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Beyond Scrum : Why implementing scrum isn’t the magic bullet to your business woes.

What’s in this article:

Where does scrum fit in >
Magic bullets don’t exist >
With Scrum you must create a stable foundation >
In Scrum, context is everything >
Scrum is a framework – not the goal >
Scrum is the starting point >
A continuous journey >

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WHERE DOES SCRUM FIT IN?

Scrum or Agile, as frameworks, can easily be misunderstood to be a panacea.

The word agile itself seems to evoke images we tend to associate with athleticism and physical health and, to the uninformed organisational leader, can seem like an obvious choice if the primary goal is to reduce costs and improve team productivity.

The reality is that Agile ways of working are not prescriptive, nor are they meant to specifically address operational expenses. To the contrary, Agile transformations are, in a number of ways, potentially more complex than many other forms of organisational change.

Scrum is also not meant to be a 1:1 replacement for existing hierarchy but is, instead, often best deployed to provide a balance between bureaucracy and innovation – a kind of custom blend of the best of both worlds.

Chris MacLeod, a senior consultant in Sydney says, “To build new capability is a challenge for any organisation in the most stable of times. When proposed as an answer to rapid change in a particular context, it’s even more so. The relentless pace of meeting customer needs never slows and it’s very tempting to devote insufficient resources to an optically risky transformation.”

Scrum is also just one of several models or frameworks of Agile. There are many variants and almost infinite custom deployment options. For devotees of clear structure, easy measurability and purely short-term shareholder optics, Scrum can seem a messy solution – run by young creatives who can be perceived as out of touch with business outcomes.

Scrum can’t solve every business problem.

Chris says, “It also may not be a fit for a particular business culture, at least initially. Scrum, ultimately, is a framework only. It’s a tool that may well have great impact if it’s used correctly and appropriately. In the end, Scrum is really a tradeoff between your current risks and rewards – but one that may well enable you to keep up with the rapidly changing environment we’re all in.”

When business challenges arise, leaders may begin to ask questions of themselves and their teams: “Why did we not meet the target deadline for this project? Why are we over budget for this initiative?”

These questions focus on the impact that has already occurred to the business or is likely to occur soon. Mature leaders may even bridge into investigating how ways of working influence the poor outcomes they observe over time.

A leader may say, “How might we work better together in the future?”, while another may consider, “Are our internal processes aligned with the outcomes we desire?” This instinct to regard ways of working as an opportunity to improve is critical for organisations to grow and thrive in today’s business world.

With some research, these leaders might consider scrum as the leading edge, “magic bullet” to solve their business issues. However, with this impulse comes caution. To implement scrum, there must be a strong foundation: a growth mindset and emphasis on the scrum pillars and values.

Implementing Scrum isn’t the magic bullet.

MAGIC BULLETS DON’T EXIST

The reality is there is no magic bullet to a business’s woes. “It’s true that your business might need a major change in direction, and also as important, the business needs iterative changes in how things are done that steer it to sustained success,” says Mina Gurgis, senior consultant in Sydney.  

This major change in direction, requires firstly a growth mindset.  A growth mindset is key to implementing scrum, as a new way of working requires a willingness to test and learn in unfamiliar ways.

Inaya Dsouza, one of our team in Los Angeles says, “Through the belief that improvement can be realised through overcoming challenges, teams that adopt a growth mindset will be able to observe and reflect on their working methods to enhance their performance.”

WITH SCRUM YOU MUST CREATE THE STABLE FOUNDATION

Without a growth mindset, scrum teams will fall back into old habits and ways of working, and benefits will be limited. The scrum pillars of transparency, inspection, and adaptation are closely coupled with the five values of scrum teams.  The five values are commitment, courage, focus, openness and respect.

Scrum provides roles, ceremonies, relationships and artefacts as part of the framework.  However, Inaya explains, “It is the pillars and values that ensure enough visibility to embrace empiricism, or the ability to know through observation.”

It is empiricism that enables scrum teams to optimise for predictability, reduce risk, and effectively address complex business issues. Without this strong foundation, leaders may experience common failure modes of scrum.

“This may manifest in teams that are stuck in their siloed ways of working, absent product owners, or even scrum masters that are enforcers of ceremonies rather than servant leaders. However, the mistake to attribute these observations as scrum framework failures masks the true problem: an unstable foundation in a growth mindset and agile pillars and values,” Inaya says.

Scrum is not a magic bullet because it requires a strong foundation to enable its benefits.

When we observe that “scrum isn’t working”, we must examine the groundwork to uncover how we can strengthen it. Like any lifelong learning or physical pursuit, strengthening the foundation of scrum for your teams is a continuous journey in the lifecycle of an organisation.

IN SCRUM CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING

It takes a solid understanding of business challenges which ADAPTOVATE will usually uncover with a diagnostic.  Fiona Royall, a senior consultant in Melbourne explains, “From our diagnostic, which can include interviews, surveys and observation, we then look at the why and that steers us towards recommendations.”

“Scrum is an agile framework so it is quite specific. If someone was purporting Scrum as the silver bullet to everything then I would be concerned. You need the context of the business to drive targeted recommendations,” says Fiona.

SCRUM IS A FRAMEWORK – NOT THE GOAL

Consider this : Scrum is a means to the end: a process that allows teams to iteratively deliver, test, and learn.

If we get hung up on implementing the process, we lose sight of why we’re following it.  Mina says, “Just because an organisation is implementing Scrum, it doesn’t mean that it is agile in responding to changes.”

There are common pitfalls when adopting agile.

One of the most common pitfalls that Mina Gurgis has seen, is using Scrum to deliver products/services in a very traditional method (i.e. incremental delivery as opposed to iterative delivery).

He says, “An example is when a solution is delivered using Scrum Sprint cycles for requirements gathering, designing, testing, and releasing to market rather than focusing on thin slicing an end-to-end solution, delivering it earlier and getting quicker feedback, then iterating for the next things to test and learn.”

Shannon Gilliam agrees, “A Scrum implementation doesn’t fix problems. It can only help an organisation dig in deep to existing issues and start to address them in a structured way, delivering incremental solutions more quickly.”

As our principal in Sydney, Caitilin Studdert says, “No one will ever reward a team based on their ability to ‘do scrum’ or be ‘experts in agile’ – the implementation of scrum will only be effective if we are clear on our objectives and understand why we are prioritising our work in a certain way to deliver an outcome.”

So implementing scrum without clear objectives and key results to help us prioritise won’t solve any business woes.

SCRUM IS THE STARTING POINT

Often, using Scrum can unearth deeper issues that organisations weren’t aware of or didn’t want to address.

Karen Chan, a senior consultant in Toronto says, “Scrum is deliberately lightweight; it’s meant to foster conversation about collaboration and communication when it’s a complex situation with multiple squads and priorities.   I see scrum as a starting point, to begin organising work.”

It takes courage and strength to commence with any change.  Change that challenges people to admit to deeper issues and do the hard work necessary to see real improvement.  Shannon says, “Those that are brave enough to see it through have the opportunity to make lasting positive changes that improve both the organisation and the working environment for those who support it.”

When we observe that “scrum isn’t working”, we must examine the groundwork to uncover how we can strengthen it.

A CONTINUOUS JOURNEY

Like any lifelong learning or physical pursuit, strengthening the foundation of scrum for your teams is a continuous journey in the lifecycle of an organisation.

It is only through this ongoing mastery that scrum will provide a framework to make meaningful, positive changes on your current business challenges and enable you to boldly meet the demands of tomorrow.

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Beyond Scrum : Why implementing scrum isn’t the magic bullet – Report

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