Applying the Decoupling Principle to Scrum

This content is syndicated from Do It Yourself Agile by Damon Poole. To view the original post in full, click here.

While working on a post about Kanban, I realized that there is a general software engineering principle at work in Kanban that can be applied to Scrum without needing to mention Kanban at all. The principle is: decoupling. That is, separating two or more things which are currently coupled together but don't need to be.

In Scrum, there are many activities which are often tightly coupled to the iteration cadence: iteration planning, having a shippable increment of work, the size of the largest story, iteration reviews, retrospectives, and releases. If you have been practicing Scrum for a while, it is likely that you have already started to decouple some activities from the iterations.

Decoupling Iteration Meetings and Story Point Estimation
Many Scrum teams have a weekly meeting to estimate story points for stories that have made it near the top of the backlog and don't yet have story point estimates. This decouples story point estimation from both the iterations and the iteration planning meeting itself. How far down into the backlog you go depends on what goal you are trying to achieve. If you just want to simplify iteration planning, you only need enough stories to cover one iteration worth of stories and perhaps a bit more just in case some stories aren't chosen for that iteration.

Decoupling Retrospectives
Let's see how decoupling might be applied to more practices. When just starting with Agile, it is much harder to use 1 week iterations than 4 week iterations. If you are doing 4 week iterations, you would naturally do a retrospective once every four weeks. If you move to 2 week iterations, you would naturally do a retrospective every two weeks.

But why not do retrospectives every week or at least every two weeks, regardless of whether you are doing 4 week iterations or two week iterations? Shouldn't the cadence of retrospectives match the cadence of their usefulness? In my experience, there is always something worth talking about every week of any project. There is always something to reflect on and improve. In any case, instead of just scheduling a retrospective at the same cadence as your iterations, schedule the retrospectives at a cadence that makes sense for your needs.

Decoupling Iteration Reviews
Another practice to consider decoupling from your iteration cadence is iteration reviews. Let's say you have 1 week iteration reviews, but it is logistically difficult to schedule iteration reviews involving multiple customers more often than once per month. Perhaps you normally have both internal and external stakeholders at the reviews. One solution would be to continue to have weekly reviews with just the internal stakeholders that are interested in being there every week, and have monthly reviews for external stakeholders. That may actually require a bit more work on your part, but if the value is there, why not consider it?

Simplification and Delegation
Another benefit of decoupling is that by breaking things apart it makes it simpler to tackle or delegate process improvement efforts because you can concentrate on smaller parts which are running at their own cadence. In the example of the iteration reviews, by separating out the external stakeholder meeting, you can now focus on ways to simplify or delegate that part of the process. Perhaps the only problem is getting a web meeting solution in place. Now you can solve that problem without impacting the internal stakeholders.

Consider how the decoupling principle will work for you. I would be interested to hear what you've already decoupled and your thoughts on applying the decoupling principle to Scrum. If you want to read about how to take decoupling to the next level, click on the next post below.

Next: Transitioning from Scrum to Kanban

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

nine − eight =

There are 101 ways to do anything.
To find the best way, sometimes you need expert help

What People Say

“Kelly was engaged as a Program Director on a complex business and technology transformation program for Suncorp Commercial Insurance. Kelly drew on his key capabilities and depth of experience to bring together disparate parties in a harmonised way, ensuring the initiate and concept phases of the program were understood and well formulated. Excellent outcome in a very short time frame. ”


“Kelly and I worked together on a very large project trying to secure a new Insurer client. Kelly had fantastic commercial awareness as well as his technical expertise. Without him I would never had secured this client so I owe a lot to him. He is also a really great guy!”


“I worked with Kelly whilst at Thoughtworks and found him to be a most inspiring individual, his common-sense approach coupled with a deep understanding of Agile and business makes him an invaluable asset to any organisation. I can't recommend Kelly enough.”


“Kelly is an Agile heavy-weight. He came in to assess my multi-million $ Agile development program which wasn’t delivering the right throughput. He interviewed most of the team and made some key recommendations that, when implemented, showed immediate results. I couldn’t ask for more than that except he’s a really nice guy as well.”


“Kelly revolutionised the way our digital department operated. A true advocate of agile principles, he quickly improved internal communication within our teams and our internal clients by aligning our business and creating a much enhanced sense of transparency in the decisions the business was making. Kelly also introduced a higher sense of empowerment to the development teams...”


“Kelly’s a leading program director with the ability to take charge from day one and keep strong momentum at both a program and project level driving prioritisation, resourcing and budgeting agendas. Kelly operates with an easy-going style and possesses a strong facilitation skill set. From my 5 months experience working with Kelly, I would recommend Kelly to program manage large scale, complex, cross company change programs both from a business and IT perspective.”


“I worked with Kelly on many projects at IPC and I was always impressed with his approach to all of them, always ensuring the most commercially viable route was taken. He is great at managing relationships and it was always a pleasure working with him.”


“Kelly was a great colleague to work with - highly competent, trustworthy and generally a nice bloke.”


“Kelly was a brilliant CTO and a great support to me in the time we worked together. I owe Kelly a great deal in terms of direction and how to get things done under sometimes difficult circumstances. Thanks Kelly.”


“Kelly came to the department and has really made a huge impact on how the department communicates, collaborates and generally gets things done. We were already developing in an agile way, but Kelly has brought us even more into alignment with agile and scrum best practices, being eager to share information and willing to work with us to change our processes rather than dictate how things must be done. He is highly knowledgable about agile development (as his active blog proves) but his blog won't show what a friendly and knowledgeable guy he is. I highly recommend Kelly to anyone looking for a CTO or a seminar on agile/scrum practices - you won't be disappointed!”


“Kelly is an extremely talented and visionary leader. As such he manages to inspire all around him to achieve their best. He is passionate about agile and has a wealth of experience to bring to bear in this area. If you're 'lucky' he might even tell you all about his agile blog. Above all this, Kelly is great fun to work with. He is always relaxed and never gets stressed - and trust me, he had plenty of opportunity here! If you get the chance to work with Kelly, don't pass it up.”



To explore how we can help you, please get in touch