The whole is more than the sum of its parts.
A sprint in Scrum
A sprint is a constant duration identified for delivering a product increment. This product increment is the sum of previous product increments and the backlog items done in the sprint. The product owner can decide to ship this increment to the customer, if so desired. In the Scrum framework, it is the sprint where the work is accomplished and the concept-to-cash aspect is realized. The Scrum rules bind Scrum roles and responsibilities, Scrum artifacts, and Scrum ceremonies. A sprint provides the basic boundary within which all Scrum components are exercised and come to life.
The Scrum team gains technical and business domain knowledge rapidly in sprints through collaboration and continuous learning. This enables team ownership and sharing as team dynamics quickly emerge and stabilize. The ScrumMaster ensures that Scrum rules, principles, values, and practices are upheld throughout the Scrum project life cycle.
Heart of Scrum
Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber have referred to the sprint as the "heart of Scrum" in their recent guide on Scrum
, released in July 2013. While that is true, the sprint goal provides the necessary alignment in a sprint. For the sprint to be of value, the product backlog has to be prioritized, refined, elaborated, and constantly groomed top-down to ensure that high-value items are ready for selection in a sprint. Thus, the product backlog is at the heart of Scrum, where creative concepts lead to delivery of innovative products. The sprint backlog supplies the necessary fuel for the sprint to achieve the goal.
What is a timebox?
A timebox is a maximum duration that has a specific purpose to achieve, as well as duration, scope, and an agenda to meet the desired purpose. In Scrum, a timebox is the maximum duration within which the Scrum team hopes to achieve the defined purpose. If the purpose is achieved earlier, then the timeboxed ceremony ends early. Timeboxes provide control by allowing the Scrum team to be self-managing, self-organizing, collaborative, and aligned to accomplish the purpose of the timeboxed ceremony.
Scrum has five timeboxes: the sprint, sprint planning, the Daily Scrum, the sprint review, and the sprint retrospective. Release planning (optional) is not realized as a timebox. Besides, release planning without an inspect-and-adapt ability at the release level leads to an incomplete PDCA cycle. The sprint provides two PDCA cycles to cover product and process.
How the sprint is more than just a timebox
Sprints have a defined, constant duration for the project. For a project, all sprints have the same duration. The sprint is a timebox of a month or less. Sprints have a start date and an end date. All Scrum timeboxes except the sprint are closed as soon as their purpose is achieved. However, a sprint cannot be closed early unless it is canceled or is the last sprint for the product. Only the product owner can decide whether a sprint can be canceled. No other Scrum timebox can be canceled by anyone in Scrum. Product owners cancel a sprint only when it is identified that the sprint goal is obsolete. This is rare, as it is a traumatic event for the team.
On the other hand, a sprint is not closed when the sprint goal is achieved early. The team collaborates with the product owner to seek other backlog items that can be taken up in the remaining duration. The sprint goal cannot be changed within a sprint. For more details on these characteristics, and additional details, check my blog: Sprint is more than a timebox
A sprint provides the basic wireframe structure within which Scrum is practiced. The Scrum team collaborates and learns rapidly to inspect and adapt in an ongoing fashion. The Scrum process enables transparency for further inspection and adaptation. The sprint ensures that continuous improvement is undertaken for the product and process improvements simultaneously. The Scrum framework is wonderful in the way it works. It enables highest-value delivery while allowing the Scrum team to collaborate and address uncertainties and risks.
The sprint is an essential building block of Scrum. The artifacts enable transparency throughout the process. The Scrum team starts from the prioritized and refined product backlog to build the sprint backlog and builds the product increment within the boundary of a sprint.
Being a good teammate is when you try to sprint down a ball that everyone thinks is going out of bounds. But you go after it anyways, and you get it.
-- Mia Hamm