Name your sprints

Are you in a team following Scrum? Or any other method using iterations to do your work?

Are you naming them?

I don’t mean names such as “Sprint 1”, “Iteration 2016-25”. Those aren’t names. Not in my book, anyway. Those are meaningless collections of words and numbers. Entered only because your backlog software has made the name field required.

True, they have some meaning. “Sprint 1” carries the (implied) meaning that it happened before “Sprint 25”. “Iteration 2016-25” can even be interpreted as the 25th sprint in 2016, or perhaps the sprint that started in week 25 of 2016.

To me, however, these are still utterly meaningless names. They don’t say anything at all about what work was done. Let alone anything about why the work was done.

Easy way out

Meaningless names are often a symptom of your team starting to follow Scrum, hopefully because you wanted to, and had a hard time finding a name for the work that was on your plate.

After all, you weren’t starting a new project, but had all sorts of odds and ends going on. Bugs, small feature requests, small improvements, some refactorings. The work in the pipeline was “all over the place”.

Some larger features were in the pipeline and would be nice to create a tightly focused sprint. One that could get a meaningful nickname. But they were still being refined by the business analysts and it would be some time before they got to the top of the backlog.

So you decided to just go with what Jira suggested. 1 Jira, or whatever flavor of an issue tracker you happen to use.

For now, of course. So you could get on with the more important work of planning the sprint.

It wasn’t as if the use of a sequence number was written in stone. Once the product owner had had a chance to really prioritize the backlog and group issues a bit more around existing or new features, you could still switch.

As time went on, however, the naming convention never changed. You got used to it. And although trying to remember in which sprint something was done, was not easy, it was something you had learned to live with.

Besides, coming up with names is hard. Any developer can tell you that with a heart wrenching sigh of desperation.

And those larger features? The ones that could make it easy to name a sprint? Oh, yes, they had made it to the top of the backlog. All of them. And the product owner wanted to move forward on them simultaneously. So in the end, no sprint had had any real focus or a name.

Names matter

Why should you care about the names of your iterations? After all, they are just some way to identify a sprint. And as long as they are unique, why bother with a meaningful name?

Because names matter.

As any developer having to make sense of a piece of code s/he has not seen for longer than three weeks can attest.

Meaningful names convey a lot of …, well, … meaning.

Meaningful names easily become associated with a “greater whole”. They become the “shorthand” for that greater whole.

Meaningful names can signal the sprint goal, or become an easily memorized substitute for it.

Meaningful names carry emotional load. As soon as they are thought up. If you name your sprints, that emotional load will change as the sprint progresses. Its emotional color will follow how well or how bad the work is going.

Lack of focus

As already alluded to, not naming your sprints can also indicate a lack of focus. When a team working on an existing product starts to follow Scrum, there will be a lot going on. A lack of focus in the first sprint is not out of the ordinary. Maybe even to be expected.

As the first sprint progresses, though, the scrum master and product owner could spend time to group outstanding issues. By component, by feature set, by user type, by … whatever you care to use as a characteristic.

That should help significantly in coming up with names for sprints.

Once you decided on the “main” group for a sprint, you could even add issues that fell outside that group. As long as the issues within the main group made up the bulk of the work in a sprint, it would still be fair to name the sprint for that group.

(Names matter)^2

Can you remember “Sprint 42”? I’d bet not. But I’d bet that you would have instant recollection of everything associated with the “Heuristic Bomb Cable” sprint. Good and bad.

Do you know the goal of “Sprint 2016-34”? What about the “Extensible Calculator” sprint?

Would you get out of bed in the morning for “Sprint 17-01”? How about the “Open-source Cutting-edge Wealth” sprint?

I believe focusing and naming sprints can have tremendous benefits. Probably unquantifiable. But still. I’d say that naming sprints helps everybody to keep focused on the sprint goal. 3 That should go a long way to lessen focus on individual performance and get team members to collaborate more effectively.

How are you naming your sprints?
Would having a name generator help?
Would it be okay to have “made up” names?
Would a name generator using the titles of issues selected for the sprint be preferable?

1 I know for a fact that Jira will suggest “Sprint 1” for the first sprint on a new Scrum board. It will come up with better guesses when it can detect a pattern in the names of sprints already on a board.
2 I would love to see a comparison of metrics on a team before and after they started focusing and naming their sprints. If you know of any, please let me know.
3 See Stop using anemic daily stand-up questions for a reason why keeping the sprint goal at the front of everybody’s mind is important.

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