Although I haven’t been working in information technology for very long, I have already noticed a trend – many people believe in and are innately attracted to silver bullets. Unfortunately, some in management believe Scrum is a silver bullet, so they bring it into an unsuspecting organization and expect that implementing it will solve many of their problems.
Reality could not be further from the truth.
Scrum doesn’t fix outdated management structures. Scrum doesn’t make belligerent employees work well within teams. Scrum doesn’t fix obsolete “performance management” systems. Scrum doesn’t fix the thousands of lines of mangled, broken code that have accumulated over the years. Scrum doesn’t fix people problems.
So what does Scrum do?
Scrum shows you that these problems exist, and it’s not subtle when it does. Scrum will only be as successful as an organization’s willingness to quickly and emphatically deal with those problems.
In my experience, personal coaching has a similar tendency to show you what problems exist in your life. Last year I worked with a personal coach who helped me learn a lot about myself. But after several months of coaching, I hit a mental roadblock. My coach tried to help me through it but was unsuccessful. I knew that he couldn’t solve my problem for me. I had to be willing and open to diving headfirst into my mental roadblock, and that wasn’t something I was prepared to do at that time. So my coach called me on it, and we parted ways.
Unfortunately, in that example I’m the dysfunctional organization that doesn’t want to address dysfunctions. My personal coach was like Scrum. He held up a mirror and helped me see myself as I was, dysfunctions and all. If a person isn’t used to that (especially if they’re a rationalist who very much values appearing competent at all times), it can be very uncomfortable. But just like a rationalist who doesn’t like appearing incompetent, management implementing Scrum usually does not like to be told that the system they created is the root cause of most of the organization’s problems.
Management might be willing to deal with some things, but there comes a time when there are roadblocks that are holding the organization back that management does not want to address. When I encountered one of these roadblocks in personal coaching, my coach knew that I would have to resolve the roadblock to keep moving forward. When I wasn’t willing to do that, we parted ways. But it usually doesn’t work that way when organizations adopt Scrum because by the time management finds the things they aren’t willing to deal with, Scrum has already been implemented. It is too late to roll back the implementation of Scrum, and management doesn’t want to fix the problems that have been exposed, so Scrum is left in an odd state of not-quite-Scrum and not-quite-waterfall. And this is one of the many ways that a scrummerfall forms in the landscape of an organization.
How can you avoid creating a scrummerfall? Understand and accept that you can’t get the benefits of being an agile organization without becoming an agile organization. This means your organization will need to change, and change usually isn’t easy when it involves fundamentally changing the way you’ve worked for decades. Understanding that this change is necessary and finding a someone who has done it before to help you through it will allow you to attain the benefits you’re hoping to get from Scrum. Or at least some of them. After all, Scrum is not a silver bullet.