Tag Archives: pitfalls

Pitfall of Scrum: Cancelled Sprint – Failure to Restart

Although a cancelled Sprint is rare, it can be tempting to try and wait until everything is “perfect” or “ready” before re-starting. Teams should immediately re-start after cancelling a Sprint. One team I heard of was doing two week Sprints, cancelled due to a major tool problem, and then waited three months for the vendor to fix the problem before going back to Sprinting. Instead, they should have used their creative problem-solving skills to find a way to continue delivering value and restarted their Sprints immediately.

The Scrum Guide puts Sprint cancellation under the authority of the Product Owner:

A Sprint can be cancelled before the Sprint time-box is over. Only the Product Owner has the authority to cancel the Sprint, although he or she may do so under influence from the stakeholders, the Development Team, or the Scrum Master.

It is important to note that older descriptions of Scrum will sometimes mention that the ScrumMaster or the Development Team can also cancel a Sprint. This is no longer part of the core definition of Scrum.

Cancelled Sprint Emotions

A cancelled Sprint can sometimes be emotionally challenging for a Scrum Team. There are three reasons for this difficulty:

  1. Cancelling a Sprint, particularly later on in the timebox means there’s a lot of work already in progress (and possibly done). The psychology of sunk costs comes into play: we’ve invested some much in the Sprint so far, let’s just keep going to see if we can “fix” it. Going against that impulse can be very difficult.
  2. A cancelled Sprint is an acknowledgement that the fundamental direction of the current Sprint is no longer the right thing to be doing. This can seem to be an insult to the team: why didn’t “you” get it right earlier? If there are certain people on the team who advocated strongly for the current set of work, they could take Sprint cancellation particularly hard.
  3. Cancelling a Sprint may require undoing technical work and may be complex. If team members have made changes that they are particularly proud of, they may resist undoing that work more than would be called for simply due to the time involved in undoing it.

Once people experience these emotional effects from a cancelled Sprint, they will want to be cautious to avoid them re-occuring. That sense of caution will lead people to make arguments to the effect of “let’s make sure when we start our next Sprint that we have everything right” or simply, “I don’t want to go through that again… we better get it right this time around.” In order for the ScrumMaster to avoid falling for these arguments, it is important for the ScrumMaster not to be a hands-on contributor to the work. In other words, to be emotionally detached from the work. Those arguments can be persuasive unless the ScrumMaster can remind the team about empiricism.  The ScrumMaster must always support the Product Owner if the product owner believes that a cancelled Sprint will lead to the best business outcomes.

Scrum is an empirical process that allows for “failure”. Of course, it probably helps to not call it that. Instead, a Scrum Team and the organization around it need to think of every Sprint as an experiment. There’s a good analogy here with the various stages of drug trials. When a company wants to research a new drug, the drug will go through various stages of experiments. The early stages of research are based on chemical reactions in the proverbial test tubes – laboratory experiments. Subsequent stages of research are often based on animal experiments. After that come human trials. At any stage if the drug in question is showing adverse effects outweighing the therapeutic effects, then the current stage is cancelled. Of course, the research done to that point is not a waste, but nor does it immediately result in a useful drug with net therapeutic effects. In Scrum, each Sprint is like a stage in the drug trials. If the work of the Sprint will not result in a net benefit, it only makes sense to cancel the work as soon as that information becomes obvious.

Waiting for Perfection

The pitfall, then, is that after a cancelled Sprint a team will feel pressure to wait until conditions are perfect before continuing on the next Sprint. Scrum does allow for the team to do a bit of a review of the reasons that the Sprint was cancelled, perhaps even to do a retrospective, and then start another Sprint planning meeting. The Sprint Planning meeting might be a bit longer than usual. The ScrumMaster does need to be sensitive to the needs of the team.

Cancelled Sprints and Synchronized Teams

One other factor may be a consideration: if the team is working with other teams on a larger-scale effort, there may be pressure to have all the teams with synchronized Sprints. For example, the Scaled Agile Framework emphasizes cadence and synchronization among multiple Scrum teams. In this case, a cancelled Sprint may mean that a team sits idle for a short time while they wait for the next synchronization point, as illustrated:

Cancelled Sprint in SAFe

This article is a follow-up article to the 24 Common Scrum Pitfalls written back in 2011.

