Scrum Myths

‘Potentially shippable = potentially confusing…’ – Part 8 of the Scrum Myth-Buster Series

Posted by Ilan Goldstein on November 17, 2015

Welcome back and it’s time for myth number eight! This one focuses on some ambiguous terminology that leads to some major misunderstandings surrounding the intended output of the Sprint. The term that I’m referring to here is ‘potentially shippable product increment’. The most operable word, potentially is often ignored or forgotten giving rise to the myth that at the end of every Sprint, the team must ship something to production. This is not quite correct. The intended message behind the term is that the aim of the Sprint is to output an increment that is at least tested, validated and demonstrable.

Whether or not it actually goes to a production environment or not is a commercial decision made by the Product Owner (in conjunction with any outside stakeholders) and this release decision is more often than not decoupled from the actual Sprint cadence. Some teams do try to release to production at the end of every Sprint although most teams that I work with end up releasing to production less often then that even though they still work in disciplined Sprints. They work in these time-boxes to maintain focus, limit work-in-progress (WIP), simplify planning and ensure that their product stays in a state of readiness to build confidence in anticipation of a production release whenever the time is right.

At the other end of the scale, I also work with teams that need to (or want to) release to production so frequently that they cannot wait until the end of even a one-week Sprint! These teams have such mature test automation practices, decoupled architectures and closely aligned technical environments in place that they can implement continuous delivery (still rare but becoming more prevalent). And this leads me to the second part of the myth, that being: “Scrum is no longer agile enough” as it mandates that you must wait until the end of the Sprint to release to production. Again the same principle as before applies – the releasing to production should be decoupled from the Sprint cadence as there is nothing stopping a team from using Scrum to practice continuous delivery. There is no rule stating that you must wait until the end of the Sprint to release. Scrum simply says that the aim of the Sprint is to at LEAST have something that is potentially shippable i.e. validatable and demonstrable by the end of the Sprint to mitigate risk and to build confidence along the journey.

Once again, I thank you my fellow mythbusters for joining me on the eighth leg of our truth-revealing journey. See you next time when we tackle the next Scrum myth!


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