As the popularity of Scrum grows, so do the expectations and myths surrounding its capabilities. Exaggerated expectations often incur serious disappointments. In this post, I’ll attempt to objectively evaluate Scrum’s real capabilities, advantages, features, and, of course, limitations.
1. Scrum is a process foundation, not a set of practices or methods.
Scrum is an Agile software development methodology the basis of which is iterative development evolving from collaboration of self-organizing, cross-functional teams. Scrum is an agile development subset distinguished by a low overhead, therefore called a lightweight process framework.
Scrum itself is a process foundation: a framework on the basis of which other processes will be built. At the same time, the framework is absolutely indivisible: if one part is discarded, the rest will stop working.
The first step to clearly understanding Scrum should be a thorough acquaintance with the Scrum Guide, which I’m going to refer to in this article. Although in practice, few people take time to thoughtfully read this document, a working knowledge of this guide is the basis for competent introduction into Scrum step.
The Scrum framework consists of Scrum Teams and their associated roles, events, artifacts, and rules. Each component within the framework serves a specific purpose and is essential to Scrum’s success and usage. (scrumguides.org)
The goal of Scrum is always the achievement of clear, transparent, and concrete results in a short period of time. The process is called a sprint, and the final result, the sprint goal. Absent a sprint goal, a Scrum is not needed. For the planned solution of N problems, other methodologies can for example, Kanban.
An example of a clearly understandable goal: “Increase conversion in payment by 2%.” Reasons why this is a good goal —
- it is measurable;
- the value is clear;
- there are no specific instructions: the team independently decides how it will achieve the goal (this approach gives creative people the freedom to do their job without restraint);
Examples of goals unsuitable for Scrum: “Update the fleet of equipment by the end of the month,” “Choose an accounting contractor for the next year,” “Close customers’ applications for product support in accordance with the standard.” These are simple projects that do not involve creative work; sprint is inappropriate here.
- Read the manual before starting work; Scrum is very well documented;
- Discarding an element from the Scrum will cause the whole system to stop working;
- Scrum is not tolerant of the company’s existing culture;
- An already-operating company can be compared with an older apartment building. You can easily change the layout of the apartments, green the yard, make cosmetic changes, or move in new residents, but changing the foundation will be either very difficult and expensive, or simply impossible;
- Scrum is precisely the process foundation on which all the company’s business processes are built. It must be implemented corporate-wide. You cannot introduce Scrum in any one department or in any one company: the corporate culture adopted earlier will absorb it anyway.
2. The introduction of Scrum is always a revolutionary, large-scale process.
Continuing the analogy: it will be easiest to build a new apartment building on a new foundation next to the old house, and then to relocate people there. In corporate practice as executed, new business processes and culture based on Scrum are developed then employees transferred to it. But here difficulties inevitably arise.
Scrum makes clear the relative efficacy of your product management and work techniques so that you can continuously improve the product, the team, and the working environment. (scrumguides.org)
Things that were normal yesterday for a company will not fit into the Scrum or will interfere with it: they will become “imperfections” that need to be eliminated. But the human psyche has difficulty perceiving changes, and employees will inevitably resist new processes.
Your accountant used to process requests within two weeks, and now he has five days to do this? Designers worked slowly, and now they have to adjust the layout right inside the sprint? All this will cause a certain rejection, and the more employees in the company, the more difficult it will be to overcome this rejection.
- Scrum cannot be embedded in a company’s culture; this culture must change in accordance with the Scrum;
- The older and larger the company, the more difficult it will be to switch to Scrum (in some cases, it makes sense to consider other frameworks and approaches).
3. Scrum team: a programmer, marketer and designer must be in the same boat
The main unit in Scrum is a small and close-knit team.
Self-organizing teams choose how best to accomplish their work, rather than being directed by others outside the team. Cross-functional teams have all competencies needed to accomplish the work without depending on others not part of the team. (scrumguides.org)
It is imperative to understand that without a cross-functional team, Scrum will not work. If a designer works on three teams, the marketer is outsourced, and programmers switches between two or three projects, such a team will not be able to focus on the goal of the sprint, and will be unable to solve the task.
A common misconception that a cross-functional team is one in which one person can perform various work functions within a team. This is not the case in a Scrum. A cross-functional team comprises all the necessary expertise within the team to allow functionality without turning to external resources or specialists not involved in the group.
From the foregoing, we draw a simple conclusion: the use of Scrum in matrix structures (for example, project activities in outsourcing companies) is doomed to failure.
Moreover, an attempt to apply resource planning within the Scrum seems absurd. If a member of the Scrum team has no tasks for a time period, that team member can find something useful or just relax.
- If you cannot put together cross-functional teams, the very idea of introducing a Scrum is very doubtful;
- Scrum in project activities can exist only if the team stands out for the whole project.
4. Scrum is not a new way to control employees
The basic values of Scrum embody this notion.
Commitment, courage, focus, openness and respect (scrumguides.org)
These are the qualities of a creative, strong professional who performs conscientiously. Control is not an issue because responsibility for teamwork comes with the values of Scrum, whereas constrained personnel management contradicts these ideas.
Of course, the implementation of these values requires serious investment in team building. A corporate entity can’t just say: “Tomorrow we will have courage and focus.” Moreover, any attempt to put a Scrum where personal goals are more important than team goals is likely to lead to failure.
How can Scrum be implemented in a department where each manager has personal key performance indicators? For example, in sales, personal goals will always dominate team goals; -therefore, without active synchronization these goals in the process of Scrum implementation, the Scrum team is likely to be the victim of passive-aggressive resistance from the team.
- Scrum is team-oriented, based on respect and openness;
- Scrum is not a control method; it takes root only in the presence of a culture of trust.
5. Scrum requires a financial commitment in personnel
Scrum is impossible without a Scrum Master:
The Scrum Master is responsible for promoting and supporting Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide. Scrum Masters do this by helping everyone understand Scrum theory, practices, rules, and values.
The Scrum guide (scrumguides.org)
No mention is made of economic benefits, productivity or other quality metrics here. The responsibility of the Scrum master is Scrum: the Scrum master must ensure the presence of cross-functional teams working on Scrum.
It is important to understand in advance that a significant financial commitment to personnel is necessary to fund a person (or a group of people) to implement Scrum, the essence of the work of which is to rebuild the company under the cover. Counterintuitively, the more expensive the Scrum master, the fewer teams he leads.
The Scrum master provides complex and important services to the Development Team.
- coaches the Development Team to be self-organizing and cross-functional;
- helps the Development Team create high-value products;
- removes obstacles to the progress of the Development Team;
- facilitates Scrum events, if necessary;
- coaches the Development Team in those parts of the organization in which Scrum is not yet fully understood and accepted.
Coaching people — and especially team coaching — would have been impossible in the past for a leader without talent and at least five years of experience. Coaching requires professional training, and ideally, some knowledge from psychology.
People are a corporate entity’s most valuable asset, and Scrum relies on people. If an entity is not ready to invest in a professional Scrum master, then which member of the existing workforce will be responsible for creating highly motivated teams?
- For the high-quality implementation of Scrum, a Scrum master is required;
- The Scrum master is an experienced person who knows how to build teams and how to work with people, and also knows how to speak the same language of the business;
- Scrum master is not responsible for financial results.
6. Should you try Scrum?
In most cases the answer is no rather than yes. If this question does not elicit a definite answer, then at least it’s worth investing time in —
- Study Scrum Guide;
- Excursions to peer companies already using Scrum. One of the core values of Scrum is openness: they will be happy to share their experiences;
- An honest dialogue with yourself on the subject of cultural values and goals (yours personally and that of your company);
- Remember: Scrum is not introduced by force; it must be distributed in the ecosystem that has developed and prepared for it.
Good luck with Scrum — and be sure to share your impressions, your experience and your thoughts.
- Scrum is very well documented; read this manual if you are interested;
- An attempt to discard any element out of the Scrum will cause the whole system to stop working;
- If you cannot put together cross-functional teams, the very idea of introducing a Scrum is very questionable;
- Scrum in project activities can exist only if the team stands out as a coherent entity;
- Scrum team-oriented, based on respect and openness;
- Scrum is not a control method; it takes root only in the presence of a culture of trust;
- For the high-quality implementation of Scrum, a Scrum Master is required;
- Scrum Master is an experienced person who knows how to build teams and how to work with people, and also speaks the same language with business owners;
- The Scrum Master is not responsible for financial results;
- Kaiten is a visual system for task management with support for flexible approaches (Scrum, Kanban).
Do you consider adopting Scrum? Are you using it? What problems are you facing? Let me know by dropping me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org or scheduling a free call with me here