It easily becomes tempting to use the Innovation and planning sprint as a buffer, I have seen companies do this over and over again. The thought of using the I&P sprint as a buffer resonates strongly with most participants in our SAFe trainings as well.
Sure enough once in a while situation might demand for it to happen and if the need arises by all means inspect, adapt, and respond to the need of the hour. The danger arises when you consistently make this a habit.
Using the Innovation and Planning sprint as a buffer time and time again is detrimental in many ways:
Teams begin to take this fact for granted and the pace of work in recurring sprints gets affected
It might impact the sense of urgency that is essential for iterative releases
You send the message that creativity and innovation is not important
Teams don’t get a chance to step back and reflect and come up with new ideas
The cost of loss of innovation can be huge in terms of being left behind in a competitive marketplace
You miss the window for Gemba to think outside of the box.
While these may not sound fatal in the short term, it could have a negative impact on creativity and culture at the work place. It is important to make productive use of this time and rally the teams behind ideation activities, sharing knowledge and encouraging exciting new innovations to emerge.