In his article, Ken Schwaber, the co-developer of Scrum, once wrote that “Scrum is hard and disruptive.” He then elaborated that the sole nature of Scrum challenges product development organizations to change their mindset from “this can’t be done” to “do it better.” It puts people under pressure to change their old ways, continuously improve, and derive their best abilities.
While the concept itself may be straightforward to get on with, as it’s being ingrained into your team and organization, your old ways of working get questioned and confronted. Some Scrum adoption challenges may come from set bureaucratic practices and silos; the imperfection of human nature may cause others. Scrum doesn’t compromise or take half-measures. You have to embrace it wholeheartedly. Otherwise, you may as well not bother with it at all.
If you face issues and challenges in Scrum implementation, take a step back and think again – what is it about Scrum that makes it stand out? Are you ready to overcome the issues to harvest its benefits? What can you do today to improve in your transition to Scrum?
Let’s take a deep dive at some of the more common Scrum challenges that grind your gears, makes you want to throw a temper tantrum, and whimper while kicking your feet in the air:
“This sucks! Scrum sucks! I’m not doing it anymore!”
While we may not be experts on anger management for toddlers, we do know a thing or two about Agile and Scrum in particular.
The question stands: What problems can I expect when implementing Scrum? What can I do to handle the stress and difficulties of Scrum implementation in my team? Is my team even fit to adjust to Scrum? Let’s go over the questions one by one to find out.
Scrum is the methodology of change. It’s not always about having the best solutions and tools. Being an Agile methodology, Scrum teaches you how to adapt and respond to the changing environment. And change rarely comes easy.
If you set off to introduce your team to Scrum, what you’re doing is ripping apart their instilled mindset and pushing them headfirst into something new and obscure. People tend to be resistant to new things. If they’re not ready to leave their comfort zone, it will be tough.
Once your mindset is reshaped, and you are ready to absorb the great knowledge of Agile, there comes the fun part. From day one, Scrum wipes out all your old habits and introduces new Agile ways of working. Your old practices have gone to the dogs. With Scrum, you adopt an entirely new approach to how you work, interact within teams and with clients, set goals and milestones, and more. You’re golden if your team jumps right in, but if they are not cooperating, you’re gonna have a terrible time.
If you care at all about pushing forward your Scrum implementation, you’ll need to know the people at your side. You’ll need to understand, for your own sake first, why Scrum is important. Why are you doing this to yourself? Once you know the purpose, you’ll be able to light the Agile spark in your teammates and lead the change.
Scrum might be painful for introverts and people who are used to working in their own silos. It requires continuous communication and interaction with your own team and stakeholders, subject matter experts, and clients.
The interactions you’ll have through the course of a single sprint amount to quite a hefty heap. One must be involved in all the ceremonies and communicate with others regarding progress, status, impediments, etc. Just the thought of it can make your head spin!
And then, another question you can pose is – can a Scrum Master be an introvert? As practice shows, it has happened before.
As one Developer who switched to the role of a Scrum Master once said: “When I started as Scrum Master I had to learn how to love other people.” Maybe “love” is too strong of a word to use here, but it relates the sentiment just right. At the very least, you will have to learn to understand other people on the team and develop your empathy.
Studies show that introverts can make excellent Scrum Masters. Introverts may not talk much, but this may help them create an environment that will encourage conversation in a team, where everyone gets to weigh in, and different opinions can be considered.
Scrum takes time to soften the edges. In the everyday routine, Scrum translates to a lot of communication and teamwork. You will be involved tightly in collaboration with other team members, PO, SM, and stakeholders. It won’t always go by smoothly. Inevitably the team will have to undergo evolution, including a storming phase with conflicts, misunderstanding, and frustration.
And what do you expect? You take a whole bunch of people and suddenly make them talk to one another. And then they have to do it all over the next day, the next, and the next.
As there are many people, there are many opinions. Each member on the team has to bring something to the table. It may be a bad temper or a strong character – either way, you’ll need to deal with it.
Over time, as people get to brush shoulders and see that there’s no way going about it, the team interactions should gradually transform and evolve to the next level. With a wise Scrum Master, the conflict situations can be resolved without much damage and hurt feelings or even redirected into something productive. At some point, let the professionals take over and understand one thing – you’re all in this together.
Why is Scrum so stressful?
Scrum is a very intense framework that runs in sprints. Like fast short distance running, it has clear starting and finishing points and the hard work in between. It feels like a competitive race, sometimes with pressure to deliver and being exhausted in the end.
What’s more, sometimes it may turn into an obstacle race. A Scrum team may run into just about any issue along the way – dependencies with other groups, unclear requirements, change of priorities, unexpected emergence of tasks with a deadline set to yesterday. And no, you can’t dodge.
Scrum forces you to become flexible and think on the go. It stretches your limits. It is a stressful environment in all senses. At some point, you’ll think it’s trying to break you.
Resilience and determination, dedication and a strong focus on the goal – there will be the Four of the Apocalypse to pull you through till the end (and start it all over again in the next sprint).
Scrum and Agile are about constant improvement and learning new things all the time. A must-have feature of a Scrum team is their ability to be self-managed and not require constant close supervision. This can get tricky if you lack self-discipline; soon enough, you’ll see your colleagues’ back as they pick up the pace and take long strides in self-development and improving their skills.
You need to be self-motivated enough to keep up with your colleagues. However, this is neither a race nor a competition.
In a Scrum team, you develop a mutual experimental mindset as you progress together. After all, you work towards the same goal, and each individual member of the Scrum team takes up responsibility for the project’s success. This is a learned necessity, as Scrum teams manage a multitude of dependencies and have to work in tandem with their team, other teams, stakeholders, and the client.
With this need for a high level of responsibility and self-efficiency conditions, scrum team members need to learn and improve their skillset constantly. A Scrum team works in a constantly changing environment – the client’s ever-changing requirements and the market itself.
As the world changes, as industries evolve, and new technologies emerge, obtaining new knowledge and applying it in practice sets Agile teams apart from those that stagnate and rely on the old ways that have long stopped working.
The competition takes place on the market. Companies that want to succeed need to always be one step ahead by being on top of things, and sometimes even setting the trends by forecasting the change.
It uncovers your weak points.
Scrum unmasks. This means that underperformers or just plain lazy people will be discovered faster than you can say “Agile manifesto.”
In the intensity and high demands set in a Scrum environment, it’s tough to hide your weaknesses and low quality of work. Such things become apparent very soon and exposed to the entire team of colleagues. Once you get to that point, the story may go two ways.
A conflict may ensue with all hell breaking loose.
You help your colleague work on their issues and better themselves for the benefit of the entire team.
For obvious reasons, you’d want to tone down or avoid the first case scenario altogether. With the already intense Agile environment, you can’t afford to disperse yourself on petty squabbles.
Being part of a whole, you want each one of your team members to grow and improve, becoming a better version of themselves. Constructive criticism and feedback are always encouraged. However, vulnerable personalities may misinterpret it as personal attacks. In this case, the questions asked would be: “Did I say it wrong? Is this person just having a bad day? How can I mend the damage done?”
At the end of the day, if Scrum doesn’t break you, it surely makes you stronger.
Why is it boring?
It doesn’t necessarily have to be, but Scrum can become boring at times. Especially when the team is performing well in the few sprints in a row, it can feel like “Groundhog Day.” You get caught in a closed loop when you do the same work and go through the same ceremonies over and over again. In this case, the Scrum Master needs to create some conflict or turbulence, even an artificial one, to shake up the team and get back on the continuous improvement track.
It doesn’t mean that you have to gang up against your team members one against another. A conflict in this context would mean more like a challenge. Your team has just found itself in a new comfort zone, and they need to be pushed out. Help them break their installed thinking patterns and look at a problem from a different perspective. All this is meant to accomplish is to get you over your own limits, help progress in your skills and relationships, expand your mind, and go beyond what seems convenient.
The challenge is what makes the game worthwhile. It makes your gears turn. It gives you that adrenaline rush. Nothing is boring about a good challenge. To quote Julie Andrews in the cult classic 1964 musical film, Mary Poppins:
“In every job that must be done
There is an element of fun.”
Scrum can and will hurt you at some point in your Agile transformation. However, these Agile challenges will make you stronger as a professional, a team, and eventually, an organization. The relentless Scrum criticism will probably make you question at some point, is it really worth it? The stress of Scrum implementation is undeniable, but the benefits are tenfold. You have to understand for yourself why are you stepping toward this change? What’s in it for you? Take the challenges as part of the deal and focus on the end goal.