Getting Unstuck: Addressing Struggling Scrum Adoptions, Responding to the Agile Test, and Properly Sizing Backlog Items


Construx Senior Fellow John Clifford—our Agile Practices lead—joins host Mark Griffin to discuss a repeated theme of multiple recent engagements: how to get Agile teams unstuck.

Many teams are struggling with “Scrum adoptions,” they think, but this characterization is inaccurate because the teams aren’t really running Scrum. Instead, they’re doing an approximation based on faulty assumptions—namely, that the teams can take a bit of this and a bit of that and make it work. But Agile frameworks are systems that are more than the sum of their parts. When you leave out parts of Scrum, you start having problems. Furthermore, organizations often do what works in the short term even if it’s not best for the organization in the long term. John describes multiple ways to help teams overcome the pain of change and fix their adoptions.

The Agile and Lean approaches don’t solve your problems—they expose them. Once the problems are exposed, what will you do? This is the Agile Test. John describes healthy and unhealthy approaches to the Agile Test. Will you try a solution and, even if it fails, learn from that failure? Or will you stubbornly persist in your ways, not solving the problems, and therefore fail the test? John also describes leadership’s role in this moment of challenge. To pass the Agile Test, teams must inspect and adapt their processes and then start the inspect-and-adapt approach again.

In the final segment of this episode, John and Mark discuss the failure mode of missing your sprint goal. The sprint goal is the measure that we evaluate ourselves by, but missing the sprint goal is common. John describes a solution that has worked in multiple engagements: helping teams learn how to properly size their backlog items. He shares simple rules of thumb to help ensure properly sized items. Stretching the length of your sprint to achieve your goals is not addressing the problem; it’s working around the problem. Varying team velocity across sprints is another sign of improperly sized items. In fact, irregularly sized items is a form of waste because it makes flow vary. Don’t make your sprints longer if you can’t accomplish your goal—commit to less, and make sure your items are properly sized.

Bonus topic: delivery versus deployment. Our goal is to always deliver value, but there must be value to a customer before deployment.