Microsoft How-To: Scrum for Everyone

Working with the Microsoft Visual Studio Scrum 1.0 process template.

Microsoft Visual Studio Scrum 1.0 is a new Team Foundation Server (TFS) process template for teams practicing Scrum. Scrum has become a dominant methodology in the software industry in recent years, and teams are in search of tooling to help support their processes and practices. In this article, we'll take a brief look at what it looks like to run a Scrum project using the Microsoft Visual Studio Scrum 1.0 process template on TFS 2010.

Getting Started
As your team gets started, the first thing to do is make a decision about the length of your Sprints. Sprints are time-boxed iterations of work in which your team produces a potentially shippable increment of the product being developed. Your team can decide the appropriate length for you, but most teams choose a length of time between a week and 30 days. The actual length is less important (every team has to find the sprint cadence that works for them), but what is important is that items pulled from the Product Backlog can be delivered within the sprint boundaries.

Once your iteration length has been chosen, you can enter the dates into the Sprint work items in your project. After creating a new project with the Microsoft Visual Studio Scrum 1.0 template, your project is pre-populated with 24 sprints (six sprints across four releases). This can easily be modified -- you may have 10 sprints in your first release, for instance -- but for the purposes of this article we'll use the default sprints as our example.

In Visual Studio, open up Team Explorer and navigate to the All Sprints query. Each Sprint work item returned in this query is mapped directly to an iteration value in TFS. Open the first few sprint work items and enter the dates for your first few sprints. It's not important to enter all the sprint dates at this time, but it's good to add what you know so that your team and Product Owner can begin to get a feel for the product schedule.

Building Your Product Backlog
You likely already have a list of requirements for your project. The next step is to turn these into a list of Product Backlog Item (PBI) work items in your Product Backlog. The Product Backlog is a prioritized list of requirements for your project. Each item on the Product Backlog is represented as a work item called a PBI.

To create a new PBI, click the New Work Item drop-down list from the toolbar and select Product Backlog Item. Your Product Owner will fill out the work item form in detail, including the Title, Backlog Priority, Description and Business Value. These fields are the core of the work item as they describe the item, its relative priority compared to other work on the backlog, and a value that represents the amount of business value it will provide once implemented. After saving the new work item, it will be displayed in the results of the Product Backlog query. The Product Backlog query is defined as all PBIs and Bugs assigned to the root iteration path of your project that haven't been completed.

Each PBI moves through a series of state transitions that track the lifecycle of requirement: New, Approved, Committed and Done.

New: This state is the starting point for all items on the Product Backlog. As new PBIs are entered by your Product Owner they start in the New state and are assigned a default Backlog Priority of 1,000. This is done to ensure that new PBIs are pushed to the bottom of your Product Backlog.

Approved: Your Product Owner moves a PBI to the Approved state when the PBI has been sufficiently detailed and is ready to be brought to the team to be estimated. Most of the time, items near the top of the Product Backlog are in the Approved state, while items toward the middle and bottom are in the New state.

Committed: When the team commits to implementing a PBI during the Sprint Planning Meeting, the state of the PBI is changed to Committed. This state transition indicates that the team will complete the PBI in a sprint.

Done: Finally, a PBI is moved to the Done state when the team has completed all the Tasks associated and the Product Owner has agreed that the PBI has been implemented according to the Acceptance Criteria.

When your Product Owner adds new items to the Product Backlog, it's critical that each item be prioritized appropriately. As the team begins to tackle work sprint by sprint, they work through the items on the Product Backlog in priority order. So, what determines the priority of an item on the backlog? The answer to that question is unique to each situation, but some general rules and guidelines can help a Product Owner make good decisions about priority.

The goal for each sprint is to deliver value to the customer. This goal is grounded in the notion that delivering value early and often will help drive better decision making later in the project cycle. With that in mind, it's important for the Product Owner to consider which items on the Product Backlog will deliver the most value to the customer as compared to the amount of effort required to complete the items. Both the PBI and Bug work item forms have a Business Value field to track this value. Your Product Owner should use this value and the effort field to make good decisions about the relative priority of the work on the Product Backlog.

Acceptance Criteria
As a Product Owner, one of the most important things you can do with each of your PBIs is to detail the Acceptance Criteria for each item. What is Acceptance Criteria? Put simply, it's the criteria that defines what "Done" means for each PBI. Acceptance Criteria is critical to the success of a Scrum team, as it becomes the handshake between the Product Owner and the team -- it helps define what the team is committing to.

