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When and How Sprints Can Fail

While it is rare that we see sprints completely fail, there are definitely some that are more successful than others. Here are some characteristics of the less successful efforts:

  • No clearly defined sprint team lead
  • Egos or strong personalities getting in the way of the work
  • Not everyone is staffed to the sprint team before kick-off
  • No members of the sprint team have participated in a sprint before
  • Members of the sprint team are not fully dedicated to the sprint (time or attention)
  • The sprint team is blocked in getting access to buildings/assets/people
  • Timing of the sprint is poor (conferences, holidays, budget cycles, etc get in the way)
  • The sprint team jumps from framing a problem to attempting to solve a problem
  • Stakeholders are badly managed, or expectations are not made clear
  • The air cover isn’t high enough up, or doesn’t exist
  • Stakeholders are actively shifting
  • The scope is too big, or poorly defined

During a very quick effort like a discovery sprint, it is easy for a team to get stuck in the weeds. When you are looking for information in an environment that is busy, complicated and unknown to you there can be seemingly endless things to “fix.” Stay focused on what you have committed to do and if there are opportunities for other discovery efforts, write those down so you don’t forget and just keep going.

Sprints can be very intense, and it can seem like a letdown if the stakeholders don’t receive your report or recommendations with the same sense of urgency that the team feels coming out of the effort. It may take time for them to digest what you have delivered. This isn’t failure, it’s a normal adjustment phase. It is likely to be a month or two before next steps are addressed, and it can sometimes take a lot longer than that, especially in government. Often the organization will need to get funding, or hire subject matter experts directly or via contractor.

Further or continued engagement with the organization may not be necessary once a sprint is complete. They may have everything they need to move forward on their own, or they may use your report as leverage to get what they need without further direct support from your team.