“Scrum didn’t work for us, so we went back to PRINCE2”

“We really tried”

Willem-Jan Ageling
Jan 19 · 7 min read

The present — Abandoning ‘Scrum’
“It was a good experiment”, said Fred.”Now we know that Scrum is nothing for us. We are in a REAL business with REAL deadlines. I always knew it, but I’m happy to see it confirmed.”

Carla laughed and said “Indeed. We know that we shouldn’t jump on every bandwagon. But with such a push from the Development Department we had no choice but to let it happen to see it fail.”

“Well, we didn’t let it fail. It simply didn’t fit our organisation.”

“Yes indeed. But it’s good that we tried. I guess that working with PRINCE2 isn’t as bad as we felt it was. We just need additional training.”

Did they really try to implement Scrum in a genuine way? To assess that, let’s go 18 months back in time.

Beautiful sky opened with a zipper showing fire depicting hell.
Beautiful sky opened with a zipper showing fire depicting hell.
By Alexas_Fotos at Pixabay

18 months back — The transition to Scrum
Sarah was super excited because Jeff was in the building. One of the inventors of Scrum. The company would embrace Scrum. And now the newly appointed Scrum Masters — the former Project Management team — would be trained by Jeff Sutherland. The man who changed the world with his framework. An icon.

As a Project Manager, Sarah always found it strange that some of her colleagues created and communicated deadlines that others needed to adhere to — the developers and testers. The fact that Scrum embraced uncertainty was an eye-opener for her. She learned that she wasn’t alone with this notion. What’s more: a complete framework evolved around it!

The training was better than expected. She recognized a lot. Her company also was working in a complex product environment, so empiricism made so much sense. As did the cross-functional, self-organising teams. Sarah couldn’t wait to help bring change to the company.

The training aftermath
“Scrum is great, but not in our world.”

“What do you mean Jorge? I heard so many things that fully resonated. I got many answers to my questions” said Sarah.

“It’s unrealistic to think that our management accepts it when we say that we can’t commit beyond the Sprint. We have to fulfill our promises to our clients.”

“But that’s something that we need to change. We simply can’t make these promises. We should deliver value regularly instead. This is what works in a complex environment. And it’s up to us — the Scrum Masters — to help drive this change.”

“Not if I can help it. We would be fired on the spot for making ridiculous claims. I’m very happy to have received this Scrum Master certificate — it’s great for my resume — but that’s it.”

3 months since the transition — Sarah and the Scrum Team
As a starting Scrum Master, Sarah had it rough.

At first she also was excited. There were so many things to do! Developers and testers had to get adjusted to the fact that they were responsible for a product as a team. Although challenging, this was the easiest part. Sarah noticed that almost immediately the Development Team members felt empowered to have this responsibility for the product.

But her excitement had already taken a beating because of her experiences with the Product Owner. Contrary to what happened with the Development Team, there were virtually no changes to the way of working of the Product Owners. Only the name changed as it used to be Business Analyst. Instead of creating huge requirement documents he now produced User Stories with basically the same detail as the documents used to have.

The Product Owners didn’t control the Product Backlog. They only translated the requirements based on input from the Product Manager and Program Manager.

Sarah tried to help the Product Owners, trying to raise awareness about their roles. But this was totally in vain. They kept on creating elaborate User Stories and didn’t take any feedback from the team or from the stakeholders into account. They kept on being a poor version of a Business Analyst.

Sarah was not completely alone. Also Pierre seemed to have understood what a Scrum Master was supposed to be, what Scrum was supposed to be. But they were up against 6 colleagues who had different opinions. They saw Scrum as a perfect way to plan. Instead of planning all the activities, it was now simply visualizing that a feature took 6 Sprints to build. The Gantt charts looked like this:

Planning with Scrum — (really?)

The other “Scrum Masters” saw an extra benefit in the fact that they didn’t have to chase the developers and testers anymore to finish the tasks. Instead they only had to put the pressure on the teams to deliver within the promised number of Sprints. And the best part of all: the teams were self-organising and responsible for the estimates, so they got the blame for delays!

Sarah and Pierre did what they could to help the fellow Scrum Masters understand. But to no avail. More and more Sarah was aware that she was fighting an uphill battle.

12 months since the transition — Sarah and the stakeholders
For Sarah, the final nail in the coffin was how the stakeholders were involved. The Program Managers continued to think that they could create and stick to detailed plannings for an 18 month project. They had the organisational power, so there was no stopping them. Sarah had tried to convince Fred — as a Program Manager also her manager — but he was even ridiculing her for being so naive that in a real world this fluffy thing called empiricism was even remotely possible. Sarah also had discussions with Carla — the Product Manager. But she also clearly told Sarah that she was living in a fantasy world.

No-one showed up for the Sprint Review. No-one was interested in the Sprint Planning. And worst of all: no-one was interested to improve the process.

Sarah felt completely desperate.

17 months since the transition — The horror
Jorge was the Scrum Master for “Project Brilliance”. This project was in trouble. Instead of the promised 6 Sprints, the Development Teams were already working on it for 11 Sprints. This was when the Steering Committee finally lost patience and asked for clarity. After reporting only positive updates, Jorge had no choice but to ask the Development Teams what kept them from delivering.

The lead developer then said: “We have no clue what to build! We did receive ridiculously unclear User Stories because the Product Owner also doesn’t have a clue. There’s a lot of going back and forth with the Product Owner and every question we have takes ages to be answered. It really feels like the requirements were thrown over the fence.”

When Jorge discussed this with the Product Owner, his defense was:

“The Development Team thinks that they can decide on anything without consulting me. While I specifically instructed them to use tooling A, they tried everything to work with tooling B. They argue that they are self-organising and with that determine HOW to build the product. I see this as unacceptable behaviour. And this is the reason for all the delays. It was a mistake to let the developers believe that they are in control. It was a mistake to implement Scrum.”

18 months after the transition — the decision
With that, Jorge had the perfect excuse to fend off any blame for the delays. In a meeting with Fred and Carla present he stated:

“I have told you all this time that Scrum is not for us. Now, 18 months and a failed Project Brilliance later, we have to be honest to ourselves. Scrum is nice, but doesn’t work here. Our environment is far too complex for a tool like Scrum.”

Sarah was also present. She tried to repair the situation one last time:

“People, it’s not Scrum that failed. It’s our adoption of Scrum. We totally missed the mark and made many crucial mistakes. If we really wish to improve our product delivery, then we should embrace Scrum seriously.”

Fred then laughed out loud and answered:

“I love it how passionate you are about Scrum Sarah. But you are clearly wrong. If even Jorge — our best Scrum Master — can’t get the teams on track with Scrum, then it’s plainly obvious that we have to stop this experiment before even more harm is done.”

Carla added: “I fully agree. Let’s go back to PRINCE2. This methodology suits us better.”

1 month after the decision — Back to PRINCE2
Sarah had taken a few weeks off to recover from the bumpy 18 month ride. But she’s determined it is best to leave the bad feelings behind and approach the PRINCE2 training with an open mind. It’s a perfectly fine way to deliver products. It’s always good to learn more about it.

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Thanks to Sjoerd Nijland and Rohit Ratan Mani

Willem-Jan Ageling

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

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