Agile Meetings 101, How to conduct them properly

Agile Meeting

Agile meetings have two specific features that set them apart from regular meetings: they are focused on delivering value, and are strictly time-boxed. In fact, these two features make them quite productive, in contrast to most other regular meetings.  

These meetings are inseparable from an effective agile approach to product development. The reason is ingrained in the nature of agile approaches. 

Here’s one way to look at it: members of an agile team should work together daily and deliver results incrementally. As they move on in the project, they might stumble upon new ideas to deliver the product faster and more efficiently. They meet frequently to discuss these ideas and adjust their framework. 

Rather than sticking to a fixed model of the final product, an agile team is open to new ideas from within the team or from the client. They should gather together at various intervals to analyze their progress, discuss new ideas, and reflect on how to deliver the next increment better. 

What is agile? 

Agile is originally a software development approach that is focused on delivering value to their customers through iterations. Contrary to traditional or, scrumban methodologies that tend to decide definitively on the duration and cost of the whole project based on its scope, agile is open to uncertainty and only incrementally (through each work cycle or iteration) spends the resources and completes objectives. 

Since, in an agile approach, the focus is on delivering an effective product rather than sticking to a contract, the client is involved in the development process, and team collaboration is a top priority. This is why meetings are an important part of an effective agile approach. 

What are agile meetings? 

Three of the twelve principles of the Agile Manifesto emphasize the importance of meetings:

  1. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  2. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.
  3. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.

So no matter what agile approach you’re using, it’s important to have regular meetings and discuss your work progress. 

Generally, an agile meeting has one of these two goals to achieve: 

1- Decide on the objectives for the next iteration 

2- Review and report the work in the current iteration 

The most popular kind of meetings among agile approaches are Scrum meetings (obviously because Scrum is the most popular agile methodology). These meetings could be adopted for other agile methodologies as well. Scrum defines four meetings:

  1. Sprint Planning
  2. Daily Scrum
  3. Sprint Review
  4. Sprint Retrospective

Note: “Sprint” is the term that Scrum developers have chosen for a specific iteration or cycle. During these periods of time, team members work together to improve the project’s progress. Sprints are not longer than one month and have a list of objectives (Sprint backlog) to achieve. 

Who should attend agile meetings? 

Depending on the purpose of the meeting, different people should attend these meetings. The developers and Scrum Master are the fixed part of Scrum meetings. 

Development team: a team of experts responsible to work directly together and develop a presentable product. The development team takes part in all Scrum meetings. 

Scrum Master: the same as a project manager, a Scrum Master is responsible for keeping track of the development team’s performance and eliminating any issues on the way. They also help team members to understand the basis of Scrum and their responsibilities. The Scrum Master takes part in all meetings. 

Product Owner: product owner is the member of the Scrum team who is responsible for defining the product goal and the list of work that should be done to achieve it (Product Backlog). A Product Owner is the ultimate authority in the Scrum Team and has the final saying in designing the Product Backlog. The Product owner should attend Sprint Planning and Sprint Review meetings. However, it’s a good idea that they take part in all meetings as they are part of the Scrum Team.  

Stakeholders: According to Scrum glossary a stakeholder is “a person external to the Scrum Team with a specific interest in and knowledge of a product that is required for incremental discovery. Represented by the Product Owner and actively engaged with the Scrum Team at Sprint Review.” Stakeholders could be the client, users of the product, or a product manager from within your company. These people receive direct financial benefit from the end product. Stakeholders only attend Sprint Review meetings to receive and analyze the work completed by the development at the end of each Sprint.   

agile meetings with scrum

Different types of agile meetings

Scrum meetings or ceremonies ensure that a Sprint is completed accordingly. During these meetings team members lay down the work that should be done during a Sprint, monitor their progress, review the work they’re going to deliver to the client, and finally discuss what they’ve learnt during a Sprint and offer ways to improve future Sprints. 

1- Sprint planning 

Sprint planning is the meeting with the aim of designing a suitable Sprint Backlog. A sprint backlog is a list of items that the development team should complete in order to achieve the Sprint goal which is a shippable increment of work presented to the client at the end of the Sprint. 

Product owner is responsible to provide a Product Backlog, an inclusive list of items that should be completed by the end of the project. The scrum team should select the items they consider necessary for the Sprint they’re planning. All in all, the Scrum team discusses the following: 

1- Why is this Sprint valuable?

What value does the current Sprint add to the end product? The whole team should collaborate to finalize a Sprint goal that will be further discussed with the Product Owner. The goal is to make it clear how the end product will benefit from this Sprint.  

2- What should be done? 

The development team is responsible for choosing items from the Product Backlog to be completed during the current Sprint. The product owner’s expectations, the complexity of the project, and the development team’s capacity play an important role in defining what should be done in a Sprint. 

3- How should the items be done?

The question of how each item from the Sprint Backlog should be completed is at sole discretion of the developers. They might decide to break each item into smaller items and dedicate a day to completing each smaller item. 

The duration of the Sprint planning meeting is dependent on the duration of the Sprint itself. The maximum duration for a Sprint planning meeting is 8 hours which is for a one-month Sprint. Shorter Sprints should have shorter meetings.   

