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Quality control in Agile scrum refers to the delivery of shippable features based on planned activities support quality delivery. Agile scrum embraces three areas that are important in the execution of planned activities to support quality control:

  1. Change Management
  2. Inspect and Adapt and
  3. Meeting the Definition of Done (DoD).

Individuals with a strong awareness of and passion for the scrum framework recognize that each of these components are key differentiators that provide consistent means by which to measure quality control in Agile projects.

Quality Control: Change Management

Change is inevitable in any project. Agile scrum embraces changes. The very nature of Agile is a set of guidelines that focus on failing fast. Failing fast does not assume problems but, recognizes that market variables and company focus may require a shift in direction. Fail fast means that you are delivering the most valuable features early in the project. Three of the most consistent measures of change management and quality control are the management of the Process, Requirements and Scope. It is the responsibility of the Scrum master or Product Owner to own leadership in quality control for these areas.

Quality Control: Process Quality Control

One area to tightly manage are any impediments to the execution of scrum processes. Scrum team members may recognize that they are not able to complete the required deliverables defined by user stories during the execution cycle. A common refrain is to simply expand the time box deliveries.  Another challenge is the attendance of team members during the daily stand up. Before modifying the Agile processes, it is wise to look at the underlying cause for the requests. It could be that the user stories were not well prioritized or the complexities not fully understood during the sprint planning sessions.

Before changing the time box of the sprint execution cycles, look to determine if the team needs to do a better job of defining the user stories that will go into each cycle. Likewise, communicating the value of the daily stand ups to team members and validating that they are not being asked to participate in other activities that conflict will keep a valuable ceremony on track. The Agile Scrum Master is the leader in process management for Agile scrum and is responsible for evaluating all changes for requests to the process to keep quality control at the highest level. Doing so avoids changing the processes when there may be another area that should be more effectively managed.

Requirements Management

The Scrum Product Owner manages the product backlog. The product backlog is used to define the features and order of priority of the delivery of the features. Requirements are developed that align with product vision. Requirements can be scheduled for delivery at any point within the project life cycle. Special care should be given to ensuring that requirements do not create additional work at a later sprint through poor management of technical debt. The product owner is responsible for approving all features and the subsequent requirements. Once requirements are defined and are planned within a sprint, the scrum framework defines that they should not be changed while the execution of development is underway.

Scope Management

Likewise, quality is also controlled by effectively managing changes in scope. While requirements are granular items that feed into user stories, scope changes are broader. Scope is managed by the product owner and should be carefully examined to avoid changes that could negatively impact the stakeholders. Scope could be the addition, modification or removal of features. Scope changes could also be tied to expansion of the target end users that a product is being developed for. Most scope changes impact timeline, budget or vision and should be managed carefully so as to not negatively impact the quality of a product.

Quality Control: Inspect and Adapt

Agile scrum ceremonies and processes support continuous quality control. All artifacts and deliverables go through multiple inspection checkpoints and are adapted as required. Two ceremonies that highlight this level of quality and control are:

  1. Sprint planning and
  2. Sprint execution.

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Sprint Planning

Requirements and supporting user stories must be comprehensive enough so that the Scrum Development Team can accurately deliver to user expectations. The product owner is also responsible for striking a balance that doesn’t overburden the team or violate the scrum framework with documentation that is too complex or too detailed. The product owner and scrum team members are jointly responsible for developing user stories that represent the end user’s needs. The goal is to deliver user stories that can be turned into useable features in the time box of the execution of the sprint.

Sprint Execution

Upon acceptance of solid user stories with acceptance criteria, the scrum team can perform planned quality tasks relating to testing. Many scrum teams employ test driven development techniques to control the quality and completeness of each feature delivered. Acceptance criteria provide the foundation for feature testing. The premise is that developers use acceptance criteria and subsequent test cases to validate quality as testable components are completed. Testing is done throughout the execution of the sprint to catch issues early in the cycle.

Quality Control: Meeting the Definition of Done (DoD)

Delivering to the definition of done (DoD) is performed using a set of metrics designed to validate the quality of sprints, releases and the larger product. Creating a checklist of value added items that are reviewed during the sprint review and retrospective provide a measure of quality control in final acceptance.

Sprint Review

Quality control is measured during the sprint review to validate a checklist of items – user stories, acceptance criteria, and feature value, that have been met to approve delivery of a feature for release. It is the responsibility of scrum team members to demonstrate the completion of feature delivery for functionality. The product owner has responsibility to validate that the items on the DoD checklist have been addressed for approval or rejection based on quality.

During the sprint review it is also up to the product owner and business stakeholders to determine if the DoD has been met for the product. If the ROI has been met or the market has changed considerably there may need to be a decision made to discontinue the delivery of additional features. The benefits realization could drop off significantly by spending resource costs and time delivering items that have little continued tangible payback.

Sprint Retrospective

Continuous improvement evaluation in a retrospective is a component of quality control. Lessons learned are discussed during this ceremony to improve processes, identify skills gaps and measure deliverables. The outcome of these discussions may lead to immediate modifications to meet the user defined outcomes of quality control.

Quality control in Agile scrum looks to remove impediments to processes, validate feature deliverables and manage change that is a part of every project. It is imperative to include quality control metrics at each stage in an Agile project to ensure that features not only deliver to functionality but, also to quality to support the vision of the organization.

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