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A fairy tale turned horror story – implementing Scrum on the fly

Last post 01:13 pm January 17, 2019 by Eugene M
3 replies
10:31 am May 28, 2016

Once upon a time, there was a nice, medium-sized kingdom, basically a tech company doing lots of internal as well as outsourced projects. The kingdom was populated by the brightest knights, knaves and maids they could get to join, always going for best practice, using lots of patterns whatever they were up to. There's no such thing as a bad or maybe a good witch, just in case you're expecting something sexy. Or maybe there is, we will see...

Their dear clients, spoiled princesses of other kingdoms or at least companies, quite high tech and fashionable too, happened to want a pretty, shiny mobile app to go about their business in a cool way, rather than using ordinary computers.

Very well, the king ruled, supported by the numerous princes, prince CTO being especially eager to get the next tech gimmick out to the public. He eventually chose a rather small but shiny software company to get him his tool that was supposed to add to his glamour.

So the kingdom provided their typical bunch of knights for a good fight: a program manger, a project manager and even a product (guess what?) manager who used to push their people as they saw fit, even if in opposite directions, supported by some knaves, aka internal tech stuff. All to make sure software vendor's pawns are properly managed. So far so good, if you're in for a PRINCE2 war.

After some month though, using old school, die-hard project management and being unhappy with the progress, it was decided to act less uncool and implement Scrum instead. On the run, in the middle of the night, basically. Knights got their Scrum rules vellum-bound, the software development team had no clue about Scrum and there was no training. Shortly thereafter, I was introduced as an additional knight, kind of a project manager, having just joined the software company, to enhance pawn's productivity and as a main contact for the kingdom's knights. I was not supposed to act as a Scrum Master, though being one, as this position was considered to be unnecessary. A new kind of knight, a Product Owner, was led to the battlefield it already was to come up with a Product Backlog, using another huge empire's expensive tool.

Our fantastic, fearless knights out to win another battle for market share and acceptance.

Well, that's unfortunately the point were the drama started to unfold and the fairy tale turned horror story.

All the management knights (a PRINCE2 cast, actually) stayed, of course, regardless of Scrum rules, interfering with the pawns all the time, including giving opposite orders. Remember: I was not allowed in as a Scrum Master but ordered to act as a project manager knight. To add insult to injury, the Product Owner turned out to be clueless about Scrum and software development in general, so the Product Backlog basically became a really ugly and useless list of features and later on bugs, containing use cases or user stories depending on the current state of the moon or whatever and lots of unnoticed duplicates.

Well even this might be manageable by a Solution Architect turned Scrum Master knight (me) and of course a bunch of experienced software developing pawns.

But the nightmare finally sets in at every Sprint Planning. Features and bugs are not pulled by pawns, supposed to know what they're doing, still trying to develop software and come up with an Increment, but forced unto them by that heroic Product Owner knight. So there's no Sprint Backlog, just a completely unreasonable (no clue about software development, remember?) selected list of Product Backlog items, including already mentioned duplicates (up to 7 per item). Pawns' job is just to please set items to “committed” for the 2 week sprint. Mighty and really unholy knight of a Product Owner, he of course changes committed items during the sprints, sometimes changing the scope before taking changes back again, up to day before the Increment is due.

Remember the (obviously unread) Scrum parchments the knights got? Sprint Backlogs are surely mentioned being one of the three artefacts in Scrum.

Brave knight that I am, I of course turned to the dungeon keeping stakeholders to please implement Scrum as it's supposed to be, time and time again, even quoting the scrum guide, to no avail. To add insult to injury: the kingdom actually got 2 Scrum Masters and even agile coaches, I was told. I don't know where they're hiding. Maybe there actually is a bad witch which I just haven't seen, causing princes to be deaf and blind, holding Scrum / agile people in captivity.

Anyway, they all (except the development team) lived happily ever after, enduring all my pipe dream Scrum demands. Officially, the kingdom successfully implemented Scrum on the fly, even if the app never sees the light of day...

How are you doing these days, dear Scrum Developers, Product Owners and Scrum Masters? I'm still looking for my good witch Phoebe Halliwell to anticipate the next bad turn.

Good luck, Marc Smeets


05:43 am July 2, 2016

This very much mirrors my experience of introducing Scrum in a large corporate environment. There was an Agile Coach (senior manager) who never referenced The Scrum Guide and abhorred it being quoted. There were directors of engineering and senior architects who insisted on specifying everything. There was a SAFe Program Consultant given the role of Scrum Master who insisted on running the Daily Scrum in order to give the development managers their status updates. There was a former developer turned project manager placed into the Product Owner role who created multi-month, phased implementation plans. There were quarterly release schedules. This literal Elite group continuously failed to live the Agile philosophy because, much like Synergy, Scrum and Agile were just buzzwords.


02:31 pm January 16, 2019

I feel your pain. I felt it while reading your post. It's no fun.
I have the incredible luck of starting in a small company, part of a group of companies, where everyone desperately wants structure, and they want scrum. I get the freedom to do as I please, and sure enough I want to have pure scrum there. I'm in my second week, I have taught the framework, we have determined who will be PO (all others are the development team), we are compiling the backlog from a big basket of stuff that has to be done, the DoD is set... and we're off with sprint 1 next week.
On top of that, I've visited a big customer this week, for whom we will create new software, and where I have sold them the idea to do it the scrum way. They loved it, and strict budget and deadline disappeared when I told them we would deliver to them 100% of the solution they need instead.

I never had this before, and maybe I will never encounter this again in future assignments, but this, my dear colleagues, is a dream scenario. All the conditions are right for a successful implementation of Scrum.


01:13 pm January 17, 2019

On top of that, I've visited a big customer this week, for whom we will create new software, and where I have sold them the idea to do it the scrum way. They loved it, and strict budget and deadline disappeared when I told them we would deliver to them 100% of the solution they need instead.

You must be a wizard, Jeroen :D, I've never been in such a position