The No-Sex-Curve of SCRUM

This article is focused on the Burn Down Chart, and what it can tell you about the team members quality of life.


If you are suffering from any of these symptoms, you probably already know the symptoms of the no-sex-curve:

  • Is your team constantly fighting to be ready in time for Sprint Demo?
  • Do you tend to “cut corners” to make the deadline? (minimize testing, documentation or other parts of the process)
  • Do you feel stressed when getting close to the end of a Sprint – and drained in the beginning of one?

So why do I call this the No-Sex-Curve?

Here is a little story you might be able to relate to.

You are almost at the end of a Sprint, and are extremely pressed for time. You need to run very fast and do long hours in order to make it. Everything else has to be placed on hold to get ready for Sprint Demo. As part of the team you have promised to deliver the Sprint, so you can’t let the team down!

While you are fighting at work, your wife is stuck at home with the kids trying to handle everything on her own (preparing dinner, activate the kids, drive them to sports activities, helping them do homework and finally tuck them in).

When you then finally get home after a really long day at work, your wife wants to include you in what has been happening while you were away (the kids were fighting, your mom called, and so on). The only problem is you are so exhausted that you just want to sleep – and therefore don’t really listen.

The next day history repeats itself – you need to get the last things ready for demo, so you work late again – and it keeps going until you finally make it. You are ready for Sprint Demo.

Now I could start mentioning all the things that would probably go wrong during the demo, because you neither had time to do testing or prepare the actual presentation. However, for now I will skip this part, and assume that you succeed in carrying out an excellent demo session.

You then start planning the next sprint and enjoy that you don’t have a gun to your head anymore – you can relax and spend some well-deserved time with your family.

BUT… after completely ignoring your wife for several days, she is not a happy camper. You will really have to make an extra effort to get in her good graces again. The only problem is that just as things start to improve, you are getting awfully close to the next Sprint demo.

Oh, did I mention that work also sucks because quality is starting to slip and your velocity is constantly decreasing?

So, what is the answer?

There are several reasons why you can end up in this situation. Some typical reasons are:

  • You have unrealistic expectations to your own performance
  • You have forgotten good engineering practices
  • Management is pressuring you to over perform

Either way it all results in a dysfunctional team.

For now, I will assume that you are reading this article before you have all If you have ended up in a viscous circle, where the entire team is completely drained, you probably need some help from the outside to reboot the process.

To get back on track you first need to start taking your Retrospective session seriously. If you have stopped doing your Retrospective session, you need to re-introduce immediately.

During your Retrospective you of cause need to do a “Try” and “Keep” session, combined with an impediment session. Throughout both sessions, your primary focus has to be how you permanently get rid of the No-Sex-Curve.

Most likely, you will have more than one thing to focus on. To prioritize your effort, you then assign business value and estimates to each your initiatives, and place them as top priorities on your Sprint Backlog. At the same time, you should reduce the team velocity in the upcoming Sprint, so the team can operate within normal working hours. This will allow the team to focus on what is broken instead of simply chasing yet another deadline.

You should only consider yourself back on track when:

  • Your primary Retrospective initiatives have been handled
  • You are doing continuous testing
  • You are doing continuous integration
  • You are doing continuous documentation

How long you have to spend on cleaning up depends on your situation, but it normally doesn’t take more than a single dedicated Sprint. If you can’t handle everything in a Sprint, it is probably a good idea to get external help.

If you haven’t done Retrospectives before, or have ended in a permanent “No-Sex-Curve” situation, I can only recommend to get help from a professional facilitator. That way you get a solid process execution, acquire new inspiration and are able focus on the issues instead of trying a new process.

When the team has cleaned up, you will experience a higher performance than before – and more “Quality Time” ;-)


Best regards and good luck Allan Rennebo Jepsen

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