Are Special Sprints in Agile Truly Beneficial?

In my journey with Agile, I’ve often encountered teams embroiled in what I term ‘special sprints’ – Sprint zeros, refactoring sprints, and bugfix sprints. At first glance, these sprints appear as a savvy adaptation of Agile. However, upon closer examination, they reveal themselves as something more insidious, which I’ve come to label as Agile banditry.

These special sprints, while well-intentioned, often lead to a dilution of Agile’s core principle: the continuous delivery of usable, working products. By segmenting the workflow into specialized sprints, the fluidity and dynamism of Agile are compromised. This is counterintuitive to the Agile manifesto, which emphasizes individuals and interactions over processes and tools, and responding to change over following a plan.

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The Azure DevOps team’s experience serves as a prime example. Initially, they planned six three-week sprints, followed by a ‘safety net’ sprint. This approach, however, led to an accumulation of undone work – technical debt and tasks deferred to the safety net sprint. The result? An upward curve of undone work, contradicting the essence of Agile, which is to minimize such backlogs and ensure a sustainable pace of development.

In Agile, we manage risk not through detailed plans, as in traditional models, but through the continuous delivery of a working product. When we introduce safety nets like special sprints, we inadvertently encourage risk-taking that can derail the project. The Azure DevOps team’s shift towards shipping a quality product at the end of each sprint, without the reliance on a safety net, is a testament to embracing true Agile principles.

Key Topics:

The Myth of Special Sprints in AgileAgile Banditry: The Risk of Diluting PrinciplesCase Study: The Azure DevOps TeamManaging Risk in Agile: Continuous Delivery vs. Detailed PlansThe Importance of Avoiding Safety Nets in Agile

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