Scrum Myths

‘Sprint Zero Mixed Messages’ – Part 7 of the Scrum Myth-Buster Series

Posted by Ilan Goldstein on October 19, 2015

Wow we’ve already hit the half-way mark on this 12-part myth-busting journey! I’ve been really flattered by the response so far that has even included an Infoq interview exploring some of the drivers that led me to start writing about these misconceptions.

Let’s now go to the beginning of a project and focus on a misconception that I come across when teams are kicking off their first Agile project. This is a myth that focuses on the concept of ‘Sprint Zero’.

I’m pretty gentle on the ‘Sprint Zero’ terminology in my book and since it was published I’ve really learned to dislike the label as it inadvertently leads some to perceive Scrum as a framework that can only be used for small, trivial projects.

Let’s just go back a step and make sure that we’re all on the same page with the intended message of this term. Firstly, contrary to popular belief, ‘Sprint Zero’ is in fact not an official or mandated Scrum activity (or term) and is certainly not mentioned anywhere within the Scrum Guide. ‘Sprint Zero’ is actually a reference to the potential work that needs to occur before embarking on the first so-called delivery Sprint. As such, it really falls outside of the scope of Scrum. Now just because something is out of scope, it doesn’t mean that it’s unimportant and should be ignored. Personally, I’m a believer that there needs to be a pre-Sprint inception period that covers off certain preparatory activities such as, vision generation, formulating the initial Product Backlog, forming the team and sourcing environments.

sprint zero

‘Sprint Zero’ is actually a reference to the potential work that needs to occur before embarking on the first so-called delivery Sprint.

What I don’t like about the term ‘Sprint Zero’ is the perceived coupling with a very specific timeframe, that being the length of a typical development Sprint. For example, assuming you’re running in two-week Sprints, then the misconception follows that this inception-type activity should take strictly two-weeks. The reality is that while I certainly prefer this inception activity to take as little time as possible (to ensure that the team can start building and validating business value ASAP), depending on the size and complexity of the product, this period of time may require longer than two weeks, or, for more trivial applications, it could take less than two weeks. Fact of the matter is that this inception activity and timeframe needs to be fit for purpose and flexible. There shouldn’t be the perception that you can, or should fit everything within, a ‘standard’ Sprint duration.

Onto the next one!

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


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