3 Steps to Manage Unplanned Work in Scrum
If you’re like most of the Scrum teams I’m working with in our Sustainable Predictability program, you’re likely in a good flow, smoothly handling planned tasks with a steady rhythm. You set goals, plan for each sprint and get stuff done.
But every now and then, as you’re deep into your work, you’ll notice a Slack message with your name on it, vying for your attention. Dang, this only occurs with urgent requests.
You’re not thrilled. You know these kind of requests are throwing everyone off. It’s not just about finishing the work anymore; it’s about keeping your promises to the team and your higher-ups.
Managing unplanned work has become a challenge. The team is trying to keep up with the plan, attend meetings, answer questions, and now, add new urgent things to their plates.
It’s not a surprice that late nights have become part of the routine lately as you all scramble to meet the deadlines. In the rush to get everything done, beside all of your efforts, quality starts to suffer.
There’s no need for it to be like this!
What if I told you that there is a simple way to handle the situation effectively? What if you had a dependable system to reclaim your team’s focus and minimize disruptions?
The best part is, making this happen only requires 3 simple steps!
3 Steps for Scrum Teams to Handle Unplanned Work Effectively
Even when faced with urgent requests and unexpected work, there’s a straightforward three-step solution to regain control, stay focused, and avoid interruptions for your teams.
The steps are:
- Track Unplanned Tickets in Your Process
- Allocate Capacity for Unexpected Work
- Visualize Your Work Distribution
Let’s explore each of them in more detail.
Step #1 Track Unplanned Tickets in Your Process
The first step in managing unplanned work in Scrum is to leverage your historical performance data and monitor the quantity of unplanned tasks within your process.
Make it a practice to tag unplanned tasks on your board as they surface. The easiest way to do that is to introduce a Expedite class of service for unexpected work that has to be handled immediately.
This strategy will enable you to start measuring the number of unplanned tickets in your process. This is where the Throughput Breakdown Chart comes into play.
Use Nave’s Throughput Breakdown Chart to see how much unplanned work your teams are handling. Try it out at no cost for 14 days (No CC required!) →
The Throughput Breakdown Chart is a great tool to use when it comes to emphasizing the volume of unplanned work that your team has to deal with.
It displays all of your completed work items split by class of service, exposing the percentage that your Expedite work represents of the overall work you’ve delivered.
In the example above, we see that roughly 20% of the team’s workload consists of unplanned tasks.
Step #2 Allocate Capacity for Unexpected Work
Now that the analysis is done, let’s proceed to step #2 and assign capacity to each class of service in your workflow.
In order for this team to better manage their unplanned work, they used the information from the Throughput Breakdown Chart to allocate capacity as follows:
With a commitment to deliver 10 items in the current sprint, here’s how many tickets the team will handle per class simultaneously:
Now, when an expedited item enters their process, it won’t disrupt the standard workflow. This is because they’ve reserved capacity for unplanned work, effectively minimizing the impact it has on their performance.
In this second step, we’re intentionally reserving capacity for unplanned work using our historical performance as a reference.
You might wonder, what if a third expedited item comes in? In that case, you temporarily raise the number of Expedite items and lower the number of items of a service class with lower demand.
The most important part here is to let your team perform at an optimal capacity to keep the work flowing. As they deliver more work, you can observe how the throughput trends change over time and adjust the number of items accordingly.
Step #3 Visualize Your Work Distribution
So, how can your Kanban system support this idea? In step #3, we’ll implement swimlanes for this specific purpose.
By setting a limit on each swimlane, we can regulate the number of cards with a particular class allowed on the board simultaneously. This approach will enable you to manage the distribution of your team capacity across the different classes of service.
Here’s what the Kanban board would look like:
Each class of service has its dedicated swimlane with a predefined number of tickets available at any one time.
This strategy provides a decision-making framework to determine which work your team can or cannot undertake to be able to hit their targets consistently.
It also ensures that your team can handle unexpected tasks without being overloaded, thus maintaining a smoother workflow and efficient response to unplanned demands.
Here is your today’s action item: If you haven’t already, go ahead and hook up Nave to your management platform (it’s free for the first 14 days!) →
With our analytics suite, you’ll have access to resources, ongoing support, and everything you need to help your teams nail their commitments and build better products faster.
That’s it for today my friend. By following these steps, you’ll address your Scrum team’s toughest challenges with unplanned work, preventing scope creep and prioritization dilemmas.
Thanks for checking in with me. I’m excited to see you again next Thursday, same time and place, for more action-packed managerial insights. Bye for now!
Meet the Author
Sonya Siderova is a passionate product manager and a driving force behind Nave, a Kanban analytics suite that helps teams improve their delivery speed through data-driven decision making. When she's not catering to her two little ones, you might find Sonya absorbed in a good heavyweight boxing match or behind a screen crafting a new blog post.