Everything You Need to Know About Scrum Spikes

Ruth Hadari
Ruth Hadari
Agile Advocate, Engineering Ops Expert
Posted on
Jan 29, 2023
Updated on
Mar 26, 2023
Table of Content

As a Scrum Team member, you may have experienced times when work volumes or task complexity spike unexpectedly. This can be an unwelcome surprise and create a lot of pressure on the team to adjust their approach and workflow quickly in order to stay on track. Here's where Scrum spikes come in.

Scrum is an Agile development methodology that emphasizes collaboration and accountability between cross-functional teams, making it an excellent tool for developing leadership skills in teams.

In fact, your organization may benefit from this approach since 69% of millennials feel that their workplace is not conducive to developing leadership skills.

Here we will cover everything you need to know about Scrum spikes and how they can minimize uncertainty and risks in your projects. Let's get started!

What Is a Spike in Scrum?

A spike in Scrum is a timeboxed event dedicated to researching and exploring a difficult problem. Spikes can be used to investigate requirements, design solutions, or prove technical feasibility during the sprint planning process.

Spikes are especially useful when tackling complex tasks with uncertain outcomes. During the spike, team members brainstorm ideas and explore different approaches that may lead to success under the direction of the Scrum Master. This gives everyone an opportunity to research unknowns without committing too much effort upfront.

In addition to providing valuable insight into potential risks and issues, spikes can also help the Scrum Team learn new skills and technologies. By researching the problem, they may discover creative solutions that hadn't been considered before. This can make them more productive in the long run and lead to higher-quality products.

At the end of a successful spike, teams should have a better understanding of how to approach the task at hand, as well as any potential risks or issues that could arise. Spikes are an invaluable tool for any team that's looking to increase their productivity and build high-quality products.

The Two Types of Scrum Spike

With a spike, the team can explore potential solutions or research new technology in order to make more informed decisions about how to proceed with their product development. Scrum spikes come in two forms:

Technical Spike

Technical spikes involve researching the technology required to build a specific feature within the project.

These might include research into programming languages, frameworks, libraries, databases, APIs, etc., that need to be implemented in order to complete the product design.

Technical spikes are useful for gathering information on technologies that the team may not have experience with, so they can make informed decisions about which ones to use.

Functional Spike

Functional spikes, on the other hand, are focused on understanding user requirements for a specific feature.

This involves talking to stakeholders and users to gain insight into their needs and expectations, as well as researching relevant market trends or competitive products in order to better understand what features should be included in the project.

Functional spikes also include designing prototypes of potential features that can be tested by users to ensure they meet all necessary requirements before being implemented in production code.

When Should Spikes Be Planned?

One key element of Sprint Planning is creating spikes. Spikes can help teams better understand how long certain tasks will take, what dependencies they have on other components, and what potential problems might arise in the future.

Considering spikes during Sprint Planning is a period devoted to exploring and constructing something that can be delivered, whether it be a document, workflow, or software. Based on the spike, you can determine which direction the feature should take.

6 Important Considerations for Spikes

Spikes are short-term activities requiring deep technical exploration to build or improve a feature or service, so they need to be managed well during Sprints.

In order to ensure successful Sprints and projects, let's explore the key considerations during a spike.

1. Define your spike as best you can before you start: What are you looking to understand as a result of the spike?

By defining the scope and objectives of your spike beforehand, you can ensure that you focus on finding answers to your questions and that you don’t get sidetracked by unrelated topics. Essentially, this aligns the team with direction, understanding, and intent.

Some examples of things to consider when defining your spike include: What specific problems are you looking to solve; what do you need to learn in order to address these problems; and what resources are available to help you complete the spike?

2. Spikes should come from team discussions during product backlog refinement meetings

Backlog refinement meetings are a great opportunity for teams to discuss their product roadmap and prioritize tasks. By having everyone collaborate on coming up with solutions, the team can determine what areas need more attention during development.

This is where spikes come in—a moment in time dedicated to achieving a goal by researching potential solutions or investigating unknowns that might arise from tackling a specific problem. We could, for example, understand user behavior on our current user interface or increase the accuracy of our estimations.

3. Estimate a spike as you would a story

Story estimation is an integral part of Agile software development methodologies, but it can also be done on a spike so that the team can have space in the Sprint and preserve velocity. A lack of space in the backlog can negatively impact velocity and appear as unplanned work.

It can be helpful to assign contingency points to account for any unknowns that may arise during the course of the spike. This allows teams to plan for potential changes and delays without having to adjust their timelines once the spike has been completed.

4. Look to tackle spikes in cross-functional groups

To successfully tackle spikes, cross-functional groups must be utilized. Cross-functional groups provide a unique opportunity to tackle spikes quickly and efficiently by leveraging multiple perspectives in order to find creative solutions that may not have been possible in solo work or in smaller teams.

By utilizing a diverse set of skills within the same team, organizations can better prepare themselves for unexpected changes or events, ensuring they are able to tackle spikes in an effective and timely manner.

5. What are the acceptance criteria for a spike?

Be sure to consider the acceptance criteria when defining the scope of a spike. Take time to think about what outcomes you would like from the spike and use these expectations as parameters to restrict its focus.

Having acceptance criteria provides clarity on what needs to be accomplished before it can be marked as ‘done’ and moved on to the next phase of development.

This helps ensure everyone on the team is aware of what needs to be done and can work together towards a successful outcome.

Examples, which can be outcomes or outputs, include:

  1. Prototyped code
  2. Better understanding
  3. More efficient processes
  4. Improved UI design
  5. Decrease friction in user sign-up

6. Timebox the spike

Timeboxing, a time management technique used to keep projects and tasks on track, is well-suited to spikes. The idea behind this approach is to limit the amount of time that can be spent on a particular task or activity. This way, teams can focus their energy on productive activities and minimize waste.

Spikes can often seem endless. Set yourself a strict time frame so you don't become distracted and carried away. If you need to focus on more details, you can also set yourself another spike.


Scrum spikes are an excellent way for teams to quickly and efficiently solve complex problems. By using Scrum spikes, teams can remain Agile while tackling difficult tasks, helping them deliver amazing results in a short amount of time.

To ensure your Scrum team is as efficient as possible, check out our blog for everything you need to know. In Agile teams, it is equally important to ensure that each meeting runs smoothly, which is why having a convenient retrospective tool like GoRetro is essential.

Get the most out of your retrospective meetings by signing up for free with GoRetro today!

About the author

Ruth Hadari
Agile Advocate, Engineering Ops Expert

Highly experienced in leading multi-organizational teams, groups, in-shore as well as off-shore. The go-to person who is able to simplify the complex. An agile advocate, experienced in all common methodologies. Responsible for the entire software development lifecycle process from development, QA, DevOps, Automation to delivery including overall planning, direction, coordination, execution, implementation, control and completion. Drives execution, and communicates on status, risks, metrics, risk-mitigation and processes across R&D.

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