How to escape the self-imposed prison called Scrum

Door Patrick Verheij

When Scrum is being used in companies, people tend to perceive it in different ways. I will point out the two most extreme:

  1. Scrum is a framework to help us learn, improve and get great outcome. It is designed for us to empirically gain experience in how to build a great team, how to collaborate, how to contribute to a team as an individual, how to setup incremental value delivery, how to understand our business and stakeholders better, how to manage expectations, how to build great products, and how to build a great working environment where results can be gained and people can grow and have a blast. Wham bam thank you ma’am!
  2. Scrum is a set of bland rules and restrictions that sits in my way. My work is much less satisfying since it was introduced. Even though I was enthusiastic about it when we started using it, the magic has worn off and I am tired of agile and Scrum now.

Congratulations if you are on the extreme end of learning. You probably understand agile and Scrum well enough to actually use it to everyone’s benefit. Provided that you are a self-starting individual and love your job and colleagues. You most certainly make a difference, even in stubborn, traditionally managed companies.

If you are on the other extreme, then let me be absolutely clear: I won’t judge your motives nor your capabilities as a professional. However, I seriously doubt your understanding of agile and Scrum and also the support you get in using them properly.

When Scrum became a prison for you, something went horribly wrong. Scrum should not be retrictive. At least not in the long run.

Scrum is a dead serious tool to help you understand agility and grasp the opportunities to gain the agility that you and your company want.

It does so by testing your discipline, your stamina, your boldness, and your resourcefulness.

Scrum, as a framework, is extremely prescriptive. However, only in a very minimalistic way. A way that is meant to provide just enough guidance for you to play an honest and serious game of agile product development.

It is the trick to see the opportunity provided by Scrum and then go for it by seeking out your potential clients, meet and greet sponsors and other stakeholders, scratch down storylines and vision boards, create rough design sketches, build prototypes, verify assumptions, identify risks, solve impediments, and improve anything and everything, especially those darn organizational inefficiencies that have annoyed the heck out of everyone in the company for so long.

Alas, all that is _much_ easier said than done because many companies introduce Scrum when command and control is still the default management mode. Many fresh Scrum teams are confronted with blueprints of stuff to build and maintain for years to come. They are “assigned” a theme or topic and are expected to do the work. And even when people in teams are so bold to step up and search for their stakeholders, they soon find out that these people are also busy. So a whole new array of scheduled meetings comes to life which makes people feel trapped because it causes waiting times and drags people away from their teams. They are tired of their environment which always seems to work against them because old, counter productive regulations, structures, rights, processes, tools, and habits stay in place.

Do you still wonder why some people truly _hate_ sprint reviews, planning sessions and even retrospectives? They are sick of attending more meetings than doing actual work!

It starts with a serious lack of decent training about what agile and Scrum really are. And I say “decent” because most Scrum training I know do not provide attendants nearly enough practical advise on how to use Scrum in complex organizations. No wonder people get stuck.

So it really starts with education. Honest education that, besides providing people the Scrum framework and the agile principles, also provides practical advise and real-life examples of what to try and what to watch out for. Not just for people within Scrum teams, but also for people in line management functions because these people are ultimately responsible for creating the ever so important _environment_ necessary to make agility happen.

It is also necessary for people to know what _isn’t_ Scrum. It still surprises me how many people believe that user stories and planning poker are mandatory bits of Scrum. And that a daily Scrum should be done standing up within exactly 15 minutes while asking the same 3 questions over and over again forever. And that a retrospective must always be different that the previous one just because there seem to be so many ways to do it. And that a “refinement session” must be a three-hour drag for the entire team to sit through.

These are _traps_ and not Scrum in any way. Educate!

Education, by the way, isn’t just classroom training by default. Education encompasses much more, like mentoring and training on the job by experienced trainers or coaches, peer assists from senior to junior team members, workshops, intervision, process hackatons, reading challenges, and (of course) _doing_ the work you are supposed to do. But in a way more clever than yesterday.

People in organizations, workforce and line management alike, should realize that craftmanship, progress, and innovation sprout from intrinsic motivation: a desire to contribute and grow. Plus the notion that consciously working together is a much better alternative to inadvertedly working against each other.

Once again, this is much easier said than done. Everybody in the company is held captive by (mostly) self-imposed impediments. “We must comply”, “this is just the way it is”, “I have accepted this or that nuisance” are remarks which are more often the rule than the exception. Once people within a company think that way, introducing Scrum just transfers such thinking to Scrum itself. It’s easy to find excuses why Scrum isn’t “working” if your brain tells you to prefer thinking about the impossible instead of the possible.

To escape the self-imposed Scrum prison and, eventually, to start reaping the benefits that Scrum can bring, at least some influential people within the company need to pass the Scrum test. They need to be disciplined, patient, bold, and resourceful enough to cut through the thick layer of muddy thinking and gradually show more people the possibilities so more people start passing the test, which will become exponentially _less_ demanding when more people have passed it, by the way.

The good thing? Such people can be anyone. However, companies that stand the best chance to make things thrive are those where both some people from the workfloor _and_ some from line management understand what they are doing and are motivated to make a change. Disciplined, patient, bold, and resourceful.

I know a lot of people within companies who, fortunately, grasp the powerful idea behind Scrum. They experiment to explore possibilities. And when they get stuck, they pick up the phone and give me a call. Or anyone else in their circle of trust who have inspired them before.

Don’t allow yourself to be locked up by something you don’t fully understand. Learn that Scrum actually grants you all the freedom you need and desire once you used it to truly understand what value means within your company and how that same company can be influenced to be agile enough to get it.

Educate yourself and then work to educate others. Remove those bars one by one and free people of slavery of any kind, whether it be Scrum or any other framework, method, process or tool. Such things are meant to be of service to you. Not the other way around. Just be careful not to blame them for your misery. Scrum itself has no feelings and does not care for your well being.

Turn the tide. If you don’t do it, who will?

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Patrick Verheij

06 59 443 447

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