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Agile Ceremonies: Building Information Flow for True Adaptability

The ceremonies in Agile represent regular meetings or cadences that help teams and companies receive both internal and external feedback, so they can adapt to changing customer requirements. Find out more.

No matter what you might read all over the internet, the core of Agile is not about delivering faster or even creating better products. Instead, it’s about getting timely feedback so you can “learn faster”. If you are able to learn or even “fail faster”, that would help you make the right decisions to optimize work processes and deliver exactly what customers want.

So, instead of asking “how to build products faster?”, the question should be “how to get feedback faster?”. In Agile, this happens through regular ceremonies, also known as “cadences” or “events”. Let’s learn more about what they are and their different types.  

What Are Agile Ceremonies?

Agile ceremonies are meetings held on a regular basis with the goal of building an information flow of internal or external feedback within a team or the entire organization. Being an integral part of Agile project management, they can help you build symbiosis within the operations of a single team or across multiple organizational levels.


Building symbiosis between all organizational levels

Holding regular ceremonies or cadences enables all parts of a work management system to constantly exchange information. In turn, this keeps the entire system continuously updated which makes it more and more agile. In other words – adaptable to changes.

Common Myths about Agile Ceremonies

Before moving forward, it’s important to clear out a few myths about the ceremonies in Agile that you might’ve encountered before.

First of all, Agile ceremonies don’t equal Scrum ceremonies.

While the events in Scrum are a core part of the framework, the more general idea behind “Agile ceremonies” refers to cadences/feedback loops that are not explicitly prescribed. In other words, the ceremonies that you apply in your organization should be tailored to your unique scenario and the chosen Agile method or framework.

Second, the ceremonies in Agile are not only applicable at the team level.

To create a holistic information flow within your company, you need to integrate regular feedback loops across middle and strategic management levels. The idea is to create a cyclical exchange of feedback between all organizational levels, so you can quickly shift operations based on changing business priorities, emerging customer requirements, etc.

Having said that, let’s take a closer look at the Agile ceremonies that you can integrate within your company. 

Types of Agile Ceremonies

Based on the specific Agile method or framework that you’ve decided to apply in your organization, you can utilize different types of Agile ceremonies. To give you an overview of the most important ones, we will take the most widely implemented Lean/Agile approaches to project management – Kanban and Scrum.

Kanban-Based Agile Ceremonies

Kanban is a workflow management approach that relies on continuous flow and over the years it has become a cornerstone of the Lean/Agile mentality. The method aims to adapt to the current environment in organizations which means that it doesn’t prescribe specific roles or events/ceremonies that teams need to apply. Instead, their usage is a decision that managers need to take based on their unique scenario.

Work process in Kanban

Still, there are a few Kanban cadences that are worth exploring because of their potential to create coherent feedback loops and enable true organizational adaptability.

Let’s take a look at the key ones below.

Feedback loops in Kanban

Daily Kanban

The Daily Kanban or Team Kanban meeting is a team-based cadence that is held every day. All team members stand up in front of a Kanban board and “walk it” from right (the part where work items are closer to being completed) to left (the part where work items are still at the beginning of the process or have not been started yet).


Daily Kanban meeting in front of a Kanban board

The intent of the Daily Kanban is to have a quick overview of the work in progress and keep everyone aligned with what’s going on in the process. Kanban teams also discuss potential impediments in the process or emerging problems (such as overloading) and look for ways to alleviate them. The Team Kanban meeting should be short (no more than 15-20 minutes) and focused on completing work items, and uncovering and resolving issues that might slow down the work process.

Replenishment/Commitment Cadence

The Kanban replenishment is a meeting that can be held both within a single or across multiple teams (when you have multiple dependent teams responsible for the delivery of a single product/service). The main goal of the cadence is to select work items from the backlog and replenish a delivery queue until the next Replenishment meeting or whenever demand for new work arises. You can think of the delivery queue as a commitment point (ex. “Committed” column on a Kanban board) in the process, containing work items with clear details which are ready to be executed.

Commitment point for work delivery on a Kanban board

There isn’t a single rule for when the meeting should happen. You can hold it weekly, biweekly, monthly, or in an ad-hoc manner based on the arrival of new work requests. The entire team (or multiple teams) attends Kanban replenishment meetings and they’re usually facilitated by managers or team/service leaders.

Service Delivery Review

The Service Delivery Review is one of the main Kanban ceremonies. Just like the replenishment meeting, it can be applied across a single team or multiple interconnected ones. The idea is to examine the end-to-end flow of work from initiation to customer delivery. It involves reviewing the effectiveness of the whole process by comparing current service delivery capabilities to customer expectations and analyzing flow metrics in Kanban such as cycle time and throughput with the help of different charts.

Cumulative flow diagram in Kanban

It’s recommended to hold Service Delivery Reviews twice a month or whenever you feel your process is not meeting customer delivery expectations. However, regularly analyzing your workflows will help you uncover inefficiencies and align work demand with actual capabilities. The meeting can be facilitated by a dedicated Service Delivery Manager (an optional role in Kanban) or other line managers and it involves the entire delivery team(s) including other relevant stakeholders.

Operations Review

The Operations Review is a Kanban cadence that is held at a higher management level than the Service Delivery Review. It uses information from different workflows (usually collected through Service Delivery Reviews) and aims to optimize the performance of multiple Kanban systems. Typically, the scope of Operations Review meetings covers an entire business area, product line, or a large functional department within an enterprise.

