Embracing change

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After the recent Scrum training (delivered by Paul Goddard, Agilify), Web Services held a retrospective on what we had learnt and what changes we wanted to make to the way we work with Scrum.  Keen to see the process work, the team committed to a number of new working practices.

Full time product owner

Historically, the Web Services Manager, as primary product owner, was understandably not always available for questions etc. during sprints which wasn't ideal.  To mitigate this, one of the team was allocated the role of proxy product owner, enabling someone with product owner knowledge to be available at all times.

From observations in this first sprint it appears this resource has been largely under-utilised.   Often deciding that more work was needed without actually checking with the product owner if they thought it done.  This is more than likely due to the fact that historically, talking to the product owner has not been an option.


In the past stories would be prioritised from 1 - 5. One being the most important and five being least important. The downside to this was invariably a sprint was loaded with priority 1 stories. This meant that there was no indication in which order the stories should be worked on and which stories would produce most value.

One of the changes that has been introduced is giving a story a unique priority. Despite this the product owner has been asked on several occasions which was the most important story. It begs the question has the team been working on the assumption, whether intentionally or not that all the work was equally important. Obviously, during the sprint the completion of all the stories is what the product owner is expecting. After all, that is what the team committed to.  Understanding priority does affect how much time is spent working on stories.


Estimation meetings in the past have not been something the team enjoys. Unwieldy backlogs with no clear priorities have lead to estimation taking a very long time. Especially, as there hasn't always been a product owner on hand to answer any queries.

However, the changes to the team working practices have improved this. Introduction of time boxed discussion of each backlog item with the product owner seemed to work well for the team. This followed into using affinity estimation which enabled all backlog items to be quickly estimated relative to what the team believed was the simplest story.

Feedback from the team was that the meetings were much more enjoyable than previous estimation sessions.

Task breakdown with hourly estimates

Previously, breaking stories down into tasks was more to ensure there wasn't any work missed rather than providing discrete pieces of achievable work. One of the new changes was to introduce proper task breakdown ensuring no task was more than a days' worth of work, estimated in hours. Emphasis was placed on creating tasks with minimal dependencies so that they could be worked on simultaneously. This would allow the team to all swarm on a single story with the aim of achieving value earlier in the sprint.

This first sprint has highlighted a few things. A number of the tasks took a lot longer than originally estimated. It is unclear as to whether this was due to underestimation or slow progress or a bit of both. Something I imagine will be looked at during the retrospective.


It was clear from the training that working in pairs is good. It enables team members with different skill sets to exchange ideas on a particular task, specific knowledge is not restricted to a single person and it ensures that work is reviewed as it is done.

Until now, although pairing was used for some work, in general people have worked on their own. This has often been on a story as a whole with someone else reviewing the work once the story was considered complete.

Switching to pair working has been quite a culture shift and it is obvious how easy it is to fall back to old habits.

In conclusion

I think it is clear that these changes have made a difference and in general improved the way we work. There is still some way to go, after all old habits die hard, but I feel that we are moving in the right direction.

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