Sunday, February 3, 2013

Commitment vs. Forecasting

I believe in simple human values. That is why I call my blog "scrum with a human face". You probably noticed that I write less about processes and more about people with their feelings and perceptions. I am not an idealist. I cannot even figure out where people worked harder - at my previous employer who did not care about people or at my current employer who cares about people a lot. But I definitely know where people are happier and this is sufficient for me to make a choice. You can call me old fashioned but I still believe in promises, happiness, and good will.

You may argue that promises are broken so frequently that the value of the concept is dying. Maybe it is, maybe not, but I think it is values not processes that made Agile such an incredible framework. What resonated with you that you first heard about scrum? Sprint planning and sprint review meetings, or values of respecting people over processes and collaboration over documentation? Anyway, I am not writing this blog to remind you of Agile manifesto. The reason I am writing it is to talk about the power of commitment.

I do not know if it is normal to break promises nowadays. Some people do, of course, but are those people your friends? someone you respect? someone you want to interact daily at home or at work? There is still respect for those who keep their promises and I think each of us does our best to meet our commitments, even if it is difficult sometimes.

In scrum, it may be impossible to meet a commitment sometimes. Having that said, it is important to do two things:
1. As soon as I understand that I may be not able to meet my commitment, I make it transparent to the team at a stand up or as soon as I know. I ask advice from my team members or ask for their help. In about half of the cases, this works!
2. If there is an external dependency (data not available, tool not procured, environment issues, or dependencies on other teams), I ask for help from my scrum master, research workarounds and short term solutions (mock up the data, try a different tool, etc.) and make the other party aware that they are a blocker for me asking whether they can suggest an alternative solution. In my team, we use a physical task board, so we put those dependencies on a different color stickie. When stories have a large number of blue stickies (external - outside of the team - dependencies), we estimate it higher because it normally takes longer to resolve.

So - when at Agile Day NYC 2012, Ken Schwaber spoke about the update to 2011 scrum guide to replace the concept of commitment with the concept of forecasting, it did not resonate with me. Please do not misunderstand me - I respect forecasting, it is important, and that's what we do every sprint. But take commitment out - and it is almost like saying "let's not give promises because people don't keep them anyway". But some do - and this makes this world a better place.

There are many good points in talking about "forecasting" - a great posting on the topic is here, so I am open to comments and other thoughts.

In my next posting, I'll talk about another "scrum with a human face" topic - how to achieve balance between referencing impediments during a sprint review sessions and finger pointing.


  1. Hi Mariya,

    I think the change to the term 'commitment' to 'forecast' was more to address the misuse of the term commitment by those that just don't get 'pull' based execution.

    Originally, the idea of a commitment by a Scrum Team was predicated on the Sprint Backlog not being changed. Over the last 7 years of working with Scrum in organizations, I have seen fixed Sprint Backlogs happen maybe 25% of the time.

    You could say the 75% weren't doing Scrum but that wouldn't be true. Significant technical debt and highly competitive markets see changes injected even into a 2 week sprint. Listening to business stakeholders make additional demands of Scrum Teams and at the same time leverage the 'commitment' is demoralizing to a team. "Oh but wait, you guys committed to..." while forgetting the idea that the commitment was based on a plan expressed by the Sprint Backlog.

    While I understand and value the human side of the idea of a commitment and how it aligns to integrity (walk the talk), in a way using the term forecast more clearly states what the Sprint Backlog is to the business. Also, it better protects the team against those that would misuse the idea of a commitment in Scrum.

    Lastly, teams that are high performing, that have a 'growth mindset' will strive to learn and achieve at higher levels. They will own their forecast as a commitment and strive to deliver to it even in the face of changes.

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