Challenges When Applying Scrum
17 January 2014
Applying Scrum in an organization that is not familiar with Agile can be challenging, even for the most seasoned ScrumMaster. Here are some lessons I have learned:
Scrum is simple, but difficult to master
Some people ask me why I have been studying Scrum and Agile practices so much, if they are quite simple. I advise them to read the official Scrum Guide, which says: "Scrum is lightweight, simple to understand, and difficult to master." When I read that the first time, I couldn't believe that a 16-page manual could be so deep in its philosophy. My experience as a ScrumMaster has proven to me that the application of Scrum and Agile implies several cultural challenges, which can be very difficult to overcome.
Changing the way you work may take time
It is not easy to say to someone, "Hey, dude, besides being a developer, now you are going to be a tester and responsible for doing the analysis. Your salary won't grow a bit for that. Oh, and don't forget to write your tests before you write the code, because now we're using test-driven development." Of course this is only a joke, as it requires time to manage all these changes. Remember that having a cross-functional team and doing TDD represent only a few steps that are usually taken in the context of Agile. Hence, Scrum can't be implemented in a month or two; it may require more than a year of hard work to do it correctly.
Keep quality standards
You cannot just start Scrum, you must maintain it. Practices like test-driven development are challenging for teams not experienced with Agile, so they might hurt at the beginning. When teams face uncertainty and a narrow deadline, they tend to revert to what they know, even if that may not be the best approach. Alistair Cockburn refers to this as a "failure mode," or "preferring to fail conservatively." ScrumMasters must be aware of this condition to ask the right questions and to point the developers in the right direction. Also, the team must shield itself and prevent the release of features that do not meet the established quality standards or the Definition of Done.
Make sure the business understands Scrum
Scrum is for the whole organization, so if the business expectations are not accomplished, you're doomed to failure. The entire company and the customers must understand and accept Scrum. Believe me, there is nothing better than hearing the business manager explaining to the customer that they deliver software every two weeks, so he won't need to wait long for the requested features. So make sure everyone understands it -- coach, teams, managers, customers, and the product owner.
Organizations that explore the complex domain and do not use Agile are lagging behind those that do. Agile offers several competitive advantages that can't be compared to standard command-and-control management. Don't give up! It is challenging, but it's worth it. Embrace Scrum, face your impediments, and good luck on your agilist journey!
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