Satya's blog - Agile best practices

Sep 19 2018 17:32 Agile best practices
There are many things that people call "Agile software development". Here's how I do it. It's similar to how Pivotal Labs did it (and for all I know, still do).

Have a force-ranked issue system

Issues (tickets, bugs, stories, whatever you call them) should be in a single list. The list should be ordered by priority in which your project manager wants things done. That way the people working on things can always just pull the top-most item off the list. Yes, please self-assign items as you start work on them so others know that it is being worked on.

There should be one list per team or whatever unit of organization you have. Any member of the team can pick up the next item. There is no confusion about which team owns an item.

Please include tech-debt items! And please allow ICs to add items.

What counts as a ticket/issue story?

Preferably include smaller self-contained features or bugs. Try not to put different things in the same issue, even if related or "in the same area". This is of course subjective, but one rule-of-thumb is "can it be tested by the PM or QA independently?"


Sprint length of two weeks seems ideal. One week is too short, four is too long. Three is just odd.

Sprint lifecycle should be something like: backlog grooming before the sprint, planning meeting on the first day (or before), check-ins/standups during, and a retro on the last day.

Backlog grooming: PM, EM, tech leads, and maybe some senior individual contributors (depends on size of team) can go through the list of issues, maybe triage if needed, re-order them if needed. Basically, prepare for the actual planning meeting. Ideally backlog grooming is ongoing, but sometimes it doesn't happen. Should be a 30-minute or less meeting.

Please ensure a healthy, non-zero, number of tech-debt/IC-contributed items are addressed. This is a good time to ask for more info from stakeholders or to close stale issues.

Planning: Whole team, issues should be quickly discussed so the whole team has a general idea of what's involved. Issues can be assigned now, but try to let ICs self-assign rather than handing them down. Should be an hour or less.

Check-ins/standups: Daily fast standup or every-other-day check-ins to ask and answer "are we on target?" (and adjust stakeholder expectations).

If it's a daily fast standup, each person should quickly (within 30 seconds -- do NOT time people) tell what they got done yesterday, what they intend to work on today, and importantly, any blockers or requests for help. No interruptions, jokes, side-tracking, or requests for clarification. Break out after the stand-up if any of this is desired, and no one has any obligation to stay for this followup. Note that this is often done asynchronously in the team chat channel.

The check-ins or standups shouldn't be more than 15 minutes; if you're always going over, you have a big team or a talkative team. Try to find a time that works for everyone. Just before lunch is good motivation!

Retro: Various teams use various forms of retro, but the core seems to be "what went well" and "what we could do better". Let everyone contribute by writing their lists all together on a board or paper or something, and then going around one by one to expand verbally. Shouldn't take more than 2 minutes each, adjust for team size. Try to get action items for improvements. Try to always have some positive items.

The retro can segue into backlog grooming or even planning for the next sprint.

In this folder: