Shades of Scrum: Empirical Management Meetings


Ken Schwaber defines empirical process control (aka empirical management) as one of the pillars of Scrum. Empirical management means to recognize what is (reality) and to base decisions on facts. Empirical managements needs:

  • Transparency (we need to be able to see the facts and should not rely on things that aren’t provable)
  • Inspection (we have to evaluate and interpret the transparent facts)
  • Adaptation (we modify the plan according to the inspection)

The Sprint Review, the Sprint Retrospective and the Daily Scrum are empirical management meetings in Scrum. In the Sprint Retrospective for example we first create transparency about the way we work (the Gather Data phase) then we inspect what we have found (the Generate Insights phase) and then we adapt the way we work (the Decide What To Do phase).

Applying these three steps of empirical management to the Daily Scrum and Sprint Review meetings often is an interesting exercise since a lot of “Scrum” teams miss adaptation and sometimes even inspection. And it gets worse when teams use additional meetings like a Scrum of Scrums where there are no “by-the-book-checklists” around on how to do them. So they just pollute the meeting we status reports and don’t inspect and adapt.

When looking at a meeting I suggest discussing if it is an empirical management meeting. If it is I would design the meeting backwards with the end in mind. Who should adapt what? When we know that we can easily find out how to inspect and finally what transparency we need.

So here is my “checklist” for the design of an empirical management meeting:

  1. Define what you want to adapt in what way. (Adaptation)
  2. Find out what you need to learn in order to be able to adapt. (Inspection)
  3. Find out what you need transparency about to do the inspection. (Transparency)

If you want to adapt the release plan as the result of the Sprint Review we need to inspect velocity during the Sprint Review and would therefore check what features where implemented and count story points. If we want to adapt the Product Backlog with new ideas that would improve the product we would probably have customers at the Sprint Review and gather feedback and ideas from them.

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