Best Practices to Prevent Scrum Failure & Improve Efficiency

Group meeting in office by desk, discuss collaboration and teamwork

It’s far too common for scrum to result in less-than-ideal outcomes—not because the agile framework is flawed, but because the company didn’t understand, or disregarded how scrum is supposed to work.

What is scrum?

Scrum is an agile project management framework that emphasizes teamwork, transparency, and working iteratively.

When successfully using scrum to deliver services and products in short cycles, teams reap benefits including continuous improvement, fast feedback, quicker adaptation to change, and accelerated pace from idea to project delivery.

What is the product backlog?

The product backlog identifies the priorities for a product team in detail. Product backlog priorities can (and should) change all the time.

What is the sprint backlog?

The sprint backlog determines current sprint priorities and sets a shared goal for delivery team execution. Sprint backlog priorities should be locked down for the duration of the sprint.

At the beginning of each sprint, the team participates in a planning meeting where the highest priority stories that are ready for development are pulled from the product backlog and reviewed. The outcome of this meeting is the team makes a commitment to the business on value, aka stories, they will deliver in the sprint.

Why Can Scrum Framework Fail?

Scrum fails when companies don’t build a shared consensus on which principles should form their definition of agile delivery, or they fail to educate everyone involved on how the agile processes work.

One very common example involves the most basic of agile artifacts: the sprint plan.

Example of Scrum failure:

If you complete a long day of sprint planning only to run into an executive who wants to add something to the sprint, it’s important to understand the methodology and stick to it – especially because changing the sprint plan impacts the team’s ability to meet their commitments, which subsequently impacts morale and productivity.

As much as we love our stakeholders, they should not swoop in at the last minute and bypass the product owner. Once the sprint plan is determined, to ensure scrum works, the scrum master must protect the plan as much as possible.

Scrum Best Practices

Three key steps to ensure your team moves as fast as possible but can still address changing priorities are:

  1. Determine the Appropriate Sprint Length
  2. Educate Your Stakeholders
  3. Build Trust Among Stakeholders

1. Determine the Appropriate Sprint Length

First, and most importantly, determine a sprint length that is appropriate for your organization. Companies new to scrum should avoid one-week and four-week sprints because:

  • One-week sprints move too fast for new teams and are too heavily burdened with meetings.
  • Four-week sprint teams have a hard time staying with the sprint plan, especially new teams who don’t fully understand the impact of changing priorities mid-sprint.

Two-week cycles have traditionally been the preferred length for agile enthusiasts.

When working on project teams where code will not be moved to production at the end of the sprint, a two-week sprint duration works well.

However, some teams prefer three-week sprints because they can develop new features in the first two weeks and use the last week to do production preparation work.

Note: If three-week sprints are occurring, an investment in DevOps can help improve your processes and ensure fast-paced development with shorter time-to-market.

2. Educate Your Stakeholders

Once the organization finds the appropriate sprint length, educating stakeholders is essential. How can we expect stakeholders to work with implementing scrum when we don’t help them understand how it should work?

Actually communicating the sprint calendar is a good first step.

Stakeholders also need to understand the product owner’s role and how they will assist them in assigning their requests the appropriate priority in the product backlog.

How can we expect stakeholders to work with implementing scrum when we don’t help them understand how it should work?

This can be quite beneficial as many stakeholders who seek to add to the product backlog don’t realize that other higher-priority features may not have been completed yet. Working with the product owner provides an impact analysis for the overall product.

This can be as easy as asking, “Is this more important than X?” or “What must be completed before X can be built?” Sometimes stakeholders just want to get the request on the backlog, and don’t mean for everyone to stop working on current priorities.

Educating stakeholders teaches them how to:

  • Interact with the scrum team
  • Plan around the value that will be delivered by the scrum team
  • Submit ideas and get them prioritized
  • Learn from the transparency the scrum team provides about their products and processes
  • Set up the proper reward and motivation mechanisms in their company

This ensures greater communication, teamwork, and understanding within your organization.

3. Build Trust Among Stakeholders

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the team must build trust among the stakeholders. This has a huge impact on scrum teams and often stops most emergency requests.

Teams build trust by setting realistic sprint goals for themselves and then accomplishing those goals on a consistent basis. If the stakeholders know what is planned will get done, they have much more confidence that their request will be completed in a timely manner.

This is not an easy task but can be accomplished by improving sprint planning.

The most effective way to improve sprint planning, and one often ignored, is utilizing the sprint retrospective. This is where the entire team reviews their performance during the sprint and discusses what went well and should continue and what areas need improvement.

The team then decides what one or two things will make the most impact on the next sprint and brainstorm for ways to improve. The retrospective works well because the team decides what to change and begins to build a culture of continuous improvement.

As far as agile benefits go, this is one of the most impactful to organizations.

Another way to build trust is to communicate changes to the plan early and honestly. Let stakeholders know why there was an adjustment to the plan. Was it due to a bad estimate? A delayed approval? Changing priorities mid-sprint?

Once stakeholders start seeing the impact they have on progress, they can assist the team in moving faster, too.

The Results of Scrum In Action

To be truly successful, scrum teams and stakeholders need to work together to understand and implement the scrum procedures.

When properly implemented, scrum can realize incredible benefits, including:

  • Increased reliability of delivery of value to the business
  • Faster time to customer feedback
  • Improved prioritization based on feedback
  • Improved quality through the adoption of agile engineering best practices
  • Improved teamwork and self-organization
  • Greater visibility for stakeholders into priority, scrum team current and future activities
  • Improved engineering resiliency. Teams can move people around and shift scrum team charters because all organizations follow the same practices.

AIM Consulting is comprised of technology experts with deep experience driving organizations’ agile journeys forward.

Our approach and methods help you realize the full benefits of scrum and enterprise agility, creating lasting change within your teams and driving lasting agile capability growth for your organization.

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