Do you know how to handle unexpected requests in the middle of a Sprint?

Last updated by Ulysses Maclaren [SSW] 9 days ago.See history

To use Scrum correctly, all team members must understand the importance of Sprints, Sprint Planning, and capacity. Sprints are sacred - they give the team a clear goal, with a clear set of tasks and a timeframe to achieve it in.

However, Product Owners or stakeholders can derail a Sprint by coming to the team with a new task that wasn't planned for. Maybe it's a new feature, or a critical bug, or just a time-sensitive item that appeared out of the blue.

These interruptions may occur frequently - especially with clients or teams that aren't familiar with Scrum. Therefore it's important to teach the client how to treat the team.

Video: The best way to handle requests from your boss (2 min 38 sec)

If a Product Owner or stakeholder comes to you with a new request, it's important that you first acknowledge it (e.g. "That's a great idea!"). Then, you need to establish the priority.

If it is a stakeholder who contacted you, loop in the Product Owner so they can help prioritize. If you can't reach the Product Owner, let the stakeholder know you will ask the Product Owner about it later.

If it is the Product Owner who contacted you, then you need to work with them to figure out the priority. Most of the time, the Product Owner is happy to add the new request to the product's backlog. But every now and then, they are going to want to change your priorities and have you work on something which they see as more important than some of the items in your current Sprint.

So what will you do when this happens?

Generally, it's good to stick to the "customer is always right" philosophy. However, there are a few things you should do to protect the integrity of the Sprint.

  1. Double check with the Product Owner that this new item is more important than the current Sprint items (if not add it to the Product Backlog instead)
  2. Add the new PBI to the current Sprint
  3. Remove another item of similar size from the Sprint and put it back in the backlog

Figure: Good example - For urgent changes, you can substitute in some PBIs as long as you stay within capacity

Sprint Goal RIP?

In the rare case where the entire Sprint goal and all PBIs are no longer high priority, you can instead cancel the entire Sprint and start again:

  1. Move any left over work/items to the backlog
  2. Send a debrief to the client with a note. E.g. As per your request we have just cancelled Sprint 05 and will start on Sprint 06. The remaining items have been moved into the backlog.
  3. Send a Sprint Forecast for the new Sprint

This should only be done in extreme circumstances as it is traumatic to the team.

Adam Cogan
Ulysses Maclaren
Cameron Shaw
Justin King
Luke Cook
Jonty Gardner
Piers Sinclair
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