Under what circumstances would a Scrum Master advise a Product Owner to cancel a Sprint?

Cancelling a Sprint: Is it even a thing?

I know there can be quite a bit of confusion when it comes to the idea of cancelling a sprint in the Scrum world. In fact, I often get asked if a sprint should even be cancelled. 🚫

Let’s assume that cancelling a sprint is a viable option within a team. Then, from a Scrum Master’s perspective, the questions arise which are when, why and how to cancel a sprint? πŸ€”

Let’s unpack this problematic scenario and take a closer look at all the considerations that must be taken into account when considering cancelling a sprint.

Why Cancel a Sprint?

A Scrum Team in planning have chosen a bunch of specific tasks to be completed, right?

As a team, they sat down after much meticulous planning and then asked the critical question – ‘Why does this matter?’

As a Scrum Master, to my mind, there’s only one reason why a sprint can be considered to be cancelled: sprint goals obsolescence. πŸ’‘

So, what happens next? πŸ€”

With my many years of experience in the Agiel world, I can state that the one and only primary reason to cancel a sprint is when the sprint goal is no longer valid.

Scrum Master’s Role

The role of a Scrum Master is not a decisive one. It is advisory. πŸ—£οΈ

As the Scrum Master, I am only one voice.Β  The product owner has the decision-making role. Β So, whether to cancel a sprint or not isn’t really my decision.

I can advise. It’s not about being the sole voice of reason but facilitating the team to see a potential roadblock.

The Value of Team Discussion

When I see a possible obstacle or setback, it’s not about me solely making immediate decisions or taking action.

I’m going to get the team together and have a discussion around my concerns and say, ‘This is what I’m seeing. This is my concern. Am I right? Am I wrong?

So, when I say I’m one voice, I mean that I advise the team on what I’m seeing and make my concerns known. πŸ§‘β€πŸ€β€πŸ§‘

At times, everyone might say, “John’s right. We’re chasing after something that’s no longer important.”

Other times, they might think I’ve got it all wrong.

And that’s okay.

A successful Scrum Team is all about collaborative discussions. πŸš€

Team Dynamics and Decision-making πŸ’¬

Sprint goals are deliberately flexible.

As a Scrum Master, your goal should not be ‘We will deliver these 10 items. Instead, it should be something more significant that unifies the team.

Remember, it’s not about the quantity but the cohesive purpose that aligns us. There’s a much bigger picture when it comes to sprint goals. 🎯

Consequences of Cancelling a Sprint Goal

So, now the team has made the problematic decision of cancelling a sprint goal.

What’s next?

On an operational level, we need to ask how we close out the sprint goal and get going again. Is it early in the sprint or close to the review? Don’t build stuff you know you no longer need.

And on a team level, it’s paramount to ask, what’s going to happen to the team’s morale when they realise the work they’ve been pouring hours into isn’t required anymore?

Concluding Thoughts on a Difficult Dilemma

As a Scrum Master, we aren’t the ones who cancel sprints.

If you spot an issue, we can advise, “pen up a dialogue with the whole team. Have that conversation so that everyone understands the thinking. Move forward as a team. 🌟

Our role as a Scrum Master is to shepherd, guide, and facilitate, ensuring the whole team moves in unison.

For those interested in diving deeper into the intricate aspects of Agile and Scrum, I invite you to explore my Agile and Scrum courses. πŸ“’

Drop me a message, and we can have a chat and let’s navigate the Agile world together!

author avatar
John McFadyen Managing Partner
John McFadyen is an Executive and Enterprise Agile Coach with proven experience working on some of the UK and Europe’s largest, most complex Agile Transformations. As a Certified Scrum Trainer, John brings a wealth of experience as an Agile coach, Agile practitioner and software developer into each of the four core courses he provides. The war stories, the insights into successful Agile transformations and everything he has learned from coaching high-performance Agile teams combine to provide course delegates with a unique, compelling training experience that transforms as much as it empowers.

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