Scrum is Hard! (Scrum is fun!)

The classic phrase from Sutherland and Schwaber is: Scrum is simple, but Scrum is hard.

Yet, with almost any decent Team, Scrum is fun. Unless the personal chemistry is dysfunctional.

So: If I don’t warn you that Scrum is hard, I am lying.

But if I don’t ‘warn’ you that Scrum will be fun, I am also lying.

OK, but why is Scrum hard?  Here are a few reasons. There are other ways to put it. Probably other reasons too.

1. A person does not want to admit that he is imperfect.

Very common, right? And understandable. So, when you see and talk about imperfections, find some way not to let people get defensive.

2. Groups don’t like to admit imperfection.

From a certain point of view, this is silly. It is also how humans are. We don’t like to ‘air our dirty linen’ we sometimes say.

So, this can be a hard thing to change. Again, a lot of it is how to talk about it. One cliche is the phrase, ‘it is an  opportunity for improvement.’  Sometimes very useful.

The key here: Scrum makes obvious  personal, team and organizational ‘problems’ or impediments. Makes them very obvious. And some people find this very very hard. And for us Scrum guys, getting those people not to make a mess can be very hard.

3. Change

Scrum is a change. Scrum demands more changes.

Any change is often hard. You surely have experienced this many times personally.

Now, for a given person, some changes are felt as good. So, not everyone every day will find that changes of Scrum hard. But almost always someone, to some degree, finds ‘the change’ hard.

Be sympathetic, to some degree. Bend them, but don’t break them. The next key statement is: Most people don’t resist change, they resist most being changed (by you).

4. Pressure or Stress

Our business of new product development is, by its nature, somewhat stressful.

New products MUST be built ‘quickly’ or ‘on time’.  Time, and quick delivery are fundamental.

In the old waterfall way, the stress was ‘controlled’ a certain way.  Usually low for a long time, then very high at the end.  Typically.  In Scrum, the stress is continual, all along the way.

Some people think Sprint means stress is too HIGH every sprint. (That is not what the word Sprint was meant to convey.)

Really, with Scrum the Team is supposed to have ‘positive’ stress (you can Google that if you don’t know the concept). Bad stress is supposed to be eliminated.

So, as you introduce Scrum, actively help them understand and execute the ‘stress’ ideas in the proper way.  Much too often, ‘Scrum’ is used to just beat up on the Team continually.  (Or at least that’s how they hear it.)  In many ways, Scrum was designed to SAVE the Team from the Death March. So this ‘beating up’ is rather ironic.

Also ironic is the notion that the Team with Scrum should have zero stress. Time magically has no importance, some ‘agile’ guys seem to be saying. This is of course not true.

The full team is faced with the business problem of delivering something useful in a reasonable time.  They may or may not be able to do it in a specific situation (eg, company and product), but that fundamental pressure is unavoidable in business.

5, People Types

A few (Myers-Briggs or whatever) types will find Scrum ‘uncomfortable’ or hard.

Those types may have been fairly satisfied (even if fairly unproductive) in the ‘regularity’ and ‘control’ of waterfall. Scrum exposes a fair amount of ‘chaos’.  ‘Chaos’ or relative chaos is much more obvious.  And a small percentage of people will find this too uncomfortable for their Type.

In the long term, this is a good thing.  People get reallocated to work that suits them better. But in the short term, it can be hard.

6. Skill Development Feels Endless

We know from any sport, it takes years to develop into a true professional.

Scrum, in a similar way, exposes this.   That development into a professional product development person (whether business or technology side) takes time.

And learning and playing the simple sport of Scrum takes years to master as well. Years. Years of hard practice or hard work. This realization can be discomforting to some.

In truth, this was always true in a way. Waterfall kind of hid this truth to a fair degree. One could feel ‘advanced’ much sooner. It was an illusion, but it seemed to be true then.

So, while this can seem hard, I am not convinced that it is really hard.

You have seen almost all of what I have called ‘hard’ is mainly inside the heads of people. It is not ‘externally’ hard (mostly), but mainly internally hard. Or subjectively hard.

7. Impediment Removal

Getting groups of people to remove impediments often feels very hard.

And it is. All work is hard in some sense. When we are not an expert some things feel very hard at first.

But with impediments, typically we must get other people to ‘assist’ or go along in some way.

Very useful, but sometimes very hard.


So, there are a few ‘hard’ things about Scrum.

I would be interested in your thoughts on why Scrum is hard.  I have not used the word ‘culture’ yet, and expect some of you to use it.


« « At first, when Scrum and when Waterfall? || Impediments: from the Charleston CSM class in September » »

One thought on “Scrum is Hard! (Scrum is fun!)

  1. Dee

    I’m going to read this article every day to remind myself to have fun. There’s a lot of “process” to learn and some people are wired to just dive in to start solving a problem. These people are a joy and just need guidance to help them change their habit. Another kind of person I like to call “troopers”. They just want to be told what to do. I take these people as lazy or unskilled but need to figure out how to help them march forward.

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