Agile Area Rugs- Covering Opportunities with Longer Sprints?

Will longer agile sprints or iterations cover up opportunities to improve and cause you to view these opportunities as unsolvable problems?

scrum masters with agile area rug

The typical agile sprint size is 2 weeks. What percentage of teams use 2 weeks?  I don’t have statistics on it, but I’d guess over 90%.  I’m working on a product where we are doing 1 week sprints.  It’s a startup and things are changing a lot so 1 week works well.  I also know some teams that use 3 week sprints and it is working for them.  I’m not saying it has to be a certain number of weeks – but please don’t kid yourself with what length will actually work for you.

I’ve seen situations where people are doing 3 week sprints, but then have a 1 week “hardening” sprint.  Personally, I’m not a big fan of hardening sprints.  I can see many “logical” arguments on why people need them, but in the 3+1 week sprints – I’d say stop kidding yourself.  You have a 4 week sprint!  Maybe that is the best you can do right now and you are ACTIVELY working to eliminate the hardening sprint – but if you believe you will always need one you are likely stuck.

Richard Lawrence has a great post (from back in 2011), where he discusses “Why Longer Sprints Probably Won’t Help“.  He outlines 7 specific underlying problems. Here are a few of them:  “You struggle to split user stories”, “It takes too long to get feedback”, and “Deployment (or merging or integration or whatever) is too hard”.  I like zooming in on part of that last one.  “Whatever is too hard.

Got Agile Opportunities you need to cover up?

Got Agile Opportunities you need to cover up?

Last year, while onsite with a client, I was talking with a Scrum Master.  We got to talking about increasing the length of sprints, sprint size, and then naturally, area rugs.  Area rugs?  Yup!

Think back to when you were a kid. You spilled something on your living room carpet or damaged a wood floor.  That happen to anyone?  You try to clean it up or fix it, but are not sure how or what to do!  You think about asking for help, but then think you might get in trouble or who knows what else might happen?  Maybe you are not even at your house, perhaps it’s family friends or relatives.  You might even be embarrassed that you don’t know what to do.

What do you do?  Well, one option – and I know I’ve seen this in a movie or two, but can’t recall which one(s) – is you move some furniture over the stain or move an area rug over over it.  Maybe you move a rug that was in the room already to cover the stain.  Does that solve problem?  Is it visible?

What if in moving the rug, you see it was already covering some other stain?  Now what?  You have 2 marks on the floor and rug is too small!

Use an Agile Area Rug, a Longer Sprint, as a solution!

Use an Agile Area Rug, a Longer Sprint, as a solution!

Fast forward to today.  We run into this all the time!  We identify an issue and we are not sure how to handle it.  Do we just buy an area rug, or create a longer sprint, to cover up the opportunity?  Yes – it is an opportunity!  Covering it up treats it like a problem.  It also makes it invisible – and the chances of focusing on it are zero!

We are adults, not kids (unless you are using agile in schools which is another topic – check out John Miller, aka @agileschools).

This is not just a problem for Scrum Masters.  It affects all members of an organization and all teams… Executives, formal and informal Leaders, Agile Coaches, Product Owners,  Team Members, Business Analysts, Software Developers, QA Gurus, and __{your role here}__.

Agile does a great many things, but one of my favorite things about agile is that it exposes opportunities quickly.  Agile gives us plenty of options to improve.

What do I do with this? What do you do?  What do WE do?

Don’t cover these opportunities with a longer sprint! Focus on taking advantage of them – even if it is just a little at a time.

If you believe you need a longer sprint:

Cover up problems with agile area rugs

Don’t worry – Retrospective coming? We can cover up all the opportunities to improve!

  • Determine if this is to improve and taking advantage of an opportunity or if the goal is to avoid something.  It might be okay to avoid 1 issue to solve others that will add more value right now (but not forever).
  • Clearly identify why people (or you) want longer sprints – and let everyone know.
  • If you believe – REALLY- that you need longer sprints, be VISIBLE and VOCAL about why that is and how long you will do it!
  • Realize what OTHER opportunities might get missed with a longer sprint and plan retrospectives mid-sprint if your sprints are longer – you do not want to wait 4 weeks to have a retro!
  • I like to ask, “What if an extra week does not cover the “problem?”  Will we add another? When would we stop?
  • Need some agile comedy? Want to have a little fun? The next time someone says they want to change the length of the sprints (say they have 2 weeks now).  Quickly respond with “I totally agree, I think going to 1 week sprints is a great idea as well!” Not sure where I heard that the first time, might have been Brad Swanson.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one and what you have experienced.  Agree or disagree – it’s all good (as long as you leave a comment!)


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Jake Calabrese

Jake Calabrese is a coach, trainer, and coach-consultant working to help organizations meet the promise of agile by going beyond agile practices to address culture challenges and help teams and leaders reach and maintain high performance. He has unique expertise as an Organization & Relationship Systems Certified Coach (ORSCC), a Certified Scrum Trainer (CST), Certified Enterprise Coach (CEC), and Professional Certified Coach (PCC), and as a trainer and coach for Agile Companies (helping non-software organizations use agile). Jake created the AgileSafari cartoon series to introduce humor into the more challenging issues we have to tackle. Jake uses ideas from various areas of thinking such as: Lean, professional coaching, neuroscience, psychology, facilitation, brain-based training, improvisation, agile, kanban, and scrum. Jake regularly speaks at local and national conferences including Mile High Agile, Scrum Gathering, and Agile Alliance Agile20xx conferences.

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