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Handling Absence in Scrum Teams

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In Scrum, every team member is important and contributes to the overall velocity of the team. An absence, planned or unplanned, can adversely affect the velocity of the team. An interesting discussion on the Scrum Development group tries to discuss ways to deal with the situation.

Most members of the group agreed that if the absence is known before hand, then the velocity of the team should be reduced proportionately. Hence, less stories should be committed for the sprint backlog. However, if there is an unplanned absence during the sprint and the impact would be considerable, then the scrum master should inform the product owner and negotiate a reduction in the scope.

Some members suggested innovative ways to handle absence. Kiran Thakkar suggested planning for only 85% of the team time, rest 15% is usually enough to handle unplanned contingencies. On similar lines Geir Amsjo added that his team plans for a 6 hour day, rest of the time covers unexpected situations like short sick leave, normal leaves etc.

Dave Smith suggested that he has seen some XP teams effectively absorb the absence of a team member. They do this by reducing the noise in the team space and hence allowing more effective pairing time. He also mentioned that in situations like these, members on the team work harder to reach the sprint goal thus compensating for the absent team member. Ron Jeffries, however commented that if that was true then there is a strong chance that the team is under-committing, according to him the absence of a team member should surely affect the velocity of the team and it would be hard for the team to meet the sprint goal unless they had under-committed the goal at the start of the sprint.

Angela Druckman suggested, that in order to make realistic commitments about the sprint goal, she collects the data on number of available hours of each team member for the next sprint and takes it to the planning meeting. This allows the team to have a look at the total time-off for the upcoming sprint and the amount of work they should commit as a group. However, if team members with special skills are away during the sprint then the product owners should be made aware of their absence so that they can select and prioritize the work accordingly.

Mike Youngtai talked about the using concept of ‘Focus Factor’ in his team. Focus factor is a ratio of story points done to the actual man hours worked. According to him, the focus factor is tracked over a 3 month average and is used in the sprint planning meeting. During the planning meeting the team members calculate the number of man days available and commit to a backlog on the basis of focus factor.

James S. Fosdick shared an interesting idea to deal with unexpected absence, he suggested

When dealing with unexpected absences due to sickness etc. you can deal with it the same way you deal with emerging work. Figure out what the impact will be and see if it affects the sprint burndown (a serious absence will likely noticeably flatten out your sprint burndown). If it does renegotiate the scope and/or commitment with the P.O. If it doesn't no problem.

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