Things Ken Schwaber Intentionally Omits From Scrum

6 minute read

I’ve listed some things that are intentionally not part of Scrum, and may contradict it or make it less useful.

What does it matter? It’s not like the Scrum cops will throw you in jail. But people do things unintentionally – mindlessly – because they got the impression they were essential to Scrum. For each one, please think about what problem it is meant to solve and whether there are solutions more consistent with your system optimization goal.

Scrum intentionally does not contain the following:

Scrum was intended to be a framework, a meta-process, to connect feedback loops and give teams control over their own work. What you’ve experienced as Scrum in your workplace has likely diverged far from those intentions.

Scrum Does Not Contain A Daily Status Meeting

Schwaber writes

The purpose of the Daily Scrum is to inspect progress toward the Sprint Goal and adapt the Sprint Backlog as necessary, adjusting the upcoming planned work.

The Daily Scrum is a 15-minute event for the Developers of the Scrum Team. The Developers can select whatever structure and techniques they want, as long as their Daily Scrum focuses on progress toward the Sprint Goal and produces an actionable plan for the next day of work.

The purpose of the Daily Scrum is to inspect progress toward the Sprint Goal and adapt the Sprint Backlog as necessary, adjusting the upcoming planned work.

Do I need to say anything more? Companies that don’t treat the Daily Scrum as event for team self organization and re-planning are likely to call it a “stand up” for people to give status reports.

Scrum Does Not Contain “Velocity”

Schwaber’s definition of Scrum has never contained “velocity.” It is a practice sometimes borrowed from Extreme Programming. But even the Extreme Programming people who came up with the idea now have regrets. Should you keep doing it? I’d rather you focused on keeping your product shippable all the time. Focusing on velocity is a local optimization that can be bad for business outcomes. See Why I Barely Mention Velocity Anymore.

Scrum Does Not Contain Story Points and Fibonacci numbers

Scrum does not contain any particular effort estimation scheme. The Scrum Guide barely mentions estimation at all.

Yes, there’s a strong case for relative exponential estimates over absolute estimates. Do you really need a vast array of Fibonacci numbers? You’re doing this because someone told you Fibonacci numbers have magical powers?

People who know binary find powers of two to be sufficient. And if you’re using more than a few choices, you’re probably just creating the pretense of precision.

Scrum Does Not Contain “Scrum of Scrums”

The first Scrum book in 2001 did contain a “Scrum of Scrums” – a hasty stab at the problem that no one knew how to make multi-team organizations agile. But Ken Schwaber’s next book, in 2004, identified the ways it contradicted team self organization. Fortunately there are alternatives to Scrum of Scrums.

Scrum Does Not Have Multiple Product Owners Per Product

Per the Definition of Scrum

If Scrum Teams become too large, they should consider reorganizing into multiple cohesive Scrum Teams, each focused on the same product. Therefore, they should share the same Product Goal, Product Backlog, and Product Owner.

Why is it harmful to have multiple POs per product (e.g. a different one for each team)? See my comic book.

What is a “product” anyway? If we are optimizing for the big picture, consider using the broadest practical definition of product.

Scrum Does Not Have Tasks In The Product Backlog

One clue that someone hasn’t yet gotten the point of Scrum is that they refer to “tasks” in the Product Backlog.

Scrum has historically separated the what from the how. How to solve problems is left to self-managing cross-functional teams. If you cannot do this, you do not yet have self-managing cross-functional teams. Thus, the items in the Product Backlog are properly called Product Backlog Items (or PBIs), not “tasks.”

We’ll give you a pass if you refer to Product Backlog Items as “User Stories,” but we want you to remember this is actually an Extreme Programming concept that many Scrum teams borrow. How to create well-formed Product Backlog Items is covered in detail in the Scrum Training Series.

A team may decide to create Sprint Tasks when planning a Sprint – again covered by the Scrum Training Series. We try to defer how decisions until the last responsible moment.

Scrum Does Not Contain Extra Roles

Since a product has only one Product Owner, there is no “Chief Product Owner”.

There is no “Release Train Engineer.” Are there ways to solve the problems this role was meant to solve that increase adaptivenesss rather than reducing it? Giving responsibilities to named roles takes them away from teams, making teams less cross-functional and less self-managing.

Organizations often try to solve problems by adding organizational complexity in the form of additional roles, structures, departments, processes, etc. All of these quick fixes can have harmful side effects, leading to hidebound organizations. We believe in reducing organizational complexity and solving the underlying problems.

Scrum Does Not Contain Burndown Charts

While the first Scrum book in 2001 did recommend burndown charts, it was quickly discovered that they could lead to a decrease in team self management through excess focus on estimates and short-term efficiencies. Complex work doesn’t necessarily follow Newton’s Laws Of Motion. So they’ve been out of Scrum’s definition for years. Use them if you want, and understand why they’re no longer prescribed in Scrum.

Scrum Masters Are Not For Coordination, Motivation, or Status Reporting

The Scrum Master was not intended to be a renamed project manager.

coordination

The Scrum Master is there to teach the team that coordination is a team responsibility. Doing it for them teaches them the opposite.

motivation

If people are not motivated, it’s likely there are organizational impediments the Scrum Master should be working to address. In healthy organizations the motivation comes from doing great work and seeing how it helps people. (You still have to pay us to get us in the door.)

status reporting

The authors of the Agile Manifesto wrote that working software is the primary measure of progress. Scrum emphasizes the empirical over the theoretical. At the Sprint Review everyone sees the real product itself, not a report about it.

For more about Scrum Master responsibilities, please see the Example Scrum Master’s Checklist.

The Sprint Backlog Is For the Team (Developers), Not For Surveillance

From the definition:

The Sprint Backlog is a plan by and for the Developers.

I once heard a Microsoft employee ask Ken Schwaber why the team’s self management artifacts shouldn’t be published to the whole organization. “Transparency” right? Ken restated that the team is meant to be self organizing, and said he would want to find out why people who aren’t on the team would want to meddle with them during a Sprint.

The Sprint Review is an appropriate time to make the results of the work visible to everyone outside the team(s). They are invited to give feedback at that time. The Product Owner will decide how to adapt future plans to the feedback.

During the Sprint Review:

the Scrum Team and stakeholders review what was accomplished in the Sprint and what has changed in their environment. Based on this information, attendees collaborate on what to do next. The Product Backlog may also be adjusted to meet new opportunities.


LeSS is hard

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