Skip to main content

The 11th Essential Success Factor To Resolve Zombie Scrum

May 5, 2022

Recently, I reread the blog post we published some time ago “10 Success Factors To Resolve Zombie Scrum”. In this article, I shared ten practical ideas that emerged from a community meetup we hosted for The Liberators Network. Factors that helped our community to use Scrum more effectively within their team and organization. The 10 success factors are:

  1. Make the Scrum events goal-oriented;
  2. Try to increase psychological safety;
  3. Leave Scrum for Kanban, or use Scrum with Kanban;
  4. Create more engaging Scrum events;
  5. Make Scrum a choice of the team themselves;
  6. Create a safe space for experimentation;
  7. Back to the Scrum Guide;
  8. Have the courage to face persistent impediments;
  9. Create a team contract or team manifesto;
  10. Focus on a done Increment.

Although these ideas aren’t mind-blowing and earth-shattering, it’s what helped *real* Scrum practitioners resolve Zombie Scrum. Yet while going through this list I noticed that something crucial was missing. It might even be the number #1 factor to prevent or fix Zombie Scrum in your environment. Curious? Take a look at the following illustration, and you have your answer!

Critical self-reflection

The 11th factor to prevent or fix Zombie Scrum is self-reflection. Brutally honest and critical self-reflection. It’s tempting and easy to point at other colleagues, teams, and departments. If only *they* would change their behavior, mindset, and way of working. But what is your own contribution in order to resolve Zombie Scrum? How zombified are you? If you a really honest, are you making things worse or better for your team? Those are not easy questions to answer. The reality might be painful. But if you turned into a Scrum Zombie yourself, it’s not likely that you’re able to de-Zombify your organization. So despite it being potentially painful, self-reflection is a necessity. Below I’ve shared a wide variety of things to try. Liberating Structures to run in small groups, experiments to try in pairs, or practices to use individually.

“What is your own contribution in order to resolve Zombie Scrum? How zombified are you?”

Try Liberating Structures

Liberating Structures help you to structure interactions in groups, in such a way all voices are heard, seen, and respected. Many of them can also be used for self-reflection. In addition, they offer the opportunity to share personal findings in small groups and as such to help each other learn and grow. I won’t explain them in too much detail, just check the related article for detailed steps. Instead, I’ll offer you 7 structures to consider.

Use TRIZ to stop counterproductive behaviors and activities. Ask “What can you personally do to ensure your Scrum team and its environment will be completely Zombified?”. Work together to develop a list of crazy yet serious ideas and reflect on the things that you’re actually already doing. This can be a fun & painful exercise, simultaneously.

Host a Conversation Cafe to engage everyone in making sense of profound challenges. Focus the invitation on personal reflection. For example, “What is a personal challenge I’m currently facing in order to help my team use Scrum effectively?”. Or, “If you consider your own behavior, what is something a Scrum Zombie would also do/say/think? What happens because of that? What would be an improvement?”.

Give and get practical help immediately with Troika ConsultingWise Crowds, or Helping Heuristics. All of these structures offer you the opportunity to bring a personal challenge and to work together to find solutions. With Troika Consulting and Helping Heuristics, *everyone* can bring a challenge. Wise Crowds is focused on *one specific challenge* the entire group raises suggestions for.

Use Troika Consulting to offer practical help to each other.

Make the purpose of your work clear with Nine Whys. An unclear purpose can quickly result in Zombie Scrum. Not only for your team but also for yourself, individually. What is the purpose of your role in the team or organization? What is your purpose statement? Make a list of all the activities you do, and interview each other in pairs. Why is this activity important for you? What do you hope it makes possible?

Discover and build on the root causes of success with Appreciative Interviews. Instead of focusing on things that go wrong, it can be very rewarding to talk about positive experiences instead. What has been the most successful Scrum team you’ve been part of? What organization did you work for that used Scrum professionally? What is your best Scrum experience? Share your success stories and identify success factors. Work together to decide what you can do personally, to make these factors a reality in your current team as well.

Use Simple Ethnography to gather data and find solutions for challenges. Simple Ethnography is all about gathering empirical data through observation. Part of observation is being curious, asking questions, and refraining from judging. This allows you to see what’s really going on. What’s the real challenge a team is facing? What patterns can be noticed in how people interact in this organization? What do we mostly see & hear during the various Scrum events? Based on our observations, what seems to be a good next step? As such, you can use Simple Ethnography to observe the level of Zombie Scrum in your organization, but you can also ask others to observe your own team or even yourself!

Use Conversation Cafe to debrief to findings of Simple Ethnography.

Start a daily journal

Almost a decade ago I started my own journal in Evernote. Every day, I write down thoughts, mistakes, worries, questions, lessons learned, or new ideas. The act of putting it on paper helps me reflect. Sometimes I write only a couple of sentences, other times it’s a one-paper. I turn some of my notes into a blog post. For example, this is how the 8 stances of a Scrum Master came into existence, and more recently the 6 stances of a Scrum Master. These stances were initially part of a personal reflection, after having shared my notes with others, I decided to make them available publicly.

