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Meetings and ceremonies






Week 1

Sprint retro (every other sprint)

Backlog grooming

(end of sprint)

Sprint planning

(start of new sprint)

Team meeting

Meeting-free day

Week 2

Team meeting

Meeting-free day

We break our work into two-week sprints. The new sprint starts on a Tuesday with sprint planning, where we commit to a set of stories that we're confident we can complete by the end of the sprint. Near the end of the sprint, we prepare for the next sprint with backlog grooming. The sprint closes with a retro where we discuss what went right and what went wrong, and then we kick off a new cycle.

Each squad does their own backlog grooming and sprint planning, and manages their sprint backlog independently. We do retros together so we can talk through issues that affect both squads and share expertise and ideas.

Why do we end sprints on Mondays and start Tuesdays? This funny schedule makes things easier to work across time zones. If we ended sprints on Fridays, our Barcelona-based writers would need to do retros and grooming on Friday evening, and who wants that?


Best practices:

Well groomed tickets serve two purposes. First, writing a truly excellent story requires that you have a strong understanding of the scope of work and how this story will ultimately impact the user. The end user should always be first in our mind when we plan our work! Creating clear action items for every story means that before you've started any work you've already spoken to subject matter experts and stakeholders so you're already ahead of the game!

Secondly, all tickets should be groomed and ready on the Friday before sprint planning. This is because the goal is for all members of the squad to converge on the same estimation for each story which requires everyone to have a clear understanding of the scope of work. This means that not only do we need good stories but we also need time and space to discuss these stories before sprint planning.

The moral of the story: If we understand our own stories, then we can better explain them to our squad.

Grooming ceremonies

The day before the sprint starts, we do two rounds of backlog grooming. The purpose of backlog grooming is to prioritize work for sprint planning, and identify stories that need to be fixed before sprint planning to ensure scope is clear and planning runs smoothly.

The first round of backlog grooming is by squad, where the members and manager of the squad get together and discuss each story. This is the time to ask questions! Are you confused by the action items? Does the acceptance criteria look ambiguous? Dig in. Get to the heart of every story. Make sure every member of the squad understands these three questions:

  1. How will this story impact the end user and why is it important?
  2. How is the story going to be completed? What needs to be done? Are there any anticipated blockers?
  3. What will it mean for this ticket to be done?

In grooming:

  • Each writer brings their personal "top five" tickets.
  • The manager works with writers to prioritize those into a single, stack-ranked list for the team.
  • We talk through stories and ensure they look ready for sprint planning (essentially, do they fit the Checklist for story readiness?).
  • After grooming, the scrum master sends out a list of "homework" for stories that need improving.

Then we do a second round of grooming with the managers and scrum masters to look at the sprint backlog for both squads to make sure that all the tickets align with company priorities.

Sprint planning

On the first Tuesday of a new sprint, we commit to a series of stories until we have filled our capacity for the sprint. This is the largest meeting in the sprint---about 60 to 90 minutes.

Before the sprint planning meeting, the scrum master for each squad calculates their point budget.

Meeting rules:

  • Silent estimation: At this point every story included in the sprint is well groomed and has been reviewed during grooming by all members of the squad. The entire squad reads each story silently. When all members of the squad have finished voting begins.
  • Blackout voting: In order to reduce influence, we blackout the cells in the spreadsheet until after a vote has happened. We change the background color to white to reveal the votes simultaneously.

Then, during the meeting:

  • We select the highest priority story in the backlog.
  • Everyone reads the story
  • The team plays planning poker. Everyone secretly votes based on the modified Fibonacci sequence.
  • Once everyone has voted, the scrum leader reveals the hidden votes.
  • If everyone votes the same, that's the point value and we move on.
  • If it's mixed, the highest and lowest voters briefly explain their votes. Then we vote again.
  • Once we're sure we can fit the story in, we add the final vote to the “final” column. The points are then subtracted automatically from the total sprint budget.
  • We repeat the above steps until we've used up our points budget.


Every other sprint, we conduct a 60 minute retrospective meeting, where we discuss:

  • How do we feel about the sprint?
  • What went well?
  • Where can we improve?
  • Anything we should start or stop doing?

The goal of the retro is to improve the way we work together. That could be related to the sprint process, to how we collaborate with SMEs, to peer edits, and so on.

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