Is Your Sprint Length Arbitrary?

by Dan Greenberg

Let’s Start With the Scrum Guide:

The heart of Scrum is a Sprint, a time-box of one month or less during which a "Done", useable, and potentially releasable product Increment is created. Sprints have consistent durations throughout a development effort. A new Sprint starts immediately after the conclusion of the previous Sprint.

How To Choose Your Sprint Length

How long should a Sprint be? The Scrum Guide recommends one month or less but it also needs to be long enough that a potentially releasable product Increment can be created. A good measuring stick at the end of a Sprint is this: let’s say all work stops today – can we release what we have? If the answer is no, then what we just finished was not technically a Sprint, but rather an arbitrary block of time during which employees were doing work.

But we can’t possibly build something useful in a few weeks...

Sometimes due to the complexity of our product or the industry we are in, it actually takes weeks, months, or even years to build something that is releasable. If that’s the case, then what we really have is a weeks-, months-, or years-long Sprint. If our Sprint is longer than a month, then we can fool ourselves all we want, but we are not really practicing Scrum, because the guide clearly states that it is one month or less and that a potentially releasable Increment is created. In this case, we have two options, both of which are valid:

  1. We can try and find a way to shorten our release cycle.
  2. We can decide that maybe Scrum is not the right fit for what we're building.

Either of these is perfectly okay. Chime in with your thoughts!