Failing to plan, planning to fail

This has been one of my favorite quotes for quite some time. It holds meaning at work as well as in personal life. And just recently it came back to my mind during a Sprint Planning session.

Struggle ahead

Sprint Planning is one of the crucial Scrum events we hold. During this event we strive to address which items we’ll work on in the next Sprint and how we plan on delivering them. It’s a close cooperation of the whole Scrum team that enables a succesfully planned Sprint; it can be just a minor missed detail that can cause significant problems in an instant.

It happened to me recently on two separate occasions. The first of them was caused by incomplete communication from one of the senior devs. Scope, technical approach to solution... It was the type of bomb that gets dropped right in the end and negatively influences the whole thing. The main pillars on which we planned the next Sprint fell apart and we had to start all over again.

The other occasion was the result of an insufficiently described User Story. It could have been just a few cryptic words that somebody tried to pass as a full description. I wish! We would be able to spot that. But this User Story was detailed and nicely described. Unfortunately it didn’t fully explain what was the developers‘ objective. And when we realized the problem we started to clarify, but time flew by as we continued to sink deeper and deeper into an abyss of possible understandings and approaches. At our deadline we simply weren’t ready.

Next steps

In both cases you have to understand the impact such disturbances can cause, identify what was affected and what needs to be changed. Also you need to focus on the User stories that can still make it into the next Sprint; without any viable User Stories you can’t start the next Sprint. If you have something partially planned you can start the Sprint. But also remember to set up a refinement meeting and clarify the rest of the User Stories as soon as possible during the Sprint.  If you don’t have anything to start with you cannot begin the new Sprint and you need to clarify your User Stories until they fall under ‘Definiton of ready‘. No halfway solutions, no ad-hoc planning. That just turns into chaos and the team needs to face all of those challenges right away.

Lessons learned

I believe most of these unfortunate events failed long before the event itself even started. As described in the quote at the beginning of this article, the key to smooth sailing lays in sufficient preparation. You cannot forget your refinements and you must work with the team on Product Backlog. Have them all involved in discussions to clear up any unnecessary ambiguity. Help your Product Owner with backlog and push for comprehensible descriptions. You will face many challenges on the way but it’s this kind of ongoing effort that pays off in the end.

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