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Symptoms of Waterfalling Within Agile Sprints

27 January 2016

Cognizant Technology Solutions

Waterfalling within Agile sprints is one of the common symptoms of handling Agile development incorrectly. Here are ways to overcome this anti-pattern.

Waterfalling in sprints

There is a commonly observed pattern in Scrum teams in which user stories pile up during the sprint closure, in either the in-progress or the to-do state, thus leaving the sprint goals and objectives at high risk.

Scrum teams often struggle to deliver user stories incrementally, leading them to stretch too much during the sprint closure. Teams don't even realize the benefits of delivering incrementally. Members may raise questions about what the problem would be if they delivered all the user stories together at the end of each sprint. However, even if they complete the sprint successfully by stretching too much, they find it difficult to continue in the same way, trying to maintain the rhythm/cadence sprint after sprint, release after release.

Situational coaching

Situational coaching is essential in creating an awareness at the team level about the importance of delivering incrementally. It is the key to success.

Asking the teams the following probing questions might give them opportunities to self-correct and organize themselves toward their sprint goals.
  • Do you feel that you are carrying the "risk" until the last day of the sprint if you are Waterfalling in a sprint?
  • Are you unhappy when you are stretching too much as a team during the sprint closure?
  • Are you doing too much testing during the last sprint days, thus leaving open defects in stories that spill over to the next sprint?
  • Are you unhappy with the fact that you are stretching to complete stories at the end rather than delivering them one by one?
  • Do you feel uncertain about your ability to meet the sprint goals as a team when you see stories piled up on the last day?
  • Do you think you are engaging the product owner too many times during the sprint closure and not enabling him or her to do the just-in-time reviews?
  • Do you think completing a few stories before the sprint closure will give the dependent team a chance to review them in advance?
  • Do you take the sprint goals and own them from day one, or do you want to own them only during the sprint closure? If you own them from day one, do you think it is better to show the progress as a team from day one rather than the final day?
  • Do you feel that closing the user stories before the sprint end date will give stakeholders a chance to review them?
  • When you run out of time during the sprint last days, do you consider trying to reach the target safely through a constant velocity rather than through acceleration to a high velocity?
Asking questions based on the situation is the key to success for change agents like Agile coaches and ScrumMasters. Although the team is accountable for the success or failure of the deliveries, both coaches and ScrumMasters are responsible for helping them be successful.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

Article Rating

Current rating: 2.6 (19 ratings)


Srividya Natarajan, CSM, 2/4/2016 6:52:53 AM
A different opinion and a caution to the scrum teams! Teams to be watchful to minimize risks..Good article JP!

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