Get certified - Transform your world of work today


Waterfall to Scrum: Transitions and Crossroads

25 January 2012

Mark Stocker

I was at home a couple of Sundays ago, watching a Chelsea vs. Liverpool football match (soccer, for those Americans reading) — a match Liverpool ultimately won. It was during the post-match analysis that I was struck by some parallels between what Chelsea is going through and my own current client engagement to move from Waterfall to Scrum.

Chelsea is a major English club that hasn't won anything significant for the past couple of years. They've come close to delivering but have experienced some high-profile failures, falling short and costing the club a bucket load of money. The chairman has hired and fired different managers, who have each tried different methods or frameworks to deliver the success the chairman and board demand. Now they're taking a gamble on a new guy. The chairman had heard that this fellow introduced something a bit different in his last club, and it had transformed the team's fortunes. This fresh approach looked like it had an immediate impact because, over the course of a season, the team won four competitions.

Twelve games into the season with the new guy at the helm at Chelsea, however, the team was having the worst start since the chairman bought the club. (This doesn't reflect my own success rate, by the way!) Right from the beginning, there were individuals who questioned his appointment and had concerns about the framework he would use. The chairman and board, however, had accepted that things had to change, went through the desire to change by appointing the new man and his framework, and brought in some new team members who had shown the ability to deliver.

What this team has been going through is something that all organizations face when moving to Scrum: turning the plan into reality, making it succeed, going through the tough times. Scum looks like a winning formula on paper, but doing it isn't easy. The change in playing approach for Chelsea is a major one, so it's been a steep learning curve for everyone. The previous framework was understood by the team, the backroom staff, the board, and the fans — underscoring the reality that there are a lot of individuals, departments, and customers you have to win over to take a company through the journey of change, making sure they understand why this is being done and what the potential benefits are. Not all the team will get it, and it doesn't matter whether those people are seasoned professionals or fresh out of the academy — they need continued coaching and mentoring.

Chelsea now face a crossroads: keep the faith and stick with the new framework (because they understand the longer-term benefits), or give in to the loud negative voices and revert back to the old ways (even though they know those ways weren't working). On this particular Sunday, the post-match analysis backed the manager, because the new framework is how successful modern football is done. The analysts pointed the finger of blame firmly on the ability of some of the team members. In a Scrum team, that might be cheaper to resolve than by buying a new £25 million team member (and with continued coaching, that might not be required at Chelsea, either).

The post-match analysis illustrated the problem by looking at two particular team members, whose mixture of poor decision making and ability cost the team a goal. Immediately after the goal, the two team members involved, plus a few others playing near them, reverted to the old approach. Confidence in the new framework had evaporated, and in the heat of battle they went back to what they knew. Over on the other side of the pitch, it was clear someone was still backing the manager and the new framework. He was in place and ready. He was the team captain, who ultimately had his manager's back and that of the team, no matter what — a pragmatist/originator and a believer in the new framework. The video replay highlighted a further two occasions when the same players again reverted to the old way of playing, while the captain continued to follow the new framework. It's damaging when you have team members pulling in different directions, and ultimately, on this project, Chelsea failed.

There were other believers on the pitch, and when the complete team performed as a collective during the game, following the new framework, there were glimmers of where the approach could lead. I only hope they have enough belief within the team and the club to hold on long through this tough, uncertain time and start reaping the rewards. (Actually, that last bit is a lie, because I follow a rival team.)

I'm not at that crossroads with my current engagement. Luckily, I'm in a far better place — but I do see the dangers, and the journey is far from over.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

Article Rating

Current rating: 0 (0 ratings)


Shweta Darbha, CSPO, 2/9/2012 3:57:15 AM
What I like about the article is that it drives the point without even once getting into typical project details. The example of a football team and project management philosphy change is something which doesn't come easy.
Really appreciate your style of writing.

You must Login or Signup to comment.

The community welcomes feedback that is constructive and supportive, in the spirit of better understanding and implementation of Scrum.


Newsletter Sign-Up