Calling it Quits: Abnormally Terminating a Sprint

It’s Not a Bad Thing

The Product Owner may cancel a Sprint at any time. In Scrum-speak, this is called an Abnormal Termination because terminating a Sprint at all should be an abnormal or rare occurrence. Not only can the Product Owner abnormally terminate a Sprint at any time, but the ScrumMaster can cancel the Sprint at any time on his or her accord or on behalf of either the Team or the Product Owner. The Abnormal Termination has been a part of Scrum from the very beginning. The fact that the Team maintains the power to cancel their own Sprint is an important aspect of Scrum. If an Abnormal Termination of a Sprint is invoked, the Sprint is re-planned, and all work in the Sprint is discarded, carrying the notion of ‘no partial credit’ to extremes.

Abnormal Termination of a Sprint may occur because the Sprint Goal will not be met or because the Sprint Goal no longer is what is needed. Some common reasons to abnormally terminate a Sprint are:

  • A better technical solution is found that makes the current Sprint’s activity throwaway work
  • A major technology change occurs
  • Market forces render the work obsolete
  • Fundamental and urgent external changes invalidate the Sprint Goal
  • Urgent bug fix or feature development requests cannot wait until the normal completion of the Sprint

Regardless of reason, the Sprint’s work is evaluated to see what can be kept, and whether or not re-planning is needed. Cancelling a Sprint is simply an agile reaction to something that has happened. It should not be considered a ‘bad thing’ – it is merely a ‘thing.’

Negotiate Before You Terminate

In my experience, the Abnormal Termination of a Sprint is seldom invoked but often threatened. The threat of an Abnormal Termination alerts management (in a very noticeable way) that something is going wrong and needs to be addressed. The most common use of this threat occurs when The Product Owner and Team are not renegotiating the Sprint Goal or Backlog in good faith. Essentially, the threat is saying ‘if you don’t play nice, we’ll force a do-over.’ It is imperative that renegotiating the Sprint Goal or Backlog truly be a negotiation, with the Team willing to consider the needs of the Product Owner, and the Product Owner realizing that the Team has the right to say ‘No.’

In any case, the threat of Abnormal Termination should never be put in play unless the threatening party is willing to actually use it. Abnormal Termination is quite disruptive but does give the Team the ability to start over with a clean slate.


A Good Reminder

The conversation around abnormally terminating a Sprint serves as a good reminder for the Scrum Team.

  • It reminds the Team to ensure that the benefits of changing a Sprint backlog mid-Sprint significantly outweigh the cost.
  • It reminds the Team that every new request shouldn’t be treated as an emergency.


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As Always, Stay Agile.