A Return To Scrum

After five years of Scrum, we decided to break free of it’s shackles. Abandoning fixed length sprints, work-life became one long un-estimated party. Diverse collaborations throughout the organisation enabled us to take on new challenges. The backlog was full of surprises: I had little idea where half the stories came from. For a while I thought we were seeing, the beginnings of the hallowed Agile Organisation, but it seems the euphoria got the better of me. Drunk on the freedom, I ignored the signs that all was not well (a team member’s screams raised little concern) and today after a couple of years of experimentation we decided it’s time to end the party.

Last year was a challenging one for our company, our development team was being pulled in all directions by an influx of opportunities. Our cross-functional team became cross-functional pairs. We shared less, supported each other less and started to understand less about what each other were doing. We grew weary. The common goal was gone, replaced by pair goals, consisting of long difficult stories. Stories that deserved a whole team approach.

So today we decided to go back to a fixed length sprint with an unchanging backlog and a goal. A goal that the whole team is focused on delivering. I remember how powerful that felt when we first did it and we’re excited about doing it again.

That fixed sprint not only gives us focus, it wraps us in a bubble protecting us from changing priorities and challenging personalities. From inside the bubble we’re insulated from the dysfunction outside. I used to resent this bubble, I thought we needed more exposure to the reality of the business world around us, but know I’ve seen the effect it can have on creativity and quality, I’m happy to let the team keep their distance. I’m going to be a Rottweiler at the door of our team room.

I thought we’d grown out of Scrum, I admit to describing it as agile training wheels, but I’ve found a new love for it and it’s constraints. I’m glad I got a taste of what happens when you remove them, and perhaps there are organisations that will flourish when you do. But I wonder if there really is? Our anxiety too easily gets in the way of intelligent thought. A Scrum team can be protected from that, and be left to draw strength from each other.  For now I’m happy to see the buzz return to the team and excited to see what we can build in the next couple of weeks.

13 comments

  1. Five year in scrum its a big time. I belong to a agile company and have two month experience in Agile, Scrum. I am manage my work very well but backlog is always full of surprises for me. I feel some difficulties to understand and manage backlog. My team members are help me to handle this I am trying to grip on it.

  2. Great to hear Tom.
    I was having a similar conversation this week with a client. Scrum is the first framework people generally go to when switching to Agile, and when they find it hard (cos it is hard), the framework gets the blame and people move to something “easier” (generally I’m finding that’s kanban).
    From what I know that wasn’t the case for you guys, I believe your journey was more of a sublimation from Scrum to a higher plane of agile.
    What’s really nice to see is that the discipline and focus that Scrum brings seems to be prompting you to revisit it.

  3. A great post,
    Not because you are a scrum advocate, but because you describe the journey,
    Every shift makes you wiser, and has its pluses and minuses.
    Keep on rockin!

    1. Thanks Dov, hope life is good in Paris

  4. I’ve been doing some research in this area. (The four dimensionality of Agility and the 3Dness of Scrum) I’d love to talk to you about this at one of the future Scrum User Groups.

    1. Sounds interesting Nig, I should be there on Tuesday or happy to do a skype call sometime

  5. Sounds like a huge case of remission. Scrum has lots of ills and kanban is not the solution to all of them.

    Of course this could just be a FUD post to try to scare Scrum people into leaving the fold.

  6. Really interesting post Tom. When did the team realise that their approach wasn’t working? Can you describe the moment?

    1. Thanks for the comment. It was in a retrospective in which I focused on the advantages and disadvantages of working closely as a team and how closely we were working. It quickly became evident that the team thought they were working less closely since we moved away from Scrum and that this was having a negative impact on our effectiveness. The discussion quickly moved to how we should rectify this.

  7. Really interesting stuff Tom. Thanks a lot for sharing!
    I found that shortly after our team transitioned away from Scrum we had some gaping holes in the way that we worked.
    Some of them were directly because we removed some scrum elements too hastily – i.e. the Sprint goal as you suggested here Tom
    Others things were happening almost as by products to our prescriptive scrum tasks.
    An example of that was the discussions we were having as part of our Sprint planning sessions. We were gleaning valuable information from these conversations, and when we removed the planning session we lost the conversation.
    However my feeling on this is that all positive acts and environments can be baked into the way that you work, if you are using the Kanban methodology. My team works with Goals and we aim to deliver these goals story by story. We don’t need to prescribe to a fixed length sprint to achieve them. Requiring a set of rules to governance peoples behaviors and protect the team could potential some dysfunction withing the wider group.
    For instance – If BAU is taking over the project work and the team members are being isolated because of this, is this not an indicator that the priorities of the team are not being handled well?
    If there are far to many concurrent goals then is the Product owner abusing the freedom of the Next lane? If a sprint is naturally limiting the Goal WIP of a team you could limit that with a kanban system rather than a sprint? Or of course you could use scrum :) but my point is you should be able to bake these things in to the way you want to work, without creating rules.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I agree. I see Scrum and Kanban as alternative approaches to crossing the divide between business and development culture and I am happy to do either. Our move back to Scrum was seen as the simplest way to get us back on track after things had started to deteriorate and to some extent it has worked although it still leaves us with many of the difficulties. I’ve got another post brewing with more on this.

  8. Scrum is the simplest thing that can work to overcome organizational dysfunction. Doing Scrum well may be the most difficult challenge. Scrum goes against the grain in so many ways it does indeed begin to look like Scrum is causing the problems. It usually isn’t, if we are focussed on the underlying values and principles of Scrum to drive the practice, rather than relying on the process itself, which can quickly become meaningless. Scrum surfaces dysfunction—we get to SEE it. What we then choose to do with that information is the real challenge.

    I’m interested to hear that you’ve moved back (or forward?) to a formal model, and look forward to hearing more about it.

  9. […] billet (http://diaryofascrummaster.wordpress.com/2014/02/07/a-return-to-scrum/) est étonnant ! C’est l’histoire d’une équipe, qui après 5 années de Scrum, abandonne […]

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