How to Pick User Story in Sprint Planning if Team Member is Absent

Last post 06:05 pm May 3, 2022
by Priy Tr
11 replies
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06:58 pm May 2, 2022

Team members are partially allocated in my team, like (0.4 FTE etc.). So, there is less participation of team members  in scrum ceremonies like Sprint planning, Review and Retrospective. We are facing difficulty to get the input from people who are not able to make it in those ceremonies, like in Sprint planning, its difficult to pick the user stories, because that team member is missing in planning, similarly in Retrospective.
Can you please provide best practise and ways to handle this kind of situation? How to plan stories in to the sprint is people are not available in Sprint planning as well as in Backlog refinements. (Please suggest).

07:29 pm May 2, 2022

The best way to handle this kind of situation is to not have this kind of situation. Although there may be cases where you have highly specialized skills and it's not feasible to have people with those skills embedded on every team, the best course of action is to have the team fully-dedicated to a single team.

It's well established that multitasking has a huge impact on performance. Gerald Weinberg wrote about this in Quality Software Management: Systems Thinking. If you are working on two things, you're really working at about 40% on each of those things and 20% of your time on context switching. If you're working on three things, you're spending about 20% of your time on each project and 40% of your time context switching.

Scrum captures this line of thinking in the Scrum values of focus and commitment. The team is not fully focused on making the best possible progress toward their goals and the team is not fully committed toward their goals and supporting each other. The rest of Scrum is built around satisfying the core values, so if you can't satisfy these two, then you're going to be running into difficulties with taking full advantage of what the framework offers.

07:48 pm May 2, 2022

Thanks Thomas. I fully agree with you and what Scrum offers. But this is the current situation, and I am trying to find ways to handle this. I have already brought this to higher management to have fully dedicated team. But due to cost related issues, this situation will take time to resolve. Meanwhile, I need some guidance on how to solve this.

08:34 pm May 2, 2022

...its difficult to pick the user stories, because that team member is missing in planning, ...

Stop planning Sprints to have work items for everyone. Instead, the Developers should pick work items that enables them to satisfy the Sprint Goal. Then as individuals have time available, they select an item from the Sprint Backlog to work on, sometimes even pairing up to work on a single item.  

The Scrum framework is not based upon every team member having 8 hours a day worth of work. It is based upon delivering value consistently by accomplishing goals.  There is nothing in the Scrum Guide that states all team members have to be only on one team.  It states that the Scrum Team is cross-functional and has all of the skills needed to create value each Sprint. So as long as you satisfy those parameters, I see no problem with having people that are shared between teams.  

However, many studies on team dynamics and effectiveness have shown that having dedicated team members is best.  And that minimizing the context switching the team members have to do will result in better work.  

Can you please provide best practise and ways to handle this kind of situation?

I do not believe in "best practices".  I believe that there are just a whole lot of good ideas. 

But this is the current situation, and I am trying to find ways to handle this.

The only people that can decide on the best practice are the people that are actually involved.  We can give you opinions.  You can also form opinions.  But the team doing the work will have to decide how to handle the situations with which they are faced. There is no one person on a self-managed, self-organized team that tells everyone else how to work.

09:00 pm May 2, 2022

If you have people working on one team for 40% of their time, what are they doing with the other 60% of their time

Instead of having everyone split between two or three things, maybe taking 40-50% of the people and having them be dedicated to one thing and the other 50-60% of the people and having them be dedicated to another thing. You'd probably end up more productive and with higher quality work.

03:03 am May 3, 2022

Can you please provide best practise and ways to handle this kind of situation? 

Presumably Sprint Goal commitments must be very modest.

  • Is this lack of ambition clear to all, including stakeholders?
  • Is the value being delivered considered to be acceptable anyway?
  • Is the "situation" a result of how the team have self-organized, or has it resulted from a lack of empowerment?
10:46 am May 3, 2022

If these issues are so valueable and part of the sprint goal, add it to the sprint and start knowledge sharing by e.g. pair sessions. This is a hard lessions for the team and also for the organization spreading knowledge from a silo to the whole team. It does not mean everybody needs to know everything, but the team should be able to get PBIs done even if the knowledge master is off.

If it is not within the sprint goal, keep it outside.

01:57 pm May 3, 2022

@Daniel: Thanks for your response. I agree with ". Instead, the Developers should pick work items that enables them to satisfy the Sprint Goal. Then as individuals have time available, they select an item from the Sprint Backlog to work on, sometimes even pairing up to work on a single item." being a self -organize team, they should pick their work. Since team members are working on separate features (Sprint goal is also formulated based on the priorities of feature and vision), in that sense, it is difficult to get the commitements in sprint Goal, if the team member is not available.

We are in research, where we have team members having around 40 years of experience and it is quite difficult to have transfer of knowledge to others in order to make cross-functional team.

02:01 pm May 3, 2022

@Martin: Thanks for the suggestion, seems like we need to take hard steps.

02:11 pm May 3, 2022

@Thomas: Thanks for the response, I will try to implement the suggestion.

03:02 pm May 3, 2022

It sounds like your organization is fighting against the use of Scrum but no one wants to admit it.  The partial allocation of individuals, the management of what individuals work on, the resistance to breaking down silos are all indications that self-management and self-organization is not desired. 

Who in your organization is championing the use of the Scrum framework and do they actually understand it?  Or is this a situation where someone read an article and decided that you need to be "agile"? This could be an opportunity for you, as a Scrum Master, to work on the responsibility you have to the organization.  From the Scrum Guide:

The Scrum Master serves the organization in several ways, including:

  • Leading, training, and coaching the organization in its Scrum adoption;

  • Planning and advising Scrum implementations within the organization;

  • Helping employees and stakeholders understand and enact an empirical approach for complex work; and,

  • Removing barriers between stakeholders and Scrum Teams.

06:05 pm May 3, 2022

@Daniel, you are absolutely right on this."It sounds like your organization is fighting against the use of Scrum but no one wants to admit it.  The partial allocation of individuals, the management of what individuals work on, the resistance to breaking down silos are all indications that self-management and self-organization is not desired."

I am helping & coaching the team w.r.t agile mindset. I have already addressed & explained the same to higher management as well, but due to some financial challenges in organization, it is difficult to have fully dedicated team at this time. 

Thanks for the insight and suggestion.