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My high-performing team struggled with Scrum — but they shouldn’t have done Scrum at all

Scrum is not fit for all environments

Willem-Jan Ageling
Oct 20, 2019 · 5 min read
Interior of old jail in Dublin
Interior of old jail in Dublin
Dublin jail by jraffin at Pixabay

Scrum isn’t working for one of the best-performing teams in our company. Scrum feels like a jail for them. They really struggle with it. And I am their Scrum Master.

Does this appear to be contradictory to you? A high-performing team struggling with Scrum? Well, maybe it is. By all measures they do things extremely well. Allow me to give you some examples:

  • This team chose their own way to do deployments to production that deviated from standards. However, they made a great case for it and thus were allowed to do so. The new deployment approach makes it possible to expand the Definition of “Done”.

But…. the Sprint Planning doesn’t work. This event feels redundant. The team knows exactly what they need to do anyway. It is simply a matter of picking the next item from the Product Backlog. Also, the Sprint Planning rarely comes at the right moment. There’s no distinct rhythm of delivery of the product increments. And the team knows exactly that they can pull a next item from the Product Backlog at all times.

We saw the ineffective Sprint Planning as a problem. To repair the situation we have tried a number of things. We improved our Sprint Goal to determine a theme for the Sprint and selected Product Backlog Items to meet this goal. It did not change anything. Items were still finished ‘when they were finished’ after which a new item was selected from the Product Backlog.

The team also doesn’t see the need to make a plan to complete the Sprint Backlog. They know exactly what they need to do anyway. Hence this second part of the Sprint Planning also doesn’t add any value.

While we have been struggling with the Sprint Planning our stakeholders are very happy with the predictability, the flow of the team as they kept on delivering awesome stuff.

Eureka moment: The product environment isn’t complex

Recently I came to realise why we are struggling with the Scrum framework:

The team doesn’t have a complex product environment!

The stakeholders have a stable wish-list and the team almost always knows how they want to build the next increment. There’s no pressing need to create and to regularly inspect the Sprint Backlog.

Scrum is a framework for complex product environments. This team however doesn’t work in such an environment. Hence the team works with a framework that isn’t optimal for them.

Adapting the way of working

This realisation that we aren’t working in a complex product environment — the environment for which Scrum is created — resulted in the following ideas to advance:

  • We are contemplating to drop the Sprint Planning. We have an up-to-date Product Backlog based on input from the Sprint Review and other interactions outside of the Scrum events. The team can simply pull the next item from the Product Backlog when the previous item is done.

The team plans to escape from jail, but decided to keep some stuff. Not everything is bad!

Scrum is not for all environments

Not all environments are suited for Scrum. This is why you should understand the nature of your product environment. If your product environment is complex, then Scrum is a great framework to build your products. If your product environment isn’t complex at all, be aware that Scrum may not be the framework of choice for you.

By dropping some events and artifacts my team will not be doing Scrum anymore:

“Scrum’s roles, events, artifacts, and rules are immutable and although implementing only parts of Scrum is possible, the result is not Scrum. Scrum exists only in its entirety […]” — Scrum Guide 2017

If you are not in a complex environment, you can still learn and use a lot from Scrum, but it’s very doubtful that the framework itself is helping you as you hope it will help you. And if you use parts of the Scrum framework, understand why you wish to use them and if this need is met with this event, artifact or role.

Don’t mindlessly use a framework or methodology without knowing why.

However if you collaborate, deliver, reflect and improve, you uncovered the essence — the Heart of Agile — regardless if you use Scrum.

Do you want to write for Serious Scrum or seriously discuss Scrum?

Serious Scrum

Content by and for serious scrum practitioners.

Thanks to Maarten Dalmijn, Rohit Ratan Mani, and Bachir

Willem-Jan Ageling

Written by

Interested in ways to work better together. I love the discussion with open-minded people.

Serious Scrum

Content by and for serious scrum practitioners.

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