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Terminating a sprint

Terminating a sprint is essentially throwing away unaccepted work in the sprint the sprint and starting a new sprint instead. This is not a decision that should be taken lightly as it costs. It costs time, it costs effort and it costs money. It will also ruffle more than a few feathers. It is however cheaper that continuing with a sprint that is invalid, will provide no business benefit and not be delivered.
An abnormal Sprint termination is most more often than not the result of a dramatic change in business priorities. Something previously considered important is no longer important, or something even more important is discovered.
Sometimes it is the result of the team discovering they are significantly overcommitted. This could be as a result of discovering significant hidden work, bowing to pressure to accept more work that they normally would. (Another problem I will address later) or a host of other reasons.
Formally terminating should really only happen when the Sprint goal becomes invalid. This termination is then a good way to ensure that the presumed benefits of changing a Sprint backlog mid-Sprint are outweighed by the benefit gained in being able to plan and deliver predictably.

How to go about it

  1. You need absolute certainty from the team and product owner that the Sprint goal cannot be met or has changed significantly and that the benefit of stopping work mid-Sprint outweighs the costs.
  2. The Product Owner calls for Sprint to be abnormally terminated and makes this decision visible to all stakeholders.
  3. A Retrospective is held, and the Team reflects on the reasons for the termination. How it came about and what could have been be done to avoid it in the future. They then put a plan together of what corrective actions, if any, are needed for future sprints.
  4. The Team and the Product Owner execute a new Sprint Planning Session.
  5. The new Sprint is started.

Overall though, it is important to be pragmatic, and think things through before lifting the guard and pushing the button. Make sure that there is nothing else that can be done (reducing the scope/splitting stories …).
Terminating a Sprint is a rare event even for new teams and is not something that should happen regularly!