As we get closer to the holiday season, external factors threaten to disrupt the sprint rhythm. People go on vacation, sprint meetings fall on or between the holidays, and company events pull the team away from project commitments. At the same time, the pressure rises to get affairs wrapped up by the end of the year. It’s time to get that release out, time to close that deal, time to define the next version.
Here are a couple of tips to help you get the through the holiday season with a minimum of additional (job) stress.
Where I live, many companies shut down production during the holidays, and that might be an option for your team. Particularly if the product owner is not available, it is not possible to hold the sprint planning or review meetings.
There is a certain fairness to this approach. People need down time, and so does the Scrum Master, perhaps more than anyone else on the team. So if the product owner is going to spend two weeks on the ski slopes, why should you and the team do otherwise?
This approach is not without some drawbacks. It may be difficult to schedule the sprint review on the last day before the holidays, so you may have be some unstructured time or a sprint with a hole in it.
Obviously, there are contexts in which the end of the year is release time. I have met organizations which like to upgrade their IT infrastructure between Christmas and New Years, when most of the staff is on vacation, but that is a special case…
My first Scrum team had a 3 week sprint rhythm. This put our sprint review right between Christmas and New Years. Neither the Product Owner nor half the team members were available at that time. So we simply extended the sprint by a week, until after the year end holidays were finished. It turned out that after adjusting for vacations, the total capacity was about the same as a normal three week sprint. (Use this with caution, however. Breaking the rhythm is a challenge for everyone.)
The same team was under pressure to get a release out before the end of the year? But when? The day before everyone goes off duty for 4 or 5 days or longer? In our case, that was the wrong answer, because of the support issues involved.
If you have high confidence in your test driven development, continuous integration and automated release process, then you can probably push a button to automatically install. Everyone will be happy, so you probably don’t have to worry about this.
But if your users include the general public and user support after deployment is an issue, then you probably want to release safely before (or after) the holidays. On call support during the holidays can be expensive and slow, compared to support during the course of normal development.
Even if you extend the sprint so that the number of working days is the same, your team will be less productive. Some of this is related to the distractions of the holiday season, both this is mostly due to the inefficiencies of not having the team together. Critical capacity (most especially the product owner) is not there, the team members cannot help each other with problems, and it always takes time to get back in the flow after an absence. It’s normal, don’t worry about it. Velocity is an average measurement, not an instantaneous one.
If your team is under a bit less pressure, now is the time to invest in better practices and raise the quality of your product. Improve your test coverage, experiment with Test Driven Development, automate your build process, or try out something else from the XP cookbook to improve your team’s capabilities.
A good place to start is a retrospective. Over the last 6 months, what has your team done well? Where does it need improvement? What is the biggest strength it can build on? Pick a topic and work it through during vacation period, so that when the New Year starts, you can actually apply these techniques to have a positive impact on your velocity and quality.
The holidays are anything but normal, but with a little forethought, you and your Product Owner can keep the team intelligently occupied and contribute effectively to the development of the product, even during the holiday season.