Sprint Backlog in Scrum

What is a Sprint Backlog? Is it a baseline, a record or a report? Baseline is a project document, which, defines aspects of the project and, once approved, is subject to change control. It is used to measure project’s actual performance as against planned targets. A reord maintains information on the progress of the project. A report provides snapshots of the status of different aspects of a project at a given point of time or for a given duration.

To answer this question, we need to understand what a Sprint Backlog is, its purpose and composition. The Scrum Team creates the Sprint Backlog and Sprint Burndown Chart using the User Stories and the Effort Estimated Task List during Sprint Planning Meeting. During Sprint Planning Meeting, the User Stories, which are approved, estimated, and committed during the Approve, Estimate, and Commit User Stories process, are taken up for discussion by the Scrum Team. Each Scrum Team member also uses Effort Estimated Task List to select the tasks they plan to work on in the Sprint, based on their skills and experience. The list of the tasks to be executed by the Scrum Team in the upcoming Sprint is called the Sprint Backlog.

It is common practice in Scrum that the Sprint Backlog is represented on a Scrumboard or task board, 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. Any mitigating activities to address the identified risks would also be included as tasks in the Sprint Backlog. Once the Sprint Backlog is finalized and committed to by the Scrum Team, new user stories should not be added – however, 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.

Another tool associated with the Sprint Backlog is the Sprint Burndown Chart. It is a graph that depicts the amount of work remaining in the ongoing Sprint. The initial Sprint Burndown Chart is accompanied by a planned burndown. The Sprint Burndown Chart should be updated at the end of each day as work is completed. This chart shows the progress that has been made by the Scrum Team and also allows for the detection of estimates that may have been incorrect. If the Sprint Burndown Chart shows that the Scrum Team is not on track to finish the tasks in the Sprint on time, the Scrum Master should identify any obstacles or impediments to successful completion, and try to remove them. A related chart is a Sprint Burnup Chart. Unlike the Sprint Burndown Chart which shows the amount of work remaining, the Sprint Burnup Chart depicts the work completed as part of the Sprint.

So, it is difficult to categorize the Sprint Backlog as a baseline, record or a report. And as Scrum professes minimum documentation, Sprint Backlog fulfills purposes of more than one project document. For more information on Scrum framework, you can read the Scrum Body of Knowledge (SBOK Guide). It can be downloaded for free in SCRUMstudy

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Analyze Your Social Media Competitors

One of the simplest and most effective ways to begin developing a social media plan for a product, brand or company is to assess the social media activities that competitors are engaging in. By analyzing competitors’ social media activities, realistic benchmarks for the company’s social media plan can be set, based on what others in the industry are experiencing in terms of reach and engagement growth. This strategy enables the team to lay the framework for a successful social media strategy that is based on the successes of other similar companies in the same space.

A company identifies its competitors as a result of the Identify Competition process in the SMstudy book on Marketing Strategy. After identifying its competitors, the first step in analyzing competitors’ social media activity is to identify their voice in social media websites—whether the competitor is portraying itself directly as the brand or whether individuals from the brand are promoting the product.

The next step is to identify the level and scale of engagement of competitors with their audience. Questions like “How many followers does a company have on LinkedIn?”, “What is the ratio of followers to following on Twitter?”, and “How many Likes does the company have on its Facebook page?” are all questions that can be easily researched and answered.

It is also important to know how often competitors engage in specific activities that indicate their focus on various social media elements. Questions like “How many Facebook posts do they write each month?” and “How many tweets to they write each day?” need to be answered to gauge their focus. Some brands may have an extremely high frequency of activities but their level of engagement in an activity may be very small. Others might focus more on quality content, and participate in less frequent activities but may see an equal or higher level of engagement. For example, if a competitor makes thirty Facebook posts but each post is seen by just twenty people, out of whom three “like” it and two share it, this is not a good strategy and doing something similar is not likely to yield better results with the same target audience.

Insights into preferences for different types of content can also be discovered by analyzing competitors’ social media activity. Companies can observe whether competitors are posting texts, links, videos, photos, polls, questions, trivia, or something completely different, and can see the types of posts that engage the most number of customers.

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How is Quality related to Scope and Business Value?

