Upsides of Scrum

In many team sports, players are selected by teams through a draft system. If you’re a bit of a sports nerd and you follow these drafts closely (as the team you root for is always in the dumps and therefore higher in the draft order), you’ll hear a lot about players’ “upsides”. Upsides are the opposite of downsides. They’re seen as a set of potential benefits as opposed to possibly risky deficiencies.

Scrum is a bit of the same. It has the potential, in some scenarios, to work really well. Potential isn’t certainty, however, and that amazing athlete in the college ranks may crash and burn in the pros. Although the warning signs were there, the athlete’s upsides often warrant a high selection.

Scrum does have its upsides:

  • Forces iterative development
    • Forces regular feedback
      • Forces business participation
        • Forces a single voice of direction (product owner)</ul> In some situations, especially large IT organizations, I’ve seen Scrum work really well. These are scenarios where you might have disparate organizations with no common authority in their HR hierarchy. We could measure our success on participation of other business units by their distance away from us on the org chart, following chains of command. In fact, there’s probably a PhD thesis out there talking about effectiveness of teams given their distance as plotted on a directed graph.

        Organizations and divisions that don’t have a common goal or have competing interests and conflicting schedules can benefit from an outside force to ensure that regular delivery happens. Often, I’ve seen places where constraints are lifted on regular delivery through sprints and measured productivity and delivery drops precipitously. Sprints tended to force apparent dysfunction into some level of stasis and a modicum of collaboration.

        While not always fun or ideal, these externally forced heartbeats act as sort of a pacemaker to the value delivery system. Remove the pacemaker, and the patient suffers or potentially dies. Apply the pacemaker, and although the patient isn’t going to run a marathon, they can lead much more normal life. The team might not ever get any better at delivery until they break the bonds of Scrum’s ceremony, but in some cases, Scrum is as good as it’s ever going to get.

CodeStock 2011 Wrap-up