6 Months of Sprints - A Visual Record

I thought I would start off the week by airing my dirty laundry, that laundry being one of the projects I'm Scrum Master and Architect on.

It's been 6 months of month long iterations and the project is currently on hold as we shifted resources around to a fewer "higher" priority ones. I'm looking back at the iterations and the burndown charts that we pulled out (via Scrum for Team System).

It's not pretty but it's real and it's interesting to see the progress (or sometimes lack of it) along the way. Here we go...

Sprint 1



The sprint starts and we're not off to a bad start. In fact, it's one of the better sprints we had, even if it was the first. A little bit of churn the first few days but that's normal. In fact it was a collision between myself and the PM who decided to enter all the tasks again his way. After a few days we got that part straightended out and the rest of the sprint seemed to go pretty well. I was pretty happy so far. 

Sprint 2


Another sprint that didn't go too badly. The team (myself and one developer) had some momentum and we were moving along at a nice pace. However technical debt built up already and we ended the sprint with about 40 hours of work left. Still overall I was pretty happy and we seemed to have got our stride. We also picked up a new team member so there was that integration that had to happen, but it worked well for the team.

Sprint 3


Third sprint, 3 months into the project and we were moving along. Sometime around the middle of the sprint we were going like gangbusters and realized we were going to end early. That's the big dip around the 17-20th of November 2006. Once we got back on the Monday (the 20th) we decided to add more work to the sprint, otherwise we were going to be twiddling our thumbs for 2 weeks. It worked out well for this sprint as we finished without too much overhead (about 12 hours but some of that was BA or QA work which didn't directly affect the project). 

Sprint 4


Ugh. This is ugly but bonus points for the first person to know why (other than who was on the team). The main cause for the burndown to go flatline here is the Christmas. Yup, with people on holidays and not really wanting to end the sprint in early January right when everyone got back, we decided to push the sprint out a little to make up for the lost time over the Christmas season. In addition to this, the first week of this sprint one of the main developers came down with the flu and was out of commission for almost a whole week. That crippled us. By the 22nd or 23rd of January we decided we had to drop a whack of scope from the sprint (which is the sudden drop at the end you see) and we would have to make it up the next sprint, somehow. Even with that adjustment we were still running about 225 hours over at the end of the sprint. Not a good place to be to start your next iteration.

Sprint 5


Doesn't look good for the team that was doing so well. This sprint started off with a couple of hundred hours of deferred backlog items, then ballooned up with more technical debt and decomposition of new tasks. The team was larger now but we obviously took on more than we could chew. In fact I remember going in saying that but I was shot down by certain PTB that said "it'll work itself out". Don't believe them! If your burndown charts are looking like this the first week in (and you can tell that the first week in) you'll certain to not succeed on an iteration. Hands down. I like to take a CSI approach to iterations, let the facts show what's going on not peoples opinion. If your burndown is burning up, you need to make adjustments and not "ride it out" because unless you have magical coding elves come in late at night (and I'm not talking about geeky coders who like to keep odd hours) then you're not going to make it, and it's pretty obvious. 

Sprint 6

This sprint was just a death march. 800 hours of work which included 80 hours for a task we outsourced to a different group (which really turned into 200 hours of work as that person just didn't turn in any kind of idea for how long it would take) and probably 200 hours of technical debt that's been building for 4 months. We actually got a lot done this sprint, about 200 hours worth of work which isn't bad for 3 developers, 1 QA, and 1 BA but it looks bad here.

This is how we ended the project until it went stealth. No, we didn't shut the project down because the progress was horrible. As I said, it slipped down the priority chain and we, as an organization, felt it was better to staff a project with 4-6 developers and bring it home rather than 2-3 developers keeping it on life support.

Hopefully this reality trip was fun for you and might seed a few things in your own iterations. Overall a few things to keep in mind on your own projects following Scrum:

  • No matter what tool you use, try to get some kind of burndown out of the progress (even if it's being drawn on a whiteboard). It's invaluable to know early on in a sprint what is going on and where things are headed.
  • If you finish a sprint with backlog items, make sure you're killing them off the first thing next sprint. Don't let them linger.
  • Likewise on technical debt, consider it like real debt. The longer you don't pay it down, the more interest and less principle you end up paying and it will cost you several times over.
  • If you're watching your sprint and by the end of the first week (say on a 2-3 week iteration) you're heading uphill, put some feelers out for why. Don't just admire the problem and hope it will go away. It might be okay to start a sprint not knowing what your tasks are (I don't agree with this but reality sometimes doesn't afford you this) but if you're still adding tasks mid-sprint and you're already not looking like you're going to finish, don't. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that if you can't finish what you're got on your plate you shouldn't be going back to the buffet.
  • Be the team. Your team is responsible for the progress of the sprint, not one individual so you succeed as a team and fail as a team. Don't let one individual dictate what is right or wrong in the world. As a team, if the sprint is going out of control, fix it. If a PM says "don't worry" when you can see the iceberg coming, don't sit back and wait for it to hit, steer clear because you know it's coming.


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