How unplanned work affects flow vs batches

How does your team respond to unplanned work? Does it lead to crunch time?

What happens when your team is faced with some unplanned work? That is, your manager, or an important customer, or any external stakeholder comes along and says “Hey team! This really important thing needs to be done tomorrow!”

How do you respond to this person?

How does this new request affect your current tasks or your planned work?

Of course there are as many specific answers to this as there are specific teams.

But I recently had some general insight into this problem, which was directly called out on a recent episode of the No Nonsense Agile podcast:

Teams that work using a batch-based process, such as Scrum, are often inclined to “work harder” to get the unplanned work, in addition to their current commitment. They take on the additional work, but maybe they stay late to finish their Sprint commitment, for example. Or they (God forbid) skimp on quality, to get their assigned stories completed on time.

In contrast, teams that work in a more flow-based process, are often more inclined to simply take on the unplanned work, and push their existing work out. Or at the very least, to offer the choice to the stakeholder: “I can work on this new task, but that means my current task will be delayed by the same number of days.”

Have you experienced either (or both) of these patterns?

Which approach seems healthier, and more sustainable to you?

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