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June 21, 2021

Scrum Ceremonies (Events). Do you need all of them?

Project Management
BigPicture Team

The term “Scrum Ceremonies” sounds pretty divisive. For someone unfamiliar with Scrum Guide, it may sound a bit cultish. But fear not – it’s a fully secularized set of events with great importance for teams’ workflow. So how to implement them, and is it necessary to use all of them? Let’s find out. 

Four main Scrum Ceremonies 

Let’s look at the basics. Scrum is a framework that helps organizations implement the Agile or Hybrid approach. By definition, it’s a lightweight framework that helps people, teams, and organizations generate value through adaptive solutions for complex problems.

Since the beginning of the 1990s, developers have been publishing the Scrum Guide, a concise set of instructions and guidelines for the proper use of this framework. Here we can find out more about the main events that ought to take place during the Scrum: 

  • Sprint Planning
  • Daily Scrum
  • Sprint Review
  • Sprint Retrospective

Let’s briefly get through each stage of Scrum Ceremonies (or Scrum Events) with a bit of help from the 2020 Scrum Guide.

The purpose of Scrum Ceremonies

Sprint Planning initiates the Sprint, an event that usually lasts two to four weeks, by laying out the work to be performed in this particular Sprint. Then, the entire team collaborates on the work plan. Planning should address three major topics: why the Sprint happens, what can be done in this Sprint, and how the work will get done. For upcoming weeks, it’s a foundation of developers’ work. 

Daily Scrum is a 15-minute event for scrum team developers. It’s always held at the same time and place (nowadays –  same channel). The main purpose of this meeting is to inspect progress toward the goal, adapt the backlog as necessary, and adjust the upcoming planned work. Moreover, Daily helps to identify potential risks, address them, and prepare a proper response if necessary.

Then there is the Sprint Review. Here the purpose is to inspect the outcome of the Sprint and determine future adaptations. The Scrum Team presents the results of their work to key stakeholders and discusses the progress of their work to the final goal.

Finally, there is the Sprint Retrospective. Its purpose is to plan ways to increase quality and effectiveness. The team inspects how the last Sprint went. Especially with regard to individuals, interactions, processes, tools, and their Definition of Done (DoD). The Scrum Team also discusses what went well, what problems it encountered, and how those problems were or weren’t solved.

The special fifth Scrum Ceremony

To be meticulous and precise, there is one more type of Scrum Ceremony called Backlog Refinement. It’s a team meeting when members review backlog items. The goal is to ensure that the backlog contains the appropriate, prioritized items and that the items at the top of the backlog are ready for delivery. Again, it is primarily optional and depends on whether teams keep the backlog up to date, focus on current tasks, and clean everything up after a Sprint.

Now that you know the basics, it’s time for the big question – Are all of these ceremonies necessary? Well, it depends. 

The importance of Scrum Ceremonies

Narrowing down the whole Agile approach to just a single word, one can use a term value. Every action must increase the product value that the team is working on. The whole philosophy of the new, non-classical approach concentrates on bringing as much value to the product as possible. This influences the next versions of the Scrum Guide itself.

Let’s look at the Daily. As some Scrum Masters describe it, “a warm-up for the team.”Every member can state their plan for the day, what they want to achieve, and the potential obstacles. The Scrum Master or Product Owner needs to know what will happen and how the team intends to increase the value. Hence, Daily is a crucial ceremony to understand and check the teams’ progress each day.

Before the 2020 Scrum Guide, there used to be one more question on the list: “what did I accomplish yesterday?”. This question is now gone, yet many teams still feel obliged to answer it.

Why is it now obsolete? Because it turns Daily into a confession. Team members must remind themselves what they did yesterday instead of focusing on today’s activities. It’s counterproductive and pointless. During Daily Scrum Masters don’t care about things that happened but about things that will happen. Process review usually takes place after the Sprint.

The weight of Scrum Ceremonies

The next two Scrum Ceremonies are where things start to get tricky. Review and Retrospective may sound familiar, but they are both quite different. The Review looks back at the finished sprint, and developers can establish what went well and what went wrong.

But most importantly, they can assess potential growth and compare it to the estimates. This way, the developer, Scrum Master, and Product Owner can diagnose potential problems and see the possible delays in product development. The actual value of the Review is knowing what works and what doesn’t. 

The Retrospective is the most intimate and “soft” ceremony, one may say. It’s designed purely for developers. Every two weeks of a Sprint, they can meet for about an hour and talk about what they liked or disliked, and how they see the progress. The goal of Retrospective is to improve the quality and effectiveness of work. Teams should conclude failures and successes to minimize the former and maximize the latter. Everything that brought value to Sprint must be addressed and repeated as long as it’s helpful. 

They count the obstacles they had to overcome and the solutions they found. It’s a time to praise other developers or present a more critical viewpoint of potential flaws and errors. Retrospective has the most team-building potential, as developers learn to trust each other. More importantly, it’s designed as a closed-door meeting, a safe space where all hopes, frustrations, and ideas can be presented.

Do teams need all the Scrum Ceremonies (Events)?

Some Scrum Masters admit that Retrospective can be the hardest Ceremony to implement. Developers often don’t see a point in sharing their opinions or listening to the opinions of others about past Sprint; they want to begin a new Sprint and get back to work. It’s impossible to force developers to have Retrospectives. Instead, Scrum Masters often encourage teams to try them in the form of short mini-events. 

The critical aspect of described Scrum Ceremonies is their usefulness. Scrum Masters warn about the corporate attitude of doing ceremonies for the sake of ceremonies. It is pointless, counterproductive, wastes time, and generates a loss for the company. They only make sense when they generate the value of any kind for the team.

Interestingly enough, there are no cases of “pure” Scrum implementations. Companies and organizations work in the Classic (Waterfall) approach for decades. It’s impossible to pull a lever and enter the world of Agile management. That’s why the Hybrid approach that connects practices from both the Agile and Classic world is so popular.

The rules of Scrum Guide, and Scrum Ceremonies, aren’t written in stone. Its founders always wanted to give developers and managers useful and flexible tools that could bend to the needs of people – not vice versa. Aside from Planning, every ceremony is purely optional – as long as it brings value. Cutting out events that only serve their purpose as filing requirements often brings more good than being stuck in an endless loop of meetings in which absolutely no one wants to participate.