In Scrum, quality is defined as the ability of the completed product or deliverables to meet the Acceptance Criteria and achieve the business value expected by the customer. To ensure that a project meets quality requirements, Scrum adopts an approach of continuous improvement whereby the team learns from experience and stakeholder engagement to constantly keep the Prioritized Product Backlog updated with any changes in requirements. The Prioritized Product Backlog is simply never complete until the closure or termination of the project. Any changes to the requirements reflect changes in the internal and external business environment and allow the team to continually work and adapt to achieve those requirements.

The fact that Scrum, through repetitive testing, requires work to be Done in an incremental fashion through Sprints rather than waiting until the end to produce deliverables results in errors being fixed right away, rather than postponed. Moreover, important quality-related tasks (e.g., development, testing, and documentation) are completed as part of the same Sprint by the same team—this ensures that quality is inherent in any Done deliverable created as part of a Sprint. Thus, continuous improvement with repetitive testing optimizes the probability of achieving the expected quality levels in a Scrum project. Constant discussions between the Scrum Core Team and stakeholders (including customers and users) with actual increments of the product being delivered at the end of every Sprint, ensures that the gap between customer expectations from the project and actual deliverables produced is constantly reduced.

Quality and Scope

Scope and quality requirements for a project are determined by taking into consideration various factors such as the following:

  • The business need the project will fulfill
  • The capability and willingness of the organization to meet the identified business need
  • The current and future needs of the target audience

Scope of the project is the sum total of all the product increments and the work required for developing the final product. Quality is the ability of the deliverables to meet the quality requirements for the product and satisfy customer needs. In Scrum, the scope and quality of the project are captured in the Prioritized Product Backlog and the scope for each Sprint is determined by refining the large Prioritized Product Backlog Items (PBIs) into a set of small but detailed User Stories that can be planned, developed, and verified within a Sprint.

The Prioritized Product Backlog is continuously groomed by the Product Owner. The Product Owner ensures that any User Stories that the Scrum Team is expected to do in a Sprint are refined prior to the start of the Sprint. In general, the most valuable requirements in solving the customers’ problems or meeting their needs are prioritized as high and the remaining are given a lower priority. Less important User Stories are developed in subsequent Sprints or can be left out altogether according to the customer’s requirements. During Sprint execution, the Product Owner, customer, and the Scrum Team can discuss the list of features of the product to comply with the changing needs of the customers.

Quality and Business Value

Quality and business value are closely linked. Therefore, it is critical to understand the quality and scope of a project in order to correctly map the outcomes and benefits the project and its product must achieve in order to deliver business value. To determine the business value of a product, it is important to understand the business need that drives the requirements of the product. Thus, business need determines the product required, and the product, in turn provide the expected business value.

Quality is a complex variable. An increase in scope without increasing time or resources tends to reduce quality. Similarly, a reduction in time or resources without decreasing scope also generally results in a decrease in quality. Scrum believes in maintaining a ʺsustainable paceʺ of work, which helps improve quality over a period of time.

The Scrum Guidance Body may define minimum quality requirements and standards required for all projects in the organization. The standards must be adhered to by all Scrum Teams in the company.

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Mobile Site and App Analytics

Web analytics can be used to analyze visitor behavior on mobile websites and help to determine the most effective elements of the website for meeting the needs and preferences of mobile audiences. Web analytics also enables a company to assess the effectiveness of specific mobile marketing campaigns and channels, including mobile advertising, mobile search marketing, and traditional desktop channels, and identify those that appeal to the target audience and work best for the business.

As previously mentioned, consumers are increasingly using mobile devices to consume data online and to make purchases. As a result, mobile devices have become an important advertising medium for companies globally. In order to measure the effectiveness of mobile media, companies constantly collect data about consumer activities on company sites and apps. As part of the data collection process, companies typically segment users based on the type of device used, and then analyze appropriate metrics for users of mobile devices. Some relevant metrics include average number of pages viewed by users, number of daily unique visits to the site, demographic profile of users of the site, geographic distribution of users, and average revenue generated per visit.

The data pertaining to consumer activity on mobile sites can also be compared against the corresponding data on the company’s desktop website to measure the relative effectiveness of both channels. Such data can help companies determine how much to invest in each channel.

