A friend of mine asked me if I could explain Scrum to her. I'm always willing to do this, and I started out with iterations, and estimation and delivering value, and all the stuff we know and do. But she is not a developer, and she soon interrupted me. "Can you tell it in a simpler way? Like you would explain it to a child. Can you tell it in Jip and Janneke language?" She wanted me to explain Scrum in layman's terms.
In the Netherlands, where I reside, we sometimes say that means explaining something in "Jip and Janneke language." These two characters are from a childrens' book series by Annie M.G. Schmidt, and their stories are simple and easy to understand. So I wrote this story, about a playground, in that style. I hope that you too can use it to explain in simple terms the essence of working with Scrum.
Jip and Janneke and the Playground
One day Jip visits Janneke. Jip says he would love to have a beautiful playground. Janneke thinks she can provide in this, but first she would like to know what should be in it. "A swimming pool, a slide, a sandbox, and much more," says Jip. Janneke writes it all down in a beautiful list. Jip reads it briefly and nearly gives Janneke the green light, but first he needs to see more details. A plan, a sketch, and more stuff like that. Janneke goes to work with a lot of chalk and at the end of the week she shows it all to Jip.
Jip thinks it looks wonderful, but he wants to know more. He asks Janneke, "How high will the slide be, what will be the temperature of the pool water, and what color will the sand in the sandbox be?" Janneke doesn't know everything, so she makes things up on the spot. "Ten meters high, the water is very hot, and the sand is red." Jip agrees and gives all his savings to Janneke. "In two weeks I'll come back for a look," he says, and he leaves so Janneke can go to work.
She has asked some friends from the neighborhood to help build the playground. "But you cannot build a slide that high for so little money. How hot is hot? And red sand is very bad for your clothes!" they say. "We can never build this." Janneke is distraught. She has promised Jip, and there's no way out now. So she decides to move forward with the project and tries to provide solutions that are as good as she can make them. She had promised her friends a lot of ice cream for their help, so she decides to provide the extra money for the slide from her own piggy bank. The water will be just warm, not hot; and to deal with the red sand, she'll provide some detergent for Jip's mom.
When Jip returns after a week, he can't believe his eyes. Everything is there, but it's not what he'd had in mind. He's scared of the ten-meter slide. The pool is too warm. And his mother will be very angry when she sees the red sand stains on his pants. Jip is mad, and he wants Janneke to rebuild the playground. Her friends don't want to help any more — after all, it isn't their playground. Janneke is very sad and desperate and runs home to her mom.
Too bad Jip and Janneke didn't start by playing together in the first place. They could have imagined how everything should be by working together. And by bringing along Janneke's friends at an earlier stage, they could have worked out things much faster. Timmy would likely have had a wonderful idea for the slide. Jip would have been right there to feel the water and inform Janneke that it had to be colder. He would have known that his mother wouldn't approve of the red color for the sand and that white would have been a much better idea. While building the playground, they would have found out that Jip really can't swim, so they could have replaced the water with balls — which are less expensive, so the group would save money that could be used for a seesaw. They'd have noticed that the tree in that space had a beautiful branch, and Janneke had a rope and an old car tire, so they could have built a swing. Jip and Janneke, together with their friends, could have built the most beautiful playground they could imagine.
Scrum ensures that you play together as well and as early as possible. By working and communicating together, solutions can be found. New ideas will surface where no one would expect them — like a swing and a play area with balls in it. Jip would get his playground, but it would be much more, in the end, then he could have imagined by himself at the start. And the friends from the neighborhood could have the greatest fun in the making of the garden. Janneke would give them enough freedom to come up with their own solutions — and be sure her own piggy bank remained safe. They would learn a lot from each other and together solve everything. Building the playground would become real teamwork, and everyone would be happy.