Start With Scrum?

“Start with Scrum.”  Have you ever heard someone say this?  I’ve heard this statement multiple times over the years when folks are talking about agile transformation, and it rubbed me the wrong way.  The problem is, I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. In many ways, it makes sense right? Scrum can help someone wrap their mind around work decomposition, shorter feedback loops, retrospection, and being connected to the customer more through user personas. But why are so many teams struggling to find agility with scrum? I think I finally can explain why I think this approach isn’t the right thing to do if your end goal is agility.

1 – Scrum is a framework and agile is a mindset.

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Source: Michael Sahota

Last year when I was presenting at the Global Scrum Gathering, we borrowed from Michael Sahota who said something to the tune of “If you adopt agile practices you could see a 20% benefit. If you adopt an agile mindset you could see 300% benefit!” So many people I meet that are interested in agile for their organization just want the benefits but without the mindset shifts needed to get there.  I don’t fault them for that because when you look at the Agile Manifesto it reads out very well and sounds like positive things for most rational people. What is sorely missing is the “counting the cost”. If becoming agile as an organization was as simple as doing some training and doing the Scrum Events, there wouldn’t be agile coaches.

2 – Scrum is so 1990’s.  (just like these awesome “hackers” in 1995)

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Look…I love scrum.  I really do!  It’s something that opened up a doorway for me to be exposed to agile manifesto which has changed my life and career aspirations.  But, while I was working on a blog post entitled “The History of Agile” it dawned on me that Scrum was a response to waterfall. And it was a tremendous leap in the right direction away from fixed cost/scope/timeline type projects.  Then came along the agile manifesto which was a response to scrum and the various flavors of agility frameworks sprouting up. But we need to look ahead and allow the agile mindset to lead us into the great unknown.  Ron Jeffries, one of the great original thought leaders in agile even said “I may have invented points.  If I did, I’m sorry now.”  The point is, we need to inspect and adapt as technology changes, culture changes, and people change.

Here’s another awesome 90s picture just because I found so many great ones to use for this article.

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3 – Training wheels can create improper habits.

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I was listening to a presentation by Joshua Kerievsky last week and he told a story about teaching his daughter how to ride a bike. He said that many people talk to him about how Scrum is like training wheels for their organization to adopt agile.  He pointed out though that training wheels don’t actually teach you balance, they just teach you how to steer and peddle.  He took his daughter to the park one day and had her learn how to ride a bike by keeping her feet of the peddles and just pushing herself and lifting her feet to learn the balance.  She quickly got comfortable with keeping balanced which is typically the hardest part of learning how to ride a bike.  And in no time she was ripping around on the bike!  What’s the lesson here?  You don’t always need training wheels to begin your journey towards agility.

In conclusion, starting with Scrum may not be the right strategy for your team(s).  My personal guidance as an agile coach is to only start with Scrum if you envision something close to Scrum being your destination. And even in that is your situation, always start with trying to adopt an agile mindset before trying to implement a framework. By doing this, you are allowing your organization to tap into their creative potential, untethered to just one framework.

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