Scrum Sprint: How to Protect It

It is essential for the Scrum process that the Scrum team has authority over the work they take on, and is allowed to focus on how that work is accomplished during the sprint. This enables the team to become self-organizing with no set leader. Over time, the team will establish a consistent velocity for the amount of work they can complete in a sprint. This helps the team accurately estimate how much work to take on in each sprint planning meeting. As the team gets better at working together, its velocity will increase and more work will be accepted and completed in each sprint.

Until this point is reached, the Scrum Master must protect the sprint, it must ensure the team does not exceed its capacity, when taking on work in the sprint planning meeting. Exceeding its capacity means the work will not be completed in the sprint. The associated user story will not be accepted as done, and the feature will not be demonstrated in the product increment in this sprint review. The work not completed is technical debt, which will need to be worked in a future sprint, reducing the new functionality that can be accepted from the product backlog in that sprint. The Scrum Master must also ensure the Scrum values are followed within the team. Especially important are the Scrum values of staying focused on the work in the sprint, and respect for everyone involved in the project, especially other team members.

The Scrum Master must also protect the team from outside influences. External stakeholders are the biggest threat to a self-organizing Scrum team. This group includes executives, customers, managers, and others with a vested interest in the project. External stakeholders normally contribute resources to the project, or they are responsible for aspects of the projects such as budgets, schedules, or priorities. Because of that, they often feel they have a right to step in and micro-manage a sprint, or overturn a team's decision. While stakeholders have a legitimate stake in the success of the project, they are not committed to completing the work of the sprint like the Scrum team. Also, external stakeholders are not involved in the sprint planning meeting, or the day-to-day development. Which means their knowledge is incomplete on many facets, such as the task breakdown, how the task are being worked, or why the team estimated a user story as a large or small relative level of effort.

The Scrum master must protect the Sprint, by ensuring external stakeholders do not overly participate in the day-to-day activities of the team, which has a detrimental effect on the team's focus and can derail the entire Scrum effort. The Scrum master can do this by enforcing Scrum rules:

  1. stakeholders can observe the Daily Scrum stand-up meetings, but they cannot intervene. The Daily Scrum is a time-boxed meeting, if a stakeholder is talking and asking questions, the team is not communicating their status and the goal of the Scrum meeting is not met.
  2. once the team commits to the items in the sprint backlog, no other items may be added to the sprint. If new requirements are added once the sprint starts, the team will most likely be over capacity and not be able to complete the work in the sprint. Also the team will have limited time to breakdown the item into tasks and plan for it, if it is not accepted in the sprint planning meeting.
  3. the team has complete authority over how the user stories are to be completed within a spring. The Scrum master must ensure no outside influence has the authority to oversee, or change the technical decisions of the team.
  4. the Scrum artifacts provide transparency to the team's progress, and the Scrum meetings are well defined, providing means for all Scrum members and external stakeholders to influence the project at the appropriate time. The team should not be required to attend additional status meetings, or give additional status reports, as this indicates an outside authority is operating to influence the team, undermining its effort to be self-organizing and autonomous.