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Agile Ceremonies: Your Ultimate Guide To the Four Stages

15, Mar 2022
Sean Blake
Written by Sean Blake, Head of Marketing

This guide looks at the four ceremonies that bring one of Agile’s most popular frameworks, Scrum, to life.

Learn how each agile ritual helps empower teams and drive performance while highlighting some tips to help your organization get the most from your ceremonies.

At a glance:

  • The four agile ceremonies are Sprint Planning, Daily Stand-Up, Sprint Review and Sprint Retrospective
  • Ceremonies in agile facilitate visibility, transparency, and collaboration.
  • Each ceremony has a clear structure and objective.
  • Clear communication, flexibility, and cultural alignment are the keys to successful ceremonies.

What are the main agile ceremonies?

Agile ceremonies refer to the four events that occur during a Scrum sprint. Other forms of agile development, such as Kanban and Lean, also have similar practices.

The agile ceremonies list includes:

  1. Sprint Planning
  2. Daily Stand-Up
  3. Sprint Review
  4. Sprint Retrospective

While each ceremony is different, they facilitate the same overall purpose. The ceremonies bring teams together with a common goal under a regular rhythm, and they help teams get things done.

"With today's enterprises under increased pressure to respond quickly to the needs of their customers and stakeholders, they must bring new products to market faster and accelerate improvements to existing solutions and services." - State of Agile Report

Why are agile ceremonies important?

Agile ceremonies help organizations adapt to change and succeed. With work planned in smaller portions and over shorter timeframes, they help teams quickly shift direction and course-correct when needed. They form a key part of the broader agile approach that’s now widely adopted in organizations worldwide.

With agile ceremonies, teams in your organization can benefit from:

  • Enhanced ability to manage changing priorities
  • Acceleration of software development
  • Increase in team productivity
  • Improved business and IT alignment

It’s important to remember that while ceremonies are an essential part of Scrum, they’re just one of many rituals that help create agile teams and workplaces. To realize the true benefits of agile, you’ll need to do more than include one or more of the ceremonies into your waterfall project.

1. Sprint Planning

The Sprint Planning ceremony sets teams up for success by ensuring everyone understands the sprint goals and how to achieve them.

StructureAttendeesTimingDurationAgile Framework
The Product Owner brings the product backlog to discuss with the Development Team. The Scrum Master facilitates. Together, the Scrum Team does effort or story point estimations. The product backlog must contain all the details necessary for estimation. The Product Owner should be able to clarify any doubts regarding the product backlog. The entire Scrum Team (the Development Team, Scrum Master, and Product Owner)At the beginning of each sprintOne to two hours per week of iteration. So, if you're planning a two-week sprint, your Sprint Planning should last two to four hours. Scrum. Although Kanban teams also plan, they do it less formally and per milestone, not iteration.

Outcomes

After some team negotiation and discussion, you should have a clear decision on the work that the Development Team can complete during the sprint by the end of Sprint Planning. This is known as the sprint goal.

The sprint goal is an increment of complete work, and everyone should feel confident about the commitment.

The product backlog defines priorities that affect the order of work. Then, the Scrum Master transforms that decision into the sprint backlog.

Top tips

  • Focus on collaboration rather than competition.
  • Break user stories into tasks to get things more operational for the Development Team. If there's time, assign those tasks during the event.
  • Factor in public holidays and any team member’s time off or vacations.
  • Keep your team’s pace in mind – a track record of the time it took to implement similar user stories would be helpful.
  • Focus on the product backlog and nothing else in terms of work for the sprint.

2. Daily Stand-Up

The daily stand-up brings the team together and sets everyone up for the day. The team uses this time to identify blockers and share plans for the day.

StructureAttendeesTimingDurationAgile framework
This is an informal, standing meeting. All members of the Development Team inform everyone about what they did the day before and what they’re doing today. Members discuss any blockages they have and ask for help from the team if required. Due to time restrictions, the updates should be brief.Development Team, Scrum Master, Product Owner (optional) Daily, usually in the morningShort and sharp. No longer than 15 minutesScrum and Kanban

Outcomes

The Scrum Master should clear all the blockages that slow down or prevent the Development Team from delivering. As a result, the development process might need to change.

This daily pulse check keeps the team in sync and helps build trust. Together, the group finds ways to support and help each other.

Top tips

  • Use a timer to keep this meeting to 15 minutes.
  • Hold your stand-up at the same time every day.
  • Only discuss the work for the day ahead.
  • If the team is distributed, use video conferencing with cameras on.
  • Long discussions should happen after the event.
  • As the stand-up encourages progress, everyone should provide an update, and everyone should feel accountable.

3. Sprint Review

The Sprint Review is the time to showcase the team’s completed work and gather feedback from stakeholders. A variety of attendees from outside the team offer valuable insights from different viewpoints. This event also helps build trust with both external and internal stakeholders.

