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Challenges When Applying Scrum

17 January 2014

Davi Gabriel da Silva
Target Teal


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.

Final considerations

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!

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: 4.1 (27 ratings)


Michael Kuesters, CSP,CSD,CSM,CSPO, 1/17/2014 2:24:08 AM
Spot on! Two thumbs up.

Just one addition: The DoD should include "established quality standards" - it should be even stricter ;)
Daratha Galkissa, CSM, 1/17/2014 5:42:18 AM
Yes... it's easy to learn and hard to practice.
We have to change the thinking patterns of the people who involved, in order to achieve the real good results of Scrum.
Thanks for the great article.
Kamal Hasan Kotapati, CSM, 1/23/2014 11:31:19 PM
Nice article. Yes, it is very big challenge for the organization to move from old traditional development methodology to Agile. As you said, Agile is a philosophy and easy to understand but difficult to master.
I intend that agile coach is very much important at organization to drive the Agile effectively like scrum master in the scrum team
Aneliya Evtimova Evtimova, CSM, 1/31/2014 2:17:16 PM
Thank you so much for the useful article. I just became a CSM and about to start practising. Nice tips to keep in mind!
Seema Sonkiya, CSM, 5/8/2014 10:05:43 PM
Good Article, One thing I would like to add that Partner with functional Managers is very important. I also experienced challenges to implement SCRUM in traditional development environment. It is very important to commit with functional managers to stimulate change and enthusiasm. The goal of partner with managers is to see which opinions are different, which are same and what they already committed to and agree to pursue evolutionary and incremental improvement with them. In my case most of the challenges came from functional managers.

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