The Sprint

I am currently studying with a view to attempting my PSM-III, if I stand any chance of passing I need to go back to basics to make sure I have a rock solid understanding of the fundamentals. With that in mind for the next few weeks I’m going to go back to core scrum and share my views on some of the fundamentals.

You can’t get a lot more fundamental than the sprint. The scrum guide defines a sprint as

Sprints are the heartbeat of Scrum, where ideas are turned into value.

The Scrum Guide 2020

In scrum we plan work in timeboxes, usually 2-4 weeks. By working to a much shorter planning horizon we can gain a lot of confidence as we go by reviewing progress frequently and adapt as required as the project goes along.

It is not a release schedule!

Many teams I have worked with attempt to set their deployment schedule with their end of sprint. These should be entirely coupled, DevOps has lots of good ideas about how and when to deploy. Deployments should be done as required throughout the sprint.

The sprint is about setting a goal and a timebox to achieve it. By having a consistent length of sprint we can gain confidence in the amount of work which can be delivered by looking at how much has been achieved in previous sprints. This is the purpose of velocity and estimation (a useful tool, if not a scrum process).

During the sprint:

● No changes are made that would endanger the Sprint Goal;

● Quality does not decrease;

● The Product Backlog is refined as needed; and,

● Scope may be clarified and renegotiated with the Product Owner as more is learned.

The Scrum Guide 2020

In other words the team should focus on the objective of the sprint (the sprint goal) and not get distracted and put it in jeopardy in favour of other work.

Quality should be at least as high at the end of the sprint as it is at the beginning, one or more increments of work should be completed should be produced and all should meet the Definition of Done. If it isn’t “Done” then it shouldn’t be included and may be picked up in the next sprint. Testing phases and hardening sprints are categorically not scrum. Each price of work should be a high quality, done, potentially shippable increment.

Refinement of upcoming work and investigation of planned work continued as time goes on. Remember a sprint goal can be achieved even if the method and approach is refined as the sprint goes on.

So how long should a sprint be? This comes down to the development team in question. Generally a more work can be done in a longer sprint, however there’s more risk that something will arise which would invalidate the sprint goal. For this reason sprints should not be longer than one month.

Finally, if at any point the sprint goal becomes invalid the Product Owner may cancel the sprint. This could be for a number of reasons. The priority of work may have changed dramatically due to customer needs or the discovery of a bug (shorter sprints help prevent the waste of cancellation here). Or, the team may discover as they progress that the goal is impossible or not as valuable as originally believed. We’re in the business of doing effective work. If we discover that work isn’t going to be valuable our job is to avoid waste and move onto something which would be.

There’s probably a lot more I could add but hopefully it’s a good introduction. Do follow along for the rest of the series, next week will be Sprint Planning!

Restructuring your Sprint to Produce Finished Software

If your company is anything like many of the teams I’ve worked with your Sprints are a planning tool used to break down monolithic projects into smaller pieces to track progress.

In the real world big releases often pressure development teams to adopt more established project management techniques to hit deadlines. A PM will nominate a certain number of weeks for development (hopefully based on estimates your developers have provided) and then subsequent time for testing, bug fixing and UAT. The Development Manager will then allocate time into those Sprints.

But wait a minute? Doesn’t Scrum team us that we should be able to produce full working software at the end of each Sprint? If that’s the case then why are we saving all of our testing and bug fixing until the end!? It feels to me as though we’re running Sprints but ignoring the line of the Scrum book which talks about finishing a Sprint with deliverable software.

In Rolling Rocks Downhill Clarke Ching calls this GETS Software (Good Enough To Ship), it’s a term I like. In his book the team would build feature after feature however at the end of each iteration they ensured the product was GETS. That meant that if something took longer than expected or their budget was cut the team would always be able to fall back on the last version.

In a typical PM managed project I envisage features a development phase, when new bugs are carefully and painstakingly introduced. Then a testing and bug fixing phase, where they are removed.


If however you commit less work to your Sprint, let’s say half the amount then your developer can spend the second week refining their work, working alongside the QA, designing upcoming features, and removing any bugs which are found.

This will obviously reduce your Sprint Velocity, however it will mean that whatever work is completed is completed, reasonably and as Clarke puts it GETS. However without the need for long and laborious bug fixing phases this time can often be reclaimed.


This approach is game changing for a number of reasons. Firstly your quality isn’t compromised, instead of a quality decline and then improvement your software stays at production quality. Second, should your customer, Product Owner, or business priorities change you can update your plans (maybe even delivering early). Surely that’s what we mean by Agile!?

Many thanks to FooPlot for the brilliant site I used to create these graphs and Jing for the screenshotting and labeling software.