NOTE: If you’ve arrived here directly this is a set of narrative fragments edited together to become a fable. The purpose of which is to socialise desired behaviours within an organisation. It is presented as an alternative to stating and enforcing simple rules along the lines of “Only the Product Owner may abnormally terminate the Sprint” and instead attempts to capture the richness and subtle involved in such decisions. Like all good fables, it also contains several other minor lessons.
A LASTing Benefits Scrum Fable
Bob – The ABC Corp Product Owner, recently married
Sally – The CEO of ABC Corp, & Bob’s boss
Gareth – The CEO of Company X
Jim, Gary & Peter (aka the Three Amigos) – schoolmates who now find themselves working on the same Scrum Team at ABC Corp. They all hold a large number of options in ABC Corp stock.
Betsy – the Scrum Mistress at ABC Corp, nobody’s boss
A Conscientious Product Owner
Bob the Product Owner being recently married is going on a long honeymoon. Knowing how important a Good Backlog is to the success of the ABC Corp Product, Bob grooms far ahead and spends quality time with his team ensuring that they have the information they need, and know what is expected of them whilst he’s away.
A Deal in the making
Sally (ABC Corp) and Gareth (Company X) having been working together on an exciting new joint venture for some time. They plan to build on the natural synergies between their company’s respective software suites and create an entirely new class of product which should take the market by storm.
Work needs to be done at both organisations. Their respective marketing departments have also requested that Gareth and Sally provide some kind of indication of when they think they can deliver it to the market.
Sally and Gareth get their respective software teams together to estimate how long the integration effort might take.
Both companies use Scrum for development. The estimates produced by the teams indicate that at the current rate of development, it’s most likely that the work will take between 4 & 6 “Sprints” to complete the integration. Marketing immediately calculates a calendar date from this information and starts working on Press Releases and Marketing Collateral.
Bob returns with a smile and a sunburn
The day after the deal is signed, Bob comes back to what appears to him to be a very different organisation to the one he left!
There is a note on his desk that he’s to see Sally the very instant that he gets into the office.
Swallowing back the fear that he’s going to be fired, Bob checks his grooming in the mens room before taking a deep breath and going to find Sally.
Sprint the First – Responding to Change over following a Plan
Sally briefly explains the deal she made with Gareth while he was away and directs him to start work immediately.
Bob explains patiently that he will most certainly prioritise the work in his “Product Backlog” but that “his” team cannot start on the work for a least another 10 days, as they’re currently “in Sprint”.
Sally explains to Bob, that time is of the essense, wheels are in motion and that 10 days is far too long to wait to get started.
“Bob, irrespective of what the team is currently doing, it cannot compare to how important producing the Joint Venture Software is. We need this.”
Bob stands firm.
“No!” he says, “I cannot break my promise to the team! As the PO I committed to not changing my mind about what the team is to deliver in each Sprint. If I break my commitment I’ll go to Scrum Hell! I’ve seen pictures in Betsy’s Scrum Bible, and it looks horrible!”
Sally considers firing Bob on the spot, but his mention of Betsy’s Scrum Bible reminds her of what’s in her bottom drawer. She opens it and takes out the gold plated plaque that Betsy gave her last Xmas. It is inscribed with something called “The Agile Manifesto for Sofware Development”, she scans it quickly to find the text she’d thought she remembered seeing.
She holds up the plaque and begins to read from it.
“We Value… Responding to Change over Following a Plan”
“Sounds to me Bob, like you’d rather follow your plan, than respond to the change I’ve just given you!”
“Um”, says Bob as he becomes increasingly fascinated with the top of his shoes.
“But wait, there’s more!” exclaims Sally
“We welcome change, even late in development, Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage”
“Right Bob, I’m your bloody customer and I can see some obvious competitive advantage to hand here and I’m asking you to harness it for me!”
“But, Scrum Hell…” says Bob.
“You need to make a choice Bob, do you want to be Agile or do you want to follow the rules of Scrum to the letter? I had, until this point in time, thought that the entire point of doing Scrum was to become more Agile, not to be drowned in process and buracracy! It seems that I was mistaken!”
