Handling Interruptions in Scrum: 4 Options (Part 1)

Gene Gendel is Certified Scrum Coach (CSC), agile practice leader and transformation agent. His primary focus is helping organizations in adopting agile at large, improving organizational structure, culture, tools, techniques, processes, norms and behaviors. Gene works equally close with senior management at the enterprise level as well as individual teams, in single- and multi-team settings, while providing bi-directional support: top-down and bottom-up. His coaching style combines training, mentoring and leading by example.

In an ideal world, a cross-functional Scrum team must be fully focused on Scrum. The team is also expected to hear a voice of one customer only: the product owner. But what happens when reality intervenes and you get pulled in other directions?

In this two-part article I will:

  • Highlight common interrupt challenges I’ve encountered for organizations new to Scrum in general, and large organizations in particular
  • Outline four common interrupt scenarios and explain what you can do to handle these interrupts and maximize your productivity.

I’ll use the example of my old-time friend “Joe,” a senior software engineer who served as ScrumMaster on one of the Scrum teams.

Common Challenges When New to Scrum
Shortly after Scrum training, Joe’s team began sprinting. At the beginning, it was hard to gain momentum: the backlog was poorly defined (very few requirements were decomposed into INVEST-able stories), Scrum ceremonies were not well structured, the product owner initially struggled to prioritize a backlog, the team had to learn new estimation techniques, the ScrumMaster’s role was not claimed.

But these were all expected challenges, typically observed with newly formed feature teams. Soon, Joe’s team started to demonstrate noticeable improvements. But as time went by, another serious challenge surfaced: Joe’s…

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