Scrum Won’t Always Work

Well, this is my fourth refactoring of this post. This was supposed to be a quick one! I fully intended on this post explaining why Scrum will always work. Simple! But, as I thought through this, and kept rewriting my post, I’ve completely changed my tune.

What does it mean for Scrum to “work”? I’m going to define “working” as “delivering more to your customers with higher quality than you did before and continuously getting better”.

Does Scrum always work? In my opinion, no. It depends on the type of team that is being introduced to Scrum whether nor not it will work.

The Team that Rocks

If you have a team that is consistently delivering value, is a cross-functional “team” and not a group of individuals, is continuously improving and has a good, productive relationship with their customers where the customers define what they want and collaborate with the team, then Scrum may set them back. I believe that the additional overhead in the form of sprint reviews, retrospectives, sprint and release planning, and daily stand-ups that Scrum adds may make an already high performing team less productive. The team, in some form, is already doing something that produces the same results as these activities. For these types of teams to improve, Kanban is likely be more appropriate.

The Team that Does Not Rock

I really wanted to title this “The Team that Sucks”, but I thought that would be too offensive. Anyway…Given a team that is not consistently delivering value, is not a real “team”, or has a bad relationship with their customers, I believe Scrum will always work. The team will always be better than it was before. Typically these teams have no process (even though they think they do), so anything that brings discipline and communication will allow the team to improve. I have never, ever seen this to not be the case. I admit that at times the improvement is small, but it is an improvement nonetheless. Of course one thing that’s crucial is to have a strong, experienced coach.

As far as the roles introduced by Scrum, you will have a hard time convincing me that there are times when a product owner role is not needed. I’d have to say that the #1 problem I see in “troubled” teams is the fact that they have no idea what to work on next. What do they do in this case? They start guessing. Oh, and they never really know when they are “Done”. If I do nothing else but involve a strong product owner, that alone typically propels the team forward.

As the team matures, however, they will inspect and adapt (the essence of Scrum). Many “advanced” teams may be considered by Scrum-ists to be doing “Scrum-but”, or maybe even not doing Scrum at all, since they have adapted to be the most productive and efficient they can be. Which helps verify that Scrum will not always work.

What do you think? Will Scrum ALWAYS work?

Scrum Needs More Than Just Chickens and Pigs

If you’re reading this, I assume you already know the “chicken and pig” roles in Scrum. ┬áIf not, go here to check it out.

Okay, pigs have “skin in the game”, and chickens…well…don’t. Since some people hate the chicken and pig metaphor, I’ve also referred to it is “committed” (pigs) and “interested” (chickens) (I didn’t come up with this, but I don’t remember who did).

The chickens are not allowed to talk in the daily Scrum meetings. They are only allowed to provide feedback in the Sprint Review (and of course at any time to the Product Owner, Scrum Master, or as requested by the Team).

I think there are two kinds of chickens. There is the kind that provide no valuable input. They historically have done nothing other than cause distractions. Whatever it is your building may have an indirect impact on their lives at best. These people are typically in some kind of management, or senior role.

The second kind of chicken are those folks we typically refer to as “SMEs” (Subject Matter Experts). We may or may not be building a solution for them. However, we rely on their expertise to enable us to deliver value. These kinds of chickens are usually are involved in legacy application development or re-platforming efforts. You probably won’t experience this group if you are doing new development. These types of chickens are needed when the Scrum team just does not have enough of the institutional knowledge needed to consistently deliver value.

Both of these types of chickens have one thing in common. They do not have “skin in the game”. If the project fails or succeeds, there typically will be little (or no) consequence for them. What they do NOT have in common is this; the involvement (or lack thereof) of the second kind of chicken can either bring a team to success, or to a miserable failure.

Teams will typically lump both types of chickens together and treat them the same way. It’s really insulting if you think about it. If I was *critical* to the success of a project but am labeled a “chicken”, and if I identify a risk, I shouldn’t have to wait to speak until spoken to (which is implied with chickens), or until the Sprint Review.

What do we call this third group? They really aren’t chickens as defined in the Scrum context. However, they aren’t pigs either since they aren’t the Product Owner, Scrum Master, or Team (those who do the actual work). We will fail without them.

Face It, Your Memory Stinks

Seriously, it really does. You can’t remember everything. No matter how good you are at “Simon“, your memory just isn’t good enough.

Okay, so I’m stating the obvious. If we all know we can’t remember everything, why is it then that in soooo many meetings, nobody writes down what was decided, discovered, or uncovered? Sure, there are some folks that are writing “something” down during meetings. But, those are typically their own personal notes, the stuff that applies to THEM and not the team-at-large. They could be doodles, or possibly an attempt to look like they are attentive to what’s going on, when in fact, they are actually zoned out (I’m guilty of that). Who’s recording the important knowledge for the benefit of the team and organization?

I was observing a planning session a while ago. The team asked a business SME to come in and answer some questions regarding complex business scenarios. It was a rich, active discussion. People were learning new things left an right. It was beautiful. This dialogue lasted about 20 minutes or so. Guess how many people wrote this incredibly critical information down? NONE. That’s right, not one person wrote anything down. Sadly, I’m starting to realize that this is a common occurrence.

This is why we have the same meetings over and over again. How many times have you been in a meeting and you think, “Huh? We’re having this meeting AGAIN!?!?”. There is a very simple solution. WRITE IT DOWN, send it out, and store that precious information in a central location that’s easy to get to (can you say “wiki”?).

Whose responsibility is it to make sure something is documented during these meetings? It’s everyone’s, including yours. If you see that information is just disappearing into thin air, don’t hesitate…ask “okay, so who wants to take notes?” If you get no volunteers, then announce that you will do it…and then take care of it.

The Role of the Architect in Scrum

This question comes up over an over, so I thought I’d address it quickly.

Remember that in an ideal Scrum team, the team is completely self organizing.  There are no titles to worry about.  The team will discover the strengths and weaknesses of each member, and continuously evolve, i.e. inspect and adapt, to discover new ways of delivering high quality value to the business.

But, guess what.  In the real world, we have titles to deal with.  Now, I don’t think that’s such a bad thing.

As we all know, the title “Architect” in the context of software means very different things given the organization.  I’ve seen it range from really good coder to more of a project manager-y type of position.  I think this lack of clear role in the industry overall has lead the folks in this title to, at times, become “chickens” that like to cluck and flap their wings to distract the team.

So, what should the architect do?  Well, let’s remember that in Scrum, team are self organizing.  They collectively come up with the technical solutions.  They also come up with development standards.  If the team is generally not high performing, or are missing some necessary skills, then the architect should be a mentor and a coach for that team until they can fly on their own.

What if the teams are high performing?  If there is an organizational need due to a highly complex business need, i.e. insurance, taxes, financial transactions, etc., then the architect should focus on the high level roadmap to ensure that the backbone of the technology is strong.  This is especially true in a SOA environment.

The Cross Functional Team vs. the Functional Community

An agile team consists of everyone it takes to deliver value to the customer.  The typical team consists of analysts, developers,  and testers. Of course the team is not limited to these roles.  The team could also include technical documenters, DBAs, or whoever else has a hand in creating value.

In traditional organizations, “team” is defined as a functional group.  The development “team”, the “testing” team, the “analyst” team, etc.  This makes sense in a traditional, waterfall-ish environment.

In an agile, cross-functional environment, it is not helpful to define “teams” around functions.  Okay, “maybe” its okay in a production support capacity, but that’s still pushing it as there will still need to be cross-functional work with production support.

Teams have a common, unified goal. Functional “teams” do not.  For example, a functional “team” that consists of a dozen Java programmers, with each programmer on a different project, can hardly be called a “team”.  They have no common goal, other than to adhere to the (hopefully) high development standards that have been put in place.

I propose that instead of calling these functional groups “teams”, we call them communities.  Here’s a simple definition of community that I found on dictionary.com: “A group of people having common interests“.  The Java “community” will work together to make sure that they have common standards of excellence, share knowledge and experiences, and provide each other guidance as needed.  However, these people will have different goals, depending on the project on which they have been assigned.

The Role of the Functional Manager in Scrum

One of the surprises that I have encountered is the resistance to implementing Scrum from the functional managers. Just to clarify, functional managers refer to the QA manager, software development manager, BA manager, etc.

One of the things that Scrum does is provide a very simple framework with very few well defined roles. The only roles that are clearly defined are Scrum Master, Product Owner, and Team. Click here to find out more about these roles.

Nowhere does it define a “QA manager”, or “Software Development Manager”. I think I understand why. In traditional, “waterfall-ish” environments, everything is separated by function. There are functional silos where the manager will tell their team what to do. The QA manager will manage the work for the QA team, the software manager will manage the work for the software team, etc. Scrum emphasized cross-functional and self-organizing teams. This is a complete contradiction to how the functional manager has been trained to work.

When I was confronted by one of the functional managers, I was surprised at first. He felt that there was no place for his position, and that his job was in jeopardy. I assured him that this wasn’t the case, that his position was important and that it just needs to change. Then, I thought about this more. What IS the role of the functional manager? They don’t manage work. They (usually) don’t DO the work. They aren’t really chickens or pigs.

I searched for some time for some clear direction. After quite a bit of searching, I found out that this was one of those things where the answer was “it depends”. There was no clear-cut answer.

Depending on the needs of the team, there may be no place for functional managers. If the team is small and self-managing, the scrum roles are being filled competently and impediments are being removed without help from the functional manager, then I don’t believe there is a need for functional managers. However, there aren’t many organizations that will achieve this state of bliss.

The functional manager can serve very important roles within organizations that have implemented Scrum. Below are some ways the functional manager can add value.

  • Ensure each team member’s skills are kept up to date. This is a big one, and could consume a large portion of the functional manager’s time.
  • Help remove impediments. I have experienced situations in which there were just too many impediments for one Scrum Master.
  • Play the Scrum Master role on projects as necessary.
  • Help with resource allocation. Notice that I said “help with”, not “do”. This is more important with teams that have not attained the “self-managing” phase yet. Many times the functional group has to serve on many different projects. The functional manager can work with the team, Scrum Master and product owner on project assignments.
  • Handle personnel issues, paperwork, etc.
  • Participate in the hiring process. In a truly self-managing organization, the team would do the hiring. Until self-managing is fully realized, the functional manager can facilitate this.

Implementing Scrum does not automatically eliminate the functional manager role. However, it absolutely changes it. The functional manager will have to be willing to “release” some (most?) of their authority to the team. They will have to become a servant-leader.