Bob is flummoxed. He thought he’d been such a good Product Owner, but now he felt himself torn between following the rules of Scrum and avoiding Scrum Hell or “being Agile”.
And then he thought of the solution.
Betsy. Betsy would know what to do. Afterall, this was a matter of process, why wasn’t she here?
Sally called Betsy into her office, and they retold the story.
“No Prob” she said.
“Just Abnormally Terminate this sprint and then plan a new one. Bob avoids a painful eternity in Scrum Hell and you get your fancy new software built sooner rather than later. Just make you explain to the Team the reason as to why you’re doing this”
And so they did.
Sprint the Second – A series of unfortunate events
Jim, Gary & Peter have known each other since high school.
The news of the joint venture has delighted them as it means they now have a real chance to become squillionaires.
So when Bob announces the termination of the Sprint and the reasons underlying the change, they plan the new Sprint eagerly with the rest of the team.
And then they make a plan to celebrate…
And so they did.
In fact they were so enthusiastic that they now can’t come into work for at least the next 6 days whilst their wives raise the bail money.
The rest of the Team optimistically soliders on for a few days, but after 3 days, all indications are pointing towards the cold hard fact that they’re on a Fool’s Errand. They can no longer deliver on their Sprint Commitment. Not a chance. Bail has been raised, but the three Amigo’s won’t be released from the county lock-up until the end of the Sprint at the earliest.
They ask Betsy what to do and she tells them that they need to tell Bob ASAP. She recommends that they agree to terminate this Sprint (as it’s no longer viable) and plan a new one, one that is achievable with the staff to hand but still progresses towards the overall project goal. Since Bob has just learned about abnormal sprint terminations, Betsy doesn’t forsee any problems and so lets the Team see Bob alone and heads off to her dentist appointment.
The Team meet with Bob. Bob goes ballistic. He tells them that he kept their commitment to them, and that they therefore need to keep their commitment to him.
The Team try to explain that the basis on which they made their commitment no longer exists. After all, if they could still deliver, why would they ever have originally needed 7 people to accomplish the goal?
Bob won’t hear a word of it. As far as he’s concerned, what the team is working on is “Super Duper Best Lucky Priority #1 Urgent Stuff” and he’s already terminated one Sprint already, surely terminating two in a row can’t be allowed. He decides it isn’t and tells the team so. Betsy said he could abnormally terminate a Sprint, not Sprints and anyway, he wants it done.
So Bob draws on his previous experience in “motivating” people and threatens the team: “If you don’t make your Sprint Commitment I’ll take the espresso machine out of the kitchen and dock all your bonuses by 20%”
The Team, horrified, nod acquiecense.
Dejected and feeling hopeless, they settle on a plan.
“Well, we could create the appearance of delivering this work, if we seriously compromised on quality and developed againt the current Alpha of Windows 9 – after all, it has a lot of what we need to do already built in”
“That’s hardly ‘Potentially Shippable’ though is it?” somebody asks.
“Who cares, he asked for something completely unreasonable, so let’s give it to him”
“Just make sure Betsy doesn’t find out about what we’re doing. She’ll go mental“
And so they do.
As per the plan, the Team develop a plausible facimile of the features requested. It only works on the latest Alpha Version of Windows 9 of course, but this is not at all apparent at Sprint Review.
Bob and Sally are both delighted. Bob secretly compliments himself on his management prowess.
Jim, Gary and Peter, recently released from the lock-up, sit at the back of the room, nursing their wounds and wondering how the team pulled off this miraculous achievement. But the mood in the room is so positive, that they say nothing.
As part of the arrangement between ABC Corp and Company X, at the end of each ABC Sprint, ABC delivers the latest codebase to the Company X team. All this happens without the knowledge of the ABC Corp Scrum Team.
When the Company X team get their delivery, they are unsurprisingly less than pleased. The code is effectively useless, there are no tests, it’s full of bugs and it ONLY runs on a version of Windows that’s not expected to ship for 3 years.