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Figure 1. A look at the Product Backlog query.

Some of the best interactions on the team happen as the Product Owner and the team review the Acceptance Criteria for each item on the backlog. What emerges is a shared understanding of what "Done" means for each item. "Done" in the Agile world means that something is ready to be shipped to customers. There's no outstanding work, including testing, documentation, setup and so on. Remember that the goal with every sprint is to produce a "potentially shippable increment of work." In order for something to be shippable, all the work needs to be "Done." There are many good formats for writing Acceptance Criteria, but in the end, each criteria should be simple to read and understandable by everyone involved.

Planning Your First Sprint
After your Product Owner has created and prioritized the Product Backlog, your team is ready to get started on its first sprint. The team gathers for the Sprint Planning Meeting, where the team agrees on a goal for the sprint. The goal for the sprint is captured in the Goal field on the sprint work item. The Product Owner then begins to describe the highest-priority PBIs and Bugs on the Product Backlog by reading to the team each item along with its associated Acceptance Criteria. During this part of the meeting, the team is learning about each item on the backlog and gaining an understanding of what it's being asked to build.

After the team has had adequate discussion about the items being considered, it's time to estimate each item. A common practice for Agile teams today is to use an estimation technique like Planning Poker. During Planning Poker each team member has a deck of cards with values representing the amount of effort needed to complete a backlog item. Most Planning Poker cards use the Fibonacci sequence (1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13 and so on), as it reflects that the team doesn't expect perfect estimates. For example, what's the difference between an estimate of 11 versus 12 when discussing something on the backlog? In truth, there isn't much difference, because estimating at that level of detail is inherently flawed. However, it's easier to compare the differences between an estimate of 8 versus 13, or even 5 versus 13.

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Figure 2. Well-defined Acceptance Criteria is vital to a successful process.

By limiting the available choices, the team can have more productive discussions about the work involved. After each member of the team reveals their estimate -- simultaneously -- the team members that have high or low estimates are given a chance to explain why they chose their values. Again, the goal of the exercise is not to arrive at a precise estimate; rather, it's to spark conversations that lead to a shared understanding of what "Done" means for each item being discussed. The team can vote again after discussion and will eventually arrive at a consensus estimate. That value is entered into the Effort field of the PBI or Bug work item being estimated.

This process repeats for each of the items presented by the Product Owner until the team believes they have enough work to achieve the sprint goal. The next step is for the team to break down each item into Task work items. Tasks represent the actual work that the team will perform and should encompass all the work involved including testing, documentation, interface design and so on.

Remember, an item isn't "Done" until every-thing is done. For this reason it's important that the team collaborate through this part of the meeting to record all the necessary work. Each task work item is then estimated by the team. As the team details the tasks for each item, it may find that an item is bigger than originally thought. In this case, the team negotiates with the Product Owner to move the item back to the Product Backlog.

To add a Task to a PBI or Bug, switch to the Tasks tab on the work item itself and click the New Linked Work Item icon. Tasks are added as children of their parent PBI or Bug and begin in the To Do state. They can be tracked on the Tasks tab of both PBIs and Bugs.

After all the Tasks have been created, the final step is for the team to make a commitment to the work. This is done by setting each PBI or Bug work item to the Committed state, indicating that the team is committing to complete the item during the upcoming sprint.

The result of the Sprint Planning Meeting is:

  1. An agreement between the Product Owner and the team on what items from the Product Backlog are to be accomplished during the sprint.
  2. A list of all the Tasks necessary to complete the items selected by the Product Owner and the team.

The ultimate success of the sprint will be determined at the end of the sprint during the Sprint Review Meeting.

Tracking Your First Sprint
Now that the sprint is planned, the team is ready to get started on the work. It's important that the team doesn't start work on too many backlog items at once. Ideally, the team works together on a backlog item until all the Tasks are completed before moving on to the next item. This helps minimize the risk of reaching the end of the sprint with everything 90 percent completed but nothing actually being "Done."

Members of the team begin by selecting the Tasks that they'll work on first. This is accomplished by changing the Assigned To field on a Task work item and setting the State field to In Progress. Team members record daily the number of remaining hours left for each Task they're working on by updating the Remaining Work field. Ideally, each team member only has one In Progress task at a time, so as to minimize the risk of work being left unfinished or partially completed. As team members complete Tasks, the state of each Task is changed from In Progress to Done, and progress is reported at the daily standup.

