The Nokia Test
Nokia (the cell phone maker) uses Scrum. Well, actually it is/was a small Euro 50 billion joint venture called Nokia Siemens Networks. They have developed a test to check whether a team is really using Scrum or just doing what I call Cowboy Agile, or doing Agilefall (talking Agile terms, but really doing mostly waterfall).
The Nokia Test is in two parts.
First, are you doing Iterative Development?
- Iterations must be time-boxed to less than four weeks
- Software features must be tested and working at the end of each iteration
- The iteration must start before specification is complete
The experience is that if you ask a lot of “Scrum” teams if they can pass this part of the test, they can’t. If you are at a conference, often not a single team in the room.
The next part of the test checks whether you are doing Scrum (in Nokia’s opinion):
- You know who the product owner is
- There is a product backlog prioritized by Business Value
- The Product Backlog has estimates created by the team
- The team generates burn-down charts and knows its Velocity
- There are no project managers (or anyone else) disrupting the work of the team
I think this is an excellent way to deal with Cowboy Agile or Agilefall.
Let me say this loud and clear: A firm can’t in good faith say “we tried Scrum” and then move away from it if they never had any teams that could pass the Nokia test, and pass for a reasonable period of time. Of course they could say “we tried Scrum,” but they did not. (I will not define right now what ‘pass’ would require.)
The Nokia Test is demanding — that is clear — but a test of this nature is a necessary (if not sufficient) condition to doing professional Agile software development. (Or did we expect to get out of Fred Brooks’ tar pit by doing unprofessional software development?)
There are some forces in a firm that want to do Cowboy Agile or Agilefall or want Agile to fail (“It’s moving my cheese”). This is true in every firm that I have worked in, I believe. So, if you use the Nokia Test, expect to get some resistance.
The Nokia Test is arguably too minimal. There are many other important parts of Agile or Scrum that it does not cover. Are the things in the test the most important parts? My thought is that this collection of principles and practices provides a good core of Agile/Scrum that will defend you from the most common dysfunctions. Not all. Is there a better test? Probably we could define one, but let’s pass the Nokia Test now.
Should the test be significantly more detailed? I think not. First, to work with any test, we need the test to be simple enough to be comprehended easily by most of the people involved. In this way, it becomes self-policing. Second, Agile/Scrum needs to be adaptive, so having a lengthy test that puts all teams in the same straight-jacket would noticeably limit that adaptability.
What are your thoughts? Are you aware of similar tests? How does your firm limit Cowboy Agile?