Failure Modes In Scrum

I almost hesitate to write a blog about ‘failure’ and ‘scrum’, but I think it’s important people are fully aware.

I’ve seen this particular scenario play out enough times that it qualifies as a pattern.

Scrum is adopted by an organization, and it goes through the initial euphoria, followed by a slump with the realization that scrum really doesn’t solve anything, it just exposes weaknesses for us to fix, and that’s work.  If the organization institutionalizes continuous improvement, they get into a rhythm of chipping away at all the systemic, often organizational “rocks” that have been holding them back, and they establish their new normal.  Not perfect, but with an upward slope, precisely because they are cognizant of the rocks and work deliberately and forever to fix the system.

Perhaps the head of the organization is promoted.  Perhaps they are hired away by another company.  Whatever the reason, a new head arrives, without any of the history of how the organization got to where they are now.  The “new broom” is here to sweep out the old, and bring in the new, after all why else would they have brought in this talented person if not to fix all the problems of their predecessor? Making changes is a sure sign of improvement, or at least making their mark on the organization.

Remember: everyone is rational inside the box they find themselves.  The forces at play on this new head tend to steer people this way.  This is a consequence of the system.

And this, my friends, has been the most common failure mode for scrum that I have observed.  It’s almost “death by success”.  I haven’t yet figured out a way to prepare the organization to see this coming and deal effectively with it.

Somehow we need to give the organization an “institutional memory” of some sort so the history is given it’s due and knee-jerk changes are more thoughtfully considered.

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