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John Hines' Software Process Blog
A blog on Agile software development and Scrum

I am in the midst of witnessing a variety of teams moving away from Scrum. Some of them are doing things like replacing Scrum terms with more commonly understood terminology. Mainly they have gone back to using industry standard terms and more traditional processes like the RAPID decision making process. For example:

  • Scrum Master becomes Project Lead.
  • Scrum Team becomes Project Team.
  • Product Owner becomes Stakeholders.

I'm actually quite sad to see this happening, but I understand that Scrum is a radical change for most organizations. Teams are slowly but surely moving away from Scrum to a process that non-software engineers can understand and follow. Some could never secure the education or personnel (like a Product Owner) to get the whole team engaged. And many people with decision-making authority do not see the value in Scrum besides task planning and tracking.

You see, Scrum cannot be mandated. No one can force a team to be Agile, collaborate, continuously improve, and self-reflect. Agile adoptions must start from a position of mutual trust and willingness to change. And most software teams aren't like that. Here is my personal epiphany from over a year of attempting to promote Agile on a small development team: The desire to embrace Agile methodologies must come from each and every member of the team. If this desire does not exist - if the team is satisfied with its current process, if the team is not motivated to improve, or if the team is afraid of change - the actual demonstration of all the benefits prescribed by Agile and Scrum will take years.

I've read some blog posts lately that criticise Scrum for demanding "Big Change Up Front." One's opinion of software methodologies boils down to one's perspective. If you see modern software development as successful, you will advocate for small, incremental changes to how it is done. If you see it as broken, you'll be much more motivated to take risks and try something different. So my question to you is this - is modern software development healthy or in need of dramatic improvement?

I can tell you from personal experience that any project that requires exploration, planning, development, stabilisation, and deployment is hard. Trying to make that process better with only a slightly modified approach is a mistake. You will become completely dependent upon the skillset of your team (the only variable you can change). But the difficulty of planned work isn't one of skill. It isn't until you solve the fundamental challenges of communication, collaboration, quality, and efficiency that skill even comes into play. So I advocate for Big Change Up Front. And I advocate for it to happen often until those involved can say, from experience, that it is no longer needed.

I hope every engineer has the opportunity to see the benefits of Agile and Scrum on a highly functional team. I'll close with more key learnings that can help with a Scrum adoption:

  1. Your leaders must understand Scrum. They must understand software development, its inherent difficulties, and how Scrum helps. If you attempt to adopt Scrum before the understanding is there, your leaders will apply traditional solutions to your problems - often creating more problems.
  2. Success should be measured by quality, not revenue. Namely, the value of software to an organization is the revenue it generates minus ongoing support costs. You should identify quality-based metrics that show the effect Agile techniques have on your software.
  3. Motivation is everything. I finally understand why so many Agile advocates say you that if you are not on a team using Agile, you should leave and find one. Scrum and especially Agile encompass many elegant solutions to a wide variety of problems. If you are working on a team that has not encountered these problems the the team may never see the value in the solutions.


Having said all that, I'm not giving up on Agile or Scrum. I am convinced it is a better approach for software development. But reality is saying that its adoption is not straightforward and highly subject to disruption. Unless, that is, everyone really, really wants it.

Posted on Thursday, January 6, 2011 6:40 PM | Back to top

Comments on this post: Change Comes from Within

# re: Change Comes from Within
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You got that right. I still love the success we had on our little development team after adopting XP practices. But we motivated ourselves and didn't have anyone mandating that we do it. When I've seen groups told they'll do Scrum or whatever, they often implement Agile disasterously wrong, or subvert it at every turn. Unless they find the internal buy-in to really try it. But I think they would have anyway without the mandate.
Left by Steve W on Jan 12, 2011 12:23 PM

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