Adventures in Scrum: Lesson 1 – The failed Sprint



I recently had a conversation with a product owner that wanted to have the Scrum team broken up into smaller units so that less time was wasted on the Scrum Ceremonies! Their complaint was around the need in Scrum to have the entire “Team” (7+-2) involved in the sizing of the work during the “Sprint Planning Meeting”. 

Update 16th March 2010

  • Kane Mar, the man who taught me Scrum, made a fantastic comment after reading this and I have added it in.

The standard flippant answer of all Scrum professionals, “Well that’s not Scrum”, does not get you any brownie points in these situations. The response could be “Well we are not doing Scrum then” which in turn leads to “We are doing Scrum…But, we have split the scrum team into units of 2/3 so that they can concentrate on a specific area of work”. While this may work, it is not Scrum and should not be called so… It is just a form of Agile. Don’t get me wrong at this stage, there is nothing wrong with Agile, just don’t call it Scrum.

The reason that the Product Owner wants to do this is that, in effect, through a number of miscommunications and failings in our implementation of Scrum, there was NO unit of potentially Shippable software at the end of the first sprint. It does not matter to them that most Scrum teams will fail the first Sprint, even those that are high performing teams. Remember it is the product owners their money!

We should NOT break up scrum teams into smaller units for the purpose of having less people tied up in the Scrum Ceremonies.

The amount of backlog the Team selects is solely up to the Team… Only the Team can assess what it can accomplish over the upcoming Sprint.
Scrum Guide,

The entire team must accept the work and in order to understand what they can accept they must be free to size it as a team. This both encourages common understanding and increases visibility on why team members think a task is of a particular size. This has the benefit of increasing the knowledge of the entire team in the problem domain.

A new Team often first realizes that it will either sink or swim as a Team, not individually, in this meeting. The Team realizes that it must rely on itself. As it realizes this, it starts to self-organize to take on the characteristics and behaviour of a real Team.
Scrum Guide,

This paragraph goes to the why of having the whole team at the meeting; The goal of Scrum it to produce a unit of potentially shippable software at the end of every Sprint. In order to achieve this we need high performing teams and this is what Scrum as a framework has been optimised to produce.

I think that our Product Owner is understandably upset over loosing two weeks work and is losing sight the end goal of Scrum in the failures of the moment. As the man spending the money, I completely understand his perspective and I think that we should not have started Scrum on an internal project, but selected a customer  that is open to the ideas and complications of Scrum.

So, what should we have NOT done on our first Scrum project:

  • Should not have had 3 interns as the only on site resource – This lead to bad practices as the experienced guys were not there helping and correcting as they usually would.
  • Should not have had the only experienced guys offsite – With both the experienced technical guys in completely different time zones it was difficult to get time for questions. Helping the guys on site was just plain impossible.
  • Should not have used a part time ScrumMaster – Although the ScrumMaster attended all of the Ceremonies, because they are only in 2 full days of the week it makes it difficult for the team to raise impediments as they go.
  • Should not have used a proxy product owner. – This was probably the worst decision that was made. Mainly because the proxy product owner did not have the same vision as the product owner. While Scrum does not explicitly reject the idea of a Proxy Product Owner, I do not think it works very well in practice. The “single wringable neck” needs to contain both the Money and the Vision as well as attending the required meetings.

“Your team may be dysfunctional … but at least you can see the impediments. Now you have the ability to do something about it!”
Kane MarScrumology, Scrum Coach

I will be brining all of these things up at the Sprint Retrospective and we will learn from our mistakes and move on.

Do, Inspect then Adapt…


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