For a while, I also tracked how Zombified I personally felt. Every day, I would give myself a rating on a scale of 1–5. A 1 meant that I felt awesome, not Zombified at all. A 5 meant that I had a terrible day in which lots of bad Zombie Scrum stuff happened to me personally. Because I have the tendency to ignore negative experiences and only remember the good ones, these scores help me reflect more realistically. If over a longer period of time, the scores are close to a five, it means I really need to act differently.

Start a daily journal and optionally track how Zombified you personally feel.

Get a coach or mentor

I think that everyone can benefit from having a coach and/or mentor. As Sir John Whitmore puts it: “Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping people to learn rather than teach them.” A mentor, on the other hand, actively draws from his/her professional experience and knowledge and helps you learn from that. Both are useful and can be powerful on their own. A coach can offer you a mirror that allows you to see what’s really going on, personally. Often they do so by asking Powerful Questions. For example:

  • What is a conversation you currently don’t have, but really should have?
  • What do you continuously consider to be true, but reality, again and again, shows it isn’t?
  • What is something you recently said “yes” to, but that you should’ve said ‘No’ to in hindsight?
  • If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing, what would it be? Never mind if it’s possible… just anything.
  • What challenges do you seem to face again and again? What beliefs or expectations seem to be wrong, and what does this tell you about your approach?

You can ask someone from within your organization to be your coach or mentor, but you might want to consider someone from outside your organization. Someone that isn’t biased and is less likely to be judgmental or unconsciously already moves you in a certain direction based on their own experiences with the organization. So, why don’t you look around in your community for a coach or mentor? I’m sure you’ll be able to find someone!

Reflect on your Agile Conversations

In their book “Agile Conversations”, the authors Douglas Squirrel and Jeffrey Fredrick, share an important practice that is simple to understand but difficult to master: have a conversation that is based on transparency and curiosity. Many organizations nowadays want to transform their organization towards more agility. The authors claim that in order to do so, organizations should focus on a conversational transformation because this builds a foundation for true change. The key to success isn’t only adopting practices (like Scrum, XP, Kanban) but having the difficult conversations that foster the right environment for those practices to work!

In the book, you’ll learn how to unleash the power & potential of teams & organizations with five foundational conversations: the Trust-, Fear-, Why-, Commitment-, and Accountability Conversation.

So, why I am sharing this book as a recommendation for personal reflection? Well, it helps you to make your own contribution more effective by improving the language you use more clearly & cleanly. It encourages you to record, reflect, revise, and role-play your conversations. Record an important conversation you’ve recently had on a piece of paper. Reflect on curiosity, transparency, and patterns. Revise your conversation to create a better alternative. And role-play to practice producing a better alternative. Most importantly: practice this together with someone else.

Maybe, you discover that the language you use is cynical & unconstructive, and you're mostly bashing the team or organization for how they use Scrum. It could be that you’re not aware of it, but it does create a negative atmosphere. It isn’t helpful and will only strengthen Zombie Scrum. By writing down your conversations, you make your own contribution transparent which allows you to make improvements accordingly.

By writing down your conversations, you make your own contribution transparent which allows you to make improvements accordingly, and use more clean & clear language.

Switch teams or organizations

Helping an organization use Scrum effectively isn’t easy. In order to do so, you need to work together to remove impediments. Some will be easy to resolve, others will prove to be persistent. Especially in organizations where nothing seems to change, and you struggle to have a meaningful impact, frequent personal reflection is important. As I’ve mentioned in the previous paragraph, you’re attitude, mindset, and language can get cynical and unconstructive. If you’re really honest, you don't believe that the organization will make the necessary changes. Although some team members might still be enthusiastic, you notice not to fully support it anymore. If this is the case, consider switching teams. Maybe a fresh start with a different team gives you the energy to make a positive impact again. A more drastic option would be to switch organizations. Obviously, this isn’t an easy decision to make, but a cynical attitude isn’t helpful for anyone either.

As we describe in our book, the Zombie Scrum Survival Guide, not every organization is able or willing to recover from Zombie Scrum. Persistent beliefs, existing structures, and power imbalances may make it hard to change anything outside of your team, or even on your own team. Especially if you are unable to find enough like-minded people. There’s only so much you can do on your own. Especially if your vision isn’t shared with anyone else, you sometimes need to leave to find an organization that is more aligned with your ideas. There’s no shame in that. It’s actually a brave move that will only prevent you from burning out.

Maybe a fresh start with a different team gives you the energy to make a positive impact again.


In this blog post, I’ve shared the 11th success factor to prevent or fix Zombie Scrum: brutally honest and critical self-reflection. In order to help you with self-reflection, I’ve described a wide variety of things to try. It’s often easy to point at others and ask them to change. But what if your own contribution isn’t helpful. What if your own mindset, attitude, and behavior need to change? To discover this, you need self-reflection and/or someone else that holds up the mirror. It is important though, you can’t change others, you can change yourself.

What did you think about this post?