In the Star Wars movie The Empire Strikes Back, Luke tries unsuccessfully to rescue his X-wing fighter from the swamp. After some time, he gives up. He tells Jedi Master Yoda that lifting the fighter is impossible with the force, the new approach Yoda is trying to teach him. Yoda has these words of wisdom for him:
“You must unlearn what you have learned.”
Scrum is no different! Like the Jedi force, the Scrum framework is conceptually easy; it’s putting Scrum into practice that is difficult. In order for a team to be successful, the team members must unlearn what they have learned so far in their careers.
Here are nine habits you must break in order to be truly successful with Scrum.
Habit One: Create email trails
Often, on traditional projects (i.e., waterfall), team members create trails—written proof to cover themselves. Scrum, like all agile methodologies, values communication and collaboration among team members. Individuals are encouraged to pair with other team members, discuss the story or task at hand, and drive it to completion (and not worry about getting it in writing). Team members must unlearn the mentality of creating a trail and learn to trust and depend on their teammates.
Habit Two: Use command and control
In traditional project management, the project manager uses a command and control approach to steer her project in a certain direction. She generally is responsible for the success or failure of the project. On Scrum projects, team members must learn to take collective ownership of the project. In turn, the project manager has to learn to facilitate and empower rather than dictate and drive.
Habit Three: Create disciplines and silos
On traditional projects, each team member is assigned certain tasks and is responsible for completing theses tasks. Generally, the tasks assigned are discipline-specific, focused on the primary skills of each team member. A systems analyst, for example, will be assigned only the tasks that relate to requirements gathering. This creates silos and requires hand-offs.
On a Scrum team, each member has to unlearn the tendency to specialize and instead should use pair programming and role sharing to expand his or her understanding. No more staying in your own lane. Scrum team members are encouraged to venture into others' lanes.
Habit Four: Be a hero
Our traditional work environment promotes heroism. An individual team member is applauded for her achievements on a project. This often encourages individuals to look after themselves. This behavior must be unlearned by the team members on a Scrum project. On Scrum teams, there are no heroes! For the greater good of the project, the team members must be willing to work with each other to drive the stories to completion. The team, as one unit, is responsible for success or failure of the project and must take the collective ownership of the project.
Habit Five: Sign off on a detailed requirements document
It is difficult for management to accept the fact that you can work on a project that has a fluid top line or scope. This is the most difficult trait to unlearn. On Scrum teams, we adjust the top line of the project at the end of every sprint. With each sprint, the team gets better, smarter, and learns more about the project and the environment. Based on what the team learns, the team adjusts the top line of the project.
Habit Six: Stick to the iron triangle
The traditional approach to project management refers to scope, schedule, and cost as the iron triangle. This iron triangle, though, is broken because it does not take into consideration the quality of the project deliverables. The requirements and priorities of the customers might change as they see more working software. The management must unlearn the urge to box customers into committing to a pre-defined and well-documented set of requirements. Instead, Scrum teams should emphasize the quality of the product that the team creates through various levels of testing and inspections to achieve a done state. The team must learn to focus on quality and make it a central requirement of its work and deliverables.
Habit Seven: Be plan driven
The world is not standing still, so why should your project plan be written in stone? Traditional project management is very stubborn about setting the project plan and sticking to it no matter what. Project Managers spend many hours trying to come up with a perfect plan; the truth is, no project plan is ever going to be perfect. It might be perfect for the moment; however, the world is changing constantly. Your customer’s requirements and priorities will change, the work environment for the team will change—the plan must change in response. Management must learn to accept the truth of change, and allow teams to respond and adjust accordingly.
Habit Eight: Be IT driven
How many times (in your career) have you come across a situation where the IT management is driving the projects? Where IT is dictating what it can and can not do for the business? In Scrum, IT must learn to play a supporting role. The business must drive the projects (priorities, scope, what gets delivered and when—all to increase the ROI). IT should work with the Business to deliver the required artifacts. The Product Owner, thus, is the single most important factor for the success or failure of an agile project.
Habit Nine: Have a big bang delivery
With waterfall projects, you typically get a single, big-bang delivery, where the finished product is delivered to customers at the end of the project. The big misconception with the traditional waterfall approach is that any complexity can be effectively dealt with in a "big-bang" approach.
Scrum emphasizes the delivery of the product in an iterative manner. On a Scrum project, the team must learn evolutionary (and iterative) delivery of the product. With each delivery, the team learns from the customer’s feedback and communication of changed priorities. What the team learns is applied toward making subsequent deliveries better, delivering value to the customers, and in turn to the business.
Habit Ten: Tell teams “How,” not “What”
Management has learned to dictate how the team should complete the tasks at hand. In Scrum, management must unlearn this urge to tell the troops how to execute the tasks. Instead, they must learn to provide the priorities, and then trust the teams collective instinct and experience to complete the tasks. Let the troops on the front line (the folks who are actually going to work on the tasks) decide how to execute and get things done within the boundaries established by management.
Scrum is a simple framework, but executing it properly is not easy. You must unlearn certain long-held beliefs to be successful, and as we all know, breaking habits is never easy. Keep in mind the words of Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi to Luke Skywalker: “Luke… Let go. Trust the force.”