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As a Scrum Master, end of Sprint is your best ally

It’s the moment when everything falls in place

In a well-running Scrum team, the end of Sprint is a magical moment. People collaborate together during one or more weeks and then, for a few days or just a few hours, everything steps to a whole another level. It’s like the team is buzzing in activity, getting in a nearly permanent flow state.

Now what about a less experienced team? What happens during the end of Sprint? When it’s doubtful that everything will be done by then?

  • A. Team members get stressed out and jury-rig stuff to finish everything
  • B. Team members just don’t care, arguing that “Whatever, if it’s not finished we’ll just continue it during the next Sprint, right?” and continue to work the same as any other day of the Sprint
  • C. Team members remove elements from the Sprint backlog in order to make sure that the remaining elements will be fully done-DONE, fully finished and yet keeping the quality bar high

Have you noticed how option C was a much better option than options A and B?

As a Scrum Master or as an Agile Coach, the end of Sprint is a critical moment for your trade. Because of the pressure that the deadline is adding, it’s the perfect moment to hammer in all the essential concepts of a well-running Scrum implementation:

  • Understanding what ‘Done’ really is.
  • Realize how important it is to respect it.
  • Adapting the Sprint plan to meet the Sprint Goal, in whatever useful way.
  • Collaborating, working in pairs or more.
  • Talk to your teammates to get the information moving fast instead of writing in some kind of electronic tool, or even on the physical board.
  • Go pressure your Product Owner or external actors like dedicated Ops or Design teams to get quick feedback on what is being built.
  • Expedite code reviews by sitting next to your peers.
  • Validate new developments in a few minutes by helping your peers with test environment setup and giving them a walk-through.
  • Fixing a broken test immediately. Caring for continuous integration.
  • Working on something else than his core skillset.

Why isn’t it always like that?

Interestingly, so much can be done in a single day when the team is doing all of this at the same time.

The question is then: why aren’t all days like this day? Is it exhausting? It depends, it can be but it doesn’t have to be — yet it’s very exciting for sure.

It is also worth noting that the team truly bonds together when such situation occurs.

Building the right mindset

Let’s focus on the last bullet point: “Working on something else than my core skillset.”

If you’ve been there, you know how hard it is to get to the point of truly cross-functional development teams, whose members are T-shaped: at the same time an expert in a specific area and also someone able to collaborate on everything else.

People are so used to stay in their previous silo. Still working on their area of expertise, and nothing else.

As a Scrum Master or Agile Coach, the end of Sprint is the perfect moment to make them click: we’ve got to finish it somehow!

Powerful questions for the end of Sprint

Overall, the end of sprint, with its added pressure to move towards a share goal, is the best moment to build team dynamics and to live the Scrum values.

Here are a few powerful questions that a Scrum Master or Agile Coach could ask during this critical moment:

  • “Bob is sick. What can be done to finish his tasks anyway?”
  • “Look, the ‘Test’ column is full. How do we get through them?”
  • “What can you do to help your team finish the backlog items?”
  • “The end of Sprint is moving closer… How do we maximize the ‘done’ stuff?”
  • “Will you finish these Backlog items? Does it make sense to keep items that we know we won’t finish anyway?”
  • “How do we get to finish this single big Backlog item in the remaining time?”

It’s Scrum’s WIP limit

Kanban practitioners will recognize what they experience as soon as a column is reaching the WIP limit, that is the maximum number of items that can be placed in this column.

Indeed this is at the core of Kanban. Limiting the maximum of items that can be at the same time in a single column has the same powerful effect that gets everyone to work hand in hand in order to sort out the situation.

What we see is that Scrum also enforces some kind of WIP limit — but not directly through limiting the number of items in a given column, but through the timebox of the Sprint.

The inability to take in more work (because of WIP limit, or because of end of Sprint timebox) forces everyone to find ways to work together to finish things as quickly as possible, erasing previous ways of working and fostering a “we’re all in this together” mindset.

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