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What’s up with One-Week Sprints?

One of the principles of the agile manifesto says, “Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale”[1] and the Scrum guide tells us, “The heart of Scrum is a Sprint, a time-box of one month or less during which a ‘Done’, usable, and potentially releasable product Increment is created[2].

So you can imagine my surprise when one of the selected topics at an amazing, open-space Agile Coach camp I attended, was covering the benefits of one-week sprints. Um . . . Excuse me?

Let me be clear, I’m not an Agile purist and I consider myself a practical and sensible Agilist. However, I will admit to being skeptical and downright judgmental at the thought of one-week sprints. Fortunately, after chastising myself for having a closed-mind, I attended the session.

The Benefits of 1 Week Sprints

The team that experienced success with one-week sprints said that this timebox forced them to have smaller stories. They used the INVEST model as a part of their Definition of Ready for their stories. The “S” in INVEST stands for stories that are small enough to be completed in one sprint.

The team also shared that a one-week sprint allowed them to get feedback from their stakeholders sooner and, in most cases, contained risks within a one week period. Another benefit for this team was that by ending their sprint each week, they had retrospectives more frequently and could work on continuous improvement items more consistently.

Here are my take-aways:

Before attending this session, I don’t think I would have ever even considered a 1-week sprint. From my years of being an Enterprise Agile Coach and working with a variety of teams, I’ve learned that there is a proper caring and feeding that must happen in order to create empowered, motivated teams that deliver consistently. However, after listening and learning more about it, I think there could be a time and a place to use 1-week sprints.

I believe that a more responsible application of a one-week sprint would be to have it as another arrow in your agile coaching quiver. What I mean by that is the use of one-week sprints should be an option only after careful consideration and under the right circumstances. A lot would depend on where a team is on their agile journey.

Below are 2 situations where a one-week sprint might work:

1. If I were coaching a scrum team that I considered to be in Shu from the Shu Ha Ri stages of learning, my initial goal would be to establish a solid agile foundation for the scrum team. In Shu, I would teach them principles of both the agile manifesto and the scrum guide which include a recommended sprint duration. Once the team transitioned into Ha or Ri, I would move away from teaching and more toward coaching and mentoring. My advice to them would be that once the principles were mastered and the team decided to “bend the rules” It would be imperative to notify the other teams in their ecosystem as well as their stakeholders. The team moving to a one-week sprint would need to ensure that this decision to change their time-box would not negatively impact another team. They would also have to be willing to inspect and adapt. If the scrum team did not see expected results, they must be flexible enough to make necessary changes. Lastly, the team would still be held accountable for meeting their strategic goals and business outcomes.

2. One other scenario where I can see using a one-week sprint would be if I were working with a scrum team that was dealing with some severe challenges and needed some quick wins before they could normalize and take things at a more sustainable pace.

Now, although I was open to learning about the success of one-week sprints, I don’t consider a one-week time-box to be the silver bullet for faster delivery, nor do I think that it should be the first option for a brand-new team that is new to Agile. Ultimately, I think that the decision to change a sprint cadence should not be taken lightly. The team should take the time to examine the end-to-end impact. Scrum teams should experiment with 1-week sprints only when the team(s) can do the following:

• Firmly understand Agile principles

• Apply Agile principles effectively

• Exercise keen awareness of team morale

• Navigate through the lessons learned

• Consistently track their business objectives

At ezTagile, we are committed to providing Tailored agile solutions for our customers. So, although one-week sprints most likely would not be our initial recommendation, we would be open to considering it if the circumstances were right for our customers. Basically, 1 week sprints are now an arrow in our “agile” quiver.

What are your thoughts? Do you think 1-week sprints work?

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