No Scrum, No More

After listening to Olve Maudal at the Lean Meetup in Oslo yesterday, and after reading some of his tweets today (@olvemaudal) I realized that we never informed our readers that we are not doing Scrum anymore. I don’t think we have for 9 months or more. We were quite elaborate, if not evangelical, about our experiments with it here on this blog, so I figured it’s over due to let you know.

It’s official: We’re not doing Scrum anymore.

I will take the time to elaborate on why, and I’ll reflect on what we’ve learned from our experiences.

Why are we not scrumming?

The shortlist:

  1. Iterations were too long – It would sometimes feel like a waterfall in miniature. Reality for most development teams is that circumstances change constantly, and developing the capacity to adapt to these changes are more important than planning iterations carefully, which is just a form of guesswork.
  2. Too much overhead – Sprint planning felt a bit forced. We had to decide what to do for days or weeks to come, and ended up with requirements churn. Beyond a certain point during planning, we went into congestion, and stopped caring about the details.
  3. Our sprints are too diverse – Sprint goals ended up  so diverse sometimes that we ended up more often than not with the sprint goal of “Finish all tasks” which was a quite uninspiring goal. (We tried very hard to create good sprint goals)
  4. Demos not often enough – We need to show off the feature we just made right now, not in 14 or 30 days at the demo. That is way to late for us. Demoing should be an integral part of each feature or improvement you make. You need to be close to, and intimate, with real users. If we had investors or any other formal committee of sponsors that needed to approve everything we did, we would see the use of such “demo roundups” at regular intervals.
  5. Too long release cycles – The scrum process batches a lot of changes, improvements, bugfixes and new features into periodical releases. We are working on continuous deployment with a steady stream of product improvements, which allows for more predictable releases and better fail-tolerance.
  6. “Scrum is just the easy parts of XP”  – It’s a quote from Kent Beck, although he does not like to be quoted on that one. This is why most are doing Scrum in combination with XP of course. I think you in many cases are better off with XP without Scrum, but that’s another story. We’re not doing XP in its purest form, either. Even though XP has much stricter coding practices, XP also has its limitations. The lean startup movement (which Kent Beck himself seems to be quite interested in) complements the weaker parts of XP — the customer feedback part, especially in the initial phases of product development.

You might see a pattern here: We’re still doing most, or all, scrum practices, just more often and in smaller chunks. This brings us closer to Lean.

What did we learn from it?

You should have a Product Backlog, and it should be a very simple sortable list. The emphasis should be on keeping it short, however. A long list of features becomes an administrative overhead. We found ourselves sifting through much of the same tasks from sprint planning to sprint planning. Too much got captured in the sprint backlog. We are still using product backlogs actively.

You should hold sprint planning meetings. The problem with the scrum-format of it is that it has more emphasis on creating a plan up front (i.e. the waterfall comparison), than it has on the planning itself. If planning is a monthly activity (or bi-weekly, or whatever your sprint length is in scrum), you end up reading your plan more than you spend time planning. We find that planning is at its best a continuous, on demand, activity. Do more of it, often, but in smaller chunks, and keep less of it lying around. I will have to agree with the Dwight on this one : Plans are nothing; planning is everything.

Daily scrums solves a non-existing problem – I’m sure that it is not hard to find team that would benefit from daily scrums. If you are such a team, chances are you are not communicating enough. We find that by hanging out on the project IRC-channel doing continuous micro-coordination and sharing information, and by hooking up on Skype to discuss challenges and problems on-screen as they arise we have nothing left to coordinate or discuss on the daily scrums. Everyone is in the loop on what is happening.

Retrospects are pure beauty. Again, the problem with scrum for us is not that it is has bad practices (it has the best of practices, actually). The problem is that it is performed to seldom to have the desired effect. Retrospect is not an activity, it is a mindset, and has to permeate everything you do, and should be done on a continuous basis. Ask these questions about every little project, task and experiment you run. What went well? What could be better? What will I focus on improving? It’s key to learning, and learning is essential.

Under what circumstances would we consider scrum?

If we ever find ourselves in a multi-team environment with quite large teams (5-10 per team), with sponsors that needed formal updates and demos, we would be sure to consider both scrums and scrum of scrums.

So, was all our Scrumming just a waste of time?

No way. It was a learning experience.

Never forget this: There is no silver bullet. You should try different stuff, be critical and analytical in the process, ask why to just about everything, and you will learn a lot. Shed each practice that fails to materialize into concrete value for your development process. In the end, no process formalities will save you, your diverse experience will.

What will we do differently?

We will continue to draw inspiration from Scrum, Lean, XP, Lean Startup, Customer Development, Continuous Deployment, etc. But instead of changing ourselves to fit the process (as was much the case with our scrum-efforts), we will look at the core of their ideas, extract their essence and see how they could apply to our existing and intuitive way of doing things;

If being a keen student of processes and development theory has taught us only one thing, it is that we should trust our gut feeling, our sense of what is purposeful and what is common sense, and that most of our current practices are worth keeping, and improving.

I advise you to try to improve the quality of how your team already, and intuitively go about doing the work. Do not change the way you work entirely in an attempt to magically achieve quality and speed. This way you can better preserve what you already got figured out, and at the same time be improving continuously.

In plain words, what are we doing now?

We still do a lot of the scrum practices. We just do them more often, and in smaller chunks. You might even say continuously, to some extent. We have learned to cherish planning over plans, and a retrospective mindset over bi-weekly formal retrospects. We write less plans, we take less notes. Communication flows more freely instead of formally in batches.

We get more done, and with increased quality, and we also have Scrum to thank for it, but definitely not only Scrum.

One of our biggest ongoing project nowadays is our establishment of Continuous Deployment practices, and all the discipline that goes with such a strategy. (It requires some coordination when you have servers deployed all over Europe, as we do) You will need to optimize the entire value stream to achieve this. We’ll keep you posted on how it evolves, and the benefits our customers and we reap from it.