Aug 08

Please the customer, fix the scope.

The first couple times this happened I was not prepared. We thought we were doing the perfect agile project and worked together as a perfect team. The Product Owner was committed and really into agile. We all were aware that we were working with a variable scope. Everything seemed ok.

But then, at about three quarters of the project, things got a bit more tense. The question: “Is everything we need going to be in it?” was raised. And we all knew that the main stuff would be. That plus all the new stuff we created since we used our new insight and such. The PO told us that he understood. “It is a flexible scope”. We were young and naive and we assumed the if the PO understood everyone understood.

Old habits die hard

Build all the things What happens a lot in this situation is that when there’s some tension people tend to go back to the ways they know and feel certain with.

Managers from clients tend to think they will get more by overruling PO’s or put pressure on them. Demanding that everything that was in the original estimate should be build. In detail. And the “we are doing agile so we do not really know in detail yet” argument is not valid in this environment. It’s about old school management now.

Managers of the development teams tend to put pressure on Scrum Masters and the development teams to keep the customer happy. Tell them to write less testing, stop pairing, add extra developers and say stuff like: ”We have to cover some real ground now”. This is their attempt to please an angry customer without considering the fact that the customer could be unreasonable.

And in this attempt they sometimes make a decision that can destroy everything you and your team have build:

“ We are going to do the last sprint(s) fixed scope, time and budget.”


  • It’s bad
  • It’s bad for the team. It is a signal that they did something wrong and that management is always needed for solving problems.
  • It’s bad for all employees. It says that you can all do that agile thing but when the going gets tough real management is needed.
  • It’s bad for the functionality. With fixed scope and time there’s not much room for new insights. Just build everything.
  • It’s bad for quality. Since the scope is fixed, everything we do that take time costs us money. More functionality, less testing.
  • It’s bad for relations. There’s no collaboration anymore. There’s a client-supplier relationship.
  • It’s bad for the PO’s since they got overruled and their credibility is gone.

And then what?

Be prepared. Be prepared and try to avoid this stress moment. Mostly it happens when you are on 75% of the project. Help both your PO and your management. The chances are that they are not so into Agile as you are so they will need your expertise. Go outside your team and step in their world. Educate. Try to go to their meetings. Demo. Talk to the stakeholders. And if you feel there is some other expertise needed, ask the people who you think can help.

But most of all do not let this happen to you, your team, Product Owner and the product that you are making. Make a fuss if you need to. It is your project too. You do not want this!

Feel free to give us all some tips or stories in the comments!

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