Many scrum projects fail, despite the promise that scrum is agile. Scrum is then the Answer to all problems and will fix the team’s productivity.

Is it?

From what I have seen, here is the five most common reasons that are the cause of failure (in no particular order):

1. You do not have a Scrum Master (or on part-time)

You don’t think a Scrum Master does bring something to the team. Or you think that a full time Scrum Master is not necessary for your context.

Scrum is extremely demanding and will ask team members to change how they work. Scrum also demands that the company change how it works with the team. Profound changes, not scratching the surface .

The Scrum Master helps everyone to find how to work differently, because this change create tensions within the team and outside it. Those tensions can break if the team’s structure is not reinforced. The Scrum Master helps to reinforce the team and organization structures.

A future article about how Scrum will change the way the company work will soon be available on my blog. Be sure to follow me on Twitter to be notified when it’s out.

When you think the Scrum Master can be part-time, you take the decision to potentially have a completely, 100% useless person on two teams.

Indeed, as I demonstrated in this post on LinkedIn, trying to spent less by dividing the time of a Scrum Master between two (or more) teams is a false-good-idea. You end up spending a lot of money into mediocrity, even with a great Scrum Master.

If you do not see any value to one Scrum Master per team, then, you have the wrong Scrum Master.

2. You have a Scrum-Clock-Master

You assigned a project manager, a developer or a manager as a Scrum Master.

Or, you hire a “Scrum Master”, as consultant or not, but this person does not understand what the Scrum Master role is.

In either case, you might want them to be certified, because, you think that a Scrum Master certification (after a two-days class) is a guaranty of quality.

Well, having passed the two major certifications, I like to quote this post from Kyle Griffin Aretae:

How much expertise do you expect someone to get from a 2-day classroom basketball theory clinic?
How well do you expect them to perform compared to someone who’s been playing basketball for a couple years?
How much do you expect the 2-day clinic to add to the expertise of a 2y player?

Kyle Griffin Aretae

A Scrum Master certification only guaranty that the person has read the Scrum Guide, not that (s)he understood it, even less that (s)he masters it.

As it is written in the Scrum Guide: “Scrum is […] simple to understand, difficult to master.”

You can find more details about what I call a Scrum-Clock-Master in this article.

And maybe you think that adding a low-quality Scrum Master is better than adding no-Scrum Master at all in your context. Well, at least, having no Scrum Master at all makes that the team has no false-felling to do Scrum, to do the right things, when they’re not.

A great Scrum Master also knows how Scrum can impact the organization (and teams) structures as we discussed above. This part of the job, this knowledge, is not covered by either the 2-days training or the questions of the certification.

3. You don’t understand what a sprint goal is

Your sprint goals are always the same: “do all the sprint backlog”.

If you require that your Scrum Team simply unstack a backlog, like “whatever the priority, we’ll have to do everything”, then you cannot succeed. It’s not because of Scrum, in this case, Scrum only tells you you’re doing wrong.

A sprint goal is what the team aims to accomplish during the sprint. Backlog items are just a mean to it.

The sprint goal has to have, itself, a meaning. It should have only one aim. One impact on the product (and on users) on which the team can focus on.

If you have difficulties having only one goal, you have a problem too. Maybe you should reduce the sprint duration to be able to focus on one thing only.

4. Your product backlog is not a list of options

Your backlog is fixed. In fact, it might has been fixed before the team was even constituted.

I like to tell Product Owners to consider any element of the backlog as an option, and when talking about the sprint goal, to ask “ok, what options we have in the backlog to accomplish that, and what options we might want ot add?”

This conversation must be part of the Sprint Review with stakeholders per example.

It’s always time to add or remove elements from the backlog, it’s a living thing.

5. You think the Scrum Master is a temporary role

If for you, the Scrum Master should aim to leave the team, there is a chance that it’s the type of Scrum Master we saw in the second point of this article.

I will cover in more details why the Scrum Master should not leave a team in a future article, but for now, you should consider that the great power of the Scrum Master within the team is that (s)he’s not producing anything.

And that’s great!

A great Scrum Master is actively doing nothing, and by doing so, (s)he is where (s)he needs to be when it is important. By not producing, (s)he is available for tasks that will improve the team’s productivity and capacity of delivering.

Without a dedicated Scrum Master, when something that has no value for the product needs to be done, someone else from the team has to stop producing value to do it.

6. (Bonus) The Agile Coach is responsible for “Agile”

In bonus, you have an agile coach that tells what agile is and how teams should adopt it.

Scrum Masters has nothing to say about how the organization work with their teams: “it’s not your job”.

To discover more about how an agile coach can kill your agile journey, I recommend you to read this article.

Conclusion

As you can see above, one thing is recurrent among all reasons to fail a project: you think that it’s not possible in your context. And so, instead of adapting your context to match what you (or teams) need, you choose to deteriorate what needs to be done.

Why?

Why would you do that? I guess that the main and honest answer is that it is easier.

Easier on short term, yes. And for the long term… well, will we see later?

What about you? How many points of this article does your company valid?

Photo by Markus Spiske on unsplash