What Is Inspect and Adapt in Scrum?

An empirical approach to work
An infographic defining inspect and adapt in scrum

Reviewed by: Raúl Herranz

Inspection and adaptation are two of the three pillars of scrum, along with transparency. Together, these pillars enable an empirical approach to delivering value, increasing predictability, and controlling risk. With empiricism, scrum teams gain knowledge through experience, evidence, and observation. 

What Is Inspect and Adapt?

Inspect and adapt is a fundamental scrum principle that informs the practice of continuous evaluation and adjustment based on the given conditions.

Inspect: to look at something closely and view it critically

Adapt: to adjust, modify, or change something for a new purpose or conditions

Inspect and adapt are part of scrum's empirical process control. Transparency, inspection, and adaptation are the three pillars of scrum. Transparency enables inspection, and inspection informs adaptation to create an empirical approach to increasing predictability and controlling risk.

Scrum includes four formal events for inspection and adaptation within the container event of the sprint: 

Each of these events focuses on particular aspects of the scrum process so that most anything can be inspected and adapted. 

Why Do We Need Inspect and Adapt?

Let's consider the sprint planning event as an example. Based on your experience with traditional work planning events, you might not think of this as an opportunity for inspection and adaptation, but these are inherent to all scrum events. 

The sprint planning event includes developing a sprint goal, forecasting what can be delivered during a sprint, and the developers planning how they will achieve the delivery of items. 

In a typical sprint planning event, the product owner may come to the meeting with a proposal for the sprint goal and ideas about which product backlog items (PBIs) will fulfill the sprint goal. Then, the scrum team developers, taking into consideration their velocity and current capacity, plan the work they will do for each of the PBIs. 

In this example, the scrum team has inspected the product backlog, sprint backlog, capacity, and recent performance. Together, they may adapt the sprint goal and the PBIs of the sprint backlog based on what they've inspected.

Examples of Inspect and Adapt Topics

Here are some examples of topics effective scrum teams often consider during inspection and adaptation events:

The Work and Other Outcomes

Stakeholders have opportunities to inspect the work of the scrum team and the scrum team’s progress toward the product goal. Based on stakeholder feedback, the scrum team adapts relevant items such as the product backlog, the product goal, or other aspects of their plan.

Collaboration and Communication Improvements

A scrum team needs to be able to work together to create valuable increments. If developers, product owners, and the scrum master don't collaborate and communicate with each other as necessary, you need to inspect the interactions to identify the root causes, then adapt how you work together to improve.

Technical Skillsets

Cross-functional teams inspect whether they have any missing skills or knowledge. If they do, they collaborate to figure out how to learn, grow, share knowledge, or add new team members when necessary.

Bottlenecks and Hang-ups

Are there particular bottlenecks that are interfering with the team’s effectiveness? Common examples include when you need input from outside the team or if a team member has difficulty achieving certain tasks. Inspect these impediments to see if you can adapt your processes around them. 

Definition of Ready and Definition of Done

Inspection and adaptation may appear in the way a scrum team works with a definition of ready and a definition of done list.

While a relatively new scrum team may have a long definition of ready (DoR) list and a short definition of done (DoD) list, over time, the opposite may be true. As the team matures and inspects the DoR and the way it affects their work, they may ultimately choose to shorten the list as they learn that they can get started on work without first completing an exhaustive checklist.

On the other hand, their DoD list may get longer over time as they learn exactly what defines standards of high quality for their team, stakeholders, and product or service. They may adapt the DoD to reflect this learning.

Common Challenges the Scrum Team May Face

As a scrum team, your ability to inspect and adapt may not always be without challenges, such as:

  • Your scrum team is in a hurry and feels like it doesn't have time for inspection and adaptation
  • Stakeholders don't show up to your sprint reviews to inspect the increment, so adaptation never feels fully realized
  • The contract doesn't allow for adaptation 
  • Certain people within the organization feel like the way things were done before scrum was working fine and are resistant to this change

The solutions will of course depend on your context and other factors. The scrum framework itself has some of the solutions: the scrum events set aside time for inspecting and adapting, so scheduling these events supports the team's ability to find time.

If stakeholders do not show up to sprint review, reach out to your scrum master to ask for support to coach the rest of your organization in this important aspect of scrum and how it contributes to delivering value. Once stakeholders begin attending and realize that their feedback on work is valued, they may feel more engaged in the process.

If you're working with a contract that doesn't allow for adaptation or a "this isn't the way we've done things before" mentality, you'll need to collaborate with your scrum master and teammates to resolve these blockers to your progress. The solution will look different in each business.

Tips for a Good Inspect and Adapt Event

As with many aspects of scrum, inspect and adapt is easy to understand, but can be hard to master. Here are some tips to improve these two components of empiricism.

Foster the Values of Scrum

We've talked a lot about scrum's theory, events, and artifacts, but it's also important to remember the values that each scrum team should embrace and embody:

  • Commitment
  • Focus
  • Openness
  • Respect
  • Courage

When these values guide team members, inspect and adapt events are generally more effective. 

Transparency Is Crucial in Scrum 

Transparency enables inspection. Without transparency, inspection loses value. The scrum value of openness is critical to transparency. 

Implement the Most Important Changes First

In the various inspect and adapt events, you will likely identify multiple potential adaptations. It can be difficult to attempt too many changes at once, so it's important to determine which changes will have the biggest impact on your team's ability to deliver valuable increments and implement these changes first. 

Get Support from Leadership

Adaptation is more difficult when the team is not empowered or self-managing. In most organizations, worker empowerment requires explicit support from leadership. Getting leadership support will make it easier for your team to implement adaptations as soon as they know they need to. 

Inspection and Adaptation for Agile Teams

Inspection and adaptation are two of the three pillars of scrum, enabling an empirical approach to deliver value. When stakeholders, customers, and contributors can see and inspect work, feedback, and interactions can inform any needed adaptations, ultimately supporting the scrum team’s ability to provide value. 

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