What difference could it possibly make? The psychology and social dynamics of Sprint timing.

20 Reasons to Change Sprints Mid-Week (and hold the Scrum Events as intended).

The ironic thing about assumptions is we’re generally unaware of them. Like fish saying, “What’s water?”, we are surrounded by things we assume must be true. Which means we’ve never even considered doing them any other way. Weeks start on Monday, months start on the 1st, the batter starts on home plate. These feel so natural.

Do Sprints have to start on Monday and end on Friday? The answer is not only “No”, there are significant advantages to changing Sprints mid-week. (It is also worth contemplating the Sprint length, and other factors, but we shall discuss that another day)

I argue that mid-week Sprint change is a technique of hyper-performant teams– just as important as holding every event, performing each event as intended, with the right participants present, at the right time. Here are 20 advantages of the mid-week Sprint change, and the Scrum Events held unapologetically as intended. Can you think of others?

Let’s start by listing reasons why the Scrum Events matter. If you don’t believe in their crucial importance to the process, then you won’t be invested and curious enough to optimize them in every way possible.

If you don’t believe the Events are crucial, it’s worth asking some re-centering questions.
“Why do we bother with the Scrum events at all?”
“Are hyper-performant teams maximizing their Events? And what do they know that we don’t?”

1. Sprint Planning should be the first event of a Sprint. Time spent on anything else (after the preceding Sprint) introduces some unquantified COD (Cost of Delay) to your efforts. You need adequate time to plan. This means a working meeting free from “meeting guilt”. We’re not ashamed, we have no imposter syndrome, we know we are solving novel problems, and this takes time for the customers and Scrum Team to plan. That means avoiding the worst day of the week for this important Event.

2. Start with the maximum Event length your Scrum Master or Agile Coach is ever going to ask for. The proportional Sprint Planning length is 8 hours for one month, 4 hours for two weeks, and so on. Meeting guilt will always pressure people from increasing the time. If you start with 30 minutes or an hour, no one will want to extend to a longer meeting. It’s very easy to take less time if you find you are consistently completing the outcomes expected of Sprint Planning. Better to start with the maximum and work down, then fight the battle to increase time.

When you’re 6 days into the Sprint and realize you don’t know the details of the feature you’re supposed to build, you should think back to Sprint Planning when some folks felt pressed for time and DOR (Definition of Ready) was skipped because “everyone knows” what’s being asked. Skipping the three sections of Sprint Planning (you know all three, right?) will inevitably introduce some Cost Of Delay in the system.

At the end of adequate Sprint Planning, you should have high quality outcomes:

  • A fully DOR’d Sprint Backlog (or as much DOR, by priority, as you can finish in the timebox)
  • A new Product Backlog.
  • A Developer Ordered Work Plan.

3. This ratio has been validated for more than 30 years. A lot of teams have done a lot of Scrum (and not all of it good). The Sprints that went well are planned well, and usually follow Sprints that were closed well. If hyper-performant teams use 8 hours to plan a month-long Sprint it’s worth asking, “What are they doing that we’re not doing?”

Given that two weeks is the most common Sprint cadence these days, 4 hours can be done. Other teams are doing it. Maybe your competition is. There are ways to resolve all the most common rebuttals and complaints. Take breaks, set time blocks for different groups of customers, adapt!

4. Adequate time for a full Review. Sprint Review is the second most important Event in a Sprint. It does for the work and working environment, what the Retrospective does for individuals and interactions.

Review ≠ Demo

Review may include a demo of features, but the purpose is to produce specific outcomes (a new Product Backlog, an Increment of working software) and discuss factors that affected the work itself. If you’re breezing through a 30-minute demo, I challenge whether you are doing “Transparency, Inspection, and Adaptation”.

5. Adequate time for a full Retrospective. The single most important part of Scrum. Raise your hand if you’ve been on a team that had a “Review & Retro” single event on the calendar. These are distinct, and each has its own outcomes and timebox. If the Retrospective is intended to sharpen the saw, what are we doing if we pencil-whip a few “pat-on-the-back” cards in our Retro plug-in and call it an early Friday? Sharp tools are safer, they cut better, they require less compensation with technique (or personal strain). I will guarantee you a Scrum Team that breezes through Retrospective is relying on heroics, and heroics are not scalable.

Advantages of Mid-Week Sprint Change

Given the importance of the Events outlined above, we want to take advantage of any hack that allows us to squeeze the maximum value from them. The mid-week Sprint change is that hack.

6. Monday and Friday are the most frequent (10 of the 11) national holidays. If your normal meeting series falls on these days, you’ll have to calendar shop for an alternate time every holiday.

7. Monday and Friday are the most frequent company holidays.

8. Monday and Friday are the most frequent employee vacation days. If critical team members are out, you’ll either be rescheduling events, or making tentative decisions, and then taking up time revisiting those decisions when those people return.

9. Monday is the most frequent sick day. You can plan for everyone to be there on Monday, and then find yourself in the scenario of #8.

10. Friday is the least productive day of the week.

11. Monday and Friday are usually the “busiest” or most hectic days. Monday is the day everyone “puts their work brain back on” and tries to remember what they were doing last Friday. The weekend is a break in momentum. Picking up on Monday is usually hectic (see more below) and you’re entering that chaos without the memory-momentum of what you were excited about on Friday. Surprisingly, Monday can also be the most productive day of the week, as determined by some work tracking systems.

