This is the second in a series of blogs that focus on Agile teams. The hope is to share information and practices in an effort to make Agile teaming more efficient and productive, while injecting some positive sentiment and fun into the teams at the same time.
My background within Tech is that of a ScrumMaster, Agile Focal, Agile Coach and a Project Manager. A few years ago, I completed a career pivot, providing me with a unique perspective. I am a former school Principal and have a wealth of experience leading teams in an alternative industry. I have been able to bring leadership and teaming techniques from the world of Education and merge them with traditional Tech industry Agile, leading to interesting and successful results.
The focus of this blog is; “Themed Sprints”. This is a concept to try with your Agile teams, particularly ones who have specific outcomes or KPI’s they are trying to achieve. This can be especially effective if a team is operating within a short timeframe or are behind schedule in delivering an outcome or deliverable.
What is a Themed Sprint?
A themed sprint is a sprint in which the entire team is working towards one particular outcome. This outcome could be a specific output (ex. a feature, a campaign, etc.) that is tangible, or the outcome could be more strategic, laying the groundwork towards a future Goal or OKR (ex. creating dashboards, solving an internal problem). The goal is to have the team spend the vast majority of their velocity on work that supports the themed sprint, ideally more than 80%. Themed sprints force the team to be extremely focused, while promoting cross teaming, and cross learning.
How does a Themed Sprint work?
Themed sprints require both pre-planning and follow up. The pre-planning work could consist of an investigation of issue, an analysis of progress towards an OKR, or scoping a potential feature. Identification of dependencies and potential blockers are resolved before a themed sprint can start. Buy-in from upper management is key to a themed sprint’s success. Injects must be kept to near zero in order to keep the 80% velocity target. Prioritization is important as well, BAU work can still occur during a themed sprint, but secondary projects will not be worked on as the team’s focus is on one outcome. The last portion of the pre-planning is backlog refinement. Having the right prioritized work in the backlog that addresses the problem with some experimental solutions is key to a themed sprint’s success.
Once the pre-planning work has been completed, the team is ready to begin planning the sprint and start executing. The Product Owner plays a key role in sprint planning, helping to create acceptance criteria for the work. In a themed sprint, the threshold for acceptance should be high. The showcase at the end of the sprint is a particularly important ceremony in a themed sprint, as it should show progress towards the ultimate deliverable or ideally show the final product that solved the central problem to the stakeholders.
A themed sprint is not complete at the showcase, results need to be analyzed, operationalized or continued. Some velocity may have to be saved in the next sprint to complete the analysis.
Why do Themed Sprints work?
Themed sprints work because it increases the engagement of the team, as the entire team “rallies” around one cause or outcome. Typically output and velocity increase during a themed sprint, since the team is focused and outcome driven. In my experience, a themed sprint usually has high sentiment when discussed in the retrospective.
A themed sprint is Agile in its most raw sense, a group of cross functional individuals coming together to solve a problem within a “timeboxed” period. They can be highly effective but challenging to plan. A themed sprint should be used with intermediate or advance Agile teams only. A beginner Agile team or a dysfunctional team will find this process difficult due to the nature of the work and the superior communication, prioritization and execution skills needed.
What has your experience been with themed sprints? Please comment below! I would love to hear success stories!
Have suggestions for future blogs? Please comment below and send along any ideas and feedback.