Sprint Day #29 and Burndown Charts

On many of our Sprints on various Scrum projects a curious burst of productivity takes place. Without warning many tasks like the following are suddenly completed:

  • Document the migration process.
  • Fix defects.
  • Research indexed search options.

Generally most of these tasks were either not even started or had been in progress for most of the Sprint.

So on day #29 at the daily Scrum the ScrumMaster stands up and starts asking the obvious questions. So are we really going to do task X at all, and does it really impact the Sprint goal? Pretty quickly piles of stalled tasks are removed because the team thought they were important at some point, but they’re no longer relevant, or just don’t add any real value to the current Sprint. So when you print out the last burndown chart for the Sprint a steep cliff shows up at the end assuming you’re actually going to make your Sprint goal.

I’ve seen this happen on several different Scrum teams now. It does make the progress of the team a little less transparent since if you look at the remaining work or the burndown chart it often appears that the team is in danger of not making its goals in the middle of the Sprint even though they feel they’re progressing fine. Especially if you’re looking in from the outside you may wrongly assume that the Sprint is in big trouble and corrective action needs to be taken immediately to negotiate out some of the scope for the Sprint.

When I’ve played the ScrumMaster role I’ve played it by ear since with daily Scrums and gentle corrections along the way I intuitively feel like I know where the project is. I also tend to use a big cork board to track progress which gives me a good visual. In the past on more traditional waterfall projects with Gantt charts I played it by ear as well since I never felt the Gantt chart was a true measure of where the project was.

My thoughts on how to improve this is to question the various tasks more along the way and determine if they shouldn’t be pulled or considered complete earlier in the Sprint to keep the burndown chart more accurate. All it should require is some discipline. I do wonder as well if the team will still want to hold onto tasks that they think are necessary.