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How do I know how fast my agile teams can go so I can make promises to my customers?

It’s important to set realistic customer expectations. In agile, sprint activities enable teams to set realistic customer expectations.

At the start, the Product Manager (PdM) engages and listens to the customer. As the PdM gathers feedback, they place desired features in the program backlog with a very rough description and rough estimated effort. Then the features are roughly placed onto the program roadmap.

As the backlog is refined, the feature gathers more details until the appropriate team/s can be identified to do the work. The roadmap may be updated, but since it is not a committed feature, customers should not be given these dates. Refinement continues until it is ready to be planned into a Sprint. This includes identifying any dependencies or constraints to complete the work. The Product Manager prioritizes the backlog to prepare for Sprint Planning. The team breaks features into stories. Then the team determines a story point estimate for each story during planning.

In each Sprint, the team aligns its capacity to these story points. A team only commits to stories if they have the capacity and ability to realistically complete ready-to-release work. Anything that is not planned for the Sprint remains in the backlog.

Capacity is often called velocity. To calculate velocity, a Scrum Master determines the number of story points that a team completed on average per Sprint over at least six months. When planning a specific Sprint, velocity may be revised for many reasons, including a new Product Owner joining the agile team, a new programming language is to be used, or team members are on vacation.

New agile teams often forget to allocate a capacity percentage to different types of work. All kinds of work that demand the team’s attention are allocated a portion of the team’s capacity. This includes new feature work and non-feature work (such as technical debt, maintenance, support, etc.). Forgetting to allow time for maintenance or support is a common misstep.

During Sprint Planning, the capacity allocation is reviewed and confirmed. This allows the team to commit to an achievable effort for the Sprint. It also allows the Product Manager to communicate delivery to the customers confidently.

That’s a welcome change for Product Managers and their customers.

Read more Agile FAQs.

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