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Moving Your Scrum Downfield (Six Essential Traits of the Game)

Apparently, it is easy to get stuck at interpreting the rules of Scrum. In the publication “Moving Your Scrum Downfield” I have described the six essential traits of the game to help you get unstuck and up your game. As they express rather intrinsic and implicit principles, they are too often disregarded. Yet, they are needed for a more unconsidered performance of Scrum, which allows minding the goal of the game–push back the old adversary of predictive rigidity–rather than the rules. These six essential traits are indicative of Scrum coming to life.

Having worked with Scrum since 2003, I am fascinated by its ever-expanding use, which is not limited to software and (new) product development.

Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber moved the development of Scrum forward in the early 1990s. They are the co-creators and gatekeepers of (what is) Scrum.

Ken Schwaber first documented Scrum in 1995 in the paper “SCRUM Development Process.” In 2010 he initiated the creation of the Scrum Guide. Upon Jeff Sutherland’s consent, the Scrum Guide became the definitive body of knowledge holding the definition of Scrum (and what is not Scrum). A few small, functional updates were released since then, without drastic changes to the core definition of Scrum.

Scrum was instrumental in embracing software development as a form of new product development, and thus as complex work. An ever-increasing variety of work in modern society however is inherently complex too. Software and (new) product development are a subset of complex challenges, but the use of Scrum is not limited to it.

As an independent Scrum Caretaker, I care for people and organizations asking for guidance and support on their journey of Scrum, no matter the nature of their problem.

My work builds on the belief that organizations best envision their Scrum. I don’t believe in mechanistically reproducing past or others’ ways. Every case of Scrum is unique. Your Scrum is unique. No external instance—expert or otherwise—can devise your Scrum for you. There is no copy-paste. What works today might not work tomorrow. Rather than cookbook solutions, I offer help in developing people’s ability to think in terms of Scrum.

Apparently, many get stuck at interpreting the (exactness of the) rules, meanwhile losing sight of the goal of their game. Having authored the books Scrum – A Pocket Guide (2013, 2019) and 97 Things Every Scrum Practitioner Should Know (2020) I took a step back to consider what it is that makes Scrum work. The rules of the game are well documented. Assuming they are understood, what is needed to get unstuck, engage, and up your game?

I believe it is in embedding the six essential traits of the game. As expressions of rather intrinsic and implicit principles, they are easily disregarded. Yet, they are crucial to excel at Scrum and need to underly your game strategies. They are indicative of Scrum coming to life. They need to be ingrained and embodied for a more unconsidered performance of the game, for you to focus on the goal of the game again rather than on the rules.

Consider how the six essential traits of the game are indicative of Scrum coming to life:

  1. Scrum Is Simple, Yet Sufficient. The players unfold the potential of Scrum by using the simple rules that apply and explore how tactics, interactions, behaviors, and the six essential traits make Scrum work.
  2. Scrum’s DNA. The players form a self-organizing unit around the challenge of collectively creating observable, Done Increments of work, while employing empiricism to manage all work and progress.
  3. Players Demonstrate Accountability. The players contribute to valuable system outcomes through spirited collaboration, and sharing and challenging rules, agreements, skills, practices, ideas, and viewpoints.
  4. Transparency for a Flow of Value. The players use the Scrum artifacts to uphold transparency over all work done and work to be done, manage for a flow of value and preserve the ability to capitalize on unforeseen opportunities.
  5. Closing the Loops. The players regularly and repeatedly close the many intertwined loops within a Sprint toward full closure by the end of a Sprint and preserving unburdened adaptability at the macro level.
  6. The Scrum Values. The Scrum Values of Commitment, Focus, Openness, Respect, and Courage take prominence in the behaviors, relationships, actions, and decisions of the players and their ecosystem.

Are you ready to start moving your Scrum downfield, push back the old adversary of predictive rigidity and sustainably increase your agility?

Gunther Verheyen
independent Scrum Caretaker

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Daily Scrum Pocketcasts – Episode 5

Ever since the accidental creation of my book “Scrum – A Pocket Guide” in 2013, and its deliberate evolution in 2019, I’ve been receiving inquiries about an audiobook version. So far, I have not been able to make that happen but the 2020 pandemic storm got me into implementing the audio idea in a different form.

In subsequent daily broadcasts I have read all chapters from my pocket guide to Scrum. Every reading session happened on working days at 3 pm CET (Central European Time), with each session continuing were the previous session ended. The sessions were open for 100 attendants and were time-boxed to a total of 1 hour of me reading.

On Monday 30 March 2020 I delivered episode 5 (the final) of my “Daily Scrum Pocketcasts” in which I have read following chapters from my book:

4. THE FUTURE STATE OF SCRUM

4.1 Yes, we do Scrum. And…
4.2 The power of the possible product
4.3 The upstream adoption of Scrum

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Besides the recorded episode being available on my YouTube channel, find the audio version on SoundCloud.

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Daily Scrum Pocketcasts – Episode 4

Ever since the accidental creation of my book “Scrum – A Pocket Guide” in 2013, and its deliberate evolution in 2019, I’ve been receiving inquiries about an audiobook version. So far, I have not been able to make that happen but the 2020 pandemic storm got me into implementing the audio idea in a different form.

In subsequent daily broadcasts I have read all chapters from my pocket guide to Scrum. Every reading session happened on working days at 3 pm CET (Central European Time), with each session continuing were the previous session ended. The sessions were open for 100 attendants and were time-boxed to a total of 1 hour of me reading.

On Friday 27 March 2020 I delivered episode 4 of my “Daily Scrum Pocketcasts” in which I have read following chapters from my book:

2.7 The Scrum values

3. TACTICS FOR A PURPOSE

3.1 Visualizing progress
3.2 The Daily Scrum questions
3.3 Product Backlog refinement
3.4 User Stories
3.5 Planning Poker
3.6 Sprint length
3.7 How Scrum scales

Besides the recorded episode being available on my YouTube channel, find the audio version on SoundCloud.

 

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Daily Scrum Pocketcasts – Episode 3

Ever since the accidental creation of my book “Scrum – A Pocket Guide” in 2013, and its deliberate evolution in 2019, I’ve been receiving inquiries about an audiobook version. So far, I have not been able to make that happen but the 2020 pandemic storm got me into implementing the audio idea in a different form.

In subsequent daily broadcasts I have read all chapters from my pocket guide to Scrum. Every reading session happened on working days at 3 pm CET (Central European Time), with each session continuing were the previous session ended. The sessions were open for 100 attendants and were time-boxed to a total of 1 hour of me reading.

On Thursday 26 March 2020 I delivered episode 3 of my “Daily Scrum Pocketcasts” in which I have read following chapters from my book:

2.5 Playing the game (continued)
2.6 Core principles of Scrum

Besides the recorded episode being available on my YouTube channel, find the audio version on SoundCloud.

 

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Daily Scrum Pocketcasts – Episode 2

Ever since the accidental creation of my book “Scrum – A Pocket Guide” in 2013, and its deliberate evolution in 2019, I’ve been receiving inquiries about an audiobook version. So far, I have not been able to make that happen but the 2020 pandemic storm got me into implementing the audio idea in a different form.

In subsequent daily broadcasts I have read all chapters from my pocket guide to Scrum. Every reading session happened on working days at 3 pm CET (Central European Time), with each session continuing were the previous session ended. The sessions were open for 100 attendants and were time-boxed to a total of 1 hour of me reading.

On Wednesday 25 March 2020 I delivered episode 2 of my “Daily Scrum Pocketcasts” in which I have read following chapters from my book:

1.6 Combining Agile and Lean

2. SCRUM

2.1 The house of Scrum
2.2 Scrum, what’s in a name?
2.3 Is that a gorilla I see over there?
2.4 Framework, not methodology
2.5 Playing the game (intro)

Besides the recorded episode being available on my YouTube channel, find the audio version on SoundCloud.

 

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Daily Scrum Pocketcasts – Episode 1

Ever since the accidental creation of my book “Scrum – A Pocket Guide” in 2013, and its deliberate evolution in 2019, I’ve been receiving inquiries about an audiobook version. So far, I have not been able to make that happen but the 2020 pandemic storm got me into implementing the audio idea in a different form.

In subsequent daily broadcasts I have read all chapters from my pocket guide to Scrum. Every reading session happened on working days at 3 pm CET (Central European Time), with each session continuing were the previous session ended. The sessions were open for 100 attendants and were time-boxed to a total of 1 hour of me reading.

On Tuesday 24 March 2020 I delivered episode 1 of my “Daily Scrum Pocketcasts” in which I have read following chapters from my book:

Foreword by Ken Schwaber
Preface
1. THE AGILE PARADIGM

1.1 To shift or not to shift
1.2 The origins of Agile
1.3 Definition of Agile
1.4 The iterative-incremental continuum
1.5 Agility can’t be planned

Besides the recorded episode being available on my YouTube channel, find the audio version on SoundCloud.

 

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Daily Scrum Pocketcasts

Ever since the accidental creation of my book Scrum – A Pocket Guide (A Smart Travel Companion) in 2013, and its deliberate evolution in 2019, I frequently receive inquiries about the availability of an audiobook version.

Although I see value in the idea, I have not been able to make it happen so far.

Given the current pandemic storm, forcing many friends of Scrum to remain at home, I decided to implement upon the audio idea in a slightly adjusted form.

Starting Tuesday 24 March 2020, I have planned a first series of five “Daily Scrum Pocketcasts.” In subsequent daily broadcasts I will read my Scrum Pocket Guide front to back. I will do a reading session on working days at 3 pm CET (Central European Time), with each session continuing were the previous session ended. The sessions are open for 100 attendants. Registered attendants can send me questions about the book, or parts of it. I plan to read for 30-45 minutes every day after which I hope I can address questions related to the chapter(s) of the day. Every daily session will be time-boxed to a total of 1 hour.

I plan to also record the sessions and make them available via my YouTube channel. I hope to collect the questions and my (written) answers in a document that, if all works out, I will share for free with everyone.

I have no idea where this will take us, how long it will last, or how the idea and its emerging implementation will unfold. Of one thing I am sure, it won’t all be smooth. Come find out with me, and register on Zoom (or copy following link to your browser https://us04web.zoom.us/meeting/register/upclduugrT8ruk_h1txTV8KP1_59Dj9sZg). Note that each session requires separate registration.

Warm regards
Gunther
your independent Scrum Caretaker

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The importance of human contact against the backdrop of a viral war

Observations from an independent Scrum Caretaker with an eye on humanization of the workplace

The United Nations’ World Health Organization (“WHO”) correctly describes “Covid-19” as the disease caused by the “SARS-CoV-2” virus, a new variant within the Corona family of viruses. A Covid-19 infection typically shows through symptoms of fever combined with respiratory problems — a dry cough, shortness of breath, and (severe) breathing difficulties. As we speak, Covid-19 is exponentially spreading across large parts of the world, infecting frightening numbers of individuals. Although “Corona” actually is the name of the family of viruses, references to the current pandemic outbreak typically are “Corona (something).”

Beyond anything else, my thoughts are in the first place with individuals that are infected, whether they are quarantined in hospital, at home, or elsewhere. And I think of their loved ones and the people that are taking care of them –professionally or privately.

As soon as courses at school in Belgium were officially suspended, my wife and I decided to voluntarily put ourselves and our 3 kids in a lockdown situation. Given our oldest son’s progressive disability we weren’t going to take any risks. And although our decision went beyond the measures formally imposed by our government (at the time), we also believed our decision to be in the true spirit of these measures. Our decision encompassed not receiving visitors other than the professionals helping our son, avoiding all external contacts, and only leaving the house for the utmost urgent matters. Less than a week later Belgium officially went into a ‘lockdown.’

The spreading disease has a huge impact on people’s lives worldwide. I have my classes and work assignments being canceled. At a macro and a micro level I see the world brusquely being forced to a standstill. Beyond the dismay and stress, I try to grasp the opportunity to slow down. To some extent this crisis is a chance to pause the rat race, in which we do get caught up more than we like to admit. I try to grasp the opportunity to reflect, step back, pick up on some writing and reading ambitions that have been on hold for too long, do some gardening, and other highly unproductive activities. I further the development of my tortoise side.

Like so many, I am obviously suffering from some financial and economic setbacks. Although financial survival is important, I try not to let the monetary repercussions get me into short-term thinking and actions. I smell the danger of damage in the long run. I honestly believe in slowing down for now. I obviously cannot push “pause” indefinitely. Like so many, I revert to different ways to keep in touch with people and organizations I work with. There is stuff that I will now do virtually, remote, and distributed rather than in-person. There is much more I will not do virtually, remote, or distributed.

Most, if not all, of my work consists of helping and supporting individuals and groups explore complex challenges. We jointly figure out how Scrum can help them and what acting with agility means, in addressing their complex adaptive problems in their professional environments. Activities like teaching and coaching for that purpose require intense live interaction, dialogue, and deep conversations. My materials, my cases, and my approach are designed exactly for that. I am not in the face mask selling business. I do envision alternative ways of helping people, including remote channels. That however requires development of suitable materials and will not be magically available overnight.

Measures are being imposed on us to limit direct inter-human contact. They serve spreading the increase in infections in time and avoiding our care and health systems from crashing. I embrace them and use them as an invitation to consider the importance of human contact. I only see that importance strongly affirmed, more than ever before.

I am in awe of the people taking care of infected people. I try to turn this period into a time to reflect on the madness of our regular working situations — the rat race. Meanwhile I am perplexed, although not completely surprised, to observe how many people and organizations consistently put the economic losses over the human cost. I see the desperate instructions and desires to keep up productivity and efficiency in a situation where people are unable or prevented from coming to their regular workplace, not to mention that they most likely have other stressing concerns on their mind. What strikes me is this primal tendency to believe that ‘the shown must go on’ as if nothing else matters. Just do some tele-work and all will be fine. Really? Why would we pretend we can (or should) continue as if ‘normal’? Or –even worse– call this situation the ‘new normal,’ thereby pretending this will be the future way of working anyhow? I am appalled to see the continued disrespect for people trying to absorb what is happening to them, their children, their elderly parents or grand-parents, their friends, their relatives, their colleagues.

A storm is sweeping our planet. Is that too difficult to acknowledge? Accept giving up the idea of continuing ‘every day business’ for now. Losses will be incurred. Look beyond today, today’s productivity, and the current crisis. Give people a break, allow them to hit “pause.” Give them room and space now, and they will come back later fully recovered and re-energized. Losses will be incurred. The human cost caused by shifting the rat race from an on-site situation to tele-work today, denying people the opportunity to cope with the stress and tensions, will result into far more grave economic costs once this is over. It will backfire — economically and humanly.

I advise keeping that in mind when faced with all these self-called long-time proponents of distributed and remote ways of working that are suddenly popping up everywhere. Quite a lot are trying to take advantage of the crisis and your fears to increase their commercial position, sales figures or name and fame. Maybe they honestly intend to offer help, like they all obviously claim they do, but they, unintended or not, devaluate in-person human contact while keep people in the familiar productivity stranglehold. I understand how tools, platforms, papers, and more promoting remote work are helpful in this period. On a temporary basis and to some extent! But what is the pressure to keep productivity up to pre-crisis levels good for? I understand how many who are forced into distributed and remote working conditions are trying to make the best from their situation with tools, platforms, and various approaches. They ultimately try to get as close as possible to working in a co-located way. Still, it is no more than a surrogate solution. Even if it comes close, it will never be the same. And it is definitely not the new normal. Don’t allow the current way to turn into a permanent situation if that wasn’t your situation before the crisis.

Don’t allow snake oil merchants to abuse this viral war to spread the virus that human contact is not that important in the end. Don’t allow yourself to be limited to being a cog in a productivity machine. We are human beings. Our identity builds on our contacts, relationships and interactions with other human beings. And those relationships and interactions are richest when happing in-person. More than a cog in someone’s productivity machine, you are a social creature.

I can’t wait to move away from sub-optimal remote communications, go out again, and feel and touch people, shake hands, give a hug, and look my fellow people in the eye for the best collaboration possible. I can’t wait to go out again and enjoy direct human contact.

I wish you all the best. Be safe. Take care, like a humane Scrum Caretaker does.

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Minimal measures for minimal stability in a complex world (that will help you optimize your Scrum)

Scrum, in its more general definition, is a simple framework to help us address complex challenges. Product development is the subset of complex problem domains where Scrum took root first; by explicitly acknowledging software and new product development to be complex work, serving to deliver complex products in complex circumstances.

Scrum is increasingly being discovered as a simple framework to address complex problems and situations other than software and product development. More and different people, teams and organizations ask for guidance and support on their journey of Scrum, no matter the nature of their problem. Organizations discover that fighting complexity with complexity is not helping. Too much waste, organizational redundancy and fundamental impediments remain unaddressed by the overly complex approaches that organizations use. No sustainable agility is achieved. Organizations discover that they have been seeking for (or were pointed to) universal truths where there are none.

Complex work, of which software and product development are good examples, does not have the high degree of predictability to apply the old approaches that build on linearity, causality and predictive management.

One aspect of ‘complexity’ are the parameters, variables and events that influence an activity and its course. Think of your work, make a list. Consider how predictable the listed variables are, how much control you actually have over them and how sure you are that you listed all of them. However, it is not only the number of known parameters that is important, but also the available as well as the required knowledge over these parameters. What is the level of detail required to comprehend a variable as well as the future behavior of that variable? How long does it take to gather that information? How stable is that information, once collected? Even if a parameter is known, the level of detail may be too deep to be able to manage and control it. And then, of course, the behavior of the parameter is still not necessarily predictable. A known variable may still behave completely different compared to what was planned or expected to happen. And, do not forget that all variables, known and unknown, are related and impact each other, typically in non-linear ways.

‘Complexity’ is also dependent on the nature of the work itself. The combined steps, tasks and activities that make out complex work are not predictable with any degree of high precision. They have not been performed before, or not in the same way or context. They are not repeatable. New insights, techniques and approaches emerge, even while the work is already taking place. Also, the exact and detailed outcomes of complex work are hard to describe and predict before or even at the beginning of the actual work. Expectations change. Markets evolve. Competitors surprise you. And, complex work typically requires the cognitive and creative capabilities of people performing the work. The engagement and involvement of people is dependent on more circumstances than we comprehend, let alone can control.

Complex work is actually more unpredictable than it is predictable. Complex problems are dynamic, not static. The degree of dynamism of a problem or activity requires the right forms of process and stability to be in place in order to have some form of control. Stability in complex work performed in a complex world comes not from fixing requirements, outputs, timelines or plans. These are destined to be unstable and will change. Stability is not about certainty or predictability. Stability is about an environment and boundaries within which to explore and experiment, within which to continually diverge and converge towards incremental solutions answering your complex needs.

Too many organizations end up in total chaos when they experience how the old elements of stability no longer work, but fail to replace them with the minimal measures that would help them optimize their Scrum to better address their complexity:

Start with identifying your problem (product).

In a typical Scrum setting, the problem is developing complex solutions, often a product or a service.

Define and identify your product first. Then organize your Scrum, or re-imagine your Scrum, to optimally tackle your problem or serve your product.

I have observed too many many organizations form Scrum Teams within existing specialist silos and departments, doing little more than renaming existing titles and functions to Scrum terms,
certainly not minding the scope of their Scrum, let alone capitalizing on synergies that exist across those individual Scrum Teams, like the fact that they actually all work on the same product. Disconnectedness is not resolved. The complex problem is not adequately tackled. Parts or components of product are being built, rather than integrated, cohesive product versions that provide end-to-end value.

Have dedicated teams working in dedicated team spaces.

Complex problem-solving requires focus, interaction, communication, collaboration, cross-fertilization and collective intelligence. It requires dedication.

Teams should not be all over the place in terms of getting dragged to external meetings regularly or having to work in multiple teams or on multiple projects. Your teams should be able to primarily dedicate their time maximally on the problem/product at hand, self-manage their work in Sprints and even figure out and establish their own team size and team composition. I have observed too many teams that were really jelling and achieving a highly collaborative state, until being pulled apart by people external to the team; resource managers, departments heads, project management offices. Each one of those teams ultimately plummeted, demotivated.

Teams definitely need a dedicated team space to get the most out of their collaboration, conversations and interactions. Open offices kill innovation and creativity, even more when combined with clean wall policies. People dare not speak up or need to move to separate meeting rooms to do so. Open offices are good for… office work, not for intense and collective problem-solving.

Benefit from the consistency that the Scrum events provide without industrializing your Scrum to death.

Scrum by default offers stability and consistency by suggesting to keep Sprint length stable over a substantial period. It allows people to, often unconsciously, grow an intuition of what is (not) possible, which is extremely helpful in forecasting Sprint and Product Backlog work. It offers minimal stability. It is why Sprints, as container events, have a fixed time-box. Sprints don’t end sooner or later than the set time-box, while the other events can end sooner. Sprint is a stable container event that provides overall rhythm and cadence to the opportunities for inspections and adaptations foreseen within a Sprint; Sprint Review, Daily Scrum, Sprint Review and Sprint Retrospective.

I am astonished however how organizations dictate a fixed Sprint length to all teams across the organization, regardless of their problem, technology, business domain, product. Organizations tend to industrialize their Scrum, rather than standardize on Scrum. Scrum can be introduced and adopted, allowing all within an organization to speak the same language, without eliminating the option of tuning your Scrum to a specific context.

Scrum only defines that Sprints should be no longer than 4 weeks. Within that range every complex product development endeavor can decide over its own right-size Sprint length. This right-size stability factor is not necessarily the same for all products. This brings us back to the necessity of identifying your product or service first, and then organizing your Scrum to optimally serve your product (including considering the Sprint cadence for all teams serving the product).

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Announcing the book “97 Things every Scrum practitioner should know”

During the fall of 2019, I got totally consumed (and sometimes drained and overwhelmed) by an exciting new Scrum book project. Having finalized the manuscript I finally feel comfortable sharing more information about it.

O’Reilly Media envisioned adding a book about Scrum to their “97 Things” series and got in touch with me (through Dave West of Scrum.org). By the end of August 2019, we decided to get started. I had the honor of curating the initiative. We agreed on calling our new book “97 Things every Scrum practitioner should know.” The goal was to compose a book consisting of 97 essays with diverse angles and perspectives on the Scrum framework from contributors globally.

I had no idea what I was getting into, or how much 97 actually is (a lot, I discovered), or where it would take me. But I liked the challenge. Once into it, I liked it so much that I decided to make it my main focus, holding off most other work request and re-ordering my existing plans. It turned out an exciting and insightful experience. I had the pleasure of collecting, editing and ordering essays about Scrum from seasoned Scrum practitioners across the planet on behalf of the many seeking Scrum practitioners out there.

In a few incremental waves, we ended up inviting 129 people to contribute, not minded by their title, organization or position. We invited potential contributors for their insights, past or on-going, and the potential value of sharing them with fellow practitioners. In the end, 69 authors accepted our invitation and delivered one or more articles (indeed, an average of 1.406 articles per author). I cannot thank them enough for going through the effort of writing down their thoughts, perspectives and experience, and their willingness to make them available for Scrum practitioners worldwide.

Find an overview of them, alphabetically sorted, in the PDF “97 Things every Scrum practitioner should know (Contributors).” Or try to recognize them on following overview:

In the current version of the manuscript, the 97 essays are grouped and ordered* along following themes:

  • “Start, Adopt, Repeat.” holds 11 Things.
  • “Products Deliver Value.” holds 11 Things.
  • “Collaboration Is Key.” holds 10 Things.
  • “Development Is Multi-faceted Work.” holds 12 Things.
  • “Events, Not Meetings.” holds 10 Things.
  • “Mastery Does Matter.” holds 12 Things.
  • “People, All Too Human.” holds 8 Things.
  • “Values Drive Behavior.” holds 6 Things.
  • “Organizational Design.” holds 9 Things.
  • “Scrum Off Script.” holds 8 Things.

I also owe a huge thank you to O’Reilly Media for the trust and the collaborative partnership, specifically to Chris Guzikowski and Ryan Shaw for initiating this endeavor and to Corbin Collins for sustaining it. More than being a king of punctuation, Corbin has impressively improved the language and clarity of quite some, if not all, of the 97 Things.

I look forward to keeping you updated on the publication date, which we will derive from our actual progress. It is not expected to be later than July 2020, and will probably be sooner. As we speak, O’Reilly and I are working really hard to turn my manuscript into a book available for you, dear reader.

I believe we will be able to connect the world of seasoned practitioners to the world of seekers through “97 Things every Scrum practitioner should know.”

Warm regards
Gunther Verheyen
independent Scrum Caretaker
December 2019
(updated February 2020)