This article was originally published on May 14th, 2013.

Scrum is a simple framework to understand. It is not always easy to implement. A team humble enough to suspend disbelief and trust the process will start experiencing the benefits within 3 sprints. The business and users, will similarly experience the benefits in as short a time-span.

Typically, it is teams that are new to Scrum who don’t take these essentials seriously. If I may use an analogy to make my point clear – follow the chocolate cake recipe strictly before changing it; how else will you know that it actually does produce a cake; how else will you know what to tweak to make it even tastier the next time, if you don’t master what the masters recommend first?

Below are highlighted 5 essentials that often get overlooked, underestimated or simply discarded by new Scrum teams. Amongst all the ingredients that make Scrum such an effective delivery mechanism, the next 5 points are the difference that makes the difference.

#1 – Use a physical board

If a team hasn’t yet mastered the flow of Scrum, then using an electronic white board is not going to make things better. It will only highlight issues with communication and collaboration. Often people will say that an electronic white board is essential because not everyone is collocated. The Scrum experience is so much a visceral one – all the senses are engaged, so offshore or remote team members need their own physical board too. The act of physically moving a stickie from one column to the next is part of what creates team accountability and trust.

#2 – Skip the retrospective at your peril

Deny the team the opportunity of continuous improvement? Not creating the space to inspect and adapt at the end of each sprint will mean that mistakes are repeated, and the ecosystem will not thrive. Remember that if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got. There is always time for the retrospective. It’s a full stop to the sprint that’s just ended, and leads to the opening paragraph of the next sprint.

#3 – Write good stories – user stories

Remember INVEST when writing stories.

I – Independent

N – Negotiable

V – Valuable

E – Estimatable

S – Sized

T- Testable

#4 – Burndown and velocity

It takes a team about 3 sprints to establish a velocity. This predictability enables Release Planning. It takes “management heat” off the team, providing the uninterrupted space to do what they do best – deliver working software. The burndown chart belongs to the team, not the Scrum Master. It must be visible. Different burndown patterns paint different pictures of the state of the sprint – learn to recognise these.

#5 – Daily stand-ups are only 15 minutes

This is not an update session. It’s a 15-minute time-box that deals with 3 questions:

What did I achieve yesterday?

What am I going to achieve today?

Do I have any impediments?

Team members commit to what they can deliver and are held to account by each other for any tasks not completed as committed.

What has been your experience in using Scrum for the first time?


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