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The Scrum Pre-Game(aka “Sprint Zero”, though this name is controversial) practice is a brief re-tooling period for new Scrum Teams. It is a widely accepted/encouraged practice(aka “best practice” if you like that term) for ensuring that Scrum has a fair chance of succeeding in an organization. Not executing a Scrum Pre-Game will likely lead to a very poor Scrum implementation and will cause the team members and stakeholders to quickly lose faith and start questioning the Scrum approach. While Scrum might not be appropriate in every situation, you can only fairly judge it if you give Scrum and the team a fair chance to succeed.

The Scrum Pre-Game is a one time activity for new Scrum Teams, or existing teams who are transitioning to Scrum. Note that in traditional Project Management terms, you do not necessarily need to do a pregame before every new "project" -- only where the team is new to Scrum or largely new to each other as a team. Hopefully you have long lived teams, and have begun thinking in terms of products instead of projects.

It is very important that the Scrum Pre-Game be conducted by an experienced Scrum Master or Agile Coach, who has ideally executed a pregame multiple times before in their past. Even if you need to borrow an experienced Scrum Master from another team for a month, it’s vital to have a master at the helm.

It is absolutely imperative that the pregame be time-boxed to 1 month or less. This is a very hard and fast rule, because violating it will likely lead the team and organization to fall back into waterfall habits that are 3-6X less successful than their Scrum counterpart practices. It is also vital that teams understand that there is a large difference between the Scrum Pre-Game and Sprints 1+. The pregame will not focus on creating releasable software increments, while Sprints 1+ will focus extremely heavily on delivering releasable increments of software. While you might be modeling roles and practices during the pregame, you are not actually using Scrum until Sprint 1 starts. These points cannot be stressed enough. As such, Sprint 1 cannot start any later than 1 month after the pregame began.

The output of the Scrum Pre-Game is usually
a) a refined product backlog with 1-2 sprints worth of “Ready” backlog items,
b) a team shared understanding about how they will implement Scrum and other working agreements, and
c) light documentation artifacts of all of the above so that they team doesn’t forget what they originally agreed to during that period.

It’s worth nothing that all of those artifacts will be living artifacts, and thus will change often after the pregame. The pregame is just the initial versions of these artifacts.

The entire below Scrum Pre-Game can be accomplished in 1 month or less, and moves at a very aggressive pace -- sort of a like a boot camp. Most of these are working sessions that result in extremely light weight documentation. Most of the below are one hour or less, with the exceptions of training/refresher and Product Backlog Refinement sessions that might go longer at times.

To the extent that items below have previously been done by the team, those activities will be severely reduced in time, even if it's down to a 10 minute overview summarizing the previous sessions already completed, so that the team can move to the next steps in the pregame.

Typical Scrum Pre-Game Activities

  • Scrum training, reboot, or refresher
  • User stories training, reboot, or refresher
  • Overview of Corporate Agile vision
  • Identify who will play what Scrum roles in the effort
  • Product vision (including identifying the Scrum key stakeholders)
  • Product roadmap
  • Architectural Vision
  • Testing Vision (especially "in sprint" vs. "end to end" vs. "release", auto vs. manual, handling bugs, etc)
  • Establish a Scrum Definition of Done
  • Product Backlog Refinement sessions (usually multiples of this one, trying to get 2 sprints worth of refined/Ready items in an initial Product Backlog)
  • Consider renaming your Scrum Team
  • Coaching sessions for a Product Owner to get them started out on the right path
  • Coaching sessions for a Scrum Master to get them started out on the right path
  • Coaching sessions for Dev Team members that need it to shift their techniques to be more Scrum friendly
  • Agile Tool vision (Agree on basic initial usage of Agile collab tools)
  • Overview of Agile vision for Leadership
  • Self-Organization and Agile Team Building activities
  • Dev and test environments set up
  • Team Working Agreements

The above are in one decent ordering, but in your environment, a different ordering of the above activities may be more beneficial or necessary. Further, it is possible that your team either doesn't need some of the above, or other processes/artifacts are suitable substitutes for the above activities(but beware of using a more RUP/waterfall styled document/process to replace the Scrum based one above)

In several of the working sessions above, Scrum Team members should agree to take (i.e.self organize and take) action items offline, work them with the appropriate people to quickly get them resolved, and report results back at the next working sessions -- again, a very aggressive schedule should be pursued.

One likely outcome of the Pre-game sessions for a team will be establishing communication patterns. It is *very* likely that the communication of the team will be extremely inefficient at first as everyone will seek to have their say and opine on everything under the sun. That's a normal part of forming a new team. They will "form and storm" a little bit, but hopefully they will also get over this hump and bond more as a team through all of these activities. The truth is, we'd probably rather have the storms during the Pre-Game than Sprint 1, yes?

If the team is working on other projects or other efforts important to the organization, they can continue to do so part time at an allocation of about 30% or so. However, this too, can jeopardize the effectiveness of the Scrum Pre-Game, so be careful here. Regardless of the allocation or impact of non pregame activities, Sprint 1 can start no later than one month after the pregame begins. Do not break this hard and fast rule -- just start Sprint 1 with "where you are" rather than "where you hoped you would be" and play a little catchup in Sprint 1.