It’s the year 2021, and Scrum has just celebrated its 20th anniversary. Having worked with Scrum teams since the early-2000s, it’s very interesting to see this framework evolve and continue to thrive amongst many industries. As I continue to help teams adopt Agile principles in hopes of accelerating their performance, one trend that I have discovered in recent years is that many organizations choose Scrum as the default Agile method without evaluating whether it’s the right fit for their context. This is a potentially costly approach that can lead to frustration and even degrade the morale of your teams.
While the popularity of Scrum is based on proven success stories, I believe that it is not the panacea that some organizations are seeking. Hence, I compiled a short list of things to think about before making the leap-of-faith to Scrum. Take a closer look and see if this helps you decide whether Scrum is the right choice for you.
Question 1: Is your team (or organization) cross-functional or engrained in rigid silos?
If your team consists of a group of similarly-skilled people, it does not necessarily mean Scrum won’t help your team. However, if your team is accustomed to handing off their work to another team, Scrum will likely help you improve the speed of the hand-offs, which means it could result in creating a bottleneck for the team that receives the work. While this may be viewed as a positive in a sense that you can more easily observe the inefficiency of the overall product delivery process, some people may not embrace such a revelation of problems.
Question 2: How often does priority of work change?
If the priorities that your team works on changes frequently (i.e. within a matter of days), it will be much more challenging to achieve success with Scrum. This does not mean that you should discount Scrum completely if your organization is used to reacting to issues; this means that it may make sense to consider other alternatives such as Lean/Kanban. Also, if the team generally spends their time on more planned-work than unplanned work, you will likely need to contend with managing expectations more actively and allocate time within your Sprint cycles to handle unplanned (a.k.a. “pop-up”) work.
Question 3: How much Scrum expertise do you already have on your staff?
Operating successfully within the Scrum framework does not happen overnight. It requires commitment, dedication, and skilled people to reap all the benefits. This usually means that you need an experienced Scrum Master and/or Coach in order to guide the team to success. If your team has limited experience with Scrum, it does not mean you should give up on Scrum right away; it simply means that you will need to invest time and energy to build a team that has the right level of leadership to support them through the change.
Question 4: How well does your organization adapt to change?
Speaking of change, some organizations are very risk-adverse and value stability over innovation. This can mean that change is usually very carefully planned and executed. If your organization falls into this category, it does not mean you cannot succeed with Scrum. However, it does mean that you will likely need a longer timeframe to work with in order to implement Scrum and attain success.
Question 5: Does your team enjoy working with each other and helping each other out?
This may sound like an odd question, but all organizations have some type of dysfunction because people are complex creatures who are not always easy to work with. Many teams do not work well together and are in all practical purposes merely a group of people who are placed together by circumstances beyond their control. If this reminds you of your team, you will likely have your work cut out for you. A team will struggle to embrace change together if they do not trust or respect each other. Hence, if the foundation of trust is missing, that must first be addressed before making any attempt to adopt Scrum because this change would be extremely difficult to make without this foundation.
In short, Scrum assumes a lot of things, many of which may or may not exist already in your organization. If it is missing, it means you have two options: (1) Make the necessary adjustments to cultivate environment in which Scrum will be accepted and thrive, or (2) Consider another approach such as Kanban, Scrumban, Lean, etc. While Scrum has been successful for many organizations, that does not mean that you should assume it is right for your situation. Think through the key elements I shared above, then make a decision. Whatever you decide, as long as you reflect, inspect, then adapt, you will be in a much better place than where you began!