Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? Over.

www.implementingscrum.com -- Cartoon -- March 12, 2007

Welcome back to another day at www.implementingscrum.com.Wow.

Last week I must have hit a nerve with some of my readers. I received a ton of email responses (both positive and negative) and thank everyone for their comments. Keep them coming as I try to respond to everyone who takes the time to send their comments, thoughts, and suggestions.

Last week a common theme began occurring in conversations all around me. So I thought I’d better listen and actually write about it more.

Questions I ran into (or should I say, ran into me) last week included the following:

“Can a team max out their velocity using Scrum?”

“Is there such thing as a “ceiling” to the amount of work that can be done in a Sprint?”

“What is the terminal velocity of a Scrum Team?”

These questions [and answers that were discussed] interested me. They occurred in small one-person hallway conversations, online via email, and a topic at an Open Space {LINK} APLN-Richmond Meeting (facilitated by Joe Little (and his wiki) last Wednesday evening.

First, I had to go to our friends at wikipedia to remind myself of the definition of terminal velocity (kept thinking back to high school and 9.8 meters/second/second):

“The terminal velocity of an object falling towards the earth, in non-vacuum is the speed at which the weight of an object and the air resistance, or drag, balance, thus giving it a final,or end, velocity also known as Terminal Velocity.”

For someone sky-diving with (or I guess, without) an un-opened parachute, it is about 120 miles per hour (195 km/hour). Fast. So this is the interesting thing… there IS a limit to how fast one can fall.

How does this relate to the topic of a velocity for a Scrum Team?

I have been challenged in the past to defend my idea that a Scrum Team truly does have an upper limit, or ceiling, that they can work within. I usually take the side of, “If a team is highly functional and coherent, there really is no limit of the velocity they can reach by working together.”

I found out that sometimes, as the saying goes, “Them’s fighten words.”

In Scrum, the velocity of a team can be viewed on the burndown chart. Usually, this can be tracked by figuring out what User Stories are complete.

So what if a Scrum Team “finally” gets to a plateau (or ceiling) in its velocity? Or, the question should be, “When they plateau?”

Let’s say the team started using Scrum three months ago. After a few rough beginning Sprints, their velocity was computed to be 28 points per sprint. And, they have held steady since then.

They are producing and humming along as a real team. They have a regular “heartbeat” of the Scrum lifecycle.

Now… The Chickens step in and start demanding more.

Two ways I have seen (and was reminded last week at the APLN meeting) a team respond included:

– The team allowed the Chickens to add new team members or allow them to be pushed into working longer hours. We all know this is not sustainable and can lead to team burnout.


– The team started to figure out on their own how they could become better. Hmmm… they thought… what about amping up our engineering practices (such as pair programming)? Other ideas come out of the team and they keep getting better!

Does this mean the team must make a jump from working 40 hours a week to 80 hours a week?




It means they — as a team — figure out for themselves what works for THEM. And this is where the power of Scrum can be seen (heck, don’t even worry about Scrum at this point, you are in the realm of working with a truly high-performing team!).

Circle back to the original question.

Is there a limit to what a team can do to increase their velocity?

I submit the answer is still a solid “No.”

If you are hesitating about taking that stance, I challenge you to go back to your team (not as a Chicken!) and figure out what you can do to make things better.

Gotta run…

Please send comments, questions, criticisms, ideas, or whatever here.

You can also enter The Scrum Community to discuss this entry and other Scrum topics. Thank you!

Originally Published:
March 12, 2007
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