The Sprint Burndown is dead, long live Confidence Smileys

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I’ve met very few teams that successfully found a valuable and useful way to update and use a Sprint Burndown. The Sprint Burndown can be tedious to update (if done manually), and doesn’t seem to trigger the discussions in the Scrum team it is designed for. Even to agree on a unit causes confusion (hours, tasks, finished User Stories?).

But don’t despair; let me introduce you to Confidence Smileys. Confidence Smileys provide a simple, honest, transparent and overview-friendly tool for the team to visualize how confident a team is that they will be able to finish each User Story by the end of the sprint. The can replace the need for a Sprint Brundown (or Sprint Burnup), or function as a complement.

The idea first presented itself when working with a team at Spotify. It immediately became appreciated and popular, both by the team and by the Product Owner. Since then I’ve pitched the idea to many more teams, both directly and indirectly through friends and colleagues, many are still using it today.

It’s very simple. At the end of every daily meeting the team asks themselves how confident they are that they will be able to finish each User Story by the end of the sprint. The answer is represented by a Confidence Smiley.

The team quickly goes through each lane/User Story and updates the color of the Confidence Smiley. When in disagreement, you could let the most pessimistic vote wins.

Happy/Green smiley = We are confident that we will be able to finish this story by the end of this sprint

Nervous/Orange smiley = We will probably not be able to finish this story

Sad/Red smiley = No way we will be able to finish this story

Green checkbox = User story is DONE.

When a smiley shifts (from green to orange, or from orange to red) the team grabs the opportunity to discuss what they need to do, how they can help out, and if they need to alert Product Owners and Stakeholders on changes in the forecast.

A few examples of discussions that a change of a Confidence Smiley could trigger:

  • What needs to happen for the Nervous (or Sad) smiley to become Confident? Can we make that happen?
  • If we removed a User Story from the Sprint would that enable us to focus and finish the remaining?
  • Can we slice the User Story and deliver a smaller increment?
  • Which stakeholders do we need to alert on the change in the forecast?

Confidence Smileys offer an instant and simple overview of the sprint progress. Not only for the team but for anyone. It’s super easy to start using them and quicker and more informative than a Sprint Burndown.

Let go of the Sprint Burndown. Let it die.

Try something else.

Run an experiment with Confidence Smileys 🙂

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