[Click on image for larger view.]
Figure 3. The Burndown chart offers a glance at sprint progress.

During the sprint, the team tracks progress toward completing all the work using the Sprint Burndown chart. The chart clearly indicates the team's progress toward burning down the hours committed to the sprint, as well as tracking the amount of work the team has In Progress. In the example provided in Figure 3, you can see the team has 20 hours of work to complete before the last day of this sprint. The Sprint Burndown can be displayed during the daily standup so that each team member understands how the team is progressing toward meeting its commitment.

Additionally, the team can use the Unfinished Work query to track all the remaining work in the sprint. The results from this query exclude completed work, making it a powerful tool to track and monitor remaining work.

Sprint Review and Retrospective
At the end of the sprint, the team holds a Sprint Review meeting to show what they accomplished during the sprint. A demo is held and stakeholders beyond the Product Owner are invited to participate.

Sprint Review meetings should be informal and should feel like a natural end to the sprint.

The final step is for the team to hold a Sprint Retrospective, where they meet to discuss what worked during the sprint and what they want to improve in the next sprint. The retrospective is an opportunity for the team to improve, to take a hard look at places they might have stumbled, and to have an honest conversation about what they can do differently to improve in the next sprint.

Remember that one of the four value statements from the Agile Manifesto is "Responding to change over following a plan." The team made a plan for the sprint when they started, but it's important to look back at that plan and understand how to improve going forward. The plan at this point is irrelevant. What's important is how the team responds and improves going forward. The data from the retrospective is recorded on the Retrospective tab of the sprint work item.

Using Velocity
After the team has completed its first few sprints, it will start to better understand its velocity. What is velocity? Quite simply, it's the amount of effort the team completed in the last sprint. This is often referred to as yesterday's weather and can be used when planning for future sprints. If the team completed 15 units of effort in the last sprint, it's natural for the team to commit to a similar amount of effort in the next sprint. Obviously this is not an exact science, but it's a useful metric when the team is planning a sprint or trying to understand when it will be ready to release the product.

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Figure 4. The Velocity report shows the amount of effort completed in each sprint.

Microsoft Visual Studio Scrum 1.0 doesn't prescribe a unit of effort on PBI and Bug work items (story points, ideal days, days and so on). The reason is that the unit itself is irrelevant. What is important is how the actual number is used during planning. Whether your team decides on story points, ideal days or some other metric, be sure that you stay consistent and learn to use velocity to help the team plan both sprints and releases.

The Microsoft Visual Studio Scrum 1.0 process template includes a velocity report that shows the amount of effort the team has completed in each sprint. The parameters on the report allow you to choose which sprints to include as well as filters on area path, which are helpful when looking at the velocity of different teams.

There's obviously more that goes into running a Scrum project, but hopefully this article has provided you with some insight into how the Microsoft Visual Studio Scrum 1.0 process template and TFS 2010 support the Scrum process. For more information on the Microsoft Visual Studio Scrum 1.0 template, see the process guidance on MSDN.

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Reader Comments:

Wed, Jun 13, 2012 Nathan Armidale Australia

@Bill, TX - While I agree that I have come across and are in fact trying to project manage a project where the develpers seem to think "Agile" means throw the paperwork out the window I am yet to read a piece of literature on Agile management methodologys which implies this should happen.

Sat, Mar 3, 2012 sywenzeng cn


Wed, Apr 20, 2011 Madhusudan Chennai,India

Hi, I have created a new workitemtype in the Scrum template and would like to generate a burndown report with this workitem type (similar to the sprint burndown report). How do i achieve this? The new workitemtype too has a similar format like a task and my team links all the tasks to this 'feature' type unlike the traditional style of linking to a PBI.

The hierarchy now is Product Backlog->Feature->Tasks The requirement now is to have a feature completeion report (a feature is complete, if all tasks under that feature is 'Done'
I have one more question. The SPrint burndown report does not always generate a report (blanks). Is there any list of to do's to ensure that you are doing things the right way?
Please advice.

Thu, Mar 31, 2011 Graham Ramsay Redmond

Any idea how one would add additional releases to a project. We use the template, and it comes predefined with 4 Releases comprised of six sprints, but I can't for the life of me find a way to add a 5th Release. Thanks, Graham Ramsay

Wed, Mar 16, 2011 Zhaobo Hust university

No Comment! Visual Studio is really great!