How to make Sprint Planning Meetings more effective: 

  1. Provide a Zoom call for team members who cannot attend the meeting in person. 
  2. Be realistic about your team’s capacity for accomplishing tasks. Make sure team members know exactly what they should do during the Sprint. 
  3. Always consider some slack time for unexpected issues during the Sprint. 
  4. Use boards to showcase the items that should be done. This adds more clarity to the Sprint Goal. 

2- Daily Scrum or Standup

The Daily Scrum is a short daily meeting with the aim of discussing progress towards the Sprint goal and planning what should be done in the next day. During this meeting, developers talk about the results of their work in the previous day and whether they had any impediments. They should also plan their work for the day ahead. So this meeting is held after a work day and before a new one. 

Developers should be able to answer these questions during a Daily Scrum: 

1- What did they do on the previous work day? 

2- What are they going to do in the day ahead? 

3- What impediments did they experience?

The Scrum Master is responsible for clearing all the impediments for the developers and facilitating their work. If it’s necessary, the developers can refine the items in the Sprint backlog or add or remove items to make sure the progress happens smoothly. 

Daily Scrum is a short meeting of nearly 15 minutes. It’s advised to hold the meeting at a certain time and place everyday to reduce the complexity involved in this meeting. It’s also an informal internal meeting for developers so the presence of the Product Owner is optional. Stakeholders do not attend this meeting. 

How to make Daily Scrum Meetings more effective: 

  1. It’s important to make the Daily Scrum a routine. It should happen at the right place and time everyday to reduce the mental burden associated with it. 
  2. The Daily Scrum is a meeting for the developers to discuss their progress and future plans freely. The Scrum Master makes sure that the meeting takes place but their presence is not mandatory.  
  3. All members of the development team should contribute to the meeting. Members can take turns to explain their work. 
  4. These meetings are not the only meetings for team members to discuss their issues. If the duration of the meeting (15 minutes) does not allow all issues to be discussed or if anything urgent happens, team members can hold extra meetings to tackle their issues.  

3- Sprint Review 

After each Sprint, the Scrum team holds a review meeting with the Product Owner and Stakeholders to assess the results of the Sprint. During this meeting the development team presents to the Stakeholders how the Sprint Goal (as determined in the Sprint Planning meeting) is achieved and what value it adds to the end product.  

The Scrum team is not limited to presenting the results. Based on the new achievements and possible findings of the development team during the Sprint, future plans are discussed as well. So it might happen that based on new experiences, the previous Product Backlog is revisited and adjusted to make the final product more effective. 

Since the aim of the Sprint Review meeting is assessing the results of the Sprint Goal and discussing possible adjustments to the end product, anyone that could provide any value could attend this meeting. Apart from the Scrum team (the Product Owner, the Scrum Master, and the Development Team), other developers, managers, or any other stakeholders could add value to the meeting. 

Like other Scrum meetings, Sprint Review is time-boxed. The longest duration for this meeting is 4 hours for a one-month Sprint. 

How to make Sprint Review Meetings more effective: 

  1. Sprint Review meetings are more than just demos or presentations. Stakeholders and team members should have an active working meeting to analyze the work done and adjust their Product Backlog accordingly. It’s a great place to get feedback from other people and make future Sprints more effective. 
  2. The foundation of a Sprint Review meeting is “show, don’t tell” so the Scrum team should be able to show how the Sprint’s results can add value to the end product (rather than simply talk about them). 
  3. If the Scrum Team could not achieve its goals by the end of the Sprint, a Sprint Review Meeting is necessary to clarify the issues with the stakeholders. 

4- Sprint Retrospective Meeting

The last of the Scrum meetings, Sprint Retrospective meeting, is an internal informal meeting (without the presence of the Stakeholders) meant to assess the performance of various elements such as people, tools, and processes, in the previous Sprint.

The team reflects on the work they have presented to the Stakeholders and analyzes their own weaknesses and strong points. The ultimate goal is finding ways to increase the effectiveness of the next Sprints. 

So there are three basic questions to ask in a Sprint Retrospective Meeting: 

1- What went well in the previous Sprint? 

2- What didn’t go well? 

3- How to learn from the new experiences to do better Sprints? 

The Sprint Retrospective meeting has a maximum duration of three hours for a one-month Sprint. For shorter Sprints, the Sprint Retrospective Meeting would be shorter. 

How to make Sprint Retrospective Meetings more effective: 

  1. There is always something to improve. Take note of the experiences you learn during a Sprint and discuss issues with your team during the Sprint Retrospective meeting. 
  2. It’s important to take this meeting seriously. Provide interesting materials for it and encourage team members to discuss their opinions freely. 
  3. Some people might argue that a Product Owner should not attend this meeting. Sprint Retrospective is a meeting for the whole Scrum team (which include the Product Owner). Product Owner is a team member with an inclusive picture of the end product in mind. They can help the development team see the broader picture and make more informed decisions. 

Finally:

Agile meetings are a necessary part of an agile approach. Without them, team members won’t be able to collaborate daily and complete the goals for each iteration (or Sprint). As a popular agile methodology, Scrum has four purposeful and time-boxed meetings (or ceremonies) that could be adopted for any other agile methodology. The four meetings are Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, Sprint Review, and Scrum Retrospective. Encouraging your team to adopt a Scrum approach to project management and holding these meetings the right way can guarantee success.