Let’s consider Aggressive Scrum

Can we imagine a world where things are notably better for the team and its customers?

To me, aggressive Scrum would be a key part of that world.

Here are some of the characteristics of aggressive Scrum:

  • the team is playing Scrum like they mean it, together
  • you have a great team who has been together for a while
  • the team loves delivering great stuff to the customers
  • the team is working normal hours
  • the team is doing all of Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide, for example the Scrum Board
    (Note: The team is almost surely doing more than just Scrum.)
  • Velocity for the team has doubled or more
  • the team is notably happier
  • the product is now higher quality (imagine: better testing and virtually all known bugs are fixed)
  • the team members are like family (with some squabbles)
  • the team understands the Agile values and principles, Lean ideas, Scrum values and related ideas, and executes Scrum with that intent
  • the team feels they together are responsible for success and can self-organize to make it happen (although will they do that successfully every time is another question)


Some other key characteristics:

  • we are not talking about a perfect team
  • your company does not have a perfect Agile culture yet (not even close they will say later)
  • the team is not always executing based on good Lean-Agile principles, and there is some back-sliding toward waterfall from time to time
  • lots of people, including managers, help with fixing all kinds of impediments
  • the team has the heart to still become a lot better
  • the customers are happier (but could be happier still)
  • things do NOT go perfectly (still)
  • the business, or at least the products around this team, are more successful in general
  • there is no sense that this team or these products are invincible
  • while there is a sense that things are a lot better, mainly because of Scrum, there is no sense that Scrum did this magically; Scrum (whatever it is) played a part, the soul of the team played a part, other factors (maybe key parts of XP), an Agile Coach, and improvements with the managers and company culture (at least as far as it has come) all played a part


So, why is this aggressive Scrum not happening as much as we would like?

There are many reasons, and many ways of expressing these reasons.

In this blog post, let’s describe my favorite 5 for the moment.

No Real Team

We do not have a team with the heart to win as a team.

There might be many factors underneath that. For example, everyone has been in a “team” that is essentially meaningless as a real team. So, we might call a group of people a Scrum Team, but we did not have the conversations that make it clear that we expect them (and they should expect themselves) to self-organize into a real team. With the heart to win a difficult game.

No Stable Team

The team and the people around the team do not enable the team to become a real stable team. For example, in a thousand ways, they pull them apart, or distract them.

And the reasons for the distractions or the pulling apart are really not very good. (Yes, there can also be edge cases where it is just necessary to pull the team apart or “distract” them significantly.)

No “Sharpening the Saw”

Problem: There is no strong sense that the team must improve and wants to improve.

First, this is not even discussed. Second, the team hears this as “work more hours” or “reduce quality.” That is, they take the talk in a negative, punishing way. Third, the team has no way to measure whether they are improving, and whether the “non-product” work on impediments is improving Velocity, so that it makes sense to take time away from just building the product,

This last point (taking time away) is why #3 is “sharpening the saw” in honor of Covey’s book on the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.”

You will recall that the chapter about continuous improvement is called “sharpening the saw.” It tells the story of the woodsman who is working hard, sweating profusely, to saw the big tree down. He is questioned. Yes, he could complete the work in half the time if he sharpened the saw (which itself would not take much time comparatively). Asked why he does not sharpen the saw, he replies: “I can’t take the time, I am in a hurry and I am late already.”

We can see that the woodsman’s justification makes no sense.

The problem is that is what we all do. Every day. We say “I need to improve, but I will do that tomorrow.” And it does not get done.

Yes, our projects are late and under time pressure. Still, we must spend a reasonable amount of time per sprint improving.  And get a good ROI on that time investment.  I’ll say 20% of our time and 5x return on investment.

Lack of Knowledge

Sadly, I think many people hear about Scrum, but they do not “hear” about aggressive Scrum. Maybe it is said, but they do not hear it. Even if heard a bit, in a day or two it is no longer discussed.

So, they never attempt to do it, because they never even really held the idea.

Sadly, I think in one sense or another, this is too common.

Lack of Courage

Yogi Berra said: “Don’t set any goals, therefore you don’t have to feel disappointed when you don’t make them.”

A lot of us fear really giving our all, for fear of that feeling of foolishness (or something similar) if we do not reach our goals. This is so human. Maybe for some of us, it is not failing to ourselves by in the sight of others that is bothersome.  In either case, not a good excuse.

Living in North Carolina now, we come to Michael Jordan: “I don’t mind failing. I mind not trying.”

It is maybe helpful to say that one gets a new shot at improvement (and improvement includes higher happiness) each Sprint. It’s ok if some shots don’t go in. With practice, they will go in regularly. Impressively often.

Let’s have the customers and the team have a better life. Aggressive Scrum can be a big part of that.

Why do you think Aggressive Scrum is not being done (as much as it should be)? I made some guesses about the part of reality I see. What do you see?

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