Five Things I Wish I Knew When Adopting Scrum

Mitch Lacey | Sep 3, 2014

As I coach more and more teams, people keep saying what they wish they had when they started their agile adoption. Not surprising, there is a pattern here. I looked back at my notes from almost 10 years ago when I first adopted Scrum and XP and, oddly enough, many of the things I hear today are on my list from years ago. Lets dive in.

1) Have a Senior Sponsor

Too many times I hear “I wish my boss would hear this” or “our leadership team wants to do Scrum but won’t change X, Y or Z” or my favorite “they just don’t get it!” There are many other phrases as well. There is no trick to getting leadership or senior execs on board with agile, provided you speak their language and show data. What I do is lay out the potential benefits (e.g. higher quality, less bugs, faster delivery times) and the perceived risks (e.g. you won’t get a weekly status report, we will value quality over quantity, you are not allowed to change our direction daily). I will draft metrics with the team that we think we can achieve and report on those in the sprint review meeting, as well as showing our progress. In the end, if you get resistance, ask for six to 10 weeks to try it “by the book” – its far easier to commit to a shorter period of time than the inevitable “are we going to do this forever?” question that you’ll get.

2) Create a Definition of Done

Unfortunately I see teams get lazy on this one. I hear a lot of “we’ll do it later” or “we have one but don’t adhere to it.” Yes, people actually say this! I cannot stress the definition of done enough. It provides the team with a daily reminder on what needs to be done when they do a task, a story or a sprint. Further, it provides the customers and stakeholders with a clear understanding that when someone says the sprint is done, they know that it does include documentation and any other items that typically get put off due to laziness. Read more on how to build your own Definition of Done here.

3) Having Committed People

I was recently coaching a team when a couple folks asked me to go to lunch with them. At lunch, they said they didn’t really believe in this Scrum stuff and it was just the latest management fad that they are being forced to do. They didn’t want to do it but would go through the motions to make their managers happy. They would continue to work the same way just using different words, they said. Unfortunately, I was not shocked by this as this is a pretty common behavior in some companies. I told them “Then don’t do Scrum – be honest about why you think this is bad” which led to a much deeper conversation. The point is, most of the team was committed and on board with giving it a good honest effort, and a small group was not. Shortly after, the small group that was not committed left the team and found an environment more suitable to their working style.

4) Be Honest about Development Practices

When I was on my first Agile project, Ward Cunningham, one of our project coaches, said to me “Mitch, you need to adopt the XP engineering practices of TDD, pairing, refactoring and continuous integration or you’ll be sorry.” I dismissed this claim as I knew what I was doing. It was not until we were four sprints in when we all realized that we were screwed. We had no test automation, a weak suite of unit tests and silo’d knowledge. We basically broke most of the Scrum and Agile principles. I’d love to say you can skip the engineering side, but that’d be a lie. Focus here will have a great payoff in the future.

5) Do Scrum by the Book

This is something I did in the beginning; I was an anomaly. Doing Scrum by the book allows teams to get through Bruce Tuckman’s stages of team development. They learn and grow together. It allows you to learn what works for your team and correct it. Follow the practices diligently always seeking why you are doing them. If you don’t know why you are doing a practice, seek the understanding; ask your teammates what their understanding is and figure out how to applies to you. But mostly, be open, be honest and give it a good try before passing judgment. After all, you are trying something new that you may not have done before.


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