Scrum: The Necessary Conditions

The previous post Scrum: a 5-step guide for managers was (quite rightly) criticized for not describing Scrum. It was never intended to. In the text I describe the five steps as being for “managers and executives for starting a new Scrum process”. The title was intended to challenge, to have people ask, so what is Scrum?

Scrum, clearly, is the thing defined in The Scrum Guide, a lightweight document, laying out the process, roles and artifacts of Scrum, and describing the value it offers. It is—happily—very low on prescription, beyond prescribing the basic Scrum framework. There is little in there to take issue with, and actually little that has changed from original Scrum. The problem is, with this and most of the books on the subject, sparse attention is paid to the environment in which we try to implement Scrum. To me this is key to success.

I recently witnessed a team implement at least the first four of the five steps I recommend. They were not “doing Scrum” and yet were closer to the values we seek with Scrum than many teams I have witnessed struggling to make the process meaningful with members in different locations, no clear product vision, team members working on different projects, being driven (and driven crazy!) by the electronic tracking tool of (someone else’s) choice, with all its rules and limitations. Scrum can sometimes create more pain that it relieves.

Teams that are not supported—environmentally, humanely, systemically—to do Scrum, will do Scrum very poorly. Teams that are so supported may not actually end up doing Scrum at all, but will likely have better results. This is my experience from the past nine years.

So my “5 steps” are intended to have managers and executives understand the necessary conditions for inspiring an effective, engaging process, whether that’s Scrum or something else. With such conditions met, I would usually recommend something that looks very much like Scrum, with perhaps a more continuous flow model á la Kanban. As always, context will determine the detail.

And if anyone doubts my own definition of Scrum, or feels it is out of line with The Scrum Guide. Please read Simple Scrum, an essay written in 2009, which still accurately reflects my understanding of Scrum.

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