When the going gets rough

Up until this point I have been writing about Agile practices outside of work, but today I am going to focus on agile at work. Specifically on trusting the Scrum process — especially when crises occur.


My place of employment has been going through a lot of transition in the last few years and it has led to all kinds of frustration. Change always does that. As a result of the organizational changes both of my Scrum teams now include new developers and there are fewer of them. Some of the new team members are good, and some are not up to the same standard that we are used to. It takes time to build a good team.

As a result of these changes to my teams, work has been proceeding at a slower velocity. We are working on that in various ways, but recently I have had a couple of urgent requests from stakeholders come my way where the requestor specifically asked if we could do something “outside the sprint.” When I have asked what that means, I don’t get an answer.

I do know what that means, actually, but no one wants to say it out loud. It means I need this other thing (this unplanned thing) done ASAP and I don’t want to have to give up any of the other work that is already in progress and it cannot wait. It also means I don’t want to think about reality.

I understand urgent requests and am all for responding to changing needs (of course!), but I cannot advocate trying to work around or outside of the Scrum process. In my opinion the only thing that can happen is that all the work goes even slower causing even more frustration.

To all you stakeholders and product owners out there who get feel that Scrum doesn’t work in a crisis please try to remember:

  • Scrum is all about getting the highest priority work done first. If the focus changes from one goal to another sprint-to-sprint to resolve urgent issues, that is just fine. The process is designed to be flexible that way.
  • There are a lot of ways to work on improving velocity, but sacrificing the Scrum process is not one of them. You will end up waiting longer for everything instead of solving your urgent needs and the team will never improve.
  • Developers are not like coat hangers – you can’t go out and buy more or borrow from someone else’s closet just because you have more coats than you usually do. Developers need ramp up time on any project. QA is important.
  • In a crisis it is better to solve the problem than to create more with a band-aid.
  • It takes time to build a good team.

One thought on “When the going gets rough

  1. musingsfromthesofa

    I particularly like the point that ‘developers are not like coat hangers’. I don’t understand why it’s so hard to get the message across that more people doesn’t automatically mean things will happen faster.


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