Scrum: A New Way of Thinking


Imagine if our days at work were filled with laughter and imbibed with a feeling of camaraderie and an edge of excitement. Imagine a workspace that harked back to playgrounds of childhood where invention and innovation were a natural part of every interaction. Imagine being responsible for your own environment, your own pace and your own workload. And imagine delivering high quality work frequently to delighted, relaxed customers.

You can turn that imagination into reality. There is a simple and well-understood mechanism for getting from wherever you are now to where you would like to be, and no, the mechanism is not Scrum.

It is you.

More specifically, it is the interaction of your moving parts: body, mind, heart, spirit, and your personal relationship to those you work with.  Successful product development comes from happy, impassioned individuals, and highly motivated, energized teams.

So how does Scrum help?

Scrum will offer you structure and boundary conditions to contain and guide your innovation.  Contrary to common usage, Scrum is not a methodology or a process.  Scrum is a framework for building new products, or guiding a complex project, it is not a formula for success, and it most certainly isn’t the next ‘silver bullet’.

Scrum represents a movement away from hierarchical command-and-control systems towards trust and self-organization.  Scrum is rooted in the principles of Complex Adaptive Systems [ref] [ref] and Object Technology [ref].  It consists of a few core rules and practices, which although very simple are utterly essential.  Each rule and practice is part of a synergistic whole, and to drop one part is to destroy that synergy. Half measures avail nothing.  When the rules of Scrum are rigorously followed a process will emerge that is suited to your own context.

Scrum makes one promise only: it will help you fail in thirty days or less. That’s it.  And it will begin to surface organizational dysfunction in the process.  Healing from that dysfunction is up to you.  What Scrum can give you is a space to be human, to try, to fail, to reflect and to try again. Putting the simple Scrum framework in place at your organization will be the first step towards creating an environment of safety and trust, an environment of empowerment and ultimately of innovation and success.

Scrum is not those things, it is simply a structure which will allow those things to emerge, rather like a bamboo frame allows a tomato plant to bear fruit. It is the people — you and your team mates and your managers — who will make the changes that lead to new behaviors and ways of thinking. An organization seriously investing in Scrum will find within that simple framework its own methodology. It will discover a set of practices best suited to optimize return on investment. It is the people, not the process that will create a happier work environment.

Remember, Scrum is not a rigid methodology; it continues to evolve, to adapt. Similar to the game of chess, there are some clear and simple guidelines to follow, but once those guidelines are understood –and practiced– a multitude of Scrum implementations are possible. Most importantly, Scrum is context-dependent and the needs of the orgaization should drive the implementation. There is no formula, no set of steps to follow. The wonderful paradox here is that Scrum does not tell you how to do Scrum.

Tobias Mayer: 22 March 2008 (posted here 11 June 2009)

16 responses to “Scrum: A New Way of Thinking

  1. Great article! I love “Scrum does not tell you how to do Scrum”. I’ll be quoting you!

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  3. Every movement needs its idealists and you are Scrum’s.

    History, however, has not been kind to idealists. They are either executed by the junta or spend their lives unfulfilled and drunk.

    I sincerely hope that neither of these are your fate.

    But seriously though, Scrum is what you make it and you are right, its a new way of thinking – but one that requires so much to change in the individual that I fear most will be incapable/unwilling to really do. It takes very little to do Scrum by the book, but a a fundamental shift in behaviour, belief, thinking to do it right.

    I’m off before they ask me to pay the bill.


  4. and oh by the way…Scrum doesn’t give you the space or time to heal. You are always sprinting (its relentless!), always delivering working software, always syncing up.

    It defines the roles and rituals without including any context for healing and and humanity. Its clear to me that you (Toby) bring that overlay to Scrum because of who you are, and we love you for it. But that care for its participants is not inherent in Scrum.

    More people do Scrum without this overlay than do it with care and real consideration for the participants. Its just a tool, if the person using it doesn’t care, the implementation will be devoid of care.


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  6. The basic concepts outlined in Scrum / Agile have been around for centuries. The theme of the pirates code that runs through the film Pirates of the Caribbean is historically accurate. Each crew had it articles that set out roles, powers, disciplinary processes and procedures, even compensation schemes. Yes compensation schemes for those maimed or killed. Punishments were at the crews discretion, officers were elected and could be removed as could the captain. The venture was based on a set of shared values and mutuality. Serious research into the self organizing team started in the 1950’s with Trist and Bamforth’s work on coal miners.

    So while I don’t agree that the thinking is new, it is most certainly widely applicable.

    The challenge is to distill it such that it can become a recursive framework that scales up and down from macro to mirco. At present it does not scale because it is in direct competition with the Gordon Gecko greed is good culture that prevails in most organizations.

    Scaling would mean that people that are never really held to account would be; that externalities would be largely removed leading to shared risk and reward; and that most current management practice would have to be thrown out.

    That would make a very large number of senior managers very uncomfortable and feeing threatened.

    So it’s going to be a long road.

  7. Hi David,

    Thanks for reading, and commenting. I agree that this is not a new way of thinking, from a broad historical perspective, but it is new for most people in the corporate business world, schooled as they are through the traditional 19th-century-based education system, and (worse) the MBA programs of the dog-eat-dog era of the 1980s. But good ideas have a habit of coming round again, despite sometimes maniacal opposition 🙂

    I love the story of the pirates, and the connections you make there. Inspires me to learn more about that culture. Thanks for the enlightenment.

    I am hopeful that the world is moving away from that “greed is good culture” that you mention. There are signs of that all around us, perhaps it just hasn’t hit most businesses yet, but it is starting to infiltrate. Let’s keep watching, and doing what we can to edge the process forward.

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  13. Scrum is just a framework which help you to estimate about your manufacturing and all related detail. it is not a formula for success, but Scrum methodology make your work easy, fast and calculated. Scrum give you a full control system to check out status of your project any time.

  14. This is a beautiful article on Scrum . I have gained a lot of knowledge on these topics, thank you so much and I have discovered few more details on

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