Category: scrum

Scrum – All the gear, no idea?

Scrum – All the gear, no idea?

I have a problem with Scrum – although the problem isn’t really the Scrum methodology itself, but rather some of the people who (attempt) to adopt it.

I’d liken it to Harley Davidson motorcycles or perhaps Gibson guitars – both great products, especially if they’re acquired by people who know what they’re buying and how to use them. Unfortunately, what tends to happen is that they’re also purchased by people from the outside – usually in their first foray into the sector, without any understanding of what they actually need to make full use of their purchase. For a motorcycle, where and how you ride should normally be an important factor in the type of motorcycle you purchase. Likewise, things like target musical genres and any preferred style of play will dictate what type of guitar you will want to buy (if you regularly play songs in different tunings, you may regret having that Floyd Rose tremolo on your guitar). There are obviously a huge number of other factors to consider, but I’ll avoid digressing further for now. My point is, if you don’t completely understand what you need, you’re likely to go in the wrong direction.

Going with the flow?

So, how does that relate to Scrum? Well, when you’re looking at changing the way you work, you’ll probably have a number of things to consider: what size are your teams and how many do you have, how complex are the products you’re developing, what constraints are you working with (budget, time, organisational structure) and so on. In life, there are very few solutions where one size truly fits all – but a great many tend to make this assumption with Agile – especially in relation to Scrum. More often than not – Scrum is adopted without any form of analysis about what it provides and where it fits. Ask people to list just three pros and cons about what they’ve chosen and many will struggle. Ask them why they went with Scrum and they’ll often tell you that it’s the most popular – so it must be great, right?

Now, the vast majority of people who bought their new Harley or an awesome Gibson SG will find themselves very happy with what they’ve got – but not all… While a bad purchase may have some resale value, chances are that making a bad decision about your approach to delivering software will not see a good a return. At worst, you might have failed to deliver a viable product, drove away your best talent and spent all your money. Game over.

Measure, evaluate, adjust.

Ok, so maybe that’s extreme and in most cases you’ll probably do alright. However, I’d expect a good team to do more than blindly following a prescribed way of working and instead, actually look at what pain-points they have and where their greatest inefficiencies lay. You should have some understanding of where you could improve and what benefits addressing area that could bring. You can do that at any point – before you transition to Agile, after, during – or even if you never chose to adopt an Agile methodology.

Even if Scrum (or any other particular methodology) is a good fit, it’s probably not going to be perfect. If you want confidence that you’re doing the best you can, you should have some understanding of at least some alternative approaches. There’s actually a large number of agile ways of working – some sharing ideas, some diverging. If you adopt a continuous improvement mindset, you should be regularly evaluating what you do and why you do it. Don’t just follow the masses.

Now, you may be aware that Harley Davidson isn’t the worlds only motorcycle manufacturer. If they were “the best”, why do other brands still exist and why do people continue to buy them? Depending on what you measure, who “the best” is can vary quite dramatically. Scrum benefits from being relatively easy to understand and limited in scope (divorcing itself from engineering practices). That might make it a good choice for starting to learn about Agile – but does it continue to add as much value in the different stages of your journey?

A bad workman blames his tools.

One constant I’ve observed is that who you have on your team is much more crucial than the processes, tools or methodologies at hand. A team of motivated, talented people can achieve a huge amount very quickly.

For me, a good methodology provides the least amount of interference required to ensure that all the effort expended is in the right direction (and also provides a clear measure of progress). I’d assert that the level of “interference” should probably take into account the level of skills in your team, their previous track record and how well understood the project’s goals are. Done badly, Scrum can come across as micro-managing and almost condescending. It’s an old adage, but if you’ve hired good people – get out of their way! Let them demonstrate how they’d approach things given a free rein.

If you’ve got bad people, sorry but Scrum isn’t going to magically fix that. Nothing is. However, be careful who you consider to be the “bad” people. Quite often, the developers or delivery team get left with the blame for any project going awry, simply because they’re at the end of the chain. Sometimes it genuinely is poor tooling (yes, you can blame your tools) or a number of other upstream issues that really derailed the project long beforehand. It wasn’t a bad workman. As often as not, the core issue actually relates to poor planning, unclear direction or bad management decisions completely outside of their control. Too many companies shoot the messenger without realising that is what they’re doing.

Nowadays, it’s very tempting to adopt fashionable trends – especially when they promise so much (transformation to an efficient, ultra productive nirvana). Scrum is one of many tools at your disposal, just try to ensure you have a clear understanding about the problems that it’s potentially going to solve for you. Agile is very much in vogue at the moment – use it wisely, don’t just be someone with “all the gear”…

Is your Minimum Viable Product actually viable?

Is your Minimum Viable Product actually viable?

Let’s examine one of the most-shared images relating to agile software development from last year. There are a few variants of the idea (and I apologise for not knowing who to cite as the original source), but the basic theme is the same. Instead of developing a car in progressive phases, they show the delivery of simple, usable evolutions of vehicles until the product vision is reached. I’m not sure this is actually a great example of what a minimum viable product is – or what we are trying to achieve.

What is an MVP?

Very simply, a minimum viable product is the very essence of what you are trying to achieve, leaving any non-essential functionality or other features to be added later.

If your product vision is to create a new e-commerce site, your MVP would perhaps include enough to display a list of products, allow users to add them to a basket and then checkout (handling delivery and payment). That’s about it.

Going back to the featured headline image, if your product vision is to create a sports car or a family saloon (sedan), my expectation of an MVP would be a very basic car. It would be drivable, and include the key basic functions you’d expect any car to have (a chassis / body shell, wheels, brakes, steering, seats and a source of propulsion). It’s not going to be a skateboard or a bicycle…


An MVP will not deliver everything you want, its scope is just the bare-bones of your product. Additionally, it will probably not be something you could use commercially (that would be a Minimal Marketable Product – which I’ll cover in another post) or necessarily include everything that you know you’ll need.

Why create a Minimum Viable Product?

There are two important reasons (for me) why I always aim to create an MVP before trying to add all of the “desirements” to the scope of our work:


Creating an MVP forces you to prioritise, with the benefit (hopefully) of reducing the chance of a Boolean outcome – not delivering a working product by the end – and instead creating an outcome spectrum.

It takes an amount of maturity and a good understanding of the product vision, as it’s very easy to create a long list of “must-haves”, but if you don’t learn to chop away at some of the nonessential functions, you may not be focusing on the areas that enable the basic purpose of you product. We don’t have an unlimited amount of time, so what we do needs to occur in an order that reflects any technical dependencies, as well as business priority. A great satellite navigation system isn’t much use on a car that can’t drive anywhere.

A Learning Tool

Most importantly, an MVP should help you to understand some of the key decisions you’ll need to make – and expose any fundamental challenges in what you’re trying to achieve.

There is no value in creating something that doesn’t meet your product vision, unless it answers some of the questions you’re going to face getting there. Does producing a motorcycle provide any experience that will influence your cars design? Not many of the more important aspects, I’d imagine…

Now, I don’t develop cars as a profession, but I’d guess that some of the elements you’d need to consider early on would be the passenger compartment (how many occupants it needs to carry), how it’ll be propelled (combustion engine or electric motor) and how the chassis and wheel layout interact with the design. When you discover that the size of the battery required to power the vehicle means that something will have to be moved or changed to make enough space for it, you’ve learning something. Something useful.

Thinking back to our e-commerce site, we’d need a way to access our product data and display it. How will our web application connect to this repository? Where do we store our images – are they suitable for the web – do we require different sizes etc? Payment integration may provide its own set of challenges. If your e-commerce site can’t take payments, how important is a search auto-complete feature?

Your team’s velocity is another thing you’ll start to understand. Building the basic elements of a more complex product will help you to assess the overall effort required to reach the product vision – but what you do has to be relevant.

