Inspection without adaptation is pointless in Scrum

People are naturally Agile. Our personal lives require us to demonstrate our ability to adapt more than our professional environments often allow us to do. Scrum, much like life, is all about adaptation. Scrum sets opportunities for professionals to regularly inspect in order to adapt. Inspection without adaptation is pointless. An act of futility.

The simplest word that might adequately define “agile” is “adaptive”. Adaptiveness, the ability to adapt, is more than ever needed in our world of complexity, creativity, fierce competition and unpredictability. Hence, the criticality of agility, not the illusion of agility that many Agile transformations result in. Agility is reflected in an organization’s unique way to respond to change, absorb important disruptions, capitalize on unforeseen opportunities and -ultimately- cause innovative change.

Scrum is all about inspection and adaptation, and therefore a way to become more Agile, to increase the ability to adapt. The framework of Scrum is a foundation upon which to increase the agility that emerges from frequent inspections and adaptations. Scrum sets no more than boundaries to elevate self-organization with frequent reminders for all players involved to adapt upon observations (inspection) of reality, new insights, acquired experience, changing expectations.

Scrum re-inserts some common sense of life back into a professional environment.

The process of inspection and adaptation, and therefore Scrum, thrives on a dualistic relationship with transparency. The process of inspection and adaptation requires as well as creates transparency. Adaptations that are not based on observations of reality, but of some faked reality, make no sense. They even have the danger of worsening a situation, and increase obfuscation rather than enhance transparency. On the other hand, Scrum also makes reality highly visible, at least at each event. This transparency offered by Scrum is easily cheered and embraced when progress and results are as hoped for, but not so much when that is not the case.

Inspection and adaptation are inseparable acts. Adaptation is a conscious decision about the nearby future.

Even the decision to keep a certain way of working in place, actually, is an adaptation, when taken consciously. For a decision of adaptation to be an informed decision it is best based on inspection, i.e. an act of observation and consideration. Adaptation without observation and reflective inspection misses direction. It is likely no more than a shot in the dark, rather than a deliberate evolution. Inspection without adaptation, in our world of complexity, creativity, fierce competition and unpredictability, makes little sense. It makes little sense to gather information about the past without considering how to deal with that information next. In Scrum, inspection without adaptation is a futile act that serves pretend-agility at most.

The artefacts of Scrum are dynamic placeholders holding essential information that serves the process of inspection and adaptation. Every event in Scrum is an opportunity to inspect and adapt upon this evolving information. The purpose, time-boxes and frequency of the events allow people, the inspectors, to balance focus on getting work done and openness for change.

Inspection for the mere sake of inspecting, without the ambition to adapt, is pointless in Scrum. All Scrum events are intended to be forward-looking, as opportunities to shape the future. None of these events were designed for reporting or status purposes. In the world of high dynamism that leads to deploying a work process based on Scrum it would be very strange if teams did not capitalize on new information and insights that improve their work life as soon as possible. Scrum makes sure it happens never later than at the foreseen events. Scrum assures that the art of empiricism is performed no later than at the time of these events.

Within a Sprint, as an overarching event, development standards and practices provide additional feedback loops. Across multiple Sprints, where a Sprint is a completely defined cycle in time, forecasts can be made, and growth tracked, towards goals and ambitions. Scrum helps you inspect and adapt your way to unpredictable destinies.

In complex and changing environments adaptation is key. These are the environments that demand the adoption of a framework like Scrum. Inspection without adaptation is pointless in Scrum. It is an act of futility and pretend-agility.

(Thank you Higher View and Jellylab for the videos and for the graphics)

“Framework”

At some point in time the term “Framework” became really fashionable. I don’t remember when it was exactly, but it was when smart businessmen assumed it was better for sales, as commonly used terms like methodology or process got burned. At least, that can be seen as an achievement too. Most likely they guessed it explained the wide adoption of Scrum, and aspired the same ’success’.

Today, the word is omnipresent and can surely be added to the list of most misunderstood words in the world of “Agile”. That does not change the fact that we did not start using the word lightly in the past. It was not about marketing or selling. It was about sincerely describing the lightweight nature of Scrum, as a simple set of rules, principles and values that define a framework for inspection and adaptation, a way for people to address complex challenges.

Regardless of fashion of the day and obfuscation, this is not a term to leave to the sharks. Language matters. Scrum is a framework, not a methodology, as I described in 2013 and in my book “Scrum – A Pocket Guide”.

The illusion of agility (what most Agile transformations end up delivering)

Agility is a unique and continuously evolving state that is typical to a specific organization, given an organization’s people, set-up and history. A traditional (industrial) approach to becoming more Agile commonly creates no more than an illusion of agility.

Agility is a specific state as it reflects the unique lessons and learnings that an organization and its inhabitants went and go through, the way in which specific annoyances and hindrances were and are overcome, the many inspections and adaptations that occur along the journey, the unknown future challenges that will demand distinct responses. Agility is a unique signature with imprints of the people involved and their relationships and interactions, of used and abandoned tools, processes, practices, of constructs within and across the many eco-systems that make out an organization, potentially even stretching across the organization’s boundaries.

No model can predict, anticipate or outline the unique signature that an organization’s state of agility is.

However, many of our organizations have their roots, and their beliefs, in the past industrial age. As they feel the need and the pressure to increase their agility, they naturally revert to familiar, yet old-school, industrial recipes. They undertake cautiously planned attempts to shift to the Agile paradigm (although they need to leap), wrapping them in separate change projects. They look around and imitate what other organizations do. They copy-paste what others, regardless whether they operate in the same economical domain or not, claim brought them success. They enforce processes and practices in a cascaded and mass-production way. They rely on text-book models that prescribe generic pre-empted blueprints organizational structures. The learnings and the hard work needed needed to acquire sustainable agility tuned to the organization’s specific context are conveniently ignored. Ironically, these are the exact approaches that block them in their growth, the ways of working that they need to abandon in order to enter and survive the new worlds, the worlds that require a higher agility.

The mismatch is fundamental. They need and want to hose down their industrial ways, yet re-inforce them. No more than an illusion of agility is created, which is painfully revealed when, often after several years, the deflation by reality hits hard. In the face of the urgency, the increase in agility is negligible. The actual results are disappointing.

What was hoped would be achieved is not achieved. The people creating a company’s products and services are not more engaged or motivated (rather they keep leaving and no new talents can be attracted). The people funding the work are not more pleased (not achieving the gains and returns hoped for). The people buying and consuming the organization’s products and services are not more satisfied (and usage and satisfaction keep declining). Overall, the old predominant disconnectedness is not resolved. The traditional top-down line organization with its typical silo structure and separation of skills and expertise is not replaced with team work, shared purpose and commitment. Blaming keeps taking precedence over collaboractiveness.

Increasing agility is a path. Progressing on that path requires vision, belief, persistence and… hard work. Agility, as a state of high adaptiveness, can only be achieved by regularly… adapting. Adaptations only make sense upon inspections of actual work and observable results. Think feedback loops (all around). The new reality, for which agility is needed, says that what works today might not work tomorrow. What works for one company (a complex system of interconnected people, processes, tools) might not work for another company. What works for one combination of teams, technology and business might not work for another combination.

Signposts that might help you see through the illusion of agility are:

  • It is not a transformation if it doesn’t change how you work.
  • It is not an Agile transformation if it doesn’t simplify how you work.
  • It is not an adoption of Scrum if it doesn’t engage and energize people (customers, teams, stakeholders).

The new reality tells us to act in the moment more than we ever did before. Embracing uncertainty and unpredictability has a great potential too. Getting the most out of the possible thrives upon acceptance of the unwritten state of the future and what that future might bring. It reminds us that we are not alone in this, that each individual, no matter their function, level, position or silo, can contribute. Living the art of the possible against unpredicted outcomes has the option of engaging people as it shapes their future. Acceleration comes from vision, determination and dedication; from the courage to move away from following a plan or copying a model.

Regardless an organization’s past attempts and choices, reverting to the path of hard work is always a workable way out.

More Agile teams does not make a more Agile organization.

(Thank you, Higher View, for your professional expertise in video creations and Jellylab for the graphics)

Agile (What’s so funny about peace, love and future dreaming?)

The Agile Manifesto, and the movement that stemmed from it, has hugely improved the world. I believe in continuing the Agile dream and create an even better world (rather than focus on the inevitable downsides of the success).

In February 2001, seventeen software development leaders gathered at the Snowbird ski resort in Utah (United States) to discuss their views on software development. Those were times of failing waterfall and heavy-weight RUP projects (‘Rational Unified Process’). These 17 people were following different paths and methods; Scrum, eXtreme Programming, Adaptive Software Development, Crystal, Feature Driven Development, etc.

Much to their own surprise they found an agreement over a set of common principles, beliefs and viewpoints, published as the „Manifesto for Agile Software Development“. The adjective ‘Agile’ became the label to describe the views described in the Manifesto.

Even more to their surprise ‘Agile’ turned into a success, with many people signing the Manifesto and -albeit gradually- Agile taking over the world. A new paradigm was born, in the realm of the software industry. A movement stemmed from it, with Scrum as distinct definition of Agile heading the pack. Over time, Agile seeped into other domains of work and activities, beyond software and product development.

Today, the balance of society incessantly keeps shifting from industrial (often physical) labor to digital (often virtual) work. In many domains of society, the unpredictability of work increases, drastically and continually. The industrial paradigm is rendered useless, definitely. The need for the Agile paradigm is bigger than ever. Scrum is the new reality, now and in the foreseeable future. Actually, Agile and Scrum are inseparable ingredients.

The success of Agile was unplanned, unpredictable, a huge gamechanger and… undesirable (to some).

It deeply saddens me to read, hear and feel the scorning, the resentment, the cynicism. It deeply saddens me that people find little other purpose in life than to make a day job out of negativity, out of pointing at flaws (real or imagined), perceived shortcomings and the incompleteness of Agile. It deeply saddens me to hear people that still are not over the feeling they should have been invited to the Utah event.

Agile as described in the Manifesto, indeed, is imperfect and purposefully leaves room for ambiguities. And, yes, Agile partially turned into a business in itself with forms of bastardization into marketing and moneymaking schemes. And, maybe, there are people and organizations that don’t „get it“ and demonstrate a lack of ‘true’ understanding. That might mean we have not done a good job of helping them discover the value of Agile (in which case a new name will not solve the problem). It might just be in the eye of an ignorant beholder or self-acclaimed experts alike. Who are we to judge?

Regardless, Agile was and is a huge improvement to the world. I am grateful that those 17 people provided us with an amazing foundation upon which to build, discover even better ways to do our work, and keep creating a better world to live and work in.

And, yes, I am wary of the new cult too, the Big gestures and the beatification. I also see the hunts for adoration, name and fame. I observe ideas being stolen, ripped and degraded. All speaking against the Agile and Scrum Values, I know. In avoiding falling into the trap of scorning myself, I have no other choice than to remain with my belief that Agile is not about comic figure-like stereotypes and dress-up routines. Agile is not about massive tap dancing crowds or cheerful ticker tape parades. Agile is not in your title, not in how you look. Beyond being in what you say, Agile is primarily in what you do, how you act.

Still, Agile is a choice, not a must. Nobody needs to join me on my path of continuing the dream. I like to think I am open for any other new, deviant, disruptive idea that introduces more improvements and further humanizes the workplace. In the meantime, I’ll stick to trying whatever I can do to demonstrate the value of Agile, with the Scrum framework as favourite toolbox in my backpack. I can only suggest others to allow their ideas to speak for their positive selves. I am sure blaming Agile (for its broad adoption) is hardly helpful in that regard.

Warm regards
Gunther
your independent Scrum Caretaker

(Thank you, Higher View, for your professional expertise in video creations)

 

Make 2019 amazing

Dear compagnon, reader, follower, liker

As the end of 2018 approaches, I hope that it was as great as mine/ours was. Regardless, work hard to turn 2019 into an amazing year, of insightful experiences, challenging encounters and exciting adventures, both personal and professional.

Look for the value in the Scrum Values, as I shared with the world at the request of my friends of ProAgile in Sweden. May they serve as your compass; guiding you, directing you in your journey of Scrum.

Gunther
Your independent Scrum Caretaker
24 December 2018

The deliberate evolution of “Scrum – A Pocket Guide”

In 2013 I accidentally created a book, “Scrum – A Pocket Guide”. In 2018 I deliberately evolved my Scrum travel companion into a second edition.

I am humbled over the many unanticipated consequences of the accidental creation of my pocket guide to Scrum. I equally enjoyed updating my book to a second edition 5 years later. This time around it was a deliberate evolution rather than an accidental creation. The first batch will be available 16 January 2019 and soon after in all major formats (hard copy, Kindle, PDF, eBook, ePub) via all main channels worldwide.

Who would have figured that there was room for a second edition of my pocket guide to Scrum? Certainly as my book remained in the best-seller list of my publisher all the time?

For this deliberate endeavor, I considered how I described the Scrum Values in the first edition. In July 2016 they were added to the Scrum Guide. How I described the traditional 3 questions as a good, but optional tactic for the Daily Scrum. That too is now in the Scrum Guide, since November 2017.

Obviously and fortunately, that does not mean there are no further evolutions to mind.

Not only have I found new ways to express Scrum, while working with teams and executives, facilitating various classes, and connecting with practitioners at events. We also adopted terminology that better expresses the intentions of Scrum.

Beyond these intrinsic drivers for change, I observe how the balance of society keeps rapidly shifting from industrial (often physical) labor to digital (often virtual) work. In many domains of society, the unpredictability of work increases, drastically and continually. The need for the Agile paradigm is bigger than ever, and thus the value of the tangible framework of Scrum to help people and organizations increase their agility while addressing complex challenges in complex circumstances.

More and different people look for guidance and insights on their journey of Scrum, increasingly in domains beyond software development. Organizations look for clear insights in the simple rules of Scrum as their current ways of working fail them in the Complex Novelty space.

As the third Scrum wave is rising, the second edition of “Scrum – A Pocket Guide” remains the simple and straightforward compass for those that want to surf that wave. This second edition more than ever offers the foundational insights into Scrum for Complex Novelty players and their organizations to properly shape their Scrum.

Some of the updates in the second edition that stand out (a bit more than the other changes) within the preserved overall structure (of chapters and modules):

  • The definition of Agile is condensed to three key characteristics.
  • Observations are added on the post-chasm years of Agile.
  • The Scrum Game Board is slightly tweaked.
  • The forward-looking design of the Scrum events is expressed more clearly.
  • A Release Burn-down chart as a forecasting tactic is added.
  • The pictures, naming and descriptions of the included scaling tactics are improved.
  • The Scrum Glossary was updated.

I thank Blake McMillan (Soulofscrum.com) and Dominik Maximini for their much-appreciated review of this second edition. I thank all translators for their past and on-going efforts to spread my words in different languages. Stay tuned for more news about translations.

If I have done a proper job of re-imagining my book, the second edition won’t feel like a new book. A word-by-word comparison would prove otherwise.

Enjoy reading!

Gunther
independent Scrum Caretaker

(Thank you, Higher View, for your professional expertise in video creations)

The accidental creation of “Scrum – A Pocket Guide”

Contrary to a common assumption, the creation of my book “Scrum – A Pocket Guide” (2013) was anything but a long-lived hope, ambition or dream. As I shared with Joe (Jochen) Krebs on his Agile.FM podcast, it was an accidental and unplanned endeavor.

By the end of January 2013 I was not only entering my last period of work at a large consulting company, I was also asked by Dutch publishing house Van Haren to review a manuscript of a book about Scrum.

That turned out more difficult than expected. I gave it a few attempts but each time I ended up not finishing the manuscript completely or fluently. I found myself changing and updating the content way too much. And -most of all- I found myself not recognizing and not liking much of what I was reading. I felt bad about it. I felt even worse for being unable to turn my findings into positive, constructive feedback that would be helpful for both the (unknown) author and the publisher.

After a few weeks of mentally running around in circles I decided to skip a detailed reading, but go through the manuscript once more and list my biggest findings. At the bottom of the still impressive list, my most important remark to the editor was to not mention my name as a reviewer in case it was decided to move forward with the publication.

Soon I received news that the publication was cancelled. It turned out that most reviewers were not too impressed. The publisher shared that they still saw value in a book about Scrum and asked how I envisioned a possible involvement. A quick consultation round within my network, including Ken Schwaber, helped me set aside the doubts whether I could write a book myself and got me into grabbing the opportunity.

I was completely unsure of what I was getting myself into, but I felt somewhat comforted by the idea that I had 2 full months to work on it (April-May 2013), the time between ending my work at the consulting company and starting my partnership with Ken at Scrum.org.

I additionally found comfort in the fact that I had already published quite some articles and blog notes on Scrum. I assumed that I could easily assemble them into a book. How I was wrong! As soon as I had brought my previous publications together, the real work started, taking much, much more time than I ever could have anticipated. That time went into writing and rewriting, eliminating, simplifying, improving flow and cohesion, stepping back, waiting and getting back to it, aiming at barely enough descriptions to trigger the reader’s imagination. My first working title was “The path of Scrum (A comprehensive travel companion)“. That changed into „Scrum Pocket Guide (A smart travel companion)“ and ended up as “Scrum – A Pocket Guide (A Smart Travel Companion)”.

At the heart of my book are the (mandatory) rules of Scrum, from a deep understanding of the purpose of the rules, the main principles underlying Scrum and the Scrum Values. The essential rules are clearly distinguished from (possible) tactics to apply the rules. Some historical perspective to the becoming of Scrum (and Agile) is added, while I end the book reflecting on the future state of Scrum, the challenges that lie ahead of us. I consider “discovery” and “journey” the ultimate key words in the way I wanted to present the Scrum framework. Scrum is the compass that guides people and organizations on their journey of discovery in the land of complex challenges. Adopting and employing Scrum is in itself however also a journey of discovery. Hence the subtitle of my pocket guide to Scrum, “A Smart Travel Companion,” and the picture on the initial cover.

When visiting the Scrum.org office in Burlington-Boston in June 2013 I shared my final manuscript with Ken, and Ken kindly agreed to write a foreword, which he delivered in August (find it below).

Finally, in November 2013 I was able to announce that my book was released to the world, and available in all major formats (hard copy, Kindle, PDF, eBook, ePub) and via all main channels worldwide. If you have trouble finding my book, ask Google.

And my personal amazing journey as an author continued, with many unanticipated consequences of the accidental creation of my pocket guide to Scrum:

  • In the spring of 2016 I created a Dutch translation of my book asScrum Wegwijzer“.
  • In the fall of 2016, at the occasion of the 4th reprint, the cover of the English version got updated and I recorded a 3-minutes introduction of Scrum.
  • In 2017 (spring) Peter Götz and Uwe Schirmer created a German translation as “Scrum Taschenbuch“.
  • All that time, my book remained in the best-seller list of my publisher, Van Haren (the Netherlands).
  • In 2018 I have created a second edition of my book. This time around it was a deliberate evolution rather than an accidental creation.
  • In 2018 several people approached me to create translations of my book. Stay tuned for more news.

It is quite amazing and humbling that the result of my accidental work in 2013, after 5+ years, is more alive than ever, and that demand is big enough for a deliberate evolution into a second edition of the book. I hope you open up my book again now in a while, to find information that is most valuable to where you are on your journey at that time.

THANK YOU!

Gunther
independent Scrum Caretaker

(Thank you, Higher View, for your professional expertise in video creations)

The foreword to “Scrum – A Pocket Guide” by Ken Schwaber, Scrum co-creator:

An outstanding accomplishment that simmers with intelligence.

Scrum – A Pocket Guide is an extraordinarily competent book. Gunther has described everything about Scrum in well-formed, clearly written descriptions that flow with insight, understanding, and perception. Yet, you are never struck by these attributes. You simply benefit from them, later thinking, “That was really, really helpful. I found what I needed to know, readily understood what I wanted, and wasn’t bothered by irrelevancies.”

I have struggled to write this foreword. I feel the foreword should be as well-written as the book it describes. In this case, that is hard. Read Gunther’s book. Read it in part, or read it in whole. You will be satisfied.

Scrum is simple, but complete and competent in addressing complex problems. Gunther’s pocket guide is complete and competent in addressing understanding a simple framework for addressing complex problems, Scrum.