It’s a good practice for the meeting to be held monthly so high-level managers can explore delivery capabilities gathered from lower-level cadences such as Service Delivery Reviews. Some of the participants can include Service Delivery Managers for multiple Kanban systems or teams, functional managers, directors, heads of PMO, customer representatives, etc.

Strategy Review

The Strategy Review is applied at the highest strategic/management level and deals with the direction of the company in general. Its main intent is to analyze the current market conditions and set high-level objectives.

The Strategy Review gathers and discusses information from lower-level cadences such as Operations and Service Delivery Reviews. As a result, high-level managers remain informed about the current organizational capabilities so they can align them with strategic initiatives. This type of cadence is usually held quarterly and involves only senior-level executives.

Scrum-Based Agile Ceremonies

Just like Kanban, Scrum has its own Agile ceremonies. They’re based on iterations (sprints) and are more clearly defined due to Scrum’s prescriptive nature.


Work process in Scrum

The Scrum ceremonies are mostly applied at the team level. However, you can elevate them beyond that with the help of scaling frameworks such as LeSS (Large-Scale Scrum) or Scrum@Scale.

Let’s take a look at the Scrum-based Agile ceremonies below.

Daily Stand-Up

The daily stand-up is perhaps the most famous and widely-applied Agile practice. It represents a 15-minute meeting that is held standing up in front of an “information radiator” such as a Kanban board. In practice, it’s almost the same as the Daily Kanban meeting. The only difference is that the agenda of the meeting is stricter in Scrum as every team member should answer the following questions:

“What did I do yesterday?” 
“What am I going to do today?” 
“Is there something blocking my progress?” 

The people who attend the meeting include the development team and the Agile coach or Scrum master. The Product Owner can also attend but it’s not a requirement.

Sprint Planning

The sprint planning ceremony in Agile is a 1-2 hours meeting that occurs at the start of every Scrum iteration/sprint. Its main intent is to populate a Sprint backlog and prepare a Sprint goal by committing to a batch of user stories from the Product backlog.

During the meeting, teams choose the next highest priority items to execute in the sprint. This happens by analyzing their Agile velocity (how many story points they can execute in a single iteration). As part of the ceremony, the development team, the Product Owner and Scrum Master also write acceptance criteria for the user stories and prepare technical tasks for their execution.

Sprint Review

Each iteration in Scrum ends with the Sprint Review. During the ceremony, Scrum teams present their finished increment (functionality) to the customer or the Product Owner. The intent of the ceremony is to get external feedback for their work/user stories, add new requirements to the Product backlog or reprioritize it, if necessary.

Each Sprint Review involves the development team, the Scrum Master (Agile coach), and the Product Owner. It’s good practice for the customer to attend the meeting too. 

Sprint Retrospective

To reflect on what has happened during the sprint, Scrum teams engage in Sprint Retrospectives right after the Sprint Review. The retrospective is a widely-applied Agile ceremony that Kanban teams often use too in an ad-hoc manner.

During the event, teams analyze all problems or impediments that happened during the sprint and look for ways to prevent them from reoccurring. The goal of the retrospective is to continuously engage in “lessons learned” sessions over the course of the project.


PDCA cycle for continuous improvement

Backlog Refinement (Unofficial)

While being an unofficial Scrum-based Agile ceremony, the backlog refinement cadence is worth briefly mentioning. This meeting can happen towards the end of a sprint. Its main goal is to estimate, add more details, or break down the next high-priority user stories, so they’re prepared for commitment during the Sprint Planning ceremony.

Benefits & Best Practices of Ceremonies in Agile

Holding regular ceremonies is at the heart of Agile. The Agile cadences create seamless information exchange which gives companies a competitive edge and helps them deliver superior customer value.

While there are no best ways to conduct the ceremonies in Agile, as you should adapt them to your unique scenario, there are certainly some recommendations that you should keep in mind.

  • Keep every meeting actionable and engaging – It's important to have a clear action item list, especially when talking about retrospectives. Also, create a welcoming environment for everybody in the meeting and ask for the opinions of all team members, managers, or other relevant stakeholders.  
  • Don’t turn stand-ups into status reports – The stand-up meeting is about uncovering process impediments and ensuring everybody is on the same page with the work at hand. Try to keep the meeting “to the point” and not turn it into a long status report.  
  • Use facilitators and time-keepers – Meetings can quite easily go out of hand or time if there’s nobody to keep the participants in check. 
  • Beware the trap of “too many meetings” - When applying a lot of cadences in the organization, there’s always a possibility that they might turn into waste. Try to define the value of every meeting and map them to the ones already happening in your organization if possible. 
  • Continuous improvement – Just like processes, make sure you continuously improve the way you conduct ceremonies or cadences in your organization. During each meeting, ask the participants if they think something could be optimized and take their opinions into consideration. 

In Summary

Agile ceremonies help companies get timely feedback and adapt to changes. Some of the most popular ceremonies in Agile are divided into 2 parts. 

Kanban-based cadences/ceremonies: 

  • Daily Kanban
  • Replenishment
  • Service Delivery Review
  • Operations Review
  • Strategy Review

Scrum-based ceremonies:

  • Daily Stand-Up
  • Sprint Planning
  • Sprint Review
  • Sprint Retrospective

 

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