Sprint Zero


What is SPRINT 0?

A Sprint 0 is the name often given to a short effort to create a vision and a rough product backlog which allows creating an estimation of a product release. Some organizations adopt the practice of having a Sprint 0 before the project actually kicks off for real. It is the foundation and most critical Sprint for any project. In my experience, it is well suited for the organizations who are in process of transitioning from Waterfall to Agile.

Sprint 0 is usually claimed as necessary because there are things that need to be done before a Scrum project can start. During Sprint 0, the Scrum team might be assembled, product backlog can be populated and any technical issues like hardware, software, architecture, infrastructure, procurement, resource and collocation issues can be sorted out.

The goal of Sprint 0 is “being ready and able to deliver business value that is usable and potentially releasable” through discovery process. It isn’t about planning the future items in detail but should be about setting the vision, creating an initial backlog to meet that vision and getting initial estimates against it.

Possible SPRINT 0 Deliverable:

Activities listed below will make the team ready for the upcoming Sprints and mainly Sprint 1 &2. This is just a checklist with all the possible items to start with in Sprint 0, which could be between 2-6 weeks, depending on the Project size. Nonetheless, every environment is different and may require specific actions tailored in the best way to address the specific needs of that environment.

  1. Product Backlog/Requirement:

Product owner, business analyst and technical architect should closely work to prepare the Product Backlog and create the release plan so that team can visualize the PO’s vision from the product perspective.

  • Should review and analyze User Stories in collaboration with PO’s and relevant stakeholders.
  • Should prepare a Product Backlog (or decision on Definition of Done) with the Acceptance Criteria for each User Story.
  • Should identify and document any non-functional requirements (authentication/security, performance, 508 requirements, scalability, etc.).
  • Should prepare for Sprint Planning, prioritize and freeze requirements at least for sprint 1 and 2.  
  • Infrastructure Readiness:

Without the infrastructure, team won’t be able to progress on anything. There is a high dependency on following items, and it should be worked out with the infra stakeholder:

  • Network Requirements
  • Environments readiness; to start with team at least need Dev and Test and later Pre-Prod (UAT) and Prod environments.
  • System readiness with all the software installed
  • Logistic requirements like phone, video conference etc.
  • All the tools up and running
  • Environment Specification:

Identify various tools to be used in the project, such as

  • Front-end Tool
  • Back-end Tool
  • Database Tool
  • Data Migration Tool
  • 508 Testing Compliance Tool
  • Team Readiness:

Create a resource plan or team structure:

  • How many full time and shared resources are required with their allocations
  • Identify skill sets needed for the required resources
  • Interview and hire resources (if required)
  • Create team On-boarding activities and tasks
  • Each resource should have all the required software
  • Each resource should have accounts and access to the required systems
  • Training:

Training will make team ready for the development/testing and is critical to project success. Training on following maybe be recorded for the future use/training of new associates:

  • Domain
  • Technical
  • Architecture
  • Development Framework and Process
  • Testing Framework and Process
  • Tools
  • Design/Architecture:
  • Initial draft of high-level architecture management plan that talks about the technical architecture of the future product from the technical architect.
  • Project Release Roadmap:

Work with PO’s on Product Vision and prepare Release Plan with following information:

  • Number of Sprints
  • Sprint Start and End dates
  • Epic or functionality planned to be covered in each Sprint
  • Project Management Plan (High Level):
  • Identify Project In-Scope and Out-of-Scope
  • Cost Estimation: Along with Project Cost, determine other costs (if any), such as My Access Cost, Certificates Cost, Environment Cost, Security Assessment / Authorization Cost, etc.
  • Assumptions
  • Dependencies
  • Any Risks
  • Create templates for various Status Reports
  • Create Test Management Plan (draft)
  • Create Data Migration Plan (draft) 

Dr. Harleen Flora

PhD in Computer Science, MS, PMP, MSP, PRINCE2, ITILv3, CSM, Agile PM, SAFe 5 Agilist, Lean Six Sigma Black Belt

Managing the Owner’s risk

Today Mr. Renjith invited me for an informal discussion across a cup of garam chai. The first restaurant we planned was under renovation, as if they are gearing up for the post pandemic era. On the way to the next restaurant in Kochi city, we spotted many closed shops which could not survive the impact of the pandemic. It resembled a graveyard of small businesses. For a moment I thought about the owners. As an unpleasant coincidence, Renjith who attended my project management workshop (PMP) around ten years back wanted to discuss about a project to convert his property into a residential villa project. A property development company approached him and proposed a professional association with him to start this project. He wants to know the key risks of such a project and ways of managing them?.

High level risks to the land owner of the real estate development project

  1. There is a possibility of real estate prices shooting up in another 2 to 3 years time because there is a major road expansion project happening nearby. Budgets are already approved by the central government. This is a very positive risk. If the owner can leverage it, he can maximize the profits from the project.
  2. The revenue from the project or the benefits to Renjith must be much higher than the land cost before development. After taking the risk of starting this project, if the returns are not substantially higher than the land cost, then it is better not to do the project.
  3. If there are delays in getting approvals, the project can get delayed. That means, in reality there is a possibility of the projects real start date getting postponed resulting in a longer project duration than anticipated.
  4. If the project do not complete on time, the responsibility of answering the buyers concerns may get transferred to Renjith, the owner.
  5. Actual demand can be lower than the anticipated demand. On the contrary, the actual demand can be much higher than the anticipated demand as well.
  6. Exit criteria from the project in the unlikely event of either party unable to continue with the project is not clear
  7. The last but not least question is ‘How will you invest the money obtained from the project in the best possible way, which will provide better returns than holding the property for some more time.

