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Creating new stories for unfinished work at the end of a Sprint

Last post 04:26 pm July 7, 2021 by Daniel Wilhite
3 replies
07:35 pm July 6, 2021

At the end of a Sprint, you find that some of the stories are partially “done” and not fully “done” in terms of the Acceptance Criteria.  The team decides to remove the scope that is not completed and put the remaining scope in a new story that is added to the next Sprint and then close the story in the current Sprint.  Everyone is happy! The team is happy because they got some credit for the hard-work they put in.  The management and leadership are happy because looking at the numbers it appears like the team is making good progress.  Is this a good practice?

Here are some points that I gathered from other Scrum masters that I work with on the same project.  I will summarize my thoughts at the end of this blog.  Here are the responses from the other Scrum masters (paraphrased for correctness of grammar)

  1. I have my teams just roll over unfinished work or if there is a scope change/etc. something that happens and that prevents them from completing the entire story, then we rarely but sometimes split the story by creating a new story to capture the change/unfinished work.  We document any changes in the old and new stories too.
  2. Just to be fair and give some credit to the engineers, at times, I would create a new story in the following sprint only if more than 89% of the work is done and only 20% is left – like maybe review and pushing it to production.  But I do want to point out that it is not a preferred practice; but an odd ball here and there is okay  -- this is where the Scrum Master makes a judgement call, whether the team is misusing this or being respectful and learning from this.   Sometimes there are some unforeseen circumstances (not the engineer’s fault or lack of responsibility) due to which part of a story does not get completed.  If this becomes a regular practice, I would definitely stay away from giving partial credit.  I have always believed in adopting any practice that makes your team efficient and happy while staying within Agile boundaries.
  3. While I agree with your question (paraphrased – “should we let stories be rolled over or split them?”) and thought process, here’s how I am thinking.
    1. People over process
    2. Do whatever it takes to get the work done
    3. Build consensus and make decisions quickly
    4. Key – as Agile Delivery Leads, we keep the lessons learned on “top of mind”

Here are my thoughts on this topic:

  1. It is not a good practice to split stories simply because some of the work was not completed and then carry over the work that is not completed to the next Sprint in a new Story.
  2. Splitting stories because the work is not completed defeats the purpose of a Sprint.  The team needs to make every effort to completed the story in the Sprint and I have noticed that 80% of the work is frequently done in the last few days of the Sprint.  If the team realizes that there is no real consequence for not completing the work on a Sprint boundary, it is unlikely that the team will make this extra effort to complete the work.
  3. The other problem with splitting the work that is not completed into a new story is that people may not plan accurately.  They will overload the Sprint and then simply split the stories and carry over the work that is not done into new stories for the next Sprint.  This seems like a convenient back door solution for bad planning
  4. I do agree that if there is scope creep into a story, then the new scope that has been added may be moved into another story and the new story moved to the next Sprint. Scope creeping into an existing story is in itself a bad practice.  If we have addition scope due to changes that come from Business, then we can always create a new story to address that additional scope.
  5. Oftentimes, the team wants to get partial credit for the work that they have done.  From my point of view there is no such thing as partial credit.  We should also keep in mind that all credit goes to the team and not to the person that is working on a story.  Also, the only time the points or credit in a story are relevant is when we are measuring velocity of a Sprint.  The velocity of a Sprint is a moving average of at least 3 Sprints and hence it doesn’t matter if the points in a story were not counted in the current Sprint.

11:17 pm July 6, 2021

What is driving the team to want to receive "partial credit" for some work? The approach that you describe seems like it's hiding problems with how the team estimates and plans work. Rather than making the fact that work remains undone visible and letting the team (and the organization) find ways to make plans that are more realistic and achievable, the over-eager plans are hidden from view. However, I'd also add that it's better to track "successful" Sprints against completing the Sprint Goal rather than completing all of the work in the Sprint Backlog.

05:52 am July 7, 2021

The management and leadership are happy because looking at the numbers it appears like the team is making good progress. 

What about value?

04:26 pm July 7, 2021

You make some good points and I have seen some of the bad practices you mention take place.  But you don't bring out anything to show that the team is actually doing any inspection and adaption.  You seem to be establishing a common practice.  Your statement of 

 If the team realizes that there is no real consequence for not completing the work on a Sprint boundary, it is unlikely that the team will make this extra effort to complete the work.

does little to indicate that anything is being done to determine the reason for the un-finished work and that the team is not doing anything to assess it.  The key to improving this is not to create a rule for how to handle the situation but to learn from each occurrence so that that knowledge can be applied to prevent the situation. And if by "consequences" you mean some type of punishment, I think you are missing the point.  The team has to want to improve and be allowed the autonomy to do so.  But if 

The management and leadership are happy because looking at the numbers it appears like the team is making good progress. 

they are not helping.  Especially if the numbers that are being viewed are story points.  Story points are only useful for a team to estimate effort based upon the information known at the time the estimation is done relative to other work that has been estimated.  Once work begins, those numbers no longer matter because you are gaining new information. 

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