4 Valid Reasons (And 1 Big Invalid Reason) the Product Owner Might Cancel a Sprint

Cancel a Sprint can be called other names such as terminate, stop or halt. In all cases it is clearly a decision driven by some new data that you did not not have when you started.

Product Ownership is hard and we may quit or cancel a Sprint[1] at any time. This is no big deal, and there are lots of valid reasons the Product Owner may want to do it. There is also one BIG invalid reason to do so.

4 Valid Reasons the PO Might Cancel A Sprint:

  1. A better technical solution is found that makes the current Sprint’s activity throw-away work.
  2. A major technology change occurs.
  3. Market forces render the work obsolete.
  4. Fundamental and urgent external changes invalidate the Sprint Goal or the Product Goal

Why are these “valid” reasons for canceling a Sprint? Because they change everything about the Sprint.

And The Big Invalid Reason?

Invalid Reason to Cancel a Sprint - 3Back Scrum and Agile BlogWell, the most common reason to cancel a Sprint is an invalid one; and this reason is “there are Stories to do (bugs, new features, whatever) that have a higher priority than what’s currently in the Sprint.” In other words, we have ‘more important stuff to do’…

This is an invalid reason for cancellation because current Scrum (Scrum Guide Scrum[2], Scrum 2.0[3]) explicitly allows for either the Product Owner or the Team to initiate a renegotiation of the Sprint Backlog[4]. So, all the Product Owner has to do is say: “This thing ‘right here’ is very important, and is next in line.” The Team says “ok” and self-organizes around this new info. If the Team objects to this, they can call in Abnormal Termination[5], but that’s another story.

“But wait!” you say, “this blows our Sprint Commitment out of the water! We can’t squeeze another story into this Sprint!” Yes, yes, yes… calm down. Scrum has taken care of this for you. There is no Sprint Commitment in Scrum anymore. You commit to the Sprint Goal[6], not the Sprint Content. This a major change in Scrum, but it seems to have snuck past most people.

Quitting Is Not A Bad Thing

Quitting a Sprint - Cancel a Sprint - 3Back Scrum and Agile BlogBut, if you have a valid reason to quit, then go ahead and quit – it’s no big deal. Regardless of the reason, the Sprint’s work is evaluated to see what can be kept, and whether or not re-planning is needed. Canceling 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.’

Most of the good reasons for Canceling a Sprint (in the old days) were caused on the fact that the Sprint was ‘locked down’ – it couldn’t be changed once the Sprint was started. This is no longer true. The Sprint Backlog is malleable and can be renegotiated throughout the Sprint, if necessary. What you get

done in the Sprint, you Review; whatever you don’t get to, you re-prioritize. It’s that simple…

Cancel A Sprint Reminder

Good Reminder - Cancel a Sprint - 3Back Scrum and Agile BlogThe conversation around canceling a Sprint serves as a good reminder for the Product Owner. It reminds the Product Owner to consider simply re-negotiating the Sprint Backlog rather than canceling the Sprint, and it reminds the Product Owner that every new request shouldn’t be treated as an emergency; it’s merely a consideration of whether the new request is NOW or not.

It also reminds the Team that they might need more real-world Scrum knowledge to help guide their path towards becoming a Well-Formed Team™[7]. And, you guessed it, we’ve got training for that and a groundbreaking Scrum Handbook white paper too.

As Always, Stay Agile.

Notes and Sources

1, 3-7 “Cancel a Sprint”, “Scrum 2.0”, “Sprint Backlog”, “Abnormal Termination”, “Sprint Goal”, “Well-Formed Team.” ScrumDictionary.com. Accessed October 04, 2017. https://scrumdictionary.com.

2 “The Scrum Guide.” Scrumguide.com. Accessed September 08, 2017. https://scrumguide.com/

  1. Resources. ScrumGuide.org. Accessed December 2, 2020. https://scrumguide.org/resources