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I'm a software developer and next year at my company we start using two-weekly sprints.

A couple weeks before knowing we'd start this process I talked to my boss telling him I want to work less with getting one week off per month to have time to grow my own business. He was perfectly fine with that.

After getting trained in SCRUM he approached me telling me getting one week off per month won't be possible anymore as the sprint planning will be compromised.

Is this a valid argument? I see one calculates the team outcome on average productivity rates per sprint and when I'm absent every 2nd sprint for 50% of the time there's a dent in the statistics.

But is this really how sprints should work? That would mean every involved person enormously loses flexibility for vacancy planning which to me is essential to be a happy dev.

On a side note: He would be fine with taking one day off per week or 2 days off bi-weekly. But those suggestions are bad in view of my then business related travel activities.

On another side note: I love my boss, to me he's the prototype of a perfect leader and we're on a friendly footing. Against this backdrop, how would you approach the situation?

  • 3
    How does your boss plan to deal with vacations? – Patricia Shanahan Dec 9 '17 at 10:19
  • We´re not sure about the vacations. Next week we talk about it and then I´ll have news. – Karl Dec 9 '17 at 11:02
  • Missing half or a whole sprint for annual leave once or twice a year is different to missing half of every other sprint. – HorusKol Dec 9 '17 at 11:16
  • @HorusKol I agree that it is different, but only in the direction of being more regular than vacations and more predictable than illness. Any process that can deal with an unexpected absence should be able to deal with a planned absence. – Patricia Shanahan Dec 9 '17 at 14:05
  • Whether or not a sprint can work under some circumstances is a question for a different site (but I don't see why one member's selective absence would "break" the overall sprint, and you presumably don't even have to be part of the sprint if your boss really wanted to let you take that leave). The Workplace answer is: who cares if it's valid, the point is that your boss thinks it's valid or is using it as an excuse to disallow your recurring leave (possibly because he changed his mind about it). – Dukeling Dec 9 '17 at 15:06
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The scrum answer is simple, pull less work that sprint. Done and done.

We actually do this chronically, as all our engineers share an weekly oncall rotation. Whoever’s on call is encouraged not to pull sprint tasks for that week, but instead to handle oncall, and proactively work on continuous improvement of their choice (to make that week a bit more attractive). If you’d usually pull 6 stories or 20 story points or whatever you’re using, pull half.

Though there are other issues here (you’re not there for the other people to interact with, possibly making blockers that require your input for some reason persist) that makes this suboptimal from a manager’s point of view. See if you can get beyond “Scrum says so” to more concrete concerns, some of which (like this one) would be totally valid but perhaps addressable (e.g. “I’ll be available on chat during my week off to unblock issues”).

In the end he may be simply finding out that he thought the arrangement would be OK but it’s causing more ongoing issues than he figured and just won’t support it any more (I would be super reluctant to sign off on a scheme like this myself). Maybe you can address the issues, maybe you can’t, this is a pretty unusually sweetheart gig.

  • Your answer is most helpful yet, because you raised the idea of remote working. I´ll discuss that thoroughly with him and the team. We don´t have anyone doing remote work but to me it seems perfectly viable, especially with the new sprint setting. – Karl Dec 9 '17 at 17:20
  • @Karl I would not offer up availability during vacation time. You're on vacation, you should not be available for anything but a true, company-critical emergency. Sign off chat from your phone, set your out-of-office auto responder, and turn off all work email notifications on your phone. – alroc Dec 10 '17 at 21:19
  • @alroc I'm with you on that but most of the times I'll not be on vacation that week off rather than working for my own business. And as our team is quite small I'd like to support it when important questions/problems need to be resolved. But of course I'd tell them to tackle it on their own if possible in the first place. One could argue because I receive less pay that I'm not available for the company but to me that's a bit harsh. – Karl Dec 11 '17 at 6:57
  • Yeah, taking a hard line will just result in this accommodation being terminated, unless you have an exceptional employment contract. – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Dec 11 '17 at 13:02
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Nobody is available to work on tasks for 40 hours every week, or 80 hours every sprint. Nobody.

There are some sprints that have holes in them. Sometimes people have vacations and sick leave. Other times they have to perform non-development functions. Other times the entire company has to attend an all hands meeting.

Some teams also have to deal with interruptions, where members has to respond to a crisis unrelated to completing the sprint. The server may have crashed, or a zero-day vulnerability discovered. Overtime they learn to plan for x% of the time not being unavailable for some team members.

Planned non-availability is covered as early in the sprint planning as possible so that realistic estimates can be done. The fact that the majority of your absences will be known in advance is helpful.

What would be better than being unavailable one week a month, would be if it was 1 week out of every four. That way it would be every other sprint, and it could either consistently be early or late in the sprint.

The impact of your schedule depends on the size of the team. A two person team is different than a 20 person team.

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With all due respect to your boss, I think he is wrong. This scheduling will not in any way "compromise" sprint planning. If anything, it will help give more predictable planning since it is a fixed schedule.

Scrum is not intended to be a rigid process with absolute rules and formulas. It is a framework for being more efficient in your short term planning, knowing that long term plans are always in some state of flux.

One of the first things my team does in sprint planning is account for missed time in the upcoming sprint. This could be due to many reasons, including vacations, holidays, training, etc. If you have a holiday (US term), then you have instantly lost 10% of the work capacity in that 2 week sprint. If you bring in the "normal" number of story points to that sprint, it's a recipe for failure. This is not exact science, but if we know we are losing X% of our normal capacity, we bring in roughly X% less story points.

Your manager's Scrum training should have covered these concerns when discussing sprint planning, so maybe there is still a question of being comfortable with the Scrum process.

To address this with your manager, you need to be able to explain how this could be successfully addressed during sprint planning. If you have not had Scrum training, you may want to do some research, so you can present your position well within the framework of Scrum.

  • Thank you. I´m growing confidence the week off won´t be a problem if I´m available on stand-by at least to prevent blockers. As I´m working on my own project in an office that´s totally doable. – Karl Dec 10 '17 at 15:19

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