Scrum Can Help You See the Forest and the Trees
I once worked on a Scrum team that seemed to be doing well, based on all the things we measured. Our burndown chart showed good progress. Our velocity was good. Yet we had little to show at the sprint review.
The work that wasn’t done was related to deployment or integration, so while work was finished, it was not easy to demonstrate value. This can happen when the team loses sight of the idea that the goal of a sprint is not simply to complete work, but to deliver a useful product increment.
The way we diagnosed the problem, and the steps we took to resolve it, highlighted some of the power of the Scrum framework to improve how teams work.
Of all the Scrum events, the sprint review is often mishandled. Sometimes it’s viewed more as a formal demo than an opportunity for feedback. But planning a demo is how my team realized that, even with most of the planned work done, we had nothing to show.
This realization highlighted that we focused our planning too much on specific items and too little on coordination and goals—in fact, we neglected to explicitly state the goal. During a retrospective, we decided that the issue was that there was nothing on our Scrum board or in our project management system to identify the product increments we were working on.
We realized that the artifacts we were using to organize work—epics, for example—were too coarse to get us what we wanted, so we started identifying three to five “demo-able” goals on large sheets of paper that we kept on the wall of our team room. During the daily scrum we asked the team to gauge how confident we were that we could get each goal done by the end of the sprint, marking the status as green (on track), yellow (at risk but possible), or red (serious roadblocks). This approach helped the team refocus and deliver more effectively.
The lesson here is not to focus on details and tasks to the extent that you lose track of the larger goal and the need for collaboration. Using Scrum will help you identify flaws and gaps, and skipping or trivializing the essential aspects of the framework will simply hide the fact that there are things you need to improve. Finding problems is something to be celebrated, not hidden.
It’s also important to remember that small, easy-to-implement solutions that are within your team’s control help you gain data, which in turn can help you gain support for better solutions. It would arguably have been better if the team used the project management system in a way that captured the key goals, but that was a more difficult thing to change due to dependencies outside our group, and if we waited for that change, we would have not made progress.
If your Scrum team is having trouble meeting its goals, investigate whether you are using the framework in a way that gives you the feedback you need. Treat these discoveries as good things, because transparency and feedback help you improve.