These are just high level risks to the land owner of the real estate development project.

The key aspect of risk management to the land owner lies in the contract type selection. The possible types of contracts in this scenario are;

  • Outright sale of the land to the builder : In this case, the risk to the land owner is the least, provided he has another project ready to invest the money out of this project than just depositing it in the bank. The positive risk of land prices appreciating cannot be factored into this.
  • Variable pricing of the land : This is a good choice. Since this is not a standard practice, the modus operandi must be worked out in this case.
  • Per unit pricing : This is also a good option where the builder and land owner shares the revenue from the sale of each housing unit in the project. Again the details must be worked out.
  • Joint venture : This is applicable only if the land owner is willing to enter into the project as a full fledged partner of the project.

Choosing the right contract type is key here. Other actions to mitigate the risks are;

  • Credibility check of the developers and marketers
  • Appointing a consultant for project approvals to speed up the project initiation
  • Alternatives analysis
  • Value assessment
  • Learn lessons from past similar projects
  • Request for proposals, RFI so that the owner can learn from them
  • Adoption of agile project based cadence till the actual start with all approvals and drawings in place.

In a nutshell aggressive risk management during the pre-project phases, till the contract is inked with the contractors is important to maximize value to the owner in construction projects.

High performance team building with Tuckman Ladder

Post pandemic, the team building challenges are different due to the fact that we all learned to work differently. Most of the organizations have flexible working policies which is a blend of work from home and work from office. Organizations have started leveraging contract workers or gig workers to accomplish their goals faster and more cost effectively. All these poses the need for innovation in the team building concepts. Tuckman ladder helps us to understand the team formation stages in a structured manner and helps to develop appropriate strategies for team development.

Tuckman ladder comprises of;

Forming Stage

Forming stage represents the stage in which the team members gets into the team for the first time. In projects, team formation and team building starts from the initiation phase and continues till the completion of execution phase. Since new team members are coming from different cultural and project backgrounds, it is important to establish the ground rules. The project vision, project charter and the team charter are of great help during this stage. These artifacts helps to lay the foundation for effective team building and team work. During the forming state of the team, the manager or leader’s primary objective must be to make the team comfortable. It is a great opportunity to leverage on servant leadership. You as a manager or leader helps the team to settle down quickly. During the forming stage, the manager or leader must wear the hat of a facilitator and counselor.

Storming Stage

Since the team members are coming from different cultural backgrounds, immediately after the forming stage, one can expect a storming stage. During the storming stage, the team members try to establish themselves resulting in power struggles. This is very normal. During the storming stage, the manager or the leader must monitor and control dysfunctional behaviors and must wear the hat of a moderator. One should play the role of a moderator here. Establishing ground rules for effective teaming helps to manage the storming stage effectively.

Norming Stage

Once the team passes through the forming and storming stages successfully, then they get into the ‘Norming Stage. During the norming stage, the team members understands their roles, responsibilities and the acceptable norms within the team (ground rules) and the goals to be accomplished very clearly. During the norming stage the manager or leader must play the role of a facilitator. The self organizing team concepts will help a lot for high performance team building during this stage.

Performing Stage

At the end of successful forming, storming and norming stages, the team arrives at the performing stage. They are ready to start the real work in a productive manner. Very often, this is the most difficult stage for a leader or manager. You picked up the team members, and transformed them into a high performance team with appropriate team building exercises. All of a sudden, they started performing well, even without your guidance. You become a kind of redundant there. This is the time one must put in extra effort in not to interfere with the team unnecessarily and interrupt their work.

Adjourning Stage

As we all know every game has a final match and after the hour of glory, the team will get adjourned. This is very true for projects as well, because projects are temporary in nature. As a manager or leader this stage is very crucial and it is very important to protect the good will generated while working together. This aspect becomes more important during these post covid work culture or the post pandemic work culture as more and more project teams are relying on contract workers or the gig workers more and more. If you are able to maintain the good will even after the project closure, it will become easier to avail great talents quickly in the future projects as well.

If teams work together for longer times as in manufacturing, all these stages will automatically happen over a period of time. In projects with tighter deadlines one do not have that kind a luxury. When majority of the teams are in the performing stage, if we add new team members then it can disrupt the teaming again. This is the reason why projects get delayed further when more members are added to a late project.

The manager or the leader must be able to drive the team through these stages very quickly in order to be productive fast. This is where the charisma and the creativity of the leaders and managers makes a big difference. We all play the game well to win, if we are playing against a common enemy. If the leader can identify and project the common enemy in the form of an opportunity or risk, half the job is done.

Five ways to build high performance teams

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Have you encountered situations when fresh team members reactions about anything strategic was very discouraging?. I had to…not just from the freshers but from even middle level managers. They were unable to resonate with strategy and strategic thinking. I even thought that there is something wrong with my ideas. Then I came across the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs which helped me to relate better with the stakeholders of my project, which includeed the project team as well. Apart from Ken Blanchard’s situational leadership model, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs also help to fine tune the leadership style.

Let us delve deep into Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

As shown in the diagram, the Maslow’s hierarchy comprises of;

  • Basic needs
    • Physiological needs
    • Safety needs
  • Psychological needs
    • Belonging and love needs
    • Esteem needs
  • Self fulfillment needs
    • Doing what they really want to do

Freshers in a team will be operating within the basic needs. What is really appealing to them would be more money, hygiene factors, job security and safety etc. Mostly, those in the middle management positions will be at the ‘Psychological needs’ level. At this level, monetary benefits may not matter that much. Prestige, accomplishment and deep bonding with others are key. The senior managers operates at the self actualization level.

Based on these motivators, leaders can adopt styles to get the best out of the stakeholders.