I recently had a long discussion with a friend who is a people manager for a software development team in his organization. The topic of discussion was Agile, Scrum, and the simplicity of the Scrum framework. My friend was recently introduced to the Scrum framework through training, but after the training and five months of failed attempts to implement Scrum in his team, he was a little frustrated with the fact that Scrum did not work for him. He's left questioning whether such a simple framework is even worth the attention it's getting.
This discussion led me to write this post and highlight the importance of some basic Agile factors that many adopters (including me) might have ignored at some stage in their career.
So, yes, Scrum is simple! The Agile Manifesto, which was drafted in 2001, recognizes the importance of simplicity:
"Simplicity -- the art of maximizing the amount of work not done -- is essential."
Similar to the way that simplicity is critical to software design, test design, architecture, and other team activities, it is also a critical success factor in processes and frameworks. Simple processes and frameworks are often more likely to succeed because they are understood easily by team members. For example, while traditional project management concepts and tools are complex and require specialization by project managers, these complex processes may not be well understood by a team, resulting in their limited contribution toward project planning and management.
By contrast, Agile methods and tools are easy to understand and use. This simplicity ensures that the team is engaged in the framework and is contributing toward its success, process improvement, and planning activities.
The simple nature of Agile methods is one of critical success factors, but what my friend may be ignoring is how to successfully attain the state of simplicity. Adopting Scrum is a lifestyle change for the team, and convincing everyone, including stakeholders, to go through a paradigm shift to simplicity is an amazing journey that requires patience, courage, openness, and superior emotional intelligence.
So why did my friend fail for five months? Well, because he was deceived by the simplicity of the framework; he didn't approach Scrum coaches and transformation experts for help but started his attempts for the team's Scrum adoption on his own. Because the framework is so simple, he started believing in it and tried to hastily implement it within his team.
Reasons for failing to adopt Scrum
Another contributing factor is that my friend did not himself adopt Scrum, even while he was trying to convince everyone else to do so. The examples below underscore why the adoption failed:
Although my friend's organization has coaches and an Agile Community of Practice (COP), he did not adopt transparency by involving the people who are entrusted by the organization with the Agile rollout. I am not sure why he did not do this, but it appears that this is one of the main reasons for his failure. People who have completed their journey with another team in the past would certainly have deep and broad experience that can be helpful.
My friend basically ran a five-month Waterfall
project to convince his team, business partners, and management to adopt Scrum. He had no sprint timebox, no product backlog, no retrospective, and no sprint review. Therefore, as he was failing through his journey month after month, he did not adapt his strategy and goals. He did not retrospect for five months!
Obviously, with no inspection he didn't have anything to adapt. During his five-month journey, he never had an inspect-and-adapt cycle on his calendar.
I am still trying to convince my friend to reach out with his problem statement to Agile coaches in his organization. I can say with confidence that Scrum would work for him once his team has completed the journey.
Recommendations for Scrum adoption
I regularly meet new teams with multiple failed attempts at Scrum adoption, and I offer them the following recommendations:
- Implement your journey toward agility with agility. Follow Agile values, ensure that inspect-and-adapt opportunities are available regularly. So if you fail in your first sprint, there is always the next sprint during which you can recover lost ground.
- Get help. Reach out to an Agile coach or Agile COP in your organization who can help. Always be open to asking for help.
Please feel free to comment and share your feedback about other factors you want to highlight that can be critical to success or failure during the adoption journey.