The World is Becoming Scrummier

Scrum Gears working together

Hot on the heels of my response to Michael O. Church’s tirade against Scrum comes the State of Scrum report: the results of a survey conducted by the Scrum Alliance. There’s bad news for Mr. Church who looked forward to the early death of Agile and Scrum. Use of Scrum is growing exponentially, and developers love it. The world is getting Scrummier in all sorts of ways.

Scrum Alliance

Scrum Alliance is the largest single network of Agilists in the world and now has a membership in excess of 400,000. That’s a jump of 150,000 in just a few months. Nearly 5,000 people responded to their survey from 108 different countries, though three-quarters were from the US and Europe. 77% of those who answered work in software engineering or IT related jobs, although only 29% of the companies they work for are in the IT sector. Other industries prominently represented were Finance, Heathcare, Government, Telecommunications, Insurance and Education. The headlines of the survey results are that Scrum is growing, expanding beyond its use in IT, and is delivering success to customers and to the business. As a parting shot to Michael O. Church who insisted that Scrum was “terrible” for developers, let me point to the answers to the question about whether Scrum has improved the quality of the team’s work life: 87% responded that it had, 10% were unsure, and 4% said no. So, there you have it, Church is the champion of a tiny minority: Mr. four per cent

Below the Surface Findings

The survey did, however, have some interesting “below the surface” findings. A big majority of respondents reported success in their use of Scrum. This was noticeably higher for those teams and organizations who followed the guidance that the development teams should be seven, plus or minus two in size (The Scrum Guide now suggests a minimum of three, by the way). Teams bigger or smaller than this were less successful. The average team size reported was seven. Most teams are running two week Sprints.

Four out of five respondents said that working life was better under Scrum (“Transforming the World of Work” is Scrum Alliance’s strapline). But a whopping 71% reported tension between Scrum teams and their wider organization to some extent. Only 22% said there was no such tension. This is entirely to be expected. Scrum teams are self-managing and often begin life with the (sometimes grudging) permission of line managers and other middle managers to work to some degree autonomously. But as Scrum succeeds, and spreads to other parts of the organization, its empirical philosophy comes into conflict with the predefined processes of the enterprise. There is resistance because some people feel threatened. Others are ignorant of what Scrum offers or are unconvinced by its promises. Some individuals are prisoners of habit and don’t want to change their behaviors. We have said it before, we’ll say it again: adoption of Scrum involves a radical change in culture and mindset. Conflict is inevitable. How it is handled is the key. There is no contradiction at all between Scrum teams enjoying a higher quality of work life even as they face these organizational tensions. If the change is a good one, and broadly positive, it is almost inevitable.

Room for Improvement

The survey picks out some unevenness in the use of Scrum. One area in particular will need to be addressed if Scrum’s transformation of the world of work is to accelerate further. Only 29% of respondents said that they had a Product Owner dedicated to the team. Only 26% said the Product Owner works directly with the Scrum team. 12% said their team had no Product Owner at all, and 33% said their Product Owner acted as an intermediary between multiple stakeholders.

Now, before I go on, I could be reading into these figures more than I am perhaps entitled to. The mathematicians among you will have noted that these figures add up to exactly 100%, which means the answers offered in the question were mutually exclusive. Arguably a good, or even great Product Owner would be dedicated to the team, work directly with the team and (amongst other duties) work with stakeholders to reconcile priorities. We would have a better idea of the state of play if a respondent could tick multiple answers, instead of just having to choose one. Even so, it is a little disturbing that, given that choice, the most important function of the Product Owner was chosen fewer than 1 in 3 times.

My own experience of using Scrum for more than two decades is that the Product Owner role is the one that is least understood. And yet it is crucial. Through her/his ownership and management of the Product Backlog, the Product Owner frames the objectives of the Scrum team. She establishes the “what” and the “why” of what has to be done. The development team determines the “how”. It is the collaboration between these different roles with their special responsibilities, under the tutelage of the ScrumMaster of course, that creates the self-managing team that is the engine of Scrum’s success. The Product owner role may indeed be the most important for the sustainability of Scrum, so the State of Scrum responses concerning it should cause pause for further thought. All this points to the continuing importance of training in Scrum and Agile

The issues of organization-wide Agile adoption and Product Ownership are ones we will return to in later posts. The evidence of the benefits Scrum delivers is becoming overwhelming. Think how much more scrummy the world of work can be if we can get more teams and organizations to apply its rules properly from the get go.

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