Agile, and especially Scrum as a project and organization management method, has become the most popular trend in IT in the last couple of years. Many people claim it is a “must-have” nowadays. Others see it as an opportunity to follow the latest industry trends. Some are convinced by statistics related to Agile in IT (you can find some of them here and here). However, is Scrum really the best solution for every IT company? In this blog post, I am going to discuss the basic reasons why Scrum implementation may turn out to be rather a source of a problem than something a company can benefit from.
#1 You don’t know why you are adopting Agile
There must be the full understanding within your organization why you are going to adopt Agile. Claiming that it is an industry standard is not a reason that’s good enough to proceed. You may have various reasons to adopt Agile. You may, for instance, want to improve your cooperation with clients, to be able to introduce new solutions faster than before or to improve risk management in your project. Before you start, you also have to answers the following question: “How will I know I have succeeded?”. If you know the answer you are able to set your goal and get measurable benefits from your Agile adoption.
An IT company decided to adopt Agile because „it is trendy at the moment”. Nobody knew, however, why the organization is going to undergo such a change. Nobody was really interested in it. All artefacts and Scrum meetings have been introduced but due to the fact there was no common goal the activities were not well synchronized. There was a lot of tension and lack of understanding among teams. As a result, the teams adopted a more or less iterative way of working, but in fact, it had little to do with Agile.
#2 You cannot count on your management’s support
Any initiative that has not been supported by the management, must sooner or later fail. It is especially the case when we are talking about the implementation and work in line with Agile project management methods, such as Scrum. And while Scrum can be adopted only in development teams, Agile, as a philosophy, must be adopted by the entire organization. If the management neither understands nor obeys the rules of Agile and Scrum, development teams are bound to encounter various problems, such as:
• Interfering with the team’s daily routine (related to procedures or work organization), • Discrediting and/or changing decisions taken by the Product Owner, • Assigning new tasks to the team without letting the Product Owner know, • Assigning new tasks to the team without including them in the Sprint Planning, • Taking decisions related to the project and technical matters on behalf of the team.
#3 Employees and the management don’t trust each other
In Scrum part of the responsibility is in a non-obvious way delegated from the management to the team. That’s because in many cases it’s members of development teams that have to take many decisions related among others to the organization of work, distribution of tasks and the way solutions are delivered.
It is really difficult for quite a number of managers to give their teams so much freedom. In many cases, it is just impossible. For many, the one and only management method is to supervise every step employees take to make sure everything goes well. In many industries, it is the most desired and effective way of managing team’s work.
Unfortunately, it also has a magic power to kill team members’ creativity, innovativeness, commitment and responsibility. The latter is an absolute must if you want to build a self-organising team, which is the basic element of Scrum.
#4 No one understands the Agile values
Agile is philosophy, not a project management method or a tool to organise daily work. Agile philosophy has been explained in the Agile Manifesto and Agile Principles. Scrum is a methodology that has been created as Agile implementation. Unfortunately, on a number of occasions, I have noticed people don’t really understand that Scrum cannot function without Agile. Take a look at these examples:
During Scrum implementation, one of the top managers said: „In order to effectively implement Scrum, first we have to introduce a proper set of implementation procedures and tools.”
Developers said they needed a few weeks to rewrite the project documentation in line with Scrum.
According to the financial department, the most important part of the implementation was to renegotiate contracts with all the clients.
A very detailed plan of Scrum implementation has been prepared. According to the plan deadlines for every function that was to be developed were defined for the upcoming year.
If you haven’t noticed any irony in these examples, please go back to the Agile Manifesto.
#5 You don’t have enough knowledge about Agile
Scrum is a framework that is fairly easy to explain but quite a difficult to implement. The basic Scrum Guide consists of 17 pages and it provides a complete knowledge about the basics of how to implement Scrum. However, Agile Estimating and Planning has 320 pages and it deals with a topic that Scrum Guide covered on just 2 pages.
I have met quite a number of people who, having read Scrum Guide or selected articles on Scrum, decided that “they are going to implement Agile in their team”. Really, I do appreciate their enthusiasm and motivation. I’m a great Agile enthusiast myself and I’m always happy to meet people who share my attitude.
However, to be able to implement Agile methodologies correctly you need years of practical experience. You will probably agree that no one has ever become a car mechanic after they read a number of car magazines. It’s the same with Scrum. You cannot be a Scrum expert if all you have ever done about Scrum is taking a quick look at a few pieces of writing. And if you do your Scrum implementation incorrectly, the best-case scenario will be that your team will get discouraged and reluctant towards Scrum. The worst-case scenario may be that the team will fall apart and the project will turn out to be an absolute disaster.
Scrum is a methodology that is easy to explain. But to achieve true mastery in Scrum you need loads of time and effort. There are no shortcuts. You cannot say: “Hey, let’s hire a couple of Scrum masters and starting from next month we will be so much more productive!” You want to implement Scrum? You have to involve the whole company in it, from your CEO to ordinary employees. What’s the most important, though, is that first of all you have to adopt Agile philosophy all Agile methodologies are based upon.
What is your experience in implementing Scrum in your company? What were the biggest obstacles that you have encountered? Did you manage to overcome them?