The creators of Scrum state that terminating a Sprint (“cancelling”) is an option for teams when the Sprint Goal is no longer valid, but they also advise us that it is rare and may be a “traumatic” for the team. I believe that there are situations when terminating a Sprint prior to completion is a good idea. Just as failed projects have a tendency to continue too long, potentially costing significant funds and resources, a failed Sprint should not be handled lightly. Let’s take a look at a few situations where you may actually benefit from cancelling the Sprint.
The important things we need to consider here are the root causes for the Sprint Goal to be irrelevant, given that this is the best reason to terminate a Sprint. Here are a few possibilities:
Reason #1 – Business requirements have changed
As the global economy continues evolve rapidly, there may be times when the market demand for the product or service that your Scrum team is building simply evaporated. If the team’s highest priorities are no longer the most important things to work on, the team can re-plan and try to pivot quickly, or terminate the Sprint.
Reason #2 – Project budget has been reduced
Projects come and go, and budgets are often cut for a variety of reasons; that’s normal these days. If the Scrum team is losing team capacity due to budget reduction, this may lead to a change in the Sprint Goal. In this case, the team may also consider a re-plan or termination of the Sprint.
What are some other factors to consider when trying to decide whether to cancel the Sprint?
The length of the Sprint, as well as the remaining time within the active Sprint are important data points to look at. If you are 1 week into a 4-week Sprint, there should be plenty of time to do a quick re-plan and keep the team moving forward towards new objectives. On the other hand, if the team has expended over 75% of the timebox for the Sprint, it may be too late to make a major shift in priorities and still produce meaningful outcome at the end of the Sprint.
Cancelling a Sprint is a decision that is tough to make, but it’s a worthy option if you encounter an unexpected situation and need to continue optimizing the investment you have already made in your team.