What if no one was forced to do Scrum?

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I just commented on a LinkedIn thread about “Sprint Zero”. It occurred to me that Sprint Zero is often used as one of many coping mechanisms for people who are forced to do Scrum. It also occurred to me that in my 9 years or so working with a reliable sample size of Scrum teams, not one of those teams was populated entirely by people who were not coerced into doing Scrum.

Gut check: The percentage of people I know who are currently on Scrum teams and who would be doing Scrum if it wasn’t mandated by management could be lower than 50%. This begs the questions: What if Scrum was offered to teams as an optional way to manage their own work? Would there be less Scrum in the world?

With one exception, all of the Scrum teams I have worked with were mandated (forced) by management to implement Scrum. The exceptional team was exceptional in other ways. They were by far the happiest and most revolutionary (in terms of recognition for business success in their organization). Although one or two hesitant team members were roped in by their peers, the social climate of the team allowed the wary to adapt safely and gradually to their new reality.

For the overwhelming majority (in my experience), there is an irony, even a paradox at play. A lot has been said & written about how command and control management is antithetical to Scrum. Yet, many—if not most—Scrum adoptions are commanded by management with vanity metrics (i.e. velocity) installed to uphold the illusion of control.

What are some of the other coping mechanisms for people who are forced to do Scrum? What is driving this behaviour? How many of these behaviours have been labelled as “anti-patterns” and why?

Safety is an essential success factor for any organization. Is it safe for people to choose to not do Scrum, or express dissent about Scrum adoption in their organization? What does this tell us about Scrum itself? Does Scrum need to be reimagined or reframed in order to make Scrum adoption safer for more people? Is it safe to do so?


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3 thoughts on “What if no one was forced to do Scrum?”

  1. What if everyone who feels Scrum would help their company improve could just start, without others (management, usually) telling them “no”?

    I once worked with a small IT department whose 14 members were fresh out of a CSM class and unanimous that Scrum would be awesome for their circumstance. They were ready to start, and I mean they were moving desks and resetting their office space to enable co-location. But the CTO said, “Scrum won’t work here” and … so it didn’t.

  2. Great article Travis.

    My experience is that in large organizations (e.g. Government) Agile is still ‘shunned’ upon. The closest they get is a phased delivery, with an upfront Business Requirements Document, a Functional Spec written halfway through the project, a Project Manager forced to do the Gate Reviews, continuous regression testing and visibility only through hundreds of individually raised Jira’s.

    Scrum is meant to be uncomplicated and that’s maybe its biggest problem for acceptance.

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