Atualização: October 7, 2021

Editores: Gustavo Ayres

Bio: Delivery Manager @ ZBRA. More than 18 years of project management experience, 15 working with agile development, and 16 years experience in people management. Had been DEV, BA, PM, CTO and BizDev, and today is helping ZBRA to move some gears.

The secret of a sense of progress

It’s curious that humans need to have a sense of progress actually to perceive progress in things. I say this because I noticed something during a sequence of 2 sprints in one of the projects we are working on here at ZBRA.

For more context, see here how the Sprint Burnup of the first sprint (Sprint 7) was:

Image of a sprint burnup chart that shows the total scope of 34 points in yellow and an ideal path line rising from 0 to 34 between June 23, 2021 and July 6, 2021. In green, we have the team's progress, which is well below the ideal, with a 3-day period stuck at 5 delivered points and finally reaching 24 points.

As you can see, it wasn’t a good sprint by far. Besides being far from delivering the 34 points originally planned, delivering only 24, we had a 2-day “belly” without delivering anything, with a jump of 11 points from one day to the next.

During the retrospective, some of the comments were:

“Many large stories in the same sprint”

And also:

“This sprint was stalled for so long and in the end, we had to rush things”

And indeed, we had 1 story of 8 points and 2 of 5 points during this sprint. Some of these stories ended up being done in parallel and all took time to be finished, and that’s where the “belly” appears because there were no deliveries in the period. Besides, one of them was not delivered until the end.

We decided as action items (among other things) that:

  • Stories can’t have more than 5 points. Any story above 5 points must be broken down.
  • We can’t have more than 2 stories of 5 points.

As a result of the next sprint, we had the following sprint burnup chart:

Image of a sprint burnup chart that shows the total scope of 34 points in yellow and an ideal path line rising from 0 to 34 between July 7, 2021 and July 20, 2021. In green, we have the team's progress that is slightly below the ideal but very close and finally reaching 31 points.

This time, it is possible to see that the progress was very close to the ideal, even though everything that was planned was not delivered*.

But what really catches attention was the retrospective result with comments like:

“Very good to work with small stories. It gave agility to the sprint”


“It seems that in this sprint, the team flew”

And besides this sprint, the following sprints also had this better perception of delivery from the team.

However, the curious thing is that, besides the delivered points being very close at the end of two weeks, 24 and 31 respectively, the value delivered to the final user and the customer’s perception in both cases was also very close (and, in the end, that’s what really matters: value and efficiency, right?). But the team’s morale changed a lot when they actually had the SENSE OF PROGRESS that I cited at the beginning.

To explain this, Teresa Amabile wrote an excellent study on what she came to call the Progress Principle. In summary, she reached the conclusion that having clear, small, short-term goals, with visible progress along the way, boosts people’s and teams’ motivation and creativity, generating a virtuous circle, and improving people’s performance even better.

And that was exactly what we have observed in these two mentioned sprints (and, as I said before, in the following as well). This is one of many reasons I’m always insisting on small stories on your deliveries so that, not only they are delivered faster, but also increase the team’s morale.

* just to mention, we’re working in a continuous delivery process closer to Kanban and the cited sprints are only a two weeks organization of the stories. This is what a few call Scrumban😝

Agile Project Management