When is Scrum Not Scrum?


So you get hired to a company to do Scrum on a project.  Great!  As you begin to look around and settle in, you start to realize that something is amiss.  You hear the words “agile!” and “Scrum!” and “sprints!” being thrown around, when it starts to dawn on you that what you’re seeing isn’t actually Scrum.  It’s easy to be Scrum-like, or even practice “Scrum lite”, but when is Scrum not actually Scrum?  I’d like to paint a few scenarios where there would be cause for concern:

Example One:

The stakeholders/management decide to implement scrum to manage a software development project. The powers that be give approval to use Scrum but insist that the team follow the prescribed software development processes (e.g. waterfall) to make sure the team is doing only what it’s supposed to be doing.

Example Two:

The management decides to try using Scrum to manage a non-software development project.  The team isn’t working together (i.e. non-collocated) and the Product Owner has neither the time nor inclination to prioritize the Product Backlog.  According to the Product Owner, everything is top priority.

Example Three:

The management implements Scrum to manage a software development project. The team collectively decides they don’t have the time to do retrospectives at the end of each sprint.  Further, they only do standups once a week.

If you found yourself in one of the above scenarios, what would you do?  Scrum works as a methodology only when we adhere to its principles.  Can Scrum be adapted to fit within an individual organization and/or process?  Of course it can.  But when we start changing the recipe in significant and meaningful ways, we lose our notion of what the final product is supposed to taste like.  Scrum works when it’s frequently inspected and transparent.  Quickly adapting to fit the situation is key…that’s why we’re agile!  When the team’s ability to adequately respond to either outside business needs or internal issues is neutered, I believe the spirit of what makes Scrum “Scrum!” is lost.  Personally, if I got hired and walked into one of the above scenarios, I would do everything in my power to correct the lilting agile ship, and implement Scrum in the way it was meant to be used. You’re a Scrum Master.  Save the team!

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