When a team selects a set of product backlog items to work on in a sprint, the ScrumMaster and product owner should expect that the team will finish those items. Not always, but most of the time.

I coach teams that during sprint planning they are to commit to a set of product backlog items that they will deliver.

(Yes, I know the word commit has gone out of favor in the Scrum world over the past few years. But I think that’s a mistake and a misunderstanding of the word.)

When a team commits to a set of product backlog items, they are saying they will do their best to deliver those items within the sprint.

The team is not making a guarantee. They are committing to do their best to deliver what they said they would. That’s all.

I tell teams I’d like to see them fulfill that commitment about 80 to 90% of the time. That is, I want them to make it most of the time.

I never actually measure how often they deliver everything. I never track anything like number of product backlog items delivered divided by number of product backlog items committed to.

I really don’t want to know it that precisely. Tracking it at that level would introduce too much dysfunctionality into the team’s behavior.

If a team is told they must deliver everything every time, the team may respond by under committing during sprint planning. I would rather have a team that feels safe sometimes grabbing a little more than they may finish, knowing there are no repercussions if they don’t finish.

So, I want the team to finish all they say they will in most but not in all sprints. If a team finishes everything most of the time, the organization will have a great deal of predictability.

And that will help our organizations succeed with agile,

Mike Cohn

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