My Personal Agile: End Of Sprint

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr)

The sprint is done. The Retrospective is done. So now what?

You start over again.  Your sprint ended but another one begins right after.  You apply what you learned and move forward.  Agile is about moving forward; its a vehicle not a destination.

Here’s what I do in my Personal Agile when a sprint ends:

  • Look at the Incubator. Add or subtract things as you need.  Re-order them to fit the priorities you have – which probably changed.  I actually do this during the Sprint now, having gotten better at incorporating my lessons.
  • With the Incubator re-ordered, I then look at the Backlog and see what I should add to it from the Incubator, subtract (and maybe even move back to the Incubator), or re-prioritize.  I may also see ways to break down the work in there as well.  Much like the Incubator, in time I’ve come to modify it during the Sprint as I learn.
  • I put any undone work back into the Backlog, and rerank it. A surprising amount of time you’ll find undone work isn’t the highest priority. Sometimes you even decide not to do it and just drop it.
  • I review the Regular Tasks list to see if I need to change it. In time you’ll probably not need to do it because you’ll change it during the sprint and in the Retrospective.
  • I plan a new Sprint – Copying the Regular Tasks and then adding as much of the Backlog as I can do for a month.
  • I start the sprint.

That’s it. It’s back to the beginning. You’re done and you restart.

Now a few bits of advice:

  • A lot of the review at the start and end of sprint will eventually work into your regular work. You’ll just get ideas or discover re-prioritizing you need to do as you go.  It’s possible you will need less retrospective and planning time – but don’t change those times until you seriously review them.
  • You’ll get better at review and planning over time. It’s a real skillset you can develop – that may be useful in life in general.
  • Don’t try to get review and planning perfect. Agile is about adaptability, you do your best and keep getting better.
  • Don’t overload yourself. Its very very easy to do that, especially on the second or third sprint when you really get going.

So there you go, my personal Agile. I hope that’s going to help you out.  I’m going to try to bundle this advice up into a free ebook at some point.

– Steve


My Personal Agile: The End-Of-Sprint Retrospective

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr)

So your sprint is done. Congrats. Now it’s time for the Retrospective!

The Retrospective is a big part of Scrum, and there are variants of it in a variety of Agile practices. It’s simply sitting down and asking yourself “how did it go,” finding things to improve, and improving them.

It sounds simple, and it is. That’s the point. It’s an obvious, common sense thing to do is regularly review and improve. It’s just not common enough in practice.

Think of it this way, it’s great to stop now and then and decide how to get better. You just gotta make room to review and improve, and Scrum – and my personal-life implementation of it – make it explicit.

So here’s what you do.

The Retrospective

First, set aside time for the Retrospective.  It should always be timeboxed, and I use an hour.  If it doesn’t take an hour, fine – if it does, well you stop anyway.

Here’s how I review in a Retrospective:

  • First, ask yourself what worked. What kept you moving forward, getting things done, and what did you do right? It’s good to focus on the positive here, because if you do enough stuff right you’ll do less wrong.
  • Secondly, ask yourself what went wrong. Focus on specific things that went wrong that are improvable. There will be stuff, trust me.
  • Third, ask yourself what work you couldn’t get done and why. Note that’s not necessarily a wrong – maybe something wasn’t needed. But it let’s you figure out specifics.
  • Fourth, ask yourself what work you discovered you had to do that you didn’t realize. Always good to keep yourself aware of surprises.

You probably have a lot of stuff. But now you gotta make it actionable. What I usually do is list down all the items above, prioritize them, and work in addressing what I learned (good and bad) in actionable items.  Don’t just “not” do something, focus on doing better.  Take a good thing and find ways to repeat it.

As you come up with actionable items, there’s a few ways to record them so they get done:

  • New tasks in the Regular Tasks list. Often undiscovered work in my Personal Agile is something that reguarly occupies time at specific intervals.
  • New things in your backlog or incubator – say if you want to edit better, set aside a few hours to read up on it.
  • Habits you need to improve. I keep a list of what to improve and review it every few days.

Sounds overwhelming? It can be. So focus on the important things that you know you can address.  Don’t overload yourself.

You’ll catch it next time.


Velocity is a measure of how much work you got done in a Sprint.  As you examine Velocity over time, you learn how much work you can take – maybe.  There’s a few arguments about how to apply Velocity in Agile, so I’m going to give you my opinions.

Here’s how to get and use Velocity:

  • Measure how much work you got done in that sprint. As noted I use hours of work.
  • Keep a record of these hours per sprint (month). I keep a list in the same spreadsheet as my tracking lists. This lets me compare month to month and make notes.
  • This gives you a rough idea over time of how much work you can get done at a given time.
  • * As you plan sprints, look at your past Velocities to help you decide how much work you can do. This keeps you from overloading – or underloading – yourself.
  • It helps you keep a reasonable amount of work, creating smooth, regular productivity.  Note that’s helps because . . .

Here’s the thing, you can’t be sure the numbers are always perfect.  Velocity is a guide, but each month is different, from holidays to illness to vacation.  Each task is different, and sometimes things that take the same time can be mentally taxing or better done in different situations.

So I use Velocity as a a check, a suggestion, and a way to catch me overloading myself.  But each sprint I also do a gut-check if I can really handle the workload I want to do, for those given tasks.  Velocity is just one tool – but a good one.

What’s Next?

What’s next? Your retrospective is done. Time to end the sprint and start a new one!

– Steve


My Agile Life: Fix A Few Things

(This column is posted at, Steve’s LinkedIn, and Steve’s Tumblr)

(My continuing “Agile Life” column, where I use Scrum for a more balanced and productive life continues).

Many Agile methods use some kind of retrospective to review and improve. I adore them but find they can drag for two reasons: sometimes people hate them and sometimes people go overboard.  It can become a venting session or it can become a case of people shutting down.

Personal retrospectives can be a drag as well for the same reasons, though I find it tends towards the “overboard.”

I find that the “overboard” and the “underboard” are part of the same problem – that retrospectives can be overwhelming.  If you want to discuss what went wrong on a sprint or on a project, you can probably easily find tend or even hundreds of things.  This can lead to people endlessly listing off problems – and people trying to ignore then because there’s so many (and their egos feel threatened).

A retrospective needs you to both focus and not be afraid.

What I’ve learned both as an Agilist and in my own life (where I can’t escape any of this) is that you need to limit what you try to improve. When you focus on one or two or a few things to get right, you can get them done – focus on every problem and you’ll never start, or you just won’t try and review your work.

Besides, as you focus on a limited amount of improvements you can also reinforce the issue that many of the problems that came up were already taken care of.  All those hundreds of problems got taken care of by reasonably mature people or a reasonably mature person and it’s probably not worth going over.  Focus on what needs to be improved.

On top of that, the focus on a limited number of issues can take your ego out of it.  You ignore the vast amount of things you can complain about to focus on things you can and want to fix.  It tones down the fear you may feel of going over the many things that did go wrong, dealt with or not.

I’ve found the “power of Few” to be very helpful in that I can focus on getting better in specific ways – ways that have real value.  Plus it doesn’t’ trigger any insecurities

As an addendum, you should always seek to improve outside of reviews and goals. Good opportunities to get better abound all the time, and seizing on them is a big part of an Agile Mindset. It also helps you get used to facing and fixing problems on the fly – so they don’t gum up your retrospectives (and your self-esteem).

(By the way I do plenty of books for coaching people to improve in various areas, which may also help you out!)

– Steve