Fear of commitment – scrum teams

Scrum is probably the most readily used agile framework today. With all the chatter on modern agility, heart of agile, agnostic agile there is still no denying that a well oiled scrum team can deliver the goods.

On the flip side a sticky frustration point for teams still learning the ropes is dialing in their sprint commitments to a sustainable pace. Often teams will struggle to complete all the work they committed to in a sprint leaving unfinished work. As a continued pattern this erodes trust and adds complexity to planning. So what gives?

Do these teams suffer from commitment issues? In a way yes. See in scrum the power to control commitment is solely on the team. When it is based on the actual history of delivery and team member availability they should be able to calculate the right amount of work they can consume. Where things go wrong is that teams often are too optimistic in what they will ‘try’ to complete vs. being very crisp on what they can commit to. This often leads them deep into troubled water.

While well intentioned, maybe even trying to please some stakeholder, being soft on commitment only hurts the team. A commitment by definition is something that sets an expectation of absolute certainty of completion. In this situation the team should face reality of their actual delivered velocity and focus on commiting within their limits. Yes, this can be a hard message to send, especially if the team has been running this way for some time.

By making this shift the team should also execute with laser focus on that smaller commitment off work. They need to agree not to pull anything else until ALL of ┬áthe commuted work is done. Once all of it is done they are free to discuss pulling additional work in. The principle of “It is better to surprise and delight than disappoint”.

Once a team can be honest with itself about its limitations and they focus on keeping commitments in check they will often find increased comfort and trust given by stakeholders.

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