The Scrum methodology of agile software development marks a dramatic departure from waterfall management. In fact, Scrum and other agile processes were inspired by its shortcomings. The Scrum methodology emphasizes communication and collaboration, functioning software, and the flexibility to adapt to emerging business realities — all attributes that suffer in the rigidly ordered waterfall paradigm.
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So your organization has decided to implement Scrum, but you’re stuck, wondering what to do first. That’s understandable: For all of Scrum’s detailed processes, what’s the process for starting the process? Put another way, how does a team prepare for its first sprint? For many Scrum professionals, the answer is a sprint zero, a preliminary sprint exclusively dedicated to preparing for the first sprint. But which activities it includes, how long it lasts, and what it’s called are all debatable points.
In my experience, this sprint is best spent focusing on the team’s physical environment. This might include setting up computers, creating a team room, optimizing work stations, etc. Others, however, conceive of sprint zero as a chance to prepare the team for its first sprint planning meeting. For those Scrum professionals, that means sprint zero involves adding a few substantial items to the backlog and writing a piece of functioning code — no matter how small. This argument does make sense: If the first sprint kicks off with the sprint planning meeting, a Product Owner will want to have some estimated items in the backlog.
Since spending too much time on gathering requirements can lead to analysis paralysis, this sprint should be as short as possible — only as long as it takes to accomplish a few preparatory goals. Others, however, argue that sprint zero should be the same length as a regular sprint to help teams adjust to a regular work cadence. With that in mind, it’s not surprising that those who argue that sprint zero should be the same length as any other sprint also assert that it could just as easily be called sprint one. According to these Scrum professionals, the basic goals of sprint zero — design, infrastructure, process improvement, implementation, test, and validation — are the goals of every sprint.
Sprint zero is contentious among Scrum practitioners. Though they might not all agree on its name or how long it should last, sprint zero preserves the principles and processes of the sprints to follow.
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