Adopting Scrum Requires Much More Than Just Knowing About Scrum
Bill Hoberecht - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

A Scrum implementation is a difficult endeavor that can fracture relationships, diminish team performance, and impact business outcomes.  Or, it can drive teams to higher levels of performance in delivering increased value.  Here are a few tips for a team that can help your Scrum Implementation be successful.

So your team is thinking of implementing an Agile approach and has selected Scrum as your framework!  Ah, the things I wish I had known when I first led a team down this path . . . that would have helped us avoid a fair amount of grief.  Subsequent transformations have each surfaced new difficulties.  Here's my short list of a few tips that might help your Scrum implementation.

Assessing: Is the Team Ready for Agile and Scrum?

You've probably read through many Scrum materials already and have an idea of what you'd like to implement.  No doubt the Manifesto for Agile Software Development and information in the Scrum Guide look appealing, but are they right for your organization?

The team needs to decide if it really wants to be disciplined before ever deciding on the framework or methodology to use.  Will your new Scrum team fit well with the rest of the organization?  Begin your journey by assessing your organization and its readiness for introducing Scrum - here are some areas to examine:

  • Foundational Principles.  How experienced are your team members in working with established principles and values?  Look at your existing team/department/organizational published principles and examine to what degree they are actually embodied in daily operation today.  Here's why this is important:  you'll be transitioning to methods based on very clear principles and values - what will it take for your team to develop an understanding, implement and live these elements?  The team will need to recognize that Agile and Scrum principles and values are essential to team operation, and this might be a huge change if the team has largely ignored existing values.
  • Disciplined Methods.  Most organizations I've encountered have either ill-defined software processes or existing well-defined processes that are often skipped.  Is your team experienced in using disciplined software methods?  What will it take for your team to recognize and implement the rigor of Scrum events, roles and artifacts?
  • Trust.  Recognize the degree to which team members have trusting and respectful relationships and thus are willing to be transparent with one another.  How about relations with internal customers, partners and management?  While the Scrum values can be sufficient to maintain or develop trust, your situation may require focused trust building strategies & activities as part of the transformation program.
  • Agility of the Broader Organization.  In every Scrum implementation I've seen, the Scrum team must work with other organizations (e.g., finance, infrastructure management) that continue to use legacy practices.  Identify those organizations as a precursor to determining just how you will work with them - are there viable methods the Scrum team can use in working with these departments?


Important Knowledge, Skills and Behaviors for Scrum Team Members

The bulk of the Scrum information I've seen does a great job of explaining the operational aspects of Scrum (e.g., events, roles).  Training on Scrum execution surely should be required for all team members.  Beyond this training, there are other aspects of working in a Scrum environment that should be included in a transition to Scrum.

Individuals in traditional software organizations have lived in a constrained world where others make most decisions and empowerment is limited.  The world of Scrum is quite different: The Scrum Team is responsible and accountable for delivering value.  This requires a rather drastic change in how team members view their job and responsibilities.  I would also consider these skills and behaviors as essential in forming a successful Scrum Team:

  • Solid Understanding and Buy-in to Principles and Values.  Learn, discuss, debate and periodically revisit the mindset and beliefs noted in the Manifesto for Agile Software Development and information in the Scrum Guide.  Bring them to life with examples and counterexamples.  Include them in retrospectives. This knowledge, understanding and application is perhaps the most important aspect any Scrum implementation.  Most Scrum advocates can recite the events, roles and artifacts of Scrum - make it your goal that team members are equally fluent in knowing the principles and values of Agility and Scrum.
  • Fully Engaged as a Team Member.  Be physically and intellectually present, preventing any mindless, rote participation in team events.  Be courageous enough to offer assistance, humble enough to accept help.  Be accountable to your colleagues and expect accountability from them.  Trust others and give them every reason to trust you.  Learn the process (events, artifacts), execute it well.  Seek and incorporate feedback from others; provide meaningful useful feedback to others.  Continually pursue professional development.
  • Personal Contribution.  Scrum has high expectations of individuals - these different significantly from your responsibilities implied in traditionally managed projects.  Specifically, don't wait for a project manager to organize, coordinate and direct - there is no project manager!  Contribute your expertise to the team in self-organizing, planning, coordinating, sharing, assisting and more.  Accept ownership, responsibility and accountability to the team.  
  • Scrum Masters: You are not a Project Manager!  I see the Scrum Master as serving the team, advocating for the process and coaching (to be fair, the Scrum Guide has many other items listed as well).  If you are a former Project Manager, set aside your years of PM experience and dedicate your time to the role defined in the Scrum Guide.  If necessary, supplement with other needed responsibilities that are consistent with the principles and values of Scrum.
  • Product Owners: Making Difficult Decisions. Through your expertise along with collaboration with others, you are defining what the team will work on. Keep your eye on business value. Learn to make decisions.   Ensure that your past choices have delivered value and learn from those decisions. Become well-skilled in splitting large capabilities into sprint-sized chunks. Here’s what is hard: not everything can be a top priority. You’ll be making important decisions on work that will not be starting now - you’ll need to be comfortable with making difficult decisions very frequently.

Parting Thoughts

Transitioning to Scrum is much more than learning the events, roles and artifacts of Scrum.  The more significant aspect of implementing Scrum is understanding and accepting that each team member has a significant responsibility and accountability to the team, based on the principles and values of Scrum.  These responsibilities are different than those of traditionally managed software projects.

If your experiences in implementing Scrum have surfaced other tips that can help teams through the transition, please don't hesitate to send me those tips.  Thank you.

I wish your team well on your journey of implementing Scrum!