To Sprint Zero or Not

 Recently I have been seeing posts on a few forums about the concept of using a Sprint zero in Scrum or stabilizaiton sprints.  Too often, the response from the mighty CSTs on high is “that’s not Scrum”  This response makes me think of one of my favorite lines from the 1983 film Trading Places with Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte.

“Religion is a fine thing… When taken in moderation”

This includes Scrum. Who cares if having a Sprint zero or a hardening Sprint is or isn’t in the gospel of Scrum, if doing a Sprint zero works and you get predictable delivery in terms of timeliness and quality, that is what is important. Having a Sprint zero is only compensating for the level of maturity of your Product Management group in its ability to deliver requirements to a iterative, incremental executing development team. You have to deal with where you are today and not hope for people to change overnight. I work with teams that execute the lean concept of “continuous flow” and it was not easy for their product management to change over to filling a work queue JIT.  There were some intermediary steps 🙂

We should be striving for outcomes, not following religion. I treat Scrum as one more tool on my Agile / Lean tool belt. Scrum like all other things that survive needs to adapt and evolve. Context is the master of application when it comes to process. Luckily you do see a recognition of this by some in the community.  Perhaps the best example is the infusion of Lean thinking  and concepts from Kanban making their way into practioner’s tool belts.

An essential quality of your team and your coaches is that they THINK and not follow an industrial recipe. Don’t get me wrong, I think Scrum does a good job scipting the basics for a significant change. Scripting the basics, IMO, can be very important for executing a significant change in an organization where there is no discipline around the fundamenal process, skill and role changes.

That said, if a team comes to the point of planning a Sprint and the PO is not quite ready, what do you do… Throw a tantrum and say “you’re not following Scrum” and refuse to move forward until they do, or, do you gain an understanding why, educate, re-plan and execute the adapted plan… As an Agile / Lean Coach, I and in my experience, C-Level folk, prefer the latter.


About Mike DePaoli

Mike DePaoli has been contributing to the IT community for over two decades and practicing agile and lean approaches to software development since 1996 in roles from programmer to CTO. His evolved approach to crafting successful lean-agile software development organizations was forged by the meaningful challenges he undertook at prior employers and as an Agile Coach at companies such as eBay, Adobe Systems, AOL, NetApp, Disney, Boeing, EMC, and Trizetto. Mike’s area of expertise is helping organizations craft strategic change initiatives that educate on and establish agile and lean values, principles and practices at every tier of the organization. Mike applies systematic thinking with a multi-discipline approach to his work. Mike is a Certified SAFe Agilist, Certified Scrum Professional, Certified Scrum Master (CSM) and Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO). He is a highly-regarded speaker in the Agile community having spoken at Agile conferences in North America, South America and Europe. He is currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

3 Responses to “To Sprint Zero or Not”

  1. Hi,

    Doesn’t Scrum (or lead advocates?) talk about a ‘project before the project’ where the necessary items are put in place e.g. DEEP backlog etc… This relates in my mind to the RUP Inception phase when scope is set and a Vision is developed. Does this relate to your sprint 0 (although this can be longer than a typical sprint).

    This isn’t in the Scrum framework in my understanding (so you might say it’s not Scrum) but that doesn’t mean it’s not needed to get a fully working process from the framework.

    • Hi Arran,

      Thanks for the comment. Yes, some advocates do talk about the project before the project. That was what I was referring to in my comment that to survive Scrum needs to adapt and that some in the community recognize that fact. I agree with your observation that Sprint 0 concept is like the Elaboration phase of RUP or the verson Scott Ambler created later AUP (Agile Unified Process). I have a client that practices all the elements of Scrum and added the other phases of AUP around it. They have much more of a ‘Kaizen’ approach to the improvement of their practices.

      Scrum never did a good job explaining how requirements were gathered, prioritized and managed by the Product Owner… It was more focused on the fact that there was a product backlog and how you dealt with it from there. To your point about it not being Scrum, agreed, but having some CST have that be their primary answer when folks are seeking help is where I say ‘who cares’ if it’s Scrum or not. If what you’re doing is delivering predicability for you in terms of time and quality, that is what matters, not rigorously following a process.

      • Right I agree; I have many articles on my blog about this.

        Scrum seems myopically focused on crunching through the backlog and little thought is given to anything else. It is radically different than it’s Japanese roots in that respect as the projects covered by Nonaka had no backlog because they had no concept even when they started


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Lean-Agile Leadership - Exploring the Creation of Fertile Environments and Culture for Lean-Agile Software Development


Lean-Agile Leadership - Exploring the Creation of Fertile Environments and Culture for Lean-Agile Software Development

The Agile Horizon

Lean-Agile Leadership - Exploring the Creation of Fertile Environments and Culture for Lean-Agile Software Development

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