Disrupt Your Sprint

About To Disrupt Your Sprint? Think Again.

In my last blog post, I wrote about why it is important to keep the sprint backlog static after leaving sprint planning.  Unfortunately, much of my previous blog involved a great deal of arm waving (or possibly flailing) as I hoped to highlight the problem of disrupting your sprint. What it didn’t offer up was concrete ways each of us can contribute to the solution, and that’s why I’m writing today. I’ve split this blog into sections in an effort to talk to each of an organizations’ roles separately.  I encourage you to read each section, and I hope you take the time to read your part in detail.  Additionally, in the “For Team Members” section, you’ll see a workflow that will take team members through the questions they should ask before pulling new work into the sprint. Although this workflow is specific to my own company, once modified, it could add value to yours.

Decision tree for pulling in sprint work

For Team Members

It should be your last resort to ask for more work to be added to the sprint.  Unfortunately, it’s often your first course of action when you’re idle. Inefficiency has its place on a team, if done smartly, so don’t fear it. Before you ask the Scrum Master or Product Owner to add another story, think through the following:

  1. Teams goals over individual tasks. Albeit inefficient, where can you help another team member complete his/her task? Pair up and work through it together.
  2. Finishing tasks over opening another. “Everything stinks till it’s finished.” -Dr. Seuss. This is especially true in software development. Be inefficient to get that last 10% done in a task before you move on to the next.
  3. Cross-functional teams over silos. Everybody has an area they’re best at, but where can you grow? Be inefficient for the sake of learning a new skill and potentially removing a future bottleneck. Take on a task outside your skill set and ask for the team’s help to learn something new.

Again, I can’t emphasize this enough. Before you ask for something to be added to the sprint, you should spend a good deal of energy into trying to help the team figure out how it can meet its current goals.

For Product Owners

Read over “My Advice to Team Members.” All this applies to you as well. Additionally:

  1. Failure is an option. “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.” -Niels Bohr. Don’t feel you’ve failed the team if what you planned for the team wasn’t spot on. This is normal. Before you consider adding work to the sprint, think through other avenues to keep team members occupied when they’re idle.
  2. Predictability over responsiveness. This may seem counter-intuitive so let me explain. It is more important to predict how much work the team can complete by way of meeting its sprint goals than it is to immediately respond to every issue that come up mid-sprint. Task switching is expensive and muddying the team’s goals causes confusion. Exceptions to this exist, but for simplicity, we’ll not delve into them.

For Scrum Masters

It’s your responsibility to enforce the rules.  Sometimes it’s awkward. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable. Nevertheless, it’s your duty. Hold the teams to all parts of the framework and remind them on the consequences for throwing out any piece of it. Set an example of accountability that you want your team members to emulate and keep in mind that you are the catalyst to help the team self-organize. Most importantly, avoid giving them the easy way out when your gut tells you it’s not the right thing to do.

However, if it is management that is disrupting your sprint, remember this piece of advice from Ken Schwaber: “A dead scrum master is a useless scrum master.”  Finally, it’s important to remember that people often aren’t inspired to change until they feel a measure of pain or discomfort. When we loosen things up too easily, we only enable this behavior to continue to occur.

For Stakeholders and Managers

Think of the sprint in terms of a relay race.  While individual performance matters, it’s the team performance that wins or loses the relay. When you watch the race, remember this obvious truth:

Watch the baton, not the runners.

Many of the runners are sitting idle while they wait to get the baton. When applied to the work place, a good manager would look at this and cringe. Shouldn’t those other runners being something more productive? They can run in place perhaps. Or they could be reviewing footage of how to hand off a baton more efficiently. However, if you’re watching the baton (the team’s mission), the individual runners become less interesting. Find your baton and focus on this, which often takes the form of the team’s goals. You’ve set the teams up for success by providing them the right tools and the best  coaching.  Now let them figure out how to get across the finish line as quickly as possible.

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6 thoughts on “About To Disrupt Your Sprint? Think Again.”

  1. “It’s your responsibility to enforce the rules. Sometimes it’s awkward. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable. Nevertheless, it’s your duty.” Very well said!

  2. “Watch the baton, not the runners.”
    I will be using that phrase in the very near future – thank you for that wonderful metaphor!

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