Over Commitment

“Bigamy is the only crime where two rites make a wrong.” -Bob Hope

OK, this post has nothing to do with bigamy.. If you really want to know more about that we can explore it in another post.

Often in my careers as a Scrum Master I’ve experienced or heard from colleagues that the team is consistently failing to deliver all their planned stories in a sprint. There are numerous reasons this can happen, but I’m going to write about one very common one in particular. Something I refer to as riding the pressure cycle.

So what is the pressure cycle?

This is when the organisation doesn’t allow Scrum teams to find their own pace (or velocity if you will). There are many blogs that talk about using Velocity as a measure of productivity (it’s not), or even worse having an ideal velocity that becomes the drum beat for the galley full of slaves to row to. I won’t go into the velocity here, but rather try to describe the cycle of events drawn above.

Pressure To Deliver

This is where someone or many someones within the organisation, perhaps a Product Owner, perhaps Stakeholder or even a Scrum Master (read bad SM). The team ought to be protected enough or feel confident enough that they can resist this pressure. Sometimes however they don’t and the next thing that happens is…

Over Commitment

The team take on way to many stories, or too large a story or are just agreeing with the demands for some specific things to be delivered by the end of the next sprint. So taking the “drum beat” velocity as an example the team will take into the sprint what the business expect as opposed to what they can actually produce. The outcome??

Delivery of less than expected

So you get to the end of the sprint, perhaps some items are ‘done’ some not, perhaps many items are almost done.. well they’re just not done and will likely get carried over. If this happens repeatedly you’ve got a problem, if it’s now and again it’s not the end of the world, after all we’re estimating. If you’re carrying the same thing over and over, it’s probably not split into small enough pieces.

So the team feel a little flat for not delivering, how do the business feel?

Lack of Confidence

The business is pissed off! “You said we could have these things and now we don’t, you said that last time as well, and the time before!”. Oh dear, They’re not very happy.. the product is slipping, the launch date is getting closer with every sprint and they’ve no confidence that it’s gonna be ready. Now this is where it get’s stupid. “I know..” says some bright spark, “Let’s motivate the team to do more, more hours, more work, work harder and smarter. Let’s tell them how critical it is we hit the launch date and enthuse them with our passion”. In their heads their helping.. no really.. stop laughing, they’re honestly well meaning and care deeply about the product.. ah, yes.. I know what you are thinking, they don’t care about the team so much..  So what happens next?


Well, the team no feel even more pressure, and don’t feel empowered or trusted. In fact they’re starting to look a bit rabbit in the headlights, or a few have just resigned themselves to the inevitable death march ahead. Nobody feels good, and to try and appease the business they find themselves under pressure to deliver, taking on more work than is realistic for a sprint and around the pressure cycle again.


Ever heard the tortoise and the hare story? or more speed less haste? or go slow to go fast? Well that’s exactly what you need to do in this case. Help the team find out what their velocity really is. Help them to find their capacity and deliver on their sprint commitments. The thing that you need to break is the lack of confidence, once you start delivering regularly on your promises the pressure will lift, morale will go up, and ultimately as the team are more confident and lifted they’ll inspect and adapt more positively and become faster.

Sounds simplistic.. it really is.. next time you’re faced with a scrum team that regularly deliver less than promised, ask them to do less not more.

2 Responses to “Over Commitment”

  1. Ehsan Naseri October 8, 2012 at 20:00 #

    tnx for Good post

  2. Scott May 10, 2012 at 17:12 #

    I totally identify with this. As a Scrum Master, I’m faced with a product owner who frequently tells us at the start of a sprint that a certain piece of functionality (which may, or may not, relate to the product we’re currently developing) absolutely must be completed by the end of the sprint.

    My question to you is this; how do you handle this sort of behavior when the mandate to have things done is coming down from not just the product owner, but from the executives, sales team, and organization at large? I try to push back and not be a ‘bad SM’ as you describe it, but typically the ink is dry on the signed contracts before I am even aware of the work and deadlines must be met.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: