To Scrum, or not to Scrum

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This is not a typical Scrum vs Waterfall argument. Over the past three decades it has been proven that Scrum can deliver better results if it’s properly applied. The real question is, are we doing Scrum or are we just pretending? This is a tough one and the answer can often be very painful. The fact is that I’ve seen more Scrum failures than successes over the past 8 years.

Wait a minute. How is that possible?

Scrum is easy to understand but very difficult to implement. It involves people, and, in most cases, it requires a significant mentality change. And people don’t like change. It means going out of their comfort zone into the unexplored uncertainty of the unknown. As Mike Cohn said:

“Changing practices is one thing; changing minds is quite another”

Here are three of the main challenges that prevent companies from successfully adopting Scrum:

1. Let’s use Scrum because everyone else is doing it

Scrum itself is nothing more than a set of practices and ceremonies that, if put together in the right way, can significantly improve the quality of the software that’s been delivered. Scrum has been around for three decades but in the last ten years it has become one of the most popular (if not the most popular) software development methodologies. And many companies of all sizes are constantly trying to adopt it.

Some organizations say that they are doing Scrum. They follow some of the ceremonies, but they mix it with waterfall concepts so they end up with a false Scrum implementation. For example, the requirements are described in long documents which are mostly locked before they enter the development phase, small increments of workable software are not released every two weeks as they are too big or vague, changes are often very difficult once the work is underway etc.

Allow me to share some of my experience. I’ve been invited to an interview a couple of years ago for a Head of Product Management role where I was initially told that the company has successfully adopted Scrum. During the conversation I found out that the product managers were writing specifications (not user stories) in Word documents, development leads were in charge of the so-called planning sessions and the product backlog was a shared folder with the above-mentioned Word files. It turned out that I’ve been tricked to attend the interview based on a false claim that the company has already adopted Scrum. What they’ve done was to somewhat embed a few of the Scrum tools into their traditional waterfall approach, hoping that this would help them attract new employees.

2. I don’t really need to change so Scrum is not for me

Ken Schwaber said:

“Scrum is like your mother-in-law, it points all your faults”

One of the main benefits of Scrum is that it allows you and your team to identify the mistakes that you’ve made so that you can learn from the experience and improve in the future. No matter whether it’s a software that wasn’t approved by its main stakeholders or the fact that not all user stories were completed in the previous sprint, it can be difficult to face the truth. You must admit that you are doing something wrong before you are able to get better. This is where the power of Scum truly lies. The Sprint retrospective ceremony focuses on what went well in the past sprint, what could be improved and what can we commit to improve in the next sprint. If the meeting is well moderated, the results could be significant.

Remember, Scrum won’t help you if you don’t have a desire to change. It simply provides a set of tools that can guide you along the way.

3. I don’t need help to get started with Scrum

Some companies underestimate the effort needed to adopt Scrum. And it’s not the methodology itself. It’s not hard to gather a team of 5-9 people to share their progress for 15 mins each day, or meet once every two weeks to plan what’s going to be included in the next sprint. The complexity comes from what’s happening during these ceremonies and the people involved in them. That’s why it’s crucially important to seek help when trying to adopt Scrum in an organization. I suggest looking for professional coaches who can guide you in the first 2-3 sprints so that they can monitor and suggest improvements. The initial investment will definitely be worth it going forward.

Scrum is not ideal, and it doesn’t strive to be. It can help organizations of all sizes improve the quality of their software development process, provided that they are willing to take the ride and invest time and energy to go through a significant mentality change.

If you are about to start your Scrum journey now, don’t feel overwhelmed by the need to be the best Scrum adopter in the world. Set a simple goal and start small. Give it a try and most importantly, learn from your mistakes.

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