Pardon my Scrum-But


Scrum-ButAn organization may know that they have to do something different in order to meet their goals consistently. They have been told that Agile principles and Scrum can transform them into a highly efficient company, but transformation takes a lot of effort and commitment. And maybe, they have been told that unless they adopt the principles fully, they shouldn’t even begin.

I say, let’s start with a Scrum-But instead.

The Scrum-But is a transitional stage in an organization’s Agile transformation process. It’s a way to describe how the organization is implementing Agile principles. For example: “We are doing Scrum, but we are still getting used to all the ceremonies.” or “We are doing Scrum, but our stakeholders and product owner are not participating fully yet.”

Transformation is not instantaneous; it requires commitment – the kind of commitment that was demonstrated by the explorers of the New World when they burned their boats after arriving, and said, “There’s no going back and only discovery ahead.” So, an Agile transformation is marked by the creation of the Scrum-But, when the organization commits and begins their journey. Progress is measured by how the Scrum-But shrinks.

Again, the Scrum-But is transitory; it is not meant to be the landing place. Just as athletes must regularly work out in the correct manner to get their muscles toned, so must an organization “work out” by improving their commitment to the principles and demonstrating at the ceremonies. And, as improvements are seen, further goals are set to keep the athlete/organization moving forward.

Customers that I have worked with, have received great results using the Scrum-But approach. Some Agile practitioners have a problem with the idea and say that it keeps an organization from realizing all the benefits of a transformation. I say, “Pardon my Scrum-But.”

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  1. Sam Kishaish June 30, 2015 Reply

    Implementing ideas from agile, without going the whole way, can still be good. Sometimes that’s all you can do at a given time. Sometimes that’s all you WANT at a given time. The problem with “scrum-but” is that it is often used to keep destructive practices. “We use scrum- but our scrum master assigns tasks to the team members and estimates how long they will take” or “We use scrum- but our PO doesn’t have time to write user stories so we use the two year old, 100 pages use cases”. It “scrumifies” the bad processes instead of making them visible.

    I would avoid saying that we use “scrum- but” because I’ve seen so many organizations who got so settled into that, that they thought they were actually using scrum. Then they wonder why they’re not seeing the productivity increase they were hoping for.

    If I buy some new tires, I don’t claim I’ve bought a “car- but”. Just call it what it is. If you can’t go all-in on scrum, don’t. But don’t call it scrum, with any additional “-ifs”, “-ands” or “-buts” about it.

  2. Atin Choenni July 28, 2015 Reply

    I agree with your point that starting with Scrum is a process that takes time and effort. Not to mention a lot of growing pains as the status qou is being shaken up.

    For me the problem that comes with saying a Scrum-but approach is tolerated, is that it gives the idea that you can just pick and choose the Scrum rules as you want. Even as a transitional phase it creates a culture that is not aimed at continous improvement, with a willingness to change. The worst implementations of Scrum come from these types of cultures.

    Nothing major has gone wrong with the previous approach (i.e. a properly tuned waterfall), management has heard that they can get faster results with this thing called Scrum Agile and they want a piece of that pie. So the project team is tasked to implement Scrum, not knowing how, so they do a Scrum-but approach and find out they start failing and slowly drowning. They look at the rules and say, that’s not how we do things here and don’t follow them knowing why they are so important. Scrum becomes a slow death march without slack.

    To qoute Ken Schwaber, the co-creator of the Scrum guide: “Scrum is like chess. You either play it as its rules state, or you don’t. Scrum and chess do not fail or succeed. They are either played, or not.”