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Sprint Themes- Injecting “Fun” into your Agile Teams

By Craig Atkinson posted Tue April 13, 2021 12:00 AM



                  This is the first 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, provides 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 a technique to try with your Agile teams, particularly ones who are struggling with low sentiment, to give your teams a boost of fun, while providing a measure of focus within a sprint.

What is a Sprint Theme?

                   A sprint theme is a topic the team would decide on together and embrace for the entire timeframe of the project, which in Agile, is the reason the team was assembled.  It is iterated upon in each sprint as the project progresses. Sprint themes can also be begun in the middle of a project, as an experiment to try if the team is suffering from consistent low sentiment.

                  At the beginning of a project, the team should do some sort of ice breaker, especially if the team has not worked together before. Based on the commonalities, sprint themes could surface. For example, if everyone is a fan of bands from the 1980’s, that could be a sprint theme.

How does a sprint theme work?

                  At the beginning of a sprint, the team would vote or discuss from a list of options what, in the case of our example, different 80’s bands they like or dislike. Debates could and should occur, this can promote radical candor and build trust within the group. Once a sprint theme has been decided, it comes a part of the sprint. It is placed on the wall of work, it becomes part of the standup, it is discussed as a part of the retrospective. As the project progress into multiple sprints, in the case of our example, a different 80’s band would be chosen for each sprint. Ex. Sprint A= “A=Ha”, Sprint B= “Van Halen”. The teams I work with use Trello to display their Wall of Work, the sprint theme becomes the title of the sprint and the background of the Trello board. Perhaps the sprint theme becomes an icebreaker, at the beginning of standups, or makes an appearance when displaying final metrics at the end of a sprint.

Why do sprint themes work?

                  Sprint themes work because they bring the team together under a single theme outside of the deliverables of the overall project. If used effectively, they increase sentiment within the team, which leads to increased collaboration, trust and radical candor, which can in turn lead to increased efficiency and output. In addition, as a project progresses, it is easier to recall what was accomplished by the team during a particular sprint. Ex. I completed that in the “Van Halen” sprint! Personally, I have found sprint themes to be an excellent tool to help teams become more effective, while injecting some fun into the process.

What is your experience been with themed sprints? Please comment below! I would love to hear about the sprint themes that have been successful or about ones you would like to try!

Have ideas for future blogs? Please comment below and send along any ideas and feedback.