The Setup

For teams that are using Scrum, it’s inevitable that at some point they will have incomplete work at the end of a Sprint. In fact, it will happen about half the time if teams are using Velocity (average story points completed per Sprint) to load their Sprints. It’s simple math as described in my post here. This incomplete work is most often called “carryover”.

The question becomes, what do we do when this happens?

There are a few options:

  1. As the Scrum Guide suggests, put all incomplete work back on the Product Backlog. If it’s still important it will be selected for inclusion in the next Sprint during the next Sprint Planning meeting.
  2. Nearly every team I’ve work with moved the incomplete story, in its entirety, directly into the next Sprint.
  3. Split the incomplete story into two stories, one for the current sprint and one for the next Sprint. The second story would be all the bits that aren’t yet done on the original story. It’s this option I’m going to talk about in this post.

Option 3

Just as it’s inevitable that teams will have incomplete work at the end of some Sprints, when splitting incomplete stories, it’s also almost inevitable that some teams, and/or some managers, will ask “What do we do with the Story Points”?

Again, as with most things, you have options:

  1. Assign all the Story Points to 2nd story which represents all the incomplete work. The reasoning here is that until all of the work is done, the customer doesn’t receive any value from the efforts. Scrum puts an emphasis on finishing, on getting to “Done”. Incomplete story work is, well, not done.
  2. Split the Story Points between the two stories. The reasoning here is the team has worked hard to get to this point. They have put in considerable effort. They should get some “credit”. Or that for some reason their Velocity will be “wrong” if we don’t count at least some points here to account for their time & efforts. This is where they be dragons.

A Team Outing

Let’s say the team of 10 has been doing some awesome work so you’d like to take them out for a nice celebratory dinner. They decide on steaks for everyone!

After selecting and being served some cocktails and ordering appetizers, the server comes to your table and hands you a check for the drinks.

You: But we haven’t been served our meal yet. Why are you giving me the check for the drinks, some people may want more?

Server: Well, the bartender worked hard to deliver some of the drinks so should get some credit.

You: Well, OK.

At which point you pay the server.

But we haven’t even gotten our appetizers yet!

Then the appetizers get served and they sure do look delicious. At which point the server hands you another check.

You: What is this for?

Server: The appetizers of course

You: But we haven’t finished our meal yet?

Server: Well, the chef worked really hard on these appetizers and would like some credit for doing so. I’ve seen the main courses being prepared and they do look wonderful. You’ll really enjoy them once they are done cooking. Trust me.

You: But this makes no sense. Why are we being asked to pay for every little piece of the meal?

And of course this continues throughout the rest of the meal, desserts and any additional drinks ordered by the team.

Does any of that make sense?

Then why do you expect teams to want, or be given, partial credit for incomplete work?


Several of the teams I’ve worked with over the years have tried to split incomplete work at the end of a Sprint. And several of those teams have tried the partial credit route as well. Each and every team, within 3 Sprints, stopped splitting stories. The found exactly zero value in doing so and it was just causing so much additional conversation, and time spent splitting and haggling over points, that were worth exactly zero value to them or the customers at the end of the day.

So experiment with splitting and partial credit if you desire. But when doing so understand that your customers do not care either way and they would likely just prefer you get on with the work of delivering high value to them.

Wrapping Up

Once a Sprint has been planned, the Story Points, if they ever had any meaning, are now useless. Story Points may help teams to load a sprint, nothing more. They were never intended to be more than a very lightweight short term planning tool so stop trying to make them mean more than they do.

If a story is incomplete at the end of the sprint, and releasing part of it is valuable to the customer, then do that. Split off the valuable work and deliver it. But, IME, this is quite rare and is instead an indicator that your stories are too large to begin with – fix that. The most valuable part of the original story should have likely been a separate story entirely.

If teams or managers feel the need to get or give some sort of “credit” for incomplete work I also suggest looking at the supporting environment. Does the team not feel valued in other ways? What might be missing that they seek “credit” for simply being busy?

And always remember, only completed work, in production, is of any use to your customers.

Until next time!

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