When the sprint fails…

Whenever I discuss about the need for ‘committed’ , ‘capable’, ‘motivated’, mutually respected teams as a pre-requisite for scrum, generally the body language of the recipient of this is that of cynicism. Unfortunately, in reality, based on my experience , agile frameworks, or any ‘knowledge related work’ is bound to fail without these basic human elements. Of these ‘mutual respect’ is the most important aspect. Without mutual respect, commitment will not happen. Without mutual respect, motivation will be affected. Everything starts from mutual respect, between team members, scrum master, product owner and the sponsor. The litmus test of ‘mutual respect’ is how gracefully we treat an agile team, during the sprint review meeting of a failing sprint.

Planned velocity is ’10’, achieved is ‘6’. If ‘6’ is not agreed upon by the product owner, then the sprint has failed. Will this lead to ‘release date’ slippage. That could be the immediate concern of the product owner. Answer is a ‘yes’ and ‘no’. This may affect the release date. This may not affect the release date if the velocity increases during the subsequent sprints. The most important aspect to be taken care of during these scenarios is to protect the ‘motivational’ aspect of the product owner, scrum master and the product owner. When the team is in the forming state, and working on a new technology / architecture, this is bound to happen. Patience is the key to deal with such situations. This is the time to invest heavily in production capability improvement, than hitting the roof for low productivity. Remember, great managers do not do much to motivate their teams, and at the same time, they do not demotivate their teams. One must protect the commitment, motivation and mutual respect, self respect aspects of self organizing knowledge workers throughout the assignment at any cost. This is applicable to all stakeholders including the development team members.

Recently we had a long project team meeting to resolve an issue. We invited some key team members for a critical meeting to get out of this do or die situation. They participated actively, we planned all the action items to be implemented the next day, and towards the fag end of the meeting the one key team member who was also part of the entire meeting turned up and said ‘I am on leave tomorrow‘, while waiting for the cab to go home at 10 pm. That really hurt, and still hurts me, the senior manager, who pitched in to help, even when it was not my key responsibility. I am not against someone taking leave for genuine reasons during the middle of the sprint. He could have told me about  leave upfront, which would have given me opportunities to plan other alternatives.  I am also human. Yes, respect has to me mutual. In agile teams, we motivate each other. The entire team must commit to the sprint goal and achieve it.

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