Exploring the Plan and Estimate Phase of a Scrum Project

January 12, 2016
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A Scrum project often goes through a number of phases. Five phases, composed of nineteen processes, are suggested in A Guide to the Scrum Body of Knowledge (SBOK™). After the Initiate phase comes the Plan and Estimate phase.

This phase includes five processes related to planning and estimating tasks. It is important to note that the processes are not necessarily performed sequentially or separately. At times, it may be more appropriate to combine some processes, depending on the specific requirements of each project.

Create User Stories

In this process, User Stories and their related User Story Acceptance Criteria are created. User Stories are usually written by the Product Owner and are designed to ensure that the customer’s requirements are clearly depicted and can be fully understood by stakeholders. User Stories adhere to a specific, predefined structure and are a simple way of documenting requirements and desired end-user functionality. A User Story tells three things about the requirements: Who, What and Why. The requirements expressed in User Stories are short, simple and easy-to-understand statements.

Approve, Estimate and Commit User Stories

In this process, the Product Owner approves User Stories for a Sprint. Then the Scrum Master and Scrum Team estimate the effort required to develop the functionality described in each User Story. Finally, the Scrum Team commits to delivering the customer requirements in the form of Approved, Estimated and Committed User Stories. Although the Product Owner approves the initial User Stories for a Sprint, the final decision lies with the Scrum Team.

Create Tasks

In this process, the Approved, Estimated and Committed User Stories are broken down into specific tasks and compiled into a Task List. Once the Scrum Team has selected User Stories for a given Sprint, they should consider any dependencies, including those related to the availability of people as well as any technical dependencies. Properly documenting dependencies helps the Scrum Team determine the relative order in which tasks should be executed to create the Sprint deliverables. Dependencies describe the relationship and interaction between different tasks in a project and can be classified as mandatory or discretionary, and internal or external.

Estimate Tasks

In this process, the Scrum Team estimates the effort required to accomplish each task in the Task List. The result of this process is an Effort Estimated Task List—a list of tasks associated with the Committed User Stories included in a Sprint. Typically, the accuracy of estimates varies with team skills. Estimated effort is expressed in terms of the Estimation Criteria agreed upon by the team. The Effort Estimated Task List is used by the Scrum Team during Sprint Planning Meetings to create the Sprint Backlog and Sprint Burndown Chart. It is also used to determine when the team needs to reduce its commitment or can take on additional User Stories during Sprint planning.

Create Sprint Backlog

In this process, the Scrum Core Team holds Sprint Planning Meetings where the group creates a Sprint Backlog containing all tasks to be completed in the Sprint. It is common practice for the Sprint Backlog to be represented on a Scrumboard, which provides a constantly visible depiction of the status of the User Stories in the backlog. Also included in the Sprint Backlog are any risks associated with the various tasks, along with any mitigating activities to address those risks. Once the Sprint Backlog is finalized and committed to by the Scrum Team, new User Stories should not be added. That said, tasks that might have been missed or overlooked from the committed User Stories may need to be added. If new requirements arise during a Sprint, they will be added to the overall Prioritized Product Backlog and included in a future Sprint.

Following the five processes of the Plan and Estimate phase will help make subsequent stages of the Scrum project a lot smoother. Remember that the processes do not need to be performed sequentially or separately. They can be adjusted to complement the specific requirements of each project. Before leaving the Plan and Estimate phase, however, it is imperative to develop a firm grasp of the tasks to be completed throughout the project.

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