Signs of a failed “Software Sprint”

Anup MarwadiProduct Development

Software Development in action

Ineffective planning often leads to the failure of software development projects. Detecting early signs of trouble and realigning teams are crucial for success.

Growth and complex projects present challenges that require adaptable processes and careful management of product-engineering collaboration.

NOTE: This blog post is based on real-life experiences. Last year, we grew by about 300% and growth always comes with its own unique set of challenges. Your processes have to change and adapt with each incremental 100% growth. To add to that, we took on some very complex, fast-paced projects and gave away the product strategy reins to our customers. In hindsight, we should’ve controlled the product-engineering collaboration more effectively as soon as we noticed these cracks, but hindsight is 20-20 and we failed in doing so early enough. Failure has taught us some amazing lessons, more on that later.

How it all begins

Sprint failures typically stem from misalignment between product and engineering teams, and aggressive roadmaps lacking prioritization.

Early warning signs include missed sprint goals and accumulating bugs and technical debt, leading to overwhelmed teams and decreased morale. Constant deadline pressure and ignoring feedback loops exacerbate these issues even further.


We strongly feel that feedback loops such as Sprint Retrospectives need to be considered very seriously.

Executives and engineering teams can learn a lot about the company’s morale by peeking into these indicators.

Skip-level meetings and 1-on-1’s also help identify what is working and what isn’t. I strongly advise that engineering and product teams offer psychological safety within teams if they expect the teams to perform well consistently.

“What are these signs?,” you ask?

Here are a few tell-tale signs that engineering and product are misaligned and need to regroup and figure out a better strategy for success.

1. Unmet Sprint Goals

The team consistently fails to achieve the goals set at the beginning of the sprint. This could indicate overly ambitious planning, underestimation of tasks, or unforeseen obstacles.

2. Carryover Work

A significant amount of work is carried over to the next sprint. While some carryover can be normal, a consistent pattern suggests issues with estimation, scope creep, or prioritization.

3. Decreasing Quality

An increase in bugs, technical debt, or compromised work quality to meet deadlines. This might indicate a rush to complete tasks without adequate attention to quality standards.

4. Team Morale and Burnout

Signs of decreased team morale, increased stress, or burnout. This could result from unrealistic workloads, lack of support, or failure to meet expectations, leading to dissatisfaction and decreased productivity.

5. Poor Communication and Collaboration

Breakdowns in communication within the team or with stakeholders, leading to misunderstandings, misaligned expectations, or conflicts. Collaboration issues can result in duplicated efforts or critical tasks being overlooked.

6. Stakeholder Dissatisfaction

Negative feedback from stakeholders regarding the deliverables, process, or outcomes of the sprint. This may be due to unmet expectations, poor quality, or missed deadlines.

7. Lack of Process Adherence

If the team consistently bypasses or shortcuts Agile/Scrum ceremonies (stand-ups, retrospectives, planning meetings), it indicates a disconnection from the process, which can lead to disorganization and missed objectives.

8. Scope Creep

Continuous addition of tasks to the sprint without adjusting timelines or priorities can overwhelm the team and dilute focus from the main objectives.

Addressing the Signs of a Failed Sprint

Recognizing these signs early is crucial for taking corrective action and preventing future failures. Here are some steps to address the issues:

  • Conduct a thorough retrospective to understand the root causes.
  • Re-evaluate the sprint planning process to ensure realistic goals and estimations.
  • Strengthen communication channels and ensure stakeholder involvement throughout the sprint.
  • Focus on team health and morale, implementing changes to workload management and providing support where needed.
  • Adopt a continuous improvement mindset, applying lessons learned to future sprints.

Failure is a natural part of the learning process in Agile development. What’s important is how the team responds to these challenges, using them as opportunities to grow and improve.