12. Monday and Friday are the most common days scheduled for reporting, starting, and ending of other projects. This frequently causes meeting conflicts. Since everyone else is hosting kick-off meetings that you’ll get roped into, avoid holding your most important events on the same day. Having your key events mid-week helps you to Be Fully Present for other stakeholder’s events. They’ll thank you for it.

13. Review and Retrospective should be the last thing that happens in a Sprint. They should encapsulate Inspection and Adaptation of 100% of the Production Episode. If you hold Review and Retro early, you have cut your time to produce value before these Events. These are the two most important Events in Scrum. It’s no secret that people tend to “zone out” on Friday afternoon, or they are impatient to start the weekend, leave work early, get a jump on that traffic on the way to the lake. The last possible moment of the Sprint would be the end of the day, on the last day. If you make that a Friday, good luck getting anyone to think about “Inspect and Adapt” with enthusiasm while they are groaning and watching the parking lot dwindle.

14. Releases to PROD often happen coincident with Sprint closing. This leads to bugs that show up on Friday and cause a panic fixing them last minute, or troubleshooting on the weekend. Or, people miss Review or Retro because they are troubleshooting just-released code. While there are plenty of technical tactics to avoid this, we’ll leave that for another time. One thing you can do to prevent this is mid-week Sprint change. If you push everything to PROD with a prayer and voodoo dance around the server, you’ve got 2-3 regular work days to catch something, and you’ll be in a better mind to deal with it than sweating while your spouse is waiting in the driveway with the beach trip luggage and kids slathered in sunscreen.

15. A mid-week change gives a full, uninterrupted week during the Production Episode to focus. Hopefully your team understands and makes the most of the Production Episode pattern. With mid-week Sprint change, the entire (assuming a two week Sprint) cycle takes place over three calendar weeks. You start on a Wednesday or Thursday, have one full, uninterrupted week in the middle, then half a week till wrapping on Tuesday or Wednesday.

If one of your team’s goals is to reduce meeting fatigue, find enough time to focus on work with some momentum, and hide from customers and the Product Owner (I kid, I kid). You’ve never known peace like a Production Episode with a whole blissfully uninterrupted week in the middle of it. Also, remember that stuff at the top about actually having a FOUR HOUR SPRINT PLANNING!? Guess what, holding all the Events for their recommended duration goes a long way towards putting out the little “meeting fires” that pop up when the team discovers unanswered questions during the middle of the Sprint. You have time in the Retrospective to ask questions like, “Why do we keep having ad hoc meetings? Why can’t I concentrate on something for more than 30 minutes between meetings? I want to mob with Judy and Tom, why can’t we find even an hour that overlaps!?”

16. The 2-3 days at closing, and 2-3 days after planning feel like “mini-sprints” and help focus on the most important things that need to happen “right now”. Let’s use the example of closing Sprint 1 on Tuesday and starting Sprint 2 on Wednesday. Wed, Thurs, Fri feel like a little 3 day Sprint. You’re invigorated from Sprint Planning, and you’re full of fresh ideas for some new experiments. If this was Monday, there is a psychological temptation to think, “I’ve got all week”. And by the end of a typical Monday, everyone else’s chaos has ground the oomph out of you.

Similarly, returning from a weekend with 2-3 days remaining till Sprint close, you have a little pretend pressure and a smaller timebox to think, “OK, what do we need to wrap everything up and land the remaining planes in the air?”

17. With mid-week Sprint change, even a two week cadence takes place over three calendar weeks. It feels like you have more time than you do.

18. Spanning three calendar weeks means you get two weekends to think things over. You may have a brilliant “shower thought” during both of those weekends.

19. It also means you get two full weekends per Sprint to completely rest your mind, and recharge yourself. A normal two week Sprint cadence gives you Friday closing while you’re thinking about the weekend, and Monday planning while you’re still trying to get “in the zone”; and one weekend break in the middle.

20. While everyone else has the mid-week doldrums, you will come out of Sprint Review and Sprint Planning invigorated right in the middle. I’ve seen downstream internal customers that were ecstatic coming out of the Sprint Review event. They were positively giddy and looked forward to opening their Christmas presents in the middle of the week. It lightened their mood and gave them a few following business days to think of new ideas, changes, or additional details based on what they had just seen. This captures psychological momentum. Hold Review on a Friday afternoon and you’re likely a customer overlooks a bug or style problem while they’re watching the traffic out the window. Any chance of continuing their fresh product thoughts while still excited is flushed down the drain once Friday is officially in the books.

What did I leave out? Can you think of other reasons to emphasize the importance of Event scheduling, timeboxing, and mid-week Sprint change?

Published by theAgileCouch

A place to relax and unwind with some Agile Coaching thoughts.

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2 Comments

  1. My first team was blissful engaged, colocated, small, and in a physically isolated office. The team started with Wednesday Sprint transition, but decided to try Fridays. It created a magical transition into team social time intermixed with casual safe retro time that often extended into the evening because people wanted to be together and knew as soon as they left that there was no work to worry about over the weekend.

    I’ve been chasing that feeling for the rest of my career.

    You’ve convinced me to stop.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha. That sounds very interesting. And it sounds like that worked for that team. If everyone is willing, and they feel it is pursuing valuable work, that might be an experiment worth trying.

      Like

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