How Many Scrum Projects Can a Developer Be On?

This post was inspired from a question that was asked on the scrumdevelopment yahoo user group.  The question was regarding several things.  First, how to handle a developer on multiple Scrum projects, second how to sync the sprints, and third what tools can be used to handle the multiple projects.  I’m addressing the first and second aspects, and not the third about the tools.

Having developers on multiple projects is a very common thing. It is the wrong thing.  If the project solutions have to integrate eventually, then it makes more sense…but in that case, the developers on multiple projects should be used in a different capacity. More leadership and guidance and less actual coding.

If developers are on multiple projects and the projects are unrelated, you’ll have to stagger the sprints, i.e. they shouldn’t start and end on the same day. Imagine developers having to attend 3 sprint planning sessions in one day, 3 retrospectives in one day, 3 standups in one day. I tried that once with 4 projects…yeah it sucked. Developers on the teams were doing nothing but attending meetings. Their first impression of Scrum was “meeting hell”. Plus, you can only be in one place at once, so some of the projects suffered due to lack of attendance.

If the projects have to integrate, the sprints should sync up, as the goal is potentially shippable software…and you can’t ship unless you integrate.

Either way, it is bad to have developers on more than one…”maybe” two projects. The cost of context switching is too high. I know it sounds impossible to have developers on only one project, but if you make it happen, you will not regret it. It’s just scary because we’ve been trained that “multi-tasking is good”. That is a big fat lie.