Scrum – What am I Missing?

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“If Scrum is so simple, why is it so hard to apply?” said my client.

For me the answer is clear. It’s not Scrum that’s hard to apply, after all as my client stated, it’s actually very simple. No, it’s the bits that the Scrum framework doesn’t prescribe that are hard. Much like XP or Crystal or any other framework, Scrum is exactly that, a framework for applying the principles of Agile.

Scrum prescribes events that create opportunities for collaboration, for people to “work together daily”, and for the team to “reflect on how to become effective”. It talks about sprints, which the Scrum Guide states are: “a time-box of one month or less during which a “Done”, useable, and potentially releasable product Increment is created”.

Scrum prescribes roles such as the Product Owner, who according to the Scrum Guide, is responsible for “maximising the value of the product”. In other words, helping teams “to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software”. It prescribes artefacts that help teams to manage what they are working on, and to communicate why they are working on it.

Scrum does everything it possibly can to help with applying the principles of Agile. I believe that the creation of the incredibly prescriptive and descriptive Scrum Guide was undertaken with the specific intention of trying to fill the gaps that people have been unable to fill for themselves. While this has probably helped in many cases, it fails to solve the root cause of the problem. It doesn’t confront the fact that people believe that Scrum is Agile, and in some ways, perpetuates the issue through its prescriptive nature.

Scrum cannot be Agile for you. You can focus on Agile thinking without using Scrum, but there’s little point in using Scrum without an Agile mindset. For Scrum to help, it still requires an acknowledgement of the principles of Agile, for the organisations that use it to think Agile, to focus on the culture and behaviour that foster an Agile mindset. The Scrum Guide does not talk directly about what you do within that “time-box of one month or less”, it doesn’t talk about how you behave. It can’t, and neither should it try.

The piece of the puzzle that people are missing is the bit that’s hard, the bit where you have to think for yourself.

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