(First published on the Scrum Alliance Website)

 

I ran a Scrum Master Summit for my company recently where we invited the 42 Scrum Masters for a day of learning for them and for us. At the end of the planned session we had a “Lean Coffee” discussion where anyone could vote on the topics for discussion.

 

One of the more interesting topics that unfortunately didn’t get any votes, was “What happens if we fail 1 or 2 sprints?”.

 

I think you should be failing more often than 1 or 2 sprints.  As a team we need to be challenging ourselves more, trying new things, and experimenting. That will lead to failure, which will lead to learning which is great for it’s own sake.  I want the teams to fail, but I want them to fail fast. Try something new for a sprint, see if it works, how you can tweak it, what is un-usable, what can be taken away and then start again. Get into a pattern of trying and failing.

 

In talking to the Scrum Master who wrote this, their concern was around velocity. They are concerned that they should be hitting the exact number each and every sprint. It’s actually good that they are NOT hitting the number sprint after sprint.  They should be challenging themselves with a higher number every once in a while. It would be too easy to not challenge yourselves and keep the same number sprint over sprint, set the number 10 points lower than what you know your team can do and coast.  But that’s not good for the morale of the team, for the education of the people, for the project/sprint, really for anyone.

 

So they should set the sprint goal higher than what they have been, with the team’s agreement.  And not just gaming the system by making a 5 point story an 8 point story, but by taking on more than what you would normally and seeing if you can do it.

 

Or keep the same velocity target and trying pair programming. Anything that gets your team trying new things, learning and pushing their boundaries, either personal or team based.

 

The question however has some deeper undertones unfortunately.  Traditionally in the work world failure is punished and we have ingrained the fear of retribution into our people. I think the question is based on that, the “What will management do to us if we fail 1 or 2 sprints?”.  I think most companies that are working in an agile manner and have adopted the agile mindset will be open to experimentation and failing. Fortunately where I work we are encouraging this, we want our people to try, to strive for more, to learn and yes to fail. Management will do nothing if you fail, so keep trying.

 

Velocity and other metrics are meant to offer a team an opportunity to improve, to give them insight on how they are performing.  They are not to be used to measure teams against each other, to say that team “A” is better than team “B” simply because their velocity is 10 points higher. Management should be looking to the teams to see how they can help them become better, not to be using metrics as a punishment tool.

 

To answer the original question “What happens if we fail 1 or 2 sprints?”; you learn.