Several teams I’ve worked with wonder why it is important to finish work within the Sprint timebox. “This is an artificial container for my work,” they explain. “Why can’t our work just take the time it takes? Why must it be get all the way done in one Sprint?” In my experience, these frustrated teams are likely looking to move away from poorly implemented Scrum toward what will be disastrously implemented Kanban and just-in-time work processing.
Sprints offer three things that just-in-time work processing does not.
Software development teams that process work in a just-in-time manner often find a lack of focus. The Sprint container is a way to provide enough room for the creative work software developers do. In other words, time must be provided for developers to focus instead of worrying about the next piece of work they must pull in order to decrease cycle times.
Slack time is a fundamental ingredient to innovation. Healthy Scrum teams make slack time by pulling a little less work than there is capacity for work to be done. When developers are working ticket to ticket in a continuous flow model, slack is considered waste and teams will strive to eliminate it, bringing innovation to a grinding halt.
With little slack time to grow the capabilities of the team through automation or introducing new practices, the team can stagnate and fail to improve over time.
Prescribed Inspection and Adaptation
When teams stop observing Sprint boundaries for the work they do, they often soon begin to drop the ceremonies of Scrum that made them successful in the first place: Sprint Planning, Sprint Review, and Sprint Retrospectives. Each of these events inspects something and adapts something and when we stop doing them, improvements we’ve made in the past begin to fade away.
These events from Scrum are the backbone of team improvement and ongoing excellence. Losing them will immediately begin chipping away at the improvements they introduced.
There are other ways in which Sprints help teams, but these are my top three. If you are tempted to eschew Sprints for just-in-time ticket processing, don’t forget the ingredients of innovation that you risk leaving behind: focus, slack, inspection, and adaptation.