StructureAttendeesTimingDurationAgile framework
The Scrum Master takes on the logistics of event preparation. The Product Owner should ask stakeholders questions to gather as much feedback as possible. They should also answer any of their stakeholder’s questions.Development Team, Scrum Master, Product Owner. Optionally, management, customers, developers, and other stakeholders At the end of the sprintOne hour per week of the sprint. In a one-week sprint, the Sprint Review lasts one hour.Scrum and Kanban. Kanban teams do these reviews after the team milestones, not sprints.

Outcomes

After this ceremony, the Product Owner might need to adjust or add to the product backlog. They might also release product functionality if it's already complete.

Top tips

  • Schedule in time to rehearse before the meeting to help your team present with confidence, especially if external stakeholders are coming along.
  • Don’t showcase incomplete work. Review your Sprint Planning and the original criteria if you’re not sure whether the work is complete.
  • Besides product functionality, focus on user experience, customer value, and the delivered business value.
  • Consider ways you can introduce a celebratory feel to acknowledge the team’s effort.

4. Sprint Retrospective

In this final scrum ceremony in the sequence, you look back on the work you’ve just done and identify ways to do things better next time. The Sprint Retrospective is a tool for risk mitigation in future sprints.

StructureAttendeesTimingDurationAgile framework
The teams discuss what went well throughout the sprint and what went wrong. The Scrum Master should encourage the Development Team to speak up and share not only facts but also their feelings. The goal is to gather rapid feedback for continuous improvement in terms of process. It’s also an opportunity to emphasize good practices that the team adopted and should repeat.Development Team, Scrum Master, Product Owner (optional)At the end of the sprint45 minutes per sprint weekScrum and Kanban (occasionally)

Outcomes

After this session, the team should clearly understand the problems and the wins that happened throughout the iteration. Together, the group comes up with solutions and an action plan to prevent and identify process problems in the next sprint.

Top tips

  • Focus on both facts and feelings
  • Gather information that helps you focus on continuous improvement – this might include tools and relationships
  • Be honest and encourage ideas that solve process-related problems
  • Even if everything went well, have this meeting – retrospectives provide ongoing guidance for the next sprint.

"With the speed of change expected to continue, the need has never been greater for an operating model that keep up." - McKinsey

Agile lessons to live by

As a team of experienced agile practitioners, we’ve picked up some key learnings about what it takes to get the most out of your agile ceremonies and create the foundations of a truly agile organization.

Here are our top tips to make your ceremonies a success:

  • Be deliberately present - During the ceremonies, remember to take moments to pause and remind yourself of why you’re there. Show others that you’re present by giving them full attention and using your body language. In a remote setting, angle your camera as though you’re sitting across from them, look into the lens regularly, and use a distraction-free background.
  • Practice active listening - Think about what the person is saying, who they are, and what they need from you. Are they looking for a soundboard, do they need your help or opinion, or are they looking for an emotional connection?
  • Understand motives - Understand the motivations of your teammates before speaking. Consider why they should care about what you’re saying by connecting your message with their own motivations. Provide context where possible to let them know why your message matters.
  • Be flexible - It's important to remember that there is not a one size fits all approach to agile ways of working. What works for one team may not work for another, so you need to experiment to find out what works then tailor processes to suit your team's needs.
  • Create cultural alignment - The best processes in the world won’t deliver what you need if you don’t have the culture to support their delivery. Agile ceremonies need to be supported by a culture where people are actively engaged, confident to raise issues, and value continuous improvement.

Agile ceremonies lead to better results

While it can take time for teams new to agile to adjust to agile ceremonies, they are worth the effort. By providing a clear structure and achievable outcomes, they help align everyone on the product, communication, and priorities.

The result? Agile teams that provide better quality products faster – and deliver real business outcomes.

Wherever your organization is on your agile journey, it’s worth keeping in mind that each team and each suite of products are different, so there’s no standard recipe for success. The good news is that by working within the continuous improvement mindset the agile framework promotes; you too can iterate and improve your agile ceremonies over time.

Ready to get started?

Easy Agile TeamRhythm supports your team's agile practices in Jira. Supporting your team from planning right through to retrospective, TeamRhythm helps you and your team work better together to deliver value to your customers.

Features include:

  • Agile sprint and version planning tool - Planning is quick and easy when you create and estimate issues on the story map. View your work under initiatives and epics, and see swimlane stats at a glance, ensuring team capacity is filled but not overcommitted
  • Agile story mapping - Map the customer journey using initiatives, epics, and stories alongside your agile Jira boards. Quickly and easily add new or existing stories inside the story map. Drag and drop to prioritize by value to the customer.
  • Product backlog refinement - Escape your flat backlog and view your work on the story map matrix. Drag and drop issues to prioritize or schedule. Quickly update story summaries and story point estimates with inline editing for a better backlog.
  • Team retrospectives - Celebrate success, gain insights, and share learnings with team retrospective boards for scrum and kanban, encouraging collaboration and transparency, so you and your team are continuously improving.

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