I recently read the excellent article “Why you should have Sprints that fail” by Maarten Dalmijen in Serious Scrum. It’s great advice overall, but what really caught my eye was the following statement:
We did not even create the full Sprint Backlog. We knew we would do a better job if we created and adjusted the Sprint Backlog as more was learned during the Sprint.Maarten Dalmijen
This simple idea of leaving room in a Sprint backlog for anticipated discovery is one of the hardest concepts for Agile organizations to grasp, no matter their experience level. It’s especially hard for organizations that are practicing “TACO Scrum”, a term I first heard from Tim Ottinger at Agile Cincy. TACO stands for “Teams and Ceremonies Only”, meaning Scrum meetings and schedules have been adopted, but the organization has failed to implement the core values of Scrum.
A management organization that reviews Sprint forecasts to see if a team is working hard enough lacks understanding of what Scrum is all about. They are trying to retro-fit Scrum to their old ways of doing business. They lack one of the core principles of Agile organizations: trust. Unfortunately, the inclination of development teams in these environments is to load their Sprints to capacity for fear of being accused of slacking off.
A smaller backlog every so often is a good thing. It shows that a team is thinking on its feet. They aren’t plowing forward on a fool’s errand of building that which is unknown. Teams that recognize there is more to be learned are open to discovering better ways to accomplish their goals. They should be applauded, not punished.