The trouble with Scrum

For about the last ten years, most of the development shops I’ve seen and worked with are operating under a process that is Scrum-like on the surface. It’s standard to divide work into “stories,” to assign points to those stories, to organize time into “sprints” that are just about always two weeks, and to move those “stories” from left to right on a Jira board.

I have many, many things to say about how people mess up Scrum. A lot of it is embedded in the prior paragraph: they’re “Scrum-like” on the surface but they don’t even try to embrace the values of “commitment, courage, focus, openness and respect” that the Scrum Guide calls for.

In particular, the courage part often goes missing.

Again, speaking from many years of direct experience, it is very uncommon for a Scrum Master to push back effectively against unreasonable demands from higher management or to advocate for resources that are absolutely required.

For example, in one sprint planning meeting, I said “The exact reason we are blocked on doing the reports management is asking for is that they want them delivered on Microsoft Power BI, and we don’t have Power BI, and the literal only way to get unblocked is for them to cut the purchase order and get us the resources that they are requiring us to use.” That drew gasps and stares! Why? Because no courage. They wanted to get through all the project tasks, but not as much as they wanted to avoid offending the people writing the checks.

Also, my contract wasn’t renewed there. So that’s what courage gets you.

I’m not sure I have a recommendation here.

What can I tell you if you lead a team and don’t have the guts to get them what they directly need to get the job done? What can I tell you if your top priority is never making unpleasant requests of your management? What can I tell you if you’re not working with or for the team but in fact over it?

I don’t know.

I do know that you’re not cultivating the trust and courage that makes Scrum work though. You can be the boss, but you can’t be a leader.