Fri, Feb 18, 2011 Christopher B. OKC

Not as descriptive as I was led to believe, or hoped it would be.

Wed, Nov 24, 2010 Michael Gerety Connecticut

@john: Actually, SCRUM prescribes highly cross-functional teams. If a team is lacking certain abilities, any work that cannot be completed in a sprint because of it is compiled into PBI's of "Undone" work. This "technical debt" must be dealt with before the end of the release cycle. Should the team acquire the skills to finish "Undone" work, they can be added to the sprint during the planning meeting, or these PBI's may be picked up at the end of a sprint (based on PBI prioritization) if the team completes all of the sprint requirements and has remaining time. @Bill from TX: You CAN scrum without requirements, kind of. Essentially, SCRUM prescribes timeboxed sprints at the end of which is complete, potentially shippable software. The truth is, that having a very high level overview of the application is enough to start scrum. "A fully functional web application that displays a list of data related to the application's functionality using from the database using the technologies to be used in the application" has enough implicit requirements and acceptance criteria for an initial sprint that it can be broken down into distinct PBI's and Sprint Tasks for an initial sprint with a definite sprint goal. If you know it's going to be a web application, you know you're going to be using MVC as your front end and SQL Server as your back end, you can spend a sprint setting up the environment, creating the Data, Services/Business and UI layers, and deliver a functional web application by the end of the sprint. It may result in one visible page that does nothing but display a list of data from the database, but there should be enough known at the start of the project to deliver SOMETHING that is valid and of business value. As long as the acceptance criteria and sprint goals are discussed with the product owner and approved, SCRUM can start immediately. By the next sprint, the Product Owner should have enough user stories or defined functionality for the next sprint. As long as there is enough concrete functionality with defined acceptance criteria to fill a sprint, a sprint will be successful as it will deliver working software with concrete business value. I submit to you that a "good set of requirements" realistically only describes "acceptance criteria for the small and specific set of functionality that will be developed in this sprint". Requirements are always a moving target. Requirements change daily, never mind how volatile they can be in the 2-4 week period between sprints. It's the #1 reason why the waterfall method DOES NOT WORK.

Fri, Oct 29, 2010 John Portland, OR

It seems to me that the Agile methodolody implies highly specialized teams, with separations within the tiers working in parallel. For example, interface designers (when teams actually have them) and technical writers working separately from interface developers, otherwise those working on documenatation are waiting on developers to complete their tasks (like getting screen captures). It seems the development process for many has leads and lags built into it, so it may be difficult to have completely finished deliverables unless there is some look ahead into the next sprint incorporated into the current one.

Wed, Oct 27, 2010 Edwin Garcia Miami, FL

Can you use the Scrum Templates without TFS?

Wed, Oct 27, 2010 John

While our development team uses Visual Studio 2010, our Project Manager, Team Lead and Business Owners do not. How would they access this information? Thank you.

Thu, Oct 21, 2010 Devin

Thanks for this article, nice, simple, concise bit of information about how you could use the Scrum 1.0 process template in TFS. Much appreciated.

Tue, Oct 19, 2010 Aaron

Bill from TX, +1,000,000.

Tue, Oct 19, 2010

Very good overview. Its hard to get a linear picture of how to use the template from the TFS topics on msdn.

Tue, Oct 19, 2010 John C. Lieurance Orlando Florida

I was very excited when I first read the title of this article. I had thought it would be a chance for me to finally get TFS up and running with a real world example. I was disappointed to see that process of creating a TFS project was not covered. This "How-To" leaves out a lot of information on "How-To" get started. A few links to the basics of TFS would be helpful IMHO.

Fri, Oct 15, 2010 Bill TX

Can you scrum without requirements? You seem to be minimizing the impact of requirement by giving them a brush of with this comment - (Quote) "You likely already have a list of requirements for your project." Ever since someone came out with "scrum", "sprint", and "agile" the development comunity seems to have forgotten that a good set of requirements is still needed in order to build something. Would please remind that community that the requirements, or whatever you may want to call them, are still the key pieces of infomation that's needed to develop something.

Sat, Oct 9, 2010 David Nealey Littleton, CO

Thanks for a clear look inside the workings of a Scrum team. I am looking forward to the installment.

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