They immediately tell Gareth, who turns a deep shade of beetroot red and immediately leaves to meet with Sally in person.
After her meeting with with Gareth, Sally considers taking a leaf out of Don Drapers book, but thinks better of it and settles for a deep breath and a walk around the block before going to see Bob. This time she remembers to make sure Betsy’s there too.
After some spirited discussion and finger pointing, Betsy soon uncovers the the root cause of the issue. She patiently explains to Bob and Sally that if the Team thinks the Sprint is no longer viable, and they can point to clear reasons why they think this is so, it’s probably better to listen to them than rely on wishful thinking and threats.
Sprint the Third – Life is hard and then you die
After a few false starts, and the addition of three new members to Alcoholics Anonymous, ABC Corp is ready to start work on the deal of the century.
With a full team, and an adjusted release plan, and under the watchful eye of Betsy, the Team plan to fix up the mess they made last sprint and then start on some entirely new functionality.
The Sprint Plan looks good, and they get to it.
However, halfway in, they discover that the map is not the territory. Design information that they had been given by Company X, information on which they’d based their initial estimates has turned out to be completely incorrect. To make matters worse they’ve also discovered areas of the Company X codebase riddled with technical debt. This is going to take a lot longer than first expected. So long in fact, that the seemingly perfect Sprint plan now seems impossible.
The mood is dark, most of the team would rather quit than ask Bob to terminate the Sprint again, but Betsy is adament and the three Amigos are game.
Bob discovers calm rational thinking
Bob, somewhat a changed man from his experiences to date, listens patiently. Bob and the Team discuss what the problem is, and what the impact is likely to be. They identify work that clearly cannot be done this Sprint, and descope it from the Sprint. Bob agrees to communicate this upwards to both Sally and Gareth. Sally should be pleased at least that this time it’s Company X at fault.
However, the team is concerned that this is still not enough and push to terminate the Sprint again.
Bob furrows his brow in deep concentration and asks them “So tell me why you want to do that?”
The Team stares at Bob blankly for a moment before replying
“Well it’s obvious isn’t it? We are no longer certain that we can meet our commitment, so we have no choice but to terminate the Sprint!”
“And then plan a new one…” says Bob.
“Yes, of course and plan a new one” chimes the Team.
“A Sprint Plan to do what exactly?” asks Bob.
“Turn the Product Backlog Items of Highest Priority into Software of Potentially Shippable Quality” the Team parrots back.
“Which are?” asks Bob
“Whichever ones you say are the highest priority, Product Owner, Sir! Yes Sir!” the team says in unison.
“Well I say the ones remaining in the current Sprint are the highest priority” said Bob.
The Team goes quiet until somebody mutters “But the code is a mess, we don’t know how long it’s going to take to do this…”
“But it can be done?” asks Bob?
“Well yeah, we’re pretty sure about that, just not how long”
“Do you think that there is a chance that you can pull it off in the time remaining in the current Sprint?”
“Well yeah, sure, there is a chance” says the Team “And even if we don’t get it all done, by then we’ll probably have a clear idea of how much longer it’s going to take, because we’ll have come to terms with it”
“Well, then get out of my office and go to it! We’ve agreed to descope the work that there is no chance of getting, and I’ll set expectations upwards about that. We’ll use the Sprint Time Box as a safety net. Try as hard as you can to solve the problem and we’ll see where we stand at the end of the Sprint.
“You know what to do so I’ll leave you alone for the rest of the Sprint to get on with it. Go wild, be creative, do whatever you need to do to figure this out and get this project back in control, if not moving forward”
And so they did.
Sprint the Fourth – Plain sailing
Sprint 4 proceeds without incident. Now aware of the technical issues and having fixed many of them this time around the team commits to a comfortable amount of work, and produces it all to the pre agreed definition of Done.
At the end of the Sprint it all integrates perfectly.
Jim, Gary and Peter start to peruse boat catalogues…
Sprint Termination Narrative Fragments by Simon Bennett is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
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