I really can’t let this incremental delivery topic go.  According to the 2020 Scrum Guide, “Scrum employs an iterative, incremental approach to optimize predictability and to control risk.”  This means that Scrum teams deliver a done, usable increment of working product frequently.

Here’s an analogy to explain incremental delivery in a simple way. Imagine if you needed to deliver a giant hexagon. A team delivering the hexagon using a predictive or traditional approach would deliver the hexagon all in one piece. A team using incremental delivery might deliver a lot of little hexagons which would add up to the larger hexagon. (For more analogies like this, check out our article What is Iterative, Incremental Delivery? The Hunt for the Perfect Example)

Now, this analogy does not fully capture the benefits of incremental delivery. There are many benefits of delivering value incrementally. The Scrum guide calls out predictability and controlling risk as the two main benefits.  In this article, I want to focus on incremental delivery’s impact on risk.  

Below are some of the common types of risk and how incremental can help address these risks.

Technical Risk

If there are technical hurdles or issues, the team discovers them so much earlier using an incremental approach than they would otherwise.  Here’s one example of this.  I once worked with a development team that was re-platforming a major consumer website.  As part of that initiative, we introduced the Scrum framework and provided training which included a discussion of incremental delivery.  At our first Sprint Planning event, one of the developers was skeptical of the idea of incremental delivery, but they agreed to give it a try. 

At the Sprint Retrospective, the developer was enthusiastic about the new approach. They shared that because the Developers had to deploy the site to the preview environment much sooner than would normally have been the case, they discovered unexpected issues with the Deployment process.  Because these issues were discovered so early, the team was able to avoid a high amount of rework which would have been necessary if the issues had been discovered later.

This is just one example of how incremental delivery can help mitigate technical risks by exposing problems earlier – so that they can be solved sooner and reduce the risk of high-cost fixes discovered late in development.

Business Risk

The image above is taken from the Applying Professional Scrum course created by Scrum.org.

Business risk refers to the possibility of financial loss or other adverse impacts on a business resulting from factors such as changes in market conditions, competition, regulatory changes, or operational issues.  

Teams employing an incremental approach to value delivery don’t have a lot of half-done work at any given time, because by the end of each Sprint, whatever they are working on is done and usable.  This means that when – not if – market changes happen, the team is able to shift gears much more quickly.  Every Sprint is an opportunity for the Product Owner to change direction in response to market changes, new technology or other disruptive events.

Compliance Risk

Scrum cannot eliminate any risk, but it can help Scrum teams respond more quickly.  For example, if the Product Owner learns that the product that they support is at risk for fines or regulatory sanctions, they can work with the Scrum team during Refinement activities to determine how best to mitigate that risk.  Are there new security features that are needed?  Do we need additional documentation created for the Product?  Product Backlog items can be added to the Product Backlog to address or mitigate any compliance risk quickly.

Strategic Risk

Strategic risk relates to the potential for losses or missed opportunities stemming from strategic decisions or changes in the business environment. This could include risks associated with entering new markets, launching new products, or changes in industry trends.

Because every Sprint is an opportunity to change direction, incremental delivery allows teams to take advantage of new business opportunities more quickly.

Cybersecurity Risk 

With the increasing reliance on digital technologies, cybersecurity risk has become increasingly important. It refers to the potential for unauthorized access, data breaches, or other cyber threats that could compromise the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of data and systems.  As new security risks are identified, the Developers and the Product Owner can collaborate about how best to respond to each risk, and new Product Backlog items can be added to the Product Backlog and prioritized alongside other work.

Hidden Cost of Delay

When teams use a traditional approach to product delivery, they often spend a lot of time in the beginning of the initiative creating a large Requirements document.  Business stakeholders accustomed to a waterfall approach know that this may be the last time for a while that they will have a chance to engage with Developers or Business Analysts to request work.  As a result, they ask for the moon and put it all in scope.

Once the Requirements document is complete, the team builds and tests everything that was documented in the Requirements phase, whether it was high or low priority.  Once everything has been built and tested, the waterfall team will often come back to Stakeholders to show what was done.  At this point it has been months or years since the Requirements phase was completed, and stakeholders have often forgotten by this time what they had asked for or why it was requested in the first place!


Scrum’s Incremental approach to value delivery can help organizations mitigate many different types of risk by making it possible for the Scrum team to change direction quickly to respond to Market, Technical or other types of risk.  If your organization is interested in adopting Scrum for value delivery, contact Rebel Scrum for private training options.


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