In Scrum, we put a priority on creating high-performing teams. You’ve probably heard that phrase a hundred times with regard to Scrum. Unfortunately, while we certainly have the best intentions when it comes to creating a high performing team, we often develop habits that do everything BUT create high performance (we’ll talk about some of these bad habits in other tips).

One of the worst things we can do to our teams is allow them to work on too many things at the same time (see this tip for more information). Another real productivity killer occurs when we allow too many changes to the content of the Sprint after the Sprint has been planned.

Scrum does, in fact, provide for the modification of Sprint content after the Sprint has been started. It requires everyone on the team to agree to modify the Sprint content because it was everyone on the team that agreed to the Sprint content in the first place. That’s only fair, right? If a content change is necessary, we should definitely do it (particularly if it results in higher productivity for the team). However, we should, at the same time, limit how often we change Sprint content. Here are some reasons why:

  • Sudden reactions to priority that result in Sprint content changes are frequently reversed or overridden by other priority changes – many changes are knee-jerk (emotional) reactions to new situations. A customer gets angry, an executive makes a demand. We want to immediately respond to these situations. We WANT to be responsive. What we often lose sight of is the reality that many emotional reactions aren’t well thought through and frequently result in ineffective and/or inefficient solutions. They are frequently reversed when clearer heads prevail or overridden when the next emergency occurs.
  • Changing the content of a Sprint involves interrupting the Scrum team to do additional planning – sure, Scrum says we can do it, but Scrum also values “focus.” Your team can’t be very focused if they have to stop what they’re doing and plan a change into the Sprint. Scrum also encourages us to maximize the value produced during the Sprint. If we’re stopping to plan new items (particularly if the value of those new items is questionable because of the previous point), the team’s ability to create value is lessened.
  • Frequent changes to Sprint content often results in the Scrum team losing faith in the effectiveness of Sprint Planning and doing a poor job of it or even not planning the Sprint at all – finally, think about it — if you’re on a team that plans their Sprints carefully but is frequently interrupted by the need to plan more or replan a portion of the Sprint, you start to lose faith in the overall planning process. Teams then do less rigorous planning and have more difficulties during the Sprint.

Take our advice, while Scrum does allow for the change of content in a Sprint, avoid making changes to in-progress Sprints unless it is absolutely necessary. When organizations “honor the Sprint,” teams tend to perform better.



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