Another element to consider is that not all mobile devices are the same. The digital marketing team may need to use device detection to identify the most commonly used devices and their features, and align the company’s app development and digital marketing strategies in order to target the most relevant audience. It is important for marketers to keep track of new device launches (e.g., wearables) and other emerging technology and adapt in order to stay ahead of the competition. One of the issues that the team performing mobile analytics faces is ensuring appropriate tracking of the location of their audience since the audience will generally use multiple mobile devices and may frequently change locations. Knowledge about the location of the audience is especially critical in cases where the business offers location-based services or location-based advertising.

The digital marketing team may also be required to choose an analytics solution that tracks customers across multiple channels—websites, mobile sites, apps, devices, social channels—using a unique ID to ensure that customers can, for example, resume the process of purchasing a product, even when the process has been started on another channel. This tracking can help companies create a well-rounded profile of target customers and allows companies to deliver customized content for users across channels.

Here are two examples of Mobile Site and App Analytics:

  • One of Britain’s largest hotel chains launched a mobile app in January 2011, earning revenue of £1M within three months. Sales conversion rates increased from three percent to six percent and the hotel claimed to have received seventy-seven percent of the room bookings at that time through smartphones. The hotel chain effectively used mobile analytics to improve the features and functionalities of its mobile app. It found a pattern that customers usually booked a room in the nearest possible hotel and most of their bookings were for one night. This insight from mobile analytics helped the hotel chain to adapt according to the changing consumer pattern. Usability and design also surfaced as the most important traits in the mobile app and seemed to affect the way in which users interacted with the app.
  • An American rental lodging marketplace engaged an analytics firm to evaluate user behavior associated with its iPhone app. The firm used mobile analytics to measure the time users spent at different places in the app, their most frequent actions, and the percentage of users who passively browsed versus actively managed a booking. It also optimized its first-time listing and booking flows. It used event tracking and funnel analysis to keep track of user behavior. Based on the data found using analytics, the company revamped the host listing process on its app, resulting in a 400 percent increase in the conversion rate.

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Increase the reach of website using Search Engine Advertising

Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising or paid search advertising involves a company paying to have its ad appear on search results pages of search engines. PPC advertising providers such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing show sponsored ads, or paid search results, for most search queries. A consumer intending to purchase a microwave oven for her new modular kitchen may enter a query “microwave oven with convection and grill for home use,” seeking cost and feature information. A chain of electric kitchen appliances would likely then appear as a sponsored result. It is often observed that users with a high intention of making a purchase click on sponsored ads. This is especially true of highly transactional goods such as clothing, electronics, and consumer foods.

PPC advertising has a significant impact on consumer metrics such as brand awareness and brand image, even among users who do not click on the sponsored advertisements. Image ads tend to be more effective in exerting positive impact and increasing visibility in search results. A consumer seeking a new microwave oven may choose to review multiple electric kitchen appliances advice pages before making a decision.

A business can increase the reach of its website using PPC advertising in the following ways:

Choosing relevant Keywords–keywords are the search terms used by consumers to tell search engines about the specific product or service they are interested in purchasing. For businesses looking for maximizing their reach using PPC or search engine advertising, the focus must be on bidding on keywords that are highly relevant to the search queries that are common in their business. Businesses can make use of their historical data and competitor data to determine the popularity and relevance of various keywords.

The price of keywords can vary greatly, from pennies to several dollars depending on popularity, demand, and the value to the advertiser. The ad’s “quality score”, rank and popularity of the keywords among the competitors determine the price an advertiser has to pay. The quality score is the search engine’s way of determining the relevance of an ad to the searcher by evaluating each keyword’s relevance to the business and its landing page, as well as other factors. The rank of an ad is determined based on its cost-per-click (CPC) and its quality score.

Choosing relevant Geography and Time–search engines have enabled business to analyze their past data to determine where their online customers are located and the best time to reach them. Based on this data and other internal research, businesses can choose the desired geography and time of day in which they should advertise their products and services for optimal results. For small businesses that cater to a local audience, geography-based targeting is especially important and helps ensure that their ads remain relevant.

Profiling the audience–Businesses must understand the profile of their target audience and create “user personas” that will help them identify the relevant ads for their customer base. A young age group may be attracted to video ads, while a more mature audience may prefer an image ad. Audience profiling may also help businesses identify the time of day when their target audience is most likely to make a purchase.

Selecting appropriate Ad sizes–Advertisements displayed on search engines and other third-party sites are available in different sizes, and the digital marketing team must customize their marketing content to the size of the ad being displayed.

