Have you experienced problems with competition amongst team members/developers within a Sprint. A Sprint is a race, after all. Most people associate this term to mean a short dash, going as fast as you can, competing against a number of others. There’s a great new show called Silicon Valley (by Mike Judge of Beavis and Butthead fame) that shows this dysfunction on a Scrum team.

http://youtu.be/oyVksFviJVE (Warning: funny, but slightly inappropriate in areas)

After watching this, ask yourself, are we truly a team trying to achieve a common goal, or are we still individuals competing amongst one another? How do we measure progress? How do we reward folks? How do we handle the type of dysfunctional behavior in the above video, and who does it? Is this is a reason to begin using the term Iteration instead of Sprint?

In my experience, I’ve not seen the competition quite so blatant amongst developers as in the aforementioned video. But I have seen it. And as a Scrum Master and an Agile Coach, I have pointed them back to the Agile Manifesto’s 12 Principles…


The one that stands out, to this point is…

Working software is the primary measure of progress.

In other words, we’re not measuring lines of code written, or story points completed, or hours worked. We’re measuring working software completed, at the Team level. Did we, as a Team, meet our Sprint goal, and deliver something valuable to our customer through early and continuous delivery.

Velocity is another metric that gets misconstrued, in my experience. At the end of the day, velocity is a planning metric for the Team. We shouldn’t use it as a measure of speed compared to another team or another individual; i.e. I’m a great developer because I was able to complete 4 stories for a total of 20 story points in this 2 week Iteration. The guy sitting next to me only got 10 story points done. Therefore, as their logic goes, I’m twice as good a developer as him. And I should be compensated accordingly when it comes bonus time.

Yeah, but what if we have slackers on our team, and there’s really only one or two people doing a majority of the work? Well, there’s probably a reason for this behavior, actual or perceived. My advice is to dig in to the root cause. Clearly fodder for the Retrospective at the end of the Iteration (a.k.a. Sprint). Beyond that, it’s really up to the Team to resolve if they can. Escalate as necessary.

My initial assumption starts with the idea that we have self-motivated individuals on our Teams. And that it’s my job as a Scrum Master to provide them the environment and support they need to get the job done. If I can’t do that myself, I get help. Servant leadership.

What experiences have you had with intra-team competition?

Join the Discussion

    • Satish Thatte

      You have pointed out an important issue or dysfunction that may adversely impact an agile or Scrum team. This kind of intra-team rivalary among the team members is harmful. It may happen due to lack of true understanding of agile values and principles as you have stated, or a lack of servant leadership.

      Another and probably more harmful dysfunction is inter-team rivalries. Instead of working together as a team of teams on a common goal, these teams compete (or made to compete) against each other, forgetting who their real competition is, which is outside the company, and may be waiting to eat away their lunch. Clearly there is a role for agile executives to play in avoiding destructive competition among teams working on the same of set of goals.

      Satish Thatte

    • Mike McLaughlin

      You make an excellent point, Satish re: the inter-team rivalries. The example I gave (and the video) showed just a single teams dysfunction. As organizations begin scaling Agile more each day, this could definitely cause problems in not only synchronization of work, but in the culture of the organization.

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