The Scrum approach to agile software development marks a dramatic departure from waterfall management. Scrum and other agile methods were inspired by its shortcomings. Scrum emphasizes collaboration, functioning software, team self management, and the flexibility to adapt to emerging business realities.


The CSM Exam

Posted by admin under Agile and Scrum, Scrum Discussion

Very soon, the Scrum Alliance will introduce a new process to certify ScrumMasters. Previously, certification has been awarded to anyone who attends a two-day, Scrum Alliance-certified ScrumMaster Certification course. But beginning October 1, course participants will also be required to pass an exam within 90 days of attending training. Certification will be good for two years. At the end of two years, individuals will need to re-certify for CSM status. This costs $150, including Scrum Alliance membership fees, and lasts two years.

In some ways, this marks an improvement because it endeavors to ensure that a CSM fully understands the tenets of Scrum. Certainly, this is better than simply awarding an individual ScrumMaster certification based on sitting through a two-day class. That is, while CSM courses are incredibly beneficial for most participants, they do not guarantee that an attendee will necessarily absorb or apply everything he or she has learned. Of course, the flipside is that an exam will only test attendees on certain aspects of the Scrum framework in a format that does not necessarily promote a deep understanding of Scrum’s values.

What do you think? Is this an improvement over the existing certification process or an unhelpful amendment to a process that was working fine? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.

You will do better on the CSM or PSM exam by keeping your Scrum Reference Card handy.

The Scrum Reference Card

The Scrum Reference Card

If you need to practice for the CSM exam (or others), try the free practice test towards the end of the Introduction to Scrum.
Scrum Quiz

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Back to Scrum Basics: Product Backlog Items vs. Tasks

Posted by admin under Uncategorized

Lately, our discussions here have focused on scaling Scrum for the enterprise. That is, we’ve been thinking bigger and moving away from some of the fundamental issues pertaining to Scrum and team dynamics. But a reader request reminded me that not everyone is focusing on translating the benefits of small team Scrum for the largest, most complex development environments. So let’s get back to the basics and consider a more introductory topic: the Product Backlog Item.

The Product Backlog Item (or “PBI,” “Backlog Item,” or sometimes simply “Item”) represents all the work a team needs to complete. However, since Scrum utilizes an incremental and iterative approach to development, only a handful of these PBIs are tackled by the team in a given sprint.

Because it is the primary responsibility of the Product Owner to determine what work will yield the most business value, it is also his or her duty to prioritize the PBIs. That is, each sprint, the Product Owner determines which PBIs a team will attempt to complete within the sprint. This is often referred to as the Product Owner dictating the “what” (i.e. what is to be delivered by the end of the sprint), while the “how” is left for the team to decide. That is, the team decides “how” to complete its PBIs—in what order, which team members will work on specific Items, etc.

During the sprint, Tasks are defined for each PBI, so that the Team has a clear sense of how it will accomplish its work. It is important to note that the Product Owner should not be monitoring their progress at the Task level. Rather, Tasks are simply more granular versions of the work entailed to complete a PBI. As such, they are created for the benefit of the team—both in terms of sizing up their PBIs in a realistic manner and ensuring the Team knows what everyone is doing to complete Sprint goals.

It is important to note that PBIs are estimated using Story Points—i.e. abstracted estimates of difficulty—whereas Tasks are estimated with hours. Since these two forms of estimation are completely unrelated, PBIs and Tasks should not be compared; they are separate entities.

As a best practice, PBIs should always be estimated using a consistent scale of Story Points. These points can be anything—factors of two, t-shirt sizes, dog breeds, headaches, etc.—but what is important is for the team to agree upon their scale, the approximate values of each estimate within the scale, and use them consistently.

Tasks, on the other hand, should employ hour estimates. Most developers are comfortable estimating the number of hours they believe it will require to complete a given Task. However, some advanced Scrum teams prefer not to assign hour estimates to their Tasks. Instead, they simply mark their Tasks as “done” or “not done,” which means the corresponding report would track Tasks remaining, rather than hours. In ScrumWorks Pro, all meaningful, long-term metrics rely on PBI estimates, not those associated with Tasks.


Watch a team break Product Backlog Items (PBIs, or User Stories) into Sprint Tasks during the Sprint Planning Meeting.


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Value Versus Velocity

Posted by admin under Agile and Scrum, Scrum Basics, Scrum Discussion

Over at InfoQ, Vikas Hazrati points out the common misconception that a team’s velocity is directly linked to the value it yields for the organization. It’s a fairly understandable mistake: If a team accomplishes more in a given sprint, then surely it’s making a larger contribution to the organization’s success, right? Well, not necessarily… A team might set records for the number of story points it completes, but that doesn’t actually mean it’ll add up to “value” for the organization. For instance, what if the product it completes sits on the shelf and is never shipped because evolving market conditions render it irrelevant? What if it is shipped, but no one buys it? It’s easy to see that, once these aspects are considered, there’s really no connection between velocity and value.

Determining what agile-specific metric is best for quantifying the actual value generated through the team’s work has been a point of ongoing frustration for many managers. The best way I’ve seen this issue dealt with is in the ScrumWorks Pro tool, which employs several metrics—Business Value and Earned Business Value—to give organizations a way to track the actual business value being created in a product.

How does your organization track this? I’d be curious to hear your strategies for this in the comments section. Thanks!

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Scrum and the Enterprise

Posted by admin under Uncategorized

As Scrum continues to grow in popularity, one of the hottest topics on the minds of the community is how to translate the benefits of a paradigm created for small, collocated teams for enterprise-level installations of hundreds, if not thousands of users. Given that communication channels increase (and therefore communication decreases) as the size of a team grows, this issue is only compounded when teams begin to scale to Scrum-of-Scrum configurations. Clearly, the solution is a tool designed specifically for Scrum projects that can allow teams to remain small, but nonetheless connected to the bigger picture.

Of course, the tool also needs to be flexible enough to meet the unique demands of large and complex development environments. For example, large organizations often develop products with shared components, which require the ability to plan releases against multiple backlogs. And while Scrum and other agile management methods have steadily crept into the software development landscape, the project management tools available have not kept pace.

But all that may be changing now. I just watched a screencast of ScrumWorks Pro 4 (you can watch it, too, here: and this release’s new functionality makes it the first truly enterprise-ready Scrum tool. Namely, it addresses the issue outlined above by allowing customers to manage high-level features and releases that span multiple product backlogs. This is a really important breakthrough. Before that functionality existed, organizations had to creatively develop workarounds for their agile tools to achieve the same effect, but, still, with less-than-ideal results. Now, products can be associated with multiple programs, which, in turn, allows shared components to be modeled accurately while providing organizations with a more realistic view of overall progress. This is going to eliminate some very big headaches for some very big companies… You can read more about it here.

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