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

Can you say ‘yes’? (10 questions about your Scrum)

I call myself a  Scrum Caretaker. I aspire inspiring people using Scrum. I prefer showing that I care by sharing positive experiences and cases that demonstrate how amazing working with Scrum can be, what problems can be tackled and how to, the level of excellence we can build into our products, how Scrum can engage people. Ultimately I hope to help people employ Scrum to re-humanize their workplace.

But then it regularly dawns on us — the many, many misconceptions that exist over Scrum. We feel provoked to try to correct the recurring and worrying interpretations of Scrum that are out there. Sometimes that is fun. Often it is not. It can be energizing. In general it drains us. A few lifetimes can be spent fighting that battle. We limit the energy spent fighting to make room for constructing. 

A good place to start is reminding people of what ought to be in place according to Scrum. It provides clarity over what is mandatory in Scrum (and therefore, what is not).

Unlocking the benefits of Scrum requires however a lot more than just knowing what Scrum consists of. Scrum is the foundation to a complex adaptive system (‘CAS’) producing results that cannot be attributed to its individual components separately. Unlocking the benefits of Scrum depends more on the way the whole of Scrum is being used, through the rules that bind its constituent parts together. Unlocking the benefits of Scrum depends even more on what the people practicing Scrum do, more than what they know or say in the name of theory. It depends on how people interact within the framework, the conversations they have.

Here are 10 questions to help you assess what you do with the 11 elements of Scrum. Can you say ‘yes’?

  1. The accountabilities of Product Owner, Development Team(s) and Scrum Master are identified and enacted?
  2. Work is organized in consecutive Sprints of 4 weeks or less?
  3. There is an ordered Product Backlog?
  4. There is a Sprint Backlog with a visualization of remaining work for the Sprint?
  5. At Sprint Planning a forecast, Sprint Backlog and a Sprint Goal are created?
  6. The result of the Daily Scrum is work being re-planned for the next day?
  7. No later than by the end of the Sprint a Done Increment is created?
  8. Stakeholders offer feedback as a result from inspecting the Increment at the Sprint Review?
  9. Product Backlog is updated as a result of Sprint Review?
  10. Product Owner, Development Team(s) and Scrum Master align on the work process for their next Sprint at the Sprint Retrospective?

Minimally, make sure that you remain aligned (6) and that you regularly check what else might be needed (10). Upon that foundation, grow towards saying ‘yes’ to all questions, meanwhile collaboratively exploring different  If you don’t overthink your way of working along that road of evolution, you might find Scrum to be of a bare essence actually.

Minimally, make sure that you remain aligned (6) and that you regularly check what else might be needed (10). Upon that foundation, grow towards saying ‘yes’ to all questions.

If you don’t overthink your way of working along that road of expansion and evolution, you might find Scrum to be of a bare essence actually. Do know that understanding that Scrum requires 11 elements to be in place is only the beginning. My 10 questions might help you better understand how they relate to each other. Find yourself at the beginning still. Understand how all of them serve empiricism, the act of regular inspection and adaptation, and how inspection without adaptation makes no sense in a world of Scrum. Separate rules from tactics to play the game. Use empiricism also to explore different tactics

My Scrum Gameboard not only represents the 11 mandatory elements, but also 3 principles underlying Scrum. Understand how the Scrum Values drive behavior.

Keep learning.
Keep improving.
Keep… Scrumming.

Warm regards
Gunther
independent Scrum Caretaker