“Sprints are Stressful”

RarghSometimes developers say to me “sprints are stressful” but if that’s how you feel it’s a sign that you’re doing something wrong.  Scrum is supposed to promote a sustainable pace within each sprint.  I guess it’s the name that’s a little misleading, software development is more like a marathon and sprinters don’t win marathons.

One reason you might be experiencing stressful sprints is that the teams are over-forecasting and taking on too much work.  Developers tend to optimistic and eager to please, over-estimating how much they can achieve.  This is where the teams velocity comes in use, helping the development team to identify their true pace.  Over-forecasting can also occur in teams where the coders are the dominant members.  It’s important to include people who specialize in different disciplines so that the time required for design and testing and other activities are taken into account when estimating.  You also need to make sure stories are well-groomed and contain the right level of thought and detail, you want to minimize the number of surprises that might blow-out the sprint.

Another common mistake is leaving testing until too late in the sprint so that if a single issue is encountered the sprint is forfeit.  Encourage your teams to do as much testing as possible up front and as they go rather than saving it all for a last minute dash.

Developers can also feel a lot of pressure to deliver, especially if velocity is being used to measure productivity and there is a push to increase productivity.  Usually when this happens developers compromise quality in order to meet the time-box, but this leads to buggier code, more stress, and a slower pace in the long run.  In this case a possible solution is to focus on having a potentially releasable product increment every sprint.  This makes whether to release a business decision and developers can be sheltered from these pressures to some degree

Another reason for sprints seeming stressful is a lack of transparency.  If the development team don’t want the Product Owner or management to know about the problems they encounter then covering them up can cause a whole lot of unnecessary stress.  It’s important to be open and honest about issues that pop up.  Encourage your team to do so and coach management with how to deal with these issues without playing the blame game (which just promotes the hiding of mistakes when you most need to know about them).

Some other things you can do to make sprints less stressful is to have a weekend in-between sprints and also consider giving devs some “spare” time to work on process improvements and tying up loose ends.  You can also work with the Product Owner and the development team to vary the work load and the kind of work so that it’s not a constant grind and there’s some variation in the work being done so developers don’t get bored.

Finally, make sure you talk about the source of the stress in the retrospective to see what other reasons might pop up.  Remember, you don’t have all the solutions and communication is the best way to uncover problems.

Related Books:

Getting Things Done

David Allen
Success Under Stress

Sharon Melnick
Lean Startup

Eric Ries

Categories: General

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