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Oct 02, 2017

IT Survival Guide Series: How to handle requests for new functionality at the end of a sprint

Despite everyone’s best efforts to analyze and define a sprint’s scope, requests for new functionality constantly try to creep in around the edges of your development cycle.  While most teams take new requests in stride during the early phases of a sprint, new feature proposals at the end of the sprint can challenge even the coolest tempers. Here are four easy steps to help you manage expectations and keep your sanity intact when late-cycle changes rear their ugly heads.


Product Owners can smell fear like hungry wolves on a limping caribou's trail.  When they spring a new feature ambush, your first response should be to remain calm. Hold your breath, smile, count to three, and then move on to step 2.


It’s important for your Product Owners to see you as a partner, not an adversary or obstacle.  Ask a lot of questions about their late-sprint request to reassure them that you are taking their concern seriously and understand its importance.  Your curiosity lets them know you mean business and plan to help them resolve their concerns.

Asking questions also allows you to control the conversation.  Your questions will help you understand the request and, more importantly, the concerns driving the pointy end of the feature change at your team.  This step gets you the details you need to determine the best way to resolve these concerns.  It will also make sure you end up with concrete requirements, and not nebulous user stories that do more harm than good.  After you’ve exhausted your questions, it’s time for the third step.


Once you’re steering the conversation down the path to requirements, encourage the Product Owners to remain engaged.  Let them know you appreciate their dedication to making this sprint as productive and successful as possible.  More importantly, encourage the Product Owners to thoroughly document their new feature request so there can be no confusion about the requirements or the functionality that will be delivered to address their concerns.

Nailing this step helps the Product Owners understand just how big of a task they’re handing off to you. If it takes them a few days to document their “little request,” they may be less likely to push for its late-cycle inclusion and wisely choose to either scale it back to something more manageable or include it in a later sprint.  If they still insist you try and squeeze it into the current sprint, then it’s time to manage their expectations with the next step.


At this point in the conversation, the Product Owners should have a solid grasp of what they’re asking your team to deliver.  You’ve seen all the gory details for yourself, and now it’s time to make sure both sides are clear on when the functionality can be delivered.  Call for a quick meeting to review the current backlog, paying particular attention to any of the current Product Owners’ requests in that backlog.  This is a good time to repeat an abbreviated cycle of the previous steps. Stay calm during this discussion, ask questions to be sure the Product Owners understand where this new feature will be placed in the backlog, and encourage them that you are working with them to make this sprint successful.  Then review the backlog and the new request’s place in that backlog, one last time.

Summary:

Following these 4 steps will help you navigate any last minute request that comes flying your way. Remember- your reaction in these situations will dictate how future requests will be handled so be sure to as accommodating and understanding as you can, while ensuring the request process put in place is followed by all stakeholders. 

About the Author

Leigh Parker