Scrum is Hard! (Scrum is fun!)

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The classic phrase from Sutherland and Schwaber is: Scrum is simple, but Scrum is hard.

And yet, with almost any decent Team, Scrum is fun. Unless the personal chemistry is dysfunctional.

So: If I don’t warn you  that Scrum is Hard, I am lying.

But if I don’t ‘warn’ you that Scrum will be fun, I am also lying.

OK, but why is Scrum hard?  Here are a few reasons. There are other ways to put it. And probably other reasons.

1. A person does not want to admit that he is imperfect.

Very common, right? And understandable. So, when you see and talk about imperfections, find some way not to let people get defensive.

2. People don’t like to admit that ‘we’ are imperfect.

From a certain point of view, this is silly. But it is also how humans are. We don’t like to ‘air our dirty linen’ we sometimes say.

So, this can be a hard thing to change. Again, a lot of it is how we talk about it. So, one cliche is that we phrase it as ‘opportunities for improvement’.  Sometimes very useful.

The key here: Scrum makes obvious lots of personal, team and organizational ‘problems’ or impediments. Makes them very obvious. And some people find this very very hard. And for us Scrum guys, getting those people not to make a mess can be very hard.

3. Change

Scrum is a change. And Scrum demands more changes.

And any change is often hard. You surely have experienced this many times personally.

Now, for a given person, some changes are felt as good. So, not everyone every day will find that changes of Scrum hard. But almost always someone, to some degree finds ‘the change’ hard.

Be sympathetic, to some degree. Bend them, but don’t break them. The next key statement is: Most people don’t resist change, they resist most being changed (by you).

4. Pressure or Stress

Our business of new product development is, by its nature, somewhat stressful.

New products MUST be built ‘quickly’ or ‘on time’.  Time, and quickly delivery are fundamental.

In the old waterfall way, the stress was ‘controlled’ a certain way.  Usually low for a long time, and then very high at the end.  Typically.  In Scrum, the stress is continual, all along the way.

Some people think Sprint means that stress is too HIGH every sprint. (That is not what the word was meant to convey.)

Really, with Scrum the Team is supposed to have ‘positive’ stress (you can google that is you don’t know the concept). And bad stress is supposed to be eliminated. But life is never quite that simple.

So, as you introduce Scrum, you must actively manage that they understand and execute on the ‘stress’ ideas in the proper way.  Much too often, ‘Scrum’ is used to just beat up on the Team continually.  (Or at least that’s how they hear it.)  In many ways, Scrum was designed to SAVE the Team from the Death March. So this ‘beating up’ is rather ironic.

But also ironic is the notion that the Team with Scrum should have zero stress. That time magically has no importance suddenly. This is of course not true. The full team is faced with the business problem of delivering something useful in a reasonable time.  They may or may not be able to do it in a specific situation (eg, company and product), but that fundamental pressure is unavoidable in our business.

5, People Types

A few Myers-Briggs types will find Scrum ‘uncomfortable’ or hard.

Those types may have been fairly satisfied (even if unproductive) in the ‘regularity’ and ‘control’ of waterfall. But Scrum exposes that our business actually has a fair amount of ‘chaos’.  Makes that much more obvious.  And a small percentage of people will find this too uncomfortable for their Type.

In the long term, this is a good thing.  People get reallocated to work that suits them better. But in the short term, it can be hard.

6. Skill Development Feels Endless

We know from any sport that even for ‘simple’ sports it takes years to develop into a true professional.

Scrum, in a similar way, exposes that development into a professional product development person (whether business or technology side) takes time.

And learning and playing the simple sport of Scrum takes years to master as well. Years. Years of hard practice. And this realization can be discomforting to some.

In truth, this was always true in a way. But waterfall kind of hid this truth to a fair degree. And one could feel ‘advanced’ much sooner. It was an illusion, but it seemed to be true then.

So, while this can seem hard, I am not convinced that it is really hard.

But you have seen already that almost all of what I have called ‘hard’ is mainly inside the heads of people. It is not ‘externally’ hard (mostly), but rather internally hard. Or subjectively hard.

7. Impediment Removal

Getting groups of people to remove impediments often feels very very hard.

And it is. All work in life is hard in some sense. And when we are inexpert at some things, they definitely feel very hard at first.

But with impediments, we tyoically also must get other people to ‘assist’ or go along in some way. And that can be very very hard.

Very useful, but very hard.


So, there are a few ‘hard’ things about Scrum.

I would be interested in your thoughts on why Scrum is hard.  I have not used the word ‘culture’ yet, and expect some of you to use it.

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