Forming a new scrum team, you might be tempted to do a trial run to organize your team and signal stakeholders not to expect results immediately. This is sometimes referred to as sprint zero.
While it's tempting to use sprint zero during team forming, it's more likely for your team to reach a high level of performance if the team embraces the values and principles of scrum from day one. This article examines three reasons to avoid sprint zero, and what you can do, instead, to set your new scrum team up for success.
Sprint zero conflicts with the empirical learning
The foundation of scrum is empiricism which posits that knowledge is gained through experience and you can only make decisions based on what is known. Learning by experience means teams can learn more and immediately start improving.
Sprint zero can enforce false beliefs that the team has no potentially releasable increment to inspect at the end of the sprint. In this way, teams don't confront the real challenges they face in a sprint, which can make it seem like there is transparency, when there truly isn't.
To be up and running with scrum quickly, teams should be doing work to figure out what needs to be done to deliver value from the start. This also helps uncover complications and risks earlier, which can be tackled sooner and for less money.
Sprint zero conflicts with the need to deliver a working product increment every sprint
If the team performs all the accountabilities scrum entails, attends the events, upholds the artifacts and rules, yet doesn't deliver a working increment at the end of the sprint, they aren't truly doing scrum.
It is okay to try and subsequently fail in this, but it contradicts scrum to purposefully set a goal that will not deliver a potentially shippable increment each sprint from the outset.
A sprint where you do not deliver anything that works is not scrum done correctly. This anti-pattern can lead the team down wrong roads like hardening sprints and abusing spikes to enable a mini-waterfall process.
Sprint zero conflicts with the scrum values of focus, commitment, and courage
New scrum teams should focus early on scrum values, one of which is having the courage to work on complex or unknown problems. The first sprint will be hard, but by creating an environment where it is safe to fail, the team will start with a higher standard by making failure—and therefore learning—expected and embraced.
The value of commitment ensures that the team is committed to the team's goals and product. In sprint zero, with no expectation or deliverable goal, team members could start off feeling less committed to the team and its success.
Start sprinting quickly
So, now that we’ve covered why not to use sprint zero, let’s look at four ways your new scrum team can succeed from the start.
Start with a valuable goal
Start the first sprint with a goal that motivates the team to get excited for the sprint, is reasonable to complete within the time-box, and is undeniably valuable. The team should establish this goal collaboratively to ensure that there is flexibility in the "how" to deliver the goal.
In a team's first sprint planning event, they focus on crafting the sprint goal collaboratively as a team, which will lead the team to uncover what of value they could potentially deliver in a working product increment at the end of the sprint. Ensuring that the team starts with collaborative sprint goals helps harvest the openness and courage required from all members of the team.
Unite against the unknown
Encourage team members to pair with each other to quickly uncover new information as they go along rather than stress about the unknown upfront. Ensure that stakeholder expectations for sprint one are reasonable and give your team permission to fail.
The sooner teams try to deliver a shippable product increment, the quicker they unearth real impediments. Planning is not a substitute for scrums' pillars of investigating and adapting based on our experience.
Expect to fail—and learn
Teams should focus on their first sprint with the expectation that it is ok to fail. Anyone expecting the first sprint to be smooth and immensely valuable will often be let down. It’s essential to foster an environment where the team has permission to fail. Managing your stakeholders' (and teams) expectations at the start is crucial to forming a strong scrum team.
Start before your backlog is fully formed
A common misconception is that the product and sprint backlogs must be fully formed and refined when teams begin their first sprint. As long as a team collectively aligns on a sprint goal and has a product backlog item or two, it encourages autonomy for the team to learn new things as they progress in the first sprint and update the backlog along the way. While there is a greater threat of failure, you have managed the expectations that failure with learning is acceptable.
To succeed with a new scrum team, the first sprint is critical for setting the tone of latter sprints. Let the team discover and embrace the scrum values quickly by avoiding sprint zero. The first sprint can be the most difficult, which can often generate the most learning. Allow the team to show courage and aim for a meaningful sprint goal right out of the gate. Embrace that knowledge is gained heuristically and embolden the team to dig in, get their hands dirty and deliver a valuable increment by the end of the first sprint.