No, Scrum did not back its car over my dog

On twitter someone suggested this is why I have so much energy on Scrum. Here was my response.

No. Scrum is great and can really help teams. What’s backed over my dog is the way it’s taught to teams. The common focus on the framework anticipating people will figure out what they have to do to do Scrum well has a history of being ineffective. Scrum should be taught by showing people how to solve their problems. Then it’s power can come to the fore. I have been saying this for a decade, and I know it’s getting old for some. For me what’s old is not solving the problem.

Teaching Scrum the wrong way and having ppl not figure out what they have to do results in bad scrum & then them getting blamed for not doing it right by not doing Scrum as defined.

I believe those who promote scrum have some responsibility in why this happens. And they should look at the way they train and the assumptions they use.

So yes, I have a charge on Scrum, but it’s on the damage being done via ineffective training. So what drives me is getting people to understand that Scrum is good, but that doesn’t mean that those certified in teaching it are doing a good job.

I was wrong, but it’s worse than I thought

I admit to being wrong with my focus on how Scrum doesn’t prepare teams when it’s prescriptions don’t apply. But I’ve been seeing even more cases of when they do and teams flounder anyway

The challenges of not being able to write small stories, devs and testers working separately, unclear requirements, not finishing stories before starting others, ineffective standups and ineffective retro are all too common

10 years ago having stable cross-functional teams and working on sprints was a massive step forward since merely doing that resulted in a 3x improvement. Focusing on the framework and hoping people would figure out the rest made sense. But what is needed now is how to solve these common challenges

It is not hard to teach this, but it requires changing the content of a 2-day introduction to Scrum class to be tailored for the team being trained. Certification courses are often taught with a set curriculum and thereby providing you with 3 choices:
1) Take a CSM class and need a tune-up later (expensive and incomplete)
2) Take an Agile class tailored for your needs
3) Take a CSM class with an added day for the tune-up (expensive)

But cost is only one part – unprepared teams or an extra day of them not being available for work is more significant

Walking my Talk – Integrating our On-the-Job Online Master Class With our Onsite Class

I’ve been espousing (a nice word for rant) about the need for scaled learning methods and how 2-day classes have low retention. I’ve decided to integrate our On-the-Job Online Advanced Scrum Master / Kanban Coaching workshop with our Team-Agility Coach (our integration of Scrum/Kanban workshop.

Our online workshop is normally $595 but when you take our Scrum/Kanban master course we’ll include that for $200 a person. This means that our 2 day workshop followed by our 3 month program is $10,400 for 12 people ($500 for each additional person).

The onsite aspect of this integrates Scrum and Kanban. The three month program has me work with participants helping them apply what they’ve learned, as well as advanced topics of Agile, with their teams.

Please message me if you’re interested.

Why I’ve Decided Not to Raise the Cost of Our On-the-Job Online Agile Coach Workshop

After writing about how our workshop avoids the issue of the 80-90% retention loss of normal trainings, covers twice the material of an Advanced CSM class, provides a performance support system and is provides timely coaching to its participants in their working with their teams, I had decided to raise the price from $595 to $895 – still a bargain compared to the common $1295 fee for an Advanced CSM class (not to mention the 2 days lost in an Advanced CSM class and likely travel time/cost).

But I’ve decided to go in the opposite direction. While the program is 3 months long, I will let people have access to the live coaching sessions included for 6 months along with the already annual access to the performance support system for a year.

I am committed to disrupting the current ineffective manner the industry now relies on for teaching people how to be Agile coaches. I am leading this workshop myself and promise it will change both how you look at Agile and Lean as well as your effectiveness.

We’re starting the next workshop this week, so please ping me if interested.

A metaphor for team agility – GPS systems

Using a predetermined set of roles, events, artifacts and rules is like having a GPS that just gives you the directions without the map. If you get lost or you can’t make a turn or you miss it you are lost.

Being given a map with alternatives to get there provides not only options that work for you but provide a way of getting back on track when you get lost. In the complex world of software development it is even more likely you’ll need this ability.

Many people require a given set path. But have it include where you are and have it provide you with a reset option when you get lost. This is what Lean-based team Agile does. Scrum doesn’t even try because you are out of Scrum by this time. Scrum proponents just call this Scrumbut and go on to the next team. This doesn’t mean you can’t use Scrum, it just means that when you do Scrum you should do it within the context of Lean.

A metaphor for team agility – GPS systems

Using a predetermined set of roles, events, artifacts and rules is like having a GPS that just gives you the directions without the map. If you get lost or you can’t make a turn or you miss it you are lost.

Being given a map with alternatives to get there provides not only options that work for you but provide a way of getting back on track when you get lost. In the complex world of software development it is even more likely you’ll need this ability.

Many people require a given set path. But have it include where you are and have it provide you with a reset option when you get lost. This is what Lean-based team Agile does. Scrum doesn’t even try because you are out of Scrum by this time. Scrum proponents just call this Scrumbut and go on to the next team. This doesn’t mean you can’t use Scrum, it just means that when you do Scrum you should do it within the context of Lean.

Two Different Kinds of Training (admittedly a rant)

The prevalent kind of Agile team training is:

  • here’s what to do
  • follow it until you understand it
  • you can fill in the blanks, but don’t change the foundation
  • if you do, we can take no responsibility for results because then you’re not doing what we said

Continue reading “Two Different Kinds of Training (admittedly a rant)”

Shift Your View To What’s Important

One of the major tenet’s of Lean is to not focus on individual activities but to look at the flow of value from concept to realization. Focusing on people, btw, is not Agile in my mind. We should be trusting and respecting them – not judging them. They are doing the best they can. management must provide them with a great eco-system in which to self-organize in order to achieve the business’ objectives.

The challenges around velocity illustrate this. If one understood the goal is to shorten cycle time (the time from concept to realization) it would be clear that managing (not measuring) velocity has no value. Many of the challenges we have in Scrum and SAFe is because these frameworks have us subtly look at the wrong thing.

But these things sure look important so someone sometimes has to shake us up to look at the right thing. The beauty is, once we look at our present in the right way, we can reflect on our past and instantly get a lot of experience. This is why newbies don’t have to be patronized and told to just use things as they are. They can think for themselves with years of experience once they know what to look at. This is the difference between giving advice and giving a new way to see a problem. I prefer the latter.

The Insidious Side of Scrum and How I’d Fix It (and yes, I know it wouldn’t be Scrum anymore)

Scrum is based on empirical process control. If I understand this correctly, this means that we base our actions on what happens and inspect and adapt accordingly. Scrum is accordingly set up with a set of rules, roles, artifacts and events designed in such a way that if they are followed good results will happen.

I believe it to be true that if you in fact do what Scrum tells you to do you will get good results. But that’s not a huge endorsement. If you follow a financial advice system that says to buy stocks low and sell them high you’ll also make a lot of money. And if you don’t, it’s providers can always say you didn’t follow the method.  The question is not if Scrum’s practices will work if you follow them, it’s can you always follow them? And even when you can is it the best way to go? And, perhaps more importantly, does taking this attitude that you should learn how to be Agile by using Scrum defined exactly as it is the best way to go? Because we must remember, our goal is not to do Scrum. Our goal is to be effective.

Let’s look at the typical way teams are told to adopt Scrum. It is suggested that they follow Scrum’s rules, roles, artifacts and events. But what if the team has problems with doing this? They are told to keep at it until they can do this. Since many of the teams are new to Scrum and Agile they are told to trust their trainers and coaches (in other words, not trust their own thoughts about what might not be working but to do what they are told). Personally, I find this somewhat disrespectful. People know a lot about their jobs and as a coach I wouldn’t expect anyone to do something merely because I said it’s a good idea. If I can’t get them to see it’s a good idea then that’s a failing on me.

But there are two other problems here. One, it may not be possible to follow Scrum’s practices. And two, even if possible, it may not be desirable. I have seen many cases of this over the last 20 years of using Scrum. Yet, in 10 years of discussing this I have yet to have one CST (certified Scrum Trainer) admit to such a possibility even though I’ve given them dozens of cases. Instead they always claim if people were committed enough they could do it. In other words, they don’t acknowledge Scrum may be off, but rather people just are not committed enough to do Scrum (implying, of course, that Scrum is the right thing). But wait a moment, what if there is a better way? Why stick to Scrum? Is it really always the best way to become effective? Sounds like brand selling to me. And that’s not a bad thing – you wouldn’t expect a Chevy dealer to say a Ford is better.

Here’s the problem. When Scrum is taught, the training almost always focuses on the framework. This makes sense. If it focused on the actual laws of software development there’d be no Scrum brand involved. In any event, Scrum isn’t based on the actual laws of software development. It’s based on  empirical process control. But that doesn’t mean that’s what it should be based on – this is just an a priori assumption that is always accepted. But Scrum is what it is. So when there are problems, there is no basis for figuring out how to solve them other than following Scrum’s rules. People intuitively know this is not quite right. So resistance is not uncommon. When things don’t work well, people often don’t like to keep doing what’s not working. Even if they try, if they are in a situation where Scrum is not ideal, at some point people will give up. But since they don’t know what else to do they will likely just drop a Scrum practice and voila you have Scrumbut. From Scrum.org’s site – ScrumButs mean that Scrum has exposed a dysfunction that is contributing to the problem, but is too hard to fix. A ScrumBut retains the problem while modifying Scrum to make it invisible so that the dysfunction is no longer a thorn in the side of the team.”

And now Scrum is off the hook because although the team is not getting effective, Scrum’s proponents can claim it’s not their fault because the team is not doing Scrum. Yes, the team is not doing Scrum. But Scrum’s definition is partly at cause. I believe what’s needed is to integrate how to remove dysfunctions into our Scrum training so that we have the opportunity to remove dysfunctions whether the solution strictly follows Scrum or not.

So what can we do instead? There’s a lot of evidence that taking an approach based on the Lean principles of systems thinking, just in time (reducing delays in workflow and feedback and in acting no new information) is more effective, Can we take the rules, artifacts, roles and events of Scrum and implement them within a Lean-thinking approach instead of an empirical approach? What would happen if we did this? Full-disclosure – doing this would result in something not Scrum. I’ll call it Lean-Scrum to differentiate. This is because The people who invented Scrum (Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland) have the right to define what Scrum is.

So how would Lean-Scrum work and how would people trying to adopt it manage the situation where Scrum doesn’t work well?

Lean-Scrum would essentially say to start with Scrum but consider its roles, rules, artifacts and events to be examples of what could be done. That each of these have an object. If the practice of Scrum works then great – do it. But if not, teams should feel free to find another way to do things. This must be done in a disciplined way. This can be accomplished with this four-step process:

  1. Are you having challenges with the practice because it is being done poorly? If Yes, then inspect and adapt and see if you can do it better. If No, continue.
  2. Is there something else in the organization that is causing us this problem? If Yes, then see how to fix that or at least influence the fixing of it. If No, then continue.
  3. Is the ecosystem that the team finds itself in causing the problem? That is, are people not collocated when they need to be or are required skills missing? Can you improve on this? If yes, do so. If No, continue to see if another practice that works within this ecosystem will work better (see next step).
  4. What else can we do that meets the same objective of the practice? If there is something else you can do, then try that. If not stick with the practice until you learn more.

Step 4 begs the question of telling if you meet the objective of the practice in a different way. This can be determined by looking at the underlying principles in software development. This is always in theory to some extent, because even if a change will improve things if made, there are often side effects caused by people not adopting the change that work against it. We therefore must always be diligent and validate any change we make.

The measure to use is the value stream impedance scorecard. In a nutshell, the VSIS indicates how much resistance the system will impose on work being attempted. It is based on what improves total value manifested. Lowering this resistance usually results in more value manifested.

Psychologically this is a much better approach. Now people have a solid starting point. But if they have challenges with it, they can think for themselves and come up with what they think is a better way without just going off the deep end.  Hence, they don’t resist and can self-organize in more effective methods. Scrumbut can be avoided because people will understand what they need to do. It also avoids the stigma of being taught Scrum but then having to abandon it. Staring with Scrum and then going beyond it feels wrong – especially to management who said the team is going to do Scrum and just paid for Scrum training.

We call this approach Scrum as Example because it considers Scrum as an example of what we could do and that we can do other things while still being effective.

I’ll close this article by asing why is it that people do Scrumbut? If we trust and respect people the only conclusion we can come to is that they don’t realize it’s a bad thing. So why don’t we give them the understanding to realize that? When you believe software development needs to be controlled by an empirical process it’s because there is no understanding of it – one can only see it by doing it. There is no model that could explain it. When you believe that Lean-Agile principles can explain it, however, then we show people why Scrumbut is a bad thing and how to avoid it.

INVEST is a goal, not a guide

I–Independent
N–Negotiable
V–Valuable
E–Estimable
S–Small
T–Testable

This is almost universally used to teach how to write stories. But notice, it’s a goal, not a method. Goals are good, but in themselves, don’t provide much guidance to get to them (think “buy low sell high”).

A better way to learn to write stories is to take advantage of the discovery & specification phases of Acceptance Test-Driven Development (ATDD). While usually relegated to the 2nd or 3rd round of training we’ve seen light-weight ATDD integrated with initial Scrum training enables teams to write stories right out of the box and eliminates 3 of the major challenges most teams have adopting Scrum:
1) writing small stories
2) having clear requirements
3) understanding why testing cannot lag coding

This is the key to learning Agile- not just learning the end state desired, but using methods that actually help get you there. It is easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than think your way into a new way of acting.

ATDD has the dev team focus on identifying and validating (Testable) Small chunks of Value by “Negotiating” with the PO. Part of ATDD is to decouple (make Independent) the stories. Since these stories are now understood, they are also Estimable.