5 ways agile teams meet sprint commitments

Spikes, swarming, splits, and keeping some requests in the shallows can help agile teams stay on track

A fundamental scrum team practice is committing to the prioritized work at the start of the sprint and then fully completing it at its conclusion. Strong agile teams complete or exceed their sprint commitments and deliver working software at the end of the sprint. They also measure their velocity and discuss process improvements at retrospective meetings to improve quality, productivity, and other metrics.

But meeting sprint commitments isn’t trivial, and many obstacles can stymie teams. For example:

  • Newly formed teams or teams with new members must figure out work styles, collaboration methods, and skill proficiencies. These teams often have unpredictable velocities until they establish a working rhythm.
  • Teams working with new technologies may not know how to break down stories and estimate them accurately. Similarly, teams working with knowledge gaps around legacy technologies, the code base, or build and deploy processes may also struggle with their estimations.
  • Teams working with challenging product owners and business cultures feel pressure to commit beyond their capabilities.
  • At times teams may not fully know their own constraints. There may be holidays, corporate meetings, or other personal priorities that pull people off task.
  • If production systems are relatively stable, then agile teams can usually estimate how much of their time gets pulled from development activities to support production incidents. But these are just estimates, and in some situations, agile teams must dedicate significant time to help resolve production issues or investigate root causes.

My experience working with agile teams is that at any given time, they are often dealing with some of these issues. Even when teams are making their commitments and increasing velocity, new demands arise. But some tools and practices help manage unknowns, risks, and external events that challenge teams hitting commitments.

Here are five practices that scrum teams utilize to improve achieving their sprint commitments.

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