Testing various Ads– Search engines allow businesses to experiment with two or more ad options in order to identify the more attractive one, commonly referred to as A/B or multivariate testing. A business can divide its marketing budget between two or more ads to be displayed to a similar audience throughout the day if it is unsure about the most effective advertising message for its products or services.

Customizing Language–businesses can also customize their ads based on the language preference of their target audience to make sure the intended marketing message is relevant and reaches audiences around the world.

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All About Agile Testing

Coding and testing stages are not isolated ones but well integrated ones in Agile development. The development toward every user story commences through written business-interfacing experiments that enables the team the ‘what part’ regarding coding and also the juncture when the tasks are being completed with.

Professionals in the field of testing, analysis and development interface with stakeholders from the business side for extracting instances of preferred and unwanted manners for every single user story and aspect, and then transforming them into tests which are executable. This is known as Acceptance Test-Driven Development (ATDD) or Specification by Example. The team which is responsible for development will then work in partnership with their customers to choose the specific user story aligning customer expectations apropos the delivery part. User stories will be corroborated upon cracking the different functional, automated functional and manual probing tests.

Time is an important element which should be made inclusive for the whole activities related with testing toward user story estimates. This can include automated testing and manual probing testing. Inexperienced Scrum teams frequently and habitually over promise or goes overboard with their commitment part in terms of extra work planning compared to what they could feasibly do. Testing then gets hard-pressed in the end in the absence of features, due to this undesirable characteristic of the team simply because of the arrival of sprint on the last day. The result – mass demise of user stories hauled from one iteration to the subsequent one without the testing professionals being able to conduct their tests.

Focusing on completing each story at a specified time is a good way to handle this problem.

Necessary role inclusion for comprehending the various customer requirements and delivering good quality oriented software is a benefit that Agile teams possess inherently. Agile teams find the much needed opportunity through their varied experiences and assortment of abilities which help them in traversing different approaches toward supporting business participants in outlining their requirements. They are able to do it through tangible examples provided to the stakeholders and then interpreting the same into experiments certifying the ‘done part’ aimed at every user story along with their features.

Customers are pleased with the outcome pertaining to as an effort of the team – interacting and coordinating with the business teams, taking out the much needed time to plan for evidencing the aspects are done with as per requirements outlined. Newer Agile teams must pool in time to search for different means to comprehend the requisites of customers so that they can interpret those requisites into well conducted experiments which will outline software development. That will bring in maturity in terms of experience and doing things in a speedy manner efficiently and effectively.

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What is Planning Poker?

Planning poker is combination of analogy, expert opinion, and disaggregation in a fun way so that it will result quick and reliable estimates. All the team members are included in planning poker. On any agile project, you will have typically ten team members or less. If it does, the team can be split in twos. Then estimation is done independently by each team. The PO participates in planning poker but he or she doesn’t estimate.

At the beginning, each team member is handed deck of cards. All the cards are marked with a valid estimation number. Each member will be given a deck that reads a number series. The most popular of these estimation numbers are Fibonacci numbers. (1,2,3,5 ,8,13,2, 34,55 and so on). The cards are prepared before the planning poker meeting.

Then a moderator describes each of the user stories or theme that team is planning to estimate. Though generally the product owner acts as a Moderator, anyone can be a moderator. No special privilege or role is associated with the moderator. The product owner will answer all questions that the team members have.

The goal of estimation is to be somewhere on the left of the actual effort line. Important thing to remember is that this process is not about deriving an estimate that will resist all future inspection.

After all the queries are resolved, each team member selects a card that represents their estimation. Each estimator has to make a selection before Cards can be visible to everyone. Cards are kept private until everyone has estimated. Then the cards are turned over at the same time.
Then, all cards are instantaneously spun over and displayed so that all estimators can see each estimate. Chances are that these estimates will differ significantly. In that case, the high and low estimators will explain their estimates. The focus of this process is not to attack these estimators but to learn on what basis these estimations were assigned.

After this discussion, each team member will re-estimate by selecting a card. The earlier mentioned process will be followed again. Chances are that the estimates will meet by the subsequent round. Continue to repeat the process until all the estimators converge on a single estimate that can be used for the story. Very rarely it takes more than three rounds. Continue this process until estimates are moving closer together and they everyone converges on a single estimate.

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