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Scrum in the Real World – Are We Looking for Unicorn?

The phrase I hear countless times in teaching Certified Scrum and Agile classes is “Yes, but in the REAL world…” This is an indicator to me that the person asking this question is working in an environment that is so entrenched in traditional process, they cannot fathom that such companies embracing Agile Values and Principles truly exist. It’s as if they see such a world so unbelievable, it’s like I’ve asked them to go in search of a unicorn. There are real companies experiencing success with Agile and Scrum. So what makes those companies different from those that claim they tried Agile and it does not work?

1. Lacking of Understanding that Scrum and Agile are Different:

You have heard the old saying: the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Many use Agile vocabulary or terms from the Scrum framework but keep on following traditional project management or “waterfall”. They somehow expect to deliver results faster just because they are saying Scrummy things or because they have added a 15 minute meeting where they stand up each day. There is far more to Agile and Scrum than simply using new terms. They require fundamentally doing work in a different way. Without this lack of understanding, there is little chance that an organization will deliver anything faster than their old way of doing work.

2. Not Having a Reason Why Agile is being Adopted:

When I ask “why are you adopting Agile”, the number one response I get is that the CxO (CEO, CFO, CIO, etc.) said we had to. Well that’s great! But that does not answer the question. Why does the CxO want to do this? In other words what do we hope to gain by doing work in a different way? The number one answer there is “delivering faster”. OK. Now we’re getting somewhere. “How long does it take you to deliver in your current process?” I ask. I am astounded at the number of people that cannot answer this question. If we have no idea how long delivery takes in our current approach, how will we know that we have in fact delivered “faster”? Without a goal, there is little chance of achieving it. And let’s not forget that change is hard. Some organizations make changes very easily while others resist change or simply will not change. In Certified ScrumMaster courses we teach the Scrum Values. One of those values is Courage. While it may seem unrealistic to some participants about what it would take for their current organization to truly change – to truly use Scrum or Agile as a way to do work – it may require some Courage. Courage to educate, Courage to speak up, Courage to try something different and if it does not work to try something else. But do try. My challenge to anyone thinking that doing “real Scrum” or “real Agile” is like looking for a unicorn, is to find the Courage to have the crucial conversations, education and see if they can help change the way work is done in their current reality.

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