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What is Sprint Zero? Why was it Introduced?

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Some teams use a Sprint 0 to prepare their product backlog, the infrastructure (development environment, CI server), ... .Is this part of Scrum? Is it useful?

Dan Rawsthorne, a Senior Coach with Danube, uses Sprint 0, as a way of getting a team started:

The idea is simple: take an initial sprint (called Sprint Zero, Iteration Zero, Inception Sprint, etc) that has the following three goals:

  1. Get some quality items on the Product Backlog,
  2. Provide a minimal environment that enables the writing of quality code, and
  3. Write a piece of real code, no matter how small.

And, of course, make this Sprint Zero as short as possible. In my experience, this sprint can be as short as one week, which is what I recommend.

Mark Woyna, uses Iteration Zero as a spike:

The planning team is responsible for producing 3 deliverables by the end of the planning iteration:

  1. A list of all prioritized features/stories with estimates
  2. A release plan that assigns each feature/story to an iteration/sprint
  3. A high-level application architecture, i.e. how the features will likely be implemented

With one team, Peter Stevens, an Agile Coach in Switzerland, used a Zero Sprint to estimate the most important features, agree on a definition of done and rebuild confidence with the customer. Like the others he set the iteration length to be shorter than normal for the team.

So Is this Scrum? The iteration is a different length than the teams norm and the result is not to produce working, tested software. Is it useful?

Alistair Cockburn, author of Agile Software Development (The Cooperative Game) chimes in with:

I have a sneaking feeling that someone was pressed about his use of Scrum when he did something that had no obvious business value at the start, and he invented "Oh, that was Sprint Zero!" to get the peasants with the pickaxes away from his doorstep.

Ken Schawber, co-creator of Scrum agrees: "Sprint 0 has become a phrase misused to describe the planning that occurs prior to the first sprint".

Michael James, also of Danube, finishes the conversation by asking why isn't this Sprint 1? And then Sprint 2? ... With each sprint producing a potentially releasable product and refining the backlog?

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