The development process with Scrum means that the teams involved release software versions quickly and continuously. However, when it comes to implementation in operations, there are always problems that development and operations can only solve together. However, this additional effort is not intended in the Scrum process. In order to avoid frustration on one side or even both, there needs to be a way to deal with such challenges.

At Randstad Digital we have had good experiences with the "biscuit system" in various projects. This is an innovative method that is based on the Scrum process and is enriched with elements of communication. The biscuit system gets its name from the fact that the biscuits represent a kind of "currency" that represents bonus time for unexpected problems. Below we take a look at exactly how this works.

Operational tasks are also reflected in the Scrum process

Even though DevOps are becoming increasingly popular, the – at least organizational – separation between development and operations is still a reality in many companies. And: if the development is practiced close to the Scrum textbook, operational issues are not taken into account. If disruptions occur during operations, this makes planning the sprint more difficult and leads to technical and functional disruptions in the productive system. This makes it more challenging  to achieve planned sprint goals. The agile engine starts to stutter - as if sand or sugar had gotten into the tank...

One way to solve this challenge without an additional process - and thus an alternative to the cookie system - is to switch to Kanban. This should be mentioned before we take a closer look at the biscuit system. In contrast to Scrum, Kanban does not prescribe a sprint cycle and therefore no sprint planning. Therefore, (additional) operational tasks can be more easily integrated into the development process. If the necessary buffer for the unplanned is more than 35 percent, a switch to Kanban is the obvious choice. However, it should be mentioned that there may still be a major change if development has previously worked with Scrum. It is therefore necessary to weigh up whether a change is really worthwhile in view of the effort involved.


The biscuit system enables Scrum plus operational tasks

Since there are many good reasons to stick with Scrum, the cookie system comes into play in many cases. This is about projects in which five to a maximum of 35 percent of the time has to be set aside as a buffer for operational tasks. The basic function of the biscuit system is to ensure that the sprint planning remains achievable despite the operational tasks.

A time buffer for the unexpected should therefore be planned for each sprint. In each sprint, the expected effort is re-estimated and, if necessary, adjusted to the estimate. This buffer allows developers to fix operational tasks while still meeting sprint planning. The size of the buffer can be calculated as follows: First, the extent of the available staff time is estimated and a buffer calculated as a percentage is defined.

This buffer is now translated into a number of biscuits. Each cookie corresponds to a unit of time, for example an hour. If the team is busy with an unplanned task of more than 15 minutes, they can remove the required number of biscuits from the bowl. For example, if a developer treats an unforeseen incident over an hour and a half, he can take two cookies for it.

The sprint planning is only considered to have failed when the entire bowl of biscuits has been used up. At the same time, an “early warning system” is integrated into the Scrum process. The product owner can derive appropriate measures from this, for example informing the stakeholders about the missed goal or removing less urgent user stories from the sprint.

It also makes sense to create your own documentation for the biscuit system, which shows how many biscuits were taken for which tasks. This provides a good basis for making optimizations to the estimation and workflows. If buffers remain unused over several sprints, this can be mapped in a new plan.

In summary, it can be said that a certain modification of the Scrum process is required to also take operational tasks into account. The cookie system has proven to be a simple and effective way to do this. Last but not least, working with the biscuits also provided some fun, which is a factor that should not be overlooked for a successful project.