Try out our Virtual Scrum Coach with the Scrum Team Assessment tool - just $500 for a team to get targeted advice and great how-to information

Please share!
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Video: Sprint Zero is Not Part of Scrum

Find out why Sprint Zero is a bad idea, and what you can do instead!

More Scrum and Agile videos to come!  Please subscribe to our WorldMindware channel.

Try out our Virtual Scrum Coach with the Scrum Team Assessment tool - just $500 for a team to get targeted advice and great how-to information

Please share!
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Pitfall of Scrum: Excessive Preparation/Planning

Regular big up-front planning is not necessary with Scrum. Instead, a team can just get started and use constant feedback in the Sprint Review to adjust it’s plans. Even the Product Backlog can be created after the first Sprint has started. All that is really necessary to get started is a Scrum Team, a product vision, and a decision on Sprint length. In this extreme case, the Scrum Team itself would decide what to build in its first Sprint and use the time of the Sprint to also prepare some initial Product Backlog Items. Then, the first Sprint Review would allow stakeholders to provide feedback and further develop the Product Backlog. The empirical nature of Scrum could even allow the Product Owner to emerge from the business stakeholders, rather than being assigned to the team right from the start.

Starting a Sprint without a Product Backlog is not easy, but it can be done. The team has to know at least a little about the business, and there should be some (possibly informal) project or product charter that they are aware of. The team uses this super basic information and decides on their own what to build in their first Sprint. Again, the focus should be on getting something that can be demoed (and potentially shippable). The team is likely to build some good stuff and some things that are completely wrong… but the point is to get the Inspect and Adapt cycle started as quickly as possible. Which means of course that they need to have stakeholders (customers, users) actually attend the demo at the end of the Sprint. The Product Owner may or may not even be involved in this first Sprint.

One important reason this is sometimes a good approach is the culture of “analysis paralysis” that exists in some organizations. In this situation, an organization is unable to do anything because they are so concerned about getting things right. Scrum is a framework for inspect and adapt and that can (and does) include the Product Backlog. Is it better for a team to sit idle while someone tries to do sufficient preparation? Or is it better to get started and inspect and adapt? This is actually a philosophical question (as well as a practical question). The mindset and philosophy of the Agile Manifesto and Scrum is that trying to produce valuable software is more important that documentation… that individuals and how they work together is more important than rigidly following a process or tool. I will agree that in many cases it is acceptable to do some up-front work, but it should be minimized, particularly when it is preventing people from starting to deliver value. The case of a team getting started without a product backlog is rare… but it can be a great way for a team to help an organization overcome analysis paralysis.

The Agile Manifesto is very clear: “The BEST architectures, requirements and designs emerge out of self-organizing teams.” [Emphasis added.]

Hugely memorable for me is the story that Ken Schwaber told in the CSM course that I took from him in 2003.  This is a paraphrase of that story:

I [Ken Schwaber] was talking to the CIO of a large IT organization.  The CIO told me that his projects last twelve to eighteen months and at the end, he doesn’t get what he needs.  I told him, “Scrum can give you what you don’t need in a month.”

I experienced this myself in a profound way just a couple years into my career as an Agile coach and trainer.  I was working with a department of a large technology organization.  They had over one hundred people who had been working on Agile pilot projects.  The department was responsible for a major product and executive management had approved a complete re-write.  The product managers and Product Owners had done a lot of work to prepare a product backlog (about 400 items!) that represented all the existing functionality of the product that needed to be re-written.  But, the big question, “what new technology platform do we use for the re-write?” had not yet been resolved.  The small team of architects were tasked with making this decision.  But they got stuck.  They got stuck for three months.  Finally, the director of the department, who had learned to trust my advice in other circumstances, asked me, “does Scrum have any techniques for making these kind of architectural decisions?”

I said, “yes, but you probably won’t like what Scrum recommends!”

She said, “actually, we’re pretty desperate.  I’ve got over a hundred people effectively sitting idle for the last three months.  What does Scrum recommend?”

“Just start.  Let the teams figure out the platform as they try to implement functionality.”

She thought for a few seconds.  Finally she said, “okay.  Come by this Monday and help me launch our first Sprint.”

The amazing thing was that the teams didn’t lynch me when on Monday she announced that “our Agile consultant says we don’t need to know our platform in order to get started.”

The first Sprint (two weeks long) was pretty chaotic.  But, with some coaching and active support of management, they actually delivered a working increment of their product.  And decided on the platform to use for the rest of the two-year project.

You must trust your team.

If your organization is spending more than a few days preparing for the start of a project, it is probably suffering from this pitfall.  This is the source of great waste and lost opportunity.  Use Scrum to rapidly converge on the correct solutions to your business problems instead of wasting person-years of time on analysis and planning.  We can help with training and coaching to give you the tools to start fast using Scrum and to fix your Scrum implementation.

This article is a follow-up article to the 24 Common Scrum Pitfalls written back in 2011.

Try out our Virtual Scrum Coach with the Scrum Team Assessment tool - just $500 for a team to get targeted advice and great how-to information

Please share!
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Best Agile Advice Articles – Ten Year Anniversary!

Agile Advice was started in 2005.  In ten years, we have published over 850 articles (an average of just about 2 per week!).  Here are some collections of the ten “best” articles.  I hope you enjoy looking back at (or discovering for the first time!) some of the things that have made this such a great joy for me.

Ten Most Popular Agile Advice Articles

  1. How Two Hours Can Waste Two Weeks (75,000+ visits)
  2. The Seven Core Practices of Agile Work (25,000+ visits)
  3. Eight Barriers to Effective Listening (17,000+ visits)
  4. Seven Essential Teamwork Skills (17,000+ visits)
  5. 24 Common Scrum Pitfalls Summarized (15,000+ visits)
  6. Mentoring and Coaching: What is the Difference? (14,000+ visits)
  7. Wideband Delphi Estimation Technique (14,000+ visits)
  8. The Pros and Cons of Short Iterations (13,000+ visits)
  9. Three Concepts of Value Stream Mapping (13,000+ visits)
  10. Agile Work and the PMBoK Definition of Project (11,000+ visits)

Ten Most Commented Upon Agile Advice Articles

  1. 24 Common Scrum Pitfalls Summarized (19 comments)
  2. Agile Becomes Easier with Useful Tools (12 comments)
  3. Important Words about Scrum and Tools (9 comments)
  4. The Skills Matrix and Performance Evaluation on Agile Teams (9 comments)
  5. The Definition of Done is Badly Named (8 comments)
  6. How Two Hours Can Waste Two Weeks (7 comments)
  7. Agile is Not Communism (7 comments)
  8. Agile Tools vs. Agile Books (6 comments)
  9. The Decline and Fall of Agile and How Scrum Makes it Hurt More (5 comments)
  10. The Planning Game: an Estimation Method for Agile Teams (5 comments)

I also want to acknowledge that there are a number of other contributors to Agile Advice besides me (Mishkin).  These contributors are all experts, all have great experiences, and all are fantastic people to know.  I’m grateful for their contributions since they have all made Agile Advice a better place to browse!

Five Most Frequent Contributors (of Articles, besides Mishkin)

  1. Paul Heidema (34 articles)
  2. Travis Birch (24 articles)
  3. Christian Gruber (19 articles)
  4. Mike Caspar (16 articles)
  5. Shabnam Tashakour (13 articles)

Plans for the Future – Five Top Ideas for Series

  1. Essays on each of the Values and Principles of the Agile Manifesto
  2. Summary articles of several Agile methods including Scrum, OpenAgile, Kanban, Crystal, XP, and others
  3. Real Agility Program case studies
  4. Reviews of other scaling / enterprise Agile frameworks such as Disciplined Agile Delivery, Large Scale Scrum, Enterprise Scrum
  5. New guest articles from thought and practice leaders.
Try out our Virtual Scrum Coach with the Scrum Team Assessment tool - just $500 for a team to get targeted advice and great how-to information

Please share!
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Sometimes I Just Need to be Pedantic

Here’s an article that just drives me nuts: Using Agile Scrum to Manage Developer Teams. The problem I have with this article is that it is just crazy bad in its use of language and ignorance about the fundamentals.  Here are some examples:

Agile Scrum

This is not a thing.  Agile is a philosophy of doing software development.  Scrum is a particular instance of Agile.  Saying “Agile Scrum” is kind of like always saying “furniture table” instead of just “table”.  It shows a pretty fundamental gap in the writer’s knowledge.

As with any software development lifecycle (SDLC) framework…

Scrum is definitely not an SDLC.  Scrum is a framework (and the author uses the term correctly a little earlier in the article) but is deliberately missing most of the details that would make it an SDLC.  It is designed to be incomplete instead of complete.  SDLC’s are meant to be complete solutions for delivering software.  Scrum shows you the gaps and exposes the problems you have delivering products but doesn’t tell you how to fill in the gaps and solve the problems.

Next, the article mis-quotes Scrum.org by incorrectly capitalizing Product Owner and Scrum Master.  And in some sort of ironic error, puts “Scrum master” in quotes.  Yikes!

The conclusion of the article about when you might choose not to use Scrum is also a bit mis-guided.  There are lots of organizations successfully using Scrum in highly regulated environments: medical, banking, government, etc.  Some of them are even my clients!  I would be happy to provide direct references if needed.

Finally:

Does your team work remotely? Despite advances in video technology and online collaboration tools, the requirements for structured daily contact makes Agile Scrum tough to implement successfully for virtual teams.

Yes, remote work is bad with Scrum.  But it’s also just plain bad.  Don’t do it if you can avoid it.  All that Scrum does with a remote team is show you just how bad it really is.

Try out our Virtual Scrum Coach with the Scrum Team Assessment tool - just $500 for a team to get targeted advice and great how-to information

Please share!
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

24 Common Scrum Pitfalls Summarized

Scrum is the most popular agile method… if you count all of the teams doing “Scrum Butt”.  Doing Scrum really well is much harder and much rarer.  Here is a list of 24 common Scrum pitfalls or bad behaviours of Scrum teams:

  1. Excessive Preparation/Planning: Regular big up-front planning is not necessary with Scrum.  Instead, a team can just get started and use constant feedback in the Sprint Review to adjust it’s plans.  Even the Product Backlog can be created after the first Sprint has started.  Read more about the Excessive Preparation  Scrum Pitfall here.
  2. Focus On Tools: Many organizations try to find an electronic tool to help them manage the Scrum Process… before they even know how to do Scrum well!  Use manual and paper-based tracking for early Scrum use since it is easiest to get started.  Finding a tool is usually just an obstacle to getting started.  (And besides, check out what the Agile Manifesto says about tools.)  Read more about the Focus On Tools Scrum Pitfall here.
  3. Problem-Solving in the Daily Scrum: The Daily Scrum should not be used to find solutions to problems (obstacles, impediments) raised.  Instead, keep the meeting very short and have those problem-solving conversations afterwards with only those who are interested.  The ScrumMaster facilitates this meeting to keep it on track.  Read more about the Problem-Solving in the Daily Scrum pitfall here.
  4. Assigning Tasks: Even though the concept of self-organizing teams has been around for a long time, still some people think that a project manager or team lead should assign tasks to team members.  It is better to wait for someone to step up than to “take over” and assign a task.  Read more about the Assigning Tasks pitfall here.
  5. Failed Sprint Restart: Although cancelling a Sprint is rare, it can be tempting to try and wait until everything is “perfect” or “ready” before re-starting.  Teams should immediately re-start after cancelling a Sprint.
  6. ScrumMaster As Contributor: The ScrumMaster is like a fire-fighter: it’s okay for them to be idle – just watching the team – waiting for an emergency obstacle.  Taking on tasks tends to distract the ScrumMaster from the job of helping the team follow the rules of Scrum, from the job of vigorously removing obstacles, and from the job of protecting the team from interruptions.
  7. Product Owner Doesn’t Show: The Product Owner is a full member of the team and should be present at all Scrum meetings (Planning, Review and Daily Scrums).  As well, the Product Owner should also be available during work time.  Of course, the PO also needs to work with stakeholders and might be away during that time, but these discussions should be scheduled outside of the team’s meeting times.
  8. Stretch Goals: The team decides on how much work it will do in a Sprint.  No one should bring pressure on the team to over-commit.  This simply builds resentment, distrust and encourages low-quality work.  That said, of course teams can be inspired by challenging overall project or product goals.
  9. Individual Heroics: Individuals on a Scrum team should not do excessive individual overtime, or in any other way try to be the “hero” of the team.  Scrum helps us build great teams of people, not teams of great people (quote from Barry Turner).
  10. Team Organizes Product Backlog: The team does not have proper insight into the needs of users and instead should be focused on solving technical problems.  The Product Owner needs to be accountable for ROI and therefore should resist any pressure from the team to do things in a particular order for “technical” reasons.
  11. Product Owner Specifies Solutions: The Product Owner must allow the team full freedom to come up with solutions to the problems presented in the Product Backlog.  PBIs should be free of technical specifications unless they can be tied directly to a customer or end-user request.
  12. Urgent Interruptions: Urgent interruptions should not be allowed in a Sprint… instead, if it is urgent enough, the team should cancel the Sprint.  Otherwise, the interruption should be put on the Product Backlog and deferred until the start of the next Sprint.
  13. Making Assumptions: Often team members will fail to ask the Product Owner about details of the work they are doing.  A team member solves problems, but it is critical to know about constraints.  The feedback between PO and Team Member should be ongoing throughout every day of the Sprint.
  14. Not Getting Done: This is hard to prevent from happening from time to time, but it can become a habit for a team to over-commit.  Make sure that a team that is doing this is using burndown charts effectively and is holding demos even when they have not completed all their work.
  15. Demo Not Ready: Sometimes a team forgets that it will take time to prepare for a demo: cleaning the team space, setting up a demonstration environment, getting scripts ready, and ensuring that critical stakeholders are prepped.  These activities can be part of the tasks in the Sprint Backlog.
  16. Prototype Not Shippable: A Scrum team should attempt to produce production-quality, “potentially shippable” software right from the very first Sprint.  Building prototype code just delays the inevitable need to write production code.  Similarly, wireframes, detailed designs and other similar tools should also be avoided.
  17. Distributed Team: Although Scrum does not officially require team members to be collocated in a “war room”, the reality is that any distribution of team members (even just into separate cubicles) has a huge negative impact on transparency and communication, which in turn has a huge impact on productivity and quality.
  18. Directive ScrumMaster: The ScrumMaster needs to be a facilitator who supports the team in learning self-organization, and the Scrum rules.  The ScrumMaster should never succumb to the temptation to suggest how a team member does his or her work, nor what task next to work on.
  19. Changing Team Membership: Scrum is a framework for creating high-performance product development teams.  If the membership of a Scrum team changes, it forces that team to re-start the Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing sequence.  If the team is in Norming or Performing, then changing team membership for any reason is a waste of quite an investment.
  20. Non-Scrum Roles on the Scrum Team: It is very common for an organization to create a Scrum team without changing the official title and duties of the people who are members of that team.  For example, a person who is a Project Manager might be given the responsibilities of the Product Owner without an official change of title.  Scrum teams should only have a ScrumMaster, a Product Owner, and Team Members.
  21. Giving Up On Quality: Scrum has very high demands on teams regarding the quality of their results: “potentially shippable software”.  It is easy for a team or organization to fall back on the crutch of defect tracking software instead of maintaining extremely high levels of quality at all times (due to pressure to release features).
  22. Imposed Deadline Scope And Resources: Scrum is reality-based.  If an external stakeholder wants to impose a minimum scope, a deadline and constrain the resources available to the team then they must allow that quality will slip… which in turn is against the principles of Scrum.  The reality is that no-one can predict the future so any such imposition is simply a fantasy.
  23. Definition of “Done” Imposed:  There is confusion between the concept of the definition of “done” and “standards”.  Managers and other stakeholders often incorrectly impose standards on a team as its definition of “done”.
  24. ScrumMaster Not Present: I once saw an organization that had created a room for a “team” of ScrumMasters.  They worked there together most of the time!  The only time the ScrumMaster should be away from the team is when he/she is working on removing an impediment that is outside the team.  Otherwise, the ScrumMaster should be in the team’s room.
Try out our Virtual Scrum Coach with the Scrum Team Assessment tool - just $500 for a team to get targeted advice and great how-to information

Please share!
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail