Nowadays, Scrum is a recognized way of organizing a workflow for many software companies worldwide. When a Scrum team knows what it’s doing, its workflow becomes coherent and stable. Plus, more often than not, the timeline for developing new products gets significantly shorter. No wonder that the role of the Scrum Master is getting more and more popular in the industry. Scrum Master Trends Report indicates that Glassdoor included Scrum Master in the list of highest paying jobs with an average wage of $98.239.
Scrum contains all the basics that allow teams to utilize the values of Agile. In case you’ve wondered: Agile differs from Scrum. The former is a sort of a “value system,” while Scrum is a guide to specific actions such as holding meetings, creating artifacts, etc. However, you can build your own processes out of these mandatory elements, supplementing Scrum with specific work methods.
You may ask yourself: “With all these unquestionable benefits, what could possibly go wrong?” The thing is, when Scrum implementation fails, the team gets nothing but trouble. In this article, we’re going to find out what common challenges stand in the way of a successful Scrum implementation. Please meet our project managers Kristina Kosko and Artem Garanovich who will share some insights stemming from their professional experience.
Book vs. real world
In addition to developers, the Scrum team includes a product owner in the role of customer/client representative and a Scrum master. The product owner is responsible for the product's success, while the Scrum Master is responsible for the team’s effectiveness. But none of them should dictate developers how to work.
What’s more, it’s important to distinguish the roles and competencies of the Scrum Master and the product owner. The latter should concentrate solely on building a business unit, working out a backlog, and performing KPIs while the former coaches both the team and PO, calculates the team’s velocity and capacity, helps in planning, and organizes meetings/stand-ups.
Artem: The main problem is that the “ideal” Scrum doesn't exist, and to be honest, the 100% Agile paradigm is non-existing either. In the real world, we are always facing the constraints of a specific business. First of all, it’s the budget and time frame.
Secondly, theoretical Scrum doesn’t assign specific roles for the development team’s members. In reality, these specialists have their own competencies and specialties. Therefore, tensions may arise once in a while regarding the team’s workload and all other planning-related issues.
Kristina: A team will quickly fail when attempting to apply Scrum by the book. For example, in some particular cases, one may not need all the Scrum artifacts. Let’s imagine a team that works with constant changes in the scope of tasks, and other teams depend on its work. They send notifications on critical bugs, report various problems, and often require consultations. But this same team works in a 2-week Scrum sprint, and every step is planned out for these two weeks in advance. That basically means that since the team's work has already been planned, it does not have the free capacity to take these critical bugs into work until the next sprint. So what will be the outcome? Disaster, chaos… This team would be better off working on Kanban, yet its members try to adopt Scrum.
Artem: Yes, I agree. Sometimes people want to implement Scrum because they’ve just heard the word. Sure, team members may use various Scrum artifacts and events, but both their purpose and value are lost or distorted. What’s more, sometimes there are situations when the action is taken purely for the sake of action. The team doesn’t understand what is happening, gets tired, and eventually burns out.
The lack of the Agile mindset
When implementing Scrum, companies must be ready for a major restructuring at the organizational level, changes in product management, and many other things. In other words, Scrum is not about individual teams. Instead, it’s about the organization as a whole.
Kristina: Some things just go naturally, and that’s the best way. For instance, I worked at a company where the founders themselves introduced employees to Agile principles. First, they went through several training sessions, talked to coaches, and shared the principles with the company staff based on practical knowledge. It all began with the employees’ training to get everyone on the same page. Soon after, the team started working together to apply this new approach effectively.
However, the lack of the Agile Mindset may be devastating. Here’s one more story. At another company, one of the middle-level managers decided that his department would work on Scrum while the other departments worked as they wanted. The management of the company though did not care at all about the working flow. If they needed reports here and now, they could pull any person in the department and demand something like, "Here's the task, do it."
The management failed miserably to establish a proper corporate culture. Obviously, it was impossible to properly follow Scrum in such circumstances. People outwardly worked according to Scrum principles, but in reality, it was very ineffective.
Attempts vs. actually doing
Scrum is based on an empirical approach to management. This means that the product's vision and even the development process are not predetermined in advance, but adapted to the data that the team analyzes in the course of development.
Kristina: The willingness to adapt Scrum is one thing, but following its main principles is another. Honestly, sometimes, it's all about pure wishful thinking like, "Hey, now we're all into Scrum, we have daily statuses, retrospectives, etc.”
Scrum is based on empiricism and adaptation. I have met teams that did not take advantage of retrospectives, did not analyze their successes and failures, and as a result, did not adapt their Scrum. It goes without saying that they repeated the same old mistakes over and over again.
The lack of knowledge about Scrum among the team
Kristina: I've met managers who have been forcing their teams to work according to Scrum, while they had little idea why they needed it in the first place. Sometimes people resort to Scrum only because of the general hype around it.
Artem: Managers tend to forget about the eventual product’s goal, not to mention the goal of a current sprint. Sometimes an iteration is filled with irrelevant things, just for the sake of filling out the team’s capacity. Managing the backlog is also a topic that requires adaptation for each specific case. It is important to organize it with the necessary things only.
An excess of complacency
Kristina: Complacency often manifests itself in a reluctance to try something new. People with a "Why bother?" attitudes tend to maintain the current status quo because they are used to it. It's also not that unusual that someone on the team will do their best to sabotage the team’s effort.
However, those who can’t embrace Agile are left in the minority now. According to the 15th State of Agile Report, there's a massive expansion in Agile adoption within software development teams, going up from 37% in 2020 to 86% in 2021.
Reasons to adopt Scrum
It’s worth mentioning that the developers, the Scrum Master and the product owner should operate as a single organism, and the Scrum team is responsible for the result as a whole. The successful Scrum adoption depends on several factors. In particular:
- Are you really ready for experimentation and research? If a certain task can be calculated from start to finish, and the eventual result depends on the exact plan’s execution, there’s no point in trying out Scrum. Unless you want to face some unjustified expenses on the dedicated team’s formation, holding meetings with this team, etc;
- The customer should take an active part in the development process and provide feedback. If his only contribution is just a list of specs, then nothing will work. The Scrum philosophy takes root in close communication with the customer and his involvement in adjusting the team’s direction;
- Generally, it takes about three months for a team to reach the required level of maturity and efficiency. Due to mistakes in the implementation of Scrum, sometimes reaching out the proper level of competency may take years. If the results are poor, it’s not unusual that managers become disillusioned with Scrum and return to the management model they’re used to. But it's also worth noting that Scrum (just like any other Agile methodology) needs to be reviewed and adapted regularly. Once a team decides that "now we have the perfect Scrum," it’s the beginning of the end.
To Sum Up
When a team lacks an Agile mindset, even having all the Scrum’s events and artifacts won’t make teams fast and independent. It’s fair to conclude that applying Scrum practices out of nothing is a very common cause of poor Scrum implementation.
At first glance, Scrum may seem not like rocket science, but it has a lot of pitfalls. However, the good news is its adoption is a matter of a proper attitude. With this being said, we wish you a successful Scrum implementation, and that’s how we may help you.
Here at Akveo, we adapted Scrum principles to meet our everyday needs and solve recurring product development problems. Being the Scrum masters we are, we invite you to download the process adaptation doc in PDF format. The document describes in detail the sprint routine, QA-related issues, requirement management, and the corresponding project delivery approach. Once downloaded, you can use the flow in your project right off the bat.
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