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How to Fail SCRUM?

Aditya Kaole May 07, 2015


If you do a poll among project team members in the software industry to find out the most talked about area, the probability of Agile (SCRUM) emerging as the answer is extremely high. With everybody talking about agility for success of a project, here are a few important pointers on what can make your SCRUM fail. Follow them and you are bound to make your SCRUM fail.


  1. Treat SCRUM rituals as just another process: The Agile commandments clearly highlight the priority and focus for Agile team members. It clearly says “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”. Majority of the teams who (claim to) follow Agile forget this first principle itself. Rituals are followed without understanding the reasons/intentions behind them. E.g. doing a stand-up is not a process but an important suggested activity to make sure that the team is focused and is not losing its track while achieving the goal they all are working towards. If the team is not aware of the motives behind the actions they will be following a pied piper (Scrum Master aka Project Manager in a typical team structure). SCRUM is about empowering people to achieve a goal, not follow processes defined for the sake of having them.
  2. Have a team leadership with ever changing (one without consensus) end goals: There is a big misconception about the definition of Agile. Agility does not mean jumping from one decision to another without analyzing its effect on the development and the team involved in the development. SCRUM’s success is based upon the execution of Swift and focused sprints which gives working and potentially shippable products. These sprints are closed entities which once decided upon should not be altered. For keeping the spirit of the sprint intact, the focus of the leadership defining the product life should be intact. Although the feature list can evolve and priorities can change, the goal should not change as frequently as a female actress changes clothes in a Bollywood song sequence. Not only does it reduce the probability of achieving the goal, but it also takes a huge toll on team’s morale. It should be made sure that team does not suffer because of a clueless and/or myopic product owner. Ignore this important point and you have a great recipe for failing the SCRUM. SCRUM’s success is defined by how well the product owner understands and knows when and where to be flexible.
  3. Practice SCRUM with an expectation of getting things done faster: This is the BIGGEST misunderstanding a product owner (decision taking stakeholders) can ever have about SCRUM. Using SCRUM as a tool of getting things done faster is the fastest route to create the worst impression of SCRUM in the minds of everyone directly and indirectly involved in its execution. SCRUM is designed to make the decision making swifter, roadmap more Agile, easier to track and responsive to changes but definitely not to make the execution faster. If I take the liberty to draw an analogy with the delivery of a baby, it is like expecting to deliver a baby faster if you follow better ways to manage heath during pregnancy.
  4. Have team members who do not (or are not willing to) understand basic principles of SCRUM: ‘Individuals and interactions’ will always have the highest say in the Agile way of execution. So a team becomes the most powerful force that drives the ‘team’ to success. But as explained by Uncle Ben - “With greater power comes greater responsibility”. Everybody should drive the boat in one direction to move the boat upstream. A single hole can get a ship to the bottom of the sea. If a team is sloppy and haphazard, Agile won’t make them organized. Thus every SCRUM team member should understand the philosophy and should be aligned to it. Every team member who does not follow the SCRUM rules (unintentionally or intentionally) is a potential weapon for failing your SCRUM execution.
  5. Tailoring SCRUM as you need: As suggested by many Agile experts and practitioners, “Either scrum or don’t scrum. Don’t scrum haphazardly.” The more one dilutes the principles of SCRUM, the more it becomes difficult to get the best out of it. More we tailor it, the more chance we give it to fail.

Follow the steps above and you will fail SCRUM for sure. I guarantee it. In case you change your mind and enjoy the best benefits of SCRUM, avoid getting into the traps shared above. Understand the principles and motives behind the methodology rather than interpreting it yourself. And it’s not only the SCRUM Master who needs to understand it. Every stakeholder must be equally involved in it.

Best of luck for your execution adventures! SCRUM happily ever after.

PS: Do drop me a comment if you enjoyed reading the blog and share your own experiences with SCRUM.

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