Richard Hart

Head of Something @ Somewhere
Kent, UK

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“It works 60% of the time, all the time!”

You can’t get a little bit pregnant. – Lou Mannheim

There’s a story about a manager that said his team was doing scrum/xp. When pressed as to the details of what that meant, the manager replied that they were doing ‘no documentation’. Scrum is the in project management methodology of the moment. Quality? Scrum! Clear deliverables? Scrum! Happy developers? Scrum! Pole dancing midgets covered in maple syrup? Scru… Hey wait a minute!

So yes, Scrum and what does it have to do with getting a little pregnant. My point is, if you’re going to do it, you need to go the whole way. It’s not enough to just dip your toes in the water. You may refer to your current load of work as a sprint, refer to units of work as stories and may even refer to your working capacity as your velocity. But, scrum is not about giving names to concepts, or about having a backlog, or having a burndown chart etc. Even if you did all of theses things together, you would still not be doing Scrum, because it is more then the sum of its parts. And I can guarantee you that if you start going down this path of faux Scrum, when things start to move slightly off course and panic starts to creep in, you’ll dip into your old ways to “fix” the immediate problems and then when the shit really starts to hit the fan, you’ll give up on it completely and deem the whole exercise a failure. That’s why you can’t get a little bit pregnant. You’ve got to go all the way and get to fourth base.

“Woah, Joe, all theses companies are succeeding with Scrum, we should do it too!”, “Yeah lets!” – High five! The product backlog gets written up, the burndown chart gets drawn and every morning there’s a stand up meeting with some people to discuss ‘work’. A week or two goes by and it really starts to feel like the wheels are greased and progress is being made. Then an urgent client request pops up, a massive bug has been found, or that feature they asked for two months ago and which they’ve just seen (Hey, we’re retrofitting Scrum to primarily waterfall driven project), isn’t what they wanted. Well the request is fine, we’ll go through the current sprint’s backlog with them and they can decide what they would like pushed back. Oh, they don’t even know what a sprint is, “What did you say? Spinelog?”. Well the bug is not a big deal, we’ll just run our tests, make the amends and get it sorted real quick. Oh there aren’t any tests. Ok well at least the incorrect functionality we can handle, we’ll just plan it into the current or next sprint and continuous integration means they can monitor the progress as we go a long. Spontaneous combustion? Fuck me. It’s not good enough to pretend, or for the development team to do it in isolation from the stakeholders or customers. To succeed you need buy-in across all the people involved with bringing the project to fruition. Everyone needs to understand the process and understand the role that they play. Pretending to do it ends up giving the team (mostly management) a false sense of security and that can really come round to bite you in the arse.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that doing Scrum in the above fashion is always wrong, because sometimes your circumstances leave you with little choice. But, what I am saying is that proclaiming to be doing Scrum without understanding it all the while living in blissful ignorance of the flaws of your own processes, is bad and harmful. I don’t mind mistakes or doing things the wrong way when you start out, because really you need to start walking the path before you can get to where want to be. I just can’t stand people saying their walking the path when really their just sitting on their fat arse, biding their time.

Man looks into the Abyss, and there’s nothin’ staring back at him. At that moment, man finds his character, and that’s what keeps him out of the Abyss. – Lou Mannheim