Question: Is Scrum all or none?

Kevin asked: (I paraphrase and greatly simplify his question, perhaps beyond his recognition)  …..

Do you have to do Scrum ‘all or none’?


We get this question a lot, phrased in different ways.  Here is one answer.

I consider it an Agile principle that people are free.  The idea started long before the Declaration of Independence, but still, it is also an Agile idea.  Each person, each group should do what they want to do.

We also say “It depends on common sense, and common sense is very uncommon.” (I attribute this to Ken Schwaber, perhaps correctly.)

That is, people should do what they want, but what they want may not be the best for them.  So, we all should help each other figure out what is best.

Scrum (and often only the bare framework of Scrum) has led to people having extraordinarily better lives. More productive.  Happier. More meaningful.  Better for the customers.

Are there other ways to improve?  Of course.

I do not know of any way to improve faster or more (at least for ‘innovation teams’) than Scrum.  At least for our kind of new product work.

Side note: Better success with Scrum comes when you add things to it, and make “agile” your own. Scrum is only a bare framework. It is not sufficient, by itself (although commonly people add enough unconsciously).

Scrum becomes an engine that helps the Team fix impediments.  And in doing that continuous improvement (which to me is still part of Scrum, but certainly the specific changes could be said to be outside the bare framework of Scrum)….in doing that, the Team can get very much better.  5x-10x better.  And that includes more fun.

Who would not want that?

No one would forgo that, in principle.

But in fact, some people are just too afraid of change.  Some people do not believe the Scrum community.  Some people hear of something that is crappy (eg, very unprofessional) and that crappy stuff is called Scrum.  So, when we say do real Scrum, they somewhat understandably say ‘no’.

Some people have been rather brutally punished for being transparent, and when Scrum offers transparency, they say ‘no thanks’…because in their bones they ‘feel’ they will be punished.  No Scrum advocate ever recommended that the beatings continue, but that’s how that person feels.  He says: “No Scrum for me please.”

And there are people who are just never going to be ‘team’ people. And there are people who cannot change their mental paradigm.

Sad, but true.

So, how big is ‘real scrum’?  Well, in fact, it is very small.  For this moment, I will say that you have described it quickly by saying the 3 roles, the 4 meetings (plus something for ‘refinement’), and the 5 artifacts.  For those who really know, that encompasses real Scrum.  For beginners, we have to talk more, and it seems like a lot.  But really it is the same thing said in many ways.  Or, it is many specific examples.

The people you ask to change will not necessarily SAY that one of these (or more) are the reasons they do not wish to do it. Or do not do it professionally.  But these are most of the reasons, really.

Can you convince them to do real Scrum bit by bit?  Yes, it has happened.  Famously with the Google Adwords team.  It may be that you have to do that, but we do not recommend it. Too many teams have not convinced themselves to go nearly as far as they should have.  Hence, we do not recommend this path.  Still, it may be the path your team needs to take.  (That does demand more from you as a change agent.)

What’s so bad about doing Scrum-Butt, or flaccid Scrum, unprofessional Scrum, half-baked Scrum, or just ‘part of Scrum’?

First, it is true that you can get “half a loaf.”  And, with Scrum, half a loaf is better than none, as the saying goes.

So, a 20% improvement is better than 0% improvement.

But, almost always in the first 6 months, if you had done ‘full’ Scrum or real Scrum or professional Scrum, you would have had more fun and had at least much more improvement in productivity.

So, why settle for less?

Some reasons: you cannot convince yourself it is right (even though it is), or you cannot convince the Team, or the immediate managers. Sometimes you cannot convince the customer to do real Scrum.

So, I understand sometimes that you (with all the right intentions) cannot get them to do real Scrum from the get-go.

But 98% of the time, we will look back later and say: “if only we could have gotten them to do real Scrum sooner!”

Almost always when they leave out something that is part of the bare framework of Scrum…. it was wrong.  As I said, it is wrong 98% of the time.

Here are some not-so-bad things that do happen and maybe are ‘acceptable’, or, possibly even ‘good’ (in some cases).

  • You typically finish the Daily Scrum after about 20 minutes
  • Your Sprint Review (for a 2 week Sprint) lasts longer than 2 hours.
  • One or two times the PO did not come to the Retrospective.
  • The Team is only 4 people because you cannot find any other people who could possibly be on this Team as ‘pigs’.
  • The Team is working on one release at a time, BUT, while some of the people are working to deliver in the next release, others in the team are working on stories in the following release.
  • If the Team is only 4 people, the PO and SM roles are not full-time jobs.


What we recommend, when people say ‘Scrum is too inflexible’…. say: well, let’s try all of the bare framework for 3 months.  Let’s talk along the way about how it is or maybe is not helping us.  If we can’t, with positive effort over the 3 months, get that ‘thing’ to help us, then we will stop it.

Most people are ok to try such reasonable experiments.

Hope this post is helpful to you.


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