Scrum Master Tales–The Story of the Changing Needs

This content is syndicated from Agile Pain Relief » Blog by Mark Levison. To view the original post in full, click here.

Stories-DickensCaveat – given the way I’m writing this series occasionally things will happen out of order, i.e. I will be reminded of points I wish I had made earlier.

John, Sue and the rest of the team have started another sprint this time they committed to fewer stories and part way through the sprint are well on the way to getting stories completed. This time they committed to 8 stories with sizes ranging from 2 – 8 points. Every couple of days they get a story accepted. Things are going awesomely well.


  • As a Canadian book buyer I want to Amazon to ship my book to Canada so I can get my book home – Story Points: 8
  • As a Canadian book buyer I want to Amazon to calculate the import duty on my books – Story Points: 3
  • As a Canadian book buyer living in Ontario I want Amazon to calculate the local sales tax (HST) – Story Points: 2

Five days into the sprint Sue comes to the team and asks to add a new story. One that the team has previously sized as 5 Story Points: As an American book buyer I would like to use premium shipping so I can get my books sooner. She says its really important because she’s getting a lot of pressure to help get books to American customer’s sooner. John shots back that Scrum team’s make a commitment for the Sprint and once set can’t be changed without cancelling the sprint. Sue continues to press saying this is a really important story.


What are the team’s options?

  • They can refuse.
  • If its an occasional event the team might trade out a larger story for smaller story, that hasn’t yet been started. This respects the fact that even though it hasn’t “started” the story effort has gone into analysis/design etc. In addition it recognizes that no switch is free.
  • Small changes to existing stories just happen. Sometimes as we gain a deeper understanding of a story and see it implemented the acceptance criteria or layout change. This is a good moment to remember the ‘N’ in INVEST (**link**). Stories should be negotiable. Small changes should probably just be accommodated. Larger changes maybe in the scope of the original story but in that case we might have to drop another story.
  • Cancel the Sprint – If a radical change in direction is required. Not in this case but perhaps the company has been acquired.
Clearly in the example the Story isn’t “pressing” in the context I’ve imagined I can’t imagine anything that would be so pressing that the PO couldn’t wait for another sprint. Maybe a good bug.
Also if this happens more than very very rarely we would want to do some root cause analysis and see why the PO’s needs change so frequently. Maybe there is some external pressure that we can’t see (Investors, other stakeholders). If the pressure means that the PO will need to make changes on a regular basis then that is a hint that the team might need shorter sprints.

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