Some elements of your MVP may even be throwaway. You might find that something you’ve developed has a significant shortcoming – enough to merit a return to the drawing board. The lessons learned bring you a step closer to the right solution. Learning about a bicycle derailleur isn’t a useful lesson towards producing a car.

If your product is a car, your MVP is a car. Not a skateboard, scooter, bicycle or motorcycle.

Are all developers equal?

In Scrum, only 3 roles are prescribed; Product Owner, Scrum Master and Developer (Team Member). It suggests that we let go of our traditional roles (and job titles) to form an embedded team, that collaborates and cross-skills.

“All developers are equal, but some developers are more equal than others”

I have spoken to several project and delivery managers who struggle to envisage this approach working in the real world. Their opinion is typically that contrary to Scrum’s idealistic vision, in practice they need to be able to map specialisations (and therefore, roles) into a project team to ensure that the relevant skills and experience are present to set it up for success.

They assert that the hard reality is that not everyone is a “superstar” that is able to generalise (certainly to the standard required) and that Scrum doesn’t work in its purest (or purist) form with team members of varying levels of ability. For example, a dedicated tester may be adept at test-automation, whereas a junior C# developer may lack this experience. Your project will vary in quality and speed of delivery depending on the composition of the team.


I’d be interested to hear how people have addressed (the perception of) this issue and how they try to ensure each of their Scrum teams has the right mix of skills to guarantee success?

Please share your thoughts and experience by posting your comments below. 🙂

We are not chickens, nor are we pigs!

We are not chickens, nor are we pigs!

I frequently see Scrum teams continuing to use “Chickens and Pigs” to describe someone’s relationship to the team. Despite the potential negative connotations, I often read new articles and documentation still using this terminology – and there doesn’t seem to be much sign of this slowing down…

Now, for some, it may surprise you to know that the origin of the “Chicken and Pig” terminology was deliberately removed from the Scrum Guide way back in 2011 – yet people continue to use it. So, what do these animal names relate to in the real world of product development?


Not pigs!

This is your Agile (product or feature / “Scrum”) team – the people who will collaboratively work towards the team’s goal. Your team may occasionally include a number specialists, consultants and subject matter experts for portions of your product’s delivery (many scaled Agile frameworks acknowledge these as “secondary roles“). If you participate, you’re a participant – simple.


Not chickens!

This is anyone your team is likely to consult or inform. They may be stakeholders, accountable for the successful delivery of your product, but they are not responsible for implementing it (in the DAD framework, it specifically uses “stakeholder” to refer to someone materially impacted by the success of the product). They could also be the PMO, finance or some other function providing wider governance beyond the team’s “what and how” responsibility. All these observers may have influence over the product development, but they aren’t (actively) participating.


If you’re going to attend a daily stand-up, it should be to participate, not just observe. Stating “I’m a chicken!” when it’s your turn to give an update just isn’t helpful. However, always remember that Agile requires collaboration to achieve its goals – so don’t attend if you’re going to try to dictate your agenda (if you have the authority, communicate your priorities via the Product Owner instead, for them to add to the team’s backlog where appropriate).

Don’t derail the process. Let the team be responsible for the level of detail it needs to be to get things done. Trust them to do their job, while they trust you to do yours.

Clear Responsibility

If we are dismissive of any possible offence or hurt feelings from those involved (poor little Jimmy doesn’t like being labelled as a dirty, ignorant pig), then what is the problem with referring to people as chicken and pigs?

To some, it may sound unprofessional, while to others it may be Zeitgeist. Personally, I don’t like overloading common, well understood words with non-intuitive meanings (and we’re already pushing our luck with “Agile”).
Most importantly, one thing Agile is frequently accused of is obfuscating common sense. That is exactly what these terms were doing – replacing words understood outside of the software development and product management context and creating an ambiguous, industry specific usage. That’s two legs baaaad, we’re not farm animals!