Scrum, actually

Scrum, actually, has been around for a while. Scrum emerged in the early 1990’s through the work of Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber. They packaged their practices into a cohesive set of rules and roles and named the entirety „Scrum“. The term, actually, was inherited from the ground-breaking 1986 paper The New New Product Development Game. The reference to the game of rugby reflects the importance of team engagement.

Scrum, actually, has had a stable core since its first public presentation in 1995. The essential definition of Scrum was codified in the Scrum Guide in 2010. This definite body of knowledge describes all parts of Scrum, and the rules that tie them together. Scrum is defined as intended and designed, i.e. a cohesive set of rules and roles implementing empiricism for complex product development. The rules and roles described in the Scrum Guide gain full clarity when read as an expression of the Agile values and principles.

Scrum, actually, is intentionally kept low prescriptive. Scrum sets the frame for people, teams and organizations to create, maintain and sustain complex products. Scrum does not replace people’s intelligence and creativity, merely guides the work. Scrum’s basic rules are immutable. Flexibility comes from the zillion variations to apply the rules, selected and tuned to context and circumstances. Hacking the basic rules of the framework breaks the cohesion, and disregards one or more principles and foundations upon which Scrum is founded.

Hacked versions and implementations of Scrum are possible. Isolated use of Scrum’s terminology or practices is possible. They might work. They might be fun. They are not Scrum.

Scaled implementations of Scrum don’t change the fundamental rules and roles of Scrum, nor the underlying principles. They only require different tactics. Instances that change the core of Scrum are not Scrum.

Scrum, actually, in itself is not the purpose. Scrum is a tool. Scrum enables people to live the art of the possible, to make the most out of every single day constrained by their means, to maximize the value of their work in the face of uncertainty. Scrum can wrap many development and organizational practices, tools and techniques. Scrum creates the capability of continuous adaptation in a environment of constant change, regardless whether that change is caused by our own will or by external turbulence. Scrum turns complexity from a threat into an asset.

Scrum, actually, propels agility through releasable Increments of software. A releasable Increment is available by the end of a Sprint or sooner, not later. A Sprint takes no more than 30 days, and is often shorter. Frequently an updated, improved version of software can be made available to its users and consumers. Feedback from actual use can be gathered to drive changes, improvements, enhancements. Assumptions are turned into learnings, ultimately into a pivot if required.

Scrum, actually… is a means to an end, a tool designed for a purpose: people, agility, value.

Releasable in Scrum, actually

Scrum asks for a releasable Increment of product to be available ultimately by the end of every Sprint. A Sprint takes no more than 30 days, and is often shorter. A releasable Increment might be available sooner than by the end of a Sprint, not later.

The purpose of this rule of Scrum is to provide the Product Owner with the opportunity of bringing an updated, improved version of product to market every 1-4 weeks, or more frequent. It is how Scrum implements the first principle of Agile software development:

Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software. (source: Principles of Agile Software Development)

Replacing the past wording of ‚shippable‘ by ‚releasable‘ reduced the room to avoid the rigor of releasing to the market frequently, but just shipping an Increment within the organization, the avoidance that abates the benefits and agility needed. The Scrum Guide adds the prefix ‚potentially’, to clarify that Scrum does not say that every Increment must be released. I prefer to leave this prefix out, because ‚releasable‘ in itself is clear enough. Otherwise “Released” would be required as the Increment’s state by the end of the Sprint.

Scrum lays the actual release decision with the Product Owner, as the representative of all (i.e. internal and external) stakeholders. The Product Owner’s decision is not to be limited by technical or engineering aspects. The product Increment is useable. If released, it does not break. That is the accountability of the Development Team. The Product Owner is accountable for assessing whether the Increment is functionally useful.

The Development Team consists of professionals who do the work of delivering a potentially releasable Increment of “Done” product at the end of each Sprint. Only members of the Development Team create the Increment. (…) This Increment is useable, so a Product Owner may choose to immediately release it. (Source: The Scrum Guide)

A Product Owner, being an entrepreneur, understands that no release means no feedback from the market place, no feedback from actual product usage. It means no validation of the assumptions built into the product, reduced learning, postponement of much anticipated improvements. In a way, it blindfolds development.

If a Product Owner decides to release an Increment, it is released. Preferably instantly. No additional work remains to do so. All work that mirrors ‘releasable’ is captured in a definition of Done. Defining “Done” creates transparency:

  • Transparency when forecasting work deemed feasible for a Sprint
  • Transparency when inspecting an Increment
  • Transparency over development progress
  • Transparency regarding the daily work required to have the software in a state of Done

Scrum, as a framework, can wrap various development strategies that increase the capability of creating a releasable (“Done”) version of product in a Sprint; pair programming, test-driven development, ATDD, BDD, Continuous Integration, DevOps, Continuous Delivery, Continuous Deployment. (note: Scrum promoting the Product Owner as the gatekeeper to release might influence how Continuous Deployment is organized.) Feature toggling is certainly an architectural choice that enables higher Product Owner dynamism.

Software being releasable, no later than by the end of a Sprint, is Scrum’s gateway to (business) agility. By the end of every Sprint, or sooner, an updated, improved product can be released to its users and consumers. Feedback can then be gathered to be incorporated into the Product Backlog, and ordered against all other product ambitions.

In Scrum, actually… releasable means all work done to release to the market. Instantly.

Agile and Scrum, actually

In early 2001, with the creation of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, the adjective ‘agile’ obtained a specific meaning in the context of software development. The manifesto, commonly known as the Agile Manifesto, holds 4 value statements with 12 principles behind it. In these values and principles the signatories of the manifesto captured the mindset, the DNA, common to their approaches to software development.

Over the years to follow, Agile became a proper noun, capitalized, pretty popular and ultimately big business as the methods for Agile software development were increasingly adopted. Success obfuscates and diminishes actionability, it seems. Today “Agile” is all over the place; coming in many flavors, wrappings, definitions, interpretations, and discounted. “Agile” sells. It is probably the most used prefix for roles, jobs, positions, functions and phases found in the software industry. The fact that Agile is a set of values and principles is easily ignored, as are the actual values and principles themselves.

Correlating ‘scaling’ to Agile has a similar neglect. Tactics change with scale. Strategies change with scale. Values and principles don’t change with scale. Claims and statements on the need, the ability, the inability, the whatever to scale Agile are plainly besides the point. Values and principles are agnostic of scale.

Agility, as an extension of Agile, refers to the state that people, teams, organizations hope to achieve by adopting Agile development processes. Agility, as such an extension, is a state of high responsiveness, speed and adaptiveness; a state of constant invocation of change, evolution and improvement. A state of agility enables people, teams, organizations to better deal with the natural complexity and unpredictability of the work of software development itself, the organizational context within which it happens and the external circumstances faced. The adoption of Agile indeed is an important foundation for this (business or enterprise) agility.

Scrum emerged in the early ’90s from the work of Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber. They formalised and turned Scrum into a cohesive set of rules and roles for complex product development, that was formally presented to the public for the first time in 1995. The definition of Scrum, its rules and roles are described in the Scrum Guide. Both co-creators of Scrum are signatories of the Agile Manifesto. The values and principles of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development underpin the Scrum framework which thrives on empiricism and self-organization. Scrum is better understood when seen through the lens of the Agile Manifesto.

As with Agile, the Scrum Values and Scrum’s fundamental roles and rules as described in the Scrum Guide don’t change with scale. But scaled implementations of Scrum require different tactics in implementing the rules.

In Scrum, actually… Agile is the DNA driving the behavior throughout the software development ecosystem.

Agile and Scrum, actually, are two inseparable ingredients in a software development ecosystem.

Meetings in Scrum, actually

Scrum has no meetings, actually. What we call ‚meetings‘, even in the Scrum Guide, are planned occasions at which people meet, where meeting (the activity) takes place.

Scrum’s meetings are not about reporting, status, bureaucracy, spilling ink, documenting the past. Scrum’s meetings have a purpose. Scrum’s meetings are about collaboration, discovery, opportunities, conversation, ideas, constructive disagreement, looking forward to the (near) future. It’s why Scrum offers opportunistic events more than obliges (what we generally know as) ‘meetings’.

Scrum’s events provide people with an opportunity to incorporate change into the daily work, instead of locking it out. The old notion of ‚change’ dissipates. Change becomes natural, the regular way of doing business, even a welcome source of ideas and innovation. Change is used in a team’s or an organisation’s advantage.

Scrum’s events serve the empiricism that Scrum brings to software development. Empiricism thrives on inspection & adaptation. Inspection & adaptation happens at a frequency, in regular intervals. Adaptation only makes sense when inspection is done against reality, when the actual situation is made transparent.

  • Scrum’s events define the frequency at which inspection and adaptation takes place.
  • Scrum’s artifacts hold the primary information to inspect and adapt.
  • Scrum’s teams are the inspectors, the people accountable for performing the inspections and adaptations.

Empiricism in Scrum

In Scrum all work is organized in Sprints. Sprints deliver releasable Increments of software. A Sprint is a time-boxed feedback loop in itself, a container event containing the above Scrum events.

Deciding over Sprint length is a different decision from the perspective of inspection and adaptation. The Sprint length determines the frequency at which stakeholder input is formally gathered and shared with the full Scrum Team. It’s the minimal frequency at which organizational or market changes can be incorporated, the last possible moment to decide on releasing software to collect feedback so it can be adapted to, to decide what the most valuable work is to work on next. When Sprints are too long, important opportunities that require adaptation may be missed. When Sprints are too short, the ability to get significant work done might be lost.

The time-boxes for all events, as set by Scrum, provide focus. It avoids the creation of waste. It focuses people’s minds on collaboration and importance.

Scrum frames the creativity of people. Scrum provides boundaries that re-inforce self-organization. Scrum says not how to run the events. Scrum defines the input to the meetings, the expected outcome and a timeframe.

In Scrum, actually… meetings are opportunities where people meet to change their mind.

Team size in Scrum, actually

Self-organization is an essential management principle of Scrum. Yet, its importance and potential are only seeping through slowly. Despite the wide adoption of Scrum.

The most basic form of self-organization in Scrum holds that Development Teams organize and manage their own work within a Sprint, autonomously, against a forecast and a Sprint Goal. Where acceptance of this practice grows, few organisations take it a step further. Few teams are supported to figure out their own team size in order to best collaborate towards the creation of a releasable Increment of product in a Sprint. Understanding that the foundations for great work are commitment and motivation, Development Teams should be able to also create and re-create their structure and composition across time.

Collaboration is key. From collaboration performance emerges. Teams have the highest cohesion, the deepest trust and the most effective interconnections when the size of the team is around seven. Scrum used to have the rule known as 7 +/- 2, meaning a Development Team was expected to have at least 5 people, and 9 at most. The Scrum Guide has evolved this guidance to 3-9 people. This is confusing when looking for academic exactness, less confusing if this is seen as guidance against the goal of being “small enough to remain nimble and large enough to complete significant work within a Sprint“ (quote from the Scrum Guide).

Although the Scrum Guide sets an expectation for the size of a Development Team, there’s no formal process needed to really enforce this if self-organization is enacted. Through self-organization a team will adjust its size autonomously for optimal performance. Rather than instructing a team on their mandatory size, help a team discover what works best for them, including what team size maximizes the communication bandwidth. No external body can do this better. No external body can assess the combined effects of team dynamics, being co-located or not, availability of people and resources (tools, infrastructure), and all other parameters better than the people actually doing the work.

Try something you believe might work for you. Inspect it, adapt to your findings. Repeat. When heavily constrained in doing this, sticking to the guidance of having 3-9 people in a Development Team is a good idea.

In Scrum, actually… team size is a team decision.

Tactics for a Purpose – The Daily Scrum’s questions

In my book “Scrum – A Pocket Guide” I distinguish the rules of Scrum from tactics to implement the rules.

  • The rules of Scrum reflect the principles, values and empirical foundation of Scrum. They provide boundaries and a frame to augment self-organization.
  • Tactics are possible good practices. A tactic should be selected, tried and tested, made right-size and fitted to context and circumstances, or be rejected.

Over the years the basic elements of the Scrum framework remained the same, as did the principles and rules that bind them together. But the mandatory prescriptions of Scrum grew… lighter. The focus shifted toward describing ‘what’ is expected as opposed to instructing ‘how’ to achieve that outcome.

There are many tactics to use within Scrum. Good tactics serve the purpose of Scrum. Good tactics re-enforce the Scrum values, rather than undercut them.

The Daily Scrum is a mandatory event in Scrum, a daily inspection of the team’s reality to adapt the Sprint plan to it. The Scrum Guide suggests that in the Daily Scrum every Development Team member answers three questions with regards to the progress of the team towards its Sprint Goal (Done? Planned? Impediments?).

Does that necessarily assure a great Daily Scrum?

Everybody might just answer the questions mechanically, as a personal status update, not opportunistically looking for the best way forward for the next 24 hours. They might be talking to the walls or to the Scrum Board, not exchanging information with the other team members. They might just make sure that they simply -well- answer the three questions, possibly just because the Scrum Guide says they must. The rules are formally followed without understanding the ‘why’ of the rules.

Is the team merely seeing Scrum as a methodology? Or is the team using Scrum as a framework for creativity, discovery and collaboration? Maybe the Daily Scrum event is only seen as an obligation, a meeting with a reporting purpose? Maybe the team feels pressured to make sure all their micro-tasks are logged, and they use the Daily Scrum to cover themselves against possible blame. It doesn’t help much when the three questions are merely formally answered, if the people involved don’t actually talk to each other. It doesn’t help much if no information is revealed that helps the team optimize its shared work plan for the next 24 hours against the Sprint Goal. The event turns into a missed opportunity to gain insight in the real situation, to inspect it and to adapt to it.

The goal of the Daily Scrum is to share information, and to re-plan the Development Team’s collective work so that they progress in the best possible way towards the Sprint Goal. That should be the background from which the Daily Scrum runs, not to blindly answer 3 questions from a ‘best practice’ stance.

Scrum Master – A Manager

Manager – Traditionally

Traditionally an individual is declared a ‘manager’ when having hierarchical control over other individuals. A traditional manager exerts power. A traditional manager commands people through the assignment of to-be-done work; expressed as tasks or work packages, given on a daily base or via to-be-followed plans. Subsequently a traditional manager follows up on the execution of the assigned work. The traditional manager does not wait for the results of the work but wants to see how the work is being carried out, who is doing it, when the tasks are being performed and how much time it is taking. The time it takes is in general compared to the time that was instructed the task should take.

This and other performance information is recorded and stored, mostly in reports and other forms of documents. The traditional manager (in)frequently uses the stored information to evaluate a subordinate in order to steer that person’s career; via carrots like education, promotion, incentives, bonuses, salary. The traditional manager acts as the one who knows it all, and is supposed to act in the best interest of the company and its shareholders, even if that interest is obscured from the people assigned with the actual productive work.

Not limited to, but certainly in a context of agile, there is not only no need for a ‘manager’ behaving according to this authoritarian pattern and traditional expectation, it is even highly counterproductive and extremely discouraging. Dan Pink - DriveIt undermines enthusiasm, disregards intrinsic motivation by focusing solely on extrinsic motivators, kills job satisfaction, is an open door for politics and bribery and is therefore catastrophic for an organization depending on people. It is without doubt disrespectful and inhumane.

Is the notion of ‘manager’ therefore forever corrupted? Evil by default? A lost case?

Management – Actually

Scrum, like all things agile, has a very different viewpoint on working with people and on the aspect of management, but it does not the disregard that the activity of managing is required.

Let’s explore this different perspective upon the statement that “Scrum Master is a ‘management’ position”.

Indeed:

  1. A Scrum Master is a manager. Contrary to the traditional idea of a ‘manager’, a Scrum Master has no formal power over the people in the Development Team, not deciding over their careers, incentives, etc. A Scrum Master does not manage the people or their tasks. But a Scrum Master does manage (via) the Scrum process. Within an organization a Scrum Master is accountable for the maximization of Scrum, for ensuring that people, teams, departments and the organization realize the highest benefits possible from using Scrum. A Scrum Master is accountable for the way Scrum is understood and enacted. This requires management skills, traits and insights.
  2. A manager is a Scrum Master is a manager. A Scrum Master is explicitly responsible for removing Impediments. Impediments are elements that limit the efficiency and progress of a Development Team in areas that are beyond the reach of self-organization of a Development Team. Impediments are most often found in the wider organization, in company processes, procedures, and structures. Removal of Impediments works better if the Scrum Master is a manager turned Scrum Master, thereby adopting facilitation as the primary management tool and seeing the workfloor as the primary habitat.

A Scrum Master indeed is a manager, albeit not in the traditional sense. It is clear that a Scrum Master does not manage budget, people, work and tasks. Product Owners manage investments. Teams manage themselves. However, self-organization as promoted through Scrum does require goals and boundaries. A Scrum Master manages the boundaries that Scrum provides to augment self-organization; time-boxing to limit risk, focused efforts, cross-functional collaboration, releasable results, validated learning.

The Scrum process does no more than framing the creativity of people in their joint creation of valuable software. The process of Scrum lays out a foundation for rhythm and discovery. A Scrum Master manages the Scrum process through the provision of specific services like removing Impediments, facilitating teams, educating the organization, coaching people and keeping the road open to perform, to work, to innovate, to be creative. The services that the Scrum Master provides, needs to provide or is allowed to provide become a mirror to the state of Scrum in an organization.

Scrum Master can be seen as a management position because the Scrum Master role holds what is expected from a manager in an agile context, not because it reflects what traditionally is expected from a manager. A managing Scrum Master is a wise leader that engages people through organizational purpose and vision.

Manager – A Scrum Master

A manager who acts like a Scrum Master optimizes the value of management to the organization. The optimization lies not in commanding and controlling tasks and detailed work items. The value a manager brings lies in identifying wasteful activities, eliminating waste, removing impediments, embracing complexity by assuring Scrum is understood and enacted, from its principles and roots in empiricism, building on the core Scrum Stance, propelling on opportunistic experimentation, setting goals, and maintaining purpose.

The Scrum Master-manager is strongly affiliated to the Lean idea of “Go See“. A manager turning Scrum Master is a person that does not hide in a far-away office. Not hiding is much more than merely creating an open door policy. An open door is a fake measure, as it still lays the burden with the people wanting to see and talk to the manager. The workfloor buzz does not enter through that door. The flow needs to be reversed. The Scrum Master-manager walks around, is part of the workplace with the teams, the place where the real value is created. In Lean this place is referred to as Gemba.

It can even be taken some steps further with the idea of Empirical Management.

Management – Definitely

Even in an agile context, the act of managing remains a valuable activity. The act of managing is performed by managers.

Teams manage themselves. They organize their work autonomously. They are managers too. Product Owners manage the product’s vision and the investments in the product. Others manage boundaries, company objectives and identity, technical environments, the Scrum framework. ‘Management’ is the collection of all such activities. Management done properly thrives on servant-leadership. ‘Management’ is not a collection of people executing hierarchical powers. It is an emergent, networked structure of co-managers, people with complementary skills, focus and accountability, mutually exchanged services. All seek direction. Collaboratively. Continually. Skills and meaningful conversation prevail over title, hierarchy and position.

“What you say has priority over how you look.”

Is a manager who turned Scrum Master still a manager then?