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Understanding Scrum Through a Simple Metaphor

Medicinal Agility

11 February 2014

My colleague Madhavi and I were discussing Agile and Scrum in general last week. During the discussion she suggested that it would be nice if there were a simple explanation of the Scrum framework that used a common language that made the concepts easy for anyone to understand. As we talked, we came up with the explanation below.

Assume that if some falls sick, he or she visits a doctor for a clinical checkup and follows the doctor's advice for getting well. Considering this scenario, we tried to explain the Scrum concepts.

1. Find out which medicine suits your body. (Which framework should I use? Scrum or Kanban?)
First, analyze which version of Agile is suitable to your team. It is as simple as the various versions of the same drug, like paracetamol, Calpol, or Crocin for curing fever. Not every medicine suits you. So what do we do? You first try one type and experiment with it for some time, and if it suits your body, you continue with it until you are completely recovered. If not, you try a different version.

The case with Agile is similar. We do some initial studying, start using Scrum or Kanban, and see how it works for a sprint or two. Then decide whether we want to continue with it or use a different method.

2. Find out what dosage suits your body. (What is the sprint cycle?)
Based on various factors like age, weight, and intensity of fever, we decide on the dosage of the medicine. Similarly, based on factors such as how long until final product delivery, how often requirements change, etc., the sprint cycle duration needs to be worked out.

If we haphazardly vary the dosage -- i.e., if we take one dose of medicine today and two doses the next day, and skip the dose in between, the ailment we are trying to cure becomes worse and the situation gets out of control. Our body may even develop resistance to that medicine. Similarly, if we frequently try to vary the sprint cycle from one week to two weeks and back to one week, and so on, without having any rhythm, it will be difficult to assess the results. The project will become unpredictable and will likely end up in chaos.

You may experiment with lengths one at a time for a couple of sprints at a time, however, before deciding on the best length.

3. Plan and execute as per the dosage. (Carry out sprint planning.)
After the type and dosage of medicine is decided upon, the doctor (product owner) advises the exact medicine to be taken and in which order of priority. That is, you may need a multivitamin first, followed by an antibiotic, and so forth. You go ahead and take the medicines as prescribed -- some with water, some perhaps as a powder dissolved into a drink, some only with food. If you observe the scenario here, the what part is decided upon by the doctor and the how part may be decided by the person taking the medication. Similarly, in the sprint, what to achieve is decided by the product owner, and how to achieve it is decided upon by the team.

4. Set a daily alarm for the consumption of medicine. (Hold a Daily Scrum meeting.)
In order to be effective, the medicine must be taken at the same time and in the same dosage every day. For this, you may have some mechanism, like an alarm on your phone, to remind you to take it. This will also help you check the progress of your health day by day.

Similarly, in Scrum you will have a daily Scrum meeting for a timeboxed duration (up to 15 minutes) and share everyone's update. The result of this meeting is an understanding of the status of the work in progress.

5. Check in and evaluate feedback on how the medicine worked. (Hold the review and retrospective.)
After the completion of the medicine course for the given period, we go to the doctor for another checkup to evaluate how the medicine worked and whether the form or dosage needs to be changed for the next cycle. In a similar fashion, at the end of the sprint you will give a demo to the product owner and the team will conduct a retrospective to inspect and adapt.

The Scrum framework is very simple, based on common sense that we practice day in and day out in other ways, so maybe we just need to make a good, quick, short experiment to figure out what suits the nature of the particular project, then execute it in the right way. This would really work wonders. However, do remember that it is truly difficult to master Scrum unless you have a thorough understanding of the Scrum values and follow the framework with a high level of discipline and passion.

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: 4.5 (11 ratings)


Shilpa Satavalli, CSM, 2/15/2014 4:10:42 AM
This article is really good, it helps in understanding Scrum in a simpler way! Agree that it is difficult to master unless you understand the true values! Nice comparison :-)
Sriramasundararajan Rajagopalan, CSP,CSD,CSM,CSPO, 3/3/2014 9:47:13 PM
Very interesting and insightful thinking.
Balachandra Sekhar M, CSP,CSM, 4/15/2015 8:16:53 PM
Great articles start with a simple thought. Wonderfully explained Vijay.

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