Agile is a team sport.
Agile is a team sport.

Agile is a relay, not a sprint

When it comes to implementing agile, the single biggest misunderstanding that I’ve seen to date is that people view each sprint as a self-contained unit. Second to that is that it is a competition between different Scrum teams with the winner the one that delivers fastest. However.

Myth #1 — Being fast doesn’t mean you’re agile.

Delivering software fast does not mean you’re agile. I’ve seen many agile implementations where the team works exactly as they did before, simply trying to do it faster and trying to take as many shortcuts as possible. The results mostly result in some kind of failure, sometimes sooner, mostly later.

If you deliver the wrong requirements fast, it only means you fail faster.

It’s an obstacle race, not a sprint.

You’re guaranteed at the start of each sprint that something unplanned will pop up during the sprint.

How many times have you heard justifications at the end of the sprint during the review as to why the planned work didn’t get done? It’s not the fastest team that wins, it’s the team that is able to overcome the obstacles presented to them and still deliver, regardless of the obstacles.

Myth #2 — Each sprint should be a self-contained unit.

Timeboxing requirements into a sprint and ensuring that there are no distractions for the duration of the sprint also doesn’t mean you’re agile.

Being agile is an organic relay between different teams that have the same goal in mind, each with different perspectives. Like De Bono’s seven hats theory one team — depending on your organizational structure — is responsible to focus on the aestethics and the design, another team for the back-end development, yet another team maybe for the front-end development, a different team for the validation and roll-out and yet another team for customer support and training of the production code.

It’s not different requirements for each team, it’s a different viewpoint of the same requirements.

You can only succeed at agile when the different teams interact with each other and are able to pass on the baton in the relay from team to team without dropping it.

You are as weak as your weakest link.

Having one strong development team and another weak one, doesn’t mean that the one team is better than the other, it means that both will be unable to deliver the required results from a customer point of view. And everything revolves around the customer and value to the customer, right?

Viewing the stories as stand-alone units as opposed to an integrated system consisting of many different parts, is like building a car without consulting with the different teams to make sure that the pieces fit together. You might get the engine of the car working fine, but if the steering wheel or inside controls falls apart ultimately it doesn’t matter whether the enige is any good. You can’t drive the best engine without a working steering wheel.

Agile is a relay, not a series of sprints

Agile is about your ability to respond and adapt to changes. It’s like a cheetah trying to catch it’s prey, not only being fast, but more importantly able to change direction fast while on a high-speed chase.

A successful agile implementation should rather be viewed as a relay race containing a number of obstacles than a series of standalone sprints on a high quality race course.

The key to a successful agile implementation, or scaling agile in a growing organization, therefore is not so much about each individual team running each sprint as fast as they can, but rather focusing on a smooth handover in a long relay race in a value chain of delivery, starting from the business needs, through to maintenance and support. If you drop the baton while passing it the next runner, chances are your team is not going to win the race, regardless of how fast one leg of the team is.

Winning a relay is ultimately about good teamwork and communication between different teams.

When the organs in a body don’t work well together, you get sick. When an organization doesn’t include all the parts, they ultimately fail. Sometimes sooner, sometimes later, but undeniably.

Thus in order to speed up, you need to focus on the entire value chain and not only look at the individual teams’ results. You need to ensure that the baton (requirements) is handed over smoothly from team to team at exactly the right time, to exactly the right team. And that includes the customer and external suppliers.


Being agile is about the ability of an organization to respond to the constant changes around them, not about being the fastest individual runner.

Being agile is a collaborative team sport, not a solo competition. It is about viewing a user requirement from different perspectives, but delivering a whole.

Originally published in Medium: