How do I End My Sprints Well?

Posted 12/17/2015 8:40 AM by Jeff Julian

Ending a Sprint is like running a mile.  It takes practice, you need training, and over time you can do it with ease.

But, you have to run your first mile and it will probably not go as well as you thought it would. At this point, most people throw up their hands and say this practice isn’t for us.

“We are different.” or “It didn’t work for us!”  These are the two most prominent statements I hear when talking with teams who have tried Agile Marketing, and usually their point of failure is here, the end of the Sprint.

Diagnosis of Failure

Not everyone gives up on the process but just like it is easier to sit on a couch instead of running the mile, some tap out and blame the process.  However, you can be different.

There is hope for the young Agile Team.  Here are a few areas of failure that cause a Sprint to end badly and ways you can get through them:

  • Estimates were incorrect – Since we introduce many new activities to the marketing team, they can be overwhelmed with the attempt to put it all together before they are decent at it.  When you find that your estimates are incorrect, take some time between the end of the current Sprint and the next one to create tasks for the different types of content you create and talk about the time it will take you to develop them.  Then sum these estimates up. 

Next look at your day, how productive or focused are you when it comes to content development?  If you are not as efficient as you thought, lower the efficiency factor for the team or the time you allocate to the Sprint for each resource. 

With the sum of the tasks, apply the reverse calculation by adding the efficiency factor to the number and then round up to the nearest value in our estimating sequence. 

  • Assembly line problems – Our writer didn’t have anything to do because our graphics designer was waiting for our video team to get their work done and they are working on another task on another Content Item.  When the factory is halted due to the team’s inability to take on different types of tasks we run into issues near the end of the Sprint.  If heaven and earth just can’t be moved enough to get the work done, you will deal with a failed Sprint.  Take this opportunity to consider an alternative content type for delivering your value or the ratio of the content type that blocks you and other varieties you have in your backlog that do not.  If the content type that causes you the pain is imperative, consider training opportunities, hiring, or outsourcing to get you what you need to give the audience what they need.
  • Sick days, team members leaving, and the Royals winning the World Series – These are all examples of unplanned events that cause our Sprints to fail that had nothing to do with estimates, commitment, or proper planning.  Your team had every intention to make good on their promises but events that occurred caused a delay.

After the World Series, since most people in Kansas City have not experienced a championship like this before, we didn’t know what to expect.  Once we figured it out, nearly every business closed for the day and 800,000 people went downtown to celebrate the win. 

So instead of breaking the sustainable pace of these events, consider adding the time lost to the end of the Sprint and moving the schedule a bit.  Reschedule the meetings and update your software.  The by-the-book Agile coaches will probably tar and feather me for saying so, but this is real life.  You can’t just run faster for a few minutes, doing so will steal energy you need to finish. Sometimes you have to stop during a race to tie your shoe.

  • Lack of integrity by the team – Ouch, harsh right?  I chose the word integrity because a commitment was made and when we fail our Sprints due to a lack of follow through.  If your team doesn’t rally to complete the work they promised and there were no factors out of our control to do so, you have a trust issue that is forming between you, the company, and the team. 

If you are new at this, and a brisk walk is all you can handle for your sustainable pace, then you plan appropriately.  If you just don’t feel like it or lose focus, after you planned on a moderate jog, then that is on you. 

Get your team some dinner and make the appropriate plans for people to work late or on a Saturday to get the work done.  A lesson needs to be taught and our integrity concerns need to be addressed.  No one will be harmed by a little extra time to make it right. 

Enough of that failure talk, let’s get back to talking about ending a Sprint well.

Review Your Definition of Done

As you start to see all the tasks associated with a Content Item make their way across the board, a smile forms.  That is a good feeling and I still get it to this day.  I also created tasks on paper for unplanned work after it is complete just to put it in the Completed section.  I love my gold stars.

However, our work is not done just because there are no cards left.  We still need to inspect the content to make sure it is ready to ship. There is nothing worse than getting home with your fast food indulgence just to find someone forgot your taco or order of fries. Same went for your consumer of content when you forgot several areas of the demonstration of value and the piece is just meh.

So to combat this, add some quality assurance to your process before the review to catch yourself.  Here are some of the areas I review:

  • Review your How to Demonstrate Value criteria – Did you actually demonstrate the value you outlined for the Content Item?  This one usually gets me.  Before when I am full of energy, I list the ways I want to show value in a blog post or a video.  Once I get into the work, I start to get complacent and my internal monolog starts the frivolous complaints.  “Are we there yet?” starts ringing in my head and I just want it to end.  This is good enough, right?  It could be, but make sure of that by reviewing your item with someone else and ask yourself the question, does the content really need the piece of value?
  • Expected quality for a content type – Does your content match the quality standards or expectations you have set for your audience?  These standards like word count, voice, bit rates, visual resonance, and other elements make your content memorable and are associated with you. 

Imagine if you went to McDonalds and the burger your received actually looked like the picture on the menu.  Would you be more likely to feel satisfied after consuming it, willing to pay the higher price required to pay their staff more, and likely to commit more of your food budget to them? Maybe, I know I would. Instead, I get this smashed sandwich that even at the individual ingredient level, never had a chance to look like the picture. 

Your content is the same.  If your headline or promotions promise expected value, you need to be sure you deliver.  If you have asked for payment for your content, whether that is required data through content gating or premium access, then you need to make sure you deliver on those expectations. 

  • Compliance requirements – It is not enough for some marketers to dot their I’s and cross their T’s.  Some people actually have to go through a legal review before their content can be published.  If you don’t have this step, count your blessings.  This process can take days, sometimes weeks to get content reviewed.  Do yourself a favor and learn all about the compliance requirements for your organization and do a first examination of the material to expedite the process.  Saving yourself time by limiting the need to resubmit will help you gain momentum and allow for more content relevance and timeliness.
  • Target persona or subject-matter expert review – If you are creating a big piece of content, don’t just take your team’s word for it on whether it is good, discuss it with a member of your audience.  Ask for honest feedback and provide some form of value in return for their assessment.  Try giving them a $10 Starbucks card for their honest feedback.
  • Publishing to a staging or authoring environment – Content looks different when it is in Word versus when it is in your Content Management System or in print.  Before you push it to production, make sure you look at it in a staging environment.  Does the photo go with the content?  Did the title capture your eye?  Was it too long?  (I tend to ignore the last one far too often. I promise to get better.)

What to do with Extra Time

I love a little extra time at the end of my Sprint.  Why, because we all like finishing the race when the crowd is still there.  Being able to have a moment to catch our breath and rally as a team to celebrate a win is a good thing.

However, there is a difference between a little extra time and too much time.  Extra time at the end of a Sprint can be a blessing but if there is too much time, that can have just as detrimental effect on the performance of the team as underestimating can.  If you find out you padded your time out of fear or the unknown, skip these suggestions and go right back to the Content Backlog and re-estimate those tasks that are similar to get a more accurate sizing assigned.

Here are some ideas for how to make the most out of the extra time you have:

  • Learn something new – Create a trial subscription to Lynda.com and check out some classes on Photoshop, After Effects, Premiere Pro, or any other rich media tool you can embrace.  Read a few trade magazines or a book about your industry.  I love to learn new things and learn more about the things I know.  To be able to do that as your work is a huge blessing that many people never take advantage of.
  • Teach something to the others – While you are sharpening your sword for the next battle, take a few minutes to check in with the other members of your team and see if there is anything you can share.  Show-and-tell is not just for grade school and showing off your new pet hamster, but it can be an excellent way to learn some new things.  When done through the team, there is the added benefit of seeing how it works for your particular needs.
  • Celebrate a few good wins – Has it been awhile since your team has had a real celebration?  Not the office Christmas Party or Spring Break, but a celebration of doing hard work.  If so, consider a movie, arcade, lunch, or afternoon at the park with a game of horseshoes.  Whatever you chose, make sure the company pays for the event.
  • Audit your content – Did you short cut a piece of content that you can fix and republish?  Did you publish a few articles about an event in the past that is no longer relevant?  Review your work and see if you can quickly modernize it or place it on the backlog for consideration.
  • Review the Content Backlog – Are you still in line with your persona’s goals? Have new challenges or entertainment forms come up recently you need to make consideration for?  If so, or if you just need a refresher, go through the Content Backlog as a team and come up with some new ideas you think should be on there.
  • Do an ad-hoc survey of your Personas – Take a look at your new LinkedIn connections and ask if they would be willing to answer a few questions for you on a phone call.  Record the call and have it transcribed.  Then share your answers with the team.  If you continue to do this over time, you will get a better understanding of what people are looking for.
  • Re-estimate your backlog – Are you a little better or maybe not as good as you once thought?  Did you take on some new people or lose a valuable resource?  If so, make sure you update the Content Backlog to match reality.  Open those items that have been affected by the change and make the proper adjustments.
  • Set a meeting with some business units – Are there sales people who need your content or are looking for new ways to interact with your customers and prospects?  Maybe you are getting ready to launch a new product line. While you have been producing content, things in your business have probably changed and it will be good for you to have a refresher.

Once you are finished and the Sprint Review and Retrospectives are complete, just walk into your next Sprint Planning Meeting and kick off the next time box.

Wrapping up our Series

In the next post, I talk about what to do when things go wrong in your Sprint.  Let’s face it, things happen that cause you to take pause and you need to figure out how to handle the changes in your workload. 

If this was your first article, go ahead and check out the others in the series and feel free to contact me with any questions:

  1. Put On Your Game Face - The Basics of Sprint Planning
  2. Some Assembly Required - The Tools
  3. Content Developers, Cross-Functional Teams, and Commitment
  4. Breaking Down The Tasks
  5. Go Run! Starting a Sprint
  6. This Post - Ending a Sprint
  7. What Do I Do When Things Go Wrong?!