Let’s talk about sprints. What’s the right length? When should they begin and end? On a Monday and Friday, respectively, or is another schedule more appropriate? Should we ever change the length of our sprints? These are all good questions, and we’ll get to them, but let’s start with something more fundamental. Why even have them?
In interviews, I’ll often ask this question to Scrum Masters:
What part of the Scrum framework do you find odd or disagreeable?
My answer? Sprints. I find them odd. How often do we scoff at deadlines? Deadlines are for waterfall projects, not for the awesome product that our Scrum team is crafting, we say. Then we point to the iron triangle, talk about how we prioritize our backlog guaranteeing the most important work gets done first, and finally we negotiate scope to meet whatever dates are necessary. But don’t tell me that this story needs to be done by September 1st. That’s not how we operate.
But isn’t the end of a sprint a deadline? There’s nothing special about the date. Nothing terrible or earth shattering will occur if all the work isn’t completed by then. Douglas Adam comes to mind:
I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.
Don’t misunderstand me. I agree with the construct of a sprint, and I think it reinforces a mindset toward iterative and incremental development. Further, I’m not suggesting we toss out sprints, and I’m not suggesting we don’t take our sprint commitment (or forecast) seriously. Quite the contrary. Some might also point out what I write today conflicts with my previous blog post about The Importance of Sprint Commitment, but I don’t think so. I simply find it odd that, in one breath, we scoff at deadlines, but, in the next breath, we insist the team get everything done before the sprint ends.
So be careful when emphasizing the end of the sprint and undone work. Learn when to lean on the team and when to silently observe. Why?
The goal of the Scrum Master is to create a learning team, not a faster team.
Sure. The result will likely be a faster team, but it should never be our goal. In our next blog post, we’ll tackle some of the questions that started this post. We’ll discuss sprint length, cadence, and whatever other questions are asked in the comments below so stay tuned.
One final thought as we close. I realize now that my point is much bigger than sprints as deadlines:
- Just because it’s part of the Scrum framework doesn’t make it scripture.
- Just because it’s not part of the framework doesn’t make it wrong.
- Just because we’re zealots doesn’t mean everyone else is.
Keep this in mind as we work with our teams.