Three Ways to Handle Interruptions within An Agile Sprint

emergency issues agile scrum team

In an ideal world, the agile scrum team members would be 100% focused on the tasks brought into a sprint and would examine incoming requirements and prioritized those at the next planning session.   The ideal world, unfortunately does not always exist within the confines of a development organization.   Interruptions can divert a team and can come in many varieties:  urgent customer issues, new requirements, outside “consulting” work, etc.   When these interruptions occur, your team has several options on how to respond.  Here are three tactics that work well for handling  interruptions on a scrum team:

1.  Plan for Interruptions – If your group is consistently hit with incoming customer issues, etc.  then plan in advance.  Only take on x% of  your normal story points (where x is 100-the percentage of time your team works on field issues.  This way the team will not have unfinished tasks and will be better prepared to handle urgent issues. 

2.   Create a Triage Team – if interruptions can easily be handled by a cross-functional team, then create a triage team to handle incoming interruptions.   The triage team will operate as a scrum team, but with a constantly changing list of priorities.   They will assess incoming issues, handle emergencies, and route less urgent issues to the appropriate teams to handle in their next sprint.   This triage team might benefit from doing kanban or scrumban.   It might be advantageous to rotate the team members on the triage team periodically to allow other development team members experience with triage and to prevent burn-out of triage team members.

3.  Assign a Goalie – rotate on a per-sprint basis and assign one person to handle incoming emergency issues.     This person acts as a one-(wo)man triage team and will work through emergencies for the team.   Modify your team’s velocity to account for the “lost” person for the sprint.

Interruptions are a way of life for many development organizations.  Ideally these could wait until clean sprint boundaries and be handled in planning sessions or could be mitigated by a team’s scrum master.  If neither of these scenarios is the case, then try out one of these three methods to handle emergencies and interruptions without losing team focus.   How do these methods work for you?  What other techniques have you found useful in handling interruptions?

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