Sprint Zero

Sprint Zero
: Set up an agile project, while contextualizing unplanned initialization overheads in agile terms.

Proverbs: The first step is always the hardest

Motivation: Agile methods typically have an operational delivery focus. They do not always address strategic or tactical matters such as the resourcing and initialization of projects. This deficit may go unnoticed by agile development teams which have a duty to deliver value as quickly as possible. As such, these teams are often tempted to start iterative and incremental development before business or other important stakeholders can engage in the value stream. When the first sprint fails to deliver business value, it is then contextualized and dismissed as “Sprint Zero”.

Structure: A team attempts to sprint. However there is no Product Backlog from which a Sprint Backlog can be drawn and completed within the associated time-box. Other significant elements of the project environment may also be missing. This first attempt at an iteration does not therefore result in a potentially releasable increment of value. Work done by the team in trying to overcome these matters is correlated to a so-called Sprint Zero. This pseudo-sprint does not necessarily match the original time-box, since the initialization work is unplanned and unsized.

Applicability: This anti-pattern is often found in organizations where product ownership is weak and/or portfolio management is poor. The assignment of teams to a project will not be synchronized with other elements of project initiation, such as the resourcing of a Product Owner, the drafting of a backlog, the availability of development or test environments, or the approval of a project vision or business case.

Consequences: A poorly controlled project may commence with an ill-defined Sprint Backlog or unforeseen dependencies, and the team will need to resolve these impediments before value can be delivered. Most or all of this work may be unforeseen and unplanned. Retroactively fitting such project initiation tasks into a time-box may create the illusion of control, but no value will have been delivered in this pseudo-Sprint and any associated metrics are likely to be deceiving. Also, the wrapping of work post-facto does not represent the genuine time-boxing of activities, and can indicate a poor grasp of agile practice by the stakeholders concerned.

: Sprint Zero is not recognized as a tenable construct in any agile methodology, although the anti-pattern is frequently encountered and is commonly assumed to be a valid practice.