so important, how to plan effectively, and walk the team through best practices.
You will be providing insights into how other teams successfully plan and based on your experience and expertise, help them develop a process that really works for them.
In some instances, you may be there to coach and mentor a scrum master in their role, and so you will be largely observing with the intention of providing feedback, insights, and coaching after the sprint planning session.
It really pays to be clear on why you are there and what you are there to achieve.
Newbie scrum masters and agile coaches often display zealotry when it comes to scrum. They insist on following the dogma of agile to the letter and can be forceful when it comes to how things should be done.
An experienced agile coach isn’t in the least bit interested in dogma. They are there to help the team discover the best practices and processes that serve their unique and individual application. They are there to help the team experiment with new processes and ideas, discard what doesn’t work quickly, and embed the elements that do deliver great results.
They are interested in the team become the best version they can rather than have them paraded like a textbook example of scrum.
As the team progress, a great agile coach will be coaching them through each evolution and making sure that the team are clear about why they are taking the course of action they are, how that works out versus how they anticipated it would, and documenting the process of learning.
Scrum is empirical or evidence-based evolution.
You want your team to evolve based on evidence and facts. You want them to make the decisions they do because those decisions are informed by either a hypothesis or by data. Preferably, both.
As the team learn and grow, and as the evidence mounts, you will have complete buy-in from everyone on the team as well as the leadership teams supporting the team. Never forget the scientific element of helping teams grow.
You want do make sure that the process or agile adoption is repeatable for other teams who follow and you want to make sure that learning is deeply embedded in the culture of the team.
If you are interested in becoming an agile coach and value mentored, coach-driven skills development in your journey to mastery, visit our Growing Agile Coaches page.
For more information on John McFadyen, visit https://www.growingscrummasters.com or connect with John on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/johnmcfadyen/.
If you like the idea of becoming a scrum master and want to achieve internationally recognised and certified accreditation as a scrum master, visit our Certified Scrum Master (CSM) course page.
If you are already a scrum master and want to upskill to a more advanced level of knowledge and agile coaching capability, visit our Advanced Certified Scrum